Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Ombattu-Gudde Trek

With leech-bites itching on both legs up to the knee, smarting scratches all over the body and soreness in muscles I didn’t even know that I had, I wonder whether the two day trek at Ombattu Gudde was worth it all. Then I recollect the cool green confines of the forest, the gurgling streams, the superb vistas and the wonderful camaraderie shared with the other trekkers and all these minor inconveniences fade into insignificance.

The trek started from Gundya on a comfortable trail which was almost like a walk in a park. Once we reached a stream we stopped for breakfast and a bout of splashing around in the stream. One needs to be hot and sweaty and then hit a lovely forest stream in order to realize how enjoyable the experience can really be. After about an hour of sojourn there we proceeded on the trek.

Walking through virgin forest, jumping from boulder to boulder on the stream bed and wading up to waist deep while crossing streams we proceeded towards the first day’s campsite. The trek was not too strenuous in terms of effort or terrain and, but for de-leeching breaks, we could probably have comfortably reached the campsite in daylight.

When someone who hasn’t trekked at all thinks about going into forests, the idea of being close to Nature is exclusively benign. It doesn’t always work out that way! One of the less comfortable facts of Nature is the leech. An amazing creature which first anesthetizes the site of its bite, de-coagulates the blood and sucks blood enough to bloat from needle-size to a near-globe and then falls off. One can look on it in amazement till, of course, it practices its act on you!

Our trek group had four schools of thought with regard to the leeches. The organizers had come prepared with snuff and oil which was formed into a paste and applied on the legs (one of the very few healthy uses for tobacco, I suppose). Another group believed in eucalyptus oil and yet another believed in the miraculous effect of lime(chunna). The last school of thought, who included yours truly, believed in allowing the leeches to have their fill and drop off without either preventive measures or any effort at interrupting their feeding. The impact of the last school was that my leg bled as though it had been mangled in an automobile accident! The first three schools of thought were probably foiled by the fact that wading through streams washed off the applications and, thus, guys spent a lot of time plucking leeches off their legs or spraying painkillers to make them let go. (Pharma companies note! One more use you can advocate for painkiller sprays!)

Thanks to this repeated de-leeching the last part of the trek was completed in darkness. This was the first time I had trekked in the night with only torches to illuminate the way through a dense forest. The experience was eerie but extremely enjoyable. Well! But for the photophilic insects that clustered around my headlamp and made me wish for a flypaper attachment, it was thoroughly great! We eventually reached the campsite by the side of gurgling streams.

My treks, hitherto, had been either with people hired to set up tents and cook or with camps in forest rest-houses or both. It was, therefore, amazing to see the organizers and co-trekkers pitch in and convert an unpromising site into a cozy camp. Open air though it was it looked like home away from home! People cleaned up the site, fetched wood and generally got ready for dinner. The chefs got into the act chopping vegetables and soaking the avalakki/avul (beaten rice, I suppose, is the English term!). Naveen dished out a delicious avul upma/Ogranai and how good a camp-cooked hot meal can be only experience can tell.

Just as we were lying down to sleep it started raining. Being prone to acidity attacks and having had one just then I was in too much distress to help the guys who rigged up tarpaulins above us to keep us from being drenched. (With my fabulous aptitude for messing up the simplest physical tasks it was just as well that I did not get in their way!).

Next day we woke up to some delicious black tea (of course, there were the generous souls who woke up and made the tea that we woke up to!) and set off on what promised to be a strenuous trek. Crossing the stream that had lulled us to sleep the previous night we proceeded through the forest. Our constant companions – the leeches – were with us still but the group had to hasten to complete the nearly 20 KM trek for the day. Ploughing your way through creepers that trip you up when you try to bull your way through them and readily break off when you hold on to them to avoid a fall is an unforgettable experience. After nearly four hours of walking through the forests (Well! We did rest a lot in-between!) we reached the grasslands.

A steep climb up and we were on the peak. To stand on top with valleys displaying all shades of green stretching out into the distance and gazing at fluffy clouds lazily moving across distant peaks is an experience that uplifts you but does not lend itself readily to descriptive phrases. It is at times like this that you truly feel that you are on cloud nine or should I be saying in cloud nine since we appeared to be in the clouds?

After taking a fill of soaking in the blissful atmosphere and a couple of group photographs down the line, we set off on our way back to civilization reluctantly. There was a kicker in store for us, however. It was near dark and there was some confusion about the way forward. Guna went into the jungle and found us a way back to the jeep trail that was to lead us back to where our bus was parked. (Considering that this was the place that three trekkers had lost their way and their lives a couple of years back and that another group of trekkers who were there at the same time as us had also lost their way and sent out an SOS, this feat is worthy of mention!)

Another spell of night trekking through the forest and a 10 KM walk on the jeep trail and we were back at the bridge where the bus picked us up. A scrumptious dinner down the road at a Dhaba (sans beer, alas!) and we settled down to sleep in the bus to wake up in our mundane everyday world!

It is difficult to adequately praise Ravi Ghosh who organised the trek and Claudy who was the pathfinder. Nor indeed can one forget all the other guys who selfless pitched in to make the trek comfortable on the way and at the campsite. If Nature provides the aesthetic component of joy on treks the emotional satisfaction of trekking is provided by such wonderful people who not only create the camaraderie on the trek but also make it possible for the group to enjoy nature at its best.

Links to photographs taken by other trekkers in the group are given under