The plan was a patented dream. The dream was a driving force. The objective was not subjective though. Simply put, it was a trek to the Radcliffe Fishing hut at the Mukurthi National Park and an attempt to scale the Mukurthi peak. Enclosed among rarefied air and closeted with misty winds at the altitude of 2554 meters, the mangy peak held no invite. Rather nature and its naive cohorts would rather have isolation as their birthright. Man’s footfalls mar and tar their taut visage. Yet they do reach out when lost souls seek succor in their warm embrace.
I have been there before in 1995 on the peak. I wanted to be there again. And so I went. And nature gave more than I could take. What follows is a first hand account of a Mukurthi trek in two parts. More a tribute to Mother Nature’s vast love. Much closer to a teary confession of a quest to partake nature’s inherent beauty, yet blinded by a lust for her love. And much beyond expression though I try. Out of space. Out of time.
Day 1 Musings
The team consisted of a rugged bunch of five, all raring to go. We all assembled in Ooty, known more as the Queen of Hills but truth be told, woe begone in silence with pollution to boot and bitter with the litter of an increasingly motley crowd of tourists who hardly care anymore. The air though is chilly to the bone and the cold wind on the face a welcome relief from what any city could offer.
A short visit to the Warden office to finish off the accommodation formalities followed. It is time to get the guide and forest guard on board in our tightly packed Omni before hitting base to the Porthmund Dam via the Parson’s valley (a distance of around 30kms). A jumpy ride punctuated with bumpy halts gave no measure of comfort. It’s now more of waiting for the ride to tide over. The small roads had to be expertly navigated and our driver did pass the litmus test. Recent rains have pockmarked the road contours with uneven potholes. But along the sides, green tendrils, dense shrubs and lanky trees played to the gallery in the cold wind. Finally after one curve too many, to our intense joy we rounded the bend to sight out favorite haunt – the lone tea stall close to the Porthmund dam.
It is time to send the driver on his way back. The tea shop dogs gave us a warm welcome bounding around as if they remembered us from our last visit. We did remember them. Maybe they did too. They have grown up and so did the chill in the air.
We sipped on the hot tea taking in the mountain silhouettes on all sides. Provisions were now split into five and the load distributed among the five rug sacks in tow. All is well and we hit the trail. Walking across the half a century old Porthmund dam taking in the vast expanse of water all around gave us not just real impetus but also a sense of wonder and amazement. The trek was well and truly on.
We crossed the dam and then hit a diversion into the thickets of the forest. A short climb. Then even ground. Then an incline that died. Only to rise in tandem with pine trees that seems lost in pregnant pause. The woods reigned only to be reined in by prickly shrubs that gave way only when a little of our clothing was claimed. Small pathways broke cover into clear ground where small insects scampered to safety under marching soles. There was one big climb which tested each one’s lung capacity. Lugging heavy loads we struggled but barely. For wisps of sun light played puppet shows on tree barks as little rushes of wind seems to break out into song. We bore on.
Suddenly coming up on a mound we touched on a woody thicket pathway pebbled to perfection. This led to the jeep route to the Radcliffe fishing hut. Yes, the vehicle can reach right up to the hut. The case was not so this time. Heavy rains have played havoc and old trees lay comatose all along the jeep track. Even otherwise it is best to trek to the hut. For you not just see nature at play. You can also cut the distance to the hut by more than a couple of kilometers. We marched on for a little while ( an hour’s walk) before rounding a corner that brought us face to face with the Fishing Hut. We have finally arrived.
Right in the middle of a dense covering of tall trees that played peek a boo with the fading sunlight stood the Radcliff Fishing Hut, a lasting tribute to the man who so lovingly created this picture square dwelling and shared it to the world for posterity. On the left of the hut lies his grave, a reminder of a man’s undying love for nature and its rapture. A compact verandah enclosed three fireplace adorned rooms and a central hall with an even bigger fireplace. At the back of the compound were the kitchen quarters and the store room. We all bundled inside and had our customary tea. Then it was time to explore the place and acclimatize before the big climb to the peak the next day.
We sauntered along the side of the hut and hit the trail to have a rendezvous with the Mukurthi dam. A short walk amongst green paraphernalia led us on to a little natural island where we sat to stare and reflect. It was almost too perfect. Silent waters, a sprinkling of blue and a mass of green shades that let the sunlight walk on its smooth surface.
Anonymous mountains that rose on all sides, unfinished raw art that will paint itself in different hues based on the whims of time and the brush of seasons. Little leaves, dried by age and golden in shade flew gently to the ground to rest. Talk would be treason. So we sat and soaked. And time stood still. Not for long though. The climate changed itself from chilly warm to biting cold. As if to remind us to get back to the hut before the forest cold hits the damp earth. We trudge back. Each one, a thought in motion. Yet stilled in emotion.
Back inside the hut, it was time to light candles and let the shadows play. The fireplace became a beehive of activity as we huddled around the caretaker who didn’t waste much time to get the fire going. The logs cackled, dry branches intertwined in a final act of copulation before orgasmic flames rose and fell. The room became warm and as we found our voices, we shared experiences and marked plans for the morrow. Bulk of the talk centered on climbing Everest, animal behavior and good natured old fashioned jokes as also visits down memory lane.
Dinner was not long its wake, hot rice with poultry that added more teeth to the discussions. We had decided on an early dinner so that we can rest well for the climb the next day. After dinner we went outside the hut to stand in the now brightening moonlight. It was too perfect, almost setting the table for a night trek. We decided not to. Hung around for an hour before hitting the bed letting the moonlight was us over. I dreamt that I met a tiger. Wishful thinking I guess. Still have to meet one though. Not long before everyone fell asleep. The embers in the fireplace kept going. Like dreams in silent flight.
Account of Day 2 follows here