Kumara Parvatha, Nov 12-13

Friday, January 6, 2012
A post trek write up by  nachiketa janardan

How does one define a perfect trek? Is it a trek in which everything goes smoothly and according to plan? Possibly. Is it one in which the plan changes every minute? Maybe.Is it a trek where the fear of untamed mother nature and it's inhabitants forces the group to stick as close together as possible? Could be. Or is it one in which a group of disparate souls bond so well over the course of one weekend that at the end of that weekend it seems as if, we've known them all our lives? Definitely. And so was the case with this trek, which had all of the above and more.

It all began more than a month back when the initial notification was sent by Raj Jacob about the upcoming trek to Kumara Parvatha in the Western Ghats. Up to this point all my treks had been in the hills of Nagalapuram and beautiful though they are, I was itching to go someplace else. Also this was an opportunity to climb one of the highest peaks in South India, and it was more than twice the highest I had ever climbed. As soon as the notice came out, I signed up. When the shortlist was released, I was pleased to learn that many faces in the group were already known to me. The initial shortlist was drawn up almost a month before the actual trek and the wait for 11th November 2011 was interminable. As this was a slightly tougher trek than any I had been on, I was cautious. At the same time, I wanted to push myself to the limits and see how far I could go. Raj too, in his ever professional manner, regularly sent us updates on how to get in shape for the hike ahead and how to prepare for the hike ahead. Everyone had a thousand questions to ask and the experienced trekkers among the team patiently answered all our queries and questions. The foremost concern in our minds were of course,the leeches! A hundred fears were brought up, and a hundred ways to avoid their bites were suggested (None of them worked, but that's quite another story). Various blogs were consulted,which recounted the difficulties of the trek. From these sources many of us realised that quite some preparation was required to sucessfully complete the trek. I took the opportunity, to stock up on some new gear and get myself into shape for the journey ahead. And then finally the big day was here.

The assembly point was Chennai Central at 3 PM, for Raj had booked tickets on the Lalbagh express. One by one, the team members assembled in front of the coach. Old friends greeted each other with hugs and jokes. New faces were introduced and handshakes and pleasantries were exchanged. It was with pleasure that I noted that the pantry car was right next to our coach. This meant that we would get first choice of whatever delicacy that came out of it! Excited, we bundled into the coach and soon took our places. Adjustments were made with our fellow passengers in order to obtain seats adjacent to each other for the entire team. No sooner had we got on did the first of the snacks come out! Masala Vadai! Followed by Cutlet, A divine Egg Omlette, Bajji, bhel puri and what not!! All in all, we consumed enough snacks to feed an entire army. The train journey itself was enjoyable with loads of laughter, jokes and discussions related to the upcoming trek. Friends recalled stories and funny incidents from previous treks and relived all the good times they had had over the months. At Bangalore we switched over to a KSRTC bus where the Bangalore participants were gathered. Again introductions and handshakes were passed around and we got onto the bus eager to begin this stage of the journey. A puncture and many bumpy roads later, we had finally arrived at Somvarpet. And here we found that we had to take another bus to take us all the way to the beginning of the trail! Many of us were disappointed as we were just itching to start hiking as soon as possible. But there was no other way and that was that. And so we had to hop on to another rickety bus, which managed to skirt all the edges of the steep ghat roads and set quite a few stomachs rolling. Thankfully the bus soon deposited us at the designated drop off point and we all got down and got ready to trek.

The initial climb was a 4 Km climb to the Forest Office where we had to register and pay a small fee. This was easily the most beautiful part of the entire hike. We walked on steep country roads passing impossibly green fields and quaint little cottages, broken down ancient bridges and towering mountains. It all felt like being in a dream. After the dusty brown of Nagala, the lush greenery around us was uplifting to the spirit. A steep 2 hour climb later we had reached the forest office,and registered and paid the fee. Just as we were going in, we met another group of trekkers who were heading out to the peak. We were to meet them on the trail later on.

We had now entered the forest proper. The trees all around us were dense and lush with greenery. The trail was well trodden and we were never in danger of losing it. As we entered the forest, the guards had warned us that a tiger had been spotted only a few days ago, making us extra careful. The group split into three as the faster trekkers raced ahead.  I was in the lead group with Manimaran, Gayathri, Arun, Prem and Nagin. Even though the team we had met at the forest post had a 45 minute head start  against us, within the hour we had overtaken them! A couple of hours int the climb, we did start to tire, but the thought of being beaten by the other team to the peak spurred us on. But another concern was just dawning! The leeches. Slimy, crawly, and absolutely disgusting, we had to pick them off our feet regularly. A couple of us were already being sucked dry. But getting to the top of the peak was foremost on everybody's minds and the leeches were shrugged off like a minor discomfort and we resumed climbing. A couple of steep, slippery climbs later we had almost reached the peak. Water was not in plenty on this route and we had to be careful not to consume too much. However, there was one small stream which provided the clearest, cleanest and coldest water I had ever tasted. I daresay it was better than Nagala water. Refilling our bottles, we fortified ourselves for the hardest part of the climb. The last part of the climb was over several slippery rocks that rose at a steep gradient. Tackling steep climbs like this is now child's play for any CTC member and we clambered up the rocks speedily. The other team could only gape in wonder at our speed and we left them well and truly in the dust. What had taken us a few minutes took them the better part of an hour as they proceeded to climb slowly and ferry their bags up the slope first. All this while we climbed up with a heavy back pack without concern. CTC had definitely won this round. And with a little more effort on our part, we reached the peak. After a climb of barely 6 hours. Kumara Parvatha, we discovered, was overrated.

The peak was filthy and had a lot of trash and plastic lying about and we soon discovered why. There were at least a hundred people climbing the peak on any  given weekend. We had reached the peak very early and we did not know what to do next. As we sat around taking in the magnificient views we discussed what to do next. It was way too early to pitch camp, and so it was decided that one group of brave souls would climb down the other face of the mountain while the others stayed on the peak. 17 of us started down the picturesque grasslands towards Kukke Subramanya. A few minutes into the descent I started experiencing a slight discomfort in my knee. As we went lower and lower it became worse until I could not bend my knee without pain. Climbing down with a dodgy knee like this was always going to be a challenge, but I grit my teeth and ignored it until it could not be ignored any longer. A welcome break at Bhattara Mane provided good food and some relief.But we still had a long way to go. Even the beautiful rolling hills around me faded into oblivion as the only thing on my mind was the climb down and the pain in my knee. Raj Jacob had given me a brace to wear and that did provide some relief. The climb down seemed never ending. On and on we went, losing track of the others, never losing track of the pain, wondering if I would make it down, and ferverently looking for the lights of the town. Kowshik was behind me and he provided me the much needed motivation in taking every step. Ela Murugan too pitched in with a strong shoulder to lean on when I could not have gone further. Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, we heard the sounds of dogs barking and autos revving. Civilization was near! We had reached the end of the line. And we had completed 25 kilometers on the first day of the trek alone. What had started out as a moderate trek had all of a sudden become a hard core difficult trek.

Now that we had reached Kukke Subramanya, we had to find a place to camp out for the night. The plan for the next day was to try and scale Ombatthu Gudde peak. So we had to reach a check post 22 Km away from kukke. Dinner was eaten and a tempo was hired to take us to the check post. Raj had given me the option of quitting the trek and going to Bangalore with a few guys who were leaving midway. I daresay I was tempted for a moment, but then I thought to myself - "Oh what the hell? It's just a little pain, here today and maybe gone tomorrow" and with that I decided to stay. At the check post a very friendly lady gave us her courtyard to pitch camp in. we spread out the tarps and slept like logs. Early the next morning, at about 4 AM, we were awakened by the friendly lady's rooster crowing it's head off. To tired and sleepy trekkers this was too much and some of us even thought of killing it and eating it in revenge! But of course, we could not do that and awaken we had to. My leg was still a little stiff, but I had made it through the worst of the pain, and I was ready for anything.

Chicken was on the menu though for the after noon and after some enquiry and bargaining, we managed to procure about 3 kg of chicken for the mid day meal. The nice lady even loaned us a few of her pots and pans for the journey. I do not know what we would have done without her. Armed for the day, we set off towards Ombathu Gudde. The locals told us that a good campsite was about 10 km off the road and it was there that we headed. 2 Km from the check post, we had to step off the road and walk along a jeep trail that went straight as a rod for most part. On and on it went, with neither end nor turn in sight. My knee had started throbbing again and I was dismayed to see that it had swollen up like an over ripe apple. But this was no time to stop and I was determined to keep up with the rest of the team. Every step was a mixture of grit, will power and pain. I was slower than most of the team, and perhaps this was the reason why the team split up into two. "There is no such thing as pain", I repeated over and over again in my head. The leeches were everywhere and I picked several of the slimy worms off my shoe.Ahead of us lay a fork. It was here that we got split into two. Seven of us went down one route and the other seven who were in front went the other way. It was quite a while before we realised that we were on our own. In the meantime we had also spotted some Elephant footprints and some dung. Fearful that we might encounter it,the seven of us stuck close together. It was around this time that I noticed that in the excitement and the pace we had kept, my knee pain had silently disappeared. A miracle no less. We walked on and on, regularly spotting elephant tracks and hearing rustles in the thick forest, eventually covering about ten kilometers. Finally we had reached the stream. 

The stream itself was a shallow but wide expanse of swift, slightly muddy water. The water was very very cold and was the perfect balm for our tired limbs. In the meantime, Shankar and Prem had decided to take a detour and try to find the remaining team members. They were unsuccessful though they did find the spot where the other team had peeled onions in preparation for the mid day meal. We had only chicken and masala and a little coconut oil to cook with, and a spicy, but delicious chicken curry was swiftly conjured up. Since there was no bread, and cake being unavailable, the only thing to do was to eat the chicken as it were. Most of it was consumed by Prem in between mouthfuls of chips and dry maggi. For the vegetarians, they had to make do with buns and maggi-bhel. My deepest sympathies. It truly sucks to be a vegetarian on a trek.

As soon as lunch was done, we packed up and got ready to leave. The return journey was along a parallel trail which took us along the river for the most part, along with short steep climbs into the forest. Mid way, we chanced upon 3 men with guns and machetes! Poachers or hunters. For sure it was something illegal they were up to. Mindful of our safety, we quickly passed them without so much as looking at them and heaved a sigh of relief when we had left them behind. The rest of the hike was pretty uneventful and by late evening, we had reached the highway. Tired, but exhilarated at having completed such a superb one day hike. Perhaps it was the adrenaline rush, but my knee never felt better and I was sure I could even climb the peak if I wanted to. We met up with the rest of the team. After realizing that we were not following then, they had stopped for a while and then headed back to the check post. Worried that we had encountered an elephant or worse, they were relieved to see us all together and accounted for. All that was left for us to do was to wait for the bus to Bangalore. Soon enough, the bus arrived and we met the team that had stayed on the peak for the sunrise. Excitedly, we exchanged stories and adventures and passed around cameras to show each other where we had been. Sleep came swiftly and thankfully to all of us, and even though the road to Bangalore was a bit bumpy, 6 solid hours of sleep was ours. We reached Bangalore early the next morning and got on to the Lalbagh express. This time though, we were travelling in the comfort of air-conditioned Chair car.The chair car was chosen so that we could get some sleep in comfort after the ardous trek. Needless to say, no one wanted to sleep. We discussed and analysed and relived each and every second of the trek. All too soon though, we reached Chennai. Being back home felt surreal, but all good things come to an end. And so did this.

I learnt a lot on this trek. I'm sure everyone else did as well. Pain can be ignored. Plans can be abandoned. But the bond that is felt between a few disparate souls upon completing a gruelling trek, and the high that comes from knowing that you have gone beyond what you thought you were capable of is beautiful and something thing that can never be forgotten.



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