An Afternoon at Mattilang Park

Some memories never fade…

If you’ve ever been to Shillong, you would have visited Elephant Falls. It is one of the most visited tourist spots in Meghalaya. I haven’t been to Elephant Falls in recent times and had visited only once after it acquired its current cosmetic look – well defined steps, painted railings, cordoned off water area, dozens of shops at the entry way, and so on. I would rather preserve memories of the rustic Elephant Falls that I had seen during my childhood. The other day I was interacting with a fellow blogger about how I had seen Elephant Falls, when I remembered another place very close to it. I had promised him that I would write about it and here it is – I. J. Khanewala, this post is for you.

And if you want to read about Elephant Falls, visit I. J. Khanewala’s post at Don’t Hold Your Breath. He has been there very recently.

WP_20150612_014
Pic 1: A sneak peek of Elephant Falls from Matiilang Park
WP_20150612_015
Pic 2: A closer view of Elephant Falls from Matiilang Park

The first time I visited Mattilang Park was when it did not exist – I mean in its present form. That was several years back, when a Khasi friend had taken me to this place that not many people knew about. At that time, Meghalaya hardly existed on the tourist map, perhaps it was jostling to make a slot for itself. Many were not even aware of its existence. I still remember people rephrasing Shillong as Ceylon to clarify they heard correctly when I would mention my hometown outside of the North East. Well, that’s another story for another day….

WP_20150612_019
Pic 3: Somewhere inside the park, the water here flows from Elephant Falls

My second visit to Mattilang Park was a year or two after my first visit when I had taken my cousin and a friend there. At that time, we had seen the beginning of some construction work happening. Back then we were too naïve to be bothered about such things and the phrase ‘concrete jungle’ didn’t exist in our vocabulary. Much later that very place became Mattilang Park.

WP_20150612_
Pic 4: The gardener clicks a picture for us
Mati
Pic 5: And, I cant believe I have with me an analog photograph of the two us, clicked when the park was in the making

Three years back my cousin and I revisited the park on a gloomy October afternoon when she took me out on a drive – something she religiously does each time I visit home. Located in Upper Shillong, the park is run by a regional self-help group. Just on the other side of Elephant Falls, it provides for a great view of the waterfall. The luscious greenery around the park has a charm of its own and since not many tourists know about it, the chances of finding a swarm of people is pretty slim. That afternoon was no different, there was nobody other than the two us. The dull weather might have also contributed to that. We did find a gardener though, who was busy tending to the flowers and also cleaning up the place.

WP_20150612_013
Pic 6: Hydrangeas in the park, don’t know why I don’t have picture of the other flowers

After having walked around in the park for a while we found ourselves comfortably snuggled in the tiny quaint little tea shop located in the park. We spent the evening indulging in harmless gossips about everything and everybody while sipping endless cups of sha (tea in Khasi). Meanwhile, the clouds were descending and in a matter of minutes all the surrounding greenery was whitewashed.

WP_20150612_020
Pic 7: Just look at those ferns…..

We remained engulfed in the nothingness of the fog refusing to budge an inch from our respective positions. Instead ordering some more sha, this time sha-saw (black tea) with a tinge of lemon and some biscuits to compliment it. A few minutes later the fog cleared slowly revealing the refreshing greenery all over again.

Evening was drawing in making us realize that we had to get going before it became totally dark.

WP_20150612_022
Pic 8: The water keeps flowing slowly and we can’t see beyond this point.

If you visit Shillong, you would surely go to Elephant Falls. Do visit Matilang Park too as it is closeby. Not a ‘must visit’, but you may just like the place.

A Date with Leeches at Kudremukh

A lush green montage of rolling hills, sprawling grasslands, and tropical forests….

“Good Lord, Eewwwwww!” I shrieked. A swollen wobbly leech just fell off from my upper arm as I took off my rain-jacket. Stuffed and all pumped up after a sumptuous blood meal sucked out of my arm, the hale and hearty leech was wriggling on the ground trying hard to move around. Sounds gory, isn’t it? Not quite! Leeches are creepy but pretty harmless creatures, something I learnt after I trekked to Kudremukh peak in Western Ghats.

I soon discovered that there were three more leeches – one on my stomach and two on my feet that were happily feasting on my blood while I was engrossed with all the wonders of Mother Nature surrounding me. I had managed to dodge tonnes and dozens of them all the way and these were the lucky four that secretly found their way onto my skin. And it was not until I was back from the peak that I discovered them.

I’m still not sure if I have overcome my fear of leeches – not fear, rather the uncomfortable creepy feeling associated with these creatures. However, these wriggly-wiggly creatures surely added to my overall experience of Kudremukh.

IMG_1596
Pic 1: The green mosaic of thick vegetation, vast grasslands, rolling hills, and dreamy clouds

Trekking in the lush green Western Ghats had been in my wishlist for a long time now. Kudremukh was an obvious choice to experience Western Ghats for the first time after having seen mesmerizing photographs of the chain of rolling hills laid out in a mosaic of sprawling grassland and dense forests.  It was with this motive that I had started following Tranquil Voyagers on Facebook and it’s been more than two years now. However, life is paradoxical and I landed up discovering Himalayas in the far north while I kept contemplating Western Ghats, which is right next door.

Tranquil Voyagers is a trekking company in Bangalore run by Shravan Kumar. Having observed them on Facebook for quite a while I decided to join them in my quest to discover the beauty of Western Ghats. Being with the right people is extremely important when it comes to hiking, trekking and exploring nature and I must say I am quite selective about that. Shravan himself leads all the treks conducted by Tranquil Voyagers and they exceeded my expectations with their idea of fun combined with high levels of energy, responsible trekking, and ecofriendly practices. I highly recommend them. (http://www.tranquilvoyagers.co.in).

It was early monsoon in the month of June. We reached Kudremukh National Park at dawn and were put up in a homestay with very basic amenities. Surrounded by tall trees, thick vegetation, and green hills, it was nothing but heavenly. Soon after breakfast, we started out towards Kudremukh peak.

Kudremukh or Kudremukha is a peak in Chikkamagaluru district, in Karnataka, located within Kudremukh National Park. The name ‘Kuduremukha’ is derived from a view of a side of the mountain that resembles the face of a horse. ‘Kuduremukha’ is a Kannada word meaning ‘horse-face’.

A group of 18 of us walked along chit-chatting with the early morning sun shining brightly and adding cheer to the newly found acquaintances. An important topic of discussion was the leeches that we knew we would be encountering and everyone had their own theories and stories to tell. All of this was doing little to drive away the discomfort I had at the very thought of the slimy wriggly-wiggly creatures. I had done my own research and had read up quite a few articles but the knowledge I gained did nothing to ease my apprehension. Very soon we started encountering them. And as we stepped into the forest, they were all over. It took me a while to recognize them as they can be easily mistaken for twigs scattered amidst the big brown leaves all across the forest floor, until you see them moving and stretching all around looking out for potential unsuspecting victims.

IMG_1600
Pic 2: Refreshing shades of green

Keeping aside the leeches, the wide variety of landscapes throughout the trail was a source of constant delight. The green carpets of grasslands would merge into smooth hill slopes with a very few or no trees at all. Patches of shrubs and bushes would appear intermittently. This would quickly give way to stretches of evergreen Shola forests with foliage so thick that the sun rays could hardly penetrate. (Shola is the local name for stunted tropical montane forest in South India). Once in a while the gurgling streams showed up gushing through the forests complementing the humming cicadas and chirping birds creating a surrealistic experience of dream and fantasy. Crossing the streams was great fun as we carefully made our way through the stones and pebbles, some of which were slippery due to the moss, lichens, or algae covering them.

IMG_1595
Pic 3: Walking through the shadowy groves of ‘Shola’ forests enjoying the leafy canopy and trickling sunlight
IMG_1593 (2)
Pic 4: The giggling stream greeted us as it happily passed through the forest
Kudre 4 - Nikunj Amipara
Pic 5: The stream smiles, lit up by sun rays piercing through the thick jungle foliage.                               Pic Credit: Nikunj Amipara

It rained every now and then, adding to the enchanting aura created by the varied landscapes. The National Park houses a variety of wildlife and herds of sambars, spotted deer have been seen on the trekking route. However, we weren’t that lucky but we did see a couple of birds including a few peacocks. Not to forget the leeches though! To make sure that the creepy creatures didn’t catch us, we literally ran across the leech-infested forest floors and didn’t dare hang around to admire the pure serenity of crackling leaves, crunching twigs, and rustling foliage. There was no escape, whatsoever! Every now and then we would have to stop to remove the slimy creatures off our clothes and shoes. Once they sneak in and attach themselves to our skin, it gets tricky. Then, it’s important to take them off along with their suckers or else infections may set in. I was armed with a packet of salt but contrary to my knowledge, I learnt that sprinkling salt on leeches is not a good idea at all as that not only entails killing the leeches mercilessly but can lead to severe skin infection. Apparently, once the creature attaches to your skin, leaving it there and letting it fall off after it’s done with sucking your blood is a safer bet. Of course, I have no idea how you can do that without psyching out at the very thought of it.

IMG_1628
Pic 6: Carpet of green stretching as far as one can see  – a real treat for the eyes

As we were nearing the peak, after a few stretches of steep climbs, it started raining and a thick layer of fog engulfed us. I felt like I was walking in a vacuum of white as I couldn’t see anybody or anything ahead or after me. The heavens were not kind enough and by the time we reached the peak, the rains intensified. Along with that, the winds blew strongly and it was really cold. Drenched from head to toe, our raincoats provided little respite. The thick fog ensured that we got no view at all.  Shivering and trembling in the cold coupled with disappointment of not being able to see anything, we decided to descend. After a while, the rains stopped and the fog cleared just for a few minutes and that was our only window to catch a glimpse of the hypnotizing rolling hills undulating in all shades of green.

IMG_1612
Pic 7: The thick fog of grey that engulfed us as we approached the peak
IMG_1647
Pic 8: The window that opened up for a few minutes provided a glimpse of the undulating green hills that lay behind the clouds

The rains lashed hard again and didn’t stop till we were back at the homestay. Some areas, especially while climbing downhill had become slippery, forcing our concentration on the path ahead of us leaving us with no opportunity to stop and admire the enthralling surroundings. Though a few of us did stop at the clearing that was lined up with mango and jackfruit trees. With the raw mangoes hanging low, we couldn’t resist gobbling up a handful of them with salt before the salt was washed off in the rain.

IMG_1675
Pic 9: Happiness is walking into clouds through a soothing stretch of green
IMG_1676
Pic 10: ‘Onti Mara’ – The Lone Tree stands tall in the barren hillside undeterred by the thick fog.

Back in the homestay, after clearing the leeches, we bathed in hot water and feasted on onion pakodas and hot tea. The hot water bath was quite a luxury I must say!

It was an experience of a different kind, even though we couldn’t see anything at the peak. The journey is always more important than the destination and the beautiful and varied landscape we experienced made for an enchanting experience.

However, I have to say that having experienced the Himalayas, nothing else truly makes a mark upon me. Though, I know it’s unfair and I should not compare a hill with a mountain!

The leeches turned out to be harmless but something else almost killed me that night after I was back to my city in Bangalore but that’s another story. You can read that here – When my Immune System Overreacted