Western Ghats trek: Pushpagiri and Kumaraparvata

I prepared this write up 2 years back when we trekked to Pushpagiri and Kumaraparvata, but didn’t get around to publish this. Doing this now as I look back at this trek after 2 years.

The moment we had been waiting for had finally arrived. It was company’s year-end shutdown time and our plan for a long trek was ready. Ashok and I had a full week of adventure ahead of us. Initial plan was to trek for around 60km from Madikeri to Kukke Subramanya through the pristine forests of Western Ghats. We reached Madikeri on a Friday morning only to find out that our local guide was missing in action. And the advice we got was not to attempt the forest trek all by ourselves. For once we heeded to the advice and quickly formulated an alternative plan. We were to attempt a trek from Somavarpet to Subramanya covering Pushpagiri (altitude 1712m), Sheshaparvata (1538m) and Kumaraparvata (KP) (1399m). The advantage of trekking in a short group of 2 was already evident; within no time, the decision was taken. We were all set with our standard backpack; a change over set of clothes, sleeping bags, chapattis to last for 3 days and some fruits.

After a filling breakfast at a family friend’s place in Madikeri, we boarded a bus to Somavarpet at 9AM. It took almost 2.5 hours to reach Somavarpet. The otherwise uninteresting bus travel was made a bit eventful by a foreign-traveled, village-settled estate owner. While he wanted to show off his English familiarity, I was in no mood to use English in this Kannada land.

View of Pushpagiri from Bidalli
Pushpagiri from bidalli

The actual trek to Pushpagiri starts from a village called Bidalli at 20km from Somavarpet. Buses go towards Bidalli only 3 times a day(7.30AM, 2.30PM, 5.30PM – this might have changed now). Since it was already past midday, we spent Rs 175/- on auto rickshaw to traverse this distance. The money paid was worth as we got some interesting facts and stories about the place from the driver. Most interesting of them was a caution about not to attempt a peak called Chikkabetta in the Pushpagiri range as this peak is cursed and villagers don’t go there. We weren’t worried as it was unlikely that we would end up on this peak given that there is not trial to this peak.

Near Heggademane
Near heggademane

The route from Bidalli to Pushpagiri takes us through these well known landmarks: Heggademane (Heggade’s house), Shanta Mallikarjuna temple of Kumarahalli and a forest check post. A signboard at Bidalli mentions the distance to Pushpagiri peak as 8km. On the way to Heggademane, we had to cross a river on a narrow bridge (a bigger motorable bridge is being build beside this – this might have completed now). On the other side of this bridge, there is a jeep track up to Kumarahalli temple. Heggademane is a small cluster of houses, where one can break for lunch. Food is served on request here. Temple is situated in a scenic place, with a huge Banyan tree on its side and a big shed in front, which can be a convenient place for night stay. Water is available here.

We spent a few minutes in the temple before proceeding further. Already delayed by half a day, we were apprehensive about starting the trek in the afternoon. The locals and pilgrims with all their good intentions, warn and caution people about the animals, mostly elephants in these forest ranges. With every word of caution, our enthusiasm was turning into a bit of fear. We have found this attitude almost everywhere; locals normally try to dissuade trekkers from taking on the trail. But the final words of encouragement from temple priest led us forward with full vigor and enthusiasm.

We finished lunch alongside a small stream near the temple. Chapattis were consumed with jam and chatnipudi. Another 20min of walk took us to a forest check post, where we paid a nominal entrance fee and camera fee. On chatting with the forest guard, we got to know that trail is in good condition and there are no chances of getting lost. And another group of 6 people had started just 15min before us. Regarding spotting any elephants or other animals, it is unlikely, we were told. Regarding spotting naxalites or rather being spotted by them, forest guards categorically declared that this part of Western Ghats is free from naxal activities. We were relieved.

We left behind the other team of 6 after brief introduction. They had stopped for lunch. From here the real forest of Pushpagiri range begins. The forest is pretty dense and with our limited exposure to forests, we concluded that this is next only to forests of Agumbe – Narasimhaparvata trail with regards to density of trees. The trees were huge and canopy was thick, there was a good under growth also, owing to good seasonal monsoon this time. Surprisingly forest guards had cleared the trail recently. At about 3/4th of distance, we were to encounter a rocky terrain and we were instructed by guards to take left deviation. The right deviation would lead to Kumaraparvata bypassing the Pushpagiri peak.

It was already 3.30PM and we were still in the beginning phase. To avoid getting caught in darkness, we increased our pace and reduced the stops. Nothing was visible all round except for trees. Chirping birds were every now and then disturbing the silence of the forest. According to the forest guards, the peak is a 2 hours walk, but after walking for 2 hours, there was no sign of any peak nearby.

We arrived at the steep rocky path mentioned by guards where we had to take left deviation. Until here the path is fully through forests and relatively easy. From here the steep rocky terrain starts. During this season, the last water hole is before this deviation. We would later find out that next availability of water was only at Kumaraparvata. Some clear proof of elephant activity was found from here onwards with small bushes being trampled, huge bamboo shoots being broken, stump remains of smaller trees and lumps of elephant excreta. It is hard to imagine that elephants with their huge bodies are able to maneuver this steep rocky terrain. Elephant traces could even be found in some of the viewpoints overlooking deep valleys.

A valley view
Valley view

The other group also had caught up with us by now. So together we moved up and up, seemingly from one peak to another. There was no time for disappointment as reaching Pushpagiri peak before sunset was foremost on our minds. The final part of the climb consists mainly of rocks interspersed with patches of loose forests. At 5.45PM we were on Pushpagiri peak. At the peak there is a cluster of stone-built small temples within a compound wall.

As expected the view all round the peak was spectacular, there were green mountain ranges as far as the eyes could see. We didn’t have much time to enjoy the view as we had to find a suitable place for the night and collect some firewood. Fortunately we found enough wood nearby. There was a flat rock surface just beside the temple where we could spend the night. The camping activity was evident in this place and it looked like the obvious place to spend the night. We watched the sunset in the backdrop of the huge rock face of Sheshaparvata.

Early morning view
Early morning view

With the sunset came the chill winds forcing us to light campfire and start preparing for dinner. The other group invited us to be their guests for dinner. They seemed to be carrying the entire kitchen with every conceivable kitchen item with them. Their group even had a designated chef, who guided the whole process of cooking. Rice was cooked within no time. It didn’t matter that it was half-cooked for want of enough water. Rasam was also prepared. We had soup for the starters. This was definitely an unexpected grand dinner for us. It was a great dinner in the moonlight on a full moon day.

We quickly settled around the campfire. I was forced to start the Kannada antakshari, after which Byatraj from the other group took over. This group was different from what we find usually on treks. It consisted of a radar engineer, a scientist and couple of boys from a village nearby Bangalore. Wide range of topics were discussed from radar technology to the extinction of dogs in villages because of wolves.

We settled down to sleep at around 9PM. Ashok and myself had sleeping bags while others had plastic cover underneath and shared bed sheets over them. The night was bright with moonlight but chillingly cold. Nothing mattered to our tired bodies as we got a decent sleep. We were woken up a couple of times by angry burst of expletives by the members of the other group trying to hold on to their precious resource, the bed sheet.

We got out of our wet sleeping bags by 5.45AM. Thermometer was measuring 9C. All of us rushed towards the eastern edge of the peak. lest we should miss the sunrise. Camera was set on tripod and we eagerly waited for the sun to appear. The lower mountain ranges in front of us were completely covered by thick clouds giving an appearance of an ocean.

Clouds

It was getting brighter and sun was still covered by clouds. When we were about to return disappointed, sun finally came above the clouds. The sunrise changed the color of clouds from brick red to golden yellow.

Sun rise
sunrise

Now we rushed to the opposite side of Pushpagiri to check how Sheshaparvata looks. And it did look spectacular like a mountain on fire.

Sheshaparvata
Sheshaparvata

It was time to pack up and leave. Breakfast was not on the agenda as we had no water left from our previous night’s grand dinner. Next destination is Sheshaparvata. The route involves a steep descent on rocks and an ascent through a dense valley.

We spent almost an hour on Sheshaparvata peak basking in early morning sunlight. Both Pushpagiri and Kumaraparvata are visible from here. The view of clouds flowing out of Pushpagiri peak gave us an out of the world feeling; there certainly cannot be a more enjoyable and peaceful heaven than this. It was a bit of nostalgia for me and Ashok since Kumaraparvata was our first trek almost 5 years back (now 7 years). While the other group was involved in taking photographs, Ashok and I spent some silent memorable minutes on the rocks. Everything comes to standstill in this place. You can spend hours here listening to the music of winds.

Clouds flowing past Pushpagiri
Clouds covering pushpagiri

Kukke town is also visible from Sheshaparvata. From here it is an hour’s walk to Kumaraparvata. After a small descent from Kumaraparvata, we reach the famous ‘stone mantapa’. It is a small stone platform just enough to accommodate 4 people to sleep. This place has been serving as camping ground for trekkers visiting Kumaraparvata for years now.

Kumaraparvata peak
Kumaraparvata

Kumaraparvata forest range is known as Bisle forest range. This forest is King cobra’s habitat. A couple of meters down is the first available water hole. Here water flows as a tiny stream. We spent almost and hour and a half here and completed our breakfast. Everybody reduced their backpack loads by consuming as many MTR ready-to-eat packets as possible. Breakfast was accompanied by a tasty tea prepared with all the leisure in the world. It then took some effort to get started again after such a heavy breakfast.

From here the trail goes towards the Bhattaramane amidst a place called Girigadde. The route is mainly in the grasslands spread over the hills. Negotiating this part of the trail can be pretty tough when the sun is directly beating down on us and with no water source till Bhattaramane. This entire stretch seemed to come under the rain shadow region and nothing seems to grow here except grass. By this time we were meeting many groups who had come from Kukke and trying to reach Kumaraparvata. After a quick stop at Bhattaramane, we started our descent again. The forest check post near Bhattaramane has been renovated and now they collect entry fees from the trekkers. The route from Kukke to Kumaraparvata has become very popular and it was surprising to see hundreds of people of all ages groups attempting Kumaraparvata from this route. Needless to say that most of them halt and return from Bhattaramane. Rest of the trail till Kukke is through forests, and is a welcome respite from the beating sun. But after so much of trekking, it can be quite an effort on the tired knees. We were dead tired when we reached the end of the trail at 12.15PM. It is about half an hour’s walk from here to the Kukke town, where the famous Subramanya temple is situated.

view
We had reached Subramanya on a special day. That was the last day the temple would be open before it gets closed for renovation. There were some grand celebrations arranged for this occasion. We booked a lodge and straight away headed to Kumaradhara river for a bath. After a leisurely darshan in the temple, we finished the day with a sumptuous temple differ. At the end of two days, Ashok and I were in no mood to return home just yet. Another trek plan was taking shape in our minds. We were to attempt a railway track trek from Subramanya to Siribagilu. This involves walking on the abandoned (was abandoned 2 years back, now is close to being operational after gauge conversion) Mangalore – Bangalore railway track, which runs through dense forests in this region.

Next day started early for us at 5AM. We bid goodbye to our friends, who were mostly asleep. After a nice breakfast in Subramanya we boarded a jeep towards Gundya at 6.30AM. Gundya is a village on Bangalore – Mangalore national highway and is about 20km from Subramanya. At 13th km on Subramanya – Gundya road, the Mangalore – Hassan – Bangalore railway line crosses over the road. This is where our railway trek starts.

It is more common to do this trek from the other side: Hassan – Sakaleshpur – Yedakumeri – Siribagilu – Subramanya as that side has more tunnels (longest one of around half a km) and long bridges. From Subramanya till Siribagilu, there are 11 tunnels (longest is around 200m) and a few bridges. Walking on these tracks is a nice way of experiencing forest trek, but on a relatively easier trail. Tunnels will be pitch dark and bridges can be scary for acrophobic people.

Especially during rains, tunnels are likely to be waterlogged and bat droppings could make matters worse. And bridges can be very slippery and in fact dangerous also. We took 3 hours to cover this distance. Though villagers warned us that elephants have been spotted in the area that day, we were not lucky enough to meet them.

The railway track
Railway track

From Siribagilu, there is a jeep track through forests connecting the Subramanya – Gundya road, this time at 5km short of Gundya. This was the best part of our trek for the past 3 days. The forests were absolutely silent except for the noise generated by our walking on dry leaves. Elephant activity was evident through out the track. Elephant dung was still very fresh, not beyond a day’s old. Now we suddenly became conscious of animals around us. We envisioned meeting an elephant herd and thought what just two of us could do in such a situation. We just started moving ahead now being more sensitive to the surroundings. Now we were even noticing how a single dry leaf negotiating its way down through the thick growth could make a considerable amount of noise. No amount of words can substitute the actual experience here. There was no evidence of this jeep track being used by humans or vehicles lately. The track cuts right across a stream.

Insidea tunnel
Inside the tunnel

Crossing the stream wasn’t difficult as the water level was very low. It took us an hour and a half to reach the Subramanya – Gundya road. From here it was a hard walk of 5km on road to Gundya from where we caught a bus to Hassan and from there to Bangalore.

– With inputs from Ashok S.

2 Responses to Western Ghats trek: Pushpagiri and Kumaraparvata

  1. kiran thirumalesh j says:

    Hi Bharat,

    Its is excellent and mind boggling. I wish i was part of this amazing trek. It just takes you to that place from where we are. The writing truely stains our minds with nostalgic thoughts . Thank you very much for sharing this with me . Have a nice day ahead.

    Best regards,
    Kiran Thirumalesh J

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