After my first trek to Charmadi in October, I had decided to visit the Ghats again at least 3 more times. With that I would have covered many significant peaks and waterfalls in this range. So here I was in November planning for my 2nd trek to the region.
Our guide Isubu of Charmadi prefers to have more people for company. Hence he had instructed me to come at least in group of 6. Moreover in this region, the trek works out economical if there are enough people to fill a jeep as we have to engage a jeep to reach the base points of the trail. So this time we are 7 of us: I and my wife Veena, Sreekanth and his colleague Eti, Ashok and his fiancee Ramya and Ashwin, Ashok’s brother. Ramya is a complete beginner for treks. Ramya appears confident; we aren’t sure if her confidence in scaling the peak is strong or her inclination to be with Ashok is stronger. Ashwin is apprehensive of his fitness to complete this trek, but finally decides to join.
At the start: in front of Hasanabba’s Hotel Charmadi
(L2R: Bharata, Veena, Ramya, Ashok, Sreekanth)
We reach Dharmastala at 6.15AM on a Saturday morning. After breakfast and return ticket reservation, we set out to Charmadi in a jeep. It is 8.30AM when we reach Charmadi. This time our plan is to trek to Minchukallu peak on day 1. As per Dinesh Holla of Youth Hostel Mangalore, this is the highest peak in this Charmadi range. We board two Autos and reach Kakkinje village at 9AM, where we shift to a 4 wheel drive jeep. The jeep enters the kaccha road in no time. It is less of a road and more of a rocky terrain. It is more than an hour since we started when we reach a place which looks something like a dead end. Isubu has missed the route and the jeep has to backtrack for a couple to kilometers before finding the right path. After another 30min the jeep finally stops beside a tiny stream in a fairly dense forest. Our trek starts from here. Isubu informs the jeep driver to pick us up at 6PM in the evening. But the pickup point is different from this as we plan to get down from the Kumbhakallu side in the evening.
Minchukallu peak (the right one)
The trek starts with an initial steep climb through the forest. Most of us are already gasping for breath. During my last trek to Charmadi in October, the weather was nice and cool. But this time it is hot and humid. My thermometer reads 34C. We emerge out of thick woods only to be confronted by grass almost 5ft in height. The trail is nowhere in sight, but Isubu has some sense of direction and we follow him navigating the tall grass. It is around 12PM when we take the first break. The Banana (the Nendra [Kannada word] variety) which we had picked up from Ujire tastes very good. We are told that infact they are very nutritious. Ashwin looks tired and he is already thinking of staying back and joining us when we return from the same path. But after a bit of encouragement and a dose of glucose Ashwin is ready for the next lap.
Ramya and Veena negotiating the thick growth
Now we have gained some altitude (700m to be precise) and are walking in the grassland completely exposed to sun. We are taking frequent breaks and Ashwin keeps lagging behind. While Ashwin wants to stay back, Isubu isn’t happy leaving him there. The route we have taken is frequented by elephants and Isubu isn’t comfortable leaving Ashwin alone there. As Ashwin gives up, Ashok takes the responsibility of staying with him until we get back from the peak. So we move ahead leaving Ashok Ashwin pair behind with a wireless set. Ramya is looking visibly tired but decides to come with us. We have been seeing the Minchukallu peak ever since we started; it looks so near but we are walking towards it all the time. We cross a couple of small hills on the way and a valley where we replenish our water supply. The stream is too tiny to collect water directly into our bottles. Isubu quickly chops off a bamboo shoot which we employ as pipe to direct water into the bottles.
It is around 1.45PM and we are feeling hungry. That is when we realize that we have left our lunch pack behind with Ashwin. We have to survive on oranges and sweet lime until we rejoin him. We take a break on a rock finishing our final stock of fruits. Ramya looks exhausted but it is too late to turn back. She says that all peaks look similar and wonders if it makes any difference if we scale Minchukallu today. We have no answer, we just get going. We keep in touch with Ashok over the wireless and inform our progress, or rather Ramya’s progress to him. After sometime we are no longer in the line-of-sight range and our communication ceases.
At around 2.30 in the afternoon, we are finally on Minchukallu peak. This peak is at 1343m as per my altimeter. Veena looks visibly relieved after reaching the peak. We can’t stay long here as we have absolutely nothing to eat. We spend half an hour of photographic moments at the peak. Isubu is hopeful of spotting elephants or bison from here, but we find none. So we start back on our return trek. Isubu mentions that it will be 8PM by the time we reach the jeep pickup point, but we don’t believe him. We think that he is just trying to get us walk quickly. It is around 4PM when we rejoin Ashwin and Ashok. We get a new lease of life after eating chapattis.
At the peak
(L2R: Isubu, Veena, Eti, Bharata, Ramya, Sreekanth)
From here we take a diversion towards the Kumbhakallu peak. Not many of us have the energy left for another climb as per the original plan. So instead of taking Kumbhakallu head on, Isubu is now taking us beside it. Everybody seems to have already decided that the trek is almost over. Most of us extremely tired. When that happens, legs stop coordinating with the brain. That is when people start slipping and falling down. The trail completely covered by grass doesn’t help us. We keep falling down every now and then. While Ashwin leads the group with maximum number of falls, Eti competes with him. Ramya is also close behind. Even now we are not aware of what lies ahead of us. We are hopeful that once we cross Kumbhakallu we will reach the jeep pickup point.
A veiw of the surrounding mountains
Isubu has become silent. He no longer responds to the queries about the remaining distance. We cross Kumbhakallu at around 5.30PM and reach a valley. It is beginning to get dark; especially in the dense growth of the valley, it is even darker. At around 6.30PM it becomes pitch dark. So now we are walking silently in a line guided by torches. There is no energy left to complain about the terrain; there are bigger issues to worry about. What if our jeep driver decides to return back not finding us at 6PM ? Even Isubu appears clueless at times about our next plan of action. After an hour’s walk, we are finally out of forest and hit a jeep track. We walk for half an hour on this track to reach our destination. But the jeep is nowhere in sight. Isubu checks with the only house here and they have seen nothing of the jeep. We are in a private estate and there is no hope of getting any vehicle here. Isubu silently moves ahead and we follow.
Minchukallu in the evening
It is 8PM and we see a vehicle approaching us. It should be a jeep and it should be our jeep. Who else would come here at this hour ? The jeep had in fact arrived here at 6PM but without finding us, the driver had gone to check out the morning’s drop point in case we returned from there. Not finding us there, he was making a second trip to this place. We are completely dependent on the driver in these places and fortunately drivers are sensible enough not to let us down. We come back to Charmadi and book the last 3 remaining rooms in the Hotel Mavantoor of Ujire. It is 9.15PM when we check into the hotel. Only in the bright surroundings of the hotel that we become conscious of our appearance; we need a wash. After a good dinner and a thorough wash we end the day. It has indeed been a very long day.
We get up leisurely on Sunday. Ashwin and Eti decide against joining us on the 2nd day. We reach Kakkinje village where we are joined by Isubu and Asman, Hasanabba’s son. Today the plan is to reach a waterfall named Dondale fall. Again we book a jeep to reach the base of the trail. At around 10AM our jeep approaches a private estate which we have to cross. Isubu’s attempt to let us in fails this time and we are forced to divert to an alternate route. This turns to be a blessing in disguise as the jeep track ends near the Aniyur stream. Our trek begins today by crossing this stream. Though the stream is just knee depth, we end up having a few tough moments crossing this stream since the current is strong.
On the rocks: Bharata, Veena, Ashok
We cross a mildly dense forest after that and enter a village and walk besides some fields. We again hit the forest, this time pretty dense. Humidity is at its peak and temperature is 35C. And the trail has leeches and plenty of them. We walk alongside the stream for some distance. The sight of a river flowing in a dense forest is so beautiful. The wilderness of the surroundings is very inviting. We reach Dondale falls at 12.15PM. Every waterfall is attractive and this one is no exception. This waterfall is quite wide and there is a large rocky area by the side of the stream which is under shade. There is a lot of space here and it is an ideal place for a night camp. We spend close to 2 hours relaxing at the falls. I and ashok spend sometime bathing in the cold water.
At around 5.30PM we are back in Ujire and quickly vacate the hotel to spend more time in Dharmastala. First we climb (by steps) the small hillock in Dharmastala where there is a 14m statue of Bahubali. The adjoining area is vast and there is some serenity in this place. Next we join the long queue of people wishing for a glimpse of Lord Manjunatha of Dharmastala temple. Today there are more devotees and it takes us an hour for this. The temple offers lunch and dinner to thousands everyday. We too finish our dinner in the temple. We then proceed to the new big KSRTC bus stand of Dharmastala to start our return journey to Bangalore. Isubu has already given me the itinerary for the next Charmadi trek, the Banjar peak and the Banjar falls.