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The author takes a 22 kms monsoon trek to the summit of Kudremukh peak, braves leech attacks and more, and lives to tell this rib tickling tale!
So? You have a comfortable life and you are happy? But you can’t recognize that you lead a happy life? Might I suggest a monsoon trek to whichever place is experiencing the highest rainfall in the western ghats?
You can start by boarding a bus which has been stripped off of every last bit of comfort imaginable for buses. Get your oversized backpack and put it in the front, and your leaky bottle on your lap. Get the absolute last corner seat of the bus so that all the potholes and speed bumps on the way get acquainted with your tailbone and an occasional speed breaker sends you flying.
You reach your destination which is a forest outpost at 3:30 in the night and it’s raining outside. You possibly slept fitfully and cried in your sleep. You are asked to deboard and are handed a wet sleeping bag which someone assures is dry inside and you take their word for it.
You board a jeep which rattles the beejesus out of you, and you hang on to dear life. You reach a homestay which is a fancy word for a room with a bathroom for nine girls, and a similar one for boys. You stake claim to the area near the only piece of furnishing in the room which is a mirror, so that when you sleep in your sleeping bag at night you will be surrounded by the fallen hair of your roommates.
You drink tea and change into trekking clothes. Wear a trekking pant, a jacket so you don’t feel cold, put on a poncho because it continues to rain and your trekking boots. You consider yourself smart and apply salt on your feet and put your pants inside the pair of socks to deter leeches. (HAHA, you fool!)
You carry power bars for the trek and someone hands you a packet of rice flavored with tamarind and asks you not to eat it yet as this is lunch. You reach the forest checkpoint and realize that plastic is banned, hence your power bars have to be said bye to. You hand over your power bars and pray they let you carry your pack of peanuts because it’s in a ziplock bag and who throws a zip lock bag, surely they will know that! But they take it.
You are happy that you have contributed to the hills not being littered, and your eco self feels proud. You then start walking up the mountain and realize your knees haven’t woken up yet after the bus ride. So you snatch the trekking pole from your husband because he claims to be the better trekker. Also, he bounds off in the general direction of up; if at certain points in the trek you catch up with him, he switches on his turbo boots and blasts off lest he misses being the first on the summit.
By now your knees have learned that they have to be in motion for the next 22 kms so they start cooperating. So you start your climb up in the rain which stops for a minute and then restarts in all fury. You cross the first river and some other trekkers remove shoes and socks. But you are wiser; you know that after the fourth river crossing any enthusiasm for taking off shoes will be curbed so you don’t bother. But your laces come off, so you think you will sit on a boulder and remove the swimming pool collected inside your trekking shoes and retie your laces.
That’s when you see the first leech that has been your buddy for some time now as he is nice and plump. You give a little squeal and do a song and dance, then find a stone and scrape it off. The leech is smarter than you of course, so he is sucking blood through the socks. Because you can run, you can hide, but you can’t escape, my love.
Then it hits you, sitting on boulders is probably not that great an idea because if this leech could get up your socks; you sitting makes your torso fair game. You vow never to sit for the remainder of the trek and you won’t find place to sit as well as it continues to pour. The rain infact treats your jacket and poncho as a joke. You are after all wading through waist deep water during the river crossing and the rest of your body gets wet from the rain.
You have the second leech attached to you but now you are pro. Take the stone, scrape, and leech goes off. You then feel something squishy on your stomach as you adjust your pants. You let it go as it is too many layers of clothing to navigate to look at your stomach.
You are now thirsty but your bottle is inside your bag inside your poncho, and it is a pain balancing and stopping in the wet slopes, and removing your poncho and then your bag, so you decide to drink from the stream. After a while you realize you are walking alone; there is no one in front and no one behind. So you stop and shout, “hello anyone there?” as you are at a fork in the path. No one responds so you continue walking, and reach yet another river and again there are three paths.
You hope you are taking the right one and wonder if anyone will send a search party for you, also how long the packet of rice will last for. After about an hour you find some of the earlier party and the bounding husband. He bounds off again when he sees that you have caught up with him. He is determined to make this a solo trekking experience for both of you.
Now that you are at a clearing and the rain has slowed down, you investigate your stomach area because of the squishy feeling and see a leech which wants to be intimate with you. You wonder if you should let it stay on as he has definitely shown a lot of initiative to get close to third base with you. But you are bewildered, and wonder how to scrape your stomach with a dirty stone so you try plucking it with your hand. It refuses to budge and continues sucking blood.
You look around and the trek guide who is a local villager is near you, so you call out to him. He deftly plucks the leech off and also finds a few more who were on their trek up your trekking pants. You decide that you are eternally grateful to this trek guide. You have also realized that the purpose of your trek was to be lunch for the leeches. Maybe your blood is the chicken biriyani of all blood, and that’s why the leeches go to great lengths to get to you.
The trek lead catches up with you and remarks that you are going on quite fast, and it gives purpose to your miserable life and you beam from ear to ear as you pluck one more leech off your hand, this time without breaking a sweat. You have become one with the mountain now; if you are not careful moss will start growing on you soon.
You now start seeing the rolling green hills below. The forests you have crossed, the rivers and the boulders it meanders over, the bamboo groves you crouched under as the path went through it, and the fallen tree and shurbs you wiggled under and which finally tore your rain poncho which you bought years ago from the Singapore zoo.
This time when you are thirsty you ask the new friend you made on the trek to remove the bottle for you, and you do the same for her. You reach a really steep climb with slushy rocks and slippery mud. You now know how to use your trekking pole effectively and climb up. You reach before others, and find yourself in the mist with seemingly nothing in front of you and a path that goes on to nothing. You don’t want to walk ahead and hope that probably this is the summit. So you wait for the other trekkers to catch up, and they ask you to shuffle along so you do.
After another hour in the mist you reach the summit which is marked by a board that says Kudremukh Peak, and lists the other peaks in the area. The rain here is relentless and the wind threatens to carry you off the peak, and for a moment you are tempted to let go because then you will reach down faster; maybe your torn poncho will become a para glider?
You have to eat now so you sit on a rock, open your rice packet and reach in with your cold hands, and start eating while the rain and the wind gush all around you. You have at this point forgotten the years of training your mother gave you on table manners. You need to eat fast because
a. It is raining and windy and
b. A leech might crawl on your bum if you sit long enough.
You manage to get a picture, and return the favor for your friend. You now have to return downslope, and the rain has just made the way more difficult. The rocks are more slippery and there is more slush around.
You are unsure how to use the trekking pole downhill so you contemplate throwing it down the mountain. But it belongs to the husband who has mountain goat genes in him so you can’t. The way down is now worse because the rain has made the entire way slippery and slushy also it is still raining with good force. Most of the streams you had crossed have swollen up, and the water hits you with full force.
You now just want to go back to a dry place, so you increase your speed and also consider sliding down. Your trek guide keeps saying only 4 kms left every time you ask him, and you know you haven’t even reached the halfway point where you took pictures on your way up.
Finally, you successfully finish the trek and reach the room which you are going to share with nine girls. You remove your pants, shoes and jacket at the door so that you don’t carry any leeches inside the room. You gulp down tea in the attempt to feel human again and thaw yourself.
Of course now you have the distinction of proclaiming that you survived this and are super human. You have photos of rolling hills and untouched vistas that your mountain goat of a husband took, which you can proudly post. There is now new meaning to the quote, ‘Travel is glamorous in retrospect.’
This post should be read with the understanding that it is based on a real trek which I immensely enjoyed, and there is bit of exaggeration thrown in to make it humorous. The trek was to Kudremukh Peak near Chikmaglur in Karnataka.
Published here earlier.
All images credit Anju Jayaram
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