To follow things better, read an account of Day 1 on the Bangithapal Trek.
I stir out of bed by 5 a.m. and complete my morning ablutions in the icy cold water. Soon, our group stirs one by one. I am out to catch the early morning pre-sunrise view from the rest house. It is ethereal. Hills in front rolling away to both sides. A stream gurgles below. Faint light from behind the hills gives a dull orangish tinge to the sky above. Wisps of mist float past me.
By 6.30 a.m. we set off after waking up fully with a cup of instant coffee. Trekking in the early morning air is always refreshing and we move along at a fair clip initially through a thick shola and then winding up the side of a grassy hillock. Behind us peaks stretch to infinity. There seems to be no end to the corridor that is visible through the hills. The hill in front of us has two brown strips cut all the way to the top and looks very steep.
Nandeesh tells us that these are fire lines cut to control spread of forest fires. We are on our way up one of these. The climb is steep and at one point as we look up and see only blue sky meeting the top of the hill, I recall the song “stairway to heaven”. As we hit the top, we make to a small outcrop of rocks to our right. For a couple of moments there is absolute silence except for the gentle breeze. A view that can only be described as spectacular greets us.
This is the Kerala border and a single pole stuck into the ground with a cloth piece tied to the top confirms it. More than a thousand feet below, thick dark green forests cover the entire landscape in sight. Just ahead the forests rise up in what seems like ever increasing waves, which are actually rolling hills.
Five such hills, each one taller than the one in front end in the Nilgiri peak which is visible directly across us. The peak lives up to the Nilgiri name of “blue mountains”. Nandeesh tells us a story of how he climbed down the Nilgiri peak to the forest below and trekked through the forests to the town of Nilamber and then came back via Gudalar. The forest is full of elephants he assures us. Already our minds are drifting away with the sight of elephants and the next trek is already being planned.
We climb another ridge and park at the top to observe the vast expanse of grass lands ahead. Breakfast consisting of bread, butter, jam, bananas and biscuits is consumed. Suddenly Nandeesh points to two V shaped sticks projecting on the side of the hillock up ahead. On close observation, we confirm that it is a pair of sambar sitting and taking in the morning sun. Eager to capture these animals from close quarters, we silently move down the ridge and climb the one in front from the side. We peer over the top of that ridge hoping to catch them unawares. But these elusive creatures are too sharp of smell and hearing. They have already stood up and looking fixedly at us. About half a minute passes and then the pair casually lopes up the ridge and down the other side.
We don’t really have time to make it all the way to Silent Valley viewpoint, so we start back to the rest house. To cut effort, Nandeesh takes a shortcut and we are gingerly moving down the steep hill. Once we hit the stream below, the route is clear and all we have to do is follow Rule 1 of the jungle. When in doubt, follow the water body. The stream cuts its way along the side of the hills through several shoals. As we approach the rest house, we come upon a couple of full sized jungle fowl scurrying across the path. For 10 minutes, they play hide and seek with us and finally disappear from sight.
Tired of drinking tea/coffee flavored with amul milk powder, we settle down with a cup of hot lemon tea. Lunch is ready and we sit in front of the rest house slowly eating. The sun goes behind cloud cover and mist creeps in on us from all directions. Soon we are enveloped in a film of whiteness and nothing is visible beyond ten feet. One feels that one could relax forever in such an atmosphere. However, we have to get back to Ooty and catch the bus down. We pack up and get on to the jeep. The winding 70 km drive to Ooty commences. Enroute we drop Nandeesh off at the picturesque Upper Bhavani dam, spend a few minutes there soaking in the pristine beauty. The only other incident of note is the spotting of a solitary bison by the road side. By this time, we are pretty tired and only thoughts are on getting back.
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