About around two months back, the plan for visiting Chikmagalur started taking shape. Personally I never knew anything about this place, nor have I even heard this name before, but now I know a lot – and Chikmagalur taught us all a lesson on how to dress and what footwear to use whilst visiting hill stations.
“You dare to visit me in bathroom flip-flops and flimsy T-shirts?” The spirit of the place seemed to ask us.
Some flip-flops were cruelly mutilated and some were horribly lost for an eternity, forcing their owners to walk barefooted through the forest. Oh, Chikmagalur, how cruel can you be? I almost lost my phone to the rain and the gushing streams, which made me think of Katrina Kaif….eeeps…. I mean Sony Xperia Z, the waterproof phone.
Year by year, our yearly trip locations get harder and harder to traverse. But the point to note here is, the harder it gets the more fun we get out of it. So I am expecting the next trip to be even harder with more kilometres of trekking through dangerous, dense jungles. I did complain about the Wayanad trip in one of our tour meetings, but do I have any complaints now? No!
On July 26th, at 11:45 AM, we set out from our office to the Central railway station. Some of my coworkers came to the station directly from their homes and I somehow ended up doing my usual Incident management work by making sure that these individual teams reached the spot without breaching the 1:50 PM SLA. As soon as the trail…I mean the train moved, people started getting busy with some games, and er….games. It began with the traditional dumb charades and I expected the ever so traditional Anthakshari to follow suit, but surprisingly that never happened and later some more games and a hilarious mimicry session by Vignesh. The evening was warm and fun filled as we reached Bangalore at around 8 PM.
The Familiar MG Road
As planned beforehand, people got into their respective buses – Bus 1 and Bus 2. It was so much fun being in Bus 2 during the Coorg trip, less fun during the Wayanad trip, but absolutely fantastic during the Chikmagalore trip. Hmmmm I am seeing a pattern here. Maybe the reason for these fluctuation in fun times is because of something or someone? Maybe it’s because of Ganesh!
He spent sometime in Bus 2 during Coorg = fun;
I barely remember him being in Bus 2 in Wayanad = less fun;
He spent most of the time in Bus 2 this time = more fun!
Add Vignesh to this equation and it’s a riot! But I did miss the companionship of the silent, but mischievous Partha.
Bus 2 came to a halt in front of the now familiar Canara Bank ATM, near MG road. The exact same place where we stopped last year. We received the same set of instructions that we received during the past two tours. So, a small group of us parted from the rest and headed towards the same KFC where we had had dinner a year before. But some people didn’t want KFC and so Vignesh and I scouted ahead to find a vegetarian hotel. We did find one and had a hearty dinner with the rest of our group.
The buses started after the dinner break and it was time for dancing! The primarily girl dominated dance floor – the aisle of the bus – creaked and moaned as we reached a curious looking hotel at around 2 AM. Little did I know that the dancing was going to continue even outside the bus. It was Sreedhar. Ranging from Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk to Psy’s Gangnam Style, to a slew of other dances of which I have no idea about, the guy danced to his heart’s content in front of a stunned audience.
The Last Resort
After sleeping for a few hours, I woke up early in the morning to find our buses standing in front of our resort where we were supposed to stay. It was a beautiful place. There was not a single house or a shop nearby and it was surrounded by farms and lush greenery. Glendale farms was the name of the farmland surrounding it. A very beautiful and apt name (Glen in Welsh means Mountain and Dale in English means Valley). I was supposed to stay at room number 11 and I trudged slowly towards it. I got to work immediately – bathed and dressed up as soon as I can and came out to take more photos. In the distance I saw a huge mountain, with silvery falls cascading down with mist everywhere. I badly wanted to photograph it, but the distance was too much for my eight megapixel camera phone to cover.
The rest of the gang slowly got ready and the good folks at the resort meanwhile cooked us a lovely breakfast.
The Glendale farms
I’ve been to Abbi falls at Coorg and to Soochipura falls at Wayanad and a slew of other falls over the years. But this Hebbe falls, to quote Micromax, ‘ (It is) nothing like anything’ that I’ve ever seen!
‘It is not the destination, but the journey that matters in the end’
This has become a cliche now. You can hear this line in countless Hollywood movies, but I do have to quote this here. What makes Hebbe such a great place is the journey that takes you there. Yes, the falls itself is magnificent and stunningly beautiful, but the journey was so fun filled (and also leech filled) and thrilling.
Attack of the Leeches!
Do Leeches eat peaches? Apparently they don’t and we found his the hard way. We were warned of leeches during our Coorg and Wayand trips, but we never experienced any leech problem before and so we didn’t give much thought to it during this trip. But the impending leech attack became a reality this time.
Hebbe falls – what we knew already: We have to go there in jeeps and from a certain point we have to walk for three kilometres.
Hebbe falls – what we came to know: the three kilometre trail is not a walk in the park. It’s laden with leeches and a…………….. I’ll get there shortly.
After breakfast, we took turns to ride on some jeeps that were booked for us. Our driver’s name was Santosh and what a driver he was! The jeep turned and twisted, jumped and hooted, shook and shivered (this was us), and it blitzed through curvy, rutted, pothole filled pathways that were totally unfit for traffic finally reaching a gateway amid some lush greenery. When asked about his driving ways, Santosh said, “There’s nothing to worry, I am a Mahindra driver and you’re in a Mahindra jeep!” I felt like I was part of some real life advertisement. ‘Suzuki Samurai! No problem!’ I thought as I left his jeep.
As I crossed the gate I saw a path that wounded out of sight some metres away and I thought that we were supposed to take that, but someone pointed to me another path on the left and said that we were to take that one. Hidden below a big clump of trees and other shrubs, was a small, narrow, dark, sinister looking path that disappeared downwards. The path seemed go downhill somewhere. It was drizzling and I was holding on to my ash-blue umbrella – the same umbrella that I’ve been carrying for the past three trips. Along with few others, we waited for about 30 minutes for the rest of the people to join us. Later, the huge group started walking along the narrow path. I was at the head of the group when I heard Kuppu shouting something from somewhere behind. I stood and turned back to hear what he was saying as the rest slowly moved forward. He said that the path splits into two, a kilometre from here, and we were to stand there until a count is taken. He asked me and Thamil Vaanan to go ahead of the others, take the count and come back to him to give him the count. He said that he’ll be at the back of the group following us.
The path towards the first stream
I always have this habit of being at the front in tours such as these, as it would give me some extra time to take photos and admire the scenery. I moved faster along with Thamil, but a group of our girls were even faster than us. Santosh and two others acted as our guide throughout the trip. The point where the path diverged into two came and Thamil and I started to take the count. Precisely at that moment we heard a screaming sound. It was Poornima. “There is a leech in my foot!” She shouted. One of our guides there told me that he’ll take the count himself and asked us to carry on forward. More leeches and more shouts. Confusion prevailed. At some points, the path was narrow enough for just a single person to travel and adding to that it also sloped downwards. It turned and twisted, wounding through the dense forest – the result was I often found just one or two ahead or behind me. I’ve never handled leeches before, but I’ve heard that using a lighter or salt was the best method to remove them. I didn’t have either and so I employed the next best method – plucking them out with my hands. At first it was just one or two clinging on to my foot and it didn’t bother me, but as time progressed it was frustrating when I had to dispose of three or more at the same time and there was blood all around. The smaller ones were easier to dispose off, but the bigger ones gave me a tough time.
As I moved along, I heard a piercing scream ahead. I thought someone was seriously injured and rushed forward. It was Saranya. She was jumping up and down, “Get this thing off my foot!!” I stooped down to remove the leech. “Nepolean, get it off!”
“How can I remove it if you are going to jump this way?” I asked. “Hold still.”
After walking for some more time we came across a shallow stream that carried along with it a brown dose of silt. I thought that we had reached the falls and looked around for it. “No, you have to cross this stream,” we were told. The stream was shallow and a bit slippery. We slowly and carefully waded through the water, feeling the way with our feet before actually moving forward.
The first stream
With the stream behind us, we pressed onward. And in a few minutes and leeches later, we encountered another stream. It looked a bit deep and the water flowed faster than the previous one.
“What is this?” I thought to myself. I didn’t in the least expect to cross streams. At that moment, Thamil, holding Pavithra’s hand, was trying to help her cross the gushing stream. The water reached upto his thighs and in the middle, the force was just too much for them to handle alone. People shouted for them to come back. After their return, Santosh asked us to cross the stream by holding each other’s hands. Two or three people formed a chain and went ahead. Three more followed. Amar and I, holding each other’s hands, waded into the water. It was slippery. At the same time something happened. A few metres away, Bhagya, along with few others was trying to cross the forceful water body. Her foot slipped and the water dragged her a few paces when one of our guides lunged forward and caught her. For a second, I imagined Ganesh being in Jail. But the disaster had been averted.
Seconds later, Ganesh lost balance and fell. He managed to get up with some help. In the meantime, Amar was trying to move forward towards Ganesh and I thought I was holding his hands firmly. In a matter of seconds the tables turned and I realized that it was Amar who was holding me firmly. “Amar, I cannot hold on much longer,” I told him. I was trying to get a good foothold, but I was never able to place my foot firmly anywhere. The water dragged me down, and for a second I thought that I was going to drown completely, but that thought surprisingly angered me. I kicked the rock strewn bottom of the stream rapidly and seconds later I manged to reach the other side of the stream along with Ganesh, Thamil, Manthira, Amar, Nishanth, Pavithra, Bhagya, Chethana, Madhuri, Karthikeyan, Mohan, Vishal and two or three others. I don’t even remember seeing some of them cross the water. It was all a blur. The seriousness of the situation dawned on us. I looked back and saw that the rest of the team was on the other side. And then I realized, “Oh my God, we have to cross this stream again to reach the other side!”
Someone (I think that it was Pavithra) said, “We have come until this point. We cannot turn back now, we have to see the falls.” Encouraging words.
The charge of the Light Brigade
So the small party of 14 or 15 people started towards the falls leaving the rest behind. Santosh was with us.
“Is this the only way to go to the falls? Isn’t there any other way?” I asked Santosh.
“There is a short cut. We’ll take it on our way back, “
‘Good,’ I thought.
After walking for a couple of minutes, came another sight – a third stream! Good Lord! Why weren’t we told about this? Someone ought to have warned us beforehand. But thinking about the whole episode now, I think that it was a good thing that no one warned us about this place. Otherwise, we would have skipped this falls for sure.
On the other side of the stream stood a group of solemn looking people, trying to cross the river just like us. When they saw us they shook their heads and signaled us to not to come. They pointed to a particular place in the stream to make us understand that the water was forceful there.
“Hey, this is just like some horror movie!” I joked to someone.
This time we didn’t take any chances. We formed a big chain, holding each other’s hands and moved through the water slowly. As they had said, the water was forceful at a particular point, but apart from that region the stream wasn’t as bad as the second one.
The path that followed was fit for only a single person to walk at a given time and it was slippery as well. In a single file, we marched ahead. Crawling on all fours over a rock, clinging on to some thick plants for support, ducking and weaving through thick shrubs we made our way, and all the while it was getting darker and darker. It was drizzling off and on until then, and later it started raining steadily. The sound of the thunderous falls reached our ears and as we turned a corner, lo and behold, there was the Hebbe falls that we had wanted to see! Water flowed from a height of 551 feet and the spray from the falls drenched us completely and there was no place to even take shelter from it. I was glad that I had given my phone to Sreedhar for safekeeping. We stood there for some time admiring the powerful beauty when the rest of the gang joined us.
The journey back was as treacherous as before, and as we were about to reach the second stream, people started asking about the shortcut. But some people who had already taken that shortcut warned us that it was even more dangerous than crossing the stream. This time, the human chain was longer and stronger. Finally, after crossing all the hurdles we reached our resort with blood soaked feet. Talking about hurdles reminds me about my ash-blue umbrella. I was able to save it through all these obstacles, but ironically, I was not able to save it during a night’s stay at the resort!
Sample leech-bite shot taken from the Internet
Some feet were even bloodier than this. I had to pluck out 20 to 25 of these blood sucking vermin from my feet alone.
Saturday night was marked by games, dancing and drinking. The “Bun” game was ridiculously good and we all learnt that it takes a lot of man power to eliminate Kuppu from a game.
The Mulliangiri Saga
Steps to Heaven!
I woke up at 5:30 AM the next day as our instructions were to check out of the resort at 9:30 AM “sharp.” Since I shared my room with five other people I thought that I had to wake up early so that the rest of my room mates could have enough time for their own needs. But it turned out that hot water was available only after 6:30. “There goes an hour of sleep,” I murmured to myself.
After a few hours, we checked out at 10:30 and started in our buses towards Mulliangiri peak (AKA Mullayanagiri or Mullainagiri).
Some of us left in jeeps and some in our buses. The buses could only travel to a certain point, after which we had to switch to the jeeps. It was a beautiful, uphill journey with twists and turns. It was foggy all around with glimpses of the steep valley below. Our jeep turned a corner and reached what appeared to be a small landing terrain below the main peak; for visitors, this was their parking lot. In the distance I saw a fleet of concrete stairs, built on the slope of the peak, going up somewhere. Some of our people had already reached the peak in other jeeps and were returning back. I couldn’t recognize the people who were coming down the stairs owing to poor visibility, except for Sreedhar as he was doing the Gangnam style. The wind at that place was crazily forceful and it was also raining. In fact, the wind was so strong that it rained horizontally! Never in my life have I seen rain travel in that pattern. If one looks up at the slope above, one could see the rain travelling in horizontal waves. I badly wanted to record a video of the rain traversing through the slopes, but I didn’t dare to take out my cellphone in that rain. Slowly, a small group of us started to climb up laboriously. The strong, cold wind combined with the rain, steep valleys and the thick fog surrounding us with the silhouettes of dark green hills in the distance – we were in heaven! On Monday, after coming back from the trip, I googled and found a picture of the same Mulliagiri peak in broad daylight, and that was beautiful too. The sunlight showcased the entire beauty of the whole place. I am not sure which is best – Mulliangiri under the sun’s glory, or Mullinagiri under the mercy of the rain gods.
Atop the peak was a small temple. The peace and serenity of that place was disturbed as we noisily entered and paraded around. Lord Shiva posed with us for a few snaps, and as he wasn’t too willing for more snaps with the angles that we had in mind, we had him reincarnated in the form of Ganesh!
During the downhill journey, I thought, ‘Why did people complain that it was too cold here? The cold is pretty much bearable.’ But that perception changed shortly.
I, along with a few others had to wait for around 30 minutes for our jeep to comeback and pick us up. As long as we were walking the cold was bearable, but when we stopped to wait for the jeep, the cold caught up with us. We stood there frozen, in one big huddle.
Back to school through Bangalore!
The journey back to Bangalore was warm and pleasant just like how it was during Coorg and Wayanad. The time was spent talking, dancing and playing games. The dance floor was again dominated by the girls, but with some special guest appearances (cough, cough). It was a race against time to catch the train – just like during the Wayanad trip.
And so with happy memories and with sleepy heads we all reached Chennai as one large family the next morning.
Moral of the trip: Don’t act individually!!!
I would like to Thank Ganesh and all our volunteers for making this trip such a memorable one. This was the most adventurous trip that I’ve ever been on. As I had stated before, I hope that our next trip gets even more adventurous.
For those of you who weren’t part of the Coorg trip, Click here to read all about it.
I also wrote about the Wayanad trip, but I never published it. Let me know if you would like to read it as well, I’ll mail it to you.