Backpacking Waynad

[The following incidents took place on the weekend of 26th Jan.]

The Plan

Finally the so-called long weekend had come. Slogging through the last couple of months had taken its toll on me and I was desperate to let go, to go out and experience what the world had to offer me apart from the usual daily dose of Tickets and resolutions. We had been planning for like ever, for this trip to Waynad. Initially “we” composed of three of my school friends (Anup, Pratyush and Saket), my wife and me. The plan was to leave early (4:00 AM) on the 24th morning by my car. But as the old adage goes “Man proposes God disposes”, on 23rd evening I got an SMS from Pratyush saying that he and Saket won’t be able to go due to some emergencies. I was shattered, having waited and planned for this much needed break for the last few weeks.

Dejected, I was chatting with biwi about the vagaries of my friends when she suddenly proposed that we go backpacking. This would increase the thrill and be different from all the breaks that we normally take. I talked to Anup who agreed to the idea. Well, he is a veteran of many such trips and also has trekked in the mighty Himalayas. I, on the other hand, was a naive backpacker as I usually love driving my old, faithful 800 wherever I go. But after a strong show of support from biwi, I decided to let go of all my inhibitions and to “enjoy simple unexpectedness of life”.

To make the trip more exciting, we laid some ground rules for the journey:-

  • We will use the public means of transport, i.e. buses, as long as possible (this was to make the journey more exciting than the destination).
  • We will enjoy every minute of the journey come what may.
  • We will not have any particular expectations from the destination as we didn’t know where we may land up and this trip was solely about the journey.

The Bus to Waynad

To add to the mysticism of the trip, we decided we will catch the first intercity bus which we get from Majestic. I picked up Anup from his house on 23rd night itself to have a better coordination and we ended up discussing various options and biwi preparing snacks for the trip till around 3 in the night. As I woke up next day at around 7, I was wary of what to expect on this unplanned trip. However, when I boarded the bus to Majestic, I decided to give up all my apprehensions and to go with the flow.

As luck would have it, the first bus to leave which had seats available was destined to Sultan Bathery. This was the cheapest of KSRTC (mind you, here K stands for Kerala and not Karnataka) buses with “leather shutters” instead of glass windows. Three of us dug into our seats ready for the next 6-7 hours of bus ride.

Journey to Waynad

The journey till Karnataka border was on the verge of being boring (apart from the fact that it was one of the longest bus journeys we were undertaking till date). I personally think that the bus driver was wary of Karnataka roads, because he took almost 4 hours to reach Mysore. But once he crossed the Karnataka-Kerala border, he was in a zone of his own, negotiating the sharp mountain turns and hairpin bends on a relatively high speed of 60 odd Kmph. Not that we were complaining, I was actually trying to draw in as much pleasure from the ride, drinking in from the natural beauty that the Tiger reserve forest was abundant in.

The roads in Kerala are much better maintained than in Karnataka and I drooled on the fact that we are coaxed to pay much higher road taxes here in Bangalore.

The road to Sultan Bathery was a very scenic one and when we were nearing it, we came to know that the bus would go to Kalpetta, the district head quarters of Waynad. Also, another friend (Abhinav), was supposed to be in Waynad on the same day. Not ones to miss any chance for socializing, we called him up and found out that he was also staying near Kalpetta. As we had not got any hotel reservations done in Waynad, we decided we would stay together in the same resort (provided we got rooms). In any case, we thought Kalpetta would serve better as a base camp to explore the whole district. So we duly checked with the conductor, had the tickets changed and waited for Kalpetta.

The scenery changed as we neared Bathery, the forest changed into areca nut plantations. Tall, swaying areca nut trees, growing on the hilly slopes are a feast for eyes. We were also amazed to see the unusual hues the houses were colored in. I noticed a purple, azure, yellow, duck-egg and myriads of other colors on the hills. Well, “Welcome to God’s own Country”

The Big Confusion

We got down near Kalpetta bus stop and called up Abhinav for the contact number of the resort and he passed on the number of Nisar(supposedly the contact person from Vythry resorts). I was delighted as I have heard quite a lot about this resort and it was supposed to have tree houses and cottages based deep in the jungle. I promptly called up Nisar and he asked if I was a friend of Abhinav. I replied in affirmative and he confirmed that he had two rooms empty. We were all very happy at this point and rushed to Phookot late where he was to meet us.

When we reached there, we had some local lemon tea, which was very strong and I loved it. Nisar took us to the resort and there we were struck by the realization that it was not Vythri Resort but some non-descript homestay called Lakeview Resort (though it was just a single house with only 4 bedrooms, talk about branding!). Also, there were only two available rooms, the other two being booked by some family coming in from Mysore that very night. Now, these rooms were reserved for Abhinav and his group of four guys and three gals. We were additional 3 and that made 10 claimants for 2 rooms. The mathematician in me tried all possible permutations and combinations but couldn’t come to a feasible solution for this LPP.

To add to this misery was that it was already late and dark (we had obviously roamed around in Kalpetta enjoying the city as we had become sure about a place of stay). We were deep in the jungle where the only possible way of coming out was trekking back for almost 3-4 kms. Leaving the place was not an option for both of us guys let alone when we had a girl with us. So like true backpackers we started looking out for other viable options. After pondering much over the situation and going through all possible courses, we came to the conclusion that we had to adjust with Abhinav’s group so that Neha could sleep in with the girls. Anup and I had to sleep on the couches.

Then Nisar bhai came with a brilliant suggestion, he showed us the dormitories (looked more like the servant sleeping quarters) and asked us whether we would like it there. I, on my part, instantly fell in love with the idea of sleeping on a real bed instead of on a couch and I think Anup was also of the same view. So we both readily agreed.

Now that we were settled with a roof on our heads and a bed behind our bum, we ordered food and started waiting for Abhinav’s group to come. The food was delicious Kerala meal and we simply loved it. In the meanwhile, Abhinav arrived and we asked Nisar to provide for a bonfire and some hot coffee. The cardamom-flavored coffee was amazing and so was the bonfire in the jungle. We all sat around the bonfire and enjoyed for almost 2-3 hours. The girls were accommodating and agreed to have biwi in their rooms. We had loads of fun and the theme of discussion veered from ghost stories to the condition on IT industries in India.

In the course of discussions, we came to know that Waynad had little to offer in terms of places to visit and it was all about trekking. As the best trek in Waynad was the Chembra Peak, we three decided on a one point agenda – to conquer Chembra Peak. So late in the night we crashed in thinking about the beautiful views from the peak.

Early Morning Walk

I was deep in slumber, when I heard my phone buzz. It was biwi and the time was 6 in the morning. I got up lazily and woke up Anup. We decided to go on a morning walk before leaving for the day long trek. That was the best decision of the day. As we were living near the lake, it was all misty with thick fog hanging around. The serpentine jungle road was tempting us to come out and explore.

The place is kinda see-it-to-believe-it, so i don't think I can do justice to the beauty of the place by my words. From now on, I will let these snaps describe more:

The road was a ribbon of moonlight, err sunlight seeping in through the mist.

A house in the middle of the areca nut Plantations

The lone warrior standing tall.

Flora up the hills. These flowers were in abundance there.

Dunno the name of the flower but loved it.

Some more flowers, we call these putoos at home, dunno what they are called in these parts.

Can you notice the bird on the roof top? Well, the snap was supposed to be of the bird but by the time my clumsy hands readied the camera for the shot, the bird flew away :(

This house was unussually named as “The Lovenest”, dunno what it was used for ;). BTW there was an autorickshaw proudly standing in the garage.

This wayside teashop was so colorful and bright that we knew we had to have tea over there.. talk about the effect of ambience.

These kids were truly amazing. They came up to us when they saw us shooting away snaps to glory and got their snaps clicked. As soon as one snap was clicked, they all ran to us to see the snap. It was lot of fun to interact with these kids.

Neha with the Kids.

Back on the kuchcha roads in the jungle near our resort.

Coffee Shrubs in front of the resort.

The Chembra Peak

After a long refreshing walk we came back to the house to have a filling breakfast of home-cooked Idly, Chutney and some more coffee. After the breakfast, we loaded up our bags on Abhinav’s cab, thinking to trek with such heavy bags was impossible and that we will pick up our bags from Mysore on our return trip.

Sticking true to our resolutions we refused the offer of a Jeep ride to the Chembra Peak base camp. We shook hands with Nisar and thanked him a lot to save our bums the last night and started off to Chembra. We took a bus to Chembra and sitting in front of the bus had never been more fun:

We even saw this local league football game in Kerala.

All along the road, the both sides were flanked with tea plantations. It seemed as if all the hills were magically covered with a carpet of tea leaves. The feeling was awesome.

We reached the base camp and took our tickets which were quite steep at Rs 500 for the three of us. I don’t understand why do we need to pay such a fee at all. I mean, there was no facility that the govt. was providing us, even the guide was to be paid by us. The high handedness of Govt!!

The base camp was a tea plantation and the veiw all around was great. For the first time in my life I saw a tree plantation from so close.

Seeing the peak towering over majestically above us was awesome.

And so we start...

A few hills are conquered but the mountain remains....

Here was where biwi started feeling tired. As she still wanted to go further, I decided to stay back with her and asked Anup to go ahead. We started climbing slowly and with every meter climbed, I could sense that she was becoming more and more uncomfortable. I saw a group coming down and one of my friends from office, Jassi was in the group. I asked her to go back with them but she was adamant that she would go with me. Well, as we went further up, her energy was drained out and she finally decided that she couldn't take any more. I was on the horns of dilemma, whether to trek ahead or go back with her. She pushed me ahead and said that she would be fine with my friends. So I went ahead, though with all my thoughts upon her safety.

Further up I met again with Anup and we started climbing slowly. The terrain was excruciatingly painful with every feet of ascent to be negotiated with loose dirt and huge rocks. Finally we reached a point where we could see a small chunk of plain land and a very beautiful heart shaped lake in it.

We were excited and tore off our shoes and jumped into the cold water. There very tiny fishes in the pond which came around and nibbled on our feet. It was a very satisfying and amazing feeling.

The edge of the world.

Suddenly my phone started ringing. It was wifey. She said my freinds have left and she was alone at the base camp. I discussed with Anup and we decided to forego the peak and come down the hill. The wish to conquer Chembra Peak was unfulfilled but not foregone. We will go back during the camping season and camp overnight on the top.

On our way down our water reserves were finished. The sun was on the top and my head started spinning dizzily due to thirst. I knew there was a water source nearby as Jassi had aleady told me about it. We searched for it and finally when we found it, it was a tiny trickle of water with a small plastic pipe thrown in to harness it. We filled up our water bottles somehow and boy the water was chilled and tasted like heaven. True mountain stream with purest water in the world!

Satisfied, we started our long trek back and resumed our photography sessions. Here are some of the amazing snaps we took while coming back:

Main aur meri tanhayi...The view was simply amazing, worth every sprained muscle and rattled bone.

So close yet so far... we had to reach the base of this hill.

Back at he base camp. Whooh!! What a long(by my standards) trek.

A Few Good Deeds

If I ever thought that there were no good people on this earth then these restored my faith in the basic goodness of people, and I want to take this opportunity to thank them all:

While coming back from the base camp to the main road, we couldn't find any conveyance. The thought of walking back all 7 kms of the road made me shiver. Walking back slowly, we flagged a TT for lift. Unexpectedly, the vehicle stopped and the guys in drove us down to the bus stand. No questions asked. Thanks a lot guys for making us strangers feel so comfortable!

As we had no water with us, we stopped near a government tap to clean off and drink some water but to our misfortune, the water stopped as soon as we started washing our hands. There was a kid washing his bicycle there; he invited us to his home and gave us some refrigerated water, much to the annoyance of his shopkeeper father (who for obvious reasons wanted us to buy the water from his shop). We bought some water over there to keep the kid out of trouble. I can never forget the selfless act of the kid. God bless you dear!

After coming back from Chembra, it was already very dark and we decided to return to Mysore as we had nothing else to do there. First we had to have food, and we searched for a good restaurant and had some Dosas and uttapams there. After filling our stomachs, we started the hunt for a bus to Mysore. We waited for some 2 hours on the bus stop. There were buses to all kinds of places but to Mysore. Everyone we asked confirmed that we would get the bus from the same place, or at least that was what we understood with our negligent Malayalam. Then we asked an elderly couple about he bus. Though they had no knowledge, they went around and confirmed about the timings and came back to tell us that we will get more buses from Bathery than from Kalpetta. Though they had nothing more to do in the market, they still waited till we got on the correct bus to Kalpetta. Thanks a lot Sir, Ma'm!

Finally we got the bus for Mysore, but that didn't have any seats. We negotiated with the conductor and he gave one seat for Neha and we both again had to satisfy ourselves with the secondary mode - sitting on the footboards. Anyways we finally reached Mysore at around 2 in the night, called up Abhinav and reached his home. Despite the fact that he had to go to office early next morning, he got up and prepared Maggi and tea for us. Thanks a lot bro for all that you did!

We had the delicious maggi and went off to sleep.

The next morning when I woke up, Abhinav was gone and I saw his flatmate, Venkat Sir. Now, Venkat Sir is a SPM at Abhinav's workplace and very senior to us. When I went down for tea, I didn't know how to strike up a conversation with him. However, he turned out to be such a nice and warm personality that within a few minutes we finished having sutta together. We talked a lot and he told us all about himself till we finished our breakfast. Finally when the time came to leave, I thought I had known him for years. Thanks a lot Venkat Sir for making us feel us so comfortable and for giving us such a warm treatment!

The Return journey

When we started back for Bangalore, it felt as if we had been holidaying for years. It was so very refreshing to go back after such a great break. To refresh us further, we had nariyal-pani from a street side vendor.

The train journey was also very different because we had tickets for a second class compartment and the whole train was full of people. As it happened everywhere in the trip, Neha luckily got a seat and Anup and I were left to fend for ourselves. We did quite well as per the situation and had our empire built up at the rear end of the compartment. We sitting on our bags and our subjects sitting on the floor.

This was not "our" train but some Shatabdi standing on the platform while we waited for our train.

When we reached back Bangalore and caught the Volvo to SilkBoard, I was overwhelmed by all that had happened last few days and was too tired to talk anymore. As soon as I reached back home, I had to get ready for office. I had night shifts that day. So back to work and back to the same grueling routine, but with a renewed energy and vigor. I hope I can have lot more of such trips in the future.

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Sumod Sunny said...

great info on waynad n nice pics as well.... :)