What would be the recipe for a refreshingly incredible trek? One killer cold night? Or one killer descent? Or one killer ascent? Or all of them perhaps? There is a look from others that I have gotten used to – whatever-joy-you-get-by-inflicting-such-self-torture-is-beyond-sanity look. And I am used to reciprocate by giving a you-would-never-fathom-the-redeeming-quality-of-it look! Only this time it was more fun because of the telling signs of “self-torture” as many would like to put it – A weekend well spent! :P What started out as a lazy picnic trek took a whole new dimension the next day making it one hell of a memorable action packed ordeal. At the end of it all we could say was WHATTADAY!
It was a cold Friday night and 6 souls from Bangalore started out to meet the other 37 wanderers from Chennai in Kodaikanal. It was a long journey and we reached our destination only by 9 AM Saturday. A couple of known faces and many unknown, a few introductions, and a few more greetings were exchanged before the never-ending wait for our man-of-the-hour Mr. Kodai Mani started. Kodaikanal, at an altitude of 2040 meters above MSL is a very cold place even after the sun rises high above. We crammed ourselves in two small buses and waited for long before Kodai Mani showed up. Then I was enlightened that we needed to travel 2 more hours to reach the Kookal Lake which would be our trek starting point. Any other day I would have enjoyed the ride because it passed through beautiful sun soaked forests and pretty villages perched on mountain tops. But today I was here to trek and I was wanted the action to start. It was 1.00 PM and to tell you the truth frankly I was disappointed. I was expecting an atrocious crazy killing trek and this was in no way looking anything even remotely close to challenging. Oh and incase you haven’t figured it out yet, “Yea, you bleed just to know you’re alive” is my guiding slogan.
We started the trek from the lake and entered covered canopy soon. It was a nice walk in the forest. The afternoon sunshine was lighting up the dense forest. Soon we reached open grasslands and the cool wind hit us again. Almost at an altitude of 2000 meters with mountains all around and the blue spread of the sky, it felt good to be out in the open. A short hike from here led us to a small makeshift temple at 3 PM and it was lunch time. Few of us reached there first and we only had chapattis and jam with us while someone at the back of the trail was having the curry. We were too hungry to wait for them to come and so we started eating the chapattis with the jam.
Somehow we were in no hurry to leave for our campsite and everyone started whiling away at various view points offering beautiful vistas. A couple of us settled on the ledge behind the temple. We could feel the heat of the sun and the cool of the wind - A perfect blend for a delightful afternoon siesta. After an hour of lazing around we started for our campsite which was just two mountains away. ;) (Wink for I never imagined mountains would be a measure of distance as I spoke) The grasslands were thankfully still green even though the monsoons were long gone. They were shining in a bright green hue due to the setting sun. A lazy walk led us to the campsite. And it was just 5 PM. It was beautiful alright but somewhere at the back of my mind I was missing the rush of an adventure, the memories of an adventure which would have me grinning in the middle of a boring work day. Not wild but a lot of things did happen that day – we went down to check out the water source which was nothing but a trickle, few of them brought the water up for cooking, Mohan and Kaushik found a huge well-kept skull of a bison, all the shutterbugs ran to capture the sunset, and the night fell and the cold crept in. Meanwhile a lonely bison also ran past our campsite down the hills.
Soon the tarpaulins were spread and the 3man camping tents brought by Mani were also set. Our immediate next task at hand would be cooking and so Chitra and I took it up. We started with the soup and then began the eternal battle of the sexes! Guys had finished setting up the tents and started another fire to cook. Two rounds of soup and two rounds of maggi later, all we were left with was filled stomachs (we hope!) and a lack of consent so as to who cooked better, boys or girls. Well it would’ve been great if we could’ve resolved the matter but the legacy continues and we girls definitely cooked better and I digress!
We sat around the campfire for sometime before I retired into one of the 3man dome tents while the rest played around the fire for a while. It was all peaceful and I was just drifting into a peaceful slumber when there was a huge commotion suddenly. Alfonso aka Poncho went missing it seems. People came banging on our tents asking for him and then they found him, he was suitably rewarded I suppose and then I drifted out of this world. Even though we were in the tent, there was no escape from the mist. Tara, Radhika and Janani had a tough time along with the others who were sleeping outside. From past experiences I learnt my lesson and covered my sleeping bag with a rain poncho which stopped the mist.
The rising sun was well appreciated by the cold struck and sleep deprived in the morning. After clearing up the litter and the campsite and a group shot later the quintessential descent of our lives began at 8.30 AM Sunday. What started out as a decent descent only got steeper as we took each step down. At one point we were precariously perched on the mountain slope and we crossed the path literally hugging the mountain side. A few steps down the trail, the angle of descent was close to 70 and we were moving in a zig-zag path. That path led us to a small outcropping from where we could spot a huge waterfall right in front of us on the other mountain. Mani, our guide said we would not be going to the waterfalls and instead we would be crossing the stream and climbing up on the other side. Disappointed, we started the journey down. The slope was now close to 80 degrees and needless to say there was no visible trail. We took the direct shortcut to the valley in front of us and started sliding down the grassy slopes with nothing but those damned grass blades to hold on to. Yea, I should be thankful that at least we had grass for support but the very same grass was tearing away our hands. Add a few thorns to the party along with some lose rocks and that’s how our self inflicted torture began. But trust me, after a effortless day in the mountains, I was more than happy taking on this challenge of getting down the steep slope. Mani was leading and I was following him. Kaushik was coming after me and each time he threw his sleeping mat down I had a minor heart attack thinking something’s gonna fall on my head! But we survived and after two hours of the grueling grind, we reached, no, not the stream, but reached the forest after crossing the grasslands.
Forested land meant no more loose rocks and a steady footing down the hill. We were yet to lose a lot more altitude and we needed to jump into cold water now more than ever. We stopped just at the beginning of the forest to regroup and we were sitting beneath an amla tree. Few got onto the trees and got down some delicious amla which would come in very handy during the course of the day. We just didn’t know yet. It was time for a new challenge. It was time for tryst with thorny bushes. As we got down, the sound of the gurgling water was getting tantalizingly louder making us more desperate to get down but alas, it was not going to be easy either. Crawling through the bushes with several scratches, we got down to the clearing from where we could see the stream was just a few meters away. The feeling was comparable to spotting an oasis in the desert. Kicking off our shoes and running into the stream was a defining moment of the trek. The water was delightfully cold enough soothe our bruises and a dip later, soaking up in the sun was even more delightful. I’d like to forget the wriggly worms that we spotted on the rocks and on our bodies. After the initial realization, we moved away from the rocks to fast flowing water to avoid the worms and lazed around for a good one hour. Sitting on the other side of the stream, I gazed at the looming mountain in front of us which gave us a good fight.
It was 12.30 PM and I thought it’s been one hell of a day but that was it. Little did we know that the ordeal was far from over. Mani promised us biriyani and chicken curry for lunch. Knowing me, you should know that the words would be ringing in my ears until I have it. With dreams of a delectable feast, we started the ascent into the estate. So we were essentially crossing a valley. Got down the mountain and climbing the mountain on the other side. We entered the estate and we were climbing up and I thought we are just minutes away from lunch and the end of trek since it felt like we were back in civilization with all the water pumps and pipes and cottages. But turns out we still have a long way to go – how long? We don’t know yet! Mani was very skillfully evading the question. We had an inkling it might be long away but it was already 2 PM and hunger pangs were tearing our stomachs apart. Putting on a brave face and with wishful thinking we moved ahead. The climb was never ending. At first we thought we were crossing a valley. Slowly realization dawned we were going to climb the whole mountain. Just as high as the one we descended just an hour back. Slowly people gave in to the tiring climb. It was 3 PM and we were still climbing. I would not be exaggerating if I say that the lure of a delicious biriyani was the only thing that kept me going. So much so that you could call it obsessing! It was 4 PM and finally I reached the village Kukkal which was our destination or so we thought. Poncho and Sibin were already there. Slowly people came and the local kids were having a ball of time laughing at us. It was 5 in the evening by the time everyone came and much to our chagrin we realized we still have to wait for the biriyani. We were told we needed to walk a little to reach the buses which would take us to Kodaikanal. Meanwhile, the 6 of us who were from Bangalore had to catch the bus at 6.20 PM and we were going to miss it. Another adventure in itself, the six of us decided to cancel the bus tickets and find an alternate means of transport. But that was later when we reach kodaikanal. Right now getting to kodaikanal only seemed to be taking forever.
Kukkal is one of the most beautiful villages I have ever been to. Situated at a height of 1900meters and 40 kms away from Kodaikanal, is a village of terrace farmers. The terraced fields seemed to have been carved out impeccably in layers. A variety of birds and butterflies were fluttering around very close to humans. I guess that was village life in all its purity. We crossed the village which was a revelation in itself and later reached the tar road and we were expecting to be picked up from here. But no, that was not the plan either. Another hour of walking took us to the bus. Lo and Behold! Biriyani was being served here. And needless to say what followed next. This was the second defining moment of the trek. We had survived a tough day without food trekking 10 hours straight.
The night was getting cold again. Then at 6.30 PM we started our journey back to Kodaikanal. The return journey was interesting with another bison sighting and the dark foggy windings. We reached Kodaikanal at 9.30 PM. We, the Bangaloreans had decided to get down at Dindigul, 101 kms away from Kodaikanal and try our luck to reach Bangalore. As soon as we got into the bus, I tried to get some sleep because I was sure of a sleepless night in our quest to reach back home. We reached Dindigul at 12.00 AM and luckily we got a bus to Salem almost immediately. It was bit cold but manageable in the local bus. Reached Salem exactly at 5 AM Monday morning and to our luck, the connecting bus to Bangalore was also waiting for us. And so we changed four buses that night starting from Kukkal to reach Bangalore at 10 AM. And that’s the end of an epic journey.
Distance Covered – 25 kms approx
Trek difficulty – Day 1 : Kookal Lake to Temple on the hill – easy
Day 2 : Campsite below the temple to Kukkal village – Difficult
Guide Required – yes
Contact Details – Kodai Mani, Phone no : +91 9894048493
Trek Start Point – Kookal Lake
Trek End Point – Kukkal Village
Maximum Altiude reached – 2300 meters approx (as shown in the altimeter)
Maximum Altitude change – 1300 meters.
Distance from Bangalore – 470 kms to Kodaikanal
Kodaikanal – Dindigul – >101 kms
Dindigul – Salem -> 170 kms
Salem – Bangalore -> 200kms