I opened my eyes and looked around. I lay still along a small muddy path in between rolling fields of burnt grass. This wasn’t a dream. I could smell the charred grass. My tongue had decided to get stuck to my pallette. I was in desperate want of water. The warm sun, usually joyful, was now drying me up. I felt like a pickle.
Solle was no where to be seen yet. It had been what felt like two hours since he left to find water. Thoughts of terrors filled my head. What if something had happened to him? What if he was lost, or worse, hurt? Contemplating about all these, I lugged forwarded with both our bags.
Every five steps, I had to stop and calm my breath. I could feel my heart pound against my skin. Slowly I walked till the thirst was too much to ignore. In the middle of western ghats, with no water to drink. This was man vs no-wild. Grass looked tempting, I plucked a bit and shoved it into my mouth, it was dry, and harsh. The root was sweet but I didn’t have the patience to munch on it.
Solle and I had to take a decision. We were too far in the forest to turn back, but we didn’t know how far ahead the water was. Turn back, and find water for sure. Go ahead, and fall prey to the perils of being dehydrated. We decided to push forward.
I spotted a horde of wild hogs next to where I had fallen asleep. One looked at me keenly, I was upwind, he surely didn’t like my presence there. A wind blew. Another stopped it’s merry making and looked at me. I took a stone in my hand incase they charge. I got off my back and inched away back into the forest. A part of me wanted to follow the hogs to find water. The saner part was against it.
The last gulp, “it’ll keep your tongue moist” he said. This was shortly after we saw the peak. I remember from the last time, the peak shows up about two thirds into the trek. Aren’t we almost done, I thought while the water swished around my tongue.
Eeee ayyyy, the forest cried. I woke up and shouted Solle. Eeee ayyyy. Solle. Eeee ayyyy, where are you? I’m deeper in the forest man. Silence. Solle. Teeejayy. Dude keep shouting man. I’m coming. You’re getting louder.
No man, I’m sure we’ve come across this path. How, we’ve taken the right path till now. Wait, see, you remember that tree with the mushrooms we took photos of. Fuck. We just went in one big circle. It’s that butterfly spot. Yea, we took a wrong turn there. I remember a rock with an arrow man, which we didn’t find when we took this turn. But that was some ameture thing dude, no way it would’ve lasted all these years. I wonder how much time we lost.
How far is the peak? More than an hour. Can we push ahead? No man, I’m exhausted. We’ll set up camp then. Found any good place? There’s a clearing on both ends of the forest, the one downhill is closer, but the one uphill is better. Let’s go uphill. We need firewood too. We’ll take that from the forest after we’ve set up camp. Ok, I’ll set up the tent, can you start the fire.
Ahh, the dead end, the tree in the middle of circle. Buses don’t go further, the trek starts here. One small river crossing, a rudimentary temple on the right, and an arbitrary left to find the route to the peak. We stopped at the river to take pictures. We had to keep the cameras in our bags for most of the trek, we knew we would go nowhere if we started clicking.
Solle told me about his leg of the journey. He climbed, ran, found people and went to the village on the other side to fetch water. The people, he described seemed hesitant. And they laughed that we couldn’t find the tank at the peak. Maybe we should really do these things with a guide once, will give a better feel of the land, and may be educative. I told him about my dietary conquests. We sat in front of the fire, we had enough timbre for about half an hour. We retired to the tent soon.
The bus had four people – driver, tc, solle, me. It stopped at Shishila, where the driver had his breakfast. We chatted with a few locals. They said water is available at the base and top of ettinabhuja, but no where in between. Ombattugudda is dry, but has elephants and wasn’t recommended. Amedikallu is the easiest among the three. Solle got two bottles of water from a shop here. Between us, we had three liters. Should be enough I hoped.
There was a noise against my side of the tent. I woke up in cold sweat. Wondered if the hogs were back. I opened the tent and stuck my head out. Fog. The campfire, about ten feet away, wasn’t visible. A cold breeze wafted through the valley. A bit of the fog cleared, and the peak sillouted though majestically. I wasn’t sure if I was awake or dreaming anymore. I wasn’t sure if it’s safe to step out.
We reached Dharmasthala by 5.30am. The first bus to Shishila was at 6.30am. Solle and I had some breakfast near the bus stand, and he went out to get some snacks. We wanted to carry and cook Maggi at the peak, but we couldn’t find vessels at Dharmasthala. Surprisingly many people were unaware about a place called Shishila, and none about a trek near it.
We woke up by 5.30am. It was misty. We packed up and decided to leave. We moved at a crawling pace. Around 8.30am we reached the temple. Freshened up at the tank of water nearby, and left towards the village. At the first house, we filled our bottles and continued on the tarmac. Found a bus stand and talked with the locals till the bus arrived. We took the bus to Mudigere, and another to Managalore. At Managalore we ate at Diesel Café, caught a movie and headed back home.
Our plan was crazy, yet simple. Reach Shishila, go to Amedikallu, then to Ettinabhuja, and finish with Ombattugudda. Crazy because we didn’t know what level of physical fitness was required. Simple because it sounded very easy.