As I looked around, all I could see was miles of green mountains. At a distance, I could see clouds travelling towards me, rain pouring down on small pockets of land. The nip in the air took away the tiredness from my limbs and I felt rejuvenated as gulps of fresh air filled my lungs; such was the joy I experienced when I scaled up the peak of Brahmagiri.
Brahmagiri is one of the mountain ranges in the Western Ghats that is situated at the border of the northern Kodagu district in Karnataka and southern Wayanad district in Kerala. It is held sacred by the natives as the River Cauvery originates from these mountains.
The trek to Brahmagiri starts from the famous tourist attraction called Irrupu Falls. Here, I have often found the pretty Paris Peacock butterflies fluttering around and have been mesmerized by their psychedelic wings. The initial stretch of the trek is through the rainforest. During monsoons this is my most-dreaded stretch as it tends to be infested by leeches. Leeches sense body heat, skin oils or even released carbon di-oxide to detect its prey/host and then cling to them to suck blood. Once they have had their fill, they drop off the prey. While the bite itself is not painful, the itch during the healing phase is pretty bad.
In other seasons, the forest floor is a great place to observe snakes, insects and fungi. Once, I'd seen a Malabar Pit Viper in its dark morph curled up on a branch. A day later, on the way back, the snake was still there in the same position, but it had started to moult. Not wanting to disturb it, I walked on. Fallen trees and tree-bases are good places to start looking for fungi. Since Brahmagiri is a protected area, a lot of edible mushrooms can be found in abundance here.
After some time, the forest gives way to the grassland. These small stretches of shola provide the much needed respite from the sun. The streams in sholas have always been my favourite place to rest. Nowhere else can you drink cold mineral water free of cost, to your heart's content.
Once in the grasslands, distant hills come into view; I've sometimes seen herds of elephants grazing on them. Initially, they look like boulders but once they move, they are easy to spot. While I have never seen elephants on the actual trek path, the guide narrated stories of how he had encountered elephants within 50 feet during foggy winter mornings and had to either change routes or go back so as to not agitate the gentle giants.
Sometimes, when I have taken breaks from the long trek and looked around, I have seen small troops of Nilgiri Langur in distant canopies. I've enjoyed watching them groom each other and the little ones engage in play; hanging down from branches, jumping to another branch or hiding between an adult's arms at the sign of trouble. If time were on my side, I would have spent the afternoons just looking at them.
But my favorite memory of Brahmagiri is watching a pack of Dholes chase a Sambar. Midway through a trek, we arrived at the forest guest-house called Narimale (Tiger Hill in the native language, Kodavatak). I'd walked down to the nearby stream to fetch water. As I filled the bottle, there was a sound of hooves and a splash; startled, I looked up and saw a Sambar run into the forest in fear. I excitedly looked in the direction the animal had come from and saw a Dhole. It crossed the stream and quickly disappeared. This looked like the pack leader and was soon joined by two more and then five more. Then, just as quickly as they came, they disappeared in the same direction as the Sambar. The thrill and excitement of seeing all this merely 200 feet away, while on foot, was something I had never experienced before.
Other than animals, I have seen large varieties of birds during my treks. The Black Bulbul was a lifer; it sat on a branch nearby and entertained me. As one walks along the path, sounds of playful Parakeets, Wood-peckers knocking and Thrushes whistling keep you company. It makes you believe in the song from ‘Sound of Music' which goes – "The hills are alive with the sound of music, with songs they have sung for a thousand years".
While trekking does not give me time to stop and spend hours observing nature, trekking in Brahmagiri has given me glimpses of rich treasures that the place holds.
Tips: Trekking in Brahmagiri requires prior permission which can be obtained from the forest office in Srimangala (Kodagu). An over-night stay is possible at the forest guest house (Narimale) but food needs to be carried by the trekkers.