Maybe I am crazy.
But for a very long time I have been cherishing a dream to celebrate this day all alone in one of the most dramatic places I’ve ever been, I noted in my diary.
“But you are all alone. You need a guide,” said Deepthi, my Coorg hostess.
The 7km trek to Thadiyantemole, the tallest peak in Coorg (5700 feet above sea level) began from King’s Cottage, a beautiful estate home in Kakkabe (Coorg), in early morning. Krishnan, my young guide and I were dropped off at the edge of the coffee estate in a jeep.
We were now on our own. Ahead us, the crude path ascended steadily.
“Let’s go, sir,” Krishnan said spiritedly, adjusting his blue cap with his left hand.
“You speak Malayalam?” I asked, surprised.
“I speak many languages, sir. I married a girl from Wayanad, so I know Malayalam,” replied Krishnan, without turning back.
As we walked, the vegetation from the sides steadily ate into the thinning mud path, which had now turned dark and rugged under the sprawling trees. After we crossed a small rivulet, ankle-deep, the forest suddenly closed in on us from all sides, as if the whole trek was a setup.
Krishnan cut our way through vines and creepers that flew haphazardly across with his long machete, clearing an invisible track. The child in me woke up with a pleasant startle; I desperately wanted a machete of my own to see how the green twigs and creepers break and bleed under my blade.
“I once saw elephants at this point,” Krishnan said, stopping and peering through the dark foliage on his right. I too stopped. “Will they come now?” I asked. He turned and looked at me.
What a dumb question! I bit my tongue and looked away.
It took almost an hour for us to walk out of the forest into a beautiful mountainside. Krishnan stopped. I craned my neck up to see where his finger was pointing at. “That is where we are heading to.”
I stared emptily for a long moment at a haze that was a mountain.
Impossible! My eyes traced out the faint outline of a distant mountain but with its crest washed out in mist. I am done, I thought. My dream of conquering the tallest mountain in Coorg flickered for a while and blew out in the wind. Each year of my age sank heavily into my limbs and heart.
“I don’t think I could,” I thought aloud and stared at my guide with disillusionment. “You follow me sir,” Krishnan smiled and pulled my sleeve.
I climbed after him like a zombie. One part of me wanted to tell Krishnan that I quit. But another part had already started writing this travelogue. What to do? Finally I let my legs do the thinking. And they walked upward as if in a daze. But every time I looked at the peak, I could feel my heart sinking; I saw a dismal future.
The mountain seemed to grow obsessively in height along with my ascend. I trudged with my eyes fastened on the craggy terrain right before me.
Krishnan was half my age; he belonged to the terrain, and was racing up like a horse. So every twenty minutes he sat far up on a rocky outcrop, waiting for me to catch up with his age, with a smile that seemed to me like a smirk in that morning light. Despite the tiredness I now had a little ego to take care of (I even asked myself to console my wounded ego whether Krishnan could teach poetry in a class of hundred students. No, the poor guy would break down).
“Why are you smiling sir?” he asked, as I finally caught up with him. I shook my head holding away from Krishnan, that pathetic image of him in a classroom.
The camera came as a breather. Whenever I needed rest, I pulled it out and pretended to capture the picturesque mountainside, until my panting and rasping subsided behind the lens. “Here’s some water?” He extended the bottle to me.
After five hours of intense trek, the final mount of Thadiyantemole suddenly emerged before us, like a god pleased at our penance and prayers, now ready to grant the boon.
The gale blew madly behind, egging us on.
I clawed the steep ground ahead of me with my fingers. Every boulder I put my step on wobbled under my feet. But the stunning sight of the magical peak bathed in mist had dispersed all apprehensions. My fingers dug deeper and deeper into the harsh earth that rose against me with impunity; they lugged 63 kgs of flesh in their grip, as I climbed.
For minutes I couldn’t open my eyes or rise up on my feet against the whooshing gale and the madly swirling mist over that cliff where I lay like a dead animal. The whole atmosphere was buzzing with a vibrant energy peculiar to mountains.
Very slowly I opened my eyes. Folds of rolling blue-green mountains besieged me from all sides. I began to crawl towards the edge of the cliff to see what was deep down the valley.
“You can see your Kerala from there,” shouted Krishnan from behind against the earsplitting wind. I peered down through the cold white curtains madly shifting in the wind. Then I saw a wash of green deep below.
I stood up on my feet leaning to the cold wind which shook me like a thin blade of grass. “Oyyyyyyiiiiiii….” I shouted at the valleys, but they were deep down to respond. At one moment I thought that the wind had got me by my stall and my overcoat and was blowing me deep down to my homeland. I collapsed down on the floor, laughing madly.
I was at the top, the tallest in Coorg and the second tallest in Karnataka.
I rose up once again, planted my feet firmly on the ground this time and screamed to the mountain gale and to the heavens that I turned 40 ‘today,’ and was still very much in the game.
Poor Krishnan gawked on, as a crazy man leaped, bounced, rolled, tripped and hopped on one leg on the thin stretch of green earth around him.