“Mohan, I know you hate trekking with a group, but I want you to come to Kudremukh with me along with another thirty of us in October,” said Mamatha, my wife.
The idea of group trekking repels me since I always prefer to hike or trek alone. To me, hiking or trekking in solitude is the only other occasion apart from meditation when I get to go inside and meet myself.
I was silent.
“Did you hear what I said?” she hollered.
“Yes. I was thinking if I have made any pre-commitments in October,” I said feebly.
“What commitments? You are freer than a wandering monk after having sold off all your businesses. I will go ahead and confirm to Solanki. I am sure you will love the trek. I know you dislike bonding with people you don’t know. Better start now.”
“Is it a trek or a picnic?” I asked her, not putting any effort in hiding my sarcasm.
The reply was an icy stare.
“Solanki is an adventure enthusiast who has done more than fifty treks in the Himalayas,” she said, equally sardonically.
“A trek-cum-picnic,” I said to myself.
Together we had completed about twenty-five treks, most of them in the western ghats of Karnataka and a few in the Himalayas. The western ghats is a mountain range known as Sahyadri (mountain of patience in Sanskrit).
“We leave on October second and return on the third,” Mamatha said.
“How far is it from Mysore?” I asked her.
She shrugged her shoulders and said, “No idea.”
One of the lessons that I have learned in my matrimonial avatar as a husband is not to ask too many questions when a travel plan is already firmed up in the wife’s mind.
It took me several days to finally dig out the details:
-There were about thirty members in the group, including about a dozen teenagers.
-A bus would pick up the members from a few locations and would take us to a place called ‘Kalasa.’
– We would be staying at Kalasa at a hotel. (“No, I don’t want to roast in the heat,” said Mamatha when I suggested that we remain along with the group at the camp.)
-The trip was one night/two days’ duration. The trek would be a whole day affair.
-We would be leaving on October 2nd, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday.
Kudremukh means horse’s face in Kannada. This name is because of the distinctive shape of the peak.
It is nestled in the heart of the Western Ghats in Chikkamagaluru district. It is part of the Kudremukh National Park, which is the second-largest wildlife protection area in the Western Ghats. Kudremukh is known to have one of the largest deposits of iron ore in the world. It is situated at an altitude of 6,207 ft and is the third highest peak of Karnataka after Mullayyangiri and Baba Budangiri.
Mamatha started packing only on the morning of October second, making me feel happy that at last after twenty-eight years of togetherness my habit of last-minute preparations had rubbed off on her.
At nine sharp in the morning, we got into the bus and joined fourteen children and sixteen adults, all in a joyful mood. The bus left for our destination at 9:15 a.m.
The first of the many rounds of Gujrathi snacks started off within five minutes of our departure with a serving of Khakra. Evidently, even after decades of being in south India, Solanki still had his north Indian affinity for frequent snacking. The four-hour drive to Kalasa through Hassan and Mudgere took us through the spectacular evergreen forests of the Western Ghats.
I love the Western Ghats. Spread over six states, sixty per cent of which is in Karnataka, Western Ghats house one of the very few rainforests in the world. Unlike many of the other great rainforests, the rainforest of Western Ghats is one place where elephants walk through tea fields and tigers migrate across coffee plantations.
We reached Kalasa at around 6:00 in the evening and checked in at the hotel Mudra, located in the heart of the small town. The owner was a doctor and a Rotarian whose wife happened to be Mamatha’s friend. The rooms were neat and tidy and the food was excellent.
We joined the group members early in the morning the next day at a village called Mullodi from where the trek was commencing.
We started the trek at around 8:00 in the morning. The trek started off with a slight ascent on a muddy path after crossing a stream. Passing the stream is tricky if you are not careful and luckily all the older guys in the group were expert trekkers and the younger ones were flexible and fit.
“I wish the trail were wide enough so we could have walked holding hands,” said the girl behind me to her friend following her.
“They are doing that and also paving the trail,” I joked aloud.
“Really?” asked the pretty girl with her eyes wide.
“Yes, and they are also installing escalators on steep inclines.”
“Uncle!” bellowed the girl.
As we crossed the first five hundred metres, most of the members fell behind and just a few fit girls and a boy accompanied me.
“Mohan Uncle, what is the difference between a hike and a trek?” asked a girl dressed in purple top and black tights.
“A hike is a walk on well-marked trails that does not demand too much physical exertion. Treks are hikes of longer duration that require stamina and often demand climbing steep inclines and crossing running streams,” I said.
“Is this a trek or a hike?” she asked me.
“Well, it has been a hike so far. Let us see how it ends up,” I said, increasing my speed.
The trail was flat, with the Kudremukh valley to the right and sloping meadows to the right. The landscape was vast grassland, with the occasional dense spot of trees surrounded by miles and miles of open fields.
This route was spectacularly scenic appearing as though some great power had covered the whole region with a soft, green carpet.
There were quite a few streams, small and abundant along the trail, which were a great source of fresh and cold water.
Suddenly, the whole Kudremukh valley became visible. This was one of the most beautiful parts of the trek.
After a few hours of flat terrain, the trail climbed up the ‘horse’s back’ part of the mountain, gradually curving upwards, and ending in a steep ascent. This is the last ascent – the climb to the top is a level walk past green fields.
The highest point on the summit had a small group of rocks. Starting at 906 metres altitude at Mullodi, we had reached 1894 metres, an ascent of 988 Metres or 3240 feet over a distance of 9.50 Kilometres or 6 miles.
We spent an hour on the summit and left the peak around 3:00 pm to be back at the camp in time. The descent was down the same trail. My non-waterproof shoes and cotton socks both got very wet while crossing the streams.
My toes rubbed against the toe-box inside the shoes while descending and my right toenail split in two. One overlooked but absolutely crucial piece of advice for hiking foot care is to clip your toenails before starting any trek. If they’re too long, your well-fitted boots will do no good because they’ll still be pressing into your nails, which are pushing into your toes, causing discomfort at best, and at worst bleeding or nails falling off. If your socks get wet, there is a danger that your feet will get injured.
I noticed that during the descent that the return distance to the starting point remained constant as it got darker, and the sun set two-and-a-half times faster than usual when you were hurrying back to the starting point. The Kudremukh peak trek is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful treks I have done in my life. The variety in scenery you get on this trek is something incredibly unique to this trek. There are overflowing streams that have to be crossed, dark green forests with crisp brown leaves fallen underneath, bamboo shrubs tall enough to touch the sky, rolling green hills and finally, the peak itself, where gusty winds can blow you off your feet while the scenery below blows your mind.