Parunthumala trek has not yet been marked on the internet, by trekkers and travelers, was an exciting invitation: that here is a mountain untrodden and unkissed by nature explorers, at least most of them. For a forest, being unmarked on Google is a boon; its ecosystem, in many ways, lies protected from the public gaze and graze, as nature expeditions are often irresponsibly unnatural, nowadays. That the wilderness has to remain intact, unaffected by human intervention, as far as possible, neither littered with plastic waste nor splattered with left-over food.
This trek in Kerala does not just take through a wide range of natural beauty but also introduces you to a beautiful culture.
Author: Latika Payak
A week back, we climbed Parunthumala – Eagle hills, one might translate – guided by a tribal forest conservationist and a forest range officer. These charming mountain ranges fall in the Northern Nilambur division of the Kerala forest department in the Western Ghats, classified as “vested forest”. The trek was organised by the nature club of MBL Media School, Calicut. The group was in fact pretty large – around 35 media students, boys and girls, overflowing with energy and vigour. Full of love and warmth. However, silence is the best companion when you are deeply into the woods. No language is sufficient to get you along the primitive purity that a wilderness generously gifts. There, no conversation is complete unless it is through tears. In silence, we share more to ourselves, we spread out more, convey from soul to soul, and we unlearn more through listening. The forest has had endless rhythms to go through; perhaps, hardly available at other places. So, walk silently, slowly, deeply. As Tagore said, “be still my heart, these trees are prayers.” Sensitivity is a gift you find within yourself.
The long path to walk was more important than the final destination, as always. In terms of quantity, we walked only nine kilometers to reach the top, but hard and tiring. Painful and rewarding. Often you face steep and cliff-y rocks, the sticks are not enough to support. Muddy deciduous forests easily deceive you to skid down. This path has almost all types of forests to cover: wild grassland with tall grasses that hide the lean pathways, marshland, evergreen and deciduous forests.
You take rest here and there, drink from the montane streams. You look at eternity sitting on an isolated high rock. The path takes more than four hours – depending on the way you walk, to reach the top of the hill. On top was a greenish meadow, marshy at places. There was a cold, rejuvenating stream waiting. The water tasted sweet, very refreshing, in spite of the cold. It might have been through the roots and leaves of several medicinal plants. The forest usually does not tire you. You wouldn’t feel very hungry, either. The wilderness feeds you through its immensely diverse ecological resources, gives you a constant embrace of freshness, it fills your soul and body by using all senses.
Standing atop, a deep sense of humility perches on your heart. You examine the thick greenish carpets lying beneath and beyond, consisting of countless hills, forming the waves of a layered valley as if in a panoramic metapainting. There are mist and fog conspiring to invade, in the adjacent mountains. Then, you notice a taller hill, ever alluring and challenging, standing next to the hill you are on, and you start walking towards its top. Some of your friends join, some stay back. Mostly, the wise take refuge in their majestic silences.
I have always wondered, like all of us, why we climb a mountain, after all. What indescribable pleasure do we actually get while reaching its top? Perhaps, the beauty of nature begins and ends here. Many meanings emerge. We go for mountaineering for the simple reason that mountains are there. That’s an enough justification. The wilderness, in their perfectly untouched and undisciplined disorderliness, bathes you in mystical insights. You can’t put it into words. A garden with disciplined plants and trees would eventually bore you, as Sufi poet Rumi famously said, but a forest would never, for its sheer ability to renew in every moment.
On top of the hill, we had a simple session for mountain meditation. Rather, a smaller group, lay down in a circle, heads to the centre and hands connected towards the more center of the circle. In order to prevent the sunlight entering our eyes, we closed eyes and put a shawl or a kerchief on eyes. There was both silence and a few instructions. All of us carry mountains inside; oceans, deserts and rivers, too. All seasons and climates live and get reflected inside our souls. The meditation was intended to experience the outer mountains and explore the inner ones. Mountains, however, carry countless meanings. Its majesty reminds us of our insignificance and littleness. Standing atop, it pained me to see a few hills being mined by the quarry industry. This is how ‘Emerging Kerala’ finds tools for its development, I worried. With rampant nature exploitation around and depressing disenchantment of the conservation ideas among the environmentalists, which path ahead is safer and saner!
For being a large group and due to technical issues, we had to return that night itself. While returning from Parunthumala, we realised that the fatigue and tiredness had conquered us completely. All of us. Pain was trekking through the body all over: thighs, calves, muscles, joints and everywhere. Many even stumbled down in the dark. Often, the mountain lives inside when it’s left behind. You miss everything about it. And realise that there is a deeper mountain inside all of us. Tempting to trek a new outer one again and again.
The secret to ascending any trail lies in building your cardiovascular endurance. You can begin by jogging everyday. Ideally, you should be able to jog 4 km in 20 minutes before the start of the trek. It takes time to be able to cover this distance in the given time. Start slow and increase your pace everyday. Swimming, cycling and stair climbing without too many breaks in between can help too. Strength This is another area you should work on. You will need to build strength in your muscles and in your core body. You can do some squats to strengthen your leg muscles. Do around 3 sets of squats, with 8 squats in each set. Apart from this, you can add planks and crunches to your work out.
Another aspect that will help you trek comfortably is flexibility. For this, you can do some stretching exercises – stretch your hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, lower back muscles and shoulders regularly. Carrying a backpack, however light, can become a strain after a while. These exercises will help you to be in good shape before the trek. Working out indoors
If you can’t go out and jog because of time and space constraints, here’s a video you can use to work out indoors.
No, stuffing it all in isn’t the right way to do it Packing a backpack correctly saves precious time that you might waste trying to find your things later. It is wise to spend some time on learning what really goes into packing a backpack.
What should I pack? On a trek, you only get what you take. Something as simple as a forgotten matchbox can cripple your cooking plans throughout the trek. So, it’s essential to prepare early and prepare well. To begin with, make a checklist. While shopping, remember this thumb rule – keep it light. “Every item needs to be light. This ensures that your backpack, on the whole, stays light,” says Sandhya UC, co-founder of Indiahikes. Balancing out heavy items with light ones isn’t going to have the same effect as having all light items. “Always opt for good quality, light items,” says Sandhya.
How much should my bag weigh?
“Your backpack for a weekend trek should weigh between 8 and 10 kg,” explains Arjun Majumdar, co-founder of Indiahikes, “To break it down, your tent should weigh around 2.5 kg, your sleeping bag, around 1.5 kg, and the ration, stove and clothes should constitute the other 5 kg.” The best way to plan is by concentrating on the basic necessities – food, shelter and clothes. Gather only those things that you’ll need to survive. Do not pack for ‘if’ situations. “That’s one of the common mistakes that people make – packing for ‘if situations’. It only adds to the baggage that you can do without on a trek,” says Sandhya.
One good way to go about it is to prepare a list of absolute essentials. Start with the most essential and end with the least essential. That way, when you feel you are overshooting the limit, you can start eliminating from the bottom. Another tip is to be smart while packing clothes. Invest in light. wash and wear fabrics. “Replace a sweater with two t-shirts,” adds Sandhya. Layering is the mantra when it comes to trekking. Refer to Sandhya’s clothes list to pack smart.
How to pack The thumb rule for this one is to eliminate air spaces. Make sure that everything is packed tightly, especially clothes and jackets, as they tend to take up maximum air space. Put in all the large items first. Then squeeze in the smaller ones in the gaps. This ensures minimum air space. A good way to pack clothes is by using the Ranger Roll method.
Where to pack Bottom Sleeping bag: Make this your base layer. Sleeping bags tend to be voluminous, but do not weigh much. They’re perfect for the bottom of the bag. Tent: Just like the sleeping bag, even tents are voluminous and light. Keep the tent poles separately and place the fabric at the bottom of the backpack. Middle Heavy jacket: Roll up the jacket in a tight ball and place it in the middle of the backpack, close to your back. The middle region of the backpack should always have the heaviest items. You can store other things like ration or mini stoves in the middle. Other clothes: Roll other clothes and place them in the remaining space, to fill air gaps.
Top Water: Water, although heavy, needs to be easily accessible. So put it in the top most region of your backpack. Medicine box: This is another component that you wouldn’t want to be scavenging for when in need. Poncho: It could rain at any time in the mountains. So, ponchos should be accessible easily. Also, having a waterproof poncho at the top of the backpack provides additional waterproofing to items in the bag.