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Brazil – Part Two

This is a continuation of Part One. In case you haven’t read it, please do so by clicking here.

My birthday was only three days into my visit, and it was difficult to find something special to do, as I barely knew anyone. The day preceding my birthday, I told my professor guide that it was my birthday the next day. His face lit up and he enquired if I had any plans. He then invited me to his family farmhouse, saying they will be having a party there. Turns out it was his mother’s birthday as well. Elated, I accepted the offer and found myself spending my birthday in the company of his large family at his farmhouse. The highlight of the afternoon was when his family started singing “happy birthday” in Portuguese and stopped abruptly. As I stood there over the cake with a knife in my hand, grinning in the middle with everyone staring at me while an awkward silence enveloped us, I wondered if the song was over and I should proceed to cut the cake. One of the family members interrupted my thoughts and asked, “What is your name?” I laughed and replied “Rahul”. After a few practices of the pronunciation, the family resumed singing, this time with my name in between, and gave me a memory to cherish for a lifetime.

A healthy camaraderie was also developing fast with the residents of Xanadu and before I knew it, my face was painted in the Xanadu flag and I was chanting, ‘Hu! Hu! Xanadu!” on the streets as I marched to the football tournament venue, where Xanadu was to face off with a rival frat house. They too, were seemingly loving my company, not missing out on opportunities to poke fun at my Indian accent, or calling my ready-to-make packaged Indian food, ‘astronaut food’.

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Xanadu!
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Who would’ve thought, a statue of  Mahatma Gandhi in the smallest of towns in Brazil!

I realized that Brazilians like to be cut out from the world, and many of them are content with their way of life. I was asked by a man if we support Osama Bin Laden, and whether I was sad when he was killed. I chuckled at the thought that to them, all brown people must be the same. Maybe this was because they were so consumed by the political turmoil they have faced for decades in their own country, they didn’t pay heed to the outside world. Or maybe because Brazil is so beautiful, they just didn’t care.

Since travel within Brazil is relatively expensive, I spent most weekends traveling in and around the interiors of Guaratingueta, accompanying fellow Xanadu residents on road trips. However, a visit to Brazil wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Rio, and I pumped out some extra money for a trip to the land of the Redeemer.

Rio is everything they show in movies, and more. It’s almost like the entire city is on a psychedelic high. It is blessed with a calming feel and has an idiosyncratic vibe to it. The Statue of Christ the Redeemer could be seen from the bus as we pulled into the Rio bus stop, and a wave of excitement hit me as soon as I saw it.

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The view that the statue of Christ the Redeemer gets everyday!

It is also an extremely dangerous city, with high crime rates and a rich profusion of drug wars. The drug wars are so blatant, that the drug dealers aren’t even afraid of the police. This realization came to me when I was walking with my host, Thais, and a few other interns in an area in Rio. I had my hoodie on and as it became windier, I pulled the hood over my head and started pacing faster than my companions. Two minutes later, Thais comes running up to me and says, “Don’t walk like this, if the police see you with the hood on, they will arrest you for selling drugs”. I was so perplexed by this instruction that it became one of my most vivid memories from Rio.

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Thais, my lovely host in Rio
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A robbery attempt back home in Guaratingueta

As dangerous as it is, it is also filled with kind and generous people. I had decided to venture out into Rio all by my lonesome for a day. By the end of the day, I had somehow managed to get myself lost and needed to get to the right bus stop for a bus back home to my host’s house. Asking around in my broken Portuguese didn’t help either. Exasperated, I called up my host, who instructed me to hand the phone to a local shop owner. Luckily, this owner turned out to be an English speaking angel. He proceeded to reassure me and even offered to drop me to the bus stop. On the way to the bus stop, he asked what I do and where I’m from. On finding out that I’m a computer engineer from India, he frowned a little, then smiled and said, “All you Indian computer engineers go everywhere and take our jobs”. I giggled and wholeheartedly thanked him before parting ways.

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The iconic Maracana stadium of Rio de Janeiro

Even though I had heard of Brazil’s beauty and people, I didn’t know anyone who had actually traveled there, and South America had always been a beguiling mystery to me. The eight weeks I spent in Brazil was a learning process, a period where I discovered myself, and had an absolute blast while doing it. The people I met and experiences I had are unforgettable and will remain etched in my memory forever. It was a surreal eight weeks by any standards, and whoever gets a chance to go to Brazil and interact with the locals should do so without a moment’s hesitation.

Brazil – Part One

I got a chance to pursue an internship at Sao Paulo state university (UNESP) in a small town called Guaratingueta in the state of Sao Paulo in Brazil. I was eager to learn about the culture and history of this quaint and secluded country. I was also eager to see the extent to which my predispositions about Brazil would contradict with the real deal.

It was a trepid month preceding my expected departure due to visa issues. The procurement of the visa, however, brought another kind of anxiety. Questions like “How will the food be?” and “How will I survive 8 weeks in a country far away all alone?” regularly popped into my head. With all these questions, I started gathering information, sending emails, and began preparing. This preparedness replaced anxiety and stress with excitement and adrenaline. I stuffed an entire bag with packaged ready-to-make Indian food as I found that being a vegetarian in Brazil wasn’t going to be easy. Before I knew it, I was on a flight headed to Sao Paulo, traveling for such a long journey all alone for the first time in my life. You’d easily guess which song was stuck in my mind while traveling.

“Brazziiillllll la la la la la la la la”.

I learnt something vital about human psychology as soon as I arrived in Brazil. As I was loading my bags onto a bus I was to take to Guaratingueta from the airport, I had my first interaction with a Brazilian local. When he asked me a question in Portugese, I panicked and replied not in English, but in Marathi, my mother tongue! Confused, the bus attendant just pointed to the luggage rack and I nodded in approval, following which he helped me load my luggage. I was amused at my responding in Marathi, and I guess it was my fight response in an attempt to be able to stay on familiar territory. I wonder if this has happened to anyone else.

I was being hosted in a frat house close to the college campus. The entire city is littered with these frat houses surrounding the campus, each with a name, housing 10-12 people. The relationship between the people of a frat house is incredible. They lived together like a family, with people graduating and joining every year. The newest member would be given a unique nickname by seniors which would stick for the entirety of college life, and as a part of an ‘induction program’, he/she would be made to do household chores and, you get the rest. To give an example of a nickname, a good friend I made there was named ‘Cedula’ by his seniors. This nickname came from a day when he was made to beg for money on the street, and everytime someone gave him money, he would have to wave the note in the air, and ‘Cedula’ in Portugese means a money bill (or note). It was only in my last few days in Guaratingueta that I found out that his real name is Lucas. Every name had a story and it was fascinating to hear stories such as these.

Each frat house had built up a legacy over the years. There would be competitions hosted amongst frat house and trophies handed out. It was so unreal and different that to me, it felt like I was being narrated a movie script. I was housed in ‘Republica Xanadu’, which is one of the oldest frat houses in Guaratingueta. Xanadu had murals on almost every wall, a ‘wall of fame’ with polaroid pictures of all the previous residents, and a beautiful resident dog named Erika. My entering Xanadu was a real first taste of the Brazilian life.

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The Xanadu emblem with the it’s prized wins

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The official Xanadu flag
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Erika!
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The wall of fame!

A lot of parties were thrown in these frat houses, each with a theme. The most memorable was the Xanadu ‘diaper party’, in honor of a resident’s expected baby. Entry to this party was through diapers only. There was no entry fee, but you would only be allowed in if you bring a packet of diapers. It was an innovative way to raise funds for his upcoming baby. By the end of the party, there was a large pile of diapers in the hallway.

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First Diaper of the lot

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A bonfire party in Xanadu

Over the course of the next few weeks, I would get acquainted with the residents of Xanadu and learn the life of the locals. It was quite a life. I learnt rock climbing, body building, and some basic Portuguese from the friends I made in Xanadu. I realized very quickly that people open up to you much faster if you show them that you have put in some effort to learn their language. And of course, humour is the best ice breaker. I learnt some funny anecdotes to tell people in Portuguese and soon gained their trust and friendship. I also realized the power that the United States has on entertainment. I could strike a conversation with almost any college student about a US TV show or song. I started loving the Brazilian people for their warmth, culture and love of life.

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My climbing ‘gym’
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The rewards of my climb in the wild!
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Rappelling down after an exhausting climb

Even the Brazilian food and diet is fascinating. Their meals are dominated by meat. Most local restaurants I went to didn’t even have a vegetarian dish to serve. The typical plate has a central meat (usually beef) serving, surrounded by mashed potato and salad, which no one liked to eat. Seeing this opportunity, I would scavenge the mashed potato and salad from a plate or two and make it a meal. Because who doesn’t love a free meal!

Part Two of this series can be found here!

5 tips for bicycle touring

Plan well

My lack of preparation for my first long distance ride was appalling. Apart from my unfitness, I had defied my fellow riders’ instructions of carrying nuts and snack bars for energy. So gross was my lack of preparation that I didn’t have a single penny on me, and due to the lack of ATMs in my destination town I couldn’t withdraw either. Luckily my unpreparedness was balanced by the thoughtfulness of my friends and despite rightly showering me with ridicule and scorn, they had my back. Though this may seem trivial, planning and preparation is essential in ensuring that a trip is smooth and successful. It will save you from headaches and banter from fellow riders. I have been fortunate to accompany a veteran in cycling expeditions for almost all my cycling endeavors, and that has made me realize how important planning every last detail is. Every hiccup must be anticipated and thought of. This is crucial and can be the difference between a thoroughly enjoyable expedition and a disastrous one.

Physical fitness is key

The first long distance ride I indulged in had a painstakingly long climb which was filled with self-doubt and bewilderment at my own decision of embarking on such an arduous journey. I attribute a lot of this negativity to my lack of fitness. As my mentor correctly said, one simply cannot enjoy an expedition if one is constantly thinking about how tired he/she is. You cannot enjoy the delicacies of a region, or cherish the conversations with new and exciting people to their fullest if you are struggling with the journey itself. Make sure you are physically prepared in accordance with the difficulty of the tour.

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“Pick the bicycle up, it’ll be a great photo!”, exclaimed Agniv, my cycling buddy. “Just take the damn photo”, I replied, too exhausted to move a muscle.

Capture stories

Every time I go on trips I feel that it’s more important to enjoy the moment itself rather than vigorously try to capture it and forget to live in it. Although too much of the latter is also bad, a balance needs to be struck between the two. In this philosophy, I tend to regret not having at least some basic moments captured after returning from a trip. These can come in handy for documentation purposes as well as to just take a trip down memory lane as well.

It’s okay to give up sometimes

It was pitch dark by the time we had reached the final couple of kilometers of the climb to a nearby hill. This, coupled with the fact that it was a 45 degree incline made it extremely difficult to climb. To add to my woes, my calves and thighs were threatening to cramp up. But I couldn’t give up because I convinced myself the entire ride would be worthless if I don’t complete this final stretch. I cycled through the pain and caught up with my mentor. Just as I pulled up next to him, he unmounted his bicycle and started walking up. This startled me as I saw him as the man who had done unthinkable things like tour the Himalayas on his bicycle. Seeing him walk it up gave me some reassurance and made me realize that sometimes it’s okay to not finish. Soon, I too listened to my body and started walking with him. It turned out to be the decision of the day as it was freezing at the peak with strong headwinds, and if I hadn’t stopped it would’ve been a crampy night.

Fill up on water whenever you can

I have made the grave mistake of cycling long stretches without a sip of water to drink and it’s not the kind of position you’d want to put yourself in. Especially on tours where the temperatures are soaring, water becomes extremely precious. My mouth was left with an agonizing dryness and it made the task at hand ten times harder. On one of the rides, I was asked by a fellow rider as we passed a small shop whether I wanted to fill water. I glanced at my bottle, saw that it’s three quarters full, and confidently shook my head in denial. I understood why he gave me a disgruntled look then just half an hour later, when my water reserve had been depleted and I was parched.

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I was hallucinating a drinking water tap – since we had depleted our water reserve

Kumara Parvatha

Kumara Parvatha is an alluring peak which is part of the Pushpagiri mountain range in the Western Ghats, located in Coorg. Surrounded by dense forest, the trek to the peak is both challenging and aesthetically pleasing.

Our trip to Kumara Parvatha got off to a turbulent start which involved an altercation with the railway staff. Our initial plan was to reach the base train station, spend the night there and start the trek early the next morning. But things didn’t go according to plan when the staff at the railway station didn’t treat us very well. Feeling empowered by a helpline number displayed on the wall coupled with our teenage adrenaline, we decided to give the helpline a call. To our surprise, they responded in a matter of minutes. Standing outside the station master’s office fresh off the phone call with the Railways helpline, we heard the phone ring inside the office and the station master’s seemingly frantic conversation with the caller. We were then summoned inside the office to have our tickets taken away from us and angrily told to find a place to stay in the local city. One of my friends even went so far as to secretly record this misconduct on his phone, hiding his phone as if conducting a sting operation. Unable to take any further action, we retired and finally found refuge in the Kukke Subramanya temple. Even though we were unsuccessful in our motives, our adventure began with a comical story of ‘us versus the system’, and so our spirits were still soaring.

The trek itself was nothing short of breathtaking. As we trekked through the day, we slowly rose above the clouds and the result of our altitude gains soon started seeming like heaven. It was breathtaking. But this view came at a cost. The altitude and distance was taking a toll on us and as a result, our pace was decreasing. Added to this, the sun was descending rapidly. We wanted to avoid trekking in the dark, and since time was of the essence, we decided to head back from Shesha Parvatha itself. As heartbreaking as this decision was, it was definitely a wise one, since it didn’t take very long for the light to disappear and pitch darkness engulfed us. To make things worse, our group of seven split into groups of three and four. It was an exhilerating hour-long night trek back to the base, which even featured the four of us waiting for the remaining three by sitting in a square formation on a pitch dark open ground, being wary of animals by pointing torches in each respective direction. We made it back to the base camp with another interesting tale in our arsenal.

Our next destination was Madikeri, the main district of Coorg. Our plan was to go to Madikeri, find a peaceful place to stay, explore the area and head back from there. But yet again, things weren’t to go as planned. On reaching Madikeri, we found out that the town was occupied in it’s entirety owing to the annual Dussehra festival. And boy was it a festival.

It was as if the entire town was hosting one gigantic party. The roads were thronged by a sea of humanity and the whole town was bustling with ecstatic activity. It was surreal. A never-ending brigade of one procession after another was passing through the main street, and each procession had speakers mounted on top of each other, at least two stories high. And every single speaker in this mountain was blaring rave songs till 10AM the next morning. It was one big party, a sight like no other.

Due to the heavy influx of people into the city, no lodge was available within 12kms of Madikeri and we were forced to call it a night at the bus stop.

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Looking for a place to stay! Picture Credits- Marcos Gomes

The next morning, when we were wandering about the streets looking dejected after a sleepless night, still scratching one of the many etches the mosquitos had left while feasting on us the previous night, a kind man by the name of ‘Ubbi’ offered us a place to freshen up. We blessed him with all the good karma we had built up over our lifetimes. Ubbi was a very cool man. He told us about his travels to Dubai and how he was exploited there, following which he returned to India and opened up a home-stay business. He called us for a ‘crazy’ party he was hosting that night and gave us information about the Dussehra festivities.

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Moments before Ubbi rescued us

Our four day trip to Kumara Parvatha was filled with adventure and fortitude. It had everything- an altercation with government officials, a night trek, a massive party, and a stay at a temple and a bus stop. What more can one ask for?

 

Hampi Diaries

Hampi is a small village located in the ruins of the Vijayanagara city in the state of Karnataka built by the Vijayanagara Empire. It is one of the most religious cities in India. This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts of ruins of temples built centuries ago and my tenure as an engineering student in Manipal wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Hampi. It consists of two parts divided by a river- the old part, which is famous for the ruins, and the new part, which has some new temples, a lake and connections to other villages in the vicinity.

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After a ten hour overnight journey, as our bus pulled into Hospet on a chilly early morning, we were greeted by eager auto-rickshaw drivers waiting at the door of the bus with maps in their hands and expectations in their eyes. They were offering a ride to Hampi. One of them persisted and seemed adamant to take us to Hampi in his auto-rickshaw, after what seemed like a comical bargaining discussion almost with himself since we weren’t responding. He then went on to lie about the bus frequency and seemed both visibly upset and bemused that we had not accepted his offer, keeping his gaze fixed on us as we proceeded to the local bus stop. And so, Hospet greeted us with some hostility but we were determined to keep our hopes up. We were greeted by an even larger swarm of rickshaw drivers on reaching Hampi and fending this pack off was even more difficult. Their constant presence made it harder for us to think and clear our minds, and for some time we just stood at the entrance, dazed and confused. We soon started calling them ‘predators’, and our initial reaction on seeing them was to flee. In general, we found the locals of Hampi to be a little crude, but the sights and views more than made up for it.

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dsc_0052One thing that struck me as fascinating was the number of foreign visitors Hampi attracts. So much so that most of the shops and restaurants were designed to cater to people that were not from India. To cite an example, almost all menus explained supposed ‘Indian’ terms, each having a section titled “Curd (Homemade Yoghurt)”. As a friend correctly pointed out, the restaurants were so heavily influenced by customs abroad, no restaurant served regular water as you sit down, which is a custom throughout India. The entirety of Hampi is littered with restaurants and they all have a common theme- mattresses laid down on the floor with low tables. This personally made them a lot more attractive, as they give off a relaxing vibe. You’d see people reading books, taking a nap or having conversations while sipping on a beverage.

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While the new side of the city has mountains of boulders stacked on top of each other, seemingly defying gravity, as far as the eye could see, the old side is filled with ruins spanning massive areas. A common sight in the new part of town is tourists carrying folded mattresses on their shoulders. We later found out that they were bouldering mattresses. Bouldering, along with rock climbing is extremely popular in Hampi, as it is entirely surrounded by boulders. This is why you’d see many rock climbing shops selling climbing gear throughout the new city.

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Riding around the new city on a Moped was a highlight for me, especially because it is such an amusing vehicle. It makes a large amount of noise when accelerated and releases a lot of pollution but can barely climb up a slope with two people on it. So if someone were to close their eyes and just listen to it in action it would sound formidable, but it is an entirely different story when one sees it in action. Nevertheless, they are a joy to ride and are easily available in both parts of the town. The beauty of the old town simply cannot be expressed in words. The ruins, in all their magnificence, managed to seem just as breathtaking, despite the hot weather trying to play spoilt-sport.

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What was truly bemusing was the mountains of boulders dominating the view from the entire city. They seemed to be precariously placed by some work of magic, defying all notions of common sense and gravity. And to add to the bewilderment we found small stones stacked on top of each other, all around the structures of the ruins, as if it were an attempt at the perfect metaphor. We even wondered if a chain was being followed, wherein every visitor would come and add a stone to the pile. The perfect way to summarize my visit to this alluring town is that it was a delightful mixture of ecstasy, awe and brazen bewilderment.

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A perplexing sight!

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Yes, this is real!

Human Powered Endeavour to Kudremukh

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.

Day 1:

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.

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The climb-my face says it all

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.

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Almost there! Barely being able to muster up a smile

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.

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Flaunting our cycles at our home-stay in Mullodi

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.

Day 2:

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.

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The scene while trekking up

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The view from the peak
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At the top with our guide!

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.

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Our home for a night

Day 3:

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.

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The view while descending from Mullodi
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The descent

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.

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All smiles, back in Manipal – photo marking the end of a remarkable journey

Trek to Narsimha Parvatha

Narsimha Parvatha is a peak located in the Agumbe range in the Shimoga district. Along with 5 of my friends, I utilized the long weekend to take a trip to this famous peak and explore a side of Agumbe that we hadn’t before. The peak has several remarkable characteristics. One such unique feature of this hill was that it’s peak is marked by an old and abandoned house. Reaching this house signaled to us that we had conquered the peak. Most of the blogs online indicated that many trekkers had previously camped there either in the house (if they didn’t have tents) or in the area surrounding the house in the comfort of their tents.

Another feature is that it has two bases. One could choose which base one wanted to start the trek from based on the difficulty. The trek from one side (the Kigga side) is easy and that from the other (the Agumbe side-Malandur) is difficult. Understandably, scaling this peak had been on our bucket list since our first semesters and we pounced on the first opportunity we got to climb it.

Day 1:

Our initial plan was a 2 day trip, where we were to trek up from the Kigga side (6kms), camp overnight at the top inside the house, and come back down the next morning to the Agumbe side, returning to Manipal by taking a bus back from Agumbe. However, we had either overlooked the need for a guide and a permit, or we had overestimated our trekking skills, and this would come back to bite us at a later stage.

We reached Kigga by changing buses at Karkala and Sringeri (located 12kms from Kigga) and started the trek from Kigga. Kigga was a miniscule town and so there were hardly any people at this supposed ‘base’ and so we assumed it was a free-for-all trek. The trek was pretty straightforward and we covered the 6kms with relative ease. On our way there, we met a group of trekkers coming from the opposite direction. They were led by a guide, who asked us where our permits were. We explained to him that there was no one at the base and that there was nobody at the base who would give us any sort of permit.

Curious to know more about us and where we came from, the group started asking us questions about our plans and how we were going to go about things. They seemed extremely amused once we told them our plan and even more so when they found out we had neither a map nor a compass. Their amusement soon turned into concern and they strongly advised us not to descend the hill from the other side without a guide, as it was a dense forest. After some discussion within our group, we paid heed to their advice and returned to Kigga after completing the trek. The last half an hour of the return to Kigga was completely in the dark and it gave some of us an adrenaline rush, while others some sweaty palms. Nevertheless, we made it back to Kigga safely.

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House at the peak

On returning to the base, we found, through the kind owner of the only small shop that was open in the entire town that there was no place to stay in in Kigga and we would have to go back to Sringeri to find accommodation. However, since the last bus for Sringeri had already departed, the owner called us a local auto which took us all the way to Sringeri. This shop was also where we refueled our bodies with energy biscuits and water. The kindness of some of the people that we meet while on the trail never ceases to amaze me. They help you in your time of need without expecting anything in return.

Our quest for cheap accommodation started as soon as we reached Sringeri. We pondered making the bus stop our night-stay but decided to scan the city center first in case we came across something reasonable. So we started making our way to the city center. Our stomachs had also starting grumbling by now and we stopped at a tiny restaurant for some hot and fresh dinner. Our luck was really good that day as the owner of the restaurant also turned out to be an angel and gave us directions to a Sharadamba temple, which had rooms to stay in in the vicinity. After a hearty supper and an enlightening conversation with the owner, we made our way to the temple.

The Sri Sharadamba temple was one of the most magnificent temples we had come across. Facing the temple across the street was a Sharada Peetham, which was a guesthouse of sorts run by the temple management and also the destination described by the owner. We were initially hesitant because we thought the tariffs would be exorbitant considering the lavishness of the Peetham and the temple itself. But to our utmost delight, the double rooms cost only Rs. 100! The quality of the rooms was good as well. We formulated our plan for the next day, which would be taking a bus to Agumbe and doing the trek from that side. Little did we know that we were in for something quite special.

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Shri Sharadamba Temple

Day 2:

Everything went according to plan and we reached Agumbe, where we had breakfast and requested information from an auto driver. It seemed as if he had had people ask him about the trek before and he confidently told us that he will manage everything; take us to the base and even arrange a guide and a forest department permission for us. Unfortunately, since we were time-bound by the last bus going back to Manipal from Agumbe, we were informed that we would not be able to make it to the peak. However, we could make it to Barkana falls, which would be 3-4 hours one way. Content with what we could do, we boarded the auto and were taken to Malandur, the base village. The village was littered with small huts and bungalows occupied by families. It was blessed with a stunning view of paddy fields with a backdrop of layers of hills in the distance. The auto finally pulled up in a bungalow and we were greeted by a boy, smiling from ear to ear, who seemed to be our age. He was the only one who knew Hindi in the family. We soon found out that his father would be taking us to the Falls. With a sickle grasped firmly in his hand, he wasted little time in getting the trek started and within the first 15 minutes of the trek itself, I was thankful that we had decided to take a guide. The trek was a first-of-its-kind for me. It was through dense forest with absolutely no sign of a trail whatsoever. I was bewildered at the memory of our guide, who had no trail to follow but was leading us with confidence. The trek, contrary to the notion of ascending a hill, was not at all an incline. It was up and down throughout. It also didn’t take very long for the leeches to find us. Since it was a dense rainforest, the blood suckers were in abundance and we had to exponentially increase the frequency of checking our shoes and feet. A sight that will always be etched in my memory is that of the guide scooping a leech off his foot with the sickle, pasting it on a tree and the cutting it into two or three pieces. What left me most dumbfounded was the casualness with which he was doing this. We tried to start some conversations with him, based on the few words we knew in Kannada, which pleased him and made him open up to us a lot more. I feel as humans, we all appreciate someone taking the effort to learn our language and interact with us, regardless of their fluency in that language.

There was a surprise for us when we reached. The trek took us to the top of the Falls, something that none of us expected.

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Barkana Falls

And of course, the view from the top was spectacular. The dense trees gave way and as we walked towards the opening where the water gave in to gravity and thundered towards the ground, we saw a sight that took our breath away. The falls were overlooking the Agumbe Ghats, blanketed with thick lush green forest. It had even started to drizzle a little by now and we soaked in the view in silence, as a gentle shower provided the perfect aura. It was one of the most spectacular and divine experiences of my life. The astounding view coupled with the drizzle made for a memory that will be remembered forever.

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View from Barkana Falls

With the time constraint weighing down on us, we decided to head back and the trek back was just as challenging and unique. On making our way back, we were treated to a meal by the family. They refused to take money for it, citing the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. They even offered to give us a student discount, but we insisted that they take the original amount, as we saw that as the only way to thank them for their generosity and endearment.

And so, we returned back to Agumbe in the same auto. Following which we boarded the bus back for Manipal. My leg is littered with leech bite scars till date.

The trek to Barkana Falls from the Malandur side was personally one of the most unique and challenging treks I have ever been on. With trees and bushes slapping our face for most part of the trek, we had to dodge and maneuver around them, while still looking out for leeches in the dense rainforest. The affection, warmth and generosity of all the people we met continues to inspire me. In retrospect, as I reminisce my time in Sringeri and Agumbe, I realize that we were extremely fortunate to meet the people we did and our encounters only enhanced the quality of the trip.