18 March 2016

Honey Valley – Trekking wonderland in Karnataka

The conqueress of Raja Seat

The next stop on the journey took me truly back to nature and off the beaten path. Honey Valley estate used to be the largest honey producer in India till 1994 until a virus killed off all their bees. Now they're running a coffee plantation (also offering local wine and chocolates, yum) and a homestay in about 1 km height in the Western Ghats. The place is gorgeous and only reachable by a jeep. I took a bus from Mysore to Virajpet and another local bus to Kabbinakad junction, which turned out to be one "hotel" (not the accommodation kind) and one shop. The road uphill with the jeep made me amazed that any vehicle can go up such steep and stony paths, but ours did and we arrived. I'd booked a single room which was tiny but ok for the purposes. The views were spectacular and I found a place for my hammock just outside my room! What else can a girl wish for? As we were in the jungle, I also found two largish spiders residing in the bathroom, who I lovingly named Resident evil 1 and 2. Yay for pets!

"The village"

The proprietor and her super cute house

Room with a view <3

The first afternoon I did a little warm-up trek called the Ridge walk, which turned out to be the beginning of the Mount Taddiandamol trek. Spectacular views, wow, and not another soul in sight. The whole mountain range and jungle, just for me! Such a lucky girl, me <3

The roads less travelled, part x

The next day I was feeling quite spent and weak, plus I needed to go get some money (and talktime + internet balance on my phone), so I headed down the hill in the jeep again with a Bangalore couple who were leaving (and who offered me a place to stay for a night in Bangalore, awesome!). Kakkabe (teehee, Finnish joke) is where the nearest ATM is at, so I took a rikshaw just to go and be told that it's the second Saturday of the month, which means the banks are closed. Duh. Well, at least I got my phone needs fulfilled and scored some bananas, so it wasn't a completely wasted trip. The rest of the day: hammock time. At dinnertime I met three lovely youngsters (Spanish, German and American) who were studying in Bangalore and we decided to head out to the mountain the day after. I was slightly concerned that I wasn't fit enough, but after having chicken for dinner (mega spicy, like everything here) and an omelette in the morning, I noticed I had so much more energy than the previous days. Yay for protein <3

So, off we went, us 4 and a guide. The beginning of the trip I'd already done on the first day, but I got more and more excited the farther we went. Look at me, trekking a mountain! I've really learned that I love trekking, and I see way more of it in my future. Being in the nature and doing something physical just makes my heart sing. Awesomesauce <3. At some point the guide (non-English speaking) started getting slower and slower and then eventually stopped. We were on a path in the middle of dense junglebush and heard rustling. We'd seen elephant dung on the path before, so there were apparently some of the jumbos around. I didn't think they'd be a danger to us, but the guide seemed to disagree, as after peeking in the bush, he quickly started ushering us back the way we'd come. So, mission Mount Taddiandamol: aborted due to unexpected elephant action. I was slightly disappointed, but what can you do? 

So, we headed back to the junction where almost all the treks start from, and managed to get the guide to return back to Honey Valley by himself (after half an hour of miming and waving and all sorts of sign language), and sat down to have lunch (local picnic pack: a packet of toast, one slice of live-forever processed-to-death packaged cheese, one tiny tub of jam, a whole cucumber, a tomato, a boiled egg with satchets of salt and pepper, and a packet of biscuits). After lunch we did a small trek to the bottom of a waterfall, which was a trickle of water as was to be expected as it is dry season, but the place was gorgeous, so we sat and chilled for a couple of hours, listening to the bubbling and gurgling water and admiring the jungle around us.

No live animals were harmed during the photoshoot. This veggie mouse might have got its head bitten off.


The youngsters had to return to Bangalore the same evening, so the next day I geared up for another trek by myself. I wanted to get on top of the large mountain ridge to a place called Raja Seat, so I headed back to the waterfall, crossed the stream and took the path through the jungle. I had a booklet with me, describing the walk, and the next part went "head left and up the hill through the grassy area. The path will be unclear, but you will end up eventually on a clear path". Well, I didn't. I kept taking detours, weaving in and out of the forest line, trying to find the clear path. I imagined I found a path eventually and followed it into the jungle, but eventually I needed to stop kidding myself and admit that there was no path. I saw some cliffs I'd seen earlier higher up the grassy hill, so I headed towards them, thinking I might see the path from there. No such luck, but boy was I rewarded with a view! Not a soul anywhere, just me, in the middle of the Indian mountain range. Such a rush. I was so proud of myself, taking the roads less travelled, going somewhere so remote by myself and loving it. Go me!

But then it got tricky. I thought I knew roughly where I was and where I was supposed to go, but the jungle made everything difficult. In the bushes it was impenetrable, the grassy hill started to drop down so steeply that I couldn't go back there, and in the jungle itself I couldn't see where I was heading. I went around in circles, cursing the spiky and thorny bushes and eventually gave up and went back to the cliffs and tried to find the imaginary path I'd been following earlier on. No path. A slight panic started tugging on the edges of my mind, painting all sorts of horror pictures, imagining my body in place of a deer carcass I'd seen before. But I regrouped my wits and plunged back into the jungle, determined to head in the direction I thought was the right one, and go towards the sound of the waterfall. It was rough going, but finally I made it to the cliffs where the water was trickling down. I had no idea where I was at this point, but I figured that if I followed the waterfall/stream down, I would eventually end up at a bridge or path or something.

So, time to learn some new skills. How to climb down at times almost vertical and slimy rocks? By starting to do it and not stopping. So, watching for thorny trees and bushes I slipped and slided and climbed down, reached the actual streambed, and continued my riverbed-scramble downwards. The place was gorgeous, but I found it a bit hard to concentrate on anything except trying to calm my mind that wanted to go to all sorts of not-so-helpful places. I stopped and had some bananas and nuts, eyed the almost vertical jungly hillsides on both sides of the stream with slight desperation and continued on. And to be frank, I actually enjoyed it. I mean, yes, I was lost in the frickin' jungle, had no reception in my cell, and I could twist my ankle and all that jazz, but I was alive, doing something quite cool, the temperature was perfect and the day was young, so I was around 80 % confident I would make it out alive. I had a faint idea about where I was, since I was pretty sure at this point I'd actually started going down the stream/waterfall a little down from where the actual „waterfall“ was where I'd crossed the stream earlier on, and now would just have to keep on going down and trying to spot a path of somekind. My subconscious was shaking its head, going "Girl, look at the places you put yourself in! Well, at least you got an adventure!"...

For the women who make their own paths...

Doesn't seem very imposing in the pic, but yes that is a vertical cliff right there. Better stay on the bottom of the thing...

But eventually the ground evened out a bit and lo and behold, there was something that looked suspiciously like a path! So, off in to the forest again, and wow the rush of gratitude when I saw that the almost-imaginary path turned into a real one and I saw a roof of a house in the distance. Gratitude turned into new panic pretty quickly though, as the guard dogs came rushing at me, with their teeth bared, forcing me back into the bush. So, no calling for help, no asking for directions, then. Ok. Shaking, I took the path the other way. Which took me to a BRIDGE! A road! I was on the map again! Or so I thought. I struck out along the way I was sure would lead me closer to home. But there was another house. And more dogs, barking like mad, so I had to turn again. I was getting pretty close to tears at this point, as it seemed like everywhere I tried to go there were vicious dogs, and no way I was going off the road again after finding it.

I got ready to call the Honey Valley people (I hoped I had reception again; I'd turned the phone off to save battery) to come and rescue me, but I still didn't know where I was. So I walked the road the other way, crossing the stream and saw a VOLLEYBALL FIELD which was clearly marked on the map! With newly found courage I armed myself with rocks and a stick and braved the dog territory again, determined not to give up and call for help. I would survive, I would make it! I knew where I was and the road back wasn't that long. And thank the universe, this time the animals stayed on their yard so I managed to go past. Gods, what an adrenaline rush! Brrr.

As you probably guessed, the story ends well. I was indeed where I thought I was, and without more animal encounters I found my way back to Honey Valley, dirty and exhausted, but just in time for lunch :D

Pfeew, what a day. Lessons learned: Once you're off the path in the jungle, good luck :D Scaling down cliffs and balancing and scrambling on all fours along a riverbed is surprisingly fun, but I would rather it not be a necessity next time. 90 % of all jungle plants are spiky. There is no such thing as a friendly dog in these parts. And the most important lesson of all: trust trust trust that you'll make it, and you will. In the end, I was very proud of myself of how I handled it all. Just slight tugging of panic at the edges of the mind, no full-blown anything, no tears (well, maybe 2 after almost getting eaten alive by the dogs). And the great reward of seeing all those amazing places where not many souls wander to, I imagine.

The idea of finding the Raja Seat hadn't left me yet, though, so next day I set out again. This time I had a secret weapon with me, though: Suresh, a super nice Indian guy who'd trekked these paths several times. And we had a lovely day trekking: finally got to the Raja Seat and sat there for a couple of hours, discussing life, universe and everything (and picking off thorns and thistles and all sorts of spiky stuff off our clothes and hair). After a slight detour and pushing our way though more spiky mountainside brush we found the promised "obvious path" and tried to make sense of the (very outdated) directions in booklet. Every road leads somewhere, we figured, so after stating we had no real idea where we were, we settled out for lunch. The language skills of Suresh also were invaluable, as this time I got a lunch pack with idlis and sambar instead of the wheaty stuff. So we ate on a jeep road somewhere in the middle of a huge coffee plantation, feeding the friendly chickens and marvelling at life in general. Eventually we did end up on the same road that the instructions pointed to, and once again Suresh's experience came in handy, as he recognized the place from the previous trek. After some more uphill downhill action, we made it back to base again. Talk about a day well spent! After the trek, the last super spicy dinner was had and Suresh and me amused ourselves by watching Tom Cruise be killed repeatedly in Edge of tomorrow. So, a wonderful last day in Honey Valley, all in all <3

Me and the so-far-unscaled Mt. Taddiandamol in the background. I'll be back!

Biscuit-greedy chickens
Suresh and the Finnish red-nosed reindeer

The trip in India is nearing it's end, so the next day I paid my bill (a bit under 6000 rupees = 80 euros for 5 nights of accommodation, all meals and a couple of jeep trips up and down the hill) Suresh took me to Virajpet (Indian roadtrip! Tamil music! Wheeeee awesomesauce <3) where I made it to the nice and comfy Volvo bus with generous 3 minutes margin (Pheew!) and rode to Bangalore. As I watched the scenery go by I was once again overwhelmed with gratitude for these experiences and this life as well as love for India. I did not imagine I would fall so completely and utterly in love with this country, but I have. I will be back very soon, with an empty big backpack and my soul thirsting to sample more of what this wonderful, vibrant, lively place has to offer.

Mysore – A quick city sojourn

So India. You couldn't count the things going on in this photo even if you tried...

So, Mysore! A bustling place with so much vibrant life, like all Indian cities, I guess. But first, let's get there:

The first great Indian train adventure took me from Hospet to Mysore. I had heard ghastly tales as well as wonderful stories about what to expect in a sleeper class, so I waited for my first overnight train ride with mixed emotions. But already on the train station I was pleasantly surprised: I found my name on the list on the wall, stating clearly which wagon I was in and the number of my bunk. On the platform there were clearly marked places for where each wagon would stop, so no confusion there. The train was almost on time (and the delay was announced clearly on the lightboard), nobody was hanging from the doors and windows, and the train actually stopped for the people to get on and off.

 After a little searching I found my bunk, which was the middle one, so the bed still wasn't "made". I lucked out in having a lovely elderly couple as neighbors, so we chatted a bit about India and travelling and good/bad people before the retired bank clerk helped me get my bed sorted out, and on I climbed. There was no one to sell food in the evening, which was slightly disappointing, so I drifted off to sleep in my bunk. I managed to get a couple of hours of sleep in total, waking up and falling asleep again, before the persistent calls of chai wallas announced that it was morning (and a concerned Indian gentleman woke me up at 6 when we were in Bangalore, as he thought I was oversleeping my stop). The remaining hours of the journey I spent watching scenery go by, listening to music and munching on tasty idlis and coconut chutney (30 rupees = less than 50 cents). The train was in Mysore almost on time, and the greatest adventure on the train ride was to notice that something (or someone) with pointy little teeth had gnawed its way into my Ganesha shopping bag and the bag of empty peanut shells. Hmm.

My digs for the night

I had two days in Mysore, and hadn't really planned anything. I'd wanted a little bit of luxury, so I'd booked a "fancy" 2000 rupee hotel room (1000/night, so 13 euros) close to the main attractions, namely the market and the palace. The hotel didn't turn out to be anything special in the end: a small room and not even the tidiest, but there was hot water (say what? I'd totally forgotten what such a thing is) and a/c, which I actually even ended up using a little bit.

 It was boiling hot in the city, so after checking out the nearby Devaraja market (awesome chai with funny local boys and the most amazing piles and piles of flowers on sale) and having a dosa and a lassi (a first sweet one by mistake, I prefer the salty ones...) I went for Mysore palace. Check me out, paying to get into the second sightseeing spot on this trip already! But it was really worth it, I don't think I've ever seen such amazingly decorated place. The stained glass windows, intricate wood and metal carvings, mosaic floors... So beautiful! Of course you aren't allowed to take photos inside, so you'll just have to take my word for it (or Google it). 

A temple on the palace grounds. Closed when I went, but at least I got to see the gorgeous facade.

Oh, I also tried the local sweet delicacy, Mysore pak. A soft, caramelly and very sugary thing. Nice, but a half portion would have been enough. I also had a giggle at the ad on the sweets shop wall that was advertising products for diabetics. Irony <3 

A litte walk after the Palace took me to a neighbourhood apparently dedicated to oil shops and motorcycle repair. Shop after shop of the same thing. Not much for the eye, so I stopped for a coconut and managed to get a rickshaw driver to understand I want to go to the nearby lake. („Lake?“ „Water?“ „Yes, water!“). Kukkarahalli it was called, and boy was is marvellous! A perfect oasis in the middle of the bustling city. And so many birds! Amazing variety of species from small chirpers to huge prehistoric looking ones that napped in trees and took languid tours in the air once in a while. As it got darker, I promised to come back the next way with my zoom lens.

Coconut salesman and his friend
Kukkarahalli <3 Suomalaisläppä: täällä hallit on arvossaan, juna pysähtyi mm. Palahallissa :D Koska myös Palli on sana täällä niin yritin tietty Google Mapsata Pallihallia, mutta no such luck. Boo!

The next day I hit the market again, did some essential oil shopping, figured out that Mysoreans apparenly really like stationery and printing of all kind (especially wedding cards). Behind the market I also saw the hugest amounts of bananas and plantains for sale, and men moving them around, some with cars, some on top of their heads. So many bananas! Mmmm. I bought some fruit and got a knife as a gift from a nice fruitsalesman. I also visited an astrologer and a palm reader who told me I was a very independent person, I'd live to be 85 and if I decided to have children, there would be 3 of them. Ok.

The importance of bananas highlighted

In the evening I went back to the lake again, armed with my zoom, and got some okish shots of the birds. The big ones weren't feeling very photogenic this time, but remained in their trees, napping away. Before heading back I also saw the hugest bats I've ever seen, cruising round in the sky. Gotta love Indian nature <3

2 days in Mysore wasn't nearly enough to see or experience that much, so if I ever go back, I still have Chamundi hills and the nearby botanical gardens to check out. But as a little layover and blogging stop it was nice, and the soft bed was a really really amazing thing to have. My back does prefer the hard ones, but the soul needs some luxurious softness once in a while :)

Sweets dude. Diabetes, waiting to happen. Oh hey, but it did already. 

Is this cow correctly parked?

Pongal for breakfast. Yum.