"And then when I saw the leeches, blood drained from my face..."
A cool breeze blew past me, reminding me to prepare myself for the obstacles ahead. I looked up at the sky and felt like a giant, for the clouds seemed to be within my reach. In the epic Mahabharata, in the Mahaprasthanika Parva, the Pandavas and Draupadi begin their journey up the Himalayas to reach heaven. And then a dog accompanied them... I knew I was about to embark upon a similar journey; I sensed I was very close to heaven, for nowhere else can beauty of this magnitude exist - the lush leaves of plants and trees all around me painted in various hues and shades of green, the soft gurgle of the stream, the eternal croaks of frogs and chirps of mysterious birds that refused to show themselves... The entire area seemed to be the epitome of vibrant life, for even the fallen trees were teeming with life, with mosses and colourful mushrooms growing side by side, a perfect example of what life in harmony meant. And yes, there was a dog ready to climb up the hill.
Kodachadri, the tallest hill of the Western Ghats had been in my bucket list for quite some time. It's time, I thought to myself as I looked at the sky once more. The colour blue was nowhere to be seen with white and grey taking up the space left by the green canopy. I didn't need to be a weatherman to guess it would rain anytime (if I was a weatherman, I'd have probably gotten that wrong) and I put on my cap and arranged my jacket over my bag to ensure that no water could fall on it. Bags are only water resistant, not water-proof, a lesson I learnt the hard way after losing a mobile phone (and almost losing a laptop) to the rains of Bangalore.
I began to walk with deliberately short steps. I could feel my excitement surging within, pushing me to increase my strides but I resisted the temptation for I have learnt from the past that a trek is more about sustained efforts rather than bursts of energy. To succeed in life, it is more important to sustain efforts - Even minuscule drops of water and minuscule grains of sand eventually wear out the most powerful of rocks. I crossed a small stream and walked through a narrow path. The gradual variations of the landscape did nothing to sap my energy and the full breaths of fresh unpolluted air seemed to energise me with every passing step. The soft sunbeams that had crept through the clouds did nothing more than gently kiss the ground and illuminate the forest. I approached what seemed to be a stream about ten feet wide and a couple of rocks in between. It might be an obvious choice to jump across the rocks to reach the other side, and it wasn't a bad idea. I didn't want to get my shoes wet (I realise as I write this that I was naive) and I decided to jump across. I was confident of clearing that distance, I have done it several times in the past. The only thing I hadn't factored in was the soft soil at the edge of the stream, the place where I was to make the leap. Before you think I slipped and fell, I didn't :) Instead, my foot sank in the slush and my shoes and jeans got really dirty. I did manage to jump across on the rocks but then the purpose had been defeated. On the other side, I looked at my shoes and shrugged - after all, roughing it out was the objective, wasn't it?
It had started raining by then and I decided to continue walking. Little by little, I could feel my breathing getting heavier. The slope was beginning to get increasingly steeper and the rain continued to batter the canopy. I had finally reached a point where my breathing and my heart could not keep pace with my will, my ears were getting hotter despite the cool rains. I stopped and hurriedly pulled out a bottle of orange juice, thinking of satiating myself with a few gulps of the sour-sweet nectar, and before I knew it, I was chugging away the entire bottle. I exhaled heavily a few times and felt normalcy returning. I replaced the empty bottle in my bag and felt a sting on my right leg. I bent down to observe it better, pulled up my jeans a bit and rolled down the sock to see two slimy leeches looking bloated, greedily satiating themselves just as I had with the juice. A surge of anger grew in me because of their bloated appearance at my cost and I angrily flicked my finger at them, and then repeated the action. The leeches reacted to the initial flicks by lazily raising their heads and before they could strike again, I flicked them off me. I noticed that they had left small round red marks, battle scars for me to show to the rest that I had been to the famed leech-land. They say salt works wonders on them and I was carrying salt in my bag too, but considering my impatience and their impudence, I thought flicking them would be faster than giving them salt (to taste?)
To me, the entire scenery seemed straight out of a game (Call of Duty Black Ops - Vietnam Jungle or Disney's Tarzan) or a really vivid setting of a movie (like Avatar) because I encountered fallen trees over which I had to climb and two fallen trees such that I had to climb over one and go under the other. The mud was slippery in some places and I would gingerly place my feet one at a time after ensuring that the foothold was sufficiently stable, reminiscent of a leech's movement. There were numerous beautiful sights that have unfortunately only been captured in my mind but not with a camera owing to the rains. Suddenly there was a gushing stream, the water merrily jumping over rocks. This was no rain water flowing down the slope. It was a stream, for the water looked clear and full of energy. I continued walking towards the source and I saw the intensity increasing as in fell off large rocks and made its way between boulders. The noise grew louder as I continued and lo! A magnificent waterfalls that seemed over fifty feet stood in the middle of the forest. I could approach it either over some rocks from the side or a large log in the centre, but prudence made me avoid the log. The child in me wanted to excitedly climb over the log but the mossy surface and the adult in me prompted me to exercise caution. I sat around ten feet from the waterfall, letting the droplets in the air settle over me and form a continuous surface of tiny bubbles all over my arms. Suddenly, I appeared to have been made of tiny diamonds glistening in the sunlight.
I decided to continue my journey. The next move didn't seem that straightforward because the slope was greater than sixty degrees. The ascent had to be made by holding on to a thin tree, and it was at that moment that my folly of packing a very heavy bag manifested itself. Remember that all this time, I had been lugging a heavy bag on my shoulders but it had been more of a hike so far. Considering this new manoeuvre required the usage of my hands and legs simultaneously at a steep angle, the bag proved to be a major hassle. For after I pulled myself up partially, the weight of the bag pulled me down just as I was about to complete that manoeuvre. Meaning, that I was dangling at an odd angle. Making a mental note to pack lighter the next time around, I heaved myself up exerting significant amount of energy and cursing myself. My foolishness was compounded due to the fact that my jacket was simply placed on my bag and not attached anywhere and so I was worried it would fall off if I made too many quick movements. These small things might seem silly to the reader, but they are important, especially when you are hanging at an odd angle with a heavy bag on your shoulder and a jacket that's about to fall off :)
The climb became significantly harder as the path became steeper and narrower. What served as a constant motivation to charge ahead was not the will to complete the trek or reach the top but the fear that staying in one place longer than that critical amount of time would attract a horde of blood sucking leeches. After the grueling trek through the jungles the path came into an opening where I saw a vast field. I walked along the bunds on the side, the dog merrily and effortlessly walking ahead of me. The path opened into what seemed to be a large grassy hill, the ones we normally associate Switzerland with. The clouds seemed to have descended to an all time low, or perhaps I had climbed to an all time high, for heaven seemed to be with reaches now. It was time to break for lunch.
[Have a look here - Press F11 for fullscreen of browser, double click to zoom in a bit, and then pan around]
As I continued my ascent, the cool wind blew past me continuously, covering my surroundings with the clouds I had seen below. I had reached my goal, my destiny... I looked below and saw that I had ascended beyond the clouds and was jubilant of my little achievement, I had indeed transcended beyond, and left the entire world behind me. I had finally done it.
And then I looked up and there were still clouds. And much to my dismay, there was still so much to do. The celestial vehicle didn't come to pick me up, the dog didn't turn into Yama, I didn't reach Swarga... But yes, I did manage to catch a glimpse of heaven on earth. Kodachadri, the most scenic place I have been to till today.
[Trust me when I say this, these pictures nor this description offer no substitute to the real experience]
Although I chose to narrate it like the dog and I were the only ones on the trek, the reality was that I went on this trek with my good friend Karthik HS and a group of around 35 people with the Bangalore Mountaineering Club. I was very happy with the way they organised it and would highly recommend them. The dog was also there :)
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Skandagiri Trek - Comedy of Errors