Wanderlust is something that was buried deep in my soul, a long time ago. But it’s only now that I fully see the vibrancy of its enchanting colors & ‘Wayanad’ was on my bucket list of ‘places to go’ for over 2 years now. If you compare the past 20 years of my life v/s the last 2 years, it would be evident that I wasn’t much of a traveler before. A tourist? maybe! See, there’s a difference between visiting places, and exploring places- and that’s what distinguishes a tourist from a traveler.
I have never traveled alone/ with a group of strangers before; at least not without the company of a close friend. Though, this time I was traveling with a group of 45 people, who belonged to the same organization as I. This idea had initially frightened me, as I barely knew any of them. I know that a lot of people go on adventures with complete strangers, but I was never one of them. Crowded places, large gatherings or get together unnerves me, though I can be the chirpiest and liveliest person you’ve ever known, on one-on-one interactions. But in groups- I am no different than a lost puppy. Anyhow, I had to go, because exploring Wayanad was far more important than my innate fears as an ambivert.
We started from Bangalore on Friday night in a bus that could put a Discotheque to shame. It was painted in bright colors with a caption on the side of the bus that read ‘Are you ready to Dance?’ The interiors of the bus were covered in mosaics of funky colors, The bus had large speakers that could boom loud enough to wake up an entire neighborhood. Various disco ball lights flooded the cabin of our bus, converting it into a retro dance floor.
It felt like I was back in college having one of those trips when life was simple, reckless and carefree, when the prejudice and conditioning of the society still hadn’t seeped into our hearts. For a change, it felt good to be away, along with perfect strangers who knew very well, how to celebrate each moment. No one slept that night until the wee hours of the morning. We celebrated the birthday of a friend, danced mindlessly to the beats of the music, swapped Hulk & Dora masks like 13 y.o and sang along awkwardly to every song that emanated from the giant speakers but barely slept for 3-4 hours. When the first rays of Sunshine peeped through the foggy clouds next morning, we stopped by an old petrol bunk. A few of us stepped out and rid our body & mind of motion sickness by playing football while the others slept peacefully inside.
A few hours later, we reached our dormitory- PI residency in Kakkavayal and quickly scattered to our rooms to freshen up. After munching on a minimal breakfast, everyone was recharged and we set off towards Meppady through the narrow winding roads where only one large vehicle can pass at a time. Incidentally, we encountered a large bus (alike ours) en route due to which our bus had to roll back for at least half a km, to find a decent spot to let the other bus through.
On reaching Meppady, our large group dispersed into packs of 8-9 and hopped into jeeps which took us via Chembra tea estates to the beginning of the trail path. One has to walk 2 km, via tea gardens to reach the trek starting point.
The difficulty level of the trek is moderate, though the path is a lot slippery during monsoon (a few friends dared to trek the entire path in slippers and sandals). I, being not a regular Trekkie, took a lot of breaks to catch my breath while a few of my groupies jumped across rocks like acrobatic monkeys. Halfway through the journey, one can find a large heart-shaped lake (believed to have never run dry) named ‘Hridayasaras’. Past that, the trek gets easier as it is just a steep path uphill. It took us almost 2 hours to reach the peak, and there is yet another lake at the top. Though, there are multiple peaks visible from the top, most of them have restricted access.
From the top, one can see almost all of Kalpetta and Meppady covered under the clouds, draped in lush greens. We got drenched several times during the trek and every single time, I had to encase the camera which felt like an annoying charade. The playful fresh wind and the timid rain showers along with the breathtaking view soothed our souls. We spent a little time by ourselves in peaceful silence, until the others made it to the top.
Descending downhill was much easier, since we slid most of the way down on our butt, thanks to the rain showers that had turned the steep paths all the more slippery. We took tiny breaks, exchanging jokes, poetry, philosophies, bits and pieces of our own life stories, our dreams and fears. In a group of 48 people, I found a tiny family-even if for a small duration and I’ll always be grateful for that experience.
At the end of the trail, we treated ourselves to several cups of lemon tea and a tummy load of pakoda’s (compensating for the lack of a proper breakfast and lunch). As our group was the first to complete the trek, we waited until the others reached back and finished their share of hogging. Magical as the day was, we were lucky enough to spot a faint rainbow across the sky.
Thereafter, the jeeps drove us back to Meppady. Later, we visited Lakkidi view point (a scenic spot on a busy hair-pin curved highway), just in time to catch the sunset.
After a much satisfying dinner, we headed to our dorm, while most of us dozed off in the bus-drained from the physical strain from a long day. Thankfully, our group was full of enthusiastic people who wouldn’t let the night end that way. So, we started a bonfire, gathering around its cozy warmth, played games, sang and danced. As the night grew dark, everyone resigned to their rooms, one by one.
Next morning, we were ready and replenished by 11 a.m. Though we had plans to visit Kuruvadweep and soochipara falls, they were both closed due to the rainfall. A quick breakfast later, we reached Pookode Lake and spent the afternoon there, exploring the fish museum and trailing the lake while a few tried the communal fish spa (Though, I enthusiastically turned it down, for I pitied the fishes that had to nibble down all that dead skin).
After skipping lunch later that day, we traveled to Meenmutty falls. The water was extremely cold, the surrounding rocks were slippery and the current was strong. Undeterred by such challenges, we spent our evening frolicking in the water. The walk back to the bus (almost 2 km) was memorably fun as we were drenched from head to toe, cold & shivering, hungry, with no change of clothes in hand. Yet, that didn’t stop us from slurping delicious-hot Maggie and tea on borrowed money.
There were no specific changing rooms in the area, but we found an old-uninhibited house in ruins that solved our problem. I was so madly in love with Kerala, as I knew that I could spend my eternity in that old shack.
As we returned, our driver raced the bus like a hurricane to the Karnataka-Kerala border at Bandipur since the police closes off the check post at 8 p.m., (which didn’t deter the singing, dancing and the havoc that was being created by us inside the bus). Luckily we made it in time, but unluckily we were held up in a long queue before the checkpoint and worried that the guards wouldn’t let us through as it was almost 8 p.m. But, after an anxious wait, we crossed the border and witnessed an elephant cross our paths (Which, let me remind you was the only ‘wild life’ we spotted on our entire journey).
On reaching Gundlupet, we were delighted to find a hotel that was open at 10.30 p.m. Without a second thought, everyone rushed in and emptied their kitchens. At about 11 p.m., we vacated the premises (with not much option) as the police had rallied down, demanding to shut down the hotel (Since, there had been a few riots in the area over the past few weeks).
The journey back to Bangalore was mostly uneventful, since most of us slipped into deep sleep while the ‘ever-enthusiastic’ bunch cracked jokes, gave speeches and awards (imaginary ones, of course) under several categories.
At 4.30 a.m., our driver abruptly started playing songs over the speaker (Apparently, that was his way of saying- Good morning. We’ve reached Bangalore!), much to our annoyance. Angry girls yelled at him at the top of their voices while astonished boys stared at the outburst. If the music hadn’t woken us, the abuse that followed, definitely did. I bid goodbye to my new endearing friends and made my way home, as I had to go back to office a few hours later.
Just the way the right book, finds its way to you, I believe the same goes with people and places. When it’s not the right time, even the right people or places can’t serve their purpose in your life.
Like a caterpillar that reincarnates into a butterfly, my understanding of this world has changed, now that I see the world with a different pair of eyes. There are stories woven in every city, every street corner, every sunset, behind every wrinkled face, in every tide of the ocean, in every breath, every sigh, behind the twinkle of an eye that has shed a million tears, behind every smile that masks a million emotions and if it deems you worthy, those tales will be woven deeply into your memories.
Until next time,
The hippie soul!