Write-up from Sandhiya
A week before the Munnar Trek, I sat in office staring wistfully at pictures taken by others on a previous visit. 2 weeks after the trek, I’m staring at snaps taken in my own camera wondering why I’m stuck in Chennai when such places exist.
On 28th September 2012, Friday, evening 8:00PM, a CTC friend agreed to drop me at CMBT. Our bus was at 9:30PM. When I reached CMBT, I saw a bunch of familiar faces. Self introductions were few for most of us had already met in some other trek before. Sridhar was busy interrogating a beggar on the pavement. Chandra Sir (who had the tickets for everyone) was running a wee bit late. Bala (Organizer#1) was trying to call up participants boarding at Perungalathur to see if all was well.
Soon, we boarded the AC bus headed for Bodi. A bad print of “Mugamudi” was playing on TV but nobody paid attention. Few others joined us at Perungalathur. The bus was inching its way through traffic and we knew we were running late already. There wasn’t much we could do except start Bed-Sheet fights, tease and giggle like idiots or laugh so loudly that some other passenger would scowl. Eventually the laughter subsided and snoring started. As sunlight kissed my window next morning, Bala began searching for his lost slipper (Push had hidden it under his own seat). We were close to 3 hours late.
Bodi Bus stand welcomed us with a lot of sunlight. Santhosh and Arivu had already arrived by a non-AC bus and eaten a full breakfast. From Bodi, 17 of us boarded a bus to Kurangani, a short distance away from Bodi on the foothills. At Kurangani, we had Breakfast. :-)
After getting permission from the local Police Station to climb up the trail, we split the common gear and started up the hill. The climb was steep. The sun was roasting every inch of my exposed skin when Masu recounted the beautiful foggy, rainy weather he enjoyed during the pilot visit with Bala. I opened my mouth to swear loudly but only managed a wheeze…
The trail was a zig-zag route with deadly ascent. The view at every turn got progressively better, but the lack of shade left me drained very soon. Muthu was having a little difficulty but Bala and Sridhar were patiently encouraging him.
After about 1 hour of climbing, we sat in some shade waiting for the others to catch up when Bala and Sridhar came in saying Muthu had decided to drop out. He had said he’ll join us at Munnar on Sunday. Those of us who knew Muthu were truly crestfallen. We already missed his jokes and songs.
We continued climbing and the view went from great to awesome! We could see trails in the hills opposite us. With every 100m, we could feel the temperature dropping a few degrees. Everywhere I turned; there was scenery and I tried my best to capture it. Agreed, I only have a tiny canon-point-and-shoot and capturing the beautiful mountains on it is like draining the Bay-of-Bengal with a bucket. But the worst insult arrived when Push refused to pose properly for my camera cos it’s not a DSLR. I made a mental note to delete every picture of him from my cam…
Slowly, the open trail led into a closed path with trees offering some shade. We climbed and climbed till… we turned one harmless looking corner and saw heaven! Just one tiny turning and there it was!! Kolukkumalai Tea Estate!! Sprawling slopes filled with Tea Plantations!! Stately looking houses and Tea shops!! Beautiful Jeep trails with flowers of all colors on either side!! The entire landscape was covered in mist and fog. Temperature was a good 15 degrees lower than what we experienced at the foothills! All in a matter of few hours! As if in a dream, we headed towards the Tea Shop.
Now don’t imagine some dingy tin-box shop with funky smelling tea. Kolukkumalai has the world’s highest Organic Tea Gardens and the shop attached makes the finest export quality tea! We had tea with cream and tea with lemon; and Rusk to go with it. I never thought I’ll fall in love with such a simple drink :-)
But crash back to reality, the late bus in the morning had set our schedule off-course by 3 hours. Masu and Bala were chasing us like a heard of sheep to climb up to Meesappulimala. Unfortunately, Chandra sir got cramps and opted to stay back. Arunjadesh (our trusted heavyweight cameraman) decided to stay with him. I left my bag with them and wheezed my way up the tea gardens with a torch and water bottle in hand. The 2 large cups of tea in my tummy made strange noises with every step I took. Masu said we ought to reach Meesappulimala and return back by night because it was not safe to climb those places in the dark. Tea Gardens are known for leeches and a few guys (like Ravi who was wearing chappals) were already getting their feet kissed. En route uphill, the boys were finding their backpacks too heavy. They hid it beneath the tea bushes and proceeded with water bottles and torches.
When we reached a small clearing, it was almost 5. There was fog everywhere, we couldn’t see clearly past 10ft and we couldn’t find Meesappulimala either. We didn’t know what to do because it was getting dark already. Cursing the late bus, we just sat down to admire the scenery. 10 minutes later, the fog cleared and we found ourselves starting at Meesappulimala. WTH! It was right in front of us all along!! The boys decided to set off in a run. Some of us however, already felt a heart-attack coming at the mere thought of RUNNING up the mountain. We decided to stay put, waiting for the brave knights to conquer the peak and come back. 45 minutes of pleasant conversation passed before the gang returned.
Apparently, the boys reached the peak of what they thought was Meesappulimala, then realized to their utter dismay that the peak was much further ahead. They could have easily justified a Night trek to the top saying this is a DIFFICULT TREK and exertion is the whole point. Here is where the organizers Bala and Masu took a mature decision. 2 members with cramps were waiting at the Tea estate and 4 of us were sitting mid-way on the trail waiting for the group to return. Keeping the whole group’s best interests at heart, they sacrificed the peak, turned around and came back. We had already scaled 2400m in one day. Decent enough for a Difficult trek.
Given our CTC track record, a camp in the forest would have been welcomed with hoots and whistles. But these are private Tea-Plantations. If simply crossing them amounts to trespassing, camping would be a crime. We didn’t fancy getting arrested. So our next destination was Suryanelli, a small village about 10kms from where we stood. The walk would be downhill, so less of huffing – more joy :-) It was sunset time and the jeep trail looked inviting. We came down from the tea gardens drinking-in the fiery colors of the sky, doing our best to capture it on a camera. In about half-an-hour, we arrived at the little church were Chandra Sir and Arunjadesh were waiting. And who else did we see??? MUTHU!!!!
Boy I’ve never been so glad to see his face :) After leaving us and throwing up a few times, he had mustered the grit to go back to Kurangani and take a jeep to the top! There was a loud round of cheers…till we looked around and caught yet another sight that left the group speechless. Just off the cliff, a host of clouds had descended into the valley blocked by mountains on all sides. It felt like we were standing between the cloud-bed and the clear sky, with the sun set in a distance…. Every single camera came out and our shame jumped off the cliff. Like Gladrags models, we posed in every possible way. Sadly, the use of flash ruined most of the portraits. But the scenery shots were breathtaking!!
We continued walking down to Suryanelli taking pictures along the way. Soon, darkness set in and torch lights came out. You can call it plain walking for 10kms but it was made special only by the company :-) Jokes and jibes galore :) Attempts were being made to ensure dinner was available at Suryanelli. When cellphone towers failed us, 3 members in the team (led by Bala) decided to walk faster and reach the village first to buy food. The rest of us ambled about at our own sweet pace.
As we reached Suriyanelli, we were welcomed with Dosas and Omlettes :) Even as we were feeding our faces, Masu and Bala managed to negotiate a deal with a shopkeeper and secured an empty shop (tiny room with a shutter) for us to sleep. 17 of us cramped into the space with sleeping bags to keep us warm. The shutter was half closed to allow ventilation. Just as we were trying to sleep, despite issuing a warning against loud-snoring 2 faulty motors started their job. After 10 seconds of patient listening, everyone burst out laughing. The motors were at it all night. Masu and Ravi ran out of the room and slept in peace on the pavement across the road. At 5:30, they returned to wake up the whole group.
The same shopkeeper let us use his Bathroom. This was unseen luxury to me. I came prepared to do my business in the wild but all through the trip, I had access to extremely clean restrooms. Blessing my stars, I got ready for another day of awesomeness :)
We gathered at the bus stop and spent our waiting time taking pictures and drinking tea. The bus arrived at 6 and we set off to Munnar :) Photo madness started again and I managed to take over 20 shaken pictures :D The ride to Munnar was…. Well… Please go see the pictures and videos yourself. Some things can’t be explained. I can tell you one thing though. It is completely understandable that romantic songs are shot in hill stations. Even the air has some dangerous hormone inducing gases I guess. People who look very unattractive in Chennai actually look attractive in Munnar!! With valleys and post-card like tea-plantations on both sides of the road, I was floating in air!!
With heavy heart, we got off at Munnar. But I was elated to find out that we had to take yet-another bus to reach Munnar-Top Station. This was a good 18kms on hilly-roads with a dam view in between :)
On the bus, we enjoyed a packet of pink-cotton-candy each. :) It brought back nostalgic memories of temple festivals in my village…. The views of Mattupatty dam along the way were beautiful. Go see the pics :-). Better take an acidity tablet in advance J
At the end of the ride, we arrived at Munnar-Top Station. One kind soul (Raja anna), a localite of Munnar had already made brunch arrangements for us. Our measly-difficult-trek-menu comprised of Passion fruit, Kaadai-Eggs (boiled and salted), Rice, Sambar, Rasam, curd, Cabbage fry, Fried fishes, Kaadai-Egg-Curry and copious amounts of buttermilk. There was also some tomato-like fruit whose name I can’t remember because it tasted too good and I didn’t care what it was called.
Post brunch, we started descending. We had to reach Kurangani by 6 and take the last bus to Bodi. We had a plan. We would descend by a trail, stop at a few villages on the way to drink water/eat lunch (!!!) etc… The trail was not difficult at all, on the contrary, it was most enjoyable and scenic :) On the way however, we couldn’t resist ourselves. We decided to climb a peak that was directly opposite to Munnar-Top Station :) The climb was not too tedious but we had to be careful not to be spotted by people at top-station. Legal authorities always have an issue with us having a good time. So like animals, we climbed on all fours stopping to hide in the grass here and there. The top was all grassland :D The weather was sunny and yet very cool :D We took pictures again (what did you expect??)
Thereafter, we also stopped by a village where a movie shoot was in progress :D Apparently this village gained a lot of popularity after the movie “Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai” was shot here. We stopped by to enjoy some Nannari sherbet and a morsel or two of Aval+rice-mix J From here on, it was a race against the clock to reach Kurangani.
Its strange how hospitality in villages is simply a way of life. I needed a bathroom – badly. I unceremoniously knocked on a door and asked the lady of the house if there is a bathroom I could use. She showed me to her own restroom and politely enquired if there was water inside. As I came out, she was waiting with a pair of fully bloomed roses from her garden! God bless her! I could never imagine getting the same warmth from anyone in the city. We would all prosper as people if we just took a leaf out of the villager’s book.
As we set out of this village, circumstances and extensive photo sessions successfully divided the group into two. My part of the group led by Masu had Arunjadesh, Muthu, Santhosh, Ravi and me. Push and Sridhar were with us for a while but then disappeared. The initial plan was to stop by a stream for a dip. But for the want of time, our half of the gang decided to go straight to Kurangani. We assumed the other gang led by Bala would reach Kurangani by 6 too.
On reaching Kurangani at about 5:50, we realized we’d successfully lost the other group. We let the last bus go (at 6) wondering what became of our friends and hoping nothing had gone wrong. Speculation and investigations started and at 6:20, just as Masu, Ravi and Santhosh were considering reentering the forest looking for the others, we saw Bala and gang exit. Our lovely friends had left us to explore the stream, taken a brilliant dip, washed themselves squeaky clean and come out ambling happily. We should have kicked them, but the joy of seeing them alive pacified us. Sadly though, Chandra Sir (the 65 year young champion in our group) had gotten serious cramps and was being helped out of the forest by Guna, Sridhar and Pushparajan. As half the group waited for the last folks to arrive, the other half was packed off to Bodi in a Jeep. The ride back was beautiful with a full moon in the sky. The entire trip was replaying in my head like a movie in loop. I was jealous of the boys who were trekking for 2 more days. Too bad I couldn’t join :(
At Bodi, we ate in a hotel yet again. Masala Dosai, Ghee Roast, Idly… you name it.
Recounting on the last two days over dinner, I felt it was more a beautiful trek than a difficult one.
On the first day we panted like dogs on the uphill climb, scaled a good 2400m and didn’t reach Meesappulimala. But we learnt the fundamental principle in travelling - “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go FAR, go TOGETHER”. The organizers chose the group’s safety over personal accomplishment. The peak didn’t matter quite as much as the people scaling it.
· Day-2 was more of a Foodie trek. :) The strain was minimal. The scenery stole the show!
· When I saw our friends arrive much later, with Chandra Sir looking exhausted and proud at the same time, I realized what difficulty truly meant. This man with a character of steel had braved the mountains at 65 years of age. I think the organizers deliberately choose a diverse group to make us realize that there is no SI unit to measure intensity in trekking. There was a heavy photographer (Arunjadesh) who had dedicated the last dozen weekends to tree-plantation. There was me, a delicate darling and only girl in the gang who was neither fit nor unfit – more a misfit. There was Muthu, the man who dropped out on day one fearing he might delay the whole group but had still found a way to the top because he refused to quit. Different folks. Different strokes. All smiling stupidly in every photo. :-)
· The scenery along the way was unlike any I have ever seen. I never truly appreciated the gift of sight till this trek. Plus, the pleasant weather prevented sweating and kept us in high spirits :-).
· All along the way, we got help from total strangers. The shopkeeper who gave his shop for us to sleep and his loo for our use, the man who made our lunch arrangements even before we reached Top-Station, the kind lady who waited for me with roses while I used her restroom… Though we claim we are hard-core trekkers who brave the wild, I think we would be abysmal without human help. Civilization Rocks :-)
Forum & Feedback links - http://chennai-trekking-club.