My idea of making a travel entry everyday was impossible to keep up – so intense were the next few days. Krishnan joined us on the day we landed. I had heard a few good things about him, but I have to say I had my reservations because he had a title(!) He is called ‘Organik’ Krishnan.
I said ‘hi’ to him and shied away to introduce him to my husband who is more the confident talker. It turned out that they both were class mates from school. For the next couple of hours we just heard his journey from 9th grade up until now and we were both spellbound. He was another Sridhar if not more – humble, soft, highly knowledgeable, keen observer and listener and most importantly, incredibly patient with us (we are a crazy lot!!). His knowledge of eco-system, organic produce, inclusive farming, music, cooking etc kept us yearning for more interaction everyday. We were literally students learning on the move and he was our guru!
We went on two water fall treks. Both completely uninhabited considering the difficult pathways. Slippery rocks seldom walked on, seemed very familiar to Ravi and Satish, the property caretakers (from the tribe) who came along with us carrying a sickle and a first aid kit. Up and down we went barely knowing what we were stepping on, across small cascades discovering how much of a reservoir our mountains are. Streams of water suddenly gushed out from small pores on the walls of the mountain with cold, fresh water amidst tall, wild grass and pebbles covered with thick, green, velvety algae. When we reached those small water falls we just stared, stripped and walked straight in to feel the force on our heads.
The clear waters gushing with tremendous force filled all our senses with calm. This is the water that we drank at the property – straight from the mountains, a blessing straight from mother natures bosom.
We could see life flourishing in front of our eyes – the food chain was so well defined, as Krishnan explained. Each one of those forms of life had prey and a predator keeping natural balance.
Leeches latched on to us in large numbers. Every time we stopped for a break, our legs and shoes would be filled with them in various sizes. We could stare at their elastic movement and speed for hours!
Our early morning birding treks were fun too. Madhuvana is a birders haven. We being amateurs, spotted a few common birds around there like the bulbuls, minivets, munias, barbets, tits, sparrows and almost missed the elusive hornbill pair who have made Madhuvana their home. The beauty was in quietly observing the swift movement of the giant malabar squirrel- how he jumped with incredible confidence like a trapeze artist!
The challenge was to keep our ears alert and eyes open for terrafirma. If not, either we would fall and be prey to many more leeches or miss some wild animal or bird in the vicinity.
After all that we got back home and settled down, basking on our balcony, after a cold bath. The kids weren’t tired at all! So they followed Krishnan ‘mama’ for a short walk into the woods. And there we spotted him – the handsome young bull elephant, chewing away to glory. He came to wish the boys a happy birthday and farewell I suppose. As a precaution, Ravi, Satish and Venu rushed towards Krishnan and the boys. The boys had an adrenaline rush as they ran back excited with so much to share – they saw a wild elephant ten feet away! Our trip was made!
However, this wasn’t all. There were the last two epic treks- gold mines and grasslands. They were both one days treks but we shrunk them to half a day, as we had to head out to the city that night.
Gold mining? It was a very interesting prospect for me to see. I visualised it to be like the grand canyon and Mackenna’s gold. We drove out on the pick-up truck with a few organic Adivasi products on offer, saying our byes. The half hour’s bumpy ride to the property now in day light looked very different. Wild and crazy, so much so that there were some people ahead of us trying to lay the road with rocks as we had to drive past.
Gold mines were a good one-hour walk on steep, slippery hills covered with grass (citronella mostly) growing on red soil mixed with gravel. The elevation at which we were walking up, was definitely on the worse side of a right angle. One slip and it would be domino’s effect on the eight of us back to our ride below! Atop that hill were six people working. Water holes were dug up to collect rain water held together by tarpoline sheets and nearby were pits with a diameter of three feet or less each running down to about 50 feet into the mountain. The waters were red with clay and there were huge trays for collection and sorting. People went down into the hole to collect soil, drain them into the water and sieve them for specs of gold dust. A man there said – “I can’t show you dust right now because there isn’t any, you can see some by nightfall if I get lucky!”
Reality check – eight hours of hard, physical labour on mountain tops with no protection, sometimes having to lower kids into pits as they are smaller in size, relying on sheer luck of hitting gold worth Rs 200, 1000 at best…. I squirmed inside and remained quiet for a long time after, knowing very well that displacing these people will lead to a harder blow of poverty than this.
Slowly, we drove towards well manicured mountain tops.They swayed in motion as we drove, like waves of the sea at low tide. Tea estates with beetle nut trees to mark area divisions. They looked beautiful to the eyes but my heart felt heavy as this was clearly distortion of the order of nature. Elephants don’t like anything astringent. They need a thick forest cover to ensure their pack is well fed and hydrated. Man has eaten away mercilessly into their territory and caged them into restricted areas. I am glad Madhuvana remains a forest and is not cultivated. Ecoscape reminded me of Tula Tula and Lawrance Anthony’s game reserve. I was happy I toured responsibly.
This was a trek that will haunt me for the rest of my life. It was even more steep. I dare not look down or behind me – fear of abyss can unsettle ones mind very quickly and right now that was the last thing we wanted. Surprisingly, the kids were not even half as intimidated. They walked along with the Adivasi boys who took care of them like they were their own! I will always be indebted to them for that!
When we reached up we were all speechless. The entire Nilgiris range lay sprawled all around us. The sun was harsh and wind was gentle. Swifts flew by so close, clouds passed by blinding our vision and clearing up really quick. The hues of blues to greens from skies which were an arms reach away to tea estates thousands of feet below grown in designs will remain etched in my memory for ever. We ate a hearty lunch that the boys had packed and clicked some pictures. I always thought If I ever reached atop a mountain I would want to sing my heart out, but that day, producing the slightest sounds felt like a drag. The beauty was indescribable. Looking down into the grass, I saw colourful beetles, small worms and ants, going about their business as if nothing were new – I felt like screaming to them saying “you guys get to live on the top of the world – you lucky bugs”!!
I breathed a sigh of relief once I jumped back into the pick-up. My heart had stopped racing as fast as all of us got back on firm ground all in one piece after that incredibly risky adventure.