Saturday, February 4, 2012

Backpacking Costa Rica

Two years I had kept this blog without any updates even though I had travelled more than I can imagine. Each trip was special in its own way and I wish I had written them down for remembrance.  Now is the best time to update my pensive, I would feel bad if I forgot my first solo backpacking experience.

I was quite focused on getting away for this christmas break and do something interesting for more than one reason. One random day on my finals week, I decided to stop studying and search for the cheapest flight tickets to get out of San Diego. My first plan was to get to New York and see snow for the first time. Unfortunately, none of my friends were going to be in town and it seemed too expensive to stay/travel on my own in the east coast. After looking at Peru, Argentina and Chile - Costa Rica was probably the cheapest to fly internationally and they didn't require any special visa. I was little skeptical that my parents would be against it but they were more excited that I am doing a trip than me.

Pretty much everything (-) sleeping bag
Even though I had booked tickets, I was busy with finals, my PhD application and research work. Two weeks went past without any time to read the Moon's guide book I got through amazon (I had used lonely planet for India, Moon's is pretty good in terms of hostel reviews). The travel day was nearing and I turned in my PhD application on the 19th and had one day to do all the last minute shopping. Even though my 35L Jansport backpack could fit all my luggage, I decided to use two backpacks for fear of space as I travel. Considering the kind of person I am who makes plan A, B and C Costa Rica seemed perfect with no plans on my stay, travel or food. Dec 21st my flight was at 5PM and I finished my TA meeting with the professor played a few strings in my guitar to relax myself and set off to Houston. Satish a friend from Vana Vani was kind to pick me up from airport, buy me food and provide me a bed for the night at Houston. 

Flight to Costa Rica was smooth over the atlantic  with some random view of the mexican coast. Liberia, my port of entry was probably the kind of international airport you don't expect to see serving flights to/from US. A run down workshop with immigration, baggage claim, information desk and customs all under one big fan (seriously big) that kept the sweat cool. Fortunately an ATM machine at the entrance was available to get some cash in colones. One thing that was clear from the begining about this trip was to keep it within a budget. I was determined to get from airport to Liberia town by bus and waited for more than 2 hours for the bus. The bus cost just $2 and took around 30mins. Hostel Guanacaste was a decent hostel and I would recommend only for backpackers. After a quick lunch at the Soda + Restaurant nearby I decided to catch a short nap. Around 6PM, I booked a shuttle to Rincon De La Vieja at the reception for next day morning and went on a stroll around the town. Liberia is a small town but safe and interesting place to explore by walking. The Christmas day parade preparation at the central park had me glued to the curb (no park benches) for more than an hour. It reminded me of India and the kuthu performance on the streets, except for the pretty girls dancing in the back. That night at Liberia had me all excited about my Costa Rica experience. 

December 23, 7AM I was in the shuttle to Rincon de La Vieja. I was all prepared to hike the volcano but unfortunately volcano trail was closed due to gaseous activity. I was also hoping that the hike to the peak will warm me up for Chirripo. After looking at the park map, the only trails lead to waterfalls. I decided to do all the 3 waterfalls trails same day. With the trail running shoes put to good use, I did the 15km hiking trail in 6 hours. La Cangreja was probably the best falls of the three. Being the first person on the trail proved to be useful to view the wildlife and nature in its pristine form. After I had ran through the path they flew/ran away. The third trail had mud volcanoes which were interesting to watch. I was back to the park entrance by 2PM and exhausted I took a nap in the park bench. The shuttle to Liberia was to leave at 5PM. We were back in Liberia around 7PM. The night was unevenful except that I enquired around for best way to get to Monteverde by bus.

Even though my muscles were tired the next morning I knew I was prepared for Chirripo hike. After finding out there are no direct buses from Liberia to Monteverde, I took the first bus to San Jose at 5:30AM. I was dropped at Petrol station by the fork leading to Sardinal around 7:30AM.  I was advised by the guy at the gas station to sit little distance from the fork and wave at the first bus to take the road towards Sardinal. After nearly waiting for 2 hours, the bus to Monteverde arrived. It was quite exciting wait since the buses are spaced at 4 hours after each other. Missing was not an option. I used my waiting time to jot down my trip activities and names and places in my travel log. 

Santa Elena is the main town near monteverde cloud forest reserve. Pension Santa Elena is 2 buildings away from the bus stop and a good place to stay at Monteverde. At lunch I met Sylvia, Issac and Justin who were also backpacking around Costa Rica and with whom I decided to do the 12:30PM canopy tour at Selventura park. Ziplines even though look scary are fun and best way to see the cloud forest in short time. The cloud forest is spread across several mountains and as the name suggest always has the clouds passing through it. The quickest and fun way to say the forest is to take the ziplines. Cables that are connected between two trees in different hills and you just hold onto it and slide down nearly 500m-1km of cable length. The first take off was scary but after I got the hang of it, I enjoyed the view around and below me. The longest zipline was 700m and cruising at 40km/hr over the rain forest with rain beating at my face was incredible experience. Packaged with canopy ride was the tarzan swing. Its a free fall off 60 feet high platform after which you get to swing like tarzan. I just wanted to get to the top and once the door opens jump off without thinking or looking down. After the tarzan cry (I tried to go like Tarzan but ended up sounding like George of the Jungle), ziplines was a piece of cake and smooth as it can get. 

We got back to Santa Elena around 5PM and enjoyed a good dinner with fellow travelers. We then chatten by the lobby on interesting things each one had experienced in their travel around the world. I was motivated by them to do more such trips. The next day myself, Issac, Sylvia and Justin planned to see Monteverde Cloud Reserve. Syliva and Issac had rented a car and we were at the park around 8AM. I was more than happy to receive a $2 student discount. We took a 2 hour trail around the park which is apparently abundant with birds. With the rain pouring down, it wasn't the best time to view the birds. Few photos, some interesting view points and winds blowing at 80km/hr were probably all we got from the park. After the walk, we decided to try the Monteverde Cheese factory. The factory was closed for the tour due to christmas eve but I bought myself the best chocolate chip milk shake I have ever tasted in my life. As we drove back to Santa Elena, I decided to go on my own by walking along the hill road. I guessed the walk should be around 5-10Kms. It was refreshing to walk by myself and stop at all the scenic spots. I could catch a view of Puntarenas and pacific coast peninsula from a secluded spot away from the road. I had my first encounter with a pimp and drug dealer here. After saying a clear no, he walked away. A little bit of fear got into me and I rushed back to the hostel. I found that Issac, Justin and Sylvia decided to leave for Montezuma. I then caught with some fresh travelers at the lobby and found out about white water rafting at Rio Pacuare. I was scared at first thought knowing that it was a level-4 rafting. But I knew that it was only my mind that feared the water. If I had to overcome that fear, this would be the perfect oppurtunity. And doing it on Christmas was best time to place faith on God and tell Him to take care of me! :)

I set off to river rafting pick up location, Arenal, by the first shuttle. Arenal is the most famous tourist spot in Costa Rica. Until 3 years ago Arenal was constantly spewing lava that attracted attention. The view of Arenal cone from La Fortuna lake was mesmerizing. The river rafting company picked me from Arenal Backpackers at 5:30AM. I met Anikha, Adam Rossenfield in the shuttle. Adam was also going to hike chirripo after river rafting like me. After breakfast at the rafting company office we set off to meet the remaining of the group near the river bank. Dressed in our life jackets and safety helmets, we got onto to the boat. Fernando was our guide and my boat had two indian couples and two New Yorkers. Our first command from Fernando was to jump off the boat to get used to man over board maneuvers.  The rafting was 4 hours of pure exercise and fun. I went over board twice, the second time was in the white water. Life passed through my eyes in this 20 seconds in the water. I knew after coming out of it with few scratches that I am no more scared of drowning. :D (More the reason to become a good swimmer)

The rafting company drove us back to San Jose. My stay at San Jose was only for the christmas night and I was to take the bus next morning to Chirripo. Costa Rica Backpackers was a shaddy place to stay and definitely not recommended for over night stays. I then took a stroll through the Plaza Cultura. It felt really unsafe to walk through the streets of San Jose, fenced buildings and empty streets made the place uneasy. An uneasy sleep in the hostel and around 6 in the morning I was in the bus stop. The bus to San Isidro  left at 8:30AM. The bus ride was through the hills above the clouds. I got to San Isidro at 12:30PM after lunch at the "tea" shop inside the bus station, I waited for 2 hours to take the bus to San Gerardo.

Chirripo Ranger station is 1 stop before San Gerardo stop and it closes at 4:00PM. I got there in time to enquire about the availability of tickets to hike Chirripo the next day. As expected the next day tickets were sold and we were asked to come back first thing in the morning. I met Adam at the ranger station and we decided to come back around 5AM in the morning to get the tickets. The walk to hostel Casa Mariposa was tiring and made me realize how difficult it is going to be to climb chirripo. All sweaty and stinky I made it to Casa Mariposa. Jill and John were the perfect host, they took care of all the clients as guests at their house. I was lucky to get the best bed in the dorm and I knew then even if I didn't get tickets for the next day, I would spend all the remaining days at Casa Mariposa relaxing and reflecting on various happenings in my life.

A refreshing group of people were staying at Mariposa. After having dinner, I sat with my travel log and a cup of coffee enjoying the quietness of the night outside. Never have I experienced so much peace in any place before. It felt like being home. Peace of mind translated to a sound sleep only to be woken by my alarm at 4:00AM. I went down to the Ranger office around 4:45AM and waited by the door. To my surprise I was already the 5th person in the line. I felt a bit of disappointment for I knew that there were only 3 tickets available for the next day. There were Kiwi family in the front, Adam and me. After some time, a Danish family joined us in the line. I was surprised to find that the Dad was going to hike with his 10 and 12years old. Inspiring stories were shared in the morning about how a person with hip replacement surgery hiked chirripo using walking frame. Legend has it that Chirripo was sacred for the mayans and mere mortals who dared to hike it were killed. The Mayan priest performed rituals at the peak and hence it to climb it is a matter of pride for the Ticos. The interesting feature of Chirripo is that from the peak you can see both the atlantic and pacific at the same time, a sight nowhere else possible from land. All these stories only filled me with energy and enthusiasm. The ranger office opened at sharp 6:00AM and we rushed in to get our tickets. I was overjoyed when I heard the ranger say 'cinco' tickets. I spent the early morning buying food and preparing for the hike. Adam decided to do the hike in a day for he had to catch a flight on Thursday night. Shared stories, spirituality, life and Indian food with the couple who own the biggest hot tubs retail chain in Cananda. There were going to do the hike in a day despite the fact that the woman had a fractured humerus.

3:30AM on 29th I was on foot in the trail. Surprisingly there was no quotient of fear in the darkness and queer noise that surrounded me. I had packed my breakfast for the hike and knew that I would have to reach the half way mark at 7KM by 7:00AM for my food break. I paced myself at a constant speed up the inclination. The climb was pretty steep with gain of 800-1000ft/km. I could see the glittering stars whenever I was out of the canopy cover. Around 11:30AM I made it to 15Km mark base camp. Chirripo is a total of 10km roundtrip from the base camp which I planned to make it for the sunrise the next day.

After I ate the pasta I prepared for lunch, I met with the kiwis. We had a really interesting conversation on various subjects. I was surprised to see how much they were different from Americans, in some sense very close to Indians. By 4:00PM it was starting to get really cold leaving me nothing to guess about the chillness early morning. I then took a walk around the base camp. Even though I felt I might get cramps and hamstring would get twisted, I seemed perfectly fit. The kiwis and I decided to hike Chirripo for Sunrise at 2:30AM. I felt a little cocky and decided that I should be able to do the 10KM round trip with nothing but just a litre of water. I never expected to get lost you see. :D

We reached the peak at 5:10AM and waited patiently for the sun to raise above the atlantic. Once the sun started coming up, the clouds rose due to fall in chillness and covering the horizon. The view of Costa Rica valley from Arenal to Panama was splendid. I could see the Irazu and Turrialba smoking fumes at a distant. There was nothing between me and the skies and I realized how grateful I am to my parents for sponsoring my trip and having faith in me. I miss you mom.  I was back at casa mariposa by 5:00PM and I don't know any politically correct word to describe how my legs felt. A hot shower and wholesome dinner had me under the sheets by 8:00PM.

Next morning, John and Jill offered to drive me back to San Isidro as they were heading that direction. I listened to their story on what got them from San Diego,US to San Gerardo. John was displeased to know what has become of Black's beach ;). They made a wonderful couple who loved living up there. Around 4:00PM I was back in San Jose and all set to take my flight to Houston the next afternoon. I would save the bad story about how I spent New Year's at LA airport (felt like Tom Hanks from The Terminal) later.  Pura Vida

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Pondy

I want to blog about my first hitchhiking trip, even though I haven't completed my Mangalore Express and Big Fat Indian Wedding blog.It all started when Piyush and myself were returning from Sirsi to Hubli after Guru's wedding. Like every other post travel discussion, we wanted to kick start our plans for the next weekend. However, both of us felt that our weekends were draining every penny out of our bank balance. Yet felt the urge to travel and see new places especially with the following weekend being a long weekend . And then the thought struck us, why not hitchhike and travel to Pondicherry. The entire week we had our hands full with office work and had no time to discuss and formalize any plan. With no clue on possibility of hitchhiking from Bangalore and no idea on Pondicherry it was nothing less than a perfect adventure.

At 7:30PM Feb 26th, Friday, we set  out from Koramangala to Electronic City with the hope of finding a free ride to Hosur or Krishnagiri from there. After reaching Electronic city we walked a few kms towards Hoskur Gate in search of dhabas or petrol station where we can strike a conversation with truck drivers. My attempts to convince truck drivers of TN and KA registration lorry and Piyush's at MH registartion were in vain. We however did not give up and stood at the signal near Hoskur Gate waving at truck drivers but turning our head away at Buses and cabs. After an hour, we decide to take a bus and try our luck at Hosur. We caught the first bus and got down at Atibele where we again gave a shot at catching a truck. Surprisingly one of the TN truck drivers stopped and offered us a ride till Hosur. Delighted we hopped in and shared a short conversation with him describing the imaginary story of how we missed our scheduled bus at Bangalore and now traveling without money to Pondy.  Since he was heading to a warehouse in Hosur, he dropped us at the old bus stand and bid adieu. We were happy with our first hitchhike but far from our destination. Rejuvenated with energy we continued to walk away from the city space continuously waving at passing by trucks. As we walked we found a roadside dinner spot, filled with truck drivers. We inquired the cook outside the shop if we can help us with finding a ride to Krishnagiri. He warned us against it as the truck drivers were drunk. Undeterred by his warning we walked little away from the shop and continued to wave at trucks. One of the trucks stopped, he had spotted us at the shop earlier and asked us to hop in. Only after did I sit next him did I realize how drunk he was. But faith we had. We told him the same story about missing our bus and asked him if we can drop us at Krishnagiri. Unluckly he was just going to take a diversion away from Hosur and offered to drop us at the new bus stand. Either he was so kind or totally sloshed, he went to the extent of offering us money for our travel to Krishnagiri which we politely turned down!. The new bus stand was in every way the wrong place to find a free ride. First, the road runs down from the bus stand making it impossible to expect a lorry to stop. Second, even if they stop they are brilliant enough to give you the advice to take a bus at the stand. Our only hope was to convince a truck driver while they stop behind a bus. We then walked behind the bus stop and continued our waving. By this time we gained some confidence at sticking our hands stretched into the highway at oncoming traffic. And then came Khalid. While we were concentrating at the trucks, little did we noticed a Scorpio pull behind a bus and the driver looking at us. The moment we spotted him, we rushed towards him asking for a ride to Krishnagiri. He drove at 120Kmph and reached Krishnagiri within an hour. Khalid was a wonderful person, who even took the pain of getting off the highway to drop us at the bus stand.  But we preferred to walk back to the toll gate on the highway to catch a truck. Nearly for 90mins we tried our luck at more than 100 trucks that passed by. Evey one seemed to be heading towards Salem. At around 1:30AM we gave up and took a bus to Tiruvanamali. We reached T'malai at 4:00AM and took another bus to Tindivanam. From Tindivanam took our bus to Pondy bus stand.

At 6:45AM we were at P'cherry and we immediately set off to the beach. On route to the beach, we saw the Annai Ashram and some of the prominent P'cherry administrative buildings. After a few snaps of the morning sun and the beach, we not only finished our breakfast at Le Cafe but also made good use of the rest room for morning duties and brushing our teeth. We then walked to the tourism office and inquired about the heritage walk. One of the annoying things about P'cherry was the persistent Auto drivers and their attitude. One of the auto drivers kept following us as we walked along the beach offering a package deal for the day. Frustrated, we took the auto for showing us chunnambar beach, Auroville and one of the old churches.

Chunnambar beach surrounded by the backwater was picturesque. From there we set off to Auroville. True to the saying, it was really an International village with unspoiled environment and a healthy mix of wonderful people. We had our lunch and waited for our passes to visit the matrimandir. Provided an opportunity, I would love to spend few months here and enjoy some time away from civilization and meeting new people. We had to rush through the Auroville beach as the heritage walk was about to starts at 4:00 from LeCafe.Our walk started at 4:30PM and learned a lot of interesting information about the old french buildings.,like the cafe was the old French Port of entry office. After our walk, we returned to the beach with the hope of convincing the LeCafe guys to provide us the terrace for spreading our sleeping bags. But before that we wanted to take some photos of the french consulate building. While Piyush took off with his lens, I brought some peanuts and sat at the bench in front of the french conulate enjoying the view of the beach. Within a minute, I had a cop charging at me with his stick asking me to get going. Only then I realized how close I would have resembled a terrorist with a huge backpack, untidy look and sitting outside an important building. Thanks to my tam, i was able to cool the cop down and convince him that I was just a tourist but not without him checking my backpack.

After that, we gave up on pitching at LeCafe and headed back to the bus stand in search of a budget place to stay for the night. After some 2 hours of walking down the road asking every single hotel, we decided to catch a bus to Chidambaram.  At 12:00 we found a budget room for Rs.200 at a lodge near Chidambaram bus stand. After a good 6 hours sleep, we had a quick bath and went to Chidambaram temple. While returning we met a fake fakir who wanted to guide us through the temple. Even though we knew he was fake with his breath still smelling of last night alcohol, we followed him. With nothing else to see in Chidambaram, we took a bus to Tanjavur. Piyush was awestruck by the magnificent temple and did not mind getting his foot burnt by the flaming rocks. Unfortunately we were late as the sanctum was closed. After good 2 hours of photography and prayer, we set off to Trichy hoping to catch a comfortable ride back to Bangalore.

Trichy bus stand was crowed and there were no tickets available in any of the private buses. We took a local bus to Salem and decided to try our luck there. But after a few hours of hassle, we managed to grab a seat in Bangalore bound bus. Tired and exhausted we reached Bangalore at 4AM. After a good 20hours sleep on Monday it was back to office.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Mangalore Express

First I want to congratulate Guru and wish him and Suvarna a happy married life. Not only was his wedding an memorable event, his love story is an exciting one too. How exciting: he met his lady love in the bus while commuting from office to home. (I don't want to deprive Guru from sharing his beautiful love story in his own words).

When Guru announced about his wedding to Suvarna in early December, all our team members wanted to attend the wedding at brides' native place, Sirsi. Their wedding was to be held on Monday the 21st Feb. Everyone agreed on a three day long weekend travel and explore the tourist places near Sirsi. Within a few days, the onward train tickets were booked to Mangalore and return was booked from Hubli for 9 members. The planning was put to a hold in event of the Christmas holidays. Early January, Guru was pleasantly surprised to find that Mike (our big boss in US) and Daniele (Guru's functional boss in US) are planning to visit his wedding and enjoy the 3 day travel with the team. Despite several If's and But's in their travel plan, we booked round trip flight and train tickets for them. Later, the trip also included the three new members Dhanpathi and Ravi (accompanied by his wife).

Guru and myself proactively planned for the three days travel. We sat together identified tourist places, drew schedules, calculated rough expenses and made reservations. With everything planned our only worry had been about Mike and Daniele traveling 8 hours by Indian Railways. Undeterred by our graphic explanation of the Indian Railways and Railway station, they were strongly convinced to experience our Incredible India!. With Guru off to his native a week before his wedding, I had taken up the responsibility of a full time travel agent. Last minute inclusion of Krishna's wife in the trip increased our travelers list from 14 to 15. I had collected an advance amount of Rs. 2200 from individuals towards hotel and other expenses. With everything planned, we just waited for our travel day eagerly.

Firday 19th Feb, Mangalore Express was scheduled to depart from Bangalore City Junction at 8:55PM. Before leaving the office, I personally informed everyone about the train timings and requested them to be available at the railway station by 8:30PM. Unfortunately Krish, Ravi, his wife and 1 year old kid missed the train by a whisker. While we enjoyed the comfortable train travel, they had to travel by bus to Mangalore and then to Udupi. After a few hours of playing cards with Daniele we decided to hit the berth. At 7:00AM we were awake and looking at the beautiful western plains. When I found Mike and Daniele sitting by the window seats and enjoying the country side, I offered them to come out and have a look by the door. Their great Indian experience had began with the fresh morning wind rushing against their hair as they stood with their heads out of the train. Like every other Indian we encouraged them to enjoy the journey by dis-boarding the train at stops and boarding again after the train starts. Surprisingly, by the time we reached Mangalore  Krish and others had managed to reach Udupi by 8:20AM. At Mangalore railway station, our 21 seater mini bus was waiting to take us to Udupi. At 9:00AM we set off enjoying the scenic bus ride on route to Udupi.

We reached Udupi at 10:00AM and checked into our rooms at Mango Suites. The rooms were comfortable and well maintained. Around 11:30AM we set out to visit the famous Krishna Temple. Before we entered the temple, Mike received blessings from the temple elephant - his first experience which unfortunately he could not get a photograph of. While I had imagined the temple to be a architectural marvel that would intrigue our boss from US, but on the contrary the temple was small and simple with horde of people pushing through the narrow passage that is common for exit and entrance to get a glimpse of All Mighty. I just hope that they enjoyed wallowing in their sweat as well others, while pushing through the queue. With His blessings, we head out to have lunch at the best restaurant in Udupi, that closely resembled Saravana Bhavan.

Everything is within walkable distance in Udupi. Loka, Deepa and myself  (the veggies) finished our lunch and walked back to the hotel. Everyone was back from lunch by 2:30PM. I informed them to be down at the lobby around 4:00PM in their beach wear and we will be heading to Malpe. We manged to leave for Malpe at 4:45PM and it was nearly a 45min drive to the place. Sunil and myself didn't enjoy the comfortable ride in the air conditioned bus and took a permanent seat near the driver. On-route to Malpe, the driver informed about St.Mary's island, 3Kms off Malpe beach. We decided to try out the island and asked the driver to drop us off at the port. On time for the 5:30PM ferry we reached St.Mary's at 5:50PM. Our fun at the island lasted only for 30mins as the last ferry was at 6:30PM. Sunil and Krishna despite warnings from Dhanpathi, rubbed their body against a rock in the sea which inflicted multiple bruises in their chest and hand. With no medicine and time to treat their wounds, we took the last ferry back to Malpe. The sunset at Arabian sea was picture postcard.

Back on our bus at 7:00PM, we were heading out without any clear destination. After some discussion, we concluded to finish our dinner in our wet clothes at Malpe's Hotel Paradise Isle which was by the beach. Krishna and Sunil got themselves completely high with nearly 400ml of scotch. Their conversations and acts got interesting. The restaurant service was one of the worst resulting in Dhanpati and others getting in a verbal tussle with the waiters. Adding to that was Sunil's un-controllable thirst to dance at the private party being held in the hall nearby. Dhanpathi and Mike motivated (secretly enjoying) Sunil to break an entry into the party. Gathering all his courage thanks to his scotch, he and Krishna managed to enter the party. Worried that they might end up with black spots under their eye, we sent Subu to the rescue. Subu diligently rescued them, however was questioned for depriving Sunil his opportunity to dance. We managed to complete our dinner at 10:00PM and make our way back to hotel in Udupi.
I briefed them on the day 2 plan and asked them to assemble at the lobby at 7:30AM. (To be contd.)

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Matter of Honour (Part - II)

Part - 2 (Ombattu Gudda)

After a good 8 hours sleep, we woke up early morning at 6AM before the sunrise. Our camp fire had been raging all night and gave us the warmth required to stand among the clouds to watch the sun rays make its way through the mountains. While we enjoyed the morning colors, Miltan was busy barbecuing his Jockey in the camp fire. Krishna, Miltan, Debarshi and myself then started packing the tents while the photographers were excused to make the best use of the morning light to capture nature through their lens.

By 7:30AM we put out the fire and began our climb down towards Bhaireweshwara Temple. The declivity was constant and we reached the plains withing 1 hour. We then walked to the nearby farmhouse and inquired the route to Ombattu Gudda. After a long discussion with the farmer, our guide informed us that path lay behind us and the two peaks that was obstructing our view needs to be crossed first. Despite some reluctant faces we pushed ourselves towards the mystery peak. I was excited at the very thought of conquering the peak this time. We walked at a good pace towards the base of the first peak. Piyush, Ramesh and myself were the sweepers and weren't comfortable with our water bottles being empty. Our shouts for stopping at streams for water died down and no one seemed to realize the importance of water. When our ascent for the first peak began, we set our foot down and declined to take a further step forward until our water bottles were refilled.

Manju had relied on the Guide on the water sources, but then after few minutes of argument we went back towards the nearest water source. However, the water was relatively stagnant and close to where a Porcupine was skinned (or dethorn-ed) and eaten; lucky, I had bought some water purification tablets. We finished our breakfast, filled our bottles and began our climb. The climb was pretty steep, but having trekked just 2 weeks back, I found it less demanding, except for some backward force from the bag.

Within 30mins into the climb we were at the top and the guide found a shorter route to second peak without much descent. Surprisingly, when we reached the top we could find the jeep track running in front of us. Having done extensive study on Ombattu Gudda during our last expedition Piyush and myself realized our location and proximity to Ombattu Gudda. We were enthralled by the green and dense Kabinhale Reserve forest. We took few minutes to cherish the moment; the moment of conquering Ombattu Gudda.

Without wasting any time and energized by the thought of no more camping, we walked on the jeep track following the guide. Having walked nearly 3kms in the open sun and exhausting our water supply, we halted under a tree to find that we were not making a descent to Lakshmi Estate, but walking in the opposite direction towards the last OG peak (Remember 9 hills). This major mis-communication between the leaders and sweepers resulted in a argument that had to be settled logically. With our water supply exhausted we had three options, continue our walk towards OG last peak, head to Sarswathi Estate and get some water there or walk back to Lakshmi Estate. After a long discussion and voting, we planned to first head to Sarswathi Estate to get some water. Decision was made but route to Sarswathi estate was not known. Believe it or not, we had mobile signal out in the middle of the forest!. Phone a friend, Ramesh placed a call to the Guide's partner and after an elaborate conversation declared that we were on wrong track to Sarswathi Estate. Like it wasn't hard enough, we had to trace back our path by 1Km and take a detour. Driven out of options we walked like Zombies back to the detour point. We then halted, while the guide set out to find the route ahead.

Within few minutes, the guide returned with a bad news, no route ahead. Walking with minimal water, and the heat above us were perfect combination for insanity to creep in. Everyone were releasing reserve energy in the form of abuses. Not arriving at a conclusion, we then decided to walk back 7Kms to Lakshmi Estate with just 4L of water. This 7Km was never ending walk, or atleast looked like one. With the first glimpse of Lakshmi Estate, we pushed at full throttle forwards.

As we entered Lakshmi Estate, we were crying 'Ner, Neri Elli' (Water, where is water). The estate workers then showed us to the hose pipe and I stopped not for a minute to drink from it. After quenching our thirst, Ramesh and Manju struck an amicable chord with the estate workers. The workers not only showed us the way to the most wonderful waterfall, that massaged our torn muscles but also prepared the best sambar that I have ever tasted in Karnataka. After a sumptuous meal, the workers offered us beetle nut and their rooms for a quick nap. While Ramesh, Manju conversed with the workers, I made my best attempt to understand the Kannada and enjoy the conversation.

After nearly a hours rest, we set out to the entrance of Lakshmi Estate. We reached the main road at 5:00PM and had our fingers crossed at the TT driver arriving on time. Withing 20mins we were back in our Tempo Traveller and towards Bangalore.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Matter of Honour

Part -1 (Ettina Bhuja)

Our last week trek to Ombattu Gudda was adventurous but unsuccessful being lost in the middle of the forest. We returned back to Bangalore with disappointment but determined to conqueror the peak eventually. After a few days of postmortem Manju, Piyush and myself decided to utilize the Shiv Rathri long weekend and scale two peaks this time, Ettina Bhuja (shoulder of an ox) and Ombattu Gudda (9 hills) with the help of a local guide. Our plan was to trek to Ettina Bhuja on Friday, enjoy the sunset at the peak, camp the night there and walk through the jungle towards OG on Saturday and try our best to return to Hosakere by the same day evening.

Manju did the entire planning from arranging the guide to buying the food. We started on Friday night 10:00PM to Shashila. The winding roads of Shriradi Ghats had given me enough spin to throw up everything that I ate the last evening, leaving me exhausted and hungry again. We reached Shashila at around 6:30AM. Our guide had arranged for breakfast at a bhatt's house where I hogged on enough idlies to keep me going for two days. The Bhatt also packed fresh chappathis and sabjee for lunch in banana leaves. We decided to keep our food at minimum and carry organic plates and covers so that we don't have to carry volumes of litter. Despite our preparation, my backpack was weighing nearly 10kgs (1.7Kg bag+1.5Kg Sleeping Bag + 3.5Kg tent + .7Kg food + .5Kg clothes + 2Kg Water)
Around 5kms from the Bhatt's house was our starting point for the trek, where we had our first glimpse of the peak we had set out to conquer. It was steep climb right from the beginning. The sun was burning us and I had to take breaks every 15minutes to control my hear rate and avoid hyper-ventilating.

We walked for nearly 4 hours under the shades of the thickets and stopped for lunch at about 2PM. We had a wholesome food and decided to take a 'power nap' for 20minutes. The sun was at its peak and we had another 1 hour walk ahead of us in the open heat. With no water source to replenish our bottles we just drank water sufficient to wet our throats. We reached the peak just in time to witness the sunset. We pitched our tents and collected water and log for our night camp fire and cooking. We then left our backpacks at the camp and climbed up the almost cliff section of Ettina Bhuja.

The climb was challenging both physically and mentally. After climbing nearly 90% , I gave up and sat fearing a fall while returning. (I forgot the saying never look down when you are going up). But then it was Manju who made me continue upwards. (Actually, it was more like if Manju can do it would be self humiliating if I didn't make it. :P, no offense Manju). After enjoying the sun set, we returned to our camp to start preparing for dinner.

While I was cutting the vegetables, Manju and others went to collect water from a stream nearby. We then cooked our maggie and began our discussion on our plan for the next day trek to Ombattu Gudda. Only then did we become aware that the guide was not familiar of the route through the forest to OG. The guide informed us that OG was three peaks behind towards east, but there was no defined route. We were left with two options, either to climb down and reach Lakshmi Estate and climb back from the end point or to climb down to Bhariavashwara Devasthanam and inquire the locals about the path to OG. Since our trail was unknown we prepared ourselves mentally for another day of camping. We finished our dinner and slept with little disturbance from the strange sounds that filled the night.

[Day 2: to be contd.]