I, along with a professor and two of my friends from college, recently went on a cycling and trekking expedition to Kudremukh, which is a peak that is part of the Western Ghats, located in the Chikmagalur district in Karnataka. It has an altitude of around 1980 meters. It is named so because the side of the mountain resembles the face of a horse. So, ‘Kudremukha’ broken into two parts is ‘Kudre’ and ‘mukha’, which mean horse and face in Kannada.
Together, we went on a 3 day cycling and trekking expedition that was challenging, breathtaking and entirely human-powered. We were to cycle to Mullodi, a small village located atop a hill, trek to the Kudremukha peak and return from Mullodi on the third day. We were hosted in Mullodi by a local family in a house in the hills, amongst the clouds.
I started the expedition feeling enthusiastic and a little nervous. Nervous because, not only was this my first long distance, overnight cycling endeavor, it also involved almost 40 kms of uphill riding. Little did I know that the next 3 days would be the most challenging and grueling 3 days of my life.
A 50 kms ride took us to the entrance of the Kudremukh National Park. This marked the beginning of the high-intensity climb. A significant trait of this climb was that it had lots of curves. So when you start climbing it, you see the top and you assume that there would be a decline after that. Instead, the road would just bend and there would be another climb. This sight literally knocked the air out of my lungs. There simply was no decline over the entire stretch. Just a constant, steady, nagging incline. It was the most difficult thing I have ever been through, mentally. Even though my body was not that fatigued, my morale kept getting knocked down and it was difficult to convince myself to keep on keeping on. I quickly realized that I had to stay mentally strong if I was to complete this climb. This is where having companions really helped, because they provided the motivation that would’ve been really hard to find on my own. What made the climb worse was not knowing how far we were from the destination. There were no signboards of any kind and so at any point on the climb we had no idea if we were 2 or 5 or 10 or 20 kms away. There were some intense mind games at play. The scorching heat gave no respite either. There would be an instant change in our state of mind when we rode through a shadow of a tree. So the heat and the suspense over the distance made for a deadly combination which absolutely quelled the vigor with which we had started.
Somehow, someway, we made the climb. Soon the trees started clearing to expose us to the breathtaking scenery and even the frequency of signboards increased. The signboards instantly gave us a goal and really lifted our spirits. This is one of the great joys cycling gives you. While you’re cycling and climbing those hills and riding that distance, you feel like you’re going through hell. Your mind is in turmoil and you have no idea why you would put yourself through this ordeal. But as soon as you finish and reach your destination, you feel a sense of pride and satisfaction that is unparalleled and unique, I believe, only to cycling in the hills. Cycling also forces you to appreciate and savour the intricacies of life. Everything we ate or drank led to an explosion of flavour in our mouths and it’s taste was amplified by 10 times.
After having lunch at the local guest house in Kudremukha town, we left for Mullodi. This climb was extremely intense in terms of the angle of incline. The hairpin turns were so steep, I ended up doing unintentional wheelies while climbing a couple of them. This phase surprisingly wasn’t as exhausting for us and I assume it may have been due to the weather or due of the lunch, or both. The importance of food and water during these expeditions cannot be stressed enough and this was one of my biggest learnings. Carrying a water sipper and a bag of mixed nuts, energy bars and so on instantly lift your spirits. They bring a wave of optimism and energy into your body.
By the time we reached our host house we were understandably exhausted and we called it a night after a hot supper.
Our hosts were a happy joint family consisting of the typical Indian village 3 generation family. The middle son, named Aruna, seemed to manage everything while his wife cooked food and made tea for everyone. Aruna was the only one in the family who knew Hindi.
We were accompanied by a 16 year old boy they called the ‘guide’. He was not from Aruna’s family. This was another thing that struck me as fascinating. The people in these towns are so well connected and so closely knit as a society, they know everyone around. Well-mannered and humble as ever, he was always smiling and jolly. He told our professor that he is currently raising money for his college education as his family could not afford it. His story reminded me about the ambitions of India’s millennials, inspiring me and disallowing me from taking anything in my life for granted. This, again, is one of the greatest rewards of traveling. You get to interact with and meet so many inspiring people that have a lasting impact on your life. It was a good decision to leave early as the heat made it extremely difficult to trek. We realized this when we met many people who were going up while we were descending and they didn’t seem to be enjoying the trek at all. It took us 4 hours to reach the peak and the view from the top as well as throughout the climb was nothing short of stunning.
After getting back to the base, we found a small nearby pond and took a quick dip in the ice-cold water to relax our muscles. This was my time of introspection and as I sat there staring at the water and meditating with the sound of it flowing, it had really started to sink in what I had done and I still couldn’t believe that I had achieved such a feat. We retired back to our home-stay and since there were many people that had come to stay on the weekend, the host pitched two tents for the 4 of us out in the front yard. It was very interesting to see the way the hosts handled this large group of people. Despite constantly running around to serve the guests’ requests, they were calm as ever and handled the situation with poise. Not once did I see them get agitated or annoyed.
The descent lived up to it’s expectations and more. A small struggle in a 17 kms rolling road was followed by 25 kms of absolute downhill bliss. Wind slapping my face, thoughts gushing through my mind and no need for a single peddling of my legs. 25 kms of satisfaction and rejoice. As I raced down, I marveled at what I had climbed and wondered how deep I must’ve dug to find the will to climb it.
All in all, we rode a total of 220 kms over an incline of 1800m and trekked 20 kms to a 2000m peak. Something that I, personally, couldn’t imagine doing in my wildest of dreams. The most important thing I learned was that this is completely a mental game. Being fit is definitely a prerequisite but beyond a point it is just the mind games that you have to master. We went through some pretty bad phases during the 25kms climb, especially with the weather being extremely unforgiving. I pondered giving up and going back a million times and even wondered what on earth I was doing and why I was doing it. The ride honed my mental resolve and give me vital confidence to do more tough and challenging climbs.