kArya-kAraNa (Cause and Reason)
Owing to a frustrating lack of Adrenalin over the months, My brother (hereinafter referred to as 'Guru'), Rakesh (alternatively referred to as Raknath) and Nikhil (Pai, for short) decided to venture out into Ombattu guDDa on the second weekend of November.
2 individuals opted out at the last minute (ah, the flexibility). One of them made it to the KSRTC bus stand to provide us moral support. Unfortunately, he was the only one in the group who had been to OG before. His prophetic vision still rings in my brain: "Most people find their way till dEvara haLLa. But there are people who lose it before that".
But coming back to the KSRTC bus stand, it's only after we made it here did we realized that Pai had messed up. He managed to bring all paraphernalia but for the GPS (loaned generously by DMK). It took some complaining before he and Rakesh decided to go back home and fetch it. For all the fuss this took, it would be the smartest thing we did over the next couple of days.
We contemplated chickening out of OG for some time. There were bright suggestions (Amedikal, for one), ones of lesser intellect (taDiyanDamoL by Raknath), one of sheer compromise (KP. Yuck) and others not worth a mention. Finally, atleast two people (Guru and his sibling) made a firm resolve that OG it was going to be. As fate would have it, a dharmasthaLa bus was just about to depart as our resolve took concrete shape.
Flights of fantasy
karnATaka sArige buses (aka Box Buses) are much better than some of the contraptions they have at WonderLa. They levitate for a majority of the journey (world class suspension) albeit for the parts that thud down on the ground in between these brief flights. I feared we might sleep through as we pass gunDya, but my fears were unfounded. It would be impossible for anyone human (me included), to sleep post entering shirADi.
There was also plenty of entertainment through the journey. We were treated to the performance of a native flavor of WWF by folks who sat a few seats ahead. Although their conversations were in Tamizh, it seemed that they were headed to dharmasthaLa to settle some dispute. I was pretty sure God manjunAtha would have quite a challenge once they arrived at his abode.
We set off after some Tea at Gundya (which I managed to spill over myself ever so clumsily). We tried hunting for a guide initially, but gave up soon. After managing to find somebody to sell us some Kerosene, We decided that that we were brave enough to do this ourselves. Once we did begin, it didn't take us a long time to get lost (Just 15 minutes?) as we chose the wrong trail and walked straight into somebody's estate. Although we were back on track, We would be choosing trails randomly after that until we were on the elephant highway. There was plenty of (elephant) dung (many fresh) to prove that we were on the right track. After about 2 hours we arrived at (what we thought was) "Sangama", where we breaked for lunch and a pleasant bath in the water.
The leeches had already caught on in large numbers, and my count was just beginning.
After the bath, we set off on the most obvious looking trail straight across the river. After many hours, we would discover (thanks to the GPS) that we were sort of headed in the right direction, atleast as far as the ultimate goal (Ombattu guDDa) was concerned. We hardly seemed to be headed towards dEvara haLLa though.
All through, there was no shortage of elephant dung or the rush of the river closeby. We would occasionally get as far from the river that we wouldn't hear it; But some doubt, a GPS measurement and some more distance later we would always get back on streamside. At some points, the GPS would take ages to triangulate (thanks to the thick forest vegetation) and would show faulty elevation data.
Finally, after choosing many forks, we made it to a trail right by the large stream. This would put things into place as we would now be comfortably on the way to dEvara haLLa, which was where we intended to camp for the night. This was however short-lived, for very soon we hit a dead-end, and there seemed to be no way forward without crossing the stream.
It was ticking close to 3PM by now. We had already skipped lunch and din't plan on it until we could get ourselves to a place safe enough to camp for the night. One GPS measurement later, we made a daring move to walk out of the trail and into the woods and gain some elevation towards the North West. We scaled up what seemed like about 600-700 ft in about an hour's time for another GPS read. Although faulty with the elevation data again, the GPS showed that we were headed in the right direction and that Ombattu Gudda was probably just across the river. We couldn't sight anything though, since we were well within the treeline. What was encouraging was that Ombattu gudda range was only 1 minute away NW. The bad news was that, there seemed to be no connecting ridge to any hill in that direction. More so, there was the river flowing there which would be impossible to cross.
This began a series of spooky events, The first of which was Raknath noticing pug marks on a really tall tree. It seemed unimaginable that any animal could climb that high up. The last thing we needed to open to at this point (all hungry and frustrated, mind you) was the possibility of leopards attacking us from the skies. Pai was struggling by this time, thanks to the "kit-bag" that was biting into his shoulder. Going by how soon the packet of Electral was "shared", it would be fair to say that even the rest of us weren't doing too well going hungry in that humidity. We took some time off and cleaned our shoes and attire of the leech-repellent salt and the residual bloodsuckers. It was also decided that we would go back and camp by the stream unless we found a decent route to get to higher ground or sight one of the scrub forests.
Guru and I scouted around for some route. But we were by now reluctant to go too far from where Pai and Raknath were resting. After a formality of a route scan (which seemed to hit dead-ends), we decided to go back downstairs to camp by the stream. We made our way down pretty swiftly, until Guru and I stopped on a "common hallucination". A minute later, we concluded that it wasn't all that hallucinating at all, for there was definitely some audible growling at a distance. It's fair to say that we were slightly freaked out (Sharp descent, tree-cover, bloodthirsty carnivore.. nice?), but we chose to remain calm and hold ground. A few minutes later, the growling subsided and we made it to point zero where we had started climbing from safely. I could now collapse my trusted swiss-knife (LoL!) and walk in peace.
By about 5PM, It was already getting darker and murkier. Worse, it seemed like there would be a good downpour. We choose a small compact sandbank sandwiched in between trees in the vicinity of the stream to camp. The MTR Read-to-eats were shared chaotically (Except for the lemon-rice which tasted like crap) and Guru almost looked close to dozing off on the sand itself.
We are teh n00bz
We hadn't realized that pitching a tent would be so much work. While Guru is a once-in-a-bluemoon trekker, Pai is completely uninitiated and for the few that he has done, Raknath is equally incompetent at this stuff as I am (Well, I've gone on a lot of treks but never pitched a tent all by myself). Although it wasn't rocket science to figure it out, There was a lot of fuss thanks to the cramped up place, pre-fitted wind-cover, broken rods and the fast-approaching darkness. We decided that the tent would be second priority to the campfire which seemed the need of the hour ((Hypothermia, Rain) << (Gored Alive, Random Carnivore)). Some kerosene and raw twigs (the only stuff we could find) later, we had a fire going.
Raknath suggested ever-so-brilliantly that we could dispense with the tent and just sleep by the fire. I obsessively insisted on the tent and we managed to get it (albeit in some very hacky and unscalable way) up by dusk. There seemed to be traces of rain, but fortunately it wouldn't rain throughout the night. We decided to split the sentry duty into two shifts of 6 hours each. Guru and I would keep the first watch while Pai and Raknath would crash.
This was the scariest part of it all. We had very little burnable wood around us (most of it was the smoky, twigsome kind), and every new shot of fuel would require one of us to go fetch some from a distance. The average burning efficiency for a decent-twig was less than a few seconds, so it would take quite a bit to keep the fire alive through the night. On the parallel, I would also keep a lighthouse-like watch with the mostly-failing torch beam from time to time. About 3 painful hours into the watch, I happened to spot a scorpion headed straight for me in a freak-success with the failing torch. This was extremely lucky (and scary) for us, although it proved fatal for the scorpion (Oops, We couldn't possibly do anything else. Scorpion-rights activists stay away). An hour later, I managed to convince Guru that it wasn't worth the risk keeping the fire up, for it would be more dangerous spending time at it rather than sleeping inside the (false sense of) safety of the tent (ie, probability(Elephants attacks || Carnivores visits) << probability(Snake bites || Scorpion stings)). Finally, by about 11PM, We crammed into the the tent without bothering to wake either of Raknath or Pai. We would only narrate the scorpion-tales the next morning.
Sleep would be hard to come, thanks to
a) Nightmares about animal attacks.
b) The wind making away with the tent.
c) Raknath hibernating, perched in a fetal position.
d) Raknath making spooky wolf-like noises in sleep.
e) Pai snoring like a bear.
Time crawled till early morning. It was by now apparent that we wouldn't be going on due to
a) Shortage of time.
b) Shortage of enthu (Pai especially).
c) An unreliable GPS: Our current coordinates would position us somewhere in the forest interior, atleast on the map of the region we possessed (Survey of India). This was spooky because we were by a large water body which atleast a minute eastward according to the map.
d) No route to dEvara haLLa, Unless we spent time discovering one. All of us had to get back to a busy Monday!
Reluctantly, we traced our way back. There were no incidents worthy of a mention excepting for a pretty green-snake. We made it to our "Sangama" amidst sprinkles of showers by about 11AM. Another bath and more leech-bite discoveries later, we were almost ready to make the walk towards Gundya but for the mats falling into river. It would prove to be another adventure to fetch it back from somewhere 200m away in the water. The tree-hopping crawl along the bank was pretty time consuming, but I managed to recover the mats to some ovation by the rest of the gang.
A lunch at Kukke was on the agenda (Mangalore Bajji was a motivation), But it waned away after some feasting on the rest of the MTR stuff in the reserves. Guru especially, made it seem like he had been exiled in Somalia for a decade. It was unanimous that we would have some sort of a lunch at Gundya and be homeward-bound as soon as possible. Finally, we would reach Gundya post after hitching a Jeep-ride from the bridge by about 2PM. Our leech-bites attracted gasping fanfare at the hotel (More like a hut / shack) where we ate.
We reached Bangalore at around 11PM. The tents and the rescued mats would come home with Guru and I. Raknath made it away with the GPS which he would return much later to DMK.
In no particular order,
a) DMK would later tell me that the GPS had to be calibrated to the map. WTF?
b) We made some silly oversights. We looked upon the seconds in the coordinates with much disdain initially. We only understood halfway into the trek that each second would matter atleast a few hundred metres.
c) We never reached Sangama. We bypassed it. LoL!
d) We never went along aDDahoLe until the point where we camped. We probably went along kabbinALe hoLe all the way!
e) We missed a very early fork towards the real Sangama.
f) Our "trail" was/is some old Jeeptrack, now extended as an elephant highway.
g) We "almost" discovered an alternative route though. At one point we were only about 54 seconds away from OG. Maybe we could've tried hunting for a better route to gain height inside the woods.
h) October treks are wet. I have about 64 leech-bites on my feet alone. Raknath has almost as many. Guru has quite a few, Pai suffered the least. Looks like leeches have a liking for B -ve blood. For more than two dozen treks in the Western Ghats, this is my worst with the leech bites. Having bloodsucking parasites "almost" finding their way into sensitive places is not at all fun. BTW, Many of them itch till date.
i) Pai trailed on day 1 (Inward into the forest). Pai led us all out of forest consistently on Day 2, despite the kit-bag. We din't see him sip any Boost either. How?
j) I have a desperate urge to go back to OG. Not found the time. Definitely this month though.