Since I started watching discovery channel, there used be a show called Lonely Planet and now it’s moved to Travel and living and it’s been renamed as Glob Trekker. I was very impressed by this show and I had made up my mind someday I want to be like that… Going around different places and meeting new people. Basically all I wanted to be is a traveler. One day a thought came into my mind that there should be some trekking club in Chennai as we have it in Bangalore… so Google-d it out and found this link http://www.chennaitrekkers.org/ and am very glad I found it and joined this group. This is what I wanted, go for trekking with all new people and make some very good friends. The Escape Road trek is the trek from Kodaikanal to Munnar somewhere in the border of Tamilnadu and Kerala. Everything was planned properly one month prior before the trek.
Ok I think that was pretty long introduction to why I like trekking and how landed up here… Sorry if I bored u. . We started around 6 ‘o clock in the evening on Thursday. We got into an auto and reached Koyembedu bus stand at 7 I guess. Most of the trekkers had already gathered at Chennai Deluxe hotel for dinner, we went there to join them and as soon as I ordered someone from behind called me and asked would you like us to join for a drink. Wow amazing! I thought what a way to start the trek. The bar was beautiful with colorful lights. We had small party for ourselves and moved to the bus stand.
Kodai-Munnar – Day1. Morning 6:30 we were still far away from Kodaikanal and as I woke up I saw water all over the place and it was raining cats and dogs. That moment I thought ok hang on… There are chances that this trek might be cancelled. We stopped at some place to have hot coffee in that chilling weather. It was amazing. Got into bus and some of the views were spectacular. The silver water-falls were running at full strength and you could hear the sound of water coming down from pretty far distances. By 9:30am we reached Kodai and our guide Mani had arranged a few people to look after us. They took us to some guest house to get fresh up and by Gods grace there was no power all over Kodai from past 3 days so there was no water in the tank. It was very funny that everyone was using the rain water to brush and for face wash. We all were so hungry by this time and we had our breakfast at 10:45am in hotel Meenakshi Bhavan… amazing masala dosas, hot poori and nice strong coffee.
Most of us did not have rain jackets so some of us went shopping and bought some 15 rain jackets, we got each for Rs 150… I think that was a nice bargain for both the shop owner as well as for us. In the mean while the Bangalore gang (Ramki, Anala, Prasanth) had just reached kodai, and having breakfast. By this time most of us knew each other by names and here is the list of the 20 cool trekkers. Peter, Balaji, Nagendran, Vinod, Vijayander, Vijay, Veera, Summod, Darshan, Madan, Ramya, Ramki, Anala, Prema, Ujjwala, Roshana, Rajshekar, Prasanth, Ramesh and of course me Nagi. We got into one small bus along with our guide Mani and headed towards Berijam Lake, where we had to start our trekking, along the way Peter and Ramki went to get bread packets for everyone… this saved everyone from starving for the next 2 days.
From Kodai we were supposed to travel some 15 or 20 Km by bus to Berijam Lake, but as we were on the road we had stop our bus some 10 to 15 times to clear the way, yup we had to cut and push the fallen trees on the road to clear the path. We cleared some 12 trees I guess and when we were 5 km before the lake we stopped. There was a very big tree blocking the way and we all decided to start walking from there itself. So we all started to walk… few of the experienced guys were really fast in walking and all of them were way ahead of us… For some of us it was nice fun walking on the clear tar road just washed from rain. We all took so many snaps on the way giving different poses. And by 5 o’clock we reached the lake and we stopped to take few snaps.
And now the nightmare started we saw leeches on our legs I had 2 on my right leg. One was trying real hard to go inside the socks. Somehow we managed to remove all those leeches , cross checked each others legs and reached the first pit stop were others had already finished there lunch..Ya lunch at 5:15pm… Very funny…
By 5:30pm we were done with our lunch and continued… this is where the tough part of the trek starts. As soon as we started there was no more tar road, all we could see was muddy and slippery road while climbing up. Some of us were tired… Now everyone started to feel the weight of the bag… We took rest for few minutes and again started to walk, it was getting more uphill and on the way we could see that wild elephants had passed on the same road… The proof was elephant shit… Phew. !!
As we went on we crossed several water logged tracks and all water went inside our shoes making the socks wet and muddy… Yuck it was very uncomfortable. Peter tried real hard not to wet his socks but somehow at some point of time he gave up… The leech scream. It was getting pretty dark and everyone was carefully walking on the damp tracks and suddenly we here this huge scream from Ramya… we were like oh my God something happened and when we saw she was screaming and jumping cause there was a leech on her leg and our great guide Mani rescued her and showed her that this leach won’t harm u but it will suck some 5 or 10 ml of blood. He he…
After a few minutes from here we took rest for some 15 to 20 min and our guide told us that we need to cross one small stream and then continue walking… we all thought we have already crossed so many tracks with full of water., so what, one more.. But to our surprise we could hear water gushing out of this lake which was over flowing and it was a small, say some 12 feet water fall… The force of water was too much… and our guide called this as small stream… Big time liar. Our team had to chain ourselves standing on the bank of the lake. And everyone here started flashing there camera even though it was raining… And the water was freezing. Our guide being the gang leader first went and examined the spot, like where to keep our leg so that we won’t get drowned. Each one us followed our guide’s instruction and one by one passed the middle of that stream. When Prema’s turn came, she kept her leg in a different place, dropped 3 feet in the water and was almost getting pulled down the waterfall by the force of the water… Our guide somehow managed her to cross that spot.
By now it was full pitch black and we had to use our torch and walk all the way to our first night halt in some village. Everything was arranged by Mani. After crossing the stream and walking all the way into woods was scarier, and dangerous… we could easily hear the trees colliding because of the wind and oh god that sound is really scary. After a long time we finally came outside the forest at some higher point and we could see signs of human live again! We saw a few faint lights in the valley indicating nearby settlements.
We continued along a downward road that was – due to the recent continuous rains – covered by 5 inches of mud in which every step we got sucked deeper and deeper into watery mud transforming our shoes beyond recognition. At this point we reached the limits of our physical and mental endurance – lacking sleep on the overnight bus from Chennai, busy since early morning, cutting trees along the path, continuous rains, wet and muddy socks and shoes, bloody ankles and never retreating leeches, crossing knee-deep and ice cold fast-running streams pulling you to a scary waterfall, walking for hours in the dark with creepy forest noises, near empty stomachs, and now trying hard to get ourselves balanced in ankle deep mud while navigating with our small torches with no sign of destination in sight at 9:30pm in the middle of nowhere.
By night 10pm we finally reached a dark and spooky village (no-one around). While recovering in a deserted bus stand shielding from rain and chill wind, our guide called up a maxi cab to take us to a our first night halt a few kilometers further on. It took 2 round trips to reach our night stop. Peter went along with the first cab to prepare dinner. We borrowed a small kerosene stove from the locals and started unpacking our MTR packets and cup noodles. By the time the second batch arrived the food was ready. Few of us ate and few were so tired that they slept just like that… and night was very chilling and those entire body aches, the joints were paining and somehow we all managed to sleep and take some rest on day 1. A few hard-core trekkers played the usual game of UNO accompanied by a free class of physics: our guide educated us on a technique to distinguish authentic from bogus old Monk.
Day 2. We started the day with bread and jam. Ramya had sprained her ankle and didn’t want to continue anymore. She and Madan decided to catch a local cab back to Kodaikanal and join the team back at Bodi on the return. We started to walk on the tar road and soon came across an overflowing bridge. We walked through 1 feet of fast streaming water, it seemed to be easy as we had crossed a bigger one previous day. The water was very cold and the force to water helped to clean all the dirt/mud we had.
The view was excellent from there, and cameras started to click. We then continued along an uphill road which offered breath taking views on surrounding valleys with step-wise cultivations. We then took a break in a local tea shop in a village called Kilavarai and that’s where surprise awaited all. Colors awaiting all for the Holi celebrations !!!. In less then 5 minutes the entire gang was covered in a shade of bright pink. We continued on a muddy and steeper path uphill. Progress was slow as everyone was careful not to slip. Some were fast trekkers. Some were slow. When the slow trekkers were left behind beyond sight and sound we used to mark Holi on rocks and trees to indicate the right path… so that they could catch up on us. I would suggest you to take holi to every trek Holi your guide to the right path!
The continuous uphill trail took us through scenic pine forests, crossing small water streams, and a beautiful path to walk. Some part was too steep and we guys really struggled to reach the top. Then we came to a scenic place where they had cultivated the hill step by step to grow carrots. As we walked we found streams of water where we filled out bottles with natural ‘mineral’ water. As the guide said this will be the final water point till we reach the place, we filled the bottles. After that point it was continuous up hill walk, our bottles emptied within 30 mins of walk. It was a tough walk, and we luckily found a small stream of water. We filled the bottles with water and our stomach with bread and Jam.
The trail after that was quite tough. It was too steep at places and very few downward trails. The path was so beautifully coved with trees on both the sides. Mist added an extra effect and made the path more beautiful. Elephant foot print also added an extra effect all the way. Most of the path was filled with broken trees and elephant foot prints. Some of the elephant foot prints were as huge as it brought creeps within us. As per guide we were walking on the border between Kerala and TN (at 50m intervals there were stone pyramid shaped concrete structures demarcating the border).
We all set off to climb the hills and reached the Kerala border by afternoon. We reached a place where there was a tall watch tower. A few of us climbed it. The railings were like ice. You got to hold on to it to be safe. And it was freezing cold! I somehow managed to climb atop and took some pictures. After the watch tower, we followed a downward path for another one hour. Finally we reached a forest guest house where we planned to stay for the night. The place had a kitchen which helped us to cook our cup noodles and our MTR packets. Cups noodles! Cups noodles never tasted so good! Though Peter did all the cooking, girls found that kitchen was the best place to be in that freezing weather! So everyone was there right in front of the fire. After food guys started to play UNO and girls went to sleep in a separate room.
The night was spent shivering…The sleeping bags were wet coz of the rain while trekking. Also the clothes were wet! (Bags were not water proof!) No need to mention about the shoes. They were wet and murky throughout the trek. Girls tried to make fire in the bed room in vain. I thought that this would keep us warm. They dragged Mani to help out! He used petrol to light the cold wood. It wouldn’t catch fire they even got a burning wood from the kitchen. Finally they gave up and decided to sleep. They also played antakshari for a while.
Day 3. The third day we ventured out without breakfast quite early (early is 8.30 ). It was decided that we will have breakfast after one hour of trekking when we will be really hungry. Including me so many others didn’t like the idea I guess! I am hungry the moment I brush my teeth. And how did I brush my teeth! In ice cold water! The temperature was freezing.
We had gathered the food packets, cup noodles and bread packets in a carry bag. We didn’t want to distribute it again, as we would be eating it in another hour’s time. And having pity on whoever was carrying it, I decided to eat some slices and make it lighter (what a sacrifice !! eating bread without jam !!) well others helped too. So much so that the carry bag weighed much less after our ‘help’ haa haa.
There was a photo session and ‘wait for Mani’ session. We had got ready, without thinking about Mani, our guide. Someone remembered him, got him ready and he joined us. And in the meanwhile we had almost forgotten about the rented tent. Someone remembered. We took it along. So we started our trek finally. We initially walked along the official Escape Road between Kodai and Munnar. The Escape Road used to be a tar road but due to the continuous erosion through water not much of its original surface remained. After some time, we left the road and followed a small uphill path in the jungle. We followed this narrow trail through a dense forest of trees and finally reached back to a grass covered jeep track along the Kodai-Tamilnadu border.
There we put down our back packs and breakfast and started a very steep uphill climb to a mountain top. After reaching the top we continued over at least 5 to 6 mountain tops each separated around 250m. Finally, 10 of us reached a 90 degree edge of the mountain offering breathtaking views on the surrounding valleys. There was only one small problem – we couldn’t see a thing due to the dense fog. We waited for around 30 minutes hoping the mist would clear up but in vain. We finally returned to the base of the mountain very eager to start our breakfast. After this we returned back through the small forest trail to the main Escape Road.
Now, we followed the Escape Road and once in a while we took a shortcut through a steep, slippery and small trail. It was the day of skidding trek. We went past steep forest full of leeches. There was fierce competition amongst girls as to who will skid the most number of times effortlessly! Well Roshana’s count was 10. Girls can come up with your scores and win attractive prize (a box full of leeches!). This was the day when the new trekking style was invented 🙂 (Ahem !who else other than me !!) I was teased for my backward walking down hill. They took photos for evidence. Hey guys any videos of the action? I got to patent it. My knees were hurting… it was so easy for me to walk that way.
Meanwhile, Prema had started her own leech farm. She found 6 (is the count right Prema?!) in her shoes and socks. Everybody started looking for leeches. Finally we came outside the forest into an open area. Everyone was relieved to be in the open again and expecting that the end was near… We continued along a jeep track which approached a main road. We came across a calm, serene lake with water flowing over a dam. Peter and Ramki just jumped into the water… It must’ve been freezing cold. Mani had arranged three jeeps for us which were waiting on the road. We got into the jeeps and the 1 hour drive towards Munnar. The road was winding along the huge and scenic Mattupetti lake and took us to the beautiful tea estates – green carpets as far as the eye could see. We saw the local loading some big bags full of carrots and stopped to buy a few kgs as we were hungry.
It was run-get-in-get-out-run for us… we reached Munnar around 3PM. Bus started at 3.30 …. Reached Bodi. Ppl from Chennai got down … the Bangaloreans continued in the same bus till Theni … got down and rushed into a bus to Madurai. We managed to get seats in the bus, thanks to Ramki’s skills in reserving them for us!! I got a window seat … was very happy coz i wouldn’t be pushed by people standing … after sometime I look at the window … argh ! a leech :O !! it must’ve been riding on my bag all this while … Ramki threw it out… then found one more leech on his bag too they didn’t want to leave us here in the city too! Got down in Madurai. But our bus stand was diff from where we got down.
Caught hold of a rickshaw, again thanks to Ramki and his Tamil. He bargained and we started towards the bus stand… after we got down we almost ran towards the bus… it was 9.25 by the time we got in… bus was to start at 9.30. phew!! We made it finally. Just in time! The personnel at the bus told that they don’t stop for dinner .. Ramki got us some biscuits, bananas and chikki .. our dinner was in the bus. Had a good sleep in the bus… to wake up in Bangalore was a nice thing after 3 days of hardship … getting back home before the scheduled time is something very nice …
Story written by Nagi, Analaa, Balaji, Peter.