Charmadi Ghats is a range in Western Ghats of Karnataka bordering Dakshina Kannada (DK) and Chickmagalur districts. The part of Ghats which I would be exploring starts near a village named Charmadi. It is not sure if the village gets its name from the Ghats or vice versa. Charmadi, a very small village, is approachable via Dharmastala and Ujire from DK side.
Not many people had reported much about trekking in this area. Dinesh Holla of Mangalore, associated with the Youth Hostel there, provided information about the routes and the local contacts. Youth Hostel, Mangalore arranges treks to this place frequently. The local contact Hasanabba is a social worker in Charmadi and is well known through out the area. He runs a hotel called “Hotel Charmadi” which mainly caters to the truck drivers (the highway connecting DK and Chickmagalur passes through this village). The guide Isubu is a middle aged man who works for Hasanabba and who has spent around 40 years in this region. He knows every inch of the forests here. With such a well informed local guide, it is possible to explore those unfrequented routes, which otherwise is not possible.
It was mid October when Bharadwaj (more familiar by his nickname Pilla) and I decided to check out the Ghats of Charmadi. As always we begin our weekend trek on Friday night by an overnight bus journey from Bangalore to Dharmastala. The unprecedented rains which had inundated Bangalore had just stopped. Hasanabba informed from Charmadi that it was raining mildly there but that shouldn’t stop us. Pilla meets a colleague (a native of Ujire) of his in the bus and he instantly calls us mad for having ventured upon a trek in this season with just two of us. Added to that, Pilla also meets his company’s HR who couldn’t resist from commenting if she would see Pilla back in office again. Not a good beginning but we are already on our way.
The Rajahamsa bus arrives in Dharmastala at 5.30AM . Dharmastala temple complex has good staying arrangements for devotees. We finish our morning ablutions in the well maintained community toilets. We also finish an early breakfast in Dharmastala. Buses ply regularly on Dharmastala – Ujire route. From Ujire one route goes to Mangalore and the other to Moodigere (of Chickmagalur district) via Charmadi. Ujire is around 10km from Dharamstala and Charmadi is further 15km from Ujire. We take a jeep and reach Charmadi at 6.45AM . It looks like the village is still sleeping. It is Ramzan time and we had to wake up Hasanabba from his morning sleep. After some wait me meet our guide Isubu. Isubu is the corrupted form of his original name Yousuf!
Isubu’s plan is to first take us to Alekhan falls which is on the Ujiri-Moodigiri highway at around 8km from Ujire. After more than an hour’s wait for any kind of transportation, we finally board a tempo at 8.45AM . While Isubu prefers to be alongside the driver, Pilla and I very enthusiastically get on to the empty backside. The ride is rough and bone rattling. We feel relieved to be one single piece when we reach Kottigehara village. We have come 8km ahead of Alekhan falls because Isubu needs to finish his breakfast in Kottigehara😦
We had come for trekking, but instead we are walking back from Kottigehara village towards Alekhan falls on asphalted road. Weather is soft on us and the surrounding mountain views are extremely beautiful, so we haven’t lost anything, we feel. Moreover Isubu talks non-stop recounting many interesting events of Charmadi Ghats. A car with a Sardarji and a foreign lady drives past us, stops, reverses and approaches us and offers us lift. We are pleasantly surprised. But for reasons best known to Isubu, the offer is turned down. We finally arrive at Alekhan falls. While Alekhan falls is visible completely from the roadside; one can also get down a few meters to reach the base of the falls.
After a long walk on the road we reach the starting point of the trail to Bidirutala hill at 12PM . The beginning of the trail is wide and looks like an abandoned jeep trial, but quickly it narrows down and becomes steeper. It takes an hour for us to reach the Bidirutala hill. The view from the top is spectacular and we can see green mountains all around as far as the eyes could see. I have seen many parts of Western Ghats (like Pushpagiri/Kumara parvata, Mullaianagiri, Narasimhaparvata(Agumbe), Kodachadri), but I can’t remember anything like this in terms of vastness and natural beauty. Charmadi Ghats are simply amazing ! We spot a few bisons grazing on a distant hill as we move along.
Clouds cover us from everywhere and it appears as if it will pour. We quickly finish our lunch of Chapattis and MTR RTEs. Our next destination is Barekallu(or Balekallu) peak. We cross a couple of small peaks on the way. At some places Isubu gives us options; either to cross the peak on the edge or through valley. On the edges, usually there is only grass and in the valley we can find dense forests. Thus we move ahead by alternating between grasslands and forests. Here the definition of Shola forests seems to fit the best; vast grasslands separated by narrow dense forests. If it is sunny to walk in the open grasslands, we have to face the leach wrath in the dense forests. Isubu is equipped with a paste made out of Nashya [Kannada word] powder and coconut oil, which when smeared on shoes will keep the leach away. At 3PM we are at Barekallu peak. Since Barekallu is at significant altitude, many peaks in the range are visible from here. One can see Jenukallu , Kodekallu, Yerikallu, Minchukallu and Kumbhakallu from here. We spend half an hour on the peak before starting to our next destination – Kodekallu.
Kodekallu [Kannada translation: kode – umbrella, kallu – stone] has a big umbrella like stone on its peak. We spot bear pug marks in this place. We spend sometime in the peak enjoying the serene atmosphere here. From here Isubu took us through a downhill trek in a rocky and shrubby terrain. The highlight of this part of the trek was sighting a porcupine from a very close range. Isubu would have liked kill it for meat but we turn down the idea.
At around 5.30PM we emerge out of the woods and enter the road. We keep walking towards Charmadi in a hope to catch a passing vehicle. We walk for around 2 hours, waiving in vain at every passing vehicle for lift. Finally a lorry stops and puts and ends to our misery on the road. After finishing the trek in the woods, it is kind of hard to recharge ourselves again for such a long walk and wait. The lorry driver knows Isubu and that’s the reason he had stopped. We can’t imagine where we would have ended up otherwise. Lorry driver recounts some crimes that have happened here over years. It appears that many killers dump the bodies in the forests here. But people keep finding them out and Isubu says he himself has spotted a body once. Because of all this trucks don’t stop anywhere in between (of course private cars are out of the equation anyway) in these Ghats . This driver is a typical of a lorry driver, drunk, and talking endlessly about his life as a driver, from which we get some idea about their tough lives as drivers.
So finally at the end of the day one, we make an entry into Hotel Mavantoor in Ujire in our dirty trek getup and with the lorry driver for introduction. It takes an effort to remove all the leaches from our shoes and clothes. After a refreshing bath and a sumptuous dinner, we crash for the day.
We start to Charmadi village again after a heavy breakfast in the hotel. The journey till Kakkinje village is in a jeep and the rest till Charmadi is by Auto. Though we would like to climb Minchukallu today, Isubu prefers to do a less tiring work today. So his plan is to visit a waterfalls named Kallarabhi falls. To reach this falls, we board Chickmagalur bound bus at Charmadi and get down at the 9th cross (yes such a milestone exists). From here we walk around a kilometer on a
jeep track to reach YNK estate, a private estate. During British times and just after independence, there was a practice to let farmers and estate owners
to use the adjoining forests for forest products like leaves, dried up wood etc. But they are not allowed to do logging. Many still hold on the forests allotted to them at that time. Isubu mentions that YNK estate controls around 3000 acres of forest around the estate. So now we had to get permission from these people to cross the estate and reach our destination.
No one is allowed inside the estate even for trekking purpose without permission. But Isubu uses his influence to let us in and the presence of Asman, Hasanabba’s son also helps. Asman a 9th standard student is keen on trekking in Charmadi and he usually joins any group which comes for trekking in this area.
The initial trail from inside the estate is a jeep track. We cross a couple of human settlements also along the way. People who work in the estate live here. We cross a beautiful stream named Banjar on the way. For more than a kilometer the path is alongside a canal which has been constructed to direct rainwater towards the turbine run power generation unit. The power generated here by naturally flowing water is enough to illuminate around 30 houses in the village, mentions Isubu.
The rest of the path is through some dense forests. We reach the Kallarabhi falls at around 12 in the noon . Isubu had to clear a lot of bamboo growth before we could approach the water falls. As expected the falls is spectacular, but rocks haven’t dried up yet and entire area is very slippery. One wrong step and we could end up in the downstream of Banjar. So in this season of rains, there is not much moving space near this falls. Pilla and I take a quick bath and we finish our lunch here.
It is 4PM when we are back on the road and again we had to wait for an hour for any kind of transportation. This time we manage to get a local bus which drops us at Charmadi. After saying goodbye to Isubu and Asman we take leave from Charmadi, again in a lorry. Our return bus from Dharmastala is at 11PM and hence we had enough time to visit Manjunatheshwara temple in Dharmastala and have temple dinner.