Trekking in Shiradi Ghats: Aramane Gadde

ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ 23, 2009

Story of my 2nd trek to Shiradi range of Karnataka Western Ghats.

Shiradi Ghats is the part of the Karnataka Western Ghats that one has to cross when traveling from Bangalore to Mangalore. This stretch of the Western Ghats is home to some of the dense forests present in Ghats and has many peaks providing a lot of opportunities for trekking. My first trek in this region was to Mugilagiri in August which turned to be a difficult trek due to rains and we mostly missed the views of the peaks and valleys. This time we had to postpone our plans twice at the last moment due to rains and finally we were ready to leave Bangalore on Friday night of the Deepavali weekend. Though there was a forecast of a few spells of rain and thunderstorms, I was very keen on not staying in Bangalore during the festival of sound and pollution (read as Deepavali!). This time, in addtion to Sreekanth, Austin with whom I had done some treks in the Korean mountains also joined me.

View from ascent path

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Day 0

We had a worst possible start when our KSRTC bus met with an accident in the Bangalore city itself. Our chances of leaving Bangalore looked dim when rowdy elements from Bangalore Auto drivers fraternity assembled within no time and started harassing our driver. Our bus was taken to Malleshwaram Police station and thankfully KSRTC arranged an alternate bus. We were back on road at 11.30PM, late by 2.30hours. The next obstacle was waiting for us in Tumkur road. When we crossed Nelamangala junction, it was 2AM, thanks to the heavy festival traffic.

Day 1

We were at Gundya junction at 8.15AM. This being our 2nd visit to Gundya, we had worked out our staying arrangements beforehand. We had booked a room at Forest department IB. The tiredness of traveling on the bad roads of Shiradi Ghats were all gone after a hot water bath and a fulfilling breakfast of Neerdose. We must have consumed at least 10 of them each! The guide joined us at IB and had an assistant with him, much against our wishes. So here we were 3 trekkers with 2 guides ready to conquer the Aramane Gadde (aka Aramane Gudde) peak in the Shiradi range. As per our guide, this is the highest peak in the region. The trail starts from NH48 at a distance of around 8km from Gundya towards Hassan. The Auto-rickshaw was stopped at Dakshina Kannada – Hassan district border where there is a Choudeshwari Devi temple to get the blessings of the deity at the border. We entered the forest trail at 10.15AM and our base altitude was 350m.

Ascent to Himagiri

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A few yards into the forest, we hit a stream where we filled our water bottles. After walking through the initial forest (which had some leeches, not as much as last time), we approached a first tiny grassland clearing (500m) at  10.45AM. From here,  towards south, Are Gudde (through which the Mangalore – Hassan railway line passes) and Venkatagiri peaks are visible and we can also see the Kempu Hole river flowing through the valley. Towards North, we could get a glimpse of Himagiri peak which was our first destination. Next part of the trail is though a small patch of forest before it opens up into the grasslands. In this trail, we hit the grasslands pretty early and it was evident that rest of the trek will be through the grasslands. Thus we started our ascent in the grasslands and proceeded towards Himagiri. The ascent becomes steep as we approach Himagiri and can be challenging since there are hardly any trees to provide any shade. The sky was fully clear and the midday Sun was beating down on us. The temperature touched 37C and we were struggling on our way up and felt like collapsing due to the heat.  Taking breaks was of no use as breaks in the open Sun was adding to our woes than helping us. We needed to find a shade and we finally managed to reach a tip of a Shola forest stretch (900m) at 12.30PM. It was a great respite from the hot Sun and we spent full 45min under the forest shade to get back to trek-ready state once again.  As we were approaching the Himagiri peak, we were on trails which were in use by elephants also which was evident from the elephant dung along the trails. Also, we could see used cartridges beside the trail suggesting that this trail was popular amongst poachers also!

Camp Site
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Our campsite was inside this forest patch

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We started the ascent again at 1.15PM and were at Himagiri peak (1000m) at 1.30PM. From here we gained another 100m and did a 50m descent to reach our campsite (1050m) for the day at 2PM. This campsite was a bit different from the usual campsites we have stayed recently. It was right inside the Shola forest stretch and next to a flowing stream. A small area (~ 6m diameter) beside the stream had been cleared off the trees to serve as a campsite. The site even had makeshift stone stove and firewood ready! Even though it was so sunny outside, the campsite was considerably cooler and the water of the stream was pleasantly cold.

A lone tree in the grassland

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Not many treks of ours have been as perfect as this wrt the finishing time for the day. It was still 2PM and we had plenty of time to enjoy the natural surroundings. We had soup for the starters followed by a leisurely lunch. There was a beautiful stretch of grassland overlooking a valley right in front of our campsite and rest of the evening was spent there. It became a bit cloudy towards the evening and the sunset was not clearly visible. After dinner, we went out again and did star gazing for some time. All of a sudden, clouds came in and reduced the night’s visibility to less than a meter (with torches), which forced us back into our campsite. The night was comfortable except that it became slightly cooler after midnight. A sleeping bag could have helped, but I wasn’t carrying any.

View during Sunset

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Day 2

We woke up at 5.30AM and by the time we finished the breakfast and got ready for the day’s climb it was 7.45AM. The plan for the day was to climb Aramane Gadde and descend back to Gundya by afternoon. Aramane Gadde was visible from the campsite towards NE direction. Initially it is a gradual ascent through the grasslands and becomes steeper as we approach the peak. We were at Aramane Gadde peak (1270m) by 8.45AM. The location of Aramane Gadde is very interesting: it is present right at the junction where 3 districts meet. At Aramane Gadde peak, Hassan district is present towards east, Chickmagalur towards north and Dakshina Kannada towards south. We could see the border demarcations on the hills (formed by pile of stones) and proceeded towards the adjacent hill which was the exact location where the 3 districts met!

A bug on flower!

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The views from the top were pretty impressive. There were green mountains all around.  Ettina Bhuja peak of the Charmadi range is also visible from this peak. We hadn’t met any animal during this trek but finally saw a snake when Sreekanth stepped past one at the peak. We spent close to an hour at the peak and started back to the campsite.  At 10.15AM we were back at the campsite. At 11AM we started the descent and at 2PM we were back at NH48. The descent through the grasslands were tough on knees and there were a few leech bites in the forest as usual. We didn’t feel the heat as much as we felt during the ascent. The same Auto-rickshaw which had dropped us yesterday had come to pick us up to Gundya.

Enroute Aramane Gadde

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We had a painful start to the trek on Friday night when we were witness to a minor accident, but at the end of the trek we witnessed an even more horrible scene: a man hanging off a tree beside the NH48! This time the difference was there were no curious onlookers at the accident site even though it was visible from NH and quite close to Gundya village. It looked like business as usual for people of Gundya!

Aramane Gadde peak

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We were back at IB at 2.30 and the kind inmate of the IB prepared hot rice and rasam for us which was so heavy that we could skip dinner. From Gundya, we proceeded to Kukke Subramanya (22km), visited the temple and boarded the night bus back to Bangalore. Thus I escaped a major part of festival of sound and pollution away in hills!

Are Gudda and Venkatagiri range as seen from Aramane Gadde

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Charmadi range as seen from Aramane Gadde

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Lesser known temples of North Karnataka

ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ 19, 2009

North Karnataka region has many architecturally significant and ancient temples. But a typical temple circuit tour to North Karnataka would most probably end at Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal. Here are some lesser known and lesser visited but equally beautiful temples of North Karnataka.

I was at Sirsi during 3rd week of September just before the devastating floods that engulfed North Karnataka region. Since I had a day to spare, I decided to checkout some temples in Dharwad and Gadag districts whose details I picked up from Karantaka Tourism’s handouts and later from wikipedia. Since the wikipedia links for these temples give more information than what I could potentially provide, I am mostly skipping the descriptions of the temples themselves and would only indicate how to reach the place with a few photographs of each of the temples. This is the list of temples that I covered in the order I visited.

Chandramouleshwara Temple, Unkal, Hubli

Unkal is located at a distance of around 5km from Hubli town on Hubli-Dharwad road (SH73) towards Dharwad and is close to Unkal circle and Unkal lake. The approach to the temple is horrible and you begin to wonder if you are in the right place when you have to navigate through dirty roads of a slum locality (well almost a slum). But suddenly a well maintained temple becomes visible and appears as a total misfit in the area. ASI has a pretty good job of maintaining the monument in whatever space they could get around the temple.

Chandramouleshwara Temple, Unkal
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Decorated window, Unkal
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Nandi on the temple wall, Unkal
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Natya Ganapa, Unkal
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Banashankari Temple, Amargol, Hubli

Amargol is located at around 5km from Unkal towards Dharwad on SH73. Similar to Unkal, the temple here is also located in not so good surroundings.  It took some effort to Locate the temples of Unkal and Amargol as many locals whom we enquired hardly knew about these temples.

Banashankari temple, Amargol
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Pillar of Amargol temple
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Amruteshwara Temple, Annigeri

Annigeri is situated at on NH63 at a distance of around 35km from Hubli towards Gadag. The main temple dedicated to Amruteshwara is very beautiful. I didn’t have time to checkout other temples in this town (Banashankari, Basappa, Gajina Basappa and Hire Hanuman) which are probably not architecturally significant.

Amruteshwara temple, Annigeri
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Decorated wall of Annigeri temple
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Ganesha on the temple wall, Annigeri
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Trikuteshwara Temple, Gadag

Gadag is situated at around 57km from Hubli on NH63.

The Trikuteshwara temple complex has mainly a temple for Trikuteshwara (which has 3 Lingams representing the Trinity) and Saraswati Temple which has heavily decorated pillars. A visit just to see these pillars is worth anytime. The other temples in Gadag town are the Veeranarayana Temple where the Kannada poet Kumara Vyasa composed the epic Bharata or the Gadugina Bharata

Ornate pillar, Trikuteshwara temple, Gadag
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Pillar of Trikuteshwara temple
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Trikuteshwara temple, Gadag
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Temples of Lakkundi, Gadag

Lakkundi is situated at around 70km from Hubli on NH63 and is 12km from Gadag. Lakkundi has so many temples that the locals have put a few of these places of worship to other uses (like imaginatively constructing a house with a temple wall forming one of the walls of the house!)

A house adjacent to a temple in Lakkundi
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The Kashi Vishweshwara and Surya Narayana temples face each other. The entrance to these temples have very delicate decorations.

Surya Narayana temple, Lakkundi
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Kashi Vishweshwara temple, Lakkundi
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Pillar of Kashivishweshwara temple
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Decorated entrance of Kashivishweshwara temple
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Adjancent to Kashi Vishweshwara temple is present the Naneeshwara temple.

Naneeshwara temple, Lakkundi
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A couple of hundred meters from Naneeshwara temple,  a museum and a Jain Basadi are present.

Jain Basadi, Lakkundi
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Jain Basadi, Lakkundi
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An idol in Jain Basadi
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On the other side of the highway, Manikeshwara temple is present with an elaborate and stepped Kalyani (pond). In my limited exposure to temples of Karnataka, I would consider this as a unique Kalyani for this style.

Kalyani, Lakkundi
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Kalyani, Lakkundi
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Dodda Basappa Temple, Dambala, Gadag

If you have reached Lakkundi, you will repent if you return without a visit to the Dodda Basappa temple of Dambala. Dambala is situated at around 10km from Lakkundi. The village road from Lakkundi to Dambala was in a decent condition (well almost decent) during my visit.

The Gopuram of Dodda Basappa temple is simply majestic. The exterior decorations of the temple are also very good. The temple houses a Shiva Linga at one corner and a fairly big Nandi (Basappa) idol at the other end.  The platform hosting the Basappa was under rennovation during my visit. It is interesting that this temple is not known as some Ishwara temple, but is known by its Nandi (Basappa).

Dodda Basappa temple, Dambala
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Gopura of Dodda Basappa temple
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There is a small Someshwara temple just opposite to Dodda Basappa temple.

Someshwara Temple, Lakshmeshwar, Gadag

If you are in Dambala, you have two options: either go back to Gadag/Hubli via Lakkundi or proceed further to visit the temples of Lakshmeshwar and Kundgola and rejoin Hubli. One would need a bit of motivation to choose the latter option given the typical hot climate of North Karnataka and the poorly maintained roads connecting these places. I took the village road from Dambala to Shirhatti (can’t remember the exact distance, must be around 35km) and joined SH6 at Magdi (8km) and reached Lakshmeshwar (13km). Apparantely, Lakshmeshwar is directly connected to Gadag by SH6.

The Someshwara Temple at Lakshmeshwar is a fairly big and beautiful temple where daily worship is still performed.

Someshwara temple, Lakshmeshwara
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Someshwara temple, Lakshmeshwara
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It took me 2hrs to cover a distance of around 50km from Lakshmeshwar to reach Hubli. These (Dambala to Hubli via Lakshmeshwar) are some of the worst roads I have driven on and they can hardly be called roads. Since it was dark by the time I crossed Kundgol, I couldn’t visit the Shambulinga temple.