It's monsoon time again, thank heavens. The scenery is greener, the rivers and waterfalls are in full spate, the air is crisp and life in the city sucks. No wait, that last bit is year round, not seasonal.
I squirm my way through the wretched city to the bus stand. We are off to the ghats in Udupi for some rafting and trekking. Water, fresh air, wide open spaces filled with green, green, green.
Damn why do I always have to be the first in the bus stand ?
Greece WON ? Greece WON !! I can't believe I missed the match.
The bus has stopped for a short break just after Hassan at a typical highway all-nighter. Shrill music, over-priced, bad-tasting tea and stale food. God it's good to be back on the road again !
Our bus reaches Hebbri town, at long last. It has taken us 10 hours to get here from Bangalore. A forest department jeep awaits us, and leads the bus to the nature camp. Off the bus, we meet the team from Adreno. Manju is the main man, he runs the camp and is the senior rafting instructor. Assisting him are his team which includes Bharath, Sanjeev and Adil.
The camp comprises a scattering of dormitories, large gazebos, some asbestos roofed tents... kind of like a stripped down version of a jungle lodge resort. The place is bare-bones, not meant for people who want mattresses and running hot water. For us, it's like five-star accommodation, compared to our usual camping places of bus-stands, temples and school corridors.
A sumptuous breakfast awaits us in the largest gazebo, which doubles as a dining hall. Santosh from Mangalore and Sid from Mysore join us, and our ranks swelled to 24. Ujjal split the whole group to two batches.
In an hour, give or take a little, 16 of us, also known as the first batch, are all decked up in life jackets ready to do some RAFTING!
We, the first batch that is, have just finished rafting down the river. There were only two noteworthy rapids all the way, but the water was quite fast throughout, so we didn't need to paddle our arms to the bone.
There is more than one way to commit suicide. Haider's Way #18: Jump out of a raft going through rapids.
Except that, Haider couldn't get a foot underwater with his life jacket on. We did re-christen the first rapid after him... "Haider's fall".
The second batch of rafters have just taken off. Darn these modern high-tech parents, they've actually left behind a bawling little 5 year old girl behind them. We take the little girl along with us on a trek, led by Sanjeev of Adreno. Our target: find a nice spot in the river where we can jump in, en masse.
Santosh from Mangalore took off here... he had other plans apart from rafting, apparently. 15 of us, the little girl and Sanjeev are all that's left. Of course, the remaining eight are out on the raft....
Three in the afternoon, still laden with lunch, we head out from behind the nature camp in the general direction of the village. The girl, who primly declares that her name is Shalasha, quickly warms up to the lot of us.
Ok, we're lost in the jungle. Sanjeev started off very confidently, but the path disappeared a while ago, and we're now just meandering through the brush.
A short while back we came across this centipede, who Ms. Shalasha thinks is "gross" !
Still lost. Ms. Shalasha thinks the jungle is very messy and dirty, and plans on having a stern talk with the "king of the jungle" about that. It has been quite some time since we saw the sun, too... the thick foliage completely blocks out the rays.
The riverside, at last. Pure luck got us to a cottage in the jungle, where Sanjeev got directions to the main road. We diligently follow the road to this lovely spot on the river bank where we just jump right in.
Haider gives us a very creditable demonstration of a dead fish. He jumps in upstream and plays dead, floating downstream until he came abreast of us. Usually about this time the current gets hold, and he's moving at a brisk pace. He suddenly realises if he's washed away, he would be dead human, not dead fish, and starts flailing his arms furiously. He perfects his technique by repeating said procedure about 281 times.
There is more than one way to commit suicide. Haider's way #22: Pretend to be a fish when Bongs are around.
Wet and tired, we start walking back to the camp. Main road only this time, please.
We've spent the past few hours, sitting in the dark dinner gazebo talking about who we are, and what we've done. A few interesting moments there, when some folks came forth with hilarious gems.
We've just had dinner and are trying to decide what the best plan for tomorrow would be. Our primary constraints:
- The women are leech-phobic (I'm sure there's a word for that!)
- We have to get the Bangalore bus at 8:30 from Mangalore, and
- Not everyone is comfortable with a strenuous trek.
The beach thingie is right out... too many clouds and too much rain. It wouldn't be any fun at all. Two nice options left are the trek from Kigga to the top of Narasimha Parbat and the trek to Kodalu Theertha waterfall from Nallikatte village. The former is relatively strenuous and requires us to take a forest department guide along, while the latter is abundant in leeches.
We (meaning, mostly me) feed everyone with some lies, damned lies and statistics. Practically flat ground. Just a few leeches. And even those are only near water. No, you do not look fat in that dress. There are WMD in Iraq.
Black Sabbath starts playing "Paranoid". Tum Tum Tum, Ta-ra-Ta-ra Ta-ra-Ta-ra, Tum Tum Tum,.... No wait, Ozzy isn't singing. Sing, Ozzy, sing. You know the song, you...
Bam! I'd like to know what possessed me to set my alarm ringtone to Black Sabbath. It's five fucking AM, time when honest folk should be going to bed. Why am I up ?
Five, ten, fifteen minutes. Where am I ? Why am I an a sleeping bag ? Who's this GUY next to me ? Twenty, twenty-five, half an hour.
Ok, let's approach this rationally, rebuilding answers starting from what I remember last.
- Who am I: Ok, I definitely remember that. Whew!
- Where am I: Look around... life jackets... paddles... ah ha, I got it. I'm in the dormitory at the rafting place. What was it again ? Someshwara Nature Park. Now I'm almost awake.
Why am I up: Ok, now I remember this one... I have to go to Hebbri with Sriram and get a bus to Nallikatte.
Finally, and most importantly...
- The guy next to me: Hmm... I've no idea who he is.
I walk down to the bank of the river Sita to brush my teeth. One very seasonal river, this Sita is. It starts in the Agumbe hills, and empties into the Arabian sea, barely 100km long in all.
A short while later, I'm all packed, nibbling at my breakfast of chow-chow bath. Eat up, pal, we have a hefty trek ahead of us. It's 8 km from Nallikatte to the Kodalu Theertha waterfall.
The bus door opened the lot of us just poured out, kind of like opening a warm can of coke. Man, that was one tight squeeze. We're at Nallikatte at last. Just 8 km away from what I remember to be the most magnificent waterfall in this part of the Ghats.
Shriram, Haider and I got this minibus near the Hebbri bus stand to pick up everybody at the camp and deposit us here. The cheeky driver refused to come again to take us back, but did fix us up with a local Trax owner who said he'd stick around at 3 PM, and ferry us to Hebbri.
Sid takes off home to Mysore, saying he hadn't planed on a trek too. We're now down to 22. We start off on the path, which is initially about the width of a jeep track. Extremely nervous looks are on most faces. Leeches suck blood, don't you know ? 8 km is a long way ! Will it rain ? Should I have worn socks and shoes ?
Shrill screams of "Get it off! Get it off!" are still echoing from the mountains. The girls, the most leech-phobic, are having a real bad time. They can't bear to look at the leeches, let alone touch or remove them. And if that ain't bad enough, the path is becoming steeper too...
The sad part is the beauty of the place is entirely lost on most of the trekkers. While everybody is busy looking down, careful where to step, searching for tell-tale red spots on their clothes... a very beautiful jungle scenery just passes us by.
Foul looks all around. A good number of people look about ready to flay me to death and leave my body for the leeches to finish off.
YES! YES! YES!
What a sight ! A huge, nearly 20 metre tall white curtain of water roars down. The air is thick with the spray off the waterfall which empties into a large waist deep pool.
We've made it! All 22 of us have atleast a dozen leech bites each. Grouchy expressions instantly change to pure amazement and exhilaration at the awesome sight. I internally breathe a sigh of relief, when nobody yells "This was SO not worth it". Thank god for mother nature and her therapeutic beauty. Most of us just drop our backpacks and footwear and dive into the pool.
The spray here in the pool is so strong it actually sears our skin as we get closer. Even with spectacles, it's quite a feat to look into the waterfall from here. It's the ears which sting the most, by the way. Backs, arms, head, neck, we can handle, but the ears... the ears are sheer murder. Strong wind blows outward from the direction of the waterfall. It's this wind which carries much of the spray away. The force of the spray is roughly about the same as very very heavy rain.
The whole gang spends a good hour in the water, maybe more. We finally dry ourselves as best we can, and start back, and the heavens chose just that moment to let go. Rain pours down as we trek back through the forest, but it hardly bothers anybody.
Huh, that the best you can do, cloud boy ? Kodalu Theertha can kick your arse buddy, and we've been there, done that.
There's something to be said for this waterfall therapy, I think. People have actually warmed up to the leeches. Some simply ignore them, whereas others prodly display them. A small group is having a bleeding competition.
For future reference, the best, and so far, only way to kill a leech is to douse it in table salt. Cigarettes, they just slither away from. Tobacco, they chew with relish! You can't squash them... they're too slimy. No, the only way to kill these resilient bastards, is a tin of Catch!
It's one in the afternoon, and we're just back from the trek. The last bus out of this place is at half past one. We didn't think we'd get back this soon, which is why we'd arranged with the Jeep guy to to get us to Hebbri at 3. But now, we can actually take the bus.
We've underestimated everybody's stamina, apparently. I think our slimy parasitic friends from the Hirudinea family pushed everybody beyond what they thought they were capable of. All 22 of us laze around the mud thatched bus stand of Nallikatte. While some of us still have wet clothes, the others sneak away with backpacks to change to dry ones. Some are still bleeding profusely from various places on their feet.
Facing us is a beautiful idyllic village. A mud-thached house, a bustling farm beyond it, a flowing river to the side. Far away we can see the green hills of Agumbe, the tops of which are shrouded in dark rain clouds. The sun shines occasionally, warming us up a little. The only discordant note, such as it is, is ourselves.
Thankfully, folks have finally stopped looking daggers at me. Sure, I might've understated the leech problem a little; my memory might've slipped a bit when I said the route was mostly level ground. But at least I don't have the impulse to remove all sharp objects from their immediate vicinity.
The prevalent mood is one of satisfaction. The heart rate is up, the endorphins are flowing. We've done it! Braved the leeches, waded through the streams, climbed the hills, bathed in the waterfall, and we're back in one piece.
Ok, sans a few pints of the red stuff... but in one piece, nonetheless. Where's that damned bus, now ? Neer dosa and chicken, here we come.
We've just depleted the chicken and pomfret population of Udupi Taluk. And contributed to the coffers of Vijay Mallya. Oh, and the vegetarians did their usual beans and carrot and stuff. Whatever.
We're at Udupi, Hotel Swadesh International. Pure-Veg and Non-Veg Restaurant with Bar Attached. The bus from Nallikatte dropped us a few 100 metres from this place, and we practically ran here.
Good solid food, good liquid beer. All those expended calories are quickly replenished, and the mad biscuit-chips-mixture face stuffing at Hebbri bus stand didn't seem to have diminished our appetites.
The religious folk went to the temple, while I busied myself pondering deep mathematical problems, such as this:
- I am bleeding from 13 different places.
- I removed twice as many leeches as those which I didn't.
- The trek was 8 km long, one way.
- 22 people were in the trek.
So assuming that the same leech didn't get two people, it allows us to calculate that there was a leech every 18 metres. The things one does when the mind is idle !
The general plan was to get a bus towards Mangalore and get off at Surathkal. Invade the beach. Watch the sun set. Party, party, party.
Beach plan skipped... darn sun was in a hurry to set. Our driver turned out to be the long lost third Schumacher son. His name was Ponniah, but the face cut and driving style were unmistakable.
We raced right through Surathkal and wound up in a shopping mall in Mangalore. I am not sure what the veggie folk are up to, but the rest of us are busy eradicating the chicken population of Mangalore. We're making pretty good headway... I hear they'll soon to be declared an endangered species.
Our bus from here is in about 2 hours. Archana manages to tear herself away from the Infy office and visit us. It's eight on a sunday evening! I ask you, do you really get paid to work that much ?
It's 7 in the morning, and I'm walking home from where the bus dropped me off. It takes all my will power, and then some, to not scratch my right thigh, where a particularly virulent sucker had burrowed twice.
To avoid the temptation, I hook my thumbs into the straps of my backpack, which is now heavy with wet clothes. No camera though, since I hadn't taken my SLR this time. I've taken a few snaps with the SE T610 mobile phone, and I'm waiting to see if they'll look any good in a monitor.
Where's the phone ? Ah, my right trouser pocket. Here, let's see those snaps again. NO, DON'T SCRATCH, DON'T SCRATCH !!!