'If this is the stuff that adventures are made of, then what a dull life we are leading', this is how I felt after the trekking experience last weekend. At times, we tend to take certain things for granted - we feel that our bodies can take only so much. It is very heartening to be deceived by the levels of one's own endurance. When all it takes is a power of the will and the ability to think for the next 500 meters to 1 kilometer, then, it is amazing how far we can walk...
Santosh asked me if I could join for a trek to Kumara Parvatha (also called as Pushpagiri, as we realized later). If I agreed, then we were starting in the next two days. Considering that I had nothing great planned over the weekend (the inescapable question on every Monday morning - "How was your weekend?" - was already playing across my mind; of course some people use it as the ideal conversation opener on Mondays including yours truly), I agreed and we booked the tickets to Somvarpet at the KSRTC travel house.
The next day, some of us (Santosh, me, Amith, Shashank, Sandeep) met to decide on the logistics. We decided that apples, oranges, bread, bananas and sundry other snacks would be our food during the climb up and down. Santosh agreed to rent the tents and the sleeping bags necessary for the night atop the peak. I was a little anxious about how it would all play out as this was my first "proper" trek. In hindsight, I am delighted that I relied on my instincts!
On Friday night, I reached Banashankari bus terminus and waited for Santosh and Vinay to join. Together, we reached KBS at around 10 PM to find Shashank, Amith, Sandeep, Gilson and Krishna Prasad already waiting for us. The bus was scheduled to depart at 11. After checking if we had got all the necessary things for the journey ahead, we got into the KSRTC Rajahamsa. Once inside, Gilson and Shashank took out their cameras and took some trial snaps. Comments on how the cameras should be set flew thick and fast.
Occasionally in life, one comes across people who are united by a common bond that threads them together and not always it happens that, people hit off with each other, with a sincerity and warmth, that is genuinely true. I am thankful that the folks I got to know through the course of the next 2 days were not only avid adventurers but also great companions. At 5 in the morning, we alighted at Somvarpet. It was a pleasant morning that greeted us after a good night's sleep despite the shockingly poor roads.
The primitive facilities in the bus terminus helped us refresh. A breakfast of Idlis followed. On inquiry, we were told that Bhagya Lakshmi would be the first to leave for Bidalli. Make no mistake, that was the name of the bus. As an aside, the fairer sex has an unfair advantage when it comes to names. Everything that is life giving, majestic and awe-inspiring gets the feminine gender... Bhagya Lakshmi was simple and comfortable enough for Shashank to sleep through the small journey. The greenery started to unfold before our eyes as the Sun found its way slowly and surely.
At the road leading to Kumara Parvatha, we got down and contemplated the journey ahead. Our watches showed 8.30 AM. One other group of trekkers accompanied us a little ahead throughout. Initially, till the forest check post to be precise, it was all plains with a scattering of villages. A winding road took us up to a point where if we had not observed, we would have missed the shorter route to the check post. Guided by villagers, we crossed paddy fields and were struck by the bemused gazes that the sleeping bags got. Firewood-hunting-women, men walking with an air of calm determination, kids running around and young girls carrying water gave the impression of a place at peace and harmony with itself and its beautiful surroundings...
After a walk of around an hour and a half we spotted the forest office. We paid 115 per head to continue. It was decided that a second breakfast of fruits would do us no harm. The area was scenic with a swinging bridge and a stream that ran underneath. Gilson's water can was much appreciated for its potential utility. At a few minutes to 11, we resumed. A forest of tall tress that filtered the sunlight provided good cover for the walk shielding us from the heat. For all its density, the only sounds that we could hear were our own footsteps disturbing the slightly wet leaves.
The picture that comes to mind, when we think of travelers, is that of men with backpacks marching in a line towards a hazily defined destination (perhaps to emphasize the significance of रास्ते over मंजिल?) with the sun shining overhead. We were potentially fodder for such a picture with the sleeping bags adding a comic touch. Though the day ahead loomed large, it was alluring with its rare possibilities fit to be preserved for posterity. Leeches - literally, those blood sucking insects - started to show their presence very strongly. We had to stop often to take the much required breaks to quench our thirst buds and attend to them.
Yellow boards and the red and yellow arrows served as our guides. They were motivating and egged us on. At half past twelve, we had a lunch of bread. Amith had green chutney that tasted divine with the bread slices. The dry fruits Shashank had brought was also widely appreciated. When too much of rest threatened to loosen the limbs, we felt prudent to continue. The terrain was becoming more expansive with the Sun getting a wider berth.
The beauty of a trek is that it offers little respite for dreamers. When you are climbing, it is imperative for the climber to stay focused on the present and enjoy the moment. There is a choice less awareness that is at once natural and beautiful enough to be ignored. Sensory pleasures are transient; it is the camera that preserves a moment in all its glory and candor. The journey provided ample opportunities for Gilson and Shashank to see nature through the lens of technology; shape it, alter it, bring it closer and above all take pleasure in following its every twist and turn!
As the climb got tedious with the rocks seeming insurmountable as they always are, when the end is near, glucose helped us going. Vinay with his sharp wit, Santosh with his "never say die" spirit, Shashank with his booming laugh, KP with his tone and manner, Amith with his elegance and style, Sandeep with a restrained charm and Gilson in his manner of addressing us with the water can - I would be very pithy if I say, the group was drawing energy from itself. The sight of Pushpagiri - 0 KM sent us into waves of sheer joy and relief.
For some time, we were confused if Kumara Parvatha and Pushpagiri were one and the same. Thankfully, we decided against trekking to the next peak on our side though 2 young people waved at us from there. At nearly 1800 meters from the sea level, the view grew on us. At first, we were oblivious in our tiredness. Our limbs needed rest; the sleeping bags were unwound and spread in the 4 o clock Sunshine.
Before it got dark, we had to pitch the tents. Doing it the first time, with Shashank's guidance, we somehow managed to make them appear like tents in the end with a lot of funny consequences. Once they threatened to fly despite our best efforts for the wind was gathering speed. Chillness spread and we had to take out the warmer clothing. Some of us found an amazing view of the depths below. There was nothing but a brown spread with trees interspersed. We were dwarfed by the sight.
Unexpectedly, clouds began to gather around us. We realized that we had left the tents quite open to the winds and hence shifted them. The clouds so close to us, as they came together to shake hands and departed quickly in a forced farewell was quite a sight to behold. Rain drops grazed our clothes and we moved inside the tents much earlier than we would have wanted to. Inside, we soon realized that 2 tents, of the size that we had got, were not enough for 8 guys to sleep comfortably. Rain seeped inside thanks to a most inappropriate hole in the roof of the tent; we tried to cover it with partial success.
Cramped inside, we cracked jokes, called out to each other like little children, listened to pleasant music and all the while enjoyed the delicate rain. In the darkness later, we stepped out for quick bites of bread in the artificial light of the torches and a natural but weak moonlight. Before I realized, I was sleeping only to be woken up by Sandeep who came in at 2.30 AM as rain had started again. Sandeep and Gilson had been quite literally braving the dark by sleeping just outside the tent till then.
The night drag on with the rain stopping abruptly just when we were getting a little worried. Dawn was crystal clear and we stepped out to catch the sun rise. From looking like a bright red round ball, it slowly shed its brightness to emerge lighter finally. The land below was catching light as eagerly as a thirsty man would take to water. The whole aspect of it lent a glow of surreal quality that it was hard to believe that dreams were, well and truly, shaken.
We gathered the tents and sleeping bags, looked at the spot for one last time and with a lighter load on our backs, but with relatively heavier hearts started our way back. This was a different path leading to Subramanya. 14 kms looked daunting but the day before was enough encouragement. The initial steep climb down scared us a little and we were markedly cautious. To abandon oneself to the instincts, to shift the weight of the body from one limb to the other fairly quickly during the climb down, was more challenging.
There was one advantage however. As we had started quite early, we were able to cover sufficient ground before the sun grew menacing. The views were also increasingly breathtaking making for some enviable camera angles. At one point in time, Gilson and Shashank grew so click-eager and thanks to them for the beautiful pictures that we have now. Vinay even remarked that growing too engrossed in looking for the next safe step down, we should not be missing all the great views around.
This path down was very open to the sunlight with barely any trees. We were walking along the circumference of the peaks, climbing one partially now, only to be descending again on its other side. Carrying less weight on our backs helped us cover ground quickly. We sighted the Mandapam and close to it was a fresh water tank where we washed our faces and stopped for breakfast. It was apples, oranges and biscuits with water to wash them down. With a resolve to stop only at the forest post, we resumed.
From there, it required a huge resolve to navigate the terrain. It was unforgiving with its surprises and it demanded that we be equal to the task. We fixed our sights on a set of chairs that were attractive only to later realize with some gravity that they were really quite far. When we did manage to reach them, Vinay had communicated his desire to have hot Sambar rice at 'Bhattar Mane' where we were head.
Guided by the only person manning the forest check post on this path, we entered 'Bhattar Mane', tired and exhausted. We were told to wait for an hour for food. We spent it chatting away pointlessly and discussing the house's location in the midst of nature with a cow and a young calf adding to the attraction. The lunch was most welcome with a tasty pickle and butter milk. The Bhattar though hesitant in the beginning, on repeated request posed for a picture with us. He found it hard to fathom why its always the "IT" folks from Bangalore choose this trek. Perhaps out of an inclination to stay in touch with the ever dwindling presence of nature in the concrete jungles?
Immediately after lunch, with the hope of catching the 3 o clock direct bus to Bangalore, we resumed the climb down. It was most grueling to find that the last part of the journey is always the toughest or at least it seems so. We were sweating badly in the afternoon Sun and hence the frequency of breaks increased together with the consumption of water. At the same time, we felt thankful to Santosh for such an experience. Eventually we reached Subramanya and took an auto to the bus stand. From there, we took a bus to Gundya cross in the hope of catching a Bangalore bus.
If Gilson and Krisha had not jumped out through the windows of that bus, I can't imagine how we would have got out thanks to the whims of the driver who stopped the engine whenever he saw a hand wave. Another red KSRTC bus to Bangalore meant no respite for the tired limbs...Sleeping through the journey, I half listened to Santosh recounting his experiences during the Sankleshpur trek and Gilson and Krishna, their Ooty adventures. I won't forget the next day at office when every muscle in the leg cried but the heart brimmed with pride and joy at having conquered the peak of Karnataka's toughest trekking terrain!