Any day I would prefer bone-chilling cold or even rain to scorching sun during my treks. Apart from Ombattu Gudda trek and beach treks, I haven’t done treks post December in any trek season. So I was a bit weary when Pradeep Hegde invited me to join his group which was attempting to trek from Magod Falls to Shivaganga Falls during 1st weekend of April. I have visited both of these falls but the challenge in this trek was to follow and walk beside the river between these two falls. But the invitation was hard to resist as I would be venturing into Karnataka Western Ghats region in Uttara Kannada District for the first time. Moreover, I was just a participant in this trek as opposed to being an organizer in most of my treks which sometimes is easy.
Though I had booked the bus ticket till Yellapura, I got down at Sonda for a quick visit to my in-laws place, had a good breakfast and got myself dropped at Magod falls (around 35km from Sonda) in bike by my brother-in-law. While I waited at Magod for rest of the group to arrive, Pradeep asked to me instead come over to Jenukallu Gudda, a view point overlooking a valley and which is around 4km from Magod. Apparently a local had advised Pradeep to attempt the initial descent from Jenukallu Gudda since descending down the Magod falls will be difficult and will need ropes. Though our group was equipped with ropes, we decided to start with an easy descent. The group had 12 members: Pradeep, his neighbor Satheesh, Avinash, Venkataraghavan, Vinayak, Nagarjun, Bharath, Ravi, Naveen, Sriharsha, Abhishek and I. The original plan was to reach Bedti river at Magod, follow it downstream till it joins Shalmala River and continue following Shalmala river upstream until it reaches Shivaganga falls.
We started the descent from Jenukallu Gudda (470m) at 10.45AM. The descent was mostly steep with dry leaves on the forest floor making the descent a bit more challenging. We lost altitude quickly and hit a jeep tack (80m) at 11.30AM. We took right deviation into the jeep track and started walking with the hope that we will reach the confluence of Bedti and Shalmala rivers along the way. After a few hundred meters into the track we could see a dried up river bed towards our left and we continued the walk for an hour or so under direct sun before reaching a Siddimane (A house belonging to Siddi tribe) at a village called Kelase. To our surprise, we learnt from Siddis that we are way ahead of the confluence point and are in fact walking in the opposite direction! At Siddimane, we took a break to prepare lemon juice since fresh water was available here.
At around 1.15PM, we reversed our direction, continued to make progress on the jeep track and reached another Siddimane at 2PM. We had a good lunch that included “Avalakki oggarane” from Pradeep’s house and “Masala Majjige” (butter milk) mixed with lemon grass. Post lunch, a Siddi boy briefly accompanied us till the river and after which we were on our own walking upstream along Shalmala river (after the confluence with Bedti) which had a good amount of water in it considering that it was summer. We were now on the right bank of the river and the path mostly consisted of boulders. The heat was a bit too much for me and the walk was made further difficult by the blisters I had all over the feet.
We went past a few Siddis who were fishing and finally reached the confluence (125m) of Bedti and Shalmala at 4.45PM. While the confluence point had a bit of depth and hence calm waters, the Shalmala side had gushing water and was rocky.
Many of us spent some time cooling ourselves in Shalmala while most of the group had an extended river time at the confluence point. Swimming and breath-holding skills were at display: while Satheesh excelled in swimming and managed to crossover to the other bank, Vinayak could hold breath under water for more than 2min!
Our camping site was on the river bed at the confluence point which already had arrangements for stove (made of stones), all we needed was to get some dry wood which was available in plenty. Boiled rice Ganji with pickle, curd and butter milk was on the menu. Ganji was so very filling and was a bit unusual for me since we usually stick to ready-to-eat stuff to keep the logistics simple in our treks. The night was cloudy and warm and sleeping inside the sleeping bag wasn’t an option for many. There was even a light drizzle past midnight.
On Sunday morning, we got up fairly early and wanted to end the trek before noon to avoid the harsh summer sun. The combination of pickle and freshly obtained honey (given to us in the morning by Siddis from their night’s catch) gave a distinct flavour to yesterday’s Ganji and I could see Ganji was more in demand than the freshly prepared maggi noodles! We started upstream alongside Shalmala river at 8AM after a round of lemon tea with honey.
Shalmala river side was very rocky and we were mostly walking over huge boulders. We had to cross over to the opposite bank multiple times whenever forward progress on one bank was difficult or impossible. With the amount of water in the river in April, we mostly could negotiate the river without much difficulty and I am sure the challenges on this trail will be totally different if the water level was high. But we were facing a different challenge and that was the dry heat. The rate at which I was loosing water via sweat seemed to be more than the intake rate. Given that we were walking beside a river, there was never shortage of water fortunately.
At 10.30AM when I was feeling a bit down, we had a lemon juice break. I must have taken close to a litre and it really helped to get my energy levels back. Next we climbed over to a small hill only to realize that it was more difficult than a small jump over the rock that we were planning to originally avoid. Thus we had to backtrack and make progress over the boulders itself. The quest for the end (Shivaganga falls) continued and we kept making progress in the hot sun. I even reached a stage where I felt just drinking loads of water wasn’t helping me and had to resort to Glucose which Pradeep was carrying. I can’t remember when I had taken Glucose on a trek, must have been in the last decade, but such was the harshness of this trek for me.
Finally we reached the base of Shivaganga falls (270m) at 1PM where we consumed chapattis for lunch with Chatni pudi, jam and honey. Next it was a steep climb to reach the view point of the waterfalls (465m) from where we had hired a jeep. Thus ended one of the most difficult treks I have done in recent times. Though the trail distance and the terrain was manageable, the summer sun brought out a whole new challenge to the trek. I have done treks earlier in other extreme conditions like winter trek at -20°C in thigh deep snow, altitudes upwards of 5000m etc, but this summer trek in seemingly easy terrain turned to be a trek to remember as far as endurance is concerned.
Map of the route we took is here, courtesy Vinayak.