Standing at the foot of Chembra Peak, one of the highest in Kerala, my 10-year-old cousin Sai suddenly clutched his stomach and doubled up in discomfort. Tears streaming down his rosy cheeks, he pleaded with the rest of us to leave him behind in the bus and go ahead with our hike.
It looked like a case of butterflies in the stomach to me. After all, Sai had been fine until I’d pointed out the peak we were about to climb. Then, he’d panicked. Anticipating exactly this kind of tricky situation, I’d initially been hesitant to take the kids in the family on a hike. But later, I figured it’s better to pull them away from their video games to enjoy the outdoors, in the hope that they might end up discussing Bear Grylls and eating bugs. So here I was in Wayanad in northern Kerala, about to embark on a hike with a group of friends and three pre-teen cousins.
While my friends sorted out the logistics with the forest guide, I tried to convince Sai that he was okay. After much persuasion and a promise that we’d turn back whenever he wanted to, he agreed to give it a shot.
It was a bright, beautiful June day as we made our way through a broad, stony trail past lush tea plantations on the slopes of Chembra. Minutes into the hike, I felt a huge surge of relief—somewhere ahead and leading the pack was Sai. Apparently, his apprehensions had evaporated with the fresh mountain air. When I jokingly asked him if we should turn back, he flashed a coy smile and sprinted ahead with the others.
As the sun moved higher up the sky, the four of us cousins climbed ahead through the dense forest beyond the plantations. We stopped at a small trickling rivulet where the children pulled a Bear Grylls, pretending to search for water in the wild. It brought a smile to my face: I’ve wanted my cousins to experience the joy of being in the outdoors and appreciate natural beauty early in life, so they can pursue the interest in earnest as they grow up. I started hiking only when I was in my mid-twenties and have often regretted not beginning sooner.
As you go higher up Chembra, the forests begin to disappear and the slopes are covered in a carpet of rolling shola grasslands. Settled in the midst of this sprawling expanse of green, was a heart-shaped lake. We sat on its bank enjoying the cool breeze and snacking on some munchies—a different kind of breakfast setting than the children are used to. From here, we had a clear view of the peak we were about to climb. It looked steep and daunting, but by now the kids knew that mountains are conquered one step at a time.
While the rest of the team rested by the lake, the four of us chose to move ahead so we could get a head start in case one of us lagged behind. Almost hidden in the tall grass, my cousins hiked on the narrow trail that went straight up the slope. It was tiring but we maintained a good pace. It was also heartening to see them help each other out. Hemanth, the eldest of the three, had first acted like the reluctant hero, miffed that I had put him in charge of pacing his younger cousins. He soon took to the part and did not leave their side until all three of them had reached the top. Despite the drama before we set off, they were among the first to make it.
After we returned, my friends asked the three young ’uns if they wanted to hike again. In reply, they got emphatic nods and beaming smiles. For a bunch hooked on to video games and leading largely sedentary lives, it was all I could ask for.
(Moderate) Single day
The hike up to one of the highest peaks in Kerala’s Wayanad district is a bit demanding but can be done in one day and does not require camping. It’s most pleasant at the start of the monsoon in early June, or right after it, in October.
(Easy) Single day
The trek up to the state’s highest peak (1,930 m) isn’t daunting. A track and a flight of concrete steps leads to the top within an hour, but avid trekkers prefer an older, less frequented trail. Get here before sunrise or sunset.
Stick to the winter months (Oct-Nov) to scale Karnataka’s third highest peak, situated in Coorg district. The day-long expedition is similar to the Chembra trek.
Chamoli district houses this vast Himalayan alpine grassland, with an elevation of over 3,353 m. The trail starting from either Lohajung or Wan villages goes ahead to the legendary Roopkund Lake, but you can take children only until Bedni Bugyal as the full hike is not recommended for young ’uns. Suitable for kids over 10 years, with some training.
Tshoka, near Yuksom, is a campsite that falls on a trail that extends until Kanchendzonga base camp and Goecha La. Between February and March, the slopes are speckled with rhododendrons in full bloom. Suitable for children 10 years and over.
Appeared in the April 2015 issue as “The Kids Are All Right.”
is an itinerant freelance travel writer and photographer who enjoys purposefully getting lost in the mountains and going to faraway corners where Google Maps fail. She tweets as @i_wanderingsoul.
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