Solo Travel – How the bug bit me

Today, 6th July marks the first anniversary of my first step into Solo Travel, hence the dedicated post. Two years in Bangalore and I hadn’t seen anything beyond Hogenakkal falls. Just a few weeks before my solo venture, I had been on hikes to Madhugiri Fort and  Skandagiri hills. But apart from that, nowhere – which was a real disappointment as Bangalore is one of the very few places centred around the most amazing and scenic locations in Karnataka, Kerela and Tamil Nadu as well.

We all wait for a plan to be coined, by friends or colleagues, to go out somewhere. I waited and waited, had planned a few times as well which could not materialise for one reason or another. And then comes a threshold, a brim where you are so frustrated just sitting around at your home, occasionally going out for a movie or dinner. That day came for me in June 2013 when I just wanted to run away from the city, office and personal life chaos.

I had been recommended a travel group called Nirvana Nomads long back, but I wouldn’t dare to go alone, needed at least one friend to accompany me. But no one agreed to the weekend plan to Wayanad for 6-7th July,2013 posted by that group. Well, I had had enough of the dependent nonsense and was fed up with myself for not roaming around at all. So I registered – yes, alone, knowing no one in that group except for the name of the organiser. Hell, I didn’t even know if there was any other girl joining the trip. Looking back, it baffles me how I could even dare to think about going with a random group of people on a weekend trip just like that.

It was still one week to go before the trip and by the mid of the week, I started getting panic attacks. I was frantically running around in office, asking my friends to come along, to not let me go solo – no luck. One day before the trip, the group mails all of us informing about the goods to carry. I take a look at it and am shocked to see rain-coat being one of them. Well, the last time I wore a rain coat, I was 9 or 10. Where the hell am I supposed to get one, one day before the trip! So I decided to work from home the next day, ran to the nearest mall and again ran around asking for rain coats. Luck was in favor, I was able to grab a wildcraft wind-cheater – men’s smallest size but I had no choice.

Okay, so now I am all set, but the second series of panic attacks were yet to come. I reach home, and am suddenly very scared about this unknown factor of the trip. Calling up my mom, crying truckloads, saying all kinds of crap like – “I will be all alone. No one will talk to me. Why am I doing this? I will be extremely bored. There will be all aunty-uncles with their kids on the bus” and what not! My mum and a very dear friend, somehow consoled me and encouraged me to do this, filling me with this hope of having awesome fun.

Fine, no turning back now, I open up the group mail thread and start scouring the list for people boarding the bus from the same pick-up point as mine. Yes, a girl, finally! I call her up and we meet around 9 to wait for the group bus. Listening to her travel experiences with this same group, I realise that I am not the only one doing something which I, to that point, considered extremely illogical. I was feeling okay at this point, well, I really had to because the bus was coming in 10 mins and I couldn’t have another of those crying episodes. The bus arrives, the organisers get down to meet us and whoa! I am in shock to see two very young guys and thinking “okay, so at least the age-factor is no more a concern”. Next, I step into the bus and see the whole crowd and I am thanking God in all might for not sending any uncles and aunties and small kids, for sending a very good mix of guys and gals around the same age-group!

The journey starts and as we all go about introducing ourselves, talking about our backgrounds, I am suddenly extremely happy to have taken this step. Almost all the people in that group had come alone, knowing no one at all, all in search of new friends and looking forward to an adventurous weekend. I am totally out of my discomfort zone now 🙂 . Intros done, the consensus is to play antakshari and off we start. The game was never ending, people going nuts recollecting their song selection from “na”, some cheating by googling the songs but no one is backing out. I think we broke the record of the longest antakshari ever since when someone asked for the time, it was 5 am. WHAT! We played for almost 6 hours straight and the organizers had to really plead people to go to sleep since we had a busy day ahead!

Tea-gardens
Tea-gardens
Organizers very casually slipping in "leeches"
Organizers very casually slipping in “leeches”

Next morning, well a few hours after we had slept off, the destination arrives and we disembark. The sight in front of my eyes, tea-gardens all around and itwas raining. It was the first time I had come out of Bangalore, and seeing that magnificent sight just made me realise how idiotic I could be to even care about the less important things about the group n all. But no,  my nightmare was yet to arrive. During the breakfast, someone started talking about leeches. I – “Err, what???”, People – “There will be leeches during the trek to Chembra, carry salt.”, I -“OH MY DEAR LORD! what did I do!”  While I did not get anytime to get over the leech panic, someone points out a leech near my feet. I must have woken up the whole valley with my shriek I think :-/  Okay, so this is what a leech looks like and it sucks blood. And you needn’t worry since leech bite is good for health. Are you kidding me?? I am healthy enough to not want a leech to purify my blood – thank you very much!

Pookut late
Pookut late

No escaping now Ankita, from Wayanad or leeches. We start for Pookut lake post breakfast, stopping on our way to see the Wayanad valley. Each and every sight was mesmerising, I had never seen or experienced being in between the clouds like that. But my mind was still lurking around the leeches 😐 The lake was beautiful and so was the boat-ride but << “umm.. leeches, what am I going to do…” >> Guess what happens after we come back from the lake visit ? We go for a stroll in tea-gardens, sounds good doesn’t it ? But oh no! That’s where the actual leech attack happens, since it was raining cats and dogs and we were going through a highly vegetated route. Guys being so kind, would stop as soon as I shouted and come over to pluck off the leeches from my shoes. This nightmare lasted for some 20-25 minutes, with my continuous cries for help 😛

Reaching back to our home-stay, I declared that I am not going to visit Chembra Peak, the leech trailor was enough to last for a lifetime for me. But the gals and the guys wouldn’t let me reside in my safe-zone. So the next morning, we all get ready, I was screaming inside my head on the thoughts of leeches sucking my blood. That’s when I hear about these three guys in our group who have a solid leech protection plan around the legs – any guesses ??

Legs wrapped up in garbage bags stuck around with duct tape – yes, that was the ultimate protection device present. And of course, I went for it and I am glad I did. Because wearing that, however ridiculous it looked, made me extremely carefree.

See the legs? :P
See the legs? 😛

Now I was all ready to conquer Chembra Peak and the gods were extremely kind on that day to not rain. The weather was breezy and cold, but no leeches at all on the path to the peak. The stop – heart-shaped lake was just like I had seen in pictures and always marvelled at the shape. The trek was amazing, not difficult at all and beautiful throughout the journey.

Heart of Chembra :)
Heart of Chembra 🙂

Our journey back to Bangalore started post our trek and needless to say, the journey was super-fun with continuous rounds of dumb charades and antakshari not letting some poor souls sleep.  I couldn’t speak, forget sing for a week after that trip 😀 It was one of the happiest weekends of my life, seeing such beautiful sights, meeting such awesome like-minded people and making some really good friends. This trip also made me realise how freaking awesome I was at singing and remembering the lyrics to Bollywood songs 😛

Reaching back home, I couldn’t wait to enrol for another trip for the coming weekends. That is what this trip did to me. Making me confident enough to venture out alone, meet adventurous people and gain pals for life. Thank you Nomads, it all started with you and it’s hasn’t ended and you lived up to your name; since in the end, I did achieve Nirvana 🙂 And that my friends, was my toddler step to solo travel.

Nirvana'ed Nomad

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A Trek which literally broke me – Kumar Parvata

Well, those of you who haven’t heard of Kumar Parvata, it is one of the highest peaks in Karnataka and hosts the route of the longest and the most difficult trek in the state. I shall not indulge further into KP details, since that is freely available on google.

I shall use this space to divulge my experience with the trekking group Abhiyana. The group was introduced to me by a friend giving reference as cost-effective and super-fun. I had gone on treks earlier with several other trekking groups, and was keen to try a new one for a change!

The journey started on Friday evening and as always happens, I was apprehensive about the crowd in the group since I travel alone and get introduced to new people on-board every time 🙂 Luckily for me, it was one of the most super-fun, helpful and enthusiast group of people I have had the pleasure of traveling with so far! The trek began at this very base

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Everyone started on an extremely high note – being extremely innocent about the fact that we are going to carry bagpack plus sleeping bag plus sleeping mat plus tent for the next 7 kms ( Read: highly-ambitious-and-stupid Ankita! 😛 ). Well, as they say, slow-death is the worst death – I got to experience the trailer this time.

Staircases made of tree branches and trunks, each step 1 feet apart, we climbed and climbed and when I stopped to ask Sagar – our lead if we had almost completed 2 kms, the look on his face and the evil grin made me cringe and die a little inside.. his exact words being – “If it makes you happy, 2 kms it is” 😥  “Stairway to Heaven” seemed really real here!!!

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My back was pulling me back and every step I took made me realize how extremely stupid decision it was to think that I would be able to make it to the peak very easily. Well, my confidence came from conquering peaks like Mullyanagiri, Tadiyandamol, Chembra, Skandagiri and many more hikes which I was able to do without a break! God finally decided to test my patience and stamina here.

All the prayers I knew and all the energy I had was slowly being sucked out of my soul when I couldn’t see the end to that stupid forest trail ever!Taking a look at my very desperate and sad face, Venkatesh and Kumar decided to off-load my luggage and would not let me stop at all. Kumar went on to offer electrol as well, I really felt like an ICU patient then 😛

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Come-on Ankita, don’t stop here…..

Well, somehow after a few more kms, we finished the forest trail and landed at a very scenic stop, post-which I would just not budge! ~~5 more mins please ~~ Then my prayers were answered when we had to wait for Pavan and party to arrive for water.

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Yea,well – KILL ME NOW!

On we continued, to the grace of God landing at an extremely scenic location where Pavan’s idea of selfies materialized like anything! Posing for good clicks is something which would pump loads of energy in me – people tried to bribe me with pics later to make me move! 😀

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Aren’t we all super-happy to see the fifty shades of green above and the lovely scenery behind. But Pavan was the party pooper to announce “Guys! Let’s start, we are half-way done!” WHAT! ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME! My head started spinning and I would have really punched him there had I been the only one crying about it! 😛

Well, we started again, and by this time I had given up the idea of going to the peak after reaching Bhattaramane. To which, Pavan bribes me with Snickers. Snickers?? Really?? When the back and legs are paining like hell and you feel like dying, a massage would have been a better offer.. 😥

The idea of clicking also seemed destitute at this point. I just wanted to reach the stop and lie and die and whatever. Someone shorten this freaking damn journey for me! Never have I ever experienced a pain this kind, that I actually had to lie down and sleep for 15 mins on the way before we could reach the stop.

All said and done, we reach the stop and grab lunch. This is when I get to know that the rest of the group had left for the peak. I don’t know what happened to me, but I was soo pissed and angry and sad that I decided to try for the peak as well. So, Pavan, Manu, Veena and I start post-lunch to reach KP or the nearest we can to KP.

This is when the mighty sun decides to punish me for even thinking about moving more and comes out in the full bloom. I couldn’t take the heat and the burn on the skin and suddenly the discomfort you get on doing some physical activity post-food started. It’s like the universe didn’t want me to take any step further. At this point, I was almost in tears begging Pavan to go back. But these people wouldn’t stop and kept bribing me about reaching the first mile-stone “Mantapa” – that place never seemed to come to sight however much I walked and hiked. Many pit-stops ahead and almost killing myself in the process, I could finally reach Mantapa.

And that’s when the universe decided to reward us for all the hard-work and toil with the most brilliant weather ever. With the first step of descent, the clouds starting engulfing the mountains. Pavan pointed us ahead to the mountain range being showered on by heavy rains – a sight none of us can ever forget. The clouds were making a dash to the mountain we were on and we were dashing to our place of stay to avoid rains. Suddenly, clouds came all over us, but didn’t pour over.. we just stood there, taking in the breeze and the green, the feeling cannot be described in words, just felt..

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On arriving at our stop, the brave-hearted team of 9 people in our group was welcomed with cheers and claps – the guys completed 23 kms in 5 damn hours! God help them 😛 !

For me, the most exciting part of the trek started after that when we pitched in our tents for the night. The place was at the edge of a cliff, surrounded by lush-green mountain ranges, clouds and mist. On top of that, the incredibly stupid and funny antakshari hosted by Krishna kept the night alive 🙂

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The next morning served us with the most serene views we could ever hope to lay our eyes on. See for yourself

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Well, it is at this point, when I forgot all about my backache and muscle cramps and was all smiles to take in the nature all for myself

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The descent began after a not-so-filling breakfast, Bhattaru really needs to see more cooking shows on his cable! It’s funny how the excruciatingly painful four-hour ascent to the base became an easy two hour descent 🙂

Well, 23 kms of hike, trek, and climb later, I couldn’t wait to get a shower and be done with the muck, soil, sweat and dirt. But hail the enthusiasm of my fellow riders, who would now go for play in the river 😛

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Well, lucky for me; not going to the river was a blessing in disguise to get the darshana at Subramanya temple in 10 minutes without standing in queue, which has another interesting story to itself 🙂

The journey back to Bangalore could not have been funnier and awesomer with the never ending Mafia and pass the message around games; not to forget the circuit damage between Veena and Kumar and between Deepak and Arun! Games followed by antakshari, followed by singing random songs, even bhakti ones thanks to Sravan, Krishna and Pavan – Why God why!

All the ups and downs, tears and laughter aside, the trek was a memory to be cherished. Kudos to Sagar and Pavan for making sure that over-confident trekkers ( read Ankita ) are brought down to earth 🙂 – jokes aside, you guys rock!

The message I have for my fellow trekkers which I learnt from this trek would be “Think before you climb”! 😀