Before hitting this trail, make a detour to an account of day 1 to find the right track.
Retiring early for the day doesn’t guarantee a good sleep as we found out the next day. The biting chillness was the sole culprit and as much as we struggled to get going at the earliest, it was finally close to 7am before the pack set out. A short prayer to Mother Nature as a preamble before hitting the woody trails in fast mode helped us find clear perspective on the task on hand.
The ascent by itself though tiring was not an impediment as such. We have done it before and it can be done again. The main worry would be the changing climate that betrays no warning signs. The mist on the peak that can blur vision to zero levels also played on our minds. It’s just a case of a fast descent after the summit attempt. Moreover the first water point midway through the trek is a medium sized stream that will be hard to navigate if it rains. We put aside negative thoughts to silent death and marched on.
The terrain undulating in character is a myriad of jungle lore by itself. Tiger scats at random intervals betray the presence of the king of the jungle. A solitary pugmark here and there elevates spirits to unimaginable proportions. Crushed grass, fallen trees, sambar hoof marks, porcupine quills, all but gives a recap of the stage plays enacted by the denizens of the forest.
We navigate through one foot winding paths across corny hills that need to be tackled with extreme care. All round vegetation thrived as much as the cold climes allowed, dense small shrubs, half bloom orchids, frost bitten grass, all of which made us look askance in wonder enthralled. The trail was a zig zag labyrinth, sloping drops and draped elevations that pounded our knees to pallid defeat. Large tracts of water, the catchment lakes glimmered in the sunlight. Taking in the sights and blinded by joy, we jostled forward. A walk of an hour and so brought us to the first stage of our goal – the river crossing at the first water point.
This can be also called the half way mark of the journey, the point where we normally have breakfast. Here a small river cascaded among slimy and shiny rocks of abstract proportions. Rains though have the capacity to transform this water serpent into a gushing windfall of gigantic proportions. We were lucky. Less rain during the past few days ensured that we could cross over bounding carefully over the brown rocks. We decided to skip breakfast here ignoring the protest of one team member who felt that the earth might give way if he was made to go hungry.
The trek continued. A short climb followed by a pleasant walk through pleasant grasslands. Lulled to an easy stroll we relaxed but were brought to stilled attention by a team member who spotted a lonely sambar in the distance. I grabbed the camera and managed to click a couple of shots of the 300 pound deer who was more inclined to look into a thicket intensely. A good camera with an 18x optical zoom would have made a big difference here. The sambar bounded away oblivious to our attention. We continued and came across a tent provided to the forest department for their beat teams. We made no attempt to meet anyone holed up inside. We did meet the elusive Kurunchi flower famed to blossom once in 13 years (there are two schools of thought – some say 13 years, some say 11 years.).
Then came the more difficult part of the trek. Famously called the “Nenjumedu” in Tamil (“nenju” means chest, “medu” means elevation), it has a real crunching effect on the lungs. The steep elevation of almost a km has laid many low with the sheer incline of its visage. We made a determined attempt, a huffing climb that made us puff in exhaustion at the end of it all. I remember struggling a lot during my first visit ten years back. Strangely I was able to scale it at one go which made me secretly pleased. We have reached the base of the sharp edged Muhurthi Peak. We had a breakfast of bread and butter here before starting the climb.
Two more hillocks proved no challenge as we picked up pace. Seeing the peak in the distance filled us with more than extreme joy. Adding more excitement was the spotting of two feline look-alikes in the distance bounding away. There are mixed debate about its identity but the more we looked it finally dawned that they were plain ol’ jackals. Jackals don’t bound like they did, but they were the same, no doubt. We remembered that we passed across three definite areas where the stench of rotting flesh lingered for long and maybe the jackals are lucky today. Enough gourmets for the next week or so.
Well the next phase of the journey was a blur. Not because of the tiredness. More so the unalloyed beauty of the environs, jagged mountains, misty clouds, meandering winds, an amazing conflux of nature in mythical hues. We are at 2400 metres and the chilly winds spoke in their own language of love. Sometimes it was gentle, other times it was fierce. We chugged on and rounding a small corner found ourselves at the top – a small table fifteen feet by ten feet with astounding drops on both sides and powerful winds to boot. We had finally done it. We are at 2554 metres above mean sea level.
We looked around. Shouldering mist caressed the adjoining Niligiri peak, the 4th highest peak in the Western Ghats. We spotted the Kolaribetta peak, the second highest in the far distance. We are now on the third highest peak in the Western Ghats. The guard lighted incense at the small makeshift temple while we sat in trance, speechless, yet triumphant. We have covered a distance of 12 and 1/2 kms to reach where we are. The time was 3 and 1/4 hrs, not too bad when considering the teams average fitness levels. There is the question of the return back to the hut. But it was a small issue compared to this.
After a small break of 20 min atop the peak, we charged down, more so in an effort to beat the mist which has stared enclosing the peak. We didn’t want to get caught in low visibility. The only thing that has to be taken into account is the pounding the knees take when descending. We managed to hit a fast pace. Glad in the aftermath of scaling the peak, lulled to delight by the forest’s green canvas, we managed to reach back to the Fishing Hut in 2 hrs and a little. It was time to plop ourselves on the spacious verandah, triumphant yet grateful to Mother Nature.
An account of this nature on nature is just simply a helpless narrative. Mere words strewed together to find reason in existence and maybe paint a pretty picture. Yes, it will definitely fall short of what happens inside. The intrinsic journey that one partakes, akin to a waterfall in divine song, a flower in secret bloom, butterflies in soul freedom migration, a river in spate, a cloud in trance and beyond can never be expressed.