January 29th, 2010
Kodaikanal is a beautiful place. I had been to Kodai for sight-seeing a decade ago. So, when a trek was announced at a place near Kodai, I jumped at the opportunity. An army of 45 people reached Kodai on a chilly morning. After breakfast and the near endless wait for our guide Kodai Mani, we were off to Kukkal village from where we had to start the trek. On the way to Kodai, Rinkesh couldn’t control his bladder. So, when the bus stopped and he got down, many rushed after him shouting, “Yay! view point” … lol!
Day 1 was as easy as it could get. If not taken for a trek, it was actually an uphill walk for about 7kms to a temple on top of hill. There was quite a bit of the Shola forest cover almost throughout the trail & at many places, the canopy was thick enough to block the bright blue sky. Weather was splendid and we hoped to have a great time.
We followed the trail for an hour and a half and burst into the Shola grasslands. It was about 4pm then and the first sights were marvelous. On the far left, mist covered huge peaks and the mist gradually thinned until we could see the peaks couple of valleys away. We were also treated to a nice cool breeze by Mother Nature and that experience was lovely. There was also another reason why this was lovely. I was leading the trail and it’s a special experience to burst into the open and grab the fresh air and sight before anyone else came in .
The temple on top of the peak had steps as we neared it. We stopped there for lunch. As the guide and quite a bit of the gang were making their way, we emptied a few packets of yummy chapathis. The guide joined us soon and gave us some absolutely delicious home made chocolates. The breeze was nearly non-stop and I was fresher than ever. All around us, we could see very far and to our right there were a few steep cliffs which served as suicide points
After the lunch break there, we moved on to the camp site for the day, which was visible from our point. We had to cross two small hills to reach the camp site.
Day 1 Camp Site
Our camp site was one of the lower and flat hills in the area. It was surrounded by bigger mountains and deep valleys with thick forest cover. For miles around, there were no humans. We were all to ourselves on top of the hill, at an amazing place and that too at the right time; just before sunset. As the sun bathed the camp site in its various hues, many of us started downhill to collect water and firewood for a nice campfire. While collecting firewood, Mohan and Kaushik found a full bison skull with its horns intact. They were ecstatic when they brought it to the campsite and soon a flurry of poses and photos followed.
It was then time to pitch the tent. As the sun went down, it got cooler and before we knew it, mist was coming down heavily and it wet our backpacks and other stuff lying around. Anything that wasn’t covered had its day. We pitched two big tents with the available tarpaulins and the guide pitched two more 3-person tents.
Within no time, a campfire started roaring and we all sat around it, absorbing the comforting heat. Stomach bells rang & the competition started!
The Cooking Contest
The girls’ gang led by Chitra lit a kerosene stove and started cooking the soup. Guys, not to be out done, started cooking the same thing using a natural stove made with rocks and fired using twigs and tiny branches. The fire in the men’s stove was kept alive by the master blower Madhav. Within no time soup was finished by the hungry gang and we started to cook Maggi.
It’s here that I must mention that the girls’ gang cooked killed it in the worst possible way . The first course of their’s came our sorta ok. As they were showing teeth all around about their “achievement”, the guys cooked it in a different way with a few ‘special ingredients’. That made the taste to go several notches higher and we almost witnessed a movement to move the cooking department to the guys; hehe… Our maggi was so popular that people waited in queue for a second helping. The girls then tried a hand by cooking again for another helping and unfortunately for them (fortunately for us), it turned out to be, well, opposite to good
Guys’ maggi was declared unanimously as the winners and we won the hearts of trekkers that night
Songs and Balaji
As the night set in, it became very cold and most of us moved inside the tents. Since the trek was pretty much light that day, no one could sleep. However, no one could venture out because of the chillness and moreover, they just got settled in their sleeping bags. Chitra announced that it was time for songs and called us to sit up and sing. It was here that Balaji made an awesome statement, “Everyone please have fun … inside the sleeping bag” ROTFL! It was over. Balaji had dug his own grave … lol. The whole tent woke up and ragged him to death. Ruchi was in the same tent. At times, when conversations were about to get diverted to her and her camel, someone would start off and it would end up in Balaji.
All songs that night were dedicated to Balaji. We made enough noise to attract Mohan and our guide Mani. Samyak and Chitra sung nice songs and before long, we were snoring … which reminds me of another topic . Right behind Chitra and Manoj, Madhu was snoring so loudly that the tent pole shook at times. I’m sure Chitra and Manoj didn’t sleep a wink. Yours truly didn’t face much of a trouble. After the snoring episode at Ombattu Gudde, I got used to it.
With pleasant memories of songs and Balaji’s statements, day 1 came to a great end.
Day 2 – The Ledge
Since day 1 was very easy, I was assuming day 2 might be easy as well. About three hills away, we could see a waterfall from our campsite. My heart immediately went to it and all through the trail on day 2, I followed it all the time, and checked to see if it was within my site. We filled water at the same spot where we got water for day 1 and then moved on.
After a few quick minutes, we came on to a dangerous ledge. Approximately, it would not have been wider than 40cm and to our left was the steep drop. One look down & my spine gave a tingling sensation. I gulped hard and moved forward and thought “WOW”. When the ledge took a turn, we couldn’t see who was behind us but we could clearly hear them. They were just around the turn. Not seeing someone behind you is a scary feeling in an unknown land. Everyone made it safely out of the ledge and started moving downards towards the direction of the waterfall. My heart was singing already.
The Slide Down
After the ledge, the trail wasn’t clear in many places and we had to stay together as a group. Few minutes from the ledge, there was a steep climb down. I sat down and slid on my butt for quite some distance before coming to a stop, and repeated “WOW”. We went through some dense grassland and came through another steep incline. I already knew what to expect. The gradient would have been 80 degrees and its pretty tough to walk on such gradients. Many of us slid down and when we gained speed, we used the thick grass as brakes. We would brake hard and skid too . This one was tough and damn funny.
Added to the slide was that, Noel was carrying a plastic water pot and we were kicking it along our sliding trail because it couldn’t be carried. Until our slide stopped, the whole trail resounded with the “dung-dung-dung” sound of the pot as it hopped and bounced on the trail. Couple of hours later, we came to a clearing. We stopped there and reunited.
The trees near the clearing had plenty of gooseberries on them. Mohan and Dipankar climbed on the trees and got everyone lots of it. With a bit of salt, it tasted heavenly and made all the slide totally worth it. It was Nature’s way of smiling and encouraging you to get ahead.
After the continuous slide for about 2 hours, we were all very dirty and thorns had scratched us here and there. We cajoled Mani to take us to a stream or waterfall or a nice pool so that we could wash ourselves and freshen a little bit from all the dust. The climb down was still on but this time we were on a trail, which quickly came to an end much to our chagrin.
If earth and grass were scratching us all over before, it was thorns this time. They were everywhere and pricked at all spots where they could find a centimeter of skin. For over an hour we moved through thorns and came to a place where the only hope of passing was to bend and crawl on all fours. If not, the thorns would scratch us real badly and we would have a fun time while it healed. The crawling thorn assault ended after a gruelling 15 minutes and we moved out to the open again. The sun’s warmth was soothing on our skins and it felt good after all the scratches, crawls and slides.
Around this time, I heard gushing water. Was it real? Was it not? I listened in closely and looked around. There was a smile in our fellow trekkers’ face. No words were spoken but the joy had conveyed the message. There was water nearby and we just needed to locate the trail to it. We found a slightly beaten path to our left which again went in to a canopy of thorny bushes. We challenged them and successfully emerged out to see the sight of our lives. Everyone was screaming. No one could be controlled. The sight of chill water was something that everyone yearned for.
The waterfalls that we saw when on start of day 2 was the same one to which we had reached. We had reached a point at which the falls was cutting the valley and was wide enough for everyone to relax. Towards the end of the fall was a shallow pool. I couldn’t contain my excitement and dived in immediately. People were all over soon and we had a fun time in water. Some of us moved upstream and bathed there also. All the dust got washed off and after lot of hours I could see the real colour of my skin. We couldn’t remain in water for a long time because it was freezing cold. Nevertheless, the bath refreshed us like never before.
While the gang was bathing and generally having merry, few of them took a nap & had a sun bath in the bright afternoon sun. Soon, our guide announced that it was time to move. The short nap and the power bath energized and made me hungry at the same time. That was a funny feeling!
Hill of the Day
We crossed the waterfall and moved on to the opposite valley. It was in fact a farm and we were moving through it. Water from the waterfall was being used to irrigate it and was re-routed with filters effectively. We reached a higher portion of the same falls through the valley and crossed it by means of a log bridge. Soon after, we emerged in to a third hill of the day.
After walking on what looked like plains for an hour, we started climbing up slowly. There was no way we could get lost because the trail was very clear. It was pretty steep though & the last part of the climb to the top was like an icing on top of the steep cake. I was very hungry by that time and was already salivating for some spicy food when one of them told that biryani was arranged. Needless to say, Neelima started the biryani chant.
It was the first time in my life that I had climbed upwards to reach the end of a trail
We started near a lake at the Kukkal village and finished our trail at the village itself. Our buses were couple of hours from the village and we walked through the village to get to delicious biryani and the bus. All along the village, kids were enthusiastic and were punching the sleeping mats which were tied outside our backpacks. Many of them posed for a click and the joy on seeing their face on the camera’s LCD was priceless.
Much of the village lived on farming. Few of the smaller hills were converted into terraced farms. While passing through one of the farms, a lady smiled and gave us some fresh carrots to munch on. Along the way to our bus, Noel found some more fresh carrots. We washed them in the ice cold stream and had it. Aaahhhh! its tasted heavenly!
After a 2 hour night ride from Kukkal to Kodai, we started on the long journey to Chennai. Overall, the trek was moderate and we had so much fun . The gang was awesome and we had a great time cooking, singing, sliding, scratching and bathing. Spicy biryani was a delicious end to an awesome trek.
Here are photo galleries through which you can try to live our moments:
Our trek guide Kodai Mani can be contacted at +91-98940-48493.