It had been a long Wednesday, early mornings and late working days had had their toll on me during the past week. And to add to that, Neethi, a close friend from college, had a test immediately after the weekend, so we had to cancel our initial plans of backpacking across Hampi in Karnataka. So here I was telling Rashmi, a friend and colleague from work, exasperated and vexed that my long weekend plans are non-existent as of today, and wondering what I’ll do with three whole days off.
“Come for the trek!!” she exclaimed, excitedly. I had some vague recollection of some trek, some friends, and friends of friends, that she had mentioned a day or two ago. But now that my weekend was free, my curiosity was piqued, so I asked her the details. She sent me a link- Bandaje Arbi Waterfalls and Fort Trek, 25 km, moderately difficult.
Having never been on an ‘actual trek’, so to speak, I was excited. After a short call with one of her friends, Ravneet, who I berated with questions, which to his credit he did answer patiently, satisfying my curiosity for the moment, I agreed. I was promptly added to a ‘Bandaje Falls Trek’ WhatsApp group. So we were to leave in 48 hours, and as it turns out a lot of the arrangements like the sleeping bags, tents, a guide, travel and the food were still pending, much to my anxiety. I progressively grew more and more skeptical about the trip. Danish, the organizer, and the ever-enthusiastic planner, perhaps sensing my growing reservations texted and proceeded to convince me otherwise. And by the time Thursday evening rolled around, things started to look better and everything did start to fall into place, although we still didn’t have a guide.
Friday couldn’t have come sooner, and with the help of Neethi, (a few blogs and regular reminders from Danish in the group), I finished packing, and both me and Rashmi made our way in the rain to the parked mini-bus near Kundalahalli gate. We were joined a few minutes later by Danish, Abhishek, and Abhinav. A few more minutes and Radhika arrived, and voila! We were on our way! We snaked our way through the roads of Bangalore, picking up ?(rather gobbling up) the rest of its passengers. Yes, while I am writing this I am thinking of a snake gobbling up rodents and the shape of it traveling through its body for some reason. We picked up Sushmita, Ravindra, Surendra, Karthikeyan, Vedant, and Saurabh from the next stop, soon followed by Prajyot, Jaydev and Parag, Ravneet from Indiranagar and last Harmeet from Yeshwantpur (I’m pretty sure I messed up the order, but it’s about the people). I only knew Rashmi, but soon enough introductions followed, and everyone got to talking. Maybe this wasn’t a bad idea, I thought.
Radhika and I soon fell into conversation and I was delighted to find a kindred spirit in her. We both loved to sing and had learned classical vocal music –courtesy of our South-Indian parents. And as the night grew older, the games slowed down and the low notes of occasional conversation slowly lulled us to sleep.
There’s something about being woken up by the morning light and opening your eyes to a gorgeous view of a river that snakes beside your road. I stretched and smiled brilliantly at the windows, Surreal, the thought passed involuntarily through my mind. Around me, a few sleepy faces slowly arrived back to reality, discerning the beauty that surrounded them, while a few remained lost in the land of dreams. The bus incomprehensibly squeezed and pinched it’s way through the narrow road, jostling the protruding tree branches on its path. With a little help with the directions from the locals, we arrived at base camp.
Danish and Abhishek went ahead and talked to the landlord about the arrangements, while the rest of us, groggy-eyed and tired, slowly made our way in. And not a moment sooner, breakfast was served, a humble but satisfying meal of idlis, sambhar, and chutney. As soon as breakfast was done, and the landlord was paid his dues, and the bags were packed (with food, tents, and mats tied to them), we started on our way.
I distinctly remember feeling excited, even as I write this I can feel my heart beat a tiny bit quicker and my breath rise in anticipation. ‘Capture this moment’, and I did, tried my best to at least. I looked up at the sky, whispered a small ‘thank you’ which was lost in the winds, and followed the others.
I was surprised to find a guide with us, after having been told we were on our own, so we proceeded to follow him into a trail that led into the woods. After about a minute of walking, the local guide brushed past me back to where we started from. The line of people ahead of me had stopped, some followed him back, while the rest stayed. As it turns out, we started in the complete opposite direction of where we were supposed to go. Such a great start, a premonition of what’s about to come? I thought idly.
As we walked on, we crossed a couple of houses, I wonder what it’s like to live here, away from the world we know…, and made our way deeper into the woods. Somewhere along the way, we seemed to have lost our guide, and it didn’t look like he was coming back. Nevertheless, we decided to put our fate into Abhishek and Danish’s abilities and persisted on. Vedant, the ever-enthusiastic photographer, was nice enough to fill us in on his pleasant experiences with the leeches he encountered while on a trek somewhere near Coorg-Munnar. I confess I didn’t take them seriously in the beginning, but little did I know what was to come.
As we continued, Karthik and I fell into conversation. Much to my disappointment, he informed me that there’s nothing even ‘remotely creepy about’ the infamous Bhangarh Fort in Rajasthan. So there went one trip I wanted to take. We talked about how growing up in Chennai, he had learned to play the Mridangam, and how traveling to college in Pilani was always an adventure. And so our tete-a-tete continued…
The path became steeper, bushier and slick with the previous night’s rains. There were branches that blocked our path, and the crudely tied mat on my backpack wasn’t helping my balance. It was humid, uphill, and we had already started encountering the first of the leeches, and if it wasn’t for Karthik lending a helping hand and holding away branches, I would have slipped more times than I already had. We were all sweating rivers, and amidst that Abhishek tried retying the mats to my bag, after which he asked Prajyot to exchange bags with me. Yes, I owe Prajyot one and yes, he knows that. :p
“I’ve heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord…”, As I was soon to find out the guy was capable of breaking into a song during the absurdest of times, and it was a nice thing to hear though, he lives in his own world, I thought, as Danish continued and promptly switched to “Silent night, holy night…”.
Around 4 km into the uphill journey, people were starting to get really tired. Water was being gulped down from bottles at an alarming rate, Glucon-D was passed and mixed with the water, leeches were continuously being flicked off from shoes and legs, and the journey still continued. Suffice it to say there was a fair amount of sweat, blood, and dirt involved.
“I remember falling into the river while I was on a trek to Tada falls”, Radhika said in her quiet unassuming way. I, quite stupidly might I add, exclaimed, ‘What’, “The guide jumped in and had to rescue me”, she proceeded.
Somewhere along the way, we (seven of us) seemed to have lost the others. There were two trails, one that went downhill (one that we looked at suspiciously and at the same time a bit hopefully) and one that was blocked by fallen thick branches of a tree. Abhishek went on and scouted ahead but there wasn’t any sign of the others. After waiting there for a while, and shouting out to the others a few times, we heard a distant whistle. The one that Danish carried! as the guy himself emerged out of the woods. Glad to have found our way again, we followed him and to a fast flowing stream, where we found the rest of the group de-leeching themselves. The horror of encountering these tiny little blood-sucking organisms is real, the trick, as Vedant imparted his wisdom to the rest of us, is to flick them off, the way you’d hit the striker in a game of carrom.
Bottles refilled, shoes and legs de-leeched, and a bit rested we made our journey onwards.
More to follow about the rest of the trek 🙂
Picture Courtesies: Abhinav, Abhishek, Vedant.
Some other writing you might be interested in: Acquiescence- Thoughts, Writing, Experiences, and Motivation (Click Here!)