Monday, December 4, 2017

A trek to Kudremukh

 When you board a train for a trek and, within minutes find someone else claiming, "25 is MY berth" only to later find that his berth is 26, it can be smiled away. Half an hour later if another person comes and says indignantly, "25 is MY berth" and later discovers that he has 27, you may laugh it off as a funny coincidence. YOU may, I cannot. For, after all, when you have the reputation of a disaster magnet - natural or man-made disasters, as witness my presence when Leh got cut off, Uttaranchal faced cloud-bursts and Burhan Wani's killing set Kashmir afire - even when the start of the trek was not ominous, you start shivering in your trekking boots when a trek starts off like that.

When you land in Mangalore five minutes before time and anticipate a longish wait for the other guys to reach by their train only to find that THAT train arrives more than half-an-hour early, you may feel that luck is running your way. YOU may...ME, I start worrying about all that remains of my good fortune running out in this manner.

The journey to the home-stay was fun, though. My stomach behaved itself though I, as usual, kept singing all the way to ensure that the only thing that came out of my mouth was words. AND, wonder of wonders, there were even people in the van who actually found the singing good and, a miracle this, even said so!

Did I forget to mention, though? Chandru, who has made a habit of dropping off from the trek at the last moment these past few times by the painful manner of breaking a bone or so, did it in a less painful manner this time - he just missed the train! Vinod and his second daughter Deeksha had boarded the train but Varsha and her husband also managed the same feat as Chandru. Though, knowing Vinod, they SHOULD have caught the damned train instead...for missing the train only let them in for an all night bus journey and, of course, listening endlessly from Vinod (he was still at it when we parted ways after the trek!) about how they ought to have left in time to board the train!

The group I trekked with this time was the Trichy Trekkers - an offspring of the trek group with which I initially trekked in the Himalayas. Barring Ramesh Kamak and Ram Prabhu, the entire group was new to me - except, of course, Vinod and family. And what a wonderful group they were (NO! It is not only because they professed to like my singing!) The group was actually composed of people from Madurai, Coimbatore, Chennai AND Trichy, of course. The common factor seemed to be a couple of things - you could call for Gopal and have half the group turning to you or call out Doctor and find the other half paying attention - or so it seemed to me. Made it difficult to remember names, let me tell you, so I remember Sundars, Aravinds and Karthiks!

We arrived at the Home Stay by noon. The distaff side and a few of the males were put up in one home and the rest of us in the other. A light lunch and we were off to the nearby waterfall. Anyone who has so far been through my trek chronicles knows full well that a buffalo has nothing on me when it comes to wallowing in water. There would be no real point in belaboring the joy of getting into water that pummels you like a seasoned masseur, so let us give that the go-by. (AND thank your lucky stars that nobody sent me a pic of MY wallowing in the water else I'd have inflicted THAT on you instead of this one. If you are really masochist enough to want that, you will find enough evidence elsewhere in this blog, though not in Kudremukh, of course).

Back to the Home stay and I found that there are perils of being seen as the only one knowing Kannada. Apparently we had quite a few trekkers who were interested in decimating the population of chickens in the area whereas the initial organization was only for veg meals. So, the Brahmin (who must confess that chickens are not entirely free of HIS attentions either) had to set about organizing the slaughter.

There was a bonfire in the evening, more specifically to celebrate the wedding anniversary of a co-trekking couple after which...yeah, how did you ever guess, I was also asked to contribute to the festivities with my singing. A strange experience for me to meet with a group, near fifty strong, which manfully and womanfully restrained itself from hooting and catcalls while I wrung every single verse out of every single song that I 'sang' till it started bewailing ever having come into existence. I may have held them for hours more but for Vinod artfully asking me to sing 'Mere naina sawan bhadon'. Just as I had all my tonsils on view rendering 'Phir bhi mera man pyasaaaaaaa', the wind gently blew a lungful of smoke from the bonfire down my fully opened throat, ending that rendition with a 'Pyasa..huh..huh..huh'. THAT, thankfully, was THAT for the others who gratefully took to their heels before I recovered.

The next day we started on the trek. About 10 Kms of ascent and then the same 10 Kms to be retraced back to the Home stay. Sharan, the local trek organizer and guide, said,"Initially, we will be walking on flat terrain for some 4 Kms after which there will be a bit of an ascent. Then, after a while, there will be a zigzag path upwards. After that, it is again flat till nearly the end of the trek, where we will have a bit of a climb to the summit." AND, promptly, we start huffing and puffing up a 30 degree incline.

I really think someone has to take these trek guides in hand and teach them some common English. They have some weird ideas, really, of what constitutes a flat terrain. I mean, really, I know flat on the mountains is not exactly a road in Delhi but 30 degrees? They really publish a different dictionary for these guys - all of them use words in the same manner - as also witness their idea of what a half-an-hour walk is when you ask them how long it will take to reach the end of the trek!

After a longish bit of huffing and puffing the path actually eased out to what you and I could think of as flat - especially if you have just been crawling up an incline like that. I sped past people rushing onward, leaving behind awed comments about my trekking prowess. Well, whatever else being a 'veteran trekker' had taught me, the one thing it HAD taught me is to make speed where I can so that, when I am up an incline, with snails passing me contemptuously, I do not still have to spend too long in the sun.

I love streams en route a trek. There is something about a gurgling stream crossing your path under a canopy of trees, starting from some mysterious place above and heading to some mysterious destination below, always flowing, always there, that speaks to me. It speaks to me especially eloquently when I am steaming with heat and perspiration, for then I pour water over my head and down my neck, wet my hat, and feel like I can possibly live for a few more hours after all. The Kudremukh trek had us crossing multiple streams periodically and they were life-savers, let me tell you, absolute life-savers.

The problem, though, is that the higher you get the less your chances of encountering streams, especially the ones that flow amidst trees and give you the hope that the world is not always a hot and tiring place. So, while I was enjoying the brief bursts of coolness from the streams, I knew that it was too good to last and I would come to where the sun would have its way with me relentlessly. (If you are wondering why so much time is being spent on the Sun, you do not know me. I am the guy who finds the morning sun of a Delhi Winter too hot to handle. You ain't seen no sweat till you have seen me sweating. And to think I was brought up in Neyveli, not exactly known as a Hill Station!)

And, as promised, the incline duly arrived. (THAT's another grouse for me. When these chaps say 'flat', it never IS flat, but if they say something is an incline, then...). Ever seen a Bullet Train turn into a Bullock Cart? If you want to, just trail alongside me as I hit an incline after a relatively flat track, while on a trek. Of course, I huff and puff like a steam engine but then the bullock probably does the same, if you paid any notice to it.

And midway through that damn incline, disaster struck. Not anything minor like my twisting an ankle or such, which would have given me a graceful excuse to abandon the trek. The sole of my left shoe came off the front portion and started flapping around like the mouth of a crocodile. I did have a tube of FeviKwik (another of those veteran trekker thingies which you carry around to impress but hope never to depend on) and stuck the sole on with it. Well, the tube did live up to its name. It was as Kwik to come off as it was to stick on, so, within another 100 meters, the crocodile was flapping its jaws around hunting for prey again.

The next hundred meters or so gave me a good idea of what Hitler's soldiers suffered with their goose-stepping. About the only saving grace was that I did not have to shoot up my hand and scream, "Heil whatever". By then, I was ready for ANY solution so when someone asked me why I had not just yanked it off, I ecstatically carried it out. (As an aside, when I was whining to Vinod about the consequences of doing that, the chap tells me, no less than 20 times within the minute, that I should have tied it on with laces. I should have known better than to seek sympathy from him. HE is the guy who will sit by the bedside of a man recovering from a heart operation and tell him what he ought to have eaten since age 5 to avoid the problem! You know the sort who, when you are drowning, will be so busy berating you for not learning swimming that he will fail to notice when you are floating away free of all care).

And so, I experienced how it would be to trek with one leg shorter than the other by about a couple of inches. You either plonk the soled foot too hard or you shift weight to the soleless one when it is still in the air. No amount of pleading with the powers above that I found trekking difficult as it is, and there was really no need to add to the trauma, helped. So, where I used to stop to catch my breath once every ten steps, I was now stopping once every two steps. Of course, when someone else was nearby, I was only stopping to taking in the view. (This being known as a veteran trekker, I tell you. It turns you into a second-rate actor, if nothing else). Thankfully, even if my acting failed me, the views did not and, so, the idea of stopping so frequently to take in the sights was eminently believable.

On I trudged, lungs screaming and feet jarring on the ground with uneven steps, hoping forlornly that the trek would come to an end soon. Not before I climbed that zig-zag path, of course and I hit it fairly screaming at the thought of having to climb up that lung-buster. (To be honest, in the normal course, that sort of incline is what you eat for breakfast and ask for more. It is just the lack of soul...err...sole and, perhaps, age catching up. Young at heart and all is fine but it seems to cut no ice with the body.)

 By the time I hit the ridge, I was too tired even to enjoy the relative peace of the ridge-walk. No lung-busting, true, but no shade either and the Sun was at its noon-day high. I went on, the views around me the only solace in what seemed like an endless treadmill. (Whinging a lot, am I? Yeah, I know it was MY choice to trek and, in the normal course, this would have been very pleasant indeed, bar the heat, but I really had not bargained for the difference that the lack of a 'sole' makes to the body). But, yes...the views...

Eventually, you come to what you consider is the end of the trek and there rears a massif. Yeah, I know, on my return I did tell some trekkers who were walking up,"If there is no climb at the end, why would THAT be considered the summit?" but that is the sort of thing that you comfortably say when you have done it and are on your way back. Looking at it as a prospective climb, though...

Still, you know...that veteran trekker thingy. The idea is to look at your feet and put one in front of the other and keep going. To look up to see how much more remains is a surefire way to tire yourself even more than you already are. Still, you do look up at times and envy those cozily sitting up there.

Eventually, I did land up at the last. A pity that no pic of my feat is here, though.

Been there, done that! NOW the descent should be a breeze. "Oh! Yeah!" whispered some imp of Satan. AND, I started back down...

When there is only a couple of millimeters of leather separating your foot from the ground, it is not too much of a problem ascending...except if you step on a sharp stone or a thorn, which I had not. On the descent, though...

For one, without the sole, the shoe does not grip well. So, you tend to skid and slip on sand and gravel. For another, there are too many damn places where your next step is a foot or so lower and you land on stones. Not exactly the sort of joyous feeling that the foot is used to, with us city slickers, at least. So, there I went, trying to put the soled right foot forward in all such cases. The issue, though, is that it was a trek path not a bloody stairway. Most times the only foot that can land without your having to twist yourself in ballet poses is the sole-less one...and anyone who has seen me will die laughing with the mere mention of me and ballet poses in the same sentence. I mean Sumo Wrestlers are Sumo Wrestlers and Ballet dancers are Ballet dancers and the twain will never meet and all that...

But, needs must. So ballet poses it was, and the consequence was that, more often than not, my ankle turned or my left foot landed on a sharp stone or...enough said. It suffices to say that a running commentary of my descent would exhaust my entire vocabulary of swearing and, this time, I ended up at the Home Stay with pains in all parts of the body, including some that I never knew that God had seen fit to put into the Human anatomy.

The rest, as they say, is anti-climax. An evening of camaraderie - including finding that Arvind was ten years my junior at my school in Neyveli (THAT was probably the previous night, but there was more bonding this day) and Lourd had worked in Neyveli for three years...surprising to find two Neyveli connections in one trek. We traveled back to Mangalore the next day and scattered to the four winds.

Till the next trek brings us together...

Photo Credits: Co-trekkers. NONE taken by me, as usual.


  1. Had I not missed the train, you'd have had a partner in the wheezing and whinging ... Perhaps on the next easy(?) trek ..

    Till then .. lets down a few bottles and talk about the good old days .... the days when I was not good OR old ....



    1. NOW you know how much I miss you on treks and why :)

  2. I don't have a sadistic bone in my body. I know it is mean, even cruel, to grin and chuckle while reading the travails another has experienced, but Sorry Suresh, this your trek post had me doing my Hyena impression without any volition. Thanks, needed that!

  3. Only you can make a travelogue sound this entertaining! Sorry you had to undergo such sole-less travails but they made for a rip-roaring narrative! The campfire singing, lol! This made my day, totally!

    1. Thanks Kala! I will have you know that my singing makes people appreciate the original singer so much more :)

  4. It is certainly one thing to read about something that you have done and experience what you felt from the detailed and vivid description which I have been doing reading all your previous blogs, especially on travels and treks, but this certainly was very much more enjoyable since I too was fortunate enough to have been part of the group with whom we did this trek and went through the same experience, well not exactly the same since I didn't have the sole-less experience that you had as my Quecha shoe saw to it that it stays intact all through the way. Nevertheless, being almost of the same dimension as you widthwise,I did enjoy reading about your bullock cart panting (same case with me), and I too did some "enjoying the view" stopping enroute whenever possible, which were a disguised way to actually catch my breath...
    I really loved the way you put the total package together and made the reading very humorous ...
    Regarding the singing, I would like to mention that many told me after hearing you, both continuously singing in the van and also during the bonfire , that they were really amazed and surprised to find a real guy who sang from memory without almost missing the wordings or the tune...ah voice too wasn't exactly "bad" , all liked it is the consensus. Kudos to this amazing talent of yours which we would have never known hadn't we seen you out there in person. Through your blogs your ability to write witty anecdotes that too in the most detailed manner is an art which all your fans would certainly vouch for by now but apart from that I hope they now at least now know you have other talents too up in your sleeves of which singing is one.. Other talent being cooking, which I guess I shall be invited to test in near future ! :)p
    Last but not the least it was a special and pleasantly surprising experience for me to find my school senior in you! This probably could have happened in some school reunions but I hadn't dreamt of ever meeting one talented guy during treks! Well well that's life !
    Your company during the trek especially on the second and third days are etched forever in my memory in a pleasant way !

    As you rightly said we shall strive to keep in touch and hope will meet again if not in some other trek may be on some other occasion ! The world is small and tomorrow what happens is .....

    1. Thanks Arvind! Let us not leave the meeting to chance :) AND, yes, you can get a chance to eat my cooking too :) Was quite an amazing and pleasant surprise to run unexpectedly into another Neyveliite.

      As for other talents, I write books too :) As in the book link that features on the top right of this blog :)

  5. Hilarious and a nice adventure ! These trips do sound heavenly..other than the treks i mean :D