Saturday, October 27, 2012

God's own country revisited - II

[Continued from "God's own country revisited - I"]

Day-2: 5th May 2012 @ Kunduthode, near Thottilpalam, Kerala
Trek to Vattipana Peak 
Cocoa harvest at Rex's Estate 

Here's the story of a trek in 40 selected pictures.

If you wake up early morning to a view like this, you are bound to be 
full of energy. And we would need lots of it to get there.

That's our lakshya or destination - Vattipana peak at 2700 feet above mean sea level.

After his ordeal in last year's trek, Deepak was hell-bent on not trekking this time. Inspite of long hours of persuasion from everyone, this is how he was disposed as the rest of us left.

Anyway, we let him be and proceeded on our adventure. Different people prepare differently for a trek. Most of us chose jeans and shoes to face up against the thorns, rocks and leeches. But Rijil chose shorts and sandals. Rex, the seasoned campaigner in this terrain since childhood, was nonchalantly attired in lungi and slippers.

Rijil and Rex walk along the stream. Rijil looks longingly 
at the water saying "I'll see you when we are back!"

Once we were past the stream behind Rex's house, a muddy trail with a modest acclivity took us higher.

Up we go!

It was nice to see some healthy cashew plantations. We had to resist ourselves from plucking this one as it was in someone else's estate.

Cashew nut or kaju (Anacardium occidentale).

Even the humble and ubiquitous mimosa plant looked so attractive with lots of these pink flower-heads strewn along the way.

The mimosa plant (Mimosa pudicasays "Zara zara, touch me (not)!" 

One wrong turn on the way up, and we ran into a huge monolithic rock blocking our accent. The only way to circumvent it was to take a brief decent on a relatively steep slope. We had to be on all four limbs moving slowly and cautiously while taking utmost care not to dislodge any stones lest they roll down to hit someone lower down the slope.

Tree trunks always seem to be vertical irrespective of the slope of the terrain.

We then took a breather in the shade of a generous kapok tree with it's signature palmately compound leaves and thorny branches. We were carrying lots of water, chocolates, fruits and bread to keep our energy levels up. 

The stately kapok or the white-silk cotton tree (Ceiba pentandrafrom below. 

Sudharshan already started to show symptoms of trekophobia of Deepak fame. Nonetheless, he wasn't as grumbling and continued marching on at his own steady pace.

Sudharshan in his typical looking-down gait. In the background, 
one can see how cultivated land is eating into forests.

This spider was patiently waiting for its meal in a web that looked gorgeous as it held on to thousands of droplets of water. Any entomologist arachnologist out there who could identify this guy?

Water, water, everywhere, where's my food to eat?

Found this peculiar umbrella kind of thingy under a tree. Any botanist who could pin this one down?

What is this?

Here and there we would see houses in the middle of nowhere with a flight of stone stairs leading up to them - some had an old, rustic charm while others were well-maintained with avenue plantations of ornamental plants.

Stone stairs - the old and the new.

Every now and then, we had to go a short stretch down before we went up again.

Sudharshan goes down as Roshan looks on.

Climb down soldiers.

Sometimes, you just have to stop by and take a look in awe. This was one such occasion. The background is usurped by a stately mountain with a pristine and dense forest cover all over it and clouds caressing it's peak. It's a picture of tranquility and calmness as seen in the deep green hue. The foreground, in contrast, is a lively bright green - a reflection of human activity, of cultivation and it's fruits. 

Stop by and behold, oh traveler.

The mountain cultivators had put an electric fence around their farm to protect against wild foragers. Thankfully, they weren't powered up, so we could cross them as we took a short-cut to the peak. The risk paid off as we were soon well above the banana orchard.

Sudharshan's tutorial on how to cross an electric fence.

The view from above the banana orchard.

As we neared the Vattipana peak, we saw numerous surrounding peaks with clouds casting moving dark shadows over them.

Clouds, unlike us, can be hundreds of meters away from the their own shadows.

The last stretch leading up to the peak, was rocky. The dark rocks were baking hot.

Dark rocks lead to our destination and the azure sky beyond.

Here are a couple of shots of the breath-taking view from the top.

Where is the horizon?

The power gang sitting atop Vattipana peak for the second time in three years.

Vattipana conquered!

At the peak, the lone creature other than us, was a 
butterfly that was happily perched on Sudharshan's hand.

We finished off whatever snacks and refreshments we were carrying and braced ourselves for the decent through the grasses straight towards Rex's estate which we were able to see from the peak.

A zoomed view of Rex's estate 2450 feet below us.

A zoomed view of a stream thousands of feet below us.

That's the way down!

In a group trek, staying more or less together is key if you don't want to have a few people losing their way. So, if a couple of people go ahead from the pack, they eventually have to wait till the rest catch up. 

Rex and Rijil play the waiting game seated on a nice natural piece of furniture.

Down we go among areca-nut trees (Areca catechu).

No sight can be more relieving to a weary trekker - who's out of his supplies - than that of an enchanting well like this one.

The enchanting well.

An improvised water filter served us with cold well water that, in the hot sun, tasted every bit like ambrosia.

An improvised water filter.

In a very conspicuous way, so much of this place is about water. Be it the streams, the forests they feed, the clouds that loom over, the wells, the bamboo bridges, the weirs. Everything seems to revolve around water. A very striking reminder on the importance of water in life, something we take for granted in cities.

A bamboo bridge over a stream.

 Small weirs, built across the stream help store water for when the rains are gone.

Close to the end of the nine-hour trek, we saw this intriguing plant with petite orange flowers below which there were two glossy bracts bright white in color while the rest of the plant had the normal green leaves. Almost as if someone has carelessly dropped some pieces of paper on it, it's called the paper chase tree.

The intriguing paper chase tree (Mussaenda glabrata).

Going down turned out to be much faster than climbing up, because most of the time we were working against gravity that was trying to take us down in a hurry and also because we took a shorter, more direct, route. 

Abhijit heads back to base camp amid vegetation of all sizes.

After the tiring trek, the entire gang went to the stream behind Rex's house for a refreshing bath.

Stream, stream, here we come!

The crystal clear stream water.

Up next was, cocoa (Theobroma cacaoharvest for chocolate making. Cocoa fruits are quite big - six to eight inches long, four inches across. The white pulp around the cocoa seeds has a taste reminiscent of custard apple, while the seeds themselves have that characteristic bitter chocolate flavour. After a few days of fermentation and further processes as per Abhijit's secret recipe, we had home-made chocolate on our lab table. 

Abhijit and Roshan expertly scoop out the cocoa.

Cocoa seeds.

The facade of Rex's comely home.

The ideal way to unwind after the long day, was the post dinner relaxed chit-chat sitting on the large rock behind the house, with the moon and the stars gazing at us amid intermittent music on Sudharshan's guitar and alluring calls from the brain-fever bird. That was one day thoroughly lived.

Photo credits: Abhijit Kshirsagar and Roshan Kumar Pappu


  1. Thanks to Sreepathi for pointing out that entomologists do not study spiders. They study insects and spiders are not insects, but arachnids.

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