I'ts around 2AM, and as it happens once every few months (it's getting more frequent these past couple of years) I've hovered over verdant forests and majestic acclivities, swooped into deep gorges and zoomed up over jagged ridges, twisted the lat-long grid 360degrees a few times till I get a headache, extracting every last information bit the current resolution GoogleEarth can offer on potential new routes up ....
And in between soothing my aching joints and pacifying my aching heart I did the next thing I always do on such occassions - Google for "Chembra", "Anakkampoyil", and ....
And I chanced upon you trip report, and I knew I must write to you. I was the life and soul of the Adventure Club in REC Calicut circa '89/'93. And I and my equally dim-witted and numb-skulled group of maniacs had spent our REC days, first discovering the little hamlet of Anakkampoyil with no telephone pole no electric pole no plastic no plastic bottle, then the charming walk to Muthapanpuzha, then onto the jungles and then two frigging years discovering a route to Vavalmala.
Being good engineers and blossoming men, we refused to ask for directions, and we suffered mightily. We planned and plotted and dreamt of all possible lines of attack standing in the MB and from lecture halls, staring at the looming phantomhead of Vavalmala surging in the horizon. We dissected the planes the gorges and the shoulders looking for a route up. And we did summer trips, peak-monsoon treks, 2-man alpine attacks, 12-man British expeditions.
Many a times did we escape certain death and maiming on this noble endeavour fuelled by extra tankfuls of testosterone and adrenaline and not inconvenienced by mere common sense and any primal need for survival:
The first time almost stepping off into olichuchattam at midnight - we at the vanguard of mallu adventuredom, when adventure was a word that got you thrown out of decent mallu homes, kitted out in PVC soled shoes and boxy airbags filled with ironed creased polyester-blend trousers and shirts got stranded on the wrongside of the olichuchattam rockface at dusk. And there were 12 hopelessly inexperienced climbers - a few with spare left feet - plastered across 40 vertical feet of rock and ledges and slippery grass, with 4 weak torches showing the way at 10PM on a chill night, accompnaied by furtive heavy movement of animals in the forest below - possibly famished life-forms awaiting an easy meal.
The second time when Subra actually stepped off a huge boulder in pitch-dark during our first epic emergency descent on a monsoon night, escaping a soggy, frozen, leech infested death after three unsuccessful hours trying to build a fire in a campsite between the jungle gloom and a precipice. And to think it had all started as a carefully planned monsoon attack on the summit!!
The third when Pmurthy and I almost took a basejump from vavalmala while we were crawling speedily along the long 3-feet high animal tunnels among the bamboo thickets, and piling into each other at the stunningly sudden appearance of grey nothingness almost under our nose.
The fourth time, which really would have been a fittingly heroic death to all concerned - from starvation, exhaustion and inebriation - during our wildly successful vaval summit attack. Another meticulously planned trip when the food ran out and 5 of us survived on a couple of banana and two large bottle of whiskey - we figured the latter can count as a malted beverage - for a day and half.
The fifth time when a football sized rock came shooting down the trail next to the cave, missed four of us and smashed into a sack full of banana, jam, bread and a filthy costly borrowed digital camera - which was discovered intact in a sackful of banana-pineapple jam-bread soup forming a concrete with powdered glass from jam bottles.
The sixth when Pmurthy and I had to crawl as much of our anatomy into our rucksacks to survive a dusk to dawn thundershower on the exposed summit ridge - the lighting was so bright we could see the colors of flowers a 100feet away.
Yet, despite being very good engineers and blossoming strong silent types, we did achieve the summit a few times. Reaching the summit ridge and retreating to the cave in '91. Reaching the summit on an epic 4-day struggle in '92. I and Pmurthy, going back from Bangalore first time after graduation, successfully executing a strategic retreat from half-way up on day-1 to launch a strong counter-attack on day-2 and climb all the way, in '95. And last, when I tortured my newly attached first-wife-cum-unwitting-former-girlfriend, two supermen from Ozone whose rucksacks were bigger than my tent, and a couple of pals all the way to the summit ridge in '99.
Life was good, running the adventure club with large and active membership in Motorola, starting the Numbskulls club in Sasken etc. Then cruel misfortune befell my life. I got ambitious. I got prosperous. Busy. First wife. Second job. Third job. First kid. Fourth job. Shit, wife is still same. First house. Fifth job. Second car. Second kid ...what second kid? You must be crazy....
Now, on one of those contemplative evenings, when I'm massaging my poor tunnelling carpals lovingly back to life, adjusting my much suffering rear end to a more comfortable and cooler position on the chair, under the nourishing glow of the laptop LCD panel, my gaze trying to penetrate the glass-curtain in the far end of a row of closely packed sensory-deprivation-chambers, the devil starts working on my mind.
That little voice whispering - of plodding those aana & kaatti (bison in local lingo) dung strewn tracks, of the spring in the knee joints when you reach level ground after a long had climb, of scoring ancient lichen off the short stout trees on the ridge to mark return trail, of the dew-wet grass and creepers razoring across forearms and face, and ...ahem... of a new life, in a size 38 jeans, with a new wife....
And on those evenings I go back to GoogleEarth. By now I have located every landmark on the route till almost to the ridge. Now I'm trying to work out the mother of all deep-jungle treks in Western Ghats, starting in Meppadi, getting over two peaks and landing up in Anakkampoyil - or if I'm ambitious, maybe even a third ridge and down to Pulloorampara!! Ah, this will be the stuff of legend.
It feels so so so very good to see that someone has done the trail and written about it. I tried to pass all my tribal knowledge before I left REC, but there were no serious trekkers left by then to pass the baton to. IMHO that 25 or so square miles contain some of the densest, wildest jungles left in India. After spending 6years on that mountain even the supposedly fabled Kodai route was pretty tame for me.
2008 has been declared - as were the previous two - as the year of my first big trek for the 21st Century. And the first big one will be Vavalmala. I will get in touch.
The best hiking season for the western slopes of the western Ghats- barring any serious global warming disruption since '99 - is during the mid-summer showers in early May. Good water, no leeches, cloud cover, perfect lighting for photography.
I'm hungry. I must eat now. Prose after midnight (like bathroom singing) is a highly satisfying exercise in verbal (au(o)ral) diaorrhea. No wonder I got hungry.
- Roby Paul Kurien -
ECE, Class of '93