It was a 3.30 am wake up call this time. Unbelievable, but true. We had to leave by 4.30 am.
Just the previous day, I had traveled 230 Km on appalling roads getting back home only by 9 pm. Saying I was exhausted was putting it mildly. Considering I had managed just a couple of hours of sleep, I seemed to have enough enthusiasm to rush out the door at 4.30 am still pulling on one boot to meet my pick-up party – The usual four, huddled in a rented jeep (anticipating bad roads) in the early morning cold.
The drive to the Fishing Hut in Mukurthi was a mix of exchanged news, loud laughter, (much to the horror of the driver and the escorting guide, considering the hour!) and a mostly ineffective attempt at staying in ones seat as the jeep tackled some absolutely crazy terrain. As we drove in the darkness, there wasn’t much to see. Only feel. Bad pot-holed road!
Along the way, after some seemingly official sounding conversation with forest guards regarding the necessary permissions that needed to be obtained to enter the Mukurthi National Park as it was called, we finally made it to the Fishing Hut from where we were supposed to start trekking.
Our guide, a slight, cheerful man, and the driver of the jeep, a rotund cheerful man set of in front of us wielding sickles. Apparently to hack through the undergrowth, I later figured. Our guide was clad in a thin sweater and a pair of open sandals while I though I might need a blanket to wallow in until my body warmed up with the walk. However, he seemed oblivious to the cold and rough landscape. The long grass beside the trekking path white with a layer of frost.
The forest we walked through was truly incredible. The path, if you could call it that, was essentially a tunnel. One had to crawl under tree trunks in places, climb over broken branches lying across in others, while trying not to get your eyes gouged out by the protruding, menacing dry twigs. I now understood the significance of the sickle. Our guide hacked away gallantly wherever he felt we might not make it through the maze. It was mainly wattle, some pine trees, cypress, eucalyptus and others I could not identify. There were several extraordinarily beautiful streams along the way. Some had rocks to balance on in order to cross. Others had unconvincing branches of trees placed across them that we were expected to maneuver.
We finally crossed the forest and reached the clearing at the base of the mountain peak. Surrounding us was the most spectacular, glistening lake. It reflected numerous shades of blue as it lay calmly soaking in early the morning sun.
The Mukurthi peak looked like a small sharp nose in the far distance. It seemed like an awfully long walk to get there. Our rotund friend decided he would go no further. He somehow did not strike me as a guy who climbed hills. So, he sat by the stream while the guide led us on.
As we began to climb the terrain changed to picturesque grassland. A few rhododendrons huddled together in the small ravines near the flowing water. Some beautiful foliage with the young red leaves twinkling in the sunlight.
The climb was steep and arduous. The sun began to beat down relentlessly even though it was just about 9 am. It began to get unbearably hot.
Some parts were strewn with stones and rocks making climbing quite an adventure without losing ones footing. Huge piles of elephant dung greeted us half way up. How does that enormous creature make its way up this hill and why? Surely if it was water, there was plenty in the lake below. Perhaps it was making its way across to what lay on the other side.
About an hour of steady climbing, catching ones breadth occasionally in the shade of the bushes, we finally reached the top. The peak is a small area on the top of Mukurthi with a 360-degree view all around. There was an absolutely vertical cliff on one side. Beautiful rolling grassland topped hills another. They reminded me of ‘The Sound Of Music’ for some reason. We could see the Nilgiri Peak across from the cliff. Story goes that it has never been trekked. Find that hard to believe. The British seem to have covered every nook and cranny of the Nilgiri hills. More mountains, the lake, Kerala in the distance on one side, Karnataka on the other. It was magnificent. What’s more the wind up there felt like it would blow us right off the cliff. Our guide had spotted the Nilgiri Tahr on the opposite hill, which we could just about define with binoculars.
After some time spent soaking in the beauty, climbing down was a challenge. One missed foothold and one could very easily end up injured. These are the times when I really am glad I train regularly with weights to improve leg strength. It is a test of the endurance of the leg and core muscles.
Reaching the stream we found our driver sprawled on one of the rocks, in the midst of the running water, under the blazing sun, fast asleep! Well at least he had managed some rest! Slipping off our foot wear we dipped our feet in the icy cold water. It was a well-needed natural foot spa.
We managed to make our way back through the strange forest of broken trees. Then through the pine glade with a carpet of pine needles to walk on.
A short picnic lunch sitting in the verandah of the old fishing hut. The hut was used by trekkers. One could stay over night apparently. It looked suspicious to me, all boarded up. I was quite sure it wouldn’t be the best maintained place! I was glad we were heading home.
On the drive back, I contemplated the various walks we had done over the months. Each was so different. The terrain, the incline, the foliage. For me at least, it was more about the actual experience of walking that drove me. I am essentially not an out-door person. The sun bothers me. Insects seem to find me interesting. I am always bitten even if nobody else is! I would never miss these experiences for anything for course, but every time, at the end of it, I admit, I AM glad to get home to a hot shower!!