Here Is How To Be Miserable During The Monsoon! Go For A Trek

So? You have a comfortable life and you are happy? But you can’t recognize that you lead a happy life? Might I suggest a monsoon trek to whichever place is experiencing the highest rainfall in the western ghats?

You can start by boarding a bus which has been stripped off every last bit of comfort imaginable for buses. Get your oversized backpack and put it in the front and your leaky bottle on your lap. Get the absolute last corner seat of the bus so that all the potholes and speed bumps on the way get acquainted with your tailbone and an occasional speed breaker sends you flying.

You reach your destination which is a forest outpost at 3:30 in the night and it’s raining outside. You possibly slept fitfully and cried in your sleep. You are asked to deboard and are handed a wet sleeping bag which someone assures is dry inside and you take their word for it.

You board a jeep which rattles the beejesus out of you and you hang on to dear life. You reach a home stay which is a fancy word for a room with a bathroom for nine girls and a similar one for boys. You stake claim to the area near the only piece of furnishing in the room which is a mirror so that when you sleep in your sleeping bag at night you will be surrounded by the fallen hair of your roommates.

You drink tea and change into trekking clothes. Wear a trekking pant, a jacket so you don’t feel cold, put on a poncho because it continues to rain and your trekking boots. You consider yourself smart and apply salt on your feet and put your pants inside the pair of socks to deter leeches. (HAHA, you fool!)

You carry power bars for the trek and someone hands you a packet of rice flavored with tamarind and asks you not to eat it yet as this is lunch. You reach the forest checkpoint and realize that plastic is banned hence your power bars have to be said bye to. You hand over your power bars and pray they let you carry your pack of peanuts because it’s in a ziplock bag and who throws a zip lock bag, surely they will know that. But they take it.

You are happy that you have contributed to the hills not being littered and your eco self feels proud. You then start walking up the mountain and realize your knees haven’t woken up yet after the bus ride. So you snatch the trekking pole from your husband because he claims to be the better trekker. Also, he bounds off in the general direction of up, if at certain points in the trek you catch up with him he switches on his turbo boots and blasts off least he misses being the first on the summit.

By now your knees have learned that they have to be in motion for the next 22 kms so they start cooperating. So you start your climb up in the rain which stops for a minute and then restarts in all fury. You cross the first river and some other trekkers remove shoes and socks. But you are wiser you know that after the fourth river crossing any enthusiasm for taking off shoes will be curbed so you don’t bother. But your laces come off so you think you will sit on a boulder and remove the swimming pool collected inside your trekking shoes and retie your laces.

That’s when you see the first leech that has been your buddy for some time now as he is nice and plump. You give a little squeal and do a song and dance, then find a stone and scrape it off. The leech is smarter than you of course, so he is sucking blood through the socks. Because you can run you can hide but you can’t escape my love.

Then it hits you, sitting on boulders is probably not that great an idea because if this leech could get up your socks; you sitting makes your torso fair game. You vow never to sit for the remainder of the trek and you won’t find place to sit as well as it continues to pour. The rain infact treats your jacket and poncho as a joke. You are after all wading through waist deep water during the river crossing and the rest of your body gets wet from the rain.

You have the second leech attached to you but now you are pro. Take stone scrape and leech goes off. You then feel something squishy on your stomach as you adjust your pants. You let it go as it is too many layers of clothing to navigate to look at your stomach.

You are now thirsty but your bottle is inside your bag inside your poncho and it is a pain balancing and stopping in the wet slopes and removing your poncho then your bag so you decide to drink from the stream. After a while you realize you are walking alone there is no one in front and no one behind. So you stop and shout hello anyone there as you are at a fork in the path. No one responds so you continue walking and reach yet another river and again there are three paths.

You hope you are taking the right one and wonder if anyone will send a search party for you also how long will the packet of rice last for. After about an hour you find some of the earlier party and the bounding husband. He bounds off again when he sees you have caught up with him. He is determined to make this a solo trekking experience for both of you.

Now that you are at a clearing and the rain has slowed down you investigate your stomach area because of the squishy feeling and see a leech which wants to be intimate with you. You wonder if you should let it stay on as he has definitely shown lot of initiative to get close to third base with you. But you are bewildered and wonder how to scrape your stomach with a dirty stone so you try plucking it with your hand it refuses to budge and continues sucking blood.

You look around and the trek guide who is a local villager is near you so you call out to him. He deftly plucks the leech off and also finds a few more who were on their trek up your trekking pants. You decide that you are eternally grateful to this trek guide. You have also realized that the purpose of your trek was to be lunch for the leeches. Maybe your blood is the chicken biriyani of all blood and that’s why the leeches go to great lengths to get to you.

The trek lead catches up with you and remarks that you are quite fast and it gives purpose to your miserable life and you beam from ear to ear as you pluck one more leech off your hand this time without breaking a sweat. You have become one with the mountain now, if you are not careful moss will start growing on you soon.

You start seeing the rolling green hills below. The forests you have crossed, the rivers and the boulders it meanders over. The bamboo groves you crouched under as the path went through it and the fallen tree and shurbs you wiggled under and which finally tore your rain poncho which you bought years ago from the Singapore zoo.

This time when you are thirsty you ask the new friend you made on the trek to remove the bottle for you and you do the same for her. You reach a really steep climb up with slushy rocks and slippery mud. You now know how to use your trekking pole effectively and climb up. You reach before others and find yourself in the mist with seemingly nothing in front of you and path that goes to nothing. You don’t want to walk ahead and hope that probably this is the summit. So you wait for the other trekkers to catch and they ask you to shuffle along so you do.

After another hour in the mist you reach the summit which is marked by a board that says Kudremukh Peak and lists the other peaks in the area. The rain here is relentless and the wind threatens to carry you off the peak and for a moment you are tempted to let go because then you will reach down faster maybe your torn poncho will become a para glider?

 

You have to eat now so you sit on a rock open your rice packet and reach in with your cold hands and start eating while the rain and the wind gush all around you. You have at this point forgotten the years of training your mother gave you on table manners. You need to eat fast because

a. It is raining and windy and

b. A leech might crawl on your bum if you sit long enough.

You manage to take a picture and return the favor for your friend. You now have to return down and the rain has just made the way more difficult. The rocks are more slippery and there is more slush around.

You are unsure how to use the trekking pole downhill so you contemplate throwing it down the mountain. But it belongs to the husband who has mountain goat genes in him so you can’t. The way down is now worse because the rain has made the entire way slippery and slushy also it is still raining with good force. Most of the streams you crossed have swelled up and the water hits you with full force.

You know just want to go back to a dry place so you increase your speed and also consider sliding down. Your trek guide keeps saying only 4 kms left every time you ask him and you know you haven’t even reached the halfway point where you took pictures on your way up.

Finally, you successfully finish the trek and reach the room which you are going to share with nine girls. You remove your pants, shoes and jacket at the door so that you don’t carry any leeches inside the room. You gulp down tea in the attempt to feel human again and thaw yourself.

Ofcourse now you have the distinction of proclaiming that you survived this and are super human. You have photos of rolling hills and untouched vistas that your mountain goat of a husband took which you can proudly post. There is now new meaning to the quote, ‘ Travel is glamorous in retrospect.’

This post should be read with the understanding that it is based on a real trek which I immensely enjoyed and there is bit of exaggeration thrown in to make it humorous. The trek was to Kudremukh Peak near Chikmaglur in Karnataka.

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Mountains, Biriyani and a Road to Yercaud

The trip to Yercaud was a grab whatever you can and the baby, pile into the car and go, kind of trip. To be honest I had little or no knowledge of where Yercaud was and what I could expect once there. The drive from Bangalore to Yercaud was amazing with the sun and the clouds flirting by themselves as monsoon was just setting in and the highways in Tamil Nadu are unlike anywhere else in the country.

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Mangoes Dotting The Highway To Salem

The highways in Tamil Nadu I feel should have their own prose and poetry written about them by every travel enthusiast who has driven on them but I will save that for another post. We reached mango dotted Salem in record time and took a break for lunch at Ponrams which is known for Dindigul biriyani and other non veg specialties! The road to Yercaud is winding and full of drastic hair pin bends which make the mountain ranges stand apart from the flat hot plains of Salem.

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The Enticing Menu At Ponrams

We reached around noon at Yercaud on a bright sunny day, we decided to go to the lake in the middle of the hill station which gives Yercaud its name of lake in the forest. Vendors sold aromatic fried snacks and cows ambled lazily around the expanse of the lake. We were acquainted with the vacillating nature of the mountain when the fair weather saw black storm clouds rolling in. We were happily peddling away on the peddle boat when the heavens opened up inorder to test our leg muscles as we peddled as hard as we could as our toddler sat wedged between us. To be honest, the experience of the sudden downpour and the lake changing its nature from inviting to tumultuous was quite scary!

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The View From The Windy Mountain

We managed to get back in one piece and got into the car drenched and drove back to the hotel were we had booked for the night. As we reached the newly laid road to our hotel which was on top of the hill, we were greeted by a river in its stead. The rain poured down the mountain taking the road along with it and our car just could not possibly drive up the river/ road. After waiting and trying for two hours we parked the car there and walked up to the hotel.

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An Unexpected Adventure

Needless to say we were quite exhausted with this entire adventure and decided to call it a night and order in room service. The food at Yercaud was one thing that made the entire trip quite exiting. That night we dined on tribal dishes of moongil biriyani which is biriyani baked inside bamboo and kaliman (claypot) varuval chicken curry. The food was a big high for us and a worthy reward.

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The kid can’t wait to feast like a tribal king

The next day we saw the sun rise from our temporary mountain abode amidst the mist and the vastness of the forests while Salem below slowly woke up to the left over light that the mountain sends its way. Our next destination was Killiyur Falls which is pretty if only people were more considerate and did not leave behind wafer wrappers, used diapers and other man made waste that spoils the beauty of this lovely exclusive mountain with hidden secrets.

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Killiyur Falls

The short weekend getaway to Yercaud was rejuvenating and gave us the dash of adventure that will be sharp memory for all of us including the kid who came back and narrated the incident when the river swallowed the road and the car got stuck thus proving that travel does make one a story teller!

Of Shadows and Light a Night Stroll Through Fort Kochi

I have been to Cochin many times but somehow Fort Kochi and more importantly Jew Town has always eluded me. On a recent trip to Cochin during the Ramzan holidays, we sat peering at each other through stuffed belly full of biriyani and we decided to venture out to Fort Kochi. By the time two kids, three semi adults and a couple of adults got dressed it was time to drink tea and the plan was in danger of being abandoned. But as half of the public was dressed it was decided that we stick to the plan and visit one of India’s ‘haunted’ places in the night but first tea was made.

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Jew town owing to some of the cemetery’s near by has a reputation of being haunted which I think is a disservice to one of history’s landmark spots on earth. Since we crossed Matancherry Jetty on Id which is an important holiday in India we found the bustling shops in Fort Kochi and Jew Town deserted with all shutters closed at seven thirty in the evening. Save for our parked car near the synagogue, there were no other vehicles in the vicinity and no other people around atleast the living ones. One of my cousins braved out of the car with the promise of shouting Aiooo should something happen, we laughed! He came back to report that the synagogue and the surrounding shops are all closed and there is nothing much to see but we could probably go see it.

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Since he came back and did not require any exorcisms done on him, we all trooped out of the car to see the synagogue after all a Hebrew God resided within since the 1500’s. There were some windows and doors open on the the street near the synagogue and the title music of ‘Parasparam’ ( a popular malayalam TV show) streamed out. We saw some old folks on their recliners watching the show ardently and knew that all is well.

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Jew Town dates back to the 1500’s when a boat of Jewish refugees landed in the port of Kochi and were welcomed by the King. They soon set up businesses, trade and a place of worship that still stands here. When the state of Israel was formed most Jews in Kochi went to the promised land or got assimilated with India’s population. Today only a few Jews are reported to still live in Jew Town. I wondered if history would have been different if more Jewish boats had landed in India instead of Germany but that is not for me to postulate.

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We saw the old clock tower that was set up in 1700 AD and some houses with the star of David prominently engraved near the door. When we got back to the main street the atmosphere was still eerie as most muslim business owners in the area were celebrating Id and had closed shop for the day. I will definitely go back to Fort Kochi with its many Chinese fishing nets, Jewish Synagogue, Muslim businesses and Dutch cemetery during day time and spend some more time in the vicinity exploring.

 

5 Happening Beaches in Karnataka

Goa has long held the glory of having been known for the most happening beaches in India but coastal Karnataka also known as Canara or Tulunad has some of the prettiest and increasingly happening beaches with tourism being taken seriously. Our recent road trip was along the Edapally – Panvel highway which is currently being widened and will hopefully soon be a much more comfortable ride.

The road winds through many rivers on the last leg of their journey, some bridges which are engineering marvels and the sparkling ocean on the way. The drive in short is beautiful and we discovered for ourselves some of the most happening yet lovely beaches in India.

Malpe Beach

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Malpe is a coastal town near Udupi and is known for fish. The beach at Malpe is quite popular and has a wide range of water sports such as para sailing, activities and festivals. The ferry to St Mary’s island is a trip that many tourists undertake. The beach is beautiful and one of the must do’s here is to eat fish fry which is sold in small shops close to the beach.

My recommendation is to find a Shetty Lunch Home and order fish galore and chicken ghee roast as a side dish.

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Maravanthe Beach

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Maravanthe beach is on an amazing slice of land between the Arabian Sea and Souparnika river. The beach is pristine and the NH meanders between these water bodies on both sides. The engineer who planned this road must have been a connoisseur of beauty and just for that the Arabian Sea sparkles extra blue here.

Maravanthe beach is on an amazing slice of land between the Arabian Sea and Souparnika river.

Murudeshwar

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A temple, a beach and an unexpected tourist hot spot with water sports, ferries to pretty islands. Murudeshwar has a lot of activities like snorkeling that can make you stay in Murudeshwar for more time than you first intended.

Karwar

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Karwar has some of the best ‘unexplored’ beaches and is also home to a Navy port which lends a lot of Karwar’s character. Pretty blue beaches, ships and tawa fry fish are some things to look forward to in Karwar.

Tip: Stop at the Naval Museum park on your way to see an old battleship and missiles, you can’t miss it.

Gokarna

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Gokarna is also known as a Hippie paradise but at its heart it is an old pilgrimage city which is very traditional. There are many interesting beaches at Gokarna which are lagoons or coves and can be reached after a trek or via boat. Other than the popular beaches like Om beach there are also unknown clear beaches which are for lack of a better word breathtaking!

Tip: Look out for wild, carefree dolphins out at sea. If dolphin watching is on your agenda, do avoid hiring boats as they chase the dolphins which I assume is traumatic for these intelligent mammals.