It was 13thof Feb and as I received an email from the organizer announcing the shortlist for the trip, however to my surprise, the Sub of the mail read Munnar trip and the body of the mail announced it was a Kodai trip. Not sure what Emperors were up to and if they were taking us to Kodai in place of Munnar, so with all my inquisitiveness, I called up the organizer to confirm the place. Apparently, it turned out to be a typo from our organizer, who had missed editing mail content after copy-paste from the previous trek email :P. So after checking the travels, I scanned through the going list and it was a co-incidence to see 2 known names, and I quickly booked tickets for 3 of us and confirmed back. As the trip date was approaching, preparatory emails /trip volunteering mails started flowing in, and then Nigam announced that co-ordination of activities was getting out of hands over emails and created a whatsapp group… So, it was the perhaps first time ever for many many of us in the group with many unknown faces, that a whatsapp group was created 3 days ahead of the trek and by the time I had switched on the mobile data, 300+ messages and 30 mails had already been exchanged. The hot topic that was on at that time was sleeping bags, as Malan had just made an akashavani update about the temperature in Munnar. Just then Vibin had announced that he could help out with a visit to Decathlon Coimbatore. Within few seconds, there was a stream of messages, and it was evident that he was possibly going to empty out the Decathlon outlet, having dug a hole of his own pit. The group was abuzz all the time until Friday night about sleeping bags, food (one point it appeared as if it might be a foodie trek after all ;)), DSLRs.. photographs and many other things – A spl mention to Siva who wanted his pictures taken for many other purposes (Anyone can guess what it is for :D). Since we had booked tickets in different buses, we just got a chance to meet each other only in smaller groups on Fri night. By the time I had boarded the bus from Perungalathur, I could see that people in my bus had already had a great time pulling legs of Nigam. It was evident that Sankar had got his companion for the trip as he was elaborately explaining how 5D in DLSR stands for 5 Devis to Nigam. Looks like I had missed a lot of this, all the way from Koyambedu to Perungalathur. There was no need for an introduction having become familiar with many names from the whatsapp conversations. After some chit chats, we decided to settle down for the day as the next day was a probable Sivarathri owing to lack of sleeping bags and the sounds from the teeth chattering and shivering and god only knows who all would be snoring. As we arrived around 6 in Theni, we met up with the other group there and thanks to Vibin, our sleeping bags had made their way to Theni. And hopefully he hadn’t encountered any known face all the way from Coimbatore to Theni who would have possibly inquired his intentions to start a new business ;)
Almost everyone had assembled in Theni except for Amar, who had booked the superfast Papps travels :P. So, we boarded the bus to Bodi and Amar joined us there as we were having our breakfast. It was breakfast time, and we could not have asked more as the food made it’s way to Malan’s table. With the funny faces that Malan and Siva gave althrough their breakfast, I wonder how neither of the two got stomach aches in the trip. After pitying our state, the waiter finally made the way to our table, and two swift hands (Who else.. Siva and Malan) had already scooped half of the idlis even before we could start our breakfast. So, after breakfast, we took a groupie in van and made our way to Kurangani. The organizers had announced in the van to start moving as soon as we had got down and so we made our move. We started our ascent, just stopped by at times for a minute or until we came across two trails, one in the uphill and the other one leading to a bridge. The rest of the group was nowhere in sight, and five if us - Dinesh, Nigam, Prakash, Brinda and I decided to go a little further and relax in the small stream. Though the sun was out, the water was refreshingly cold enough that we didn’t feel like moving out of it for the next 20 minutes and then as we sensed there was no sign of the other group, we went back to the point where we had seen the other trail. Someone had just climbed up and confirmed that we had to take that path, however the rest of the group wanted to refresh for some time in chilling running waters and instructed us to wait near a big rock in the other trail. So, that’s when five of us relaxed for some more time, then stretched out our muscles once again and then after a long wait, we had some juicy small amlas (a last minute add to my backpack) and then some chit chats until the group arrived. Meanwhile, Nigam had made his way back to the stream to refill a couple of bottles, while Nigam had got back, there was no sign of the other bottle that he carried. However, one bottle less had made my backpack lighter. Malan started on a different trail with a set of people and just as we were resuming back after our extended break, Vibin called out to the rest of the group and expressed his view that the slowest person in the group lead the rest of the trail so that we could all stick together motivating the freshers and other folks who had started becoming a little tired now.
A few more words on team work and motivation and what happened for the next few minutes after that was definitely a moment worth reliving as the slowest person was leading and was trying not to stop anywhere in an attempt not to slow down the rest of the group, and a few others behind shared the backpacks, and we were slowly moving on together as one group until we encountered some thorny bushes which played a major spoiler. We couldn’t keep up the momentum going amidst the bushes which were 6 feet high and we had to push the grass and thorns to catch a glimpse of the person leading us. Sensible people who covered their hands with atleast a ¾ sleeves were lucky enough to escape the thorns, however the trail was getting more bizarre with the bushes hiding our view as we kept on moving. We tried to keep watch of few people following us and directing them then and there on some bigger stones, gap in the path etc to ensure that no one is getting hurt/lost. No matter even if thorns lay in the path, it would still not deter a few of us from posing to the pics and flashing our best possible colgate smiles to the shutterbugs. After crossing the first part of the bushes, we waited for the group to assemble, however as Kannan and Vibin started their swift ascent, people started getting a little tired. What followed next was perhaps the most challenging part of the trek, we tried to ascend randomly in zig zag patterns in a non-existent trail covered with thorns as high as 6 feet, the person in front was hardly visible, we could hear sounds of shoes slipping behind us and some sounds from behind asking us to slow down, however none of us were helpless as the person leading us was hardly visible and could not even hear us.
The best part of a trek is that we tend to transfer our energies among each other, and an energetic person can keep a tired group active, however even a shrill cry and someone gasping for breath from behind can greatly bring down the energy of the group during an ascent. As I was trying to find my way out, someone was shouting out directions from top which was somewhat motivating, while the person was nowhere to be seen. I grabbed and pushed the high bushes and made my way and suddenly I felt my legs slipping for the first time. It was time to remember all the gods now, and then some wild imagination and self-motivation did some wonders and finally after some really quick moves and a fast paced ascent, I was on a flat surface. I could see no sign of the person following me, and beyond a point of time, I had unknowingly left behind a tired person who was following me, as I was in the last leg of the ascent to the flat surface. Ram, Gokul and Prakash were relaxing there and I put down my backpack as well and opened up some amalas. I could see a tree full of bigger amalas a little bit away from the flat surface, and Dinesh helped out in plucking them and then as more people started joining us, we shared the amlas with the rest of the group. While we had to do a lot of zig zag climbing in a non-existent trail, Malan had led a group on a vertical trail and we slowly started assembling. Meanwhile, Naju and Gokul been lucky enough to grab hold of the amla bag and take out the much juicy and tastier smaller amlas ;) however it was important to preserve the resources for the rest of the ascent and not exhaust them and they had to be satisfied with very few for now. After sometime, Vibin who had gone back to check on the person following me appeared with a backpack and finally group was relaxing and gaining back some energy – It was rest time. Vibin’s bandage (from an earlier injury) had come off and Sindhu, our group’s doc was up in action dressing it up and then we decided to move on further and stop next only at a Solo tree for lunch. As we kept on moving, Malan and Sankar were pointing to a tree as a Solo tree. Whenever there are rats running in our stomach, even a group of trees appeared to be like a single tree, however the climbing went on and on, and on and on… and finally the Solo tree arrived, which was one-third of the path covered. Some of us had a power nap until the rest of the group assembled. Then, it was lunch time and we started having the chappatis from the parcel, not everyone can be as lucky as Ram who carried his own set of homemade soft rotis. It was perhaps my first lunch with the dirtiest ever hands, of course we had to preserve the water until we reached the tea estate and someone passed on a wet wipe for cleaning hands after lunch.
After lunch, Solo tree point appeared to be one of the quietest moment of the trip and Nigam was pointing out this how this point was apt enough to be called a ‘zero decibel’ point in the entire ascent. However, as soon as Sankar started singing, zero decibel atmosphere was gone, and folks who were sleeping and reluctant to move, were more than ready to move now. After some more stretching for the people who had got cramps, we moved on and often stopped by to catch a glimpse of the view from top and to wait for a part of the group to assemble. The ascent was pretty much manageable even after we were walking through the dense forest. We were walking through a clear trail and there was hardly a chance of anyone getting lost. After two-third of the ascent was over, around 9 of us grouped up again and then after some photographs, we resumed back. The forest walk was really good when it started, we were chatting as a group and enjoying the cool breeze. I had gotten into a different world in between observing a flycatcher pair as they were shuttling between two three trees. For the first time perhaps I regretted for leaving behind my binoculars to keep my backpack light, and then the scene of three of us falling down (who else .. me, my backpack and binoculars) esp while going through those bushes flashed through mind J and then there was no more second thought of carrying the binoculars as it was not something essential for a trek :P. As a part of me realized that I was still walking on the dense forest, I turned around and I could see no one ahead of me and behind me, and singled out as I was started moving ahead cursing the group that had left me behind. It was then that I realized that in spite of a cool breeze, my hands, neck and even few parts of my face were full of scratches and the sweat dropping down and the salt content had started giving me a burning sensation. All this time, I had been chatting with a group and had never realized that the scratches all around me. I called out to a few guys, and Ram who answered back in return ‘Aao ji Aao’ chose to move on forward. However, within a few minutes, I could see someone walking behind with a DSLR on the neck. Prakash was in the same shape as me, sweating all over and looking a little tired experiencing the same kind of burning sensation. A shutterbug could do wonders and no matter how much tired one looks, that would never stop someone from flashing the biggest ever smile in front of the cam.
It was a little slower ascent for next few minutes though we were closer to the tea estate and we required sight of some cold water/some highly energetic person to cheer up and be back to form. We decided to relax at a point and as we were lying down and enjoying the view and the forest listening to the tweets of the squirrels/bird sounds, and suddenly from nowhere we also heard a tamil song from nowhere. We were not sure if it was a hallucination though both of us had heard it, and the very thought of Sankar giving us company till the tea estate with his songs gave us instant energy that we immediately started walking and didn’t stop until we reached the tea shop. After all, the trek was all for a cup of tea from the world’s highest orthodox tea gardens, so as soon as we reached Prakash and I ordered the tea. We washed off our hands and face and it was such a heavenly feeling to wash off the sweat and could have even taken bath there had there been a waterfall nearby. I was re-energized and recharged after a splash of water on my face followed by two cups of strong tea. Prakash had moved a little ahead and after my tea, Naju and I climbed up and caught up with the rest of the group. The view of the tea gardens from the top was incredible and as it was photo time after reaching the top. After a tireless round of selfies, groupfies, jumping snaps and solo pics, we waited for the Sunset and Vibin suggested we go to a little forward to catch a better view of the Sunset. It was indeed an ‘out of the world’ feeling, watching the last rays of the sun hit the green meadows and enjoying the cool breeze as the temperature dropped down. We were joined by Malan and Co in sometime and every one of us got into the jeep, all set to reach Munnar.
Our jeep started and initially it was a roller coaster ride, though after a point of time, it really didn’t matter. While the heftier and the luckier ones in the jeep were dozing off, the unlucky me had to contend with seeing others’ face as they were sleeping peacefully, and I was busy all through the jeep ride trying to hang on to one position as I was sliding from left to right and right to left in each and every bend. After realizing my weightlessness during the trip, I thought it was perhaps some time for a nice good dinner and atleast the drive back to the camping point would perhaps become somewhat manageable. But the problems of thin and lean people are countless, and this time, the hot dosas were gone with the same speed as they had arrived into my plate – thanks to set of people sitting with me. The next set of roast had arrived but then again hands pounced into my plate from nowhere and everything was gone within matter of a minute. Somehow, I too could get my hands onto a few bits of dosas and idlis from some plates and finish off the dinner. Then after another round of tea with Dinesh and Amar, we again went back to Jeep and finally settled down in a place in Marayoor for that night.
Snoring sounds in different voice modulations could be heard all through the night and somehow we had managed to sleep comfortably in our sleeping bags. Then we woke up around 6:30 the next day and packed up all stuff. While the S15’s were comfortably folded and into their respective bags, Brinda’s wildcraft sleeping bag almost gave a scare. I had folded even the S20’s and S15’s comfortably before, but not matter how much effort was put on in folding this Wildcraft bag, it refused to go into the bag. It seemed as if all the last night dinner would get exploited in just folding one sleeping bag. Then, it was handed over to the guys, and somehow thanks to them, all was packed in the bag. Then as we went to refresh, I could see a few people applying huge amount of paste and brushing their teeth as they were brushing their teeth after many many days, while 2-3 people were hunting for neem sticks and settled down with Mango leaves as their equivalent. Then we had some apples and after filling our bottles, we were back into the Jeep, off to Chinnar to visit the Thoovanam waterfalls. The sun god was all beaming on Sunday morning as we arrived at Chinnar and waiting for the clearance from Forest dept since we had to pass through a zone with dense elephant population. The itching and burning sensation again returned as the sun shown up brightly that day, just then, Dinesh, our Sheikh Abdullah of the group suggested to cover up with a coat or another shirt to bring down the intensity over the sun and I started feeling okay after shielding the scratches to a certain extent from the sun though it was still a little hard as sweat kept dripping on. Then, we had another round of photo session there and no idea how many people actually got their dream matrimony pics from our Star photographer of the trip, Srini as they had planned to, as per the whatsapp conversations ;).
Then, as the forest guide arrived, we walked further for the next 3 kms accompanied by some real monkeys too on the way, until we arrived at the spectacular Thoovanam waterfalls. While few of us settled down for breakfast spreading jam over the bread slices, some could not control their excitement and went for a dip in the waterfalls. The water was extremely cool and it was a heavenly feeling to sit under it for some time. However after sometime, I started feeling very cold and moved on for next round of bread slices, after all that’s the only thing no one would want to snatch from you during a trek ;). After a nice waterfall massage which was refreshing enough to forget about the itching and the marks for the rest of the trip, some of us settled down for another round of photographs. People were having great fun in the waterfalls, some of them were freezing and shivering all over as they came out after the dip esp Gokul who went for a matter of few seconds and then settled down for a sun bath. Then after a group pic in the falls, we started back, this time again Nigam, Dinesh, Ram, Prakash, and Brinda giving me company, we started moving on, stopped in between for a couple of breaks and then resumed back. Then after a point, we could see the road, so we decided to climb up to the road instead of the rocky path and as we were in the flat surface, Nigam, Dinesh and Ram exclaimed that jogging was good for health and jogging saves up 10% of energy over walking and then they started jogging on the road up till the jeep (it was perhaps another half a km to one km distance). We obviously didn’t want to comment about them opting to jog at 1 PM. I was feeling greatly refreshed after the short and sweet waterfall bath and I didn’t want spoil that with a run and we both just moved on talking about few other things as we reached near our Jeep. After sometime Naju and Siva too joined them, then we three had a strong black tea while Dinesh bought some watermelons which were over in quick time. And soon as everyone had assembled, we filled up our water bottles and were back to top station. We had our lunch there, one group esp enjoyed the fish kolambu too much I guess that they were talking about it even during the dinner.
You cannot stop thanking Newton for all his contribution in the discovery of gravitational force as we started the fast paced descent. Nigam and Dinesh went first and then Malan, Dheebika and I followed and here and there, we stopped to catch a glimpse of the path that we had taken during ascent – the path through thorny bushes, the Solo tree, then the dense forest that we had passed through. We were mostly discussing about the path that we had taken the previous day as we were descending down, mostly through the alternative easier paths in between in place of the curled zig zag trails and we stopped in between for a wonderful sharbat. Most of us had two galsses of it and then ten of us started down and in between we stopped for a minute in the falls to wash our faces and once we reached the base point, we ordered another round of tea.
Then we were generally talking anout the trip and few other things and warmed down and the rest of the people started joining us one by one. We started with an introduction session after a groupie, however it was interrupted as the bus started to move and we had to rush into the bus. We reached Theni around 8 as Dinesh bid goodbye and left. It was dinner time and treat time for the freshers ;) as discussed on the way to Theni and Dilip was in action trying to sponsors for the dinner. After a good dinner, it was time to say goodbye to everyone as we had all booked different buses way back to Chennai. Then 5-6 of us again took a mini bus from a bus stop near the hotel and reached the boarding point.
It was a wonderful feeling that night as the pangs of pain had been overwhelmed by the cool breeze, the wonderful moments of the trip and the new friends made over the weekend. A huge huge thanks to the organizers for the great trip and that this wasn’t called off though Vibin had had a leg injury, thanks to our self-proclaimed super singer accountant Sankar for staying on top of accounts and finally to Parakash, Srini and Sudarshan for capturing the wonderful moments of the trips. It was a super awesome trip where we had a lot of observe and learn, while someone was slowly and steadily ascending up without a break, a lot of them was wanting to share as much information as they could with freshers trying to give them a best possible weekend, freshers trying to push them as much as they in an attempt not to slow down the entire group. It might have been the end of the Munnar trip.. never mind, conversation continues on whatsapp for many many treks to come ;)