One hell of a trek – Agasthyaarkodam-2020

At least that’s how it felt like on T+1. Now at T+7, am not so sure. As with childbirth/delivery, the moment it is over, the whole ordeal is forgotten and you get obsessed with the result alone. T1-Drive to Bonacaud at sunrise is thrilling on its own merit. The views are awesome; the feel of forest unexplored is intriguing with the feel that one more team for company is actually welcome. At Bonacaud, our team [4 ppl-3 ladies – 1 second timer- and one husband] eagerly prepared to start the trek; re-negotiating items to take and leave behind with little insight on what was to come. The one with experience did try to guide, but of course, we knew better!!! We got ourselves one magic wand / stick each for support.

AND….well, what to say!!! After 7 hours of enthusiastic walk, slowing down with sun on top to dragging your feet to sitting every few steps and dragging yourself up steep rocks and trees and tree roots and literally just focusing on putting just one step after another, you reach the base camp. To demoralize you further you see tiny dots of fellow trekkers few kilometers away, where you have to reach before even starting the hard climb. And you reach the end of your rope so many times in between…But you just have to go on and on and on… It challenges you mentally, physically, fundamentally and the only way is to win it mentally. The rest just has to follow.

The base camp at Athirumala is a revelation in itself… you conquer your fear of snakes, darkness, chilling cold, howling wind…there is no way to describe the thundering wind and its uprooting force..it just has to be experienced..period. And you fall in love with it.

T2-9 th Feb, 2020-Morning, 7 ish, we set out with head gear, sweater, gloves, wind cheater etc for the climb to top. One hour in, off came all of it and in it went to the bag to be carried on. BIG mistake. Even after being warned to take only an empty small water bottle and mobile that can be carried in your pant pocket!!!

Saw lion tailed monkeys in free range, jumping from tree to tree..4-5-6..the lot having fun and watching us too. Saw fresh elephant poop in impossibly narrow and rocky pathways. Bear poop too. Lucky, no closer encounters. And the wind was all consuming, all your thoughts blown away, leaving you to experience the cool wind and dew on your soul. And just for the feel, it is totally re-doable. The changing scenarios … at times clearly showing its grandeur from Naadukaani Para, at times showing the far away silhouettes through clouds and fog at Ponkala Para… But there is no end to the climb. You keep going up and up and up till there is only one way to go up—climbing on the ropes fixed on last 3 rocky mountain faces till you reach the peak. The clouds fly past faster than racing cars; making your head spin if you look up.

Luckily with focus only on reaching the top before 12 noon when all are packed down, we went up the ropes without looking left or right. And a good thing too, by the way, as otherwise the view is chillingthe scary kind- it is told. Fog helped too. We left our magic sticks down to climb up the ropes. But its support turned critical while climbing down as there was a slip leading to a fall resulting in dislocation of the little finger. Turns out, there was a hairline fracture too. The stick support would have certainly prevented this. It seems, the locals climb the last rocks barefoot. The daring trek became more desperate/precarious with the injury. Being the last ones to come down, rest of the trek was completed with support of forest guides. Night at base camp and trek back was managed with painkillers. Now, the risk- which is practically on every step that you take in these three days -became apparent. There is no medical support or facility or doctor even at Bonacaud, forget about base camp or enroute. We were lucky enough to find a doctor in next day’s team and she insisted on fixing the little finger with bandage available at base camp.

T3-Starting with guides for support- which is difficult as they are under staffed-trek till about 11 was wind blowing enjoyable. By about 12, with sun on our heads, it was no more fun. Thereafter, it was just a race to reach the end point. We made it by 2.30 or so, not missing out on any of the severe sun. The takeaways- · Leaving the mountains and reaching towns and cities- which are always there; only we leave it – is so ugly · The support stick- the magic wand has become a part of you so much so that you take it along to kitchen, bathroom and bedroom..Can’t take a step without its support, actually. · Sense of achievement is so awesome – you are actually shocked that you could do it and you feel on top of the world · The second timer – the lead lady – based on whose first experience we also decided to do it -is a Martian.

T+1-You see the photo of the peak taken from base camp. And you realize what an audacious thing you have done..wanting to and climbing that magnificent humongous mountain peak.. you want to beg forgiveness and to lay down at its feet in Sashthanga Pranamam…

Ms. Bindu Sunil Kumar,
Sr. Technical Director,
National Informatics Centre, Kerala

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