Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tadiandamol trek and Chelavara falls : Feb 25-27, 2011

Its more than two months since the trek to Tadiandamol and I have been the bitter lazy self instead of sharing and immortalizing yet another unforgettable experience. I kept fooling myself that I will do it today and 'today' never materialized - until now that is. I forgot the most basic lesson that any trek teaches - 'It all begins with a single step'.


Chelavara Falls

For more photos, click here.

It was my first two-day (ad)venture with BMC and it was memorable every moment. Started on friday night - Feb 25, was supposed to reach Domlur bus stop by 10:15pm. 10:10pm at CMH road and not a bus in sight. I wasn't worried though, as in my experience, it was always a late start at pick-up points. My phone rang even as I was contemplating to take an auto. It was Ram, the guide for our trek. He said that the van had already arrived at Domlur and waiting for me. Thankfully the first auto-wala I asked was ready to ply the 2km distance. I wondered how could they have arrived earlier. As I reached the stop (must have been around 10:15pm) it became clear that the van had just arrived and trekkers were arranging bags in the dickey. Good ploy by the guide.

My bag was too bloated, but somehow fitted in the cramped space behind the driver. Ram called it as 'apartment' :D. As always, I found it difficult to sleep while traveling, which wasn't helped by the fact that we were getting to know each other and that I couldn't hide from bright light from oncoming vehicles. Also, Ram had to constantly talk to the driver to keep him awake. Around after 1AM, I woke from my disturbed sleep due to thirst. I kept myself busy with my favorite past-time of window-watching. And slept and awoke, the pattern never ending like an infinite loop. As we neared Kodagu (more commonly known as Coorg) district, fog showed up intermittently. Where there was no fog, it was pretty clear and I enjoyed the many stars I had perhaps not seen before. We went through so many twists and turns as we climbed up (lowest area is 900m above sea level in Kodagu district), I wondered how the driver and guide Ram remembered these (I could hardly see any sign boards). It was only when we were closing our homestay I realised from the talks that there was huge mix-up in finding the route.

However, we made it before 6AM. The house was typical of the district, with women in charge of the estate surrounded by coffee plantations. The various flowers in the house garden were a treat and subjected to intense clicking by us. We rested for awhile, freshened up, had breakfast, packed lunch and by 9AM, we were on our way to base camp. The picturesque landscape with tall trees and coffee plantations and view of western ghats throughout our route (5-6km I suppose) were a sight to behold. No one can forget them for years. We reached base camp at 9:35AM, which is the farthest spot van/bus can climb up. Stream of fresh water from waterfall flowed nearby. My excitement had no bounds as I geared up for my longest and tallest trek.

Tadiandamol - (broadest and tallest in Malayalam acc. to wiki) is the highest peak in Kodagu scaling to 1748m. As I pointed out earlier, the point from where we started itself must be 1000+m above sea level. But to reach the peak, its about 6-7km from the spot we started. We were lucky in two aspects - it had rained two days back making the area cooler and it didn't rain during our climb.

As is my wont, I clicked at everything and anything. The variety of flora awed me and I had to force myself to stop clicking and climb. Two liters of water, snacks and heavy bag slowed the pace. But that hardly mattered with such a beautiful setting for a trek. After about 5min climb, we came out of the tall trees and got first glimpse of surrounding peaks. To our right, the valley was thick with trees and misty cloud cover hung around the far mountain range. The path diverged here and we took the inner path (the outer one seemed to go down)

The path was wide enough for a Jeep to travel. And like other mountain roads, it went on the outer edge of mountain and spiraled about 3-4 times before the path became too narrow and climb became steep. On each of those circular path, one can enjoy the beauty of surrounding peaks and the trickling waterfall on the inside curve surrounded by trees. Variety of flower plants and trees adorned the entire stretch till we moved out of the circular path and began straight walk towards our destination.

What followed was a flat valley for a stretch of about 500-1000m. Near the end of this stretch, one could see thick tree vegetation below the Tandiandamol peak. An opening of free space was nearby beyond which the mountain ranges formed a formidable V-shape. On the other side was the path to climb towards our peak and to its left a thick grass and small sized plants leading to the last reachable spot of the waterfall stream. Some of us stopped for pics with the V-shaped ranges as back-drop, others took rest on big rocks around. While we were shooting pics, an army of atleast thousand bees alarmed us. Felt as if an helicopter was in vicinity. We all stooped to on our knees, thankfully bees didn't find a distraction and went ahead. By that time, our guide Ram and some had gone to the water stream. We had not noticed the path they had taken and at that time we didn't know about the stream. We had started along the clear-cut climbing path when we realised that the guide wasn't visible on the trail ahead. We stopped, asked everyone to stay close and started shouting Ram's name. After anxious minutes, we heard them reply and heaving a sigh of relief we started towards the stream.

The place around the stream was pretty cool and surrounded by tall trees. The water was cold, clean and sweet. Some filled their water bottles, rested on rocks and chatted for about 10 mins. It had taken close to 1:15min from our start point and there was no sign of tiredness. Perhaps because of the easy path and the fact that all along it had been pretty flat path. Also as we were more than a km above sea level, the heat wasn't a trouble. I had taken perhaps only 2-3 sips of water upto this point.

As we started our real climb, we could see clouds building up at the peak. Cloud's shadow were upon us and we braced ourselves for the difficult climb ahead. We could also see another group of trekkers far ahead of us, giving us an idea of the distance and the breadth of Tandiandamol. After about 10min, we came across the first real steep path which was full of light-green or brown grass intermittent with rocks. It was then we felt the pinch of heat and exhaustion. The key in such situation is to let our body acclimatize by not resting often. I was starting to feel difficulty in breathing but I went through the steep stretch until reaching a big rock to rest. I was thankful of having brought a 200ml fruit-drink. 

The trail continued to be barren with dead grass with few trees. But the steepness was gone. And there were thick tree cover on nearby mountains. After about another 10min, we reached the forest region. I was pretty excited as it was my first trek inside a forest. Well ofcourse, no animals could be seen, but seems elephants are spotted from time to time. It was humid inside and I got drenched with sweat. I can't remember when that had happened last to me. There had been rain 2 days back, but thankfully no leeches were there. We rested at a spot with tree trunks criss-crossing across the path and holding the soil. The sweat dried and with wind blowing lightly, it felt great. But the forest path lasted only for 15 min and we were back on the open. 

Clouds had fully hidden the sun and climbing felt pleasing than the expected accumulation of exhaustion. By now, we had caught with the other trekking group (who actually had taken wrong path leading to 30-45min extra climb). The path was barren again but thick trees were close-by. Now started the teasing peaks of Tadiandamol. We could see a steep peak, climbed it only to see another peak. This steep peak is a bit dangerous, what with the mud moist and soft. If it had rained (dark clouds were hovering), it would have been impossible to climb (atleast as I perceived it). But with every climb, we felt refreshing in the cool weather and our legs were ready for more action.

The view of the surrounding peaks was stunning, and I was very very glad to have made the trip. I also decided that I would come back to experience it all over again ;). As we climbed higher and looked back, the trail was clearly visible and the cloud shadows tricked our eyes to perceive as dark green trees. Finally, after 2hr 20min of climb, we reached the top. It was not even noon time, which meant we had climbed with good pace. 3 hours is the norm for casual trekkers :D. I actually wished there was more to climb to experience the sheer exhaustion of reaching the top, which clearly wasn't the case here.

Sun had completely disappeared with cloud and mist mingling and wind blowing steadily but not threatening. The mist cover is something I won't forget in a hurry. The open space around us looked all white while sunshine at far away mountains looking unreal. Sunshine did eventually break once in a while, but predominantly we were sitting inside the mist and cloud cover. We felt as if we could touch the dark clouds hanging around us. We rested, chatted and clicked pics at various angles and different poses trying to show the open space behind.

After about 15min, a dog showed up and we continued our shooting with it. At around 12:30pm, we went further to another corner of the peak from which we could see western ghats extending into Kerala. We met a 50+ aged English guy who likes trekking in India. He asked Ram about possible routes to reach Kerala from the peak. He is a core trekker and it seems he had climbed in 1hr 15min! 

We settled around to have our lunch. There was content in having food - perhaps the farmers and laborers feel that with every meal? Like in Rangaswamy betta, we fed the dog. Perhaps that dog was used to receiving from trekkers on most days? It was very calm and well behaved :D After lunch, we had more shooting sessions and rest. After about 40min, we started our descent. 

As with any descent, it is faster to trek down than the climb but at the same time tougher and fraught with danger. The moist and softened mud didn't help either. The little grass cover held the mud and we were able to descend fairly easily once we got into groove. For about 20-30 min, we trekked down non-stop covering most of the steep paths. We had a short break and again did 30min at a stretch. Looking back, we couldn't believe ourselves that we had climbed that far and come down. We took a long break this time, settling near the stream. There was sense of achievement amongst us.

It had been the longest trek for me, yet the exhaustion wasn't showing. Which was good as well. There was another hour of climbing down. We had split into many small groups as the trail was fairly simple to follow. But at one point, the path diverged. We took the path going down only to find it wasn't the one we took in the morning. As we trekked back to take the other route, we started feeling weariness and just wanted to reach base asap. It didn't help that the sun was shining majestically. 

Finally, after little more than 6 hours from start of trek, we reached back the base. We waited under cool shade of the tree for others behind to join us. I washed my face in the refreshing cool stream flowing beside us. And what's more, I was surprised to see that I had survived the entire trek on 1 liter of water + 200ml fruit juice (apart from food and snack ofcourse :D). I shared the remaining liter of water with others who were in need. 

We had told our driver to expect us back around after 5pm, but it was only 4pm when all of us had gathered. So we started another walk for about 2km. Walking on the steep road was more difficult than our entire trek. Some even started to walk backwards. I kept myself going by watching the coffee plantations and various kinds of flowers on both sides of the road. It took half an hour I think and we reached a bakery near Nalknad palace. Again we waited for everyone to gather as well as waiting for the driver who had been sleeping when we called. When he eventually reached, thoughts of winding up for the day had crept in only to find out that we were going to the palace!

Nalknad Palace is a brilliantly built structure around 1792 where the king sought refuge when in danger. The hideout room was pitch black. The building is in good shape even now. Some paintings inside were damaged, but overall one would definitely be awed at the brains which created the design.

After reaching the homestay, we were served tea/coffee and snacks. Needless to say we wanted it so badly. Some of us slept, while some had bath. We played dart and carrom and by then it was dinner time. We watched Pak-SL match and actually cheered Pak! We had to get up early the next day, but went ahead to watch till the end with intermittent sleep. I slept peacefully that night :)

Got up around 5am the next morning and enjoyed the morning chirps of birds. Dew had set all around and I took to another round of photo-shoot. One of the servant took us for a walk around the plantations and explained about the coffee plants and the other crops normally planted within the plantations like pepper, jackfruit, etc. A coffee plant normally lasts 100yrs! Its flower looks fit to be used in decorations. Again the various kinds of plants/grass were a treat for the eye. After the walk, we had Coorg special - steamed rice ball (named kadumbuttu, if google is right) for breakfast. Around 9:30am, we took leave and left for Chelavara falls. The stay was every bit pleasant and enjoyable.

As we left for the falls, I tried to recollect as much as I could of the previous day to cherish the memory forever. The tall trees and greenery will stay forever. But for the moment, I was excited about the falls. We had to walk only about 100-200m to reach the base of the waterfalls after getting down from the van. I had no intention of getting drenched fully and I rued not knowing swimming or that there was no life-jacket. 

But I wanted to simply stand in knee deep water and walk around. After sometime, when I wanted to climb back onto dry rock, I slipped. I knew the rock inside the water was slippery and I had actually taken care to climb, but I slipped. The dread hanging over me for past two days of when I would slip came true, but thankfully, there wasn't even a scratch. Only my trousers got wet. The rule was broken, I had to drench now.

The water was pretty cold even though it was around 10:30am. Even as I went chest deep, I found it difficult to breathe. I took two-three dips for the body to adjust before I went ahead. And I did so only on the assurance that I wouldn't go below water level and that people who knew swimming were guiding me from the other side. There were rocks just below the water gushing down which were a bit rough and not slippery. Anyone who doesn't know swimming can easily reach that spot and stand on the rocks without fear. And enjoy the full force of water falling on the heads. I was so glad that I had slipped :D. But only disappointment was that I had run out of memory in camera - I had taken 518 photos and 4 videos!!

And so, after wonderful one-and-a-half-days, it was time to leave. There was a sense of happiness of having visited this beautiful place but also disappointment that we were going back to normal life with its tensions. I decided I would come back for sure. Perhaps this year itself. On the way, we stopped at Virajpet for coffee purchase. I got some cookies too which were pretty good. It was too early for lunch, so we went ahead and stopped at the next town (I think Gonikoppal). Veggies among us had it in Kamath restaurant, which is pretty decent and not costly. On the roads, we could see people dressed in Coorgi tradition, which was nice to see.

Attempt to pass time by playing movie inside the van failed, so we stuck to music/sleeping/viewing-photos/cricket-score. On the way we passed Rajiv Gandhi national park and then caught the Mysore road towards Bangalore. By then we were discussing more on cricket as Sachin was nearing his 100. We stopped at a hotel to catch glimpse of match only to find no TV :D. Just as we were happy that traffic on Mysore road wasn't that bad on Sunday evening, we were stopped in between for a diversion. Seems some domestic fight led to violence and strike!! Any hopes of watching England 2nd innings were fading away fast. The diversion route (towards Kanapura, NH 209, soon got crowded and within the diversion route we took another diversion on suggestion of villagers. Now that seemed to turn ugly at a junction but ultimately proved to be our saviour. And the route was in itself good with various hills in vicinity. Some maniacs were even trying to overtake on the narrow road, and again somehow that did not lead to blockage. At a long curve, the parade of vehicles could easily have been shot and placed in a film. The strike must have ended, as we didn't face oncoming vehicles and soon we reached Bidadi. Now we faced another problem - how to cross the NH!! Thankfully there was a U-turn about a km ahead or we would seriously have gone mad. The light beam pointing to sky from Wonderla was visible and along with giant wheel, it surely is a great marketing gimmick. The road was virtually empty in our lane, but tragedy had stuck the opposite lane at a junction where a lorry was involved in an accident. The traffic behind must have stretched more than 2-3km! We thanked heavens that the accident wasn't on our side. After stretching our legs on a petrol pump, we waded through the bangalore traffic and I reached room to catch last 7-8 overs of the India-England clash. I was again thankful of the memories from Coorg and was able to accept the 'tie' verdict of the match.

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