When I half opened my eyes it was 4 am, our vehicle was manoeuvering the curves covered up in mist. With hardly 20 metre visibility the vehicle was going past the coffee plantations in Madikeri, Coorg. By the time sun came out, we were speeding past further plantations and paddy fields to Kabinakkad. After a break for tea at the diversion to Honey valley estate where we were put up, we clung on to the four wheeler that took us up to the estate. By then it began drizzling and the drive through a 10 feet wide stoned and slushy pathway turned exhilarating. We went higher and higher past the coffee plantations and gurgling streams. Chingara waterfalls could be seen from a distance and being monsoon, the falls was at its fieriest best.
Before long, we covered the 3 Km stretch and were at the entrance of our resort- Honey Valley. Nestled amidst coffee plantations and with stunning hills in the background, the resort is perfectly placed in the lap of nature. The magnificent views of the plantations from the cottages was a sight to behold.
After the morning ablutions and breakfast we began our first task, trek to the peak of Tadiandamol. Situated at a height of 1748 metres above sea level, it is the third highest peak in Karnataka. This was my first experience of monsoon trekking and I was quite sure about what lay ahead- rains and leeches. The sky had by then cleared up and the trek began after taking the precautionary measures of salt, vinegar, lime etc to counter the blood sucking leeches. Rather than the usual start point of palace estate (which is also a shorter route) which trekkers take, we decided to go for the longer one from Honey valley estate. Though almost double the distance, the panoramic vistas are breathtaking is what my guide mentioned.
|View of the coffee plantations from the resort|
The initial stretch was slightly steep and went above the plantations and resort. Laden with stones, the pathway turned green on either sides and then became a smooth track. Two dogs from the resort accompanied us when we began the trek. To my surprise they trekked the whole stretch with us. The 20 minute initial walk gave us a glimpse of what lay ahead as it began drizzling and a leech or two was seen clinging on to our shoes. We crossed a small forest patch before reaching a clearing. Two locals who were to be our guides through the trek was waiting for us. By then the drizzle had become incessant, the distant hills were engulfed in fog, earth look so red and wet and we followed our guides along a trek path into the green hills.
|The initial stretch|
|Our local guides|
We continued our trek into the forest patches with frequent checks for leeches. Leeches had by then clung onto everyone's shoes and and making their way up. First timers let out their shrieks which mellowed down once the salt was applied and the slimy ones were plucked out. But there was no respite from the blood suckers as each step we took made a new one climb onto us. Each moment spend on taking out a leech allowed a couple of others to get on us. And taking them off your body wasn't an easy task. You really need to pluck them out along with salt. We were loosing time because of the leeches and the rain, and after a while I just decided to give up on leeches and just trek fast. I could see at least ten leeches at a time on the outer of my shoes and could also feel the bites inside. But I just trekked on.
The open lands turned into goat tracks which were slippery and the vantage points were engulfed in mist denying us the beautiful vistas. From the open vast lands we moved into forest patches and from there to hill tops which were soaked in rain. The tracks in certain places had become slushy with small puddles. We then for a long while trekked along the ridges with the engulfing mist which had reduced the visibility to less than a hundred feet The slopes looked gorgeous with vistas showing up intermittently. However the rain gods weren't that kind enough. But this is exactly how a monsoon trek is like and I had absolutely no complaints.
|Mist engulfed hills|
The landscapes kept changing with small forest patches again showing up followed by open lands. There were stretches that were rocky but the marked path helped us trek it without much difficulty. We had climbed a couple of hills and had a few more to go before reaching the base of Tadiyandamol. Without the vistas I was slowly getting disappointed and the leeches which were feasting inside my shoes made me restless. We had specifically taken this long route just for the vistas but nature had other plans. I did manage to capture a few frames of the landscape before my camera went kaput. Water seeped through due to the continuous rains and it just stopped functioning. So, from then on it was just pure trekking with the leeches and rain. No frames and no vistas!
|Yes, that is the track!|
Slowly the landscape changed and turned tougher as the track we followed were covered by tall grasses. The rains became stronger and we had another 3-4 kilometers to the top of the peak. All we could see were our two guides and the dogs a few meters ahead of us and we just kept following them along the covered track. This was supposedly the dangerous stretch during the trek as there was hardly any support and the tracks were either slippery or had gravel . With low visibility and incessant rain we trod forward precariously.
After an hour of trek through the grasslands along the ridges, we made it to an open land and then joined a wide track which was supposedly the short route from palace estate. We were close to the base of Tadiandamol but were confused and contemplating about future of the trek. It was a further two kilometers to the peak and we were already running short of time. All were completely drenched and the leech bites had not gone down well with most of them. After a short discussion we decided to call off the trek due to shortage of time. We were also yet to take a break for lunch which would definitely be time consuming. We would not have got back before dark had we continued to the summit.
With drooping shoulders we walked along the palace estate track to the starting point of the shorter route. This stretch seemed much easier and was mostly devoid of leeches, but a few were spotted. The big attraction was the numerous monsoon waterfalls which we passed by. With monsoon at its peak, all the streams and creeks were at their glorious best. They were full and gushing down the hills. Each time I passed a waterfall, I looked at my camera and gave a sigh. This part of the trek was definitely a walk in the lap of nature. When I waded past the ankle high waters, I could feel the slimy blood suckers inside the shoes getting active and wriggling through my toes. The rain had receded by then and the first thing to run into my mind was Murphy's law.
In between we stopped by for lunch at an abandoned house en route. I was amused when I removed my shoes and blood soaked socks as five or six blood drunk leeches rolled out of it. They almost resembled balls and were half the size of my index finger. People pay a big price for a leech therapy and here I have it as a compliment with my trek. After all the cleaning and gulping down the lunch that was carried, we began our walk further down to where the resort vehicles were to take us back. The vehicle came in some time and we clambered into it along with our local guides and the dogs. This was definitely a tailor made monsoon trek. Rains, mist, vistas, vantage points, greenery, waterfalls, leeches and wet earth all made it a perfect one. Except for the low point of not trekking to the summit of Tadiyandamol, the trek was an absolute rejuvenation. Now I have a reason to trek Tadiandamol again.
The next day began with our drive from Honey valley estate to Barapole river for rafting. River rafting was something new to me and after the previous day's disappointment of not trekking to the top, I was definitely looking forward to this adventure. After the declarations, instructions and guidance, we geared up to lift take the rafts into the cold waters of Barapole. The river was at its flowing best and the rain which had not stopped ever since we landed in Coorg, helped it. Being amateurs and beginners, we were sceptical in the begining but slowly turned confident and rowed according to our guide's guidance.
|Woods are lovely, dark, deep and misty too!|
After an initial stretch of calm waters of more than half a kilometer, our guide stopped rowing and asked us to take a plunge. The river was mostly stagnant were we had stopped and one by one all just jumped into the cold waters of Barapole. This was to get ourselves accustomed to the water in case of a topple. We swam, frolicked, clicked photographs and played for about half an hour before getting back on the raft. Then began the rafting with instructions flowing from the guide along with quirky names of rapids like The Big Bang and Ram Jaane. Each rapid has a name but these two were the prominent ones and as the name suggests, were definitely the most adrenaline rushing ones. Each rapid had dips and rocks which we had to raft through and the excitement grew as we passed each rapid. Our already soaked bodies were further drenched and the two hour adventure was definitely exhilarating. The adventure finally came to an end after almost a two and a half kilometer stretch of rafting. We then drove back carrying the rafts for a hot cup of coffee by the free flowing Barapole river.
Signing Note- Coorg is undoubtedly an adventure seeker's paradise...!!
Route- Bangalore- Mandya- Srirangapatna- Hunsur- Gonikoppal- Virajpet- Kabinakkad
Distance- 270 Kms