Monsoon is the best time to travel to hills!! And thankfully this year monsoon has been good so far.
Unlike last two years, I am not heading to Himalayas this time (And for good reasons!!). So finding time to enjoy monsoon in western ghats. The photos here are from from Eucalyptus forest near Gudalur.
Kurinjal peak in Kudremukh National forest was the first
trek in this monsoon. Trekking in Kudremukh area requires permission from
forest department and hence I called them few days before to make sure that we
will be allowed to trek in the forest. The person on the other side of the
phone seemed very polite and supportive. That was good.
On Saturday morning I, Krishna and Subbu were at Kudremukh
forest Office. The person whom I talked
to was not in Office and the guide who was supposed to accompany us was
uninterested. The rains and leeches bothered him a lot. But he said that he had
no problem in issuing permits if we can manage to trek ourselves.
Superb! That was what we wanted. We were never looking for a
guide who was uninterested. And we were also saving on guide charges!! As
usual, we boasted of some great (?) treks we did!! All we needed was a permit
and some info about starting point of the trek. That was then done in a jiffy.
The driver of the private bus looked at us rather
suspiciously when we asked him to stop in the middle of the forest. “Did he
think us as trespassers?” I told him that we had permits to enter the forest. Well,
each of us has our own issues. Driver was rather worried about stopping the bus
on the uphill path. “Stop where it is comfortable for you and your bus”, I
said. We have come here to walk and it does not matter if we walk few more
The bus exactly stopped at the point where the trail
started. As soon as we slighted from the bus, leech medicines were applied. Motto
was to have zero leech bytes!! (Only Krishna succeeded on that)
A little later we crossed a bridge. Time to check leech
status. Salt was sprayed on shoes and mercilessly the leeches were removed.
Disadvantage in monsoon trekking is that you cannot afford to have stops.
Leeches make you run continuously.
Guide had mentioned about a deviation we need to take at a
particular point. It was not difficult to miss and to our luck we met two locals
who confirmed that we were on the right track. As we slowly climbed, the view of
the Shola Mountains only became better.
Finally, we entered into forest. Our walking speed increased
as leeches started their attacks. There was no time to relax. Few fallen trees
on the road slowed our walk allowing leeches to stick on our legs.
We were relieved when we finally came out of forest. We were
not entering into grasslands. Until now, we had not gained significantly on
altitude. The path after the forest continually went up with series of
switchbacks. As we started our climb, we were astonished to see the clouds
completely engulf the area reducing visibility to a great extent. All this
action occurred within few minutes.
As we walked on the zigzag route, we could see an abandoned
microwave tower and a building. Next to the building was a huge rock structure
which was barely visible in mist. Krishna who had come before identified the rocky
hill as Kurinjal. It seemed huge and steep.
After reaching Microwave tower, we gave some time to
ourselves to remove leeches glued to our legs and eat some snacks. Little more
time was spent about discussing on the mentality of people who had scribbled on
the walls of the building. Most of them seemed to have vomited out their
frustration about love failure!! Well, that would be a separate topic of research!!
The final climb to the peak was much easier than expected. In
less than five minutes, we were on the top. On a clear day, one might see great
views as the peak is at a higher area than the surroundings. On that monsoon
day, clouds continuously played hide and seek with us!!
The returned journey was uneventful expect for a big crab we
tried to shoot. While we concentrated on examining the crab, leeches feasted on
We reached the main road and walked along for some distance
to reach a designated bus stop. We stood in the lashing rains waiting for the
bus; private vehicles zooming in front of us at occasional intervals. With
nothing else to do, I started looking at the facial expression of the people
who looked at us while their vehicle sped. Some seemed have sympathy for us and
were others who seemed to be proud about them for being in the comfort of the
car. There were others who I felt were laughing at us!! And there were people
who had fallen asleep after eating heavily in Horanadu Temple. And finally
there were people who did not care about us and anything else.
Then the bus arrived which put a brake on all my silly
Bhutan trip had gone extremely well. But my daughter was not
very excited as the snow I promised was only seen but not ‘felt’. The only
place where we could expect snow was Chele La, the highest motorable pass in
Bhutan. At about 13,000 ft ASL, it connects Paro with Haa valley. It is at the
same height as Rohtang pass in Himachal Pradesh. With great difficulty, BRO
opens road by end of May. But after travelling through various passes in
Bhutan, I knew that there would very little or no snow even in April at the
height of 13,000 feet in Chele La. Hence I asked my daughter not to expect ‘snow’
in the pass.
Chele La is just 35 km from Paro which would take about 90
minutes. There might be no snow in April but flowers compensate for it. They
were omnipresent in the hills.
There were few patches of snow near the pass which was
sufficient for my daughter. But later she complained that the snow should have
covered the entire mountain!!
On a clear day, we could have seen Jhomolhari peak which is
at an altitude of 24,035 ft ASL. But nature did not provide the permits that
On the other side of the pass was Haa valley. Indian
military has some presence there.
We may not have seen good views in Chele La but a surprise
was awaiting us when we flew back from Paro to Bagdogra. The weather was great
and we could see the clear view of Jhomolhari peak (Am I right?) !!
We could see a gigantic peak on the far side. It was Kanchenjunga in Sikkim, the third highest
peak in the world.
After many days of road travel and good food, it was time to
burn some fat. Hike to Tiger Nest (Taktsang) monastery was on cards. Perched precariously
on a hill top, the only way to reach the monastery is to trek. Horses are also available
for people who do not prefer walking. But the catch is that they are available
only for hiking up. The last 800 steps must be covered by foot as well as
Looking at our daughter’s ‘performance’ so far, it was
unlikely that she would walk 800 steps or climb down on her own. So, it was
decided that it will be either me or my wife who will visit the monastery. My
wife volunteered to stay back in the resort with the kid.
Travel and the trek
It was the day of “No vehicle day” in Bhutan. Practiced each
month, only public transport vehicles were allowed to ply on the roads that day.
Another exception was for the vehicles carrying tourist for which a permit must
be obtained. So, we were allowed to go!!
A drive of about 30 minutes brought us to the starting point
of the trek. We were at an altitude of about 8,500 feet ASL and the monastery
is at 10,200 feet ASL. Hence it is advisable not to perform this day during the
start of your Bhutan trip. Allowing some time to acclimatize would make this trek
a simple task.
We have all seen how a loaded lorry struggles to climb up
the road. The same lorry without a lorry goes a good speed!! Same applies to
human beings!! I just had a camera and a water bottle enabling me to climb up
at a good speed. Good weather and shady path added to the speed. I saw myself
overtaking horses. Unlike the ones I had seen in ‘Char dham’ trip, these horses
seem to be well fed and maintained.
About one hour of walking brought me to cafeteria which
serves food and drinks. Here is the nice view of Taktsang monastery.
Another 30 minutes of climb and I was at the end of foot
path. The path further goes down on the edge of the hill and then climbs up to
the monastery. Steps are constructed and the path is well protected by
Camera and mobiles are not allowed in the monastery. The
lockers which were empty did not have the locks and I could not think of
leaving expensive camera and mobile just in open!! But my guide convinced that
they would be safe even without locks. My experience with Bhutan and its people
had been great so far and I believed my guide there.
I would not get into the details of monastery as there is
tons of information on the web.
Climbing down took less time but I found it difficult as it was hard on my knees. Lunch was the cafeteria on the way.