Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Chembra Peak – among the clouds

It has been over an year since we trekked Pakshipathalam in Waynad. Chembra peak has been under scanner for a climb since then. At about 2100 meters, it is the second highest peak in South India after Anamudi. Now that the timing got right, on Nov 30, 2012 night, we (Renjith Vijayan, self) packed off for the peak.

The idea was to reach Waynad next day morning, barge into my cousin Shinu's house, force ourselves with a lunch (he don't have an option), generally lazy around till evening then abduct him to Chembra, stay overnight in the foothills where he has a small shed and start the climb early morning.

Since we are the variety of common homosapiens of mallu sub-species, being “fit” comes only after a few drinks. So we thought, if not fit by body, we should be fresh by mind; hence should have at least a good sleep before the climb. Someone suggested catching a sleeper bus from Bangalore to Kalpeta and hence tickets were booked for an 8.30pm sleeper bus. Rushing out from the office and negotiating the Friday evening Bangalore traffic, we reached unusually on-time to the travel's office at Kalashipalaya. After keeping us wait for about 45 min and a lot of hush-hush over phone and between themselves, we were rather unceremoniously informed that the same berths were booked by someone else and the bus has gone!! As if doing a great favour, after a search for about 2 hrs, we were asked to board a 1940's-looking bus-like vehicle. It was nevertheless a sleeper coach and we tried to settle down on our upper berths, as expected, at the farthest end of bus. At around 11.30pm we started; bus was going at a decent speed and for first couple of hours things were ok. I might have just caught the sleep, the bus crossed over a hump; even when we realize what was happening, we were lifted up, kissed the roof and were back in bed with a sore head. Thereon, we were on a permanent state of float with an occasional kiss of the roof and sudden fall to the bed. Even in such bad road, the bus was going at a steady speed. After sometime we got our self accepted that it is a sleepless night ahead. At 8am next day, we both literally escaped out of the bus at Kalpetta.

Both of us refugees were at Shinu’s door steps. Till evening, things rolled out as planned – good hot bath, good lunch, good sleep… At 3.30pm we were off, first to the local market to pick some food & grocery for the overnight stay (i.e., 1.5 Kg of beef, 2 Kg of tapioca, some puttu powder and all other paraphernalia to make them palatable; disappointment was since it was 1st of the month, all liquor shops were closed – bad planning) and then to the shed at the foothills of Chembra. Also we had to buy the entry pass of Rs.500 (for group up to 10 Nos) from the forest office enroute after Mepadi

We reached around 5.30pm; sun was low and light was great for a few shots. We went around for some time. Shinu keep feeding us with his encounter stories with leopards, wild elephants, pythons and ensured we are sufficiently scared. He even showed us fresh leopard droppings with skin and bone remains in it.

Chembra foothills 01/12/12 evening: Grasslands beyond the thick green forest, glowing in sun's golden rays

Chembra foothills: Sun slowly settling behind the grass

Chembra foothills: Night setting in

Leopard dropping: skin and bone remains

With Omanakuttan Pillai chettan, Shinu’s friend at the shed, the no-drink worry was over. Omanakuttan Pillai chettan is one among the cleverer mallu lot, who keeps sufficient stock. Shinu prepared the tapioca which turned out perfect. I took charge of the beef, leaving the other three concerned. At dinner, their concerns proved right. With gastronomic dissatisfaction we were off to the bed at around 10pm. The night was not that cold.

Shinu made puttu early in the morning. I’ve reworked on the left over beef and it came out surprisingly well this time. Had a good breakfast and with sufficient water bottles, we started the climb at 7.30am. Chembra peak is a succession of 7 hills one after another. The first one is the longest one to climb; it has thick growth with larger trees. After the first hill, the terrain changes with trees giving way to elephant-grass. Once the second hill is crossed comes a small pond. It was more or less dry and has a sole tree standing on its head. The next landmark is after the next hill, the trademark symbol of Chempra hills – a heart-shaped lake. Since it was a Sunday, there was sizeable crowd, mostly IT crowd from Bangalore. It seemed like there is more crowd here than in the Mepadi town below. The usual crowd climbs up to here and returns.

Chembra peak: It is a succession of 7 hills one after another. View from the 2nd hill

Heart-shaped lake after the 3rd hill. After the lake is a cliff 
The heart lake is a sole source of water for the wild life of the nearby area. As informed by the forest official, there is a group of 7 elephants which is regular in this area. There is a shola forest nearby. At such heights large trees cannot grow due to heavy winds, hence most of the tree growth will be clustered in the mountain folds and the rest of the land will have just grass growth. These are very short trees with a flexible body which is a natural adaptation against wind. We spend some time inside the forest; saw a lot of deer-hoof holes in its muddy floor. While Shinu and I were still inside the forest, Renjith was exploring the lake and the cliff below, when he spotted a Great Indian Hornbill graciously gliding from one of the hills below.

After about half a Km of flat land, the 4th to 7th hills are in quick succession. There is only grass growth and wind velocities are high. We started climbing the 4th hill by around 9.30am. Usually wild animals are not seen upward of the 4th hill. The trail is through the top edge of the hills with depth on both sides. The wind velocity was considerable, which made the climb even more exciting. The sun was fully up, but the cool winds flew away the tiredness. With only one more hill to climb, huge boulders appeared. There is no ground for grip, but only the vertical rocks. These areas could be really dangerous to negotiate had there been rain or even drizzle. The thought that a silly slip can take one about 2000 meters below, sent down a shiver. Even scarier was the thought of climbing down this stretch. Nevertheless, foot forward is foot forward. By around 11am we were at the top. It is a table top with just sufficient space for 5-6 people. We have negotiated a two side cliff area to reach an all side cliff. I could barely stand up due to the winds; so I just lied for some time before I gathered myself to get up for a look around. Wow, what a sight it was; we were among the cloud, on top of the world. It was only green and blue and mist and freshness till the eyes can reach. No amount of photo snapping can capture the view and the feel. We had some crisp mountain air and reveled for some time on the top.

Shinu crossing the 6th peak
On the peak
On the peak; among the clouds
From the peak; the path we passed. See the heart-shaped lake and the shola forest by the side

Down climb was tough, but the feel of triumph was always exciting. After spending some time at the lake, we reached back in the foothills at around 3.30pm. We had the leftover puttu and beef curry – which was tasting heaven by this time – and had a quick nap to buffer up the possible night-out in the bus, back to Bangalore.

Next day we were back in to the pollution of Bangalore.