The slowest form of travel has got to be walking through mountains, I thought as I climbed uphill, which took forever, until I finally stood atop the Western Ghats. At the very edge of the Deccan plateau, I enjoyed a breath-taking view of lush Kerala foliage.
This was also the point of no return. Another 14 kilometres to go, but it was to be such a steep downhill trek that the forest guard warned me—it would be impossible to climb back up. So, after a brief rest, I headed down steep ghat slopes, through dense jungle into deep valleys, across brooks with tasty crystal-clear water, where the air was crisp and rich in oxygen. It was like walking through heaven, except for the handful of times I lost my footing and rolled towards Kerala faster than what seemed safe!
The Western Ghats stretch for over 1,500 kilometres from Maharashtra to Kanyakumari, so there’s plenty of trekking to be done within the mountain range—in Karnataka one may go from Kukke Subrahmanya temple to Sakleshpur; through the picture-pretty Kudremukh National Park; or do a downhill stroll from Londa across to Goa. Elsewhere in South India, I’ve heard of hardy trekkers making it from Kodaikanal (Tamil Nadu) to Munnar (Kerala), or following the narrow-gauge railway tracks from Coonoor down to Mettupalayam station, or traipsing across sections of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in hilly Wayanad. And of course, there’s always the Matheran to Neral hike in Maharashtra. As for my unhurried expedition—if one can call a one-day 9-hour trek that—it took me up to the Nishanimotte peak in Karnataka, via Talacauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, and finally into the verdant heart of Kerala.
The trip made me stop worrying about pandemics, as there was hardly anybody else out in the wintry jungle, except for some leeches that leched onto me. The elephants kept out of sight and the only signs of their presence were the huge dung balls, so-called pachyderm laddus, lining the path.
On the far end of the slow sojourn, a hot rustic dinner in the village of Chandatkolly, near the temple town Parassinikadavu, tasted better than any meal I’d ever had, my leg ache subsided by and by, and life was generally perfect.
Trek season spans from November to April. Skip the rainy months so as to avoid slippery slopes and leeches. Enlist a guide from the forest departments of relevant districts, since it’s easy to get lost. Start out at sunrise so as to reach the bottom of the ghats by nightfall. A decent fitness level and good shoes are recommended. Private agencies and home stays in Kodagu help arrange treks and necessary permits. Coorg Trails, opposite Town Hall in Madikeri town, and Youth Hostel Association of India (yhaindia.org) are good options to contact.
‘How to Travel Better in 2021’ is a comprehensive list of Indian destinations worth exploring in the coming year, and has been reported by the editors and contributing writers of National Geographic Traveller India. Read all the entries on our digital forum or new National Geographic Traveller India app here.
Zac O'Yeah is the author of the Bengaluru crime novel trilogy "Mr Majestic", "Hari, a Hero for Hire" and "Tropical Detective" (Pan Macmillan India) and his latest travel book is "A Walk Through Barygaza" (Amazon/Westland Books 2017).