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George of the jungle

A wall of greenery, bloodthirsty leeches, and streams of fresh water: What's not to love?

travel Updated: Jun 20, 2010 18:47 IST

It may seem that the adventure
quotient of a hike is proportional
to its altitude, but not everyone
climbs just to get to the top. For
tropical trekkers, there's more
pleasure to be found in exploring
jungles and observing nature.

If you've walked through a wildlife reserve or even a coffee estate, you'll know what to expect. Unlike mountain treks that are about climbing and soaring views, jungle hikes are about greenery so abundant it hems you in. The land is undulating, the weather humid, it rains often and you frequently come across lakes, rivers and waterfalls.

"It can suddenly become dark at noon because of the thick vegetation; finding your way out while trying not to disturb the ecological balance is the challenge," says Sankara Subramanian, 28, from Bangalore. Even plucking a leaf in a bio diverse spot can disturb the balance, so trekkers have to be very cautious.

Subramanian has been on tropical treks in central and southern India, traversing coffee plantations at Baba Mulayangiri, wildlife sanctuaries at Brahmagiri, and the Kodachadri hills. "I've walked on railway tracks, through honey valleys, and in dense jungles. It's just beauty of all kinds put together," he says.

Know the challenges
Acclimatisation in tropical areas is about dealing with humidity, staying hydrated, and protecting yourself from pollen and dust mite allergies. "Before starting out, know your area well and go on a three-hour long trial at different times of the day," says wildlife filmmaker Mike Pandey.

At various times, Pandey has suffered allergies, been stung by leeches and encountered charging elephants, tigers and leopards. But he's learnt these things can be avoided.

"You're not part of their food cycle so animals won't attack unless they feel threatened. Listen to the sounds and remain a mute spectator. In that lies the adventure," he says.

Leeches are a major concern it's hard to escape them. Some trekkers mix salt, lemon, snuff and tobacco in cloth and tie it around their legs. Others take saltwater baths with Dettol and soak their socks, jeans and cap in the same solution.

Some places have specific challenges. For the Sabarimala temple trek in Kerala, for example, hikers practise walking barefoot on a thorny path 40 days before the journey. And if you go to the Dudhsagar waterfalls in Goa, you'll encounter whisper rain: A moisture-filled mist that condenses into water when you walk through it.

Staying safe in the wild
Exploring uncharted lands may sound tempting, but wandering into the forest without foreknowledge is a bad idea. "A map isn't always helpful, since rain can transform the topography," says Subramanian. To be safe, travel in a group, stay on the trail, and take along a local guide.

"Trekking on forest territory isn't permitted in quite a few places, so apprise the local authorities of your trip. They might mistake you for poachers otherwise," says Pandey.

You'll need to have the right gear, but travelling light is important. Use a headlamp, wear good boots, a raincoat and carry thick clothing so that you can avoid being bitten by insects and other small creatures.

So take along a camera. Says wildlife photographer Gaurav Athalye, "If you're bored of landscape photography, on tropical treks you can explore a whole new vista -- that of macro-photography."

Start your trek early in the day, and camp near a village at night. "As you walk across the Nilgiris, you hit small towns where farmers grow spices and even herbal medicines. It's overwhelming to see what nature keeps hidden from you until you discover it for yourself," says Pandey.

Tropical treks

Periyar forest in Kerala, can be explored on day/night trek. Kodagu peak in Coorg is the highest in Karnataka and known for the locals who're beekeepers. At the Brahmagiri wildlife sanctuary in Karnataka you may see gaurs, elephants, tigers and deer. At Silent Valley park, Kerala, you can study butterflies, orchids.
Keep these in mind
Carry empty bags and bring back your trash. Never chop trees. Try not to use toothpaste as it has fluoride that can kill fish in the water. Conduct a recce beforehand or trek with a local who knows the forest. Plan the trek so that you end the day at a village on the forest's edge. Don't panic if faced by an animal; they don't attack unless cornered.