Got up stupidly early to get ready for our full day hike in the Western Ghats. Not really sure what to expect – we had been told to expect a hard hike and to dress in dark clothes. Both dressed head to toe in black, we looked like a pair of ninjas as we walked to our starting point. Whilst we were there 15 minutes early, one of the couples were 15 minute late and the third couple never showed up! We’re given a pair of very unsexy and uncomfortable gators to wear over our socks and trousers because of the large number of leeches that apparently find their way into every little crook and cranny of your body! We were also given a black rucksack (to match our ninja ensemble) which was full of breaded snacks and water to last us throughout the day. With the lovely thought of leeches in mind, we set off with two guides and an armed guard… Slightly disconcerting was the armed guards nonchalant attitude to holding his rifle – over his shoulder, swinging it from the barrel, repeatedly dropping it in the mud – didn’t seem like it was going to work even if it was needed. Started off by walking through the village located near the entrance to the sanctuary. Was really nice to see the local tribes going about their daily business and we saw two cadet groups pass us, both groups looking incredibly smart in the uniform with their trousers tucked into their socks to protect them from those deadly leeches!! Came out at the other end of the village, crossed a stream and were then ‘officially’ in the jungle! The scenery was amazing and the sounds of the jungle were all around us as we searched for bison, sambar, wild boar, langur, elephants, leopards and tigers which live in the 777 square-km wildlife sanctuary. Not sure whether the armed guard thought I wasn’t up to the hike or if something else was concerning him but he kept calling to the guides to let us stop for a rest. Think they realised I didn’t need to stop every 100 metres when I refused to sit down on a seat (flat rock) that they had found me. After about 2 hours of uphill climbing, we stopped for breakfast, tucking into our wide variety of bread and pastries whilst flicking off the leeches from our gators – they were tiny!! Got chatting to the other couple in the trek who were from Bordeaux in France. Julian is an emergency department nurse and Fanny is an occupational therapist. They have only been in India for a week but was kind of nice to see that they were having the same experience that we have had with the locals. Continued our uphill climb (no longer hiking at this point – I quite literally wanted to start crawling on my hands and knees at one point!) until we reached the top of the mountain pass – incredibly hot and sweaty! Took a few photos of the viewpoint before walking through long grass (which made me feel a little uncomfortable based on how much noise there was coming from inside the grass!) to another viewpoint looking down on the valley below. A little bit upsetting that we could hear music coming from one of the hotels in town which slightly ruined the calm natural environment of the mountain. After another rest, where the guides spent time trying to take sneaky photos of all four of us before giving up totally and just posing directly behind us with their sticks, we headed back down the other side of the ridge. Found tiger paw prints in the mud and, after the guide examined some tiger poo nearby, it apparently had been in the area recently. The guide equally did the same examination of elephant, bear and wild dog poo which made me think of the book ‘The little mole who knew it was none of his business’. Continued hiking up and down through the forest, spotting massive 300 year old trees that seemed to go on forever and the elusive Malibar butterfly resting on a tree. The guides pulled up flowers and crushed leaves along the way to show us natural ginger, wild mango, lemongrass and other food items that the local tribes use constantly in their cooking. Arrived at the 26 square-km artificial lake (created by the British in 1895) and walked around its shore line, watching a group of elderly tourists do bamboo rafting (and appeared to be hating it!). Stopped for lunch in a look out tower that was situated by the lake and, whilst everyone else went to sleep, Jayne and I kept a look out for wildlife; Jayne – birds, me – anything that moved!!! At one point, Jayne tried to sneak us onto a bamboo raft but the armed guard wouldn’t let us so we went back to our position for wildlife spotting. Jayne saw a number of beautifully coloured birds, which she took loads of photos of and I was convinced I saw trees move in the distance but no animal appeared. We set off again and walked back thought the sanctuary towards the exit. Not sure if they had taken us on an easier route or whether we walked quicker than they had anticipated this morning but they were keen to take us on little diversions off the path to try and spot some wildlife. Managed to see some wild Ox which were huge! Had a hilarious moment where the French couple kept calling them bison and, as Jayne tried to explain that they weren’t bison, the armed guard got really agitated and kept repeating ‘they’re not bison, they’re wild ox’ every time he heard the word bison! As we wandered back down to the starting point, Jayne heard a noise above her head and we spotted 2 giant squirrels. Jayne was beside herself with excitement at seeing them but the guides, guard and other tourists couldn’t quite understand her excitement. They were happy for her to spend ages trying to take photos of it, despite it cleverly trying to hide itself behind a tree trunk. We kept on walking and about 50m down the path, we saw another 2 squirrels! Headed back to the bamboo hut to return our rucksacks and gators before walking into town to use the ATM and get a celebratory beer – today marks the last Indian UNESCO site to be visited. 28/32 sites done during our trip with 2 being closed by the time we got there due to cold weather and the other 2 being national parks in Assam which we didn’t have time or money to visit! Headed up to the rooftop to drink our beer and watch the bats fly over head. Clearly we were being over ambitious getting a beer each – after a day of altitude trekking and being dehydrated, beer wasn’t the best option. We were both feeling rotten after half a bottle and gave the rest to someone else staying in the guest house!! Went down the road for dinner, both with massive headaches. Fortunately, the food made us feel slightly better as we shared cucumber salad, bruschetta and vegetable lasagne. Headed straight to bed afterwards, headaches easing off but leg muscles feeling slightly sore and abused!!
Saturday 23rd January 2016