Picking a travel destination

You are dead tired, each step feels heavy and labored, every single muscle in your body is making its presence felt, but, the destination is in sight and relief is just a few more kms away.

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This is the best part of any hike or trek or trip. There is isn’t any more danger or uncertainty. There is no fear that you might be unable to complete the trip without getting hurt. There is just a rising excitement from finally seeing the finishing line and a feeling of relief from the crushing fatigue. You start to smile and talk more and suddenly there is a spring in  your step.

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Once the main trek was done, we took a taxi to Dhankar where we stayed at the guest house attached to the monastery and relaxed for a day before the next trip.

Spiti Valley

After a week of trekking and sleeping in the rain and snow, being finally under a concrete roof in one of the most surreal landscapes in the world is a wonderful feeling. Sitting on a terrace attached to the coffee shop gazing out at the desolation and barren beauty of the Spiti-valley while pondering over things like the motivation of people who voluntarily chose this place as their home, feels different and strange.

Dhankar Monastery

Dhankar Monastery

We spent the morning hiking up to the Dhankar lake and then I and KP spent the rest of the day lazing about and eating tasty little treats and talking at the coffee shop.

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When I think of a place to travel to, it is only rarely that I try to see if that place is objectively beautiful or if the sights are “worth-it”. The first thing I think of when picking a place is about the things that could be done there. I think that by doing something or engaging with a place physically we will be able to better appreciate what it has to offer.

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I have heard many people talk about how great it would be to visit foreign countries or go on a whirl-wind tour of the famous tourist-spots of the world. When I hear that I always wonder what it is exactly one feels when standing in front of a tourist attraction. What is the happiness you get out of taking a picture of yourself in front of the Eiffer tower or some other such landmark? One can of course see anything online nowadays. When we imagine ourselves being happy in front of a particular sight have we ever wondered why we would be happy in that position? Is it just the beauty of the sight?

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A lonely flower

I have a strong feeling that it has to be more than that. Maybe, it is the break from the routine of daily life involved in getting to the said location. Maybe it is being there with your friends or family. Maybe it is the little surprises that happen on long trips…

When I look through these old photos, the pleasure I feel comes more from remembering how I felt like at the time than from the mere aesthetic appeal of the scenery that I have tried to capture with these images.

I once cycled up the Khardung-La pass in Ladakh and was deeply affected by the experience. Once the cycling expedition was finished I got myself into a group which was hiring a share-taxi to visit the Nubra valley through the same route. The second time I went through that route, I slept most of the way and the sights that had deeply moved me the first time failed to have the same impact as they whizzed past the window of our vehicle.

A sky so rare, the moon is visible at noon!

A sky so rare, the moon is visible at noon!

I realized then that the impact travel has on us is mostly a function of our own state of mind, our physical condition, the accessibility and uniqueness of the place, interaction with our travel partners and the activities we are engaged in. If one’s stated purpose for travelling is to collect different experiences and learn something new about oneself in that process, then, the “impressiveness” of any place or sight is of only secondary importance. The way we engage with that place has a bigger say in deciding how much we are able to take away from the whole exercise.

Is there something objectively great about a place that would make a trip there worth the while? I think this is an important question for someone interested in expanding their mind in whichever way possible.

So, the next time I plan a trip, I ought to spend more time thinking about what I can do there than on whether that place is “beautiful-enough” or not.

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Someshwara: Kudlu Water-falls

On one Friday evening(in March), as I was wrapping up the day’s work, I felt a sudden urge to go somewhere. It was such a strong one that I decided that no matter what the obstacles I simply had to do it!

It was past 9 by then and it would have been tough to book a bus ticket and catch the bus that same day. So, I thought that driving would be a better option. I called up a friend of mine(Sarat) and asked for his car for the weekend. He agreed to lend it to me and also decided to accompany us on the trip. Before that I had spent a few minutes thinking about where to go. I had zeroed in on Agumbe. I had already been there once. But, the last time we went there we could not do one particular trek that I badly wanted to do.

After deciding on the place and mode of transportation, I called up my friends and told them about the plan asked whether they wanted to join me. Renjith and Gobind agreed to come. So, that evening after a lot of frenzied running around, we all set off for Agumbe by around 11. It was 380 kms to Agumbe and after an overnight drive, we arrived there by about 7 in the morning.

None of us had a clue about the route and the roads were more or less deserted. So, it was google maps all the way! We made  a lot of mistakes and had to travel some extra distance but we still managed to make it to Agumbe in time for breakfast. After freshening up we went to the Police Station to ask for permission to trek to Barkhana Falls. Not the view point, but the actual falls.

But we were in for a bit of bad luck, well, sort of… On that particular weekend there was a naxal combing operation in progress by armed policemen and they informed us that there simply was no way we could do the trek that day, I was a little disappointed as I had seen all the other places in Agumbe and this was the main attraction as far as I was concerned.

But, the policemen were real nice and after seeing our situation, they suggested that we visit the Kudlu Waterfalls near Someshwara and told us that the visit would be well worth the effort. So, we decided to take the advice and go there. It was convenient for us as we had the car with us.

We packed some Avalakki from Kasturi Akka Mane and left for the place by around 12. After getting there we parked our car at the start of the trail and from there we started  walking. Initially, we were mostly just walking through mud roads and we could see a few villages on the way. The sun was high up and the walk was pretty tiring.

But, after around 2kms we reached tree cover.

From then on, the walk was really enjoyable! The dense vegetation gave us good shade and the air was cool and fresh. I was really weary from driving the whole night and running around for the permission. But all that weariness slowly started disappearing as we walked along the peaceful trail.


After a while, we met a guy who seemed to be collecting some forest produce who helped us find the right trail and led us up to the water falls.

It was such a strange feeling when we got there. As we watched the water falling in a misty threads from the height forming a natural shower in a crystal clear pool of water, we immediately forgot the fact that we were tired and I was suddenly all excited and hyper-active. After lazing around for a while we jumped into the pool!

It was a little shocking at first as the water was rather colder than we expected it to be and I spent the first few seconds helplessly hyper-ventilating. But, then I just dipped my head under the water and let the cold take over. After playing in the pool for a while, we walked around it and got to right under the waterfall. The fluctuating wind kept pushing it back and forth. So, we stood at a spot and waited for the piercing fury to strike us.

Soon enough the waterfall moved to our spot and for a few minutes we were treated to a sensation that was both strange and exhilarating! The water struck us with great force everywhere and it was both painful and soothing and when it was right above us, for a few seconds, I felt a kind of absolute peace and complete isolation! Maybe this place could make a buddha given the right kind of raw material!

After that we spend some more time doing this…

and that.


When the sun had lost its edge, we started on our way back.

That night we all had dinner at Kasturi Akka’s place and I had a kind of sleep that felt a lot like how I had imagined death to be.

The next day the trek was still a no-go. Besides Gobind had some urgent work at his office. So, we decided to restrict ourselves to visiting Jogi-gundi falls which was close by and after that we set off for Bangalore. We got back by nightfall.

All-in-all, a trip that went not-at-all like I had planned it. But, still an enjoyable one. Nowadays, my planning is going from bad to worse. Hope my friends had a good time!

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Trekking at Pushpagiri

On the 24th of last month I had gone trekking with the Bangalore Ascender’s to Kumara Parvatha/Pushpagiri. The team members were Girisha, Jinu, Prabhakar, Om, Ashok, and me. It was my second time with the group. Previously, I had gone with them to Munnar on a cycling trip.

When I told everyone that I was going to KP, most of them told me that it was stupid to attempt the trek at that time since it was still summer and water would not be available near the peak. Also, they said that the trek through the grassy route would be tough in the searing heat. But, the organizers had done their homework well. Girisha had called up someone who had been there a few weeks before us and had made sure that our route(from the Somwarpet side) was well sheltered and enjoyable.

All of that preparation paid of well and it was one of the best treks that I had done up until then. All the treks I had gone on were single day treks, which meant that I could return before the end of the day and did not have to carry a lot of stuff with me. But, this time it was different. The route was 25 kms long and it was going to be a 2 day trek with an overnight camping on the top included. I was pretty excited about it as I had never slept outside under a tent before.

We started on Friday night from Bangalore and reached Somwarpet by about 6 in the morning. After freshening up and having breakfast we hired a jeep to take us to the Mallali water falls and later drop us off at the start of the hiking trail. To reach the water falls one has to take a detour from the route connecting Somwarpet and the start of the trail. I was not that enthusiastic about going to the water falls as I thought that it would be relatively subdued because of the time of the year. But, I was proved wrong! The trip and the short walk to the base of the water falls was well-worth the effort.


The water falls was quite a sight to see especially from up close.

Feeling refreshed we all got back into the jeep and set  set off for the Heggademane temple which marked the start of the hiking trail to the peak.

We reached the temple by about 9 and from there we set off for the forest office where we enquired about the conditions near the peak. They said that there had been a lot of rain recently(fortunately) and that there was continuous thunder and lightning at the peak(not-so-fortunately). They suggested that we not stop at the peak and that we continue on to Bhattare-mane on the other side before stopping for the night. They also warned us that the route was heavily leech infested!


Thankfully, after all these warnings they gave us the assurance that there was water available at 2 points along the route and also near the peak. Hearing this was quite a relief to us. So, after all the paper work was over, we set off.

A dog accompanied us for quite a way!

I had come well stocked as far as food was concerned. I had with me lots of mangoes, biscuits, dates and chocolates. Even though I was not really that hungry I kept munching on stuff as I walked with the others under the cool shade of the trees. We stopped for water at a couple of small streams.

Very soon, the leech problem became very severe and all of us started walking at a brisk pace to reduce the number of leeches that we were picking up. After a while I found out that stopping to pick off the leeches on my shoes was a wasteful affair as more were climbing onto my legs than I could pick off in a given time! So, I decided to ignore them and simply walk as fast as I could through the wet thick forest and stop only on dry rocks for water and rest.

The tree cover cast a pale green shadow over everything and the recent rains had put that cool, wet tropical touch on the trail. Walking along it, it was easy to ignore the numerous leeches jostling for space in my shoes and simply get lost in the wild beauty surrounding us.

The initial part of the trail was very easy and I soon got ahead of the others as I was walking at a pretty brisk pace.  Soon, I came to a pretty steep(about 45 degree I guess) rock face and from then on the climb was pretty tough.


While climbing up the rock face which was pretty easy by the way, since it was mostly dry and my Reezig shoes gave me good grip on them, I was wondering how it would be like in the rains.

I could see water channels all over them and thought about how cool it would be to climb it in the rains!

After that, the gradient continued to be high. I was starting to feel tired and had to take a couple of breaks in between. The last 2 kms before the peak seemed to go on forever. Finally, by about 12:45 I broke out of the tree cover and to the stretch of rock just below the peak.

The weather atop the peak had absolutely no relation to the conditions below it. It was alternately misty and clear. Conditions kept varying quite abruptly.

After I got to the top within minutes the mist came up behind me and surrounded me. I decided to walk about and check out the area before the others came. There was a temple atop the peak which was mostly just a big pile of rocks.

Then I sat down and decided that the leeches had had enough fun and decided to split ways with them.

I picked off about 20 leeches from each leg

Then I surveyed my ration and waited for the others. Soon enough I heard shouts from behind a copse and went over and joined the others. It was only about 1:30 and we thought that we were too early in getting to the peak. We didn’t realize then just how wrong we were!

We quickly set about collecting some wood for the fire and found a nice spot behind a bunch of trees where we decided to tie up our tarpaulin sheets.

Then we got some water from a spot just below the peak and made ourselves some hot, tasty soup and  pasta!

We then were wondering about what to do after that when suddenly the sky grew dark and it started drizzling. We quickly got under the tarpaulin sheet that we had tied up and into our sleeping bags. Very soon the rain grew in intensity and the sheet started becoming wet and the weight was causing it to droop and touch our sleeping bags. Also, the water was starting to come in along the edges. As soon as the rain started Prabhakar picked up his sleeping bag and ran over to the bags which we had kept under another tarpaulin sheet and got under that. If it weren’t for that we wouldn’t have had space for all of us! As the night wore on, I snuggled deeper into my bag and stayed there listening to the rain pounding the sheet within inches of my ear and enjoying the warmth and silky comfort of my bag. It was then that I realized just how helpful they can be while trekking.

By 5 in the morning, the damp had managed to creep into my bag near my legs where it was exposed to the rain. It was okay since the rain had stopped by then and we all got out of our sleeping bags and decided to get to the viewpoint and wait for the sun rise for which KP is most famous!

When we got there, the sun’s rays where starting to just illuminate the sea of clouds from below!

We stood there making small talk and trying to contain our excitement as the majestic sight slowly unfolded in front of us. Soon enough, the sun appeared over the horizon and veins of color shot out in all directions…

The clouds parted for a few moments and granted us a peak at the sun!

After sunrise, we packed up our stuff. I then took out my bread, cheese, some prunes and dates that I had with me and made a meal of them. I gave it to the others also as we were all very hungry.

The descent was very easy as we started early and because of the rains the day before.

The descent was a little steep and we made good time.

On the way we had to pass through a “leech forest”. We passed so fast through it that most of us didn’t get bitten at all.

A rock that resembles a primitive human face!

We got down on the side of Kukke Subrahmania. This is the more popular route that most people take. This route is mostly through open grasslands. I thought the trail that we went up by was more enjoyable. Anyway, we soon got to Mantapa, After hanging around for a while we made our way to the forest office. When we got there we saw that there were a lot of guava trees all around the place.

We took a break and just lay about eating them and relaxing in the shade of a shelter near the forest office.

We then made our way to Bhattare Mane where we had a lunch of rice, sambhar, butter milk and pickle. Then we waited for a while until the sun lost its edge and then set off again. We got to Kukke Subrahmnya in record time and booked ourselves a room in a lodge and rested and freshened up there. After that we walked around the temple town and had some tasty snacks at a hotel. Then we got our bus back to Bangalore and had a comfortable journey back home!

It was a pretty cool trip and it was my first time with a group this experienced and passionate about trekking and nature. A big thanks to Girisha and the others who managed to make this trip such a grand success!

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Coorg: Day 2

We spent 3 days in Coorg. The first day we all trekked to Thadiyandamol. On the second day, we were not very sure of what to do. So, we asked our hosts and they suggested visiting Mandalpetti to us. Since that place is accessible only by Jeep we hired one. We set off for the place by about 10. The ride was very interesting. The road was horrible and unsuitable for anything except heavy vehicles and jeeps.

After the tiring trek of the day before, just sitting and watching everything from inside the jeep was very pleasant. Eventually we got to the place.

It is a series of hillocks and you can enjoy nice views from atop them.

Frankly speaking, we thought it was a bit underwhelming after Thadiyandamol. But, still, there were strong winds and we just walked around, clicked a few photos and had a cup of tea from a shack there.

It was then that they mentioned the real attraction of the place. If required the guys there can arrange for camping there overnight. Now, that would be very cool. I bet that the sunrise would look awesome from there. Anyway, after tea, we set off.

We then went to the Jesthu river. After the sun at Mandalpetti, the clean beautiful stream really helped us cool off.

After playing around in the water, we then left for Coorg. We had initially planned to go straight to Raja’s Seat to see the sunset from there. But, we had arrived earlier than we had planned to. So, after grabbing a quick lunch we decided to go to the Omakareshwara Temple which is in the heart of the town.

We all went inside and walked a couple of times around the sanctum sanctorum. That night was Shivarathri and the temple was abuzz with activity. We could see priests chanting, musicians playing their instruments, workmen putting up tents etc.. It was all very interesting to watch. But, unfortunately they did not allow us to take the camera inside the temple.

As I was walking around the temple pond, I saw that diyas were being placed around it on the steps.

I thought that they would look pretty cool when lit in the night. So, we decided that we would come back after sunset to see the celebrations. After that we went to Raja’s Seat which was close by.

Raja’s seat was, as its name implies built for a king to witness the sunset from. And, it really is a place fit for a king!

There was a garden, a fountain, benches and stadium like seats on which people could sit and comfortably enjoy the sunset every evening.

There were a lot of people there . But, it was not very crowded and the atmosphere was very peaceful and relaxed.

After the sun touched the outline of the mountain in the distance it started sinking fast and within the space of a few minutes it disappeared.

After sunset we hung around for a while as it was still light.

After the sunset, the place took on a different air. I really enjoyed walking around the garden and taking in the sights and sounds.

Then, they turned on the musical fountain. We watched it for a while with the kid who accompanied us.

After that we went back to the temple as we had planned to. The celebrations were just starting there when we arrived and some pooja was going on. Once, when I had gone to Agumbe, I visited a temple there. The atmosphere inside was electric and the sights and sounds mesmerizing. But, sadly, I did not have my camera with me then and it was quite a loss!

Soon, the chanting stopped and the priests walked in procession around the pond.

After the procession got over, there was a brief period of silence…

Then, what I had come for happened! They turned off the big lights and started lighting the diyas.

Soon, the whole place was ablaze with the flickering light of the tiny lamps.

I think that people and objects look more beautiful in the soft light of oil lamps.

Suddenly all the sounds and bells stopped and a pall of silence fell over the place. All the lamps had been lit. Wherever I looked there was a riot of color and lustrous beauty shining in the yellow light of the dancing flames.

It was quite a sight to see!

After hanging around the place for a while more we set off for our homestay and to a phenomenal dinner of Coorgi, Pork, Chicken, Chappathis, Rice and some veg dishes that I didn’t even bother about. Again, there was a big whiskey fueled discussion. But I can’t remember the subjects now. All I can recollect is that Veliyettan kept asking for the meaning of the work “hypocrisy”!

The full collection of photos is here.

Trek to Thadiyandamol

I have read a lot about Coorg(Kodagu) and it was always there on my list of places to visit. So, one weekend we(Me, Valiyettan and Nipun) decided to go there and relax for a couple of days. I did a bit of research and found a couple of home-stays. We booked ourselves a room at Reena Devaiah’s home-stay. We set off for Coorg on Friday night and arrived there by about 5 in the morning. We took an auto to get to the home-stay which was around 7 kms from the town.

After getting there we freshened up and after break-fast had a discussion on what to do that day. We decided to trek to Thadiyandamol. So, we set off on foot to the main road, and got ourselves a lift to town. On reaching the bus stand we saw the bus that we were supposed to take(yo Kakkabe village) was about to move out. So, we decided that we would have break-fast from somewhere on the way and jumped onto the bus. On the way they stopped at a place and I bought a few packets of biscuits and water. But, we didn’t eat anything proper.

On getting to the base, we realized that there were no places to eat there. I was kind of okay. But the other two guys were throwing me sour looks once in a while as they were really hungry. We also did not have any guide with us. But, we got lucky. There was a Belgian couple(Michael and Florence) who had also come by the same bus and were going to trek to the top. They had a guide with them. So, we went and talked to them and made friends with them. So, we had some one to point us the way at least.

We started on our trek. The initial part of the trail was through some coffee plantations. We could see the coffee trees and smell their fragrant flowers.

The sun was already high up and the heat was considerable. Luckily, I had bought along a lot of electrolyte and we mixed it with the water. I was in a silent mood. But, that was completely okay as Michael and Florence were very interesting company. Veliyettan was discussing the economy of Belgium, growth prospects of the technology industry here and other such very weighty matters. Nipun too was bugging the poor woman with some such talk. I was running ahead as I wanted to spend some time and learn how to use my new camera while they caught up with me.The walk was a long one. On the way the guide made a small detour and we got to a stream where we filled our water bottles and ate some of the biscuits.

After that the grade started increasing and we were gaining altitude. Very soon we started seeing more and more people. They probably had set off in the morning. We had caught up with them. The sky was clear and at every turn I could see the magnificent mountains spread out in all directions.

After a while, just when I thought that the sun was too much the trail plunged into tree cover. The air was cool and the air light and refreshing.

I walked like a machine and sped up like a rocket. As the peak neared and the crowd started to become thinner and thinner my enthusiasm and energy started peaking. Finally, in one surge of energy I got to the very top. I was awestruck by the breathtaking vistas spread out in all directions.

Usually, whenever I go trekking, there is almost always a lot of cloud cover and I never get to see anything worthwhile.This time it was different.

I just let myself fall down and lay there looking up into the sky. Just behind me a bunch of guys from BMC(Bangalore Mountaineering Club) had come up. I talked to them and spent some time discussing about previous trips and stuff with them and exchanging email ids.

With Michael and Florence

After a while Michael, Florence and their guide came up and behind them Veliyettan and Nipun.

Nipun

Renjith aka Veliyettan

We all rested for a while. We did not have any food with us and the strain was starting to show.

After some time we set off on our way down. All of us were really hungry. We had asked a guy at a home stay on the way to prepare lunch for us. By the time we got there we were nearly faint with hunger.

Almost every home we saw had coffee beans spread out in front!

I had managed to nearly starve my friends to death. But, thankfully, the lunch was worthy of our raging hunger! There was salad, rice, sambhar, moru curry, cabbage, pulavu, mulaku bhajji, bananas and more. We dug in and in no time we had decimated all the food on the table.

The home-stay(King’s Cottage) where we had lunch

Satiated we lay back and asked for some coffee.

Veliyettan relaxing after lunch

I don’t know whether this is a psychological thing or for real. But, there is something special about Coorgi coffee. We sipped it and just lay back in the easy chairs and let our eyes roam around the pleasant garden they had.

After a while, we made our way back to the road, caught a bus and got back to Coorg. We bought some “medicine” for our tired bodies and set off for the home stay. Luckily, for me, the other 2 guys were vegetarians. This meant that all that beautiful chicken prepared in the delightful Coorgi style with Pork Masala was for me alone. We ate to our heart’s fill. I, Nipun and Veliyettan had never, up until then, caught up with each other since we left college. It was a wonderful night and all of us slept fitfully after dinner. The next morning I woke up early and walked through some nearby plantation.

After that I just sat back and relaxed with a cup of coffee.

What happened that day is for another post!

The photos are available here.