(A soulful journey of a nature lover to Munda Pahad)

… While you are here; Leave your ego away somewhere

- Sarpreet Kaur

Standing on the soaring peak of the southern tip of South Andaman, the jovial winds were playing with my hair while sounding like a lullaby to the ear. My eyes were astonished looking at the quaint combination of green and blue waves rhythmically tickling the base of an old and wise mountain. Unhindered by these commotions was the infinite sea meditating in his own pool of tranquillity. This place goes by name ‘Munda Pahad’, reached via a small trek which starts from Chidiya Tapu, a 28 km ride from Port Blair. Andaman was regaining its glory- the tourists. After having almost eight months of quiet, Andaman’s was ready to bounce again under the zeal and enthusiasm from all parts of the world.

You can book a cab, ride or a bus or rent a bike from the capital to reach this place. We chose to bike all the way so as not to miss an ounce of experience of whirly winds and bumpy giggles. You hop on a 21st-century highway, with thriving businesses on one side and the other side marked by the under-construction oyster shell-shaped airport. Seeing the hustle-bustle and the development, I was not able to imagine what it would have looked like after the 2004 tsunami. But it seemed like the people of Mini India (Andaman fondly called so) soon crossed over the hurdle and with strong willpower brightened up the place again.

The modernistic highway was soon replaced by narrow lanes, local shops and patches of beautiful unhindered green plants. About 10 km on road and the real essence of Andaman started unfolding. One side of the road being caressed by an infinite expanse of sea dancing on the beats of salty wind and the other side of the road was marked with coconut trees standing like sentinels and untouched weed, enjoying in its primitive glory dotted by slanting roof huts painted in pinks, blues and oranges.

We halted at a roadside spot which seemed perfect for having lunch. It is better to carry your lunch along in this journey as there are minimal chances of getting proper food along the way, so some essentials are a small bedsheet or a mat, a packed lunch and few water bottles. We ate sitting on a rocky yet mildly verdant wall, fanned by sea wind under the shade of a tree. After silencing the grumbling tummy we let the minds fly and emancipate on wings of the wind. The sea was already making me feel lighter, shooing away all the stress of cities and jobs, the sea was whispering.

Why stress much

There is nothing like I, ME, MY as such

There won’t be time anymore

This is what you are born for

While you are here

Leave your ego away somewhere

Though our body and soul were not yet ready to depart from this beautiful scene, we had to make an understanding and bid goodbye. The Munda Pahad trek has strict time policy and you are not allowed to start the trek after 3:30 pm. We kicked start our scooter and were off on the breathtaking route singing our hearts out as the wind was too loud to let anyone else hear our brawls. The sea was singing along and keeping us company almost the entire route that we had covered. Suddenly a cool gust of wind whirled through, the sea respectfully gave way to tall canopies and we were welcomed by a song of a bird and rustle of leaves. This was the revered tropical rainforest, a reserved forest area, one of the very few patches left in India. The tall canopies of the tropical evergreen forest shadowed most of the road and only very few rays of the sun were able to get through the dense foliage.  On one side were the roots of the tropical trees embedded strongly in the earth stealthily peeping at us from a window and it was a valley on the other side where the canopies themselves reached up to the road and waved a hello. A bird took a flight perching from one tree to another, the sound of her wings fluttering made an echo all around.  Just the moment after being too overwhelmed by the forest, the sea suddenly held my hand and gave me a wavy smile.

I was amazed how contrasts were presented in Andaman. God sure is a talented artist, the way he blended the blue shade of sea with the deep green of the forest and the sandy brown of mountains. Few turns and then a narrow road leads you to the beach of Chidiya Tapu.

It’s a bare beach with soft sand that pokes you till your feet tickle. The sea was calm and backed by brawny hills on both sides. Few fishes defied the sea and followed back to the beach out of curiosity and were swimming in a small strip of water, playing with the kids.

The area is marked with beautiful log benches under the shade of tall green trees, skin-brown sand making a boundary between you and the endless sea. Hold the hand of your loved one or hold the hand of your soul and just walk around, that’s what beaches are for. You will be amused to feel the sand under your feet being replaced by green leafy shrubs, basically, mangroves born out of the sea and now left out due to retreated water. I looked up and saw the tall trees again, the trees that have lived here well before we came and they will be here well after our time. I touched the bark to feel eternity. The tsunami he bore, umpteen thunderstorms he felt, but still standing strong and proud. I touched the tree to leave a part of me so that even when I am long gone at least the tree will remember me. I broke my reverie and we were off to Munda pahad trek.

Munda Pahad marks the southernmost tip of South Andaman. The route to trek is hidden in dense foliage and there is this rather small opening on the left side of the beach itself from where you embark on your journey. The trek is layered with roots that sure make you tumble, at least someone like me who is everything but nimble. I was glad to get my best sports shoes on. However, while trekking I still tumbled a lot and then saw a girl in high heels treading very lightly like a sparrow on each stone. So the choice of footwear is up to you. Just need to know yourself and choose wisely. Once in a while a quirky chameleon will cross your path and look at you amusingly, his eyes hinting “Go straight up it’s not that far”. I nod in agreement and let again on the slope with a vigour. You will be huffing puffing the way if you are a Punjabi who has eaten dollops of butter, but you will glide if you are Himachali like my partner whose first steps were ironically on a very Himalayan trek. You will hear the swooshing sounds of waves and feel the sea. When the trek is nearing its end you will see an antique yet exotic lighthouse but it is when you look on to your left, through a narrow leafy opening when your heart twirls.

Pictures never do justice to the beauty of humans as well as nature and neither does this picture. It is not about what you see, it is about what you feel. I was standing on the precipice of the world with strong winds blocking all other noises around me. All I could see was turquoise sea hundreds of feet below or wherever my eyes could see. I was letting myself go for the first time in my life. No, I was not going to jump, there was no need. I was already high on nature. At last, the brain fell silent to let the heart take lead. He knew he was nothing before these seas. The swooshing water travelling through bare rocks and touching the feet of the revered mountains while the branches giggled seeing the waves being so playful. You don’t visit Munda pahad to see it, you visit to feel it. I have been to places and have hopped steps of success but all seemed bizarre when the wind caressed my locks and even the uptight bun was for once smiling and letting go.

While I was immersed in contemplating the scene, my partner was eager to go the next mile. He turned around the naked curve of the trek and looked back at me. The smile on his face said it all. He is in armed forces so to make him smile from the heart after such a stern training is something only beyond awesome things can do. I knew what was going to happen. My heart might stop.

The twin peaks looking out at the sea. I felt like I was flying. The rock under our feet was minuscule as compared to the largeness of the sea around us. I don’t know how to explain the blue or the wind. I just know that I was flying. Three retired friends were sitting there and enjoying the view with an aura of silence and poise that only old age gifts. There were a bunch of social media enthusiasts smiling broadly with creativity overflowing. Once a boomerang was shot, then the slow-mo followed, a selfie tagged along and individual pout was also not far behind.

The most amazing living creatures in the present moment were not human beings, they were the swiftlets. These are exotic birds that live in caves. They flew briskly from one end, their black wings moving along the wind, sometimes playing with it and other times angrily defying the force, straightening up and going down to the other side. These amazing birds have been prone to human poaching for quite a long time as the nests that they build are a kind of delicacy in some parts of the world. Still, they merrily take off and land again to build a new home.

As every good thing comes to an end, so did this. The trek back was full of smiles and laughter, with every branch that cracked under our foot some pearl of wisdom was uttered. The ego was gone, the awareness of how small we were was at its peak. Though it won't be long before we shall lose all the pearls gathered and again burn in agony but till then let us take the peace for, however, it lasts. Even if I again get lost in the crowd of cities, I left a part of me on this journey.