We booked a Qualis at the cost of Rs 6.5 /Km with minimal distance of 700Kms for two days. Our plan was to trek to the peak and stay there for a night in our tents and down come the next day. Rama was the first pickup and he collected RackSacks and Sleeping bags for 5 of us (Vishal & Varun had their own) from the rental agency and reached my home at around 10:30 on 11 June 2010. We went to Vishal's home picked up Vishal,Sekar & Prabhu there and on the way picked Varun @ BTM Watertank and Raghu at JP Nagar. It was already 12 when we started finally and itwas drizzling. Its a pleasure to drive in Bangalore in nights (actually only in nights ).
High way from Bangalore from Mysore though good was not free from speed breakers (unlike the Bangalore - Chennai highway which is free from any signals /speed breakers). Cab travel is not that comfortable during nights and i couldn't sleep as i was in the last row. We stopped for tea after some 120 Km travel at 3 AM and here i moved to front seat. Please note the person sitting in the front is not supposed to sleep and is expected to have a watch on the driver. Ironically this seat is the most comfortable one and theoretically we could sleep better here than in any seat. But safety came first and i kept myself awake by pinching myself and keep thinking of something....... Statistics shows that 3-5 AM is the worst for any drivers and they tend to loose concentration here. I did realize it at a instance when our driver was speeding towards a truck which was slow moving . We would have crashed into the truck if he had continued it for 10 secs or so. Luckily when i realized the danger and was about to warn him , he himself woke up and made quick turn. There after i tried to talk something to him to keep both of us awake.Remember lot of accidents where vehicles crash on to the ones parked on the side of the road. They all happen in this fashion. One advice here , whenever you are in this crucial seat think of something you dont like , say a manger who didn't give you proper hike etc , definitely it will spoil your mood and sleep. Good isn't it ?
We drove non stop and reached the Bandipur wildlife sanctuary at 4:30 AM .This stretch of road is blocked from 8 PM - 6 AM for all traffic and we joined a looong queue .We rested for about 1 hr 30 mins . Travel continued after 6 and it was the worst stretch of travel ,though it was the road through the thick jungle, due to long queue of trucks queued up either side and unruliness of our drivers .One thing is for sure , crazy driving can cause traffic jams not only in Bangalore but also in thick jungles.
We reached Sulthan Bathery a town just after the forest in Kerala and we decided to refresh and have our breakfast here .We used the public toilets in bus stand and had breakfast in a small hotel there. Food was good here .I had dosa and kappa.
One thing which caught us unaware was the frenzy soccer mania in Kerala. Every little junction had a vinyl board supporting any of the top teams .Most prominent being the bluish Argentina , Yellowish green Brazil ,Netherlands ,Switzerland etc.Whole state was almost decorated as if they are hosting the world cup. To bring the real situation before your eyes- in TamilNadu , replace posters/banners of Kalaignar with Brazil team, Jayalalitha with that of Argentina , Stalin with Netherlands , Alzhagiri with Switzerland . Contrastingly there were no political banner/flags except for very very few Red Flags.
Then we continued our travel through Kalpetta and Meppadi. From Meppadi take a diversion towards Chembra estate. There is a VSS officie (some thing similar to forest dept) where you have to take permission.They were in a dilemma whether to allow us or not as it has raining continuously .Guard there made many phone calls and finally decided to allow us with a guard after 30 minutes ..We took ticket for trekking ( RS 500 for 1-10 persons ) and for a camera (Rs 25). Our proposal for camping was turned down and we were given a option to camp at the watch tower which is starting point of trek paying a fee of Rs2500. We were not amused by this proposal and rejected it . From here it was travel of around 2-3 KM by cab to the point from where we could only walk .
We changed our dress here to trekking suits and walked towards the Watch Tower( 1 Km). Though we had racksacks and sleeping bags , we had to leave it in the cab as we dropped the plan to lay tents in the hills and carried only one bag with snacks/lunch/medical kit. View from the watchtower was good but depth of view was minimal due to heavy rains and mist. At last we started our trek at around 12 PM .
First stretch was through the dense forest which was infested with leaches. It took around 20 minutes to cross this section and after that it was complete grass over the mountains which was very beautiful.
Throughout we were exposed to rains and winds whose velocity keeps on increasing as we moved up. Apart from us there was another gang with few girls too ( hmm courageous). After some 45 minutes of continuous trekking we reached the heart shaped Lake.
What a awesome natural creation. Guard accompanying us mentioned that its the last point till which he could accompany and above this spot the winds are off high speed and path is steep and its extremely dangerous. By the time he warned me , first batch were already out of sight. I asked him to stay there and that i will check with others and bring them back.
From here there were a series of peaks arranged in a fashion that at anytime only one peak is visible and when you scale that peak ,you could see yet another and so on. Wind was fierce and path was slippery.The other gang stopped by the lake. We decided to leave the bag which we where carrying along the path and continue empty handed. I left the my camera bag here just on the side of the path and covered it with a polythene and continued my journey. It was quite burden to carry it in such treks. After about 2-3 more short hills , 4 of us decided to stop at 2 PM and 3 unrelenting people (Vishal,Varun and Rama) continued. Four of us planned initially to wait for the rest ,but sooner we understood that standing there is very difficult due to rains and havey winds and so we decided to climb down . By this time i could sense pain in my left knee and it was more pronounced during climb down. 3 fellows who have reached the peak returned and joined us shared the success stories of reaching the peak.We had a short lunch of bread with peanut cheese & Jam , nearby the heart shaped lake.By this time i found out that my camera was affected by mist/ rain and it failed to start off. After lunch we continued our down trek and i was carrying the common bag. It was almost 4:15 when reached the cab.
There was a small shed where we changed our wet clothes and made some Maggie. Vishal had stoves (very little one of the size of a geometry box) which was fueled by camphor tablets . We made 8 maggies in 2 stoves .It was delicious to have hot maggie in such a climate. Guards offered their room at a cost of Rs100 per person. But it was not that good and we rode back to Meppadi. Vishal and Varun were ones left with energy and they found a dormitory with 8 beds costing Rs 850 and we checked in there in few minutes.
I had developed a severe knee pain by now and was completely limping. So i didnt go to restaurant and stayed back with Vishal and had MTR ready made rasam rice,pongal & sambar rice.Here too we used to camphor stove to heat it .
Next day we had breakfast in a nearby hotel and started towards Soochipara falls ( some 13 Km) .This stretch is completely within tea estates and journey was a treat for eyes.It was still raining.We changed dress and rented some caps and started walking. The path was more or less downwards measuring around 1 KM. My Knee pain has reached its peak now and i cannot bend my knees.It was painful walk. Sekar got me a bamboo stick and patiently walked along with me.
He had a knee injury in the past and had done a surgery sometime back.He gave some critical tips to minimize the pain. Falls was roaring and guards didn't allow us to get near to it. It seems till 2 days back water level was suitable for taking bath.Spent around 30 minutes there and then returned to our cab.Found a nearby shed and changed back to dry clothes and started of our journey back to Bangalore.
Group was divided on where to have the lunch , Kerala meals in Sulthan Bathery or meals at Mysore. We had a vote and Kerala meals team won by narrow margin of 4-3.Food was very nice there and even better was the courteous attendants. Unlimited meals with fish curry was Rs30.
Return travel through Bandipur was quite eventful . We could get the glimpse of lot of deers on this road.
Non Stop travel after that. Had tea at Kamath restaurant on Mysore-Bangalore road and finally reached Bangalore at 8:30 PM. Took couple of pegs of wine to kill my knee pain and push myself to sleep.
Total Cost : Rs 1900
Travel : 1000
Food /snacks : 400
Stay : 125
Tickets : 100
RackSack/Sleeping bags : 250