September 13, 2006

Blood Donation Camp At Brahmagiri

September 13, 2006 Posted by Vijay 1 comment
Such a title wouldn’t be what you would normally associate with a travelogue. But situations, circumstances made us involuntarily volunteering for a blood donation camp at Brahmagiri, where we attempted to go for a trek on the weekend which just went by. More details about this unusual nature’s own donation camp will be covered in the later part of this travelogue.

Bordering the Kerala Karnataka border, in the Coorg district is the Brahmagiri range. It is around 250 kms from Bangalore. To reach this place, one needs to catch a bus going towards Srimangala, via Gonikoppa. We (Suresh,Renjith,Alok, myself) took a Rajahamsa Executive bus booked for Friday night (8th September 2006) 11:00 p.m., going towards Kutta, which goes via Srimangala. The booking this time was wee better than the one which I had done for the Mullayanagiri trip, because, I did this one 6 hours earlier, but still just 2 days prior to the trip itself. Through the last week, we had spoken with the Forest Officer, Pramod (Ph: +919448813835) at Srimangala, to confirm our arrival at the place on Saturday morning.

The plans were extensive. It was to trek up to Narimalai, cover Brahmagiri on the same day, then camp there overnight, then trek to Narimalai/Munekkal Caves the next day (Pakshipaathalam in Kerala side of the range) and return back on Sunday evening. Such plans for camping needed preparations, atleast for food. For camping sake, we purchased Ready to Eat MTR foods, noodles and all. And we were all set to go by Friday night.

Having booked a Rajahamsa bus, albeit the last set of 4 seats, we were hopeful of a comfortable ride. Since I was holding the tickets for all 4, I got in the bus first and was quick to realize where my seating would make more sense (I called this Strategic Positioning!). Simply because, I saw two pretty young things (PYTs) seated next to the first row of seats we had booked. I was willing to exercise the 90 degree turn that my head provides in garnering more details about the PYTs. For once, I just DID NOT want the window seat and was more than happy with the one adjacent to it, hoping against hope that something would happen overnight and put me in as yet unexplored realms.

The bus seemed to have come directly from a Physics lab where practical classes were going on. For even on the smooth Bangalore Mysore highway, it shook up every single passenger from their seat, not because of the road, not at all, but by simple Physics. Resonance is the phenomenon which happened, as the frequency of vibration of the body of the Bus was matching up with the natural frequency of vibration of the whole bus (Or is that the right way of putting it??)Well, so much for past learnings, we really didn’t want a real time experience of these lessons, not so late at night.

Very soon, resonance was taking its toll on passengers as well as accessories of the passengers alike. While the phenomenon was tickling all of us every bit and making us shiver when we still weren’t close to being locked inside a freezer in a fridge, those who were wearing shoes, watched in surprise as these quietly disappeared from the back seats in the bus, to places which had to be found, in order to retrieve them. I was almost at the point of helping one of the PYTs who was looking for her shoes, but their proactive nature didn’t allow me to offer them help. The reader must here understand that the lights were switched off in the bus, and I could still look at what was happening to the PYTs’. Now that’s why I would like to call myself as an eternal hopeful!

Turning around 90 degrees wasn’t proving to be of much help, and I was now slowly starting to realize that it was better to make use of whatever little, sleep could offer me as rest, from the exhaustion of the bus journey, which was still not over. PYTs will come and go, but sleep needs to go on forever. Actually, I really didn’t have any other option, for the PYTs had also gone to sleep by then. But I was glad that they were there all through until the time we alighted at Srimangala the next day morning.

Sleepy little place, is what Srimangala is. Famous for the Iruppu falls which is a 5-6 kms Jeep ride away from the Bus Stop, the Forest Range Officer’s office is also just a few hundred yards away from the bus stop. At 6:00 a.m when we got down, we could still see the moon piercing the darkness and lighting up Srimangala, even as the Sun was starting to peep from the skies. We waited patiently and went around a bit, and were pleasantly surprised when a helper of the nearby PWD guest house offered us the room there for freshening up. We were all too glad, and were really happy that things were going ahead much better than what we had planned.

We got into the dingy room in the guest house, which seemed to have been never cleaned for quite some time. But really, we had no complaints whatsoever. More importantly there were plug points and of course electricity and we got busy charging our cellphones, since there is no electricity at Narimalai where we had planned to stay overnight. After getting ourselves refreshed and having completed a few of the important morning chores, we went and took the permits from the Forest Range Office, just a few paces away, from the guest house. It costs 170 per head, which includes entry fee, and the accommodation at the top, plus 200 as the guide charges.

We then vacated the guest house and had breakfast at a small hotel near to the bus stop. Renjith and I know Malayalam, and being on the border side helped us in communication. We ordered for Patthiri, Poori and packed Dosa for lunch. The trek starts from near the Iruppu Falls, where Pramod (Forest Range Officer) had arranged for a guide who would take us to the top. We had requested that the guide be well versed in Malayalam, so that we could make some sense of what he says while going atop. We took a taxi from Srimangala towards Iruppu falls, which was a 15 minute drive.

There is a Shiva temple where we got down and another 5 minute walk would take us to the falls. The driver of the Maruti Omni we hired, dropped us there and the guide clad in khaki clothes was waiting for us near the temple premises. It was around 9 a.m when we reached there, and the guide was hoping that some more groups would be joining us on the trek. So he requested that we wait till 10:30 to start our trek. We took this opportunity to take some photos of the surroundings which were pretty. After the photo session, and after killing time around the same area, the guide by now realized that no one else would be joining for the trek. Since it had rained quite a bit, the guide was very pessimistic that we would be able to camp at the top or the night, since lighting fore might be a tough ask. But the locals around there assured us that a couple of 100 rupee notes would do wonders!

We started our trek, all excited, a 4.5 km walk upward. This would be trekking uphill, towards Narimalai, and would take atleast 2-3 hours. So, the plan was to reach the top at around 1:00 p.m and then cover Brahmagiri as well. Plans having been made, we set out to achieve the first target, to reach Narimalai, by 1:00 p.m. As the guide led the way through the initial few paces, the famous Iruppu falls was visible. Very famous around the Coorg region, it is also very close by to the Nagarhole National Park. The falls are formed from the Lakshmanatheertha river, which later on joins with the Cauvery river.

We were now moving into the forest trail which would lead us into the Brahmagiri range. Renjith and I have done a lot of trekking and the task at hand seemed quite possible. Just a couple of weeks back we had completed more than 15 kms of trekking in Mullayanagiri. But once we started climbing up the dense forest area, things started going wrong. That the rainy season had just come to an end, and trekking was possible is all what had mattered to us all along. But what we had never anticipated was about to unfold in a matter of minutes.

The dense, marshy areas of the Western Ghats are a haven for leeches. And we were beginning to realize, how big a haven it was for them. It had barely been 10 minutes into the trek, and already all of us were jumping around trying to take and shake off these slimy blood sucking parasites (SBSPs). None of us were being spared. But we went ahead, thinking it was the last we had seen of these SBSPs.

But things were only getting worse, as each one of us realized that the SBSPs were all around us. They were in all shapes and sizes; long, thin, small, short, and what not. But their mission was the same. They were literally jumping up from the ground and were thirsting for blood. Alok was more cautious and made sure that most of the SBSPs were taken off from his legs. But the menace that they were posing was quite astonishing and getting to be irritably dangerous.

The guide all through though was more bothered about what we would give him in return after we had completed the trek. He had already booked 2 packets of noodles for himself, even while all of us were struggling to avoid the SBSPs. He seemed to be super cool and just kept going. We had to take stops every 6 or 7 minutes to take off whatever SBSPs were on our legs. We were indeed wearing shoes and stuff, but SBSPs to this extent was quite unpredictable.

The climb was getting tougher by the minute, since we couldn’t stop anywhere to replenish our exhausting bodies, with food or biscuits. Halting at any point would mean a dozen more leeches. I too started realizing that there indeed were atleast a few of these SBSPs tucking at my skin and socks, feeding on my precious blood content. The first sign of leech bites is the itching. The more dangerous part of it is that it doesn’t pain and they pretty much suck blood without notice.

But we had to move on, and we had by now covered around 1 km uphill. But there was still a long way to go. And if we did stop the SBSPs would once again jump on to us. It’s hard to describe these SBSPs. They were literally dancing on the wet soil and now with fresh human blood just skin deep away, wasted no time in reaching out for our legs. Its funny, they get onto your shoes and then slowly snail their way underneath the pants. Renjith did catch a glimpse of what had become of his socks and his legs in between and it didn’t look pretty at all.

After about an hour and half, we realized we had had enough. There was no end to the menace of the SBSPs and the itching, and the very thought of having to cover 3 more kilometers was getting too much to think of. We decided then and there and communicated to the guide that its better we head back. He got worried that we would blame him for all the troubles we had, and his daily wages would be hit hard. We reassured him and kept walking back. We just wanted to get out of the mess that we had gotten into. The guide told us that the Iruppu falls were devoid of the SBSP menace, and we can get ourselves out of the leechy mess we were in.

At around 12:15 p.m in the bright sunshine we reached the Iruppu falls, and got to the place where people sit and enjoy the falls from a distance. The speed at which we wanted to check our shoes, socks and legs alike would have put even a person who has the most urgent of need to attend nature’s call to shame. None of us were spared. The sight of the SBSPs on my legs, all of them swollen and bulged because of sucking blood was yucky. We had indeed been on a voluntary blood donation, just that, the blood was donated, or rather taken in involuntarily from each of us! I was even a little scared at the sight and then realized, they were no snakes, and were just SBSPs, which could well be removed off the skin. I got into the act of removing them and the guide was helpful enough to get them off our legs, and socks and shoes.

Poor Renjith. He was the worst hit, and the leeches got stuck in bunches at his skin, and that made matters worse. Once these SBSPs are taken off, after they have had their stomachs full, the blood starts oozing out of the bite marks. With leech bites, what happens is that the clotting mechanism of the body at the leech bite marks is weakened and blood flow doesn’t stop easily. It takes minutes or even hours for the blood to stop oozing. And in Renjith’s case it was really bad and it just was almost incessant.

We were trying all methods to stop the bleeding, and by now, there were a lot of tourists passing by who wanted to just be at the falls, and not go trekking like the four of us did. There were blood stains now all over the place on the ground where, and we were becoming a major source of attraction. For once, Iruppu falls had become secondary as far was public viewing was concerned. But we realized we were getting attention for not all that great a reason. There was no public show that we were giving out there, but we really didn’t have any other option, but to take out cotton buds, clean our wounds, try to dry the wounds in the sun. We were now Objects of attraction, and Renjith was at the centre of it all. We were laughing at ourselves, and were honestly fortunate that we could laugh at ourselves. For, if we had ventured up on the trek even further, I am sure one of us would have definitely fainted. Exhaustion coupled with losing blood is a very dangerous cocktail.

We then had to take our pants off, to just be sure, how safe we were wearing them, and then immersed our legs knee deep in the water falls nearby to help with the blood to stop, The guide was right when he said that there wouldn’t be leeches around the falls. It was hard to believe what was happening to us, particularly me and Renjith. The blood flow just wasn’t stopping even after 3 hours. In the meantime, a beedi paper cover was pasted on 3-4 of Renjith’s affected areas and the blood flow stopped immediately. We however were glad that, these were just leech bites and we just had to be patient and the blood would stop. The counting now began as to who was the most generous among the blood donors. Renjith came first, with 65 bites. I came a distant second with around 35 bites. Alok and Suresh had to be content (sarcasm intended) with around 9 each

We figured out that it would be better to get the leech wounds of Renjith’s dressed up from a hospital nearby. We did not want to wait for too long, so we hired a jeep for 500 bucks and went to the closest (that’s what we were told) hospital, which was in Gonikoppa, a 45 minute drive from Srimangala. We reminisced the shocking turn of events, and the disappointment was writ large on all our faces. We had completely underestimated nature’s forces, and though we always kept discussing that we should carry lemon and salt to prevent leech bites, we always overlooked them. This time we paid a price, and learnt a lesson which we dare not repeat again.

Upon reaching Gonikoppa, we were taken to a Government hospital. It was apparent that TT injection would be required for the ones with the more number of leech bites. Now I was getting scared and a little bit embarrassed about where the strategic positioning of the injection needle would be. It normally is on an area where except for the nurse, I, for sure have always felt shy about. But then, one always consoles oneself saying, it’s after all a nurse, and at times, the consolation is also that, I am glad it’s a nurse!!!

Jokes apart, we were fortunate enough to get a doctor and we bought 2 injections one for myself and another for Renjith. I was disappointingly glad that the injection was on my left hand near the shoulder, disappointed because, the nurse was not the nurse I had hoped it would be. But treatment at that moment was far more pertinent. And once the injection was given, we were taken into the dressing room (remember, it is a hospital!!), and we were given tincture of iodine (atleast that’s what we thought it was) on our leech wounds. Shockingly though, the nurse who was applying this, was dipping the same cotton bud inside the same solution and applying on both mine and Renjith’s wounds. It was quite disgusting watching and realizing how many others’ wounds that same bud would have been used on. But, we had no other option at that time. We got our wounds dressed and proceeded with our journey.

After the rather eventful day, we had decided to head back to Bangalore. We were told, by very knowledgeable locals around the region (sarcasm intended) that there were buses every 15 minutes to Mysore from Gonikoppa. It was 5:30 p.m. in the evening now, and the skies had also opened up into quite a heavy drizzle. We were told that there was a bus at 5:45 p.m. But we soon realized how knowledgeable these locals were as no bus turned up at 5:45. So, we helped our empty stomachs to masala dosas and butter milk at a small hotel nearby.

After going around the Gonikoppa stand for sometime, we finally got a bus towards Mysore, at about 6:45 p.m. The eventful day though wasn’t yet over. The bus journey was no less entertaining as one of the passengers got into an argument with the bus conductor, and more passengers joined in the whole act. This went on for nearly an hour, and every time a voice was raised, things would erupt but stop just at the verge of people getting into blows.

After about 2 and half hours of bus journey through the very well maintained roads along Hunsur (sarcasm intended), we reached Mysore at around 9:00 p.m. We wanted to have a proper dinner, but decided instead to just have some hot beverages (in the form of a milk products mind you) and boarded a bus to Bangalore. And to think that we were actually planning to stay on top of Narimalai on that day night. Saying that it was a major turn of events would be an understatement. But this time, quit contrary to the previous trip to Mullayanagiri, we were all too glad to head back home and attend to our wounds, than think about how Bangalore had become not such a good place to live in.

Learnings: Never underestimate forces of nature. Always go during the right season time. We were later told by the guide that trekking during December season would have been ideal. Strangely we were never told about this by the Range officer himself. More importantly, while embarking on a trek, always, ALWAYS keep in mind that leeches can be a problem. So have all precautions in hand to prevent leeches from getting stuck (literally!!) on your body, by taking lemon and salt with you. That should help in atleast reducing the menace.

Note: Due to all these unexpected turn of events, not too many pictures were taken. Will try to add a few when I get hold of them :)

Head Back Home


Anonymous said...

..quite a trip!
its really fascinating to watch the leeches, who otherwise have as much life as a jelly fish...break into their euphoric, maniac rush to exposed skin!
i rem once, our arduous trek, had turned into a 2 km sprint to the falls, as the elaborate arsenal of salt and lime proved pathetic defense against the blood crazed adversary!
With nature..Flight is far better than fight!
< btw, leeches have a fetish only towards Nike/Reebok hike shoes..our guide in his paper thin Paragon chappals was unabashedly ignored!>

- Sinoi