Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower, Burj Khalifa are impressive man-made structures to gawk at, but compared to mountains blanketed in mist, their charm falls short of the mark. For those more eager to use their feet to traverse rocky paths that wind their way to glorious summits, Kuduremukha offers up a scrumptious combination of leeches, squishy forest paths of dead leaves, numerous water-crossings, 45 degree inclines, and did I mention leeches?
On reaching the town at the base of the Kuduremukha range, the first thing to strike any city-dweller is the abundant foliage and greenery. There is pepper, coffee, some coconut-like looking tree, and clumps of forest cover dotting the mountainsides. Every direction you look, there are peaks just begging to be climbed. A bumpy six kilometre drive up a slushy narrow road brings you to a rustic homestay which will be your base. Looks like there are a few families who host trekking groups and arrange for guides to lead them.
After washing up and having our packed breakfasts, we begin our climb in high spirits. We are warned of the leech threat and tuck our pants into our socks or shoes to prevent them from getting in. Our trek leader, Sharath, suggests we apply a mixture of oil and snuff powder to repel them. Once we enter the forest, we realize the path is infested with leeches, there are leeches swaying their suckers just waiting to hook onto anything warm and appetizing. The smart thing would be to set a brisk pace and not stall, which would give them a chance to latch on. But soon the terrain gets to us and our breathing gets strained, and a break seems like such a luxury. Still, cannot stop. Trudge along.
We had started the trek later than we planned, so Sharath suggested we have our packed lunches while walking. That would have been a sight. Crossing refreshing streams on the way to our first official stop was disappointing, because the water was so welcoming, but even there the leeches did not give us respite. We checked our legs and clothes for leeches at the marker, which is in view of the peak, and a few from the group had already been kissed by the slimy buggers. We passed around the oil and snuff powder and applied them on our shoes and socks.
Continuing on, we reached the first real challenge, a proper 45 to 50 degree incline up a hillside. Progress was slow, but while some rested and gave way for others to pass, a few kept pace with our guide. By this time, we had already caught up with a group that had started ahead of us. A few more twists and turns along a hillside and we reach the second marker. From here, the valley opens before us. The sight is breath-taking and the flowing mountains look like a wave proceeding all the way to the horizon.
A few of us, pumped up by now from the workout, get the general direction we need to head from the guide and set out. We reach a point where a small waterfall on the hillside descends into the valley. From here on, the path becomes more treacherous and a misstep could leave you rolling down the mountainside like those fight scenes in old Hindi movies. Only problem is you wouldn’t save the heroine, but end up hurting yourself and have to discontinue the trek. So slow and steady, watch your feet, look out for leeches. The number of leeches reduced as we got higher.
Reaching another steep incline, we spot a pile of stones with an arrow sign painted towards a path and “200 KM” on it. That’s what I read at first. Two hundred! There is a dot after the two actually. Two kilometre. That’s close, right? Not really. We could see the peak high above us now, and a few trekkers from another group already nearing the summit. Their outlines were so tiny, that even after focusing on them for a few seconds, it seemed like they were frozen structures. The path took on a zig-zag kind of pattern to ascend this hill. We reached the top, which was not really the top, but at least the topography became more even. By now, our legs and hands seemed to be working of their own accord, keeping our breath steady, and focusing on our next step instead of how much further to climb. A look to our left and the mist is beside us now, draping other peaks in a white cloak and hiding the valley.
About 300 hundred meters from the summit, there is another stream flowing out from a thick clump of trees that drops down a ledge and disappears. The sound of gurgling water as it flits between and over stones in its path, reminding us to always adapt to our surroundings and not vice versa.
We reach the top, and a few of my friends are already there and resting. They smile and wave for me to come over. I roam around a bit taking in the view in all directions. Other trekkers who reached before us are lying on the grass and everyone looks weary, but are still glad to have summited. We sit down on a pile of rocks, still mindful of leeches and silently nibble on our packed lunches of bananas and other snacks.
There will be others mountains to climb, there might be leeches, but for now we just hope the mist will clear to give us a view of the surrounding peaks. Meanwhile, we wait for our fellow trekkers and welcome them with cheers and laughter.