Yes you read it right. If you want to lose yourself in the mist and walk leisurely through the nature’s lap as fog, rain and sunshine play hide and seek with you, then head to Meeshapulimala in Munnar, the second highest peak in South India with its summit at 8274ft and the highest peak that you are allowed to trek. The trek through the veneer of mist, along pine trees, gazing at the amity of nature, was a healer. There was a constant music in the air as winds cajoled the trees. The air was pure, every whiff of it, divine. A walk through the forest, fog blanketing us and guiding into a world of its own. It felt surreal, as if a dream, away from the harshness of reality. This is what i exactly wanted, i wanted to get lost. Lost amongst nature. Lost within me.
Thanks to Kalypso Adventures and Sam sir, all we had to do was to walk. Everything else had been tied up already. Raghu, our guide from Kalypso met us at Munnar and took us to the KFDC ecotourism office. After the official formalities, we boarded a jeep and headed towards the base camp. It started raining as soon as our ride started and we were a bit disappointed with the turn of events. However, the bumpy jeep ride through the tea plantations of Gudarale estate of Kannan Devan hills was interesting since the conversation was all about various animal sightings and other experiences of Raghu.
We passed through the small settlements of plantation workers and small yet colourful temples and churches stood out from the line of dull grey labour houses. We left the tea plantations behind and entered the forest. The roads gave way to stone paved jeep track and that too disappeared in no time. It was acacia and eucalyptus trees that greeted us first but were soon replaced with thicker and taller trees. Rain had stopped and thick white fog was hiding behind the trees. Manikandan, the guide from KFDC joined us at the base camp and our trek started from there. We left the jeep track and entered the forest. Slowly, as we ascended, the fog came out and embraced us. The forest was fresh from the rain and we inhaled that crisp earthy smell of the jungle. Rain drops were hanging from leaves, reflecting the evening light and small gusts of chilly wind refreshed us by spraying these water drops on our faces. In addition to few bird calls announcing our visit to other members of the forest, we could hear the faint gurgle of a forest stream flowing under the thick vegetation. Gravel grey rainclouds were still hanging around, threatening us of another rain and few thunderbolts broke the serenity of the forest sounds. Manikandan, irreverent of all these, led us from front and kept answering the volley of questions we shot at him. For us, everything in that jungle was a novelty and we were behaving like inquisitive children on a school tour.
All that excitement got a direction once the leech attack commenced. The route was infested with leeches and I assume human blood is a delicacy for them since they generally get to feast only on animal blood. The news of our arrival would have spread fast for they were waiting all along the route. Initially we joked about it that we are getting a leech therapy for free but once we saw the ganon of leeches closing in on us, we realised that this therapy is going to be slightly expensive.
Though we were ill-prepared to counter their attack we fought with all we had. But we soon learnt that in a forest, animals have the right of way. To cut it short, we were looted, pillaged and plundered of our RBCs and WBCs. We kept moving since the art of war is simple. Find out where your enemy is, get at him as soon as you can, strike him as hard as you can and keep moving on. Here unfortunately all we could do was to move on. The silence of the forest was broken only the occasional thunders somewhere over the western ghats. As we walked through the pine trees, I noticed that every pine needle had adorned itself with a water drop and a million such water drops shined in the soft evening light, as if jewels hanging from the sky. Then a chilly wind would come and create a flutter and a million jewels would fall from the sky. Who would notice the leeches then?
The trek through the pine trees and patches of tall elephant grass meadows along with wild streams ended at the Rhodovalley guesthouse. After taking stock of the damage caused by the leeches and clicking photographs of the same for future reference, we quickly headed towards the cook house for a cup of hot tea and pineapple pakodas.
It had started raining again by now. It seemed as if the rain had paused only for us to complete the trek for the day. As we gorged on the pakodas listening to the drumming of the rain on the asbestos roof, the rain stopped and the sky cleared again. A rainbow peeked from behind the clouds and started growing on the eastern horizon. It was to click the rainbow that the camera was fetched but thats when we saw how the western sky was illuminated by the setting sun and how it looked like an artists canvas. It was a picture perfect sunset, one of the best that i have ever seen.
By then the rainbow at the eastern horizon had grown into a full semi circle. We were so super excited at the spectacle that we didn’t know which side to look and what exactly to photograph. The rainbow was so huge that i had to photograph it in two parts and merge it later.
After a delicious and sumptuous dinner cooked by ‘Shine ettan’ and lots of conversations about the jungle and wildlife we sneaked into our sleeping bags and silently listened to the tranquility of the jungle before sleep overpowered us.
The next morning started early and after a heavy breakfast we started our trek. This time we were better prepared for the leeches and we seemed to understand the jungle better. We left the Rhodovalley behind and climbed the first peak of the seven hills before meeshapulimala. We were atop this peak within around 30 minutes. From here we got the first look of Meeshapulimala and the complete trail that we had to trek.
We could also see Munnar and Suryanelli town from there. Ahead, against the silhouette of the hills, pure white sheets of fog floated against a pale blue sky.
Raghu told us that in 2018, when the ‘Neelakurinji’ flower will bloom, the complete valley would be covered with purple blue colour. ‘Neelakurinji’ blooms once in twelve years. But we were lucky to sight one or two flowers that had bloomed out of turn.
We crossed a small stream after descending the hill and started ascending the second hill. From here we saw the Anayironkal lake which has been named so due to the frequent visits by elephants to drink water. As we progressed we were lucky to sight the Nilgiri Tahrs, wild gaurs, Giant Indian squirrels and even a wild elephant. Within three hours of vigorous walking, we were atop the second highest peak in south india, Meeshapulimala.
We were slightly ahead of our timeline and hence we used the time to sit and observe the panorama from the hilltop. Few rhododendron bushes had bloomed but Raghu kept telling us that it looks like a flower bouquet when it blooms completely.
We clicked pictures of the vista and of ourselves. It was serenely peaceful up there with the company of mist and the moist breeze that one would be forced to sit and listen to the thumping of our own heart. After spending a good amount of time there, we commenced our descent. The descent was steeper and the slushy ground after the rains made it even more difficult. We took a right after descending the hill and entered the shola forests. Inside the forest, we saw the hoofmarks of the wild gaurs that we sighted earlier during the day.
At every turn we expected a wild gaur to charge at us and at every turn we were happy to be disappointed. A bunch of nilgiri langurs evaded us successfully and all we observed was the movement of the tree branches and shrieks of the monkeys communicating to the rest about the foreign presence. We were sure that the leeches have taken note and were constantly on a look out for the next attack. But as i mentioned earlier, in the jungle the animals have the right of way. So they came, they saw and they drank their hearts out.
The giant Indian squirrel was resting on a high branch after a sumptuous meal and did not pay heed to the monkey warnings. So I shot him with my camera and it is only after i got a good picture that he managed to get away.
The dense forest had started thinning down and the acacia and eucalyptus trees reappeared and our trail grew in size to a muddy jeep track. We left the forest behind an entered the tea plantations.
Mani and Raghu told us gory stories of the animal attacks in these plantations that lie so close to the jungle. Our trek came to an end at the outskirts of the tea plantation from where we were transported back to Munnar by jeep.
It was two days and one night of absolute bliss. I so desperately wanted to do this. In two days I have experienced a lot more than what i could bring out here. These are subtle joys from simple experiences that am unable to express through words. Or maybe they are not to be expressed but just enjoyed. Be it the thrumming of the rain, the smell of the damp earth, the kiss of the chilly wind, the dance of the angel-white layers of mist, the songs of birds, the shrillness of wild animal calls, a surreal sunset or the blessing of a rainbow, I was just lucky to be there and experience it. Thank God.
Special thanks to Vishal and team from Kalypso adventures who made this happen and of course to Sam sir. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and i believe that these baby steps would one day grow into huge leaps. As Ernest Hemingway rightly said, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”