One of my resolutions for this year is to visit a new place every month. Doesn’t matter where, but I have to go. Whether it’s trekking, travel, or backpacking solo; I will go.
So when I received a mail from Bangalore Trekking Club (BTC) about a 2 day trek to Kolukkumalai and Meesapulimala I didn’t think twice. I guess it took me not more than 10 mins to register, including payment. And Bala even closed the registration within 2 hours of opening it. Right on time.
Trek dates were 11th and 12th March. Only problem is I have to travel all the way to Bangalore to catch up with the group. I had an important meeting on Friday and couldn’t rush early also. So I got my trekking backpack along with my laptop bag to office instead. Train was at 4pm; and I left at office at 3:40. I literally had to run, take the cab, and get a General class ticket, and run again towards the platform to catch the train, right on time again.
Reached Majestic by 7:30 and met Sandeep and Sangeeta near Shantala Silks. Soon Ameer, Poornima, Puneeth, and few others also gathered. Lokith, Bala, and couple more would board from Madiwala. We departed by 8 am from Majestic as we anticipated huge traffic in Bangalore. While the bus was in motion we introduced ourselves to all. It was great to see a diverse group on board.
Once out of the city the bus started speeding up! As if the driver was more excited for the trek than us. The roads were good and the journey long. Time to get some sleep before the D-Day.
Day 1: A Tough Day Indeed; To Kolukkumalai Tea Plantation
I blissfully woke up to views of mountains on my right. Tells me we have arrived. We have arrived at Kurangani, the base camp of the trek. We went to a nearby river to refresh ourselves and for the daily chores. Once done we had breakfast of Poori, idli and vada.
We dumped our backpacks in a jeep which will ferry them to the tea estate. We need to carry a day pack with the essentials. Packed lunch of lemon rice was given to all.
One mistake we all made was to carry only a single bottle of water for the trek. This was a big mistake. The guide didn’t alert us on this one. It had rained profusely the previous days. But today was to be a hot and sticky day. We quickly assembled, took a nice group pic (courtesy of Sandeep), and off we go.
The initial part of the trail doesn’t provide for much shade from the sun. You walk past long, wild grasses which starts itching when it scratches against your body. The hike here was steep and a bit tiring. We soon realized our folly; 1L of water won’t suffice. We have to be smart and drink wisely. Only in sips.
The sun was in no mood to show mercy today. We panted, huffed, puffed for at-least 4 hours. As much as we were tired we had to move on as the longer we take the thirstier and tired we become. We soon reached our lunch point under a lone tree. I call it “The Tree of Life”. While the rest had lemon rice I decided to take a power nap under the inviting shade.
The clouds were forming up slowly, indicating it will rain soon. Grassy stretches soon gave way to dense forest cover. Guides told us we are not very from our destination now. But we were however too tired, and had to take occasional rests. Plus the trail through the jungles had numerous hair pin bends till the top, and we didn’t have any more water with us.
Even if late, our prayers were heard and it soon started drizzling. And then drizzling gave way to a heavy downpour. We have to be extra careful with our steps now. Few of us (including me) just looked up the sky and opened our mouths for rainwater; others devised an ingenious idea of collecting water in their ponchos and drinking it. Yes, we were very thirsty.
Crap, I have water seeping into my shoes now. The last thing I wanted. We exited the forest to be greeted by a never ending stretch of tea shrubs. We have arrived at the Kolukkumalai Tea Estate, the highest tea plantation in the world at around 7,130 ft. Delighted to see the freshness all around, and it took away all the fatigue that we had. It was hazy and the greenery never ending. The first thing I did was to fill water from a tap and quench my dry throat. Gulp gulp gulp! It was still raining heavily though, quite normal for this place. A quick cup of tea is what I needed to rejuvenate myself. Total distance covered today was around 15 kms.
We headed to the 2nd floor of the factory which we will use to spend the night. It was surprisingly very warm inside (due to the wood burning for the process of withering of the tea leaves) and spacious. We were indeed excited to spend the night here inside this luxurious cabin now. We quickly removed our wet and damp clothes and raincoats to be dried and prepared to explore the tea estate as it stopped pouring.
Only there was a slight problem; my shoes were wet from inside, and I didn’t bring sandals. Hence, I decided to venture out barefooted! And ouch, the initial steps indeed were painful. So, me and my camera went along to explore the beauty of this place. I just couldn’t stop clicking; there was something unique everywhere. I was soon joined by Sandeep, Apoorva, Bhagyalakshmi, Naveen, and Sampath. The jeeps would go even further up. I soon realized this is a huge plantation.
We returned to our factory-cum-dorm to help with tent pitching. Vivek had developed fever, and needed to rest well. He wouldn’t be able to join us for the climb to Meesapulimala.
We all gathered to play Mafia. Every trek I’ve been to will involve a round of Mafia for sure! Bala was the God, and there was utter mayhem! We made so much of noise over who’s the innocent, and who’s the culprit. People went bonkers!
We had a bonfire setup outside for us where I tried to dry my shoes. It was already 9, and we had to wake up by 4 and leave by 4:30 am to Meesapulimala. Surprisingly there was chicken for dinner tonight. The dinner was sumptuous and everyone ate to their hearts desire. Back to our dorm and some went inside the tents, others slipped inside their sleeping bags. Lokith and Bala ensured to wake everyone in the morning.
Day 2: Climb up. Descend. And Descend More!
We woke up by 3:45 am to footsteps running here and there. Tells me excitement was already brimming up. We were trek ready by 4:30 am; it was complete dark all around. All of us carried torches and everyone fell back into line. The objective was to catch the sunrise from Meesapulimala peak. Let’s go!
Midway through the horizon was finally opening up, leaving us with some jaw dropping views. We finally reached the point from where the summit climb starts. This one was at an angle of 70 degree. The 2nd highest mountain of South India was right in front.
The ascend needed to be gradual but continuous with small steps. It takes around 60-90 mins to reach the summit. The sunrise was already visible now. We started ascending as we saw the BMC people already at the top. The summit climb is indeed a tough one. We stopped after every 10 steps to catch our breath. Everyone was doing pretty well though. A nice human chain was visible from the top now. Vivek (we had one more Vivek in our awesome group) however, had a slight sprain on his knee so he was being watchful of his steps. Sweating it out, huffing-puffing we all finally made it to the summit. And the view from the top was incredible. Munnar valley was clearly visible from here and so the adjoining mountain ranges. We were sitting at the top of the 2nd highest mountain peak in South India at the moment, at an altitude of 8,660 ft. We had one more achievement now to add to our resumes!
We also spotted some mountain deer, whom we later found out were actually mountain goats! No problem, identity mistake! After spending close to 1 hour at the peak it was time to head back to Kolukkumalai. In fact, today we will only descend throughout the day. The sun was bright, which means it’s going to be equally tough going down. In between, I realized I’ve misplaced my lens cap as well.
We reached Kolukkumalai by around 9:30 am. We did around 12 kms as of now. Realized there were lot of tourists in the garden today, it’s a Sunday after all. We had an amazing breakfast at the estate, and also saw 6 cyclists entering the estate. Turns out they are professional mountain bikers, with each of their bikes upwards of 5 lakhs I think. Not our cup of tea I guess!
We decided to descend to Kurangani by 11 am. Few of us also bought tea leaves from the shop. Both the Vivek, Sangeeta, Poornima, Siva decided to take the Jeep to Kurangani. When we were about to descend I remember the guide of the biking team asking which route we are taking. We said we are going by the trek by the forest, hilly route. He replied, “We are also coming by that route”. I didn’t realize what was he trying to say, or may be misunderstood us. Only to realize later the meaning of it…
The weather was cool and we were all upbeat. Sandeep had a portable speaker, and played some really nice old songs. We were descending at a very good speed. At this pace we will reach by 2 pm at Kurangani. Suddenly, someone exclaimed, “Guys make way, those cyclists are coming”! The remaining people got confused. And then these mountain bikers pop up from nowhere! We couldn’t believe what we are seeing here. There’s hardly any place to even walk, at almost 6,000 ft., and a dangerous slope here we have 6 insane folks who are cycling on top of a trek route! We have only seen this kind of crazy stuff on TV, but here they are. They were doing a photo-shoot for Scott. Adventure of a whole new level. We soon re-entered the grassy slopes from where Kurangani was now visible. The mountain bikers were having a field day here as well. Take a look at some of their daredevilry acts.
The sun came out and we all started to perspire again. All we needed now was a nice, cool bath in the river. That very thought made us go even faster! We reached Kurangani at around 2:30, and immediately went for some nice lunch. The lunch was, well I can’t describe how good it felt. We had covered almost 26 kms today. That is, by no means, a small achievement.
Soon enough, we rushed back to our bus to get ready for the shower. We just raced back to the river for that all important dip. Bloody hell, the moment we went inside the river it felt as if all the pain has been washed away. We stayed there for at-least an hour, before departing Kurangani at around 5 pm.
We reached Bangalore by 6 am, and I had to rush to the railway station for my onward journey. This trek was not only a test of your mental and physical stamina but also provided me an opportunity to explore some of the off-beat places South India has to offer. Indeed, the trek was not only tough but fulfilling as well.