I was with the BMC again this time. They picked me up from the Silk Board junction at around 9 PM on the 8th of December'16. Located more than 450 kms away from Bangalore, we reached our destination at around 7:30 AM the next morning. There was a room and a couple of toilets for all of us to get ready. We freshened up and changed into our trekking gear. We dumped all the unnecessary stuff in the bus and headed to have breakfast at a stall nearby.
We finished our breakfast and gathered at the starting point. We might have been around 20 participants. After the customary introductions and instructions from the coordinators, we set off for the climb at around 9:30 AM.
The forest now got a little thicker and we could hear and see glimpses of birds and monkeys on tree tops. The slope was fairly gradual, so we walked on without much trouble. Around 11:15 AM, we came across a small hut, where the residents were drying coffee beans. We enquired about the process of cultivating and processing coffee beans, thanks to a friend who speaks Malayalam.
More than half the people were well behind us, and we decided to wait for them there. They reached, rested and we started again after about half an hour. The forest was still dense, and there were some false trails too, so we let the local guide (who was accompanying us right from the start) lead the way.
After another half an hour or so, we reached a clearing. There were hills opposite us too, and they were partly smeared by thick, white clouds. The view was beautiful, and a great point for some pictures.
We sat there for 10-15 minutes. Another 5-10 minutes later, we found a shack. A woman was selling some juice. It was 20 bucks a glass, and a great relief from the ever increasing heat, so everyone had 2-3 glasses at least. There was drinking water too, so we refilled our bottles from the tap. 15 minutes later we again set off.
It was around 1 PM now, and the sun was glaring down at us and there were hardly any trees for cover. The roads were wrapping into the hills and we kept marching on. The hills were all around us, and I felt strangely 'small' to be walking amidst them.
At around 2 PM, we felt quite hungry. Finding the first trace of tree cover, we sat beneath them, and had our packed lunch. It was over in a jiffy and 10-15 minutes later, we were trekking again.
We saw a few houses on the way, and we wondered how on earth do these guys manage to climb so much every day for their daily needs. The more we walked, the more houses we found. After walking another half an hour, we came to a point where we heard lot of people. Going another 5 minutes we saw a huge crowd walking at a flat land, probably around a 100 meters above our level. Then we saw roads leading up to it, a hotel, and lots of small shops.
By 3 PM, I and a friend of mine reached that point. We saw people coming there, fresh as daisies, in cars, bikes, buses etc. And this indeed was Top Station!
I was a tad disappointed because I signed up for a trek to experience raw nature, pristine and untouched. But here, there was everything a small town would have. Soon, 6-7 others also reached. We decided to to go to the Top Station view point, for which we had to buy tickets, and walk 5 minutes from there. From the shops, we bought some dark chocolates (it was a little too sweet I think), sat in the small gazebo and stared out into the hills. We ordered tea, coffee, maggi from time to time, and we must have spent more than an hour there. Finally the others reached too, but by the time they freshened up, had tea, and rested, it was around 5:30 PM, and darkness was setting in slowly.
There was more to go apparently. We had to make our way through the tea gardens to our campsite, and it made me feel a little optimistic. Maybe there is still more to the trek. And yes, the best part was yet to come!
We left from the Top Station view point, and just in time, got a couple of shots of the sunset.
5 minutes later, the tea gardens came into view. They were just everywhere, on the left, on the right, above us, below too. The mist was setting in now, and it made for some magical views.
For almost an hour we kept walking, and at every turn, the view would be something different and even more amazing.
We reached the campsite at around 6:30 PM finally. It was completely dark and soon, we lit a bonfire. We changed into fresh clothes, had dinner being provided by BMC and sat down near the fire for some Mafia. Till then, we hardly knew 3-4 people. After the game, everyone knew everyone (if not by name, then by 'detective' or 'mafia' or 'doctor', in accordance to their respective roles in the game).
By around 10-10:30 PM, everyone was tired and sleepy. One by one, people retired for the night, into the tents already set up for us by BMC.
But I had other ideas. I just got a new tripod the week before, and I wanted to try out some long exposure shots. I took the following shots in complete darkness, on a moonless night, at 11 PM in the night.
My obsession didn't end there. I woke up at 5:15 AM before everyone else to capture some stars. The cold was unforgiving, and I was shivering. But I'm glad I got a few satisfying shots.
An hour or so later, people started getting up one by one. Tea was being served and the bonfire lit again, and it did provide some relief. But I was away at a better vantage point, still shivering, ready to capture the first rays of the sun.
Around 6:45, the sky started turning orange, and soon enough, the sun emerged from the hills. Putting up three stages of it below, out of about 30 shots I clicked without pause.
We left from there at around 7:30 AM. After a 15 minute walk, we reached a shack, where we had hot idlis and pulao for breakfast. After that, we walked back amidst the tea gardens again to Top Station.
We waited for all the people to reach, and started our descent at about 9:45 AM, but this time, through a different route. The views this time were even better than on our way up.
Our half was way ahead of the group behind us, and it gave us enough time to lie down amidst the hills, an experience I am beginning to enjoy more and more.
I never took my camera out of the bag after this point, and decided to enjoy the walk down. We raced down all the way, literally running at certain points. We found a tiny waterfall, where we all went in for a swim. Any weariness we had, was washed away by the cool, fresh water. By noon, we got out and made our way for the last half an hour's walk to the starting point.
We reached the bus, repacked everything we had left in the bus, and got down to a nearby shop to have lime water. The other group reached maybe an hour later, and by the time we started our journey back to Bangalore, it was around 2 PM.
We got some self sponsored lunch on the way, and slept in the bus till about 6 PM. After that, we got crazy playing Mafia again, and we had a gala time. We had dinner on the way too, and played Mafia till the time we got off the bus. We hardly realised that it was 1:45 AM by that time, but none of us showed any sign of tiredness. By this time, everyone gelled with each other so well, that it hardly felt like we were all strangers 2 days ago.
The Top station trek is high up in the list of my favourite treks. It is so scenic and beautiful, that I wouldn't mind going again. I exercised my photography skills too, which otherwise I hardly have motivation for, being in the city, doing a 9-6 job. I look forward to do many more treks in 2017, the love for which was ignited by the series of treks I did in 2016. Next up is a trek to the Chembra peak near Wayanad, Kerela, which I'll be going for in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned for a post on that one pretty soon!