Monday, October 23, 2006

Part - 1: Warming Up

I knew I was not made for hard-core trekking but I knew I could manage without giving up if the start was perfect. For someone who has only walked on flat tarmac scrambling over loose rock in search of some prehistoric (?!) rock painting and burial sites was a new experience.

My trekking guide was Muthuswamy, a Veerappan look alike but without the trade mark whiskers. He told me the site was half a kilometer over a gentle slope and would take an 'easy' fifteen minutes to reach.

As we started climbing Muthuswamy realizsed quickly that his assessment of 'easy' was rather misplaced in my case. "Ukkaranuma Saar?" (Do you want to sit, Sir?), he queried, looking very concerned. He must have thought I was having a heart attack the way I was gasping. I reassured him and quickly started snapping pictures. My ego did not permit me to accept defeat. If I sat, he would know. Despite protests from my knees I resolutely kept pace. I was determined to see this to the end.

Finally, when I reached the spot I was soaking. Aching joints & twitching muscles are all forgotten as soak in the view. The experience is incomparable, well worth breaking into sweat and panting for. Then, after the momentary sense of light headedness the exhilaration takes over.

Discovering my feet...... literally

We all have two legs with the feet attached at one end. We are never conscious of them except when they hurt. They take us from point A to point B without ever letting us know that we are putting out entire weight on them. That is, when we walk on familiar ground.

When we are forced out of our environment we become acutely conscious of them because our surrounding dictate our reactions. For city slickers it can become an unpleasant surprise if we are not too careful with them, like yours truly discovered over the weekend.

Of course, the experience of 'discovering my feet' was exhilarating. It took me over hills, down into the valley, through the scrub, along the river and back to my car without ever protesting at the ill treatment it got. Confined to a heavy boot and soaking in sweat would not have been what their idea of a wilderness holiday but at the end of the day we congratulated each other and decided to do it more frequently.

Prologue - Woodcrawling along 'Little River'

A middle aged man with a generous middle is not the ideal profile for a trekker but the temptation was too great. So, with a prayer on my lips I have set forth on what appears to be a long journey of discovery.

I have never trekked before. Most wildlife parks do not allow people to saunter around and disturb the jungle folk but there are exceptions. On the Udumalpet - Munnar road, straddling the Tamil Nadu - Kerala border lies a patch of wilderness that is just being discovered. The Chinnar (literally translated - 'little river') wildlife sanctuary on the Kerala side of the border is contiguous with the Indira Gandhi WLS in Tamil Nadu. The check post used to be closed after 6 PM earlier but now it's kept open all through due to the heavy tourist traffic. The road used to be famous for encounters with elephants and gaur grazing beside it.

My interest was the result of what was a wasted trip. We had driven to Munnar on a weekend to try to get a glimpse of the elusive Kurinji. We did not know that disappointment was in store as the heavy traffic caused a jam on the road and an endless que at the entrance to the Eravikulam NP. We had time to kill but nowhere to go and as we drove downhill we looked more closely at the signboards put up by the Kerala Forest Department.

We had, earlier, stopped for breakfast while going uphill. Then we had seen a herd of gaur on the ridge across road also having their breakfast. So when we halted at the check post we made enquiries about forest entry. Vehicle weren't permitted but you were free to foot it, we were told, and the guard directed us eco-tourism center next door.

The trekking is organised by the Forest Department with the active involment of the local tribal community. The center issues the entry passes and allots a tribal guide who accomapines you into the forest with only a stick for protection! It didn't seem a good idea at that time but therin lies the tale of how I discovered my feet.