This weekend trip was a first for me in three respects: river rafting (which I’ve never done before and discovered can be great fun!); trekking in a forest and getting bitten by leeches (not fun, but funny in retrospect!).
DAY 1: Call of the jungle
We take up most of the bus when we boarded from Bangalore on Friday evening. 22 of us. Nice and comfortable bus – I fall asleep without much ado. Someone asks Shriram aka Kishore Kumar to sing. Thankfully he doesn’t 😉
At about 8 am the next morning we are deposited at the start of the Seethanadi Nature Camp, about 100 kms from Mangalore. After a walk of about ½ km, with nothing but the shrill sound of insects in the air, we reach the camp.
Dormitories, tents and a river!
At the camp we meet the guys from Adreno who take care of all the water related activities – Manjunath, Sanjeev, Bharath, Adil. We find nice tents and big bathrooms adjoining them! Ah, bliss in the forest.
After a hearty breakfast, the first batch is ready to set off in two rafts. The river stretches before us – cool and inviting. The instructors give us the basic lessons: if you fall into the water don’t panic, lie back and enjoy the view (easier said than done, methinks); forward rowing and back paddling and general fundas to make you nervous. Since most of us are newbies to rafting, the lesson is definitely needed.
What you can learn from river rafting: If you’re not synchronized, you’re going nowhere!
We find it a challenge matching our strokes, in the beginning. Despite the rains, the river is relatively calm, the biggest being a grade 3 rapid, we are informed by Bharath, who is making life easier for us by letting us rest at frequent intervals. We encounter about 4-5 rapids in the 14 km stretch. All around us are forests – green, lush and absolutely beautiful. With just the sound of the occasional birds, the silence is eerie sometimes. We spot a few birds like the kingfisher, the commorant and the endangered hornbill.
One guy falls into the water – Haider and fittingly that point is christened Haider Point. (I am not sure we can find it again though!). Once our arms get used the rowing motion, it’s easier, though we still manage to crash bang our paddles against each other at intervals. About half way down, everyone jumps off the rafts into the water to take a dip in the refreshingly cool waters of the Seetha.
After about three hours, it’s all over. Already! We are all completely soaked and ravishingly hungry by the time we’re out of the water. A jeep collects us from the end point to take us back to the camp.
Getting lost in the forest, precocious kid and all
Lunch. Yum! There’s nothing like a meal after hectic physical activity 🙂
Sanjeev takes a group of us on a forest walk with the promise of a nice swimming spot (while the other group go for their round of rafting) and promptly loses his way. We go round and round in circles for a kilometres of dense forest until we find a house in the middle of nowhere and much-needed directions!
A little girl called Shailasha accompanies us while her parents are rafting and proves to be a bonus as she keeps entertaining us with her constant chatter. Some of her priceless ones:
S: What is your name?
S: Anita (pauses)… Why are there so many Anitas in the world?
(Now, I really did not have an answer to that one!)
She is enchanted and repelled by a big centipede we find on the way. She touches it never the less and then exclaims, “It’s gross!” and starts giggling!
S: Why is the forest so dirty?
Me: Ummm… Uhh…
S: When I meet the King of the jungle, I am going to talk to him about this!
S: Where are we going? I think he’s lost his way (pointing to Sanjeev)
A: I don’t know darling, I think he’s lost too!
S: We should get a map, you know.
(This from a 5-year-old was really precious!)
After her dunk in the river, S: Potty is coming to me!
Me: Uhh… what? (not so used to childspeak).
Yamini looks on amused.
Me: Yamini Aunty will take you.
Yamini Aunty of course, pretends not to know us now.
So off we go, to find a right spot for her 🙂
She chats easily with everyone and at one point Sujoy aka Stud Boy, comments: “This one is going to be a real heartbreaker!” Absolutely, man!
Sanjeev leads us to a nice spot where the guys dive in. The ones who know swimming try to go upstream and realize after a while that they’re swimming in the same spot. They give up and just float.
Shailasha wants to go into the water. Once she’s in there, she starts shivering. We get her out and find someone’s dry T-shirt for her. We are thankful that her parents are away rafting and don’t see all this!
After some hot chai, we head back to the camp, this time via the main road…
Getting to know each other – in the dark!
Interestingly, this is probably my first trip where I don’t know anyone. In the evening, while waiting for dinner, someone suggests that we all introduce ourselves. With the lights off! This was all fine, except that we land up knowing each other’s musical preferences and hobbies and other dark secrets, but we still have trouble putting names to faces the next day 🙂
There is a huge debate about what to do on day 2. Sanjeev scares a few of us immensely by saying that most treks around the area would be leech infected at this time of the year. And since I am only prepared for river rafting and adventures in the water, I recoil in horror. Why would I want to donate my precious blood to yucky blood suckers? I am not looking forward to the trek.
We retire for the night with still no clarity about what we’re going to do. Five of us gals discuss alternative plans in the cosy tent. Haider, who’s playing our night-watchman in the next tent, is unhappy with our noise levels, so we shut up and decide it’s enough chatter for a night! We fall asleep to the sound of the pitter patter of rain and the sound of raucous toads/frogs and insects. Could get used to this, I think…
DAY 2: Next morning. It’s raining. And I don’t want to go anywhere.
Swapna does the good deed of waking us up in the morning. “I wanted to go into the forest at 5.00 in the morning”, she declares. Hmmm… right. I don’t want to be anyone’s breakfast, thank you!
Meanwhile, a mini-bus is arranged. We are going to the Kudlu Teertha falls, about 15-16 kms from our camp site. We start off at about 8.00 am packed like sardines into the vehicle and are deposited at Nallikatte. It’s a beautiful morning. In the distance, the misty mountains literally call out to you.
From this point, the trek to the falls is about 7-8 kms. Ujjal and Harish who have come here before obviously know what to expect so are really calm and assuring. I am really nervous since
a) I have not gone for a long trek in a while (the last one was the 1000 steps, but now that seems pretty tame!)
b) I have not trekked through leech infected forests and
c) I am not leech friendly!
I am armed with a HUGE dabba of salt. The first few kilometres are pretty okay. The forest is absolutely lovely. I want to keep looking up, but it’s time for the blood suckers to get to work when they smell our fresh offering so my attention is diverted!
Once they start attacking, I am not a happy ducky. I curse everything and everyone near me. Most unfortunate are the people walking around me. Stud Boy is reassuring, Haider and Shriram are encouraging, Ujjal, the experienced trekker, is really cool. Having had several newbies pass through his hands, he takes in my distressed state and says, ‘just keep walking, just keep walking’. Thanks Ujjal!
The ascent that stretches for two kilometres of a narrow slippery rocky leech infected trail is the toughest for me. I finally have to give my backpack to Haider since my back is killing me.
Finally. Finally. The magnificent Kudlu Teertha.
There is a roar in the distance and we’re all excited as we approach the waterfalls. It’s pretty amazing. Having being brought up in the North East, you get used to waterfalls, but this one was a beauty. Most of the gang shed their clothes and their inhibitions and head straight under. Some of us hang around at a distance just taking in the sights and sounds.
Refreshed, leeches forgotten for a while, after an hour or so, we head back. The return is so much easier. At least I know what to expect now! I keep applying liberal doses of salt to my feet and walk much faster this time around. It starts to pour and we are drenched again. The forest turns even greener. We sing rain songs (rim jhim gire saawan) and trek back.
Back to Nallikettu and we check for our leech bites at a deserted stall. Some of us have had it a little worse than others. It’s time for comparison now and our feet don’t look pretty at all. We find a cottage and ask the owners if we can use one of their “rooms’ to freshen up.
It’s around 2 pm and the place looks exactly the same as we encountered in the morning – the clouds hanging low over the mountains beckoning invitingly.
It’s a good feeling to know we were actually there and came back. In one piece – well, almost!
Sidenote: I definitely need a pedicure when I get back 🙂
Chicken Biryani in Udupi
We are all madly hungry. When the bus stops at Hebri we rush to the nearest place for chips, biscuits and anything edible. I’ve never seen biscuits and chips disappearing so fast! Harish is dreaming of neer dosa and chettinad chicken. Dream on, buddy. By the time the bus gets us to Udupi it is close to 4 pm and we’re definitely not getting anything close to Harish’s fantasy.
We (I mean the non-veggies) settle for biryani and pomfret (which is pretty delicious) and it all tastes good. Though it might have been the fact that breakfast has long been digested.
… and Chicken Roast in Mangalore
We take another bus from Udupi to Mangalore, about an hour or so away. Carielle and me sit right in front along with the driver and get a sampling of what Schumi feels like when he’s in his Ferrari. If we had race tracks in the country, this driver could have definitely given Shumi a run for his money. We clutch on to any railing or object we can find.
Obviously the umpteen packets of chips and biscuits and lunch not enough for most of the gang. The bus deposits us in a shopping area and the first thing we notice is a Chicken Halal place.
Everyone heads in for another round. Lunch long forgotten! Huge bowls of icecream complete dinner.
We board the Mangalore-Bangalore bus at about 10 pm, a tired but satisfied bunch. It’s been a fun-filled (sometimes blood-filled) but absolutely great two days.
The leechy hangover
It’s only on Monday morning sitting at my desk, aches and pains emanating from strange parts of my body that it all sinks in! The fact that we have a leech hangover is apparent when mails fly back and forth about how they can lodge themselves and survive for months in warm places. And I get a really queasy feeling!
When I get back home I quickly do a recheck of my backpack which I had hurriedly dumped on my bed. Ouch! And all clear 🙂
I’m ready for another trip now. And maybe battle some other creatures. But God, not leeches please. Not yet, anyway!
(PS: And pedicure still pending).
Trip pictures: Shriram’s album