Coorg had been one of my dream destinations for a long time. Given that I stay in Chennai, this is not a very unambitious dream to have. However, I had not managed the trip. So, when in December one of my colleagues sent pictures of his trek in Coorg my resolve strengthened. In lush greens, with grass growing till his chest he posed with all the pride of an Edmund Hillary. I wanted to be him.
D-Weekend arrived in March. My friend, philosopher and guide for the trip would be Monika, another enthusiastic if amateur trekker. Sheshadri of Care Adventures and his Man Friday, Rajesh organized the trip. The journey to Coorg was in an overnight bus. There were 34 people in all and well past midnight, everyone reached a compromise with the reclining seat and fell asleep.
I did not open my eyes till it was already light and the first sight that met my eyes was a fast approaching huge rock. I closed my eyes and opened it again and while the rock was still there we had stopped proceeding to attack it. A quick check proved that our bus driver was struggling with a hairpin bend and the bus was spluttering and groaning to turn. Sheshadri brushed away our suggestions of just walking to the camping spot. He had paid for our comfort, and we would get there in style.
After two more unhappy bends and ten minutes we were there. Much as I would have liked to call it Base Camp, it proved to be more a quasi resort. There rooms to lock up the luggage and toilets. Everyone, however, was to sleep in tents that night.
After a quick wash, the brood gathered around Sheshadri for breakfast and introductions. As expected there was a profusion of software engineers and BPO employees. Monika, myself and another woman proved to be among the honourable exceptions. This lady, lets call her X, was from Delhi (Dahl-hi) and was working as a marketing consultant. She was tall, fair, fairly slim, had straightened hair and all the good looks of a well-groomed Delhi woman.
Even as we stood around and introduced ourselves, Monika and myself realized that the temperature was climbing pretty high. With our rather appalling knowledge of geography, we had assumed Coorg would be like Shimla or atleast Ooty. As it emerged, summer time in Coorg is quite hot and the climate is not substantially different from Bangalore. We had signed up for an eight-hour trek in 32 degrees C.
The team set off through the bare fields and progressed along the roads. We were on our way to Tadiandamol Peak, the tallest peak in the area with a height of 5700 ft over sea level. We would be climbing 1300 ft and be doing 14 kms in all. Notwithstanding the heat, all day sounded like a lot of time for this distance. Assuring ourselves that this would be a breeze we continued.
The first sign of how exhausting this may actually be began when Monika noticed after an hour that her water bottle was half empty. It was meant to last eight hours. All the women had started knotting up their hair. Except X. X still looked fresh, her clothes neat and did not look like she was interested in tying up her hair now or ever. When I pointed out this to Monika, Monika casually informed me that she had made a study of her husband’s side (He is from Delhi) and she knew X would collapse from the heat before spoiling her hairstyle with a knot. I could not believe it and promptly bet a hundred bucks that she would tie up her hair by the end of the day.
The journey continued without many variations. After three hours, we were still walking in what seemed to be an endless time loop. Suddenly I could sympathise with lost travelers in the deserts. Somewhere along the way when Rajesh sensed people were getting disheartened, he pointed at a distant peak and said we were headed there. I could not have spotted the peak clearly without a laboratory scale telescope. This was definitely more disheartening than kidding oneself that we were close enough. Besides by now one peak seemed as good as the other and I slowly began questioning the logic of being obsessed with the Tadiandamol Peak.
The sun was hotter now, the track was entirely uphill by now and there were absolutely no trees. We met people walking down and while they assured us that we could do it, we could not help noticing that they definitely looked relieved to be done. Monika and myself began to take breaks every 15 minutes and gradually moved to a point where the breaks were longer than the walks. The team was now scattered on the hillside, puffing and panting and looked like geriatric ants pointlessly climbing a scorching anthill. Finally at 1.45 p.m. Monika and I made it to the top. We found the nearest rock and sat down to examine the reason why we were there.
I don’t know if this rhyme ‘The bear went up the mountain to see what he could see’ is famous. It has a rather tragic end that goes ‘The other side of the mountain was all that he could see’. Our story was somewhat similar. From the peak we could see hills upon barren hills roll away with the same meagre burnt vegetation. The only relief in the scenery was a merry forest fire burning on adjoining hills. Given that, defying all weather lessons I had learnt, the sun was hotter there than anywhere else, the sight of a fire made one perspire more. We had nothing to do but sit in the hot sun and watch the lone cloud hoping it would come over us and provide some relief. After half an hour though, the charm of this activity began to pall and thoughts of lunch began to emerge. We had to go back to a shady bough where the resort people would have come with our lunch.
The descent was easier than the ascent but more treacherous. Finally we reached the bough. There was cold water in a nearby stream and lots of food. After gulping the food and water, Monika and myself quickly lay down for a nap and missed all the excitement the group went through in finding two snakes. At this point, I would not have budged even if I had definitive information that a python had marked me down for lunch. Just when we managed to get comfortable on the rocks, it was time to move again. We began to walk down. From here on, the slopes were more gradual.
At five, we turned into the track leading to our resort and finally came and collapsed under the eaves. We watched as one by one, the people trekked in and joined us. X had still not tied up her hair and Monika won her 100 bucks for her anthropological skills.
After a much-needed bath, Monika and myself settled with a cup of tea each in the only two hammocks in the place. The sun was beginning to set and suddenly the heat was no longer trouble. We began to notice the quiet stillness of the place. Not a single sound of civilization – Music, vehicles, crowds. When it became night, there was a full moon and we could actually see picture postcard views of it through the trees. No lush green trees but atleast no polluting vehicles either and a sense of perspective on everyday life!