Kudremukha Trek

ಡಿಸೆಂಬರ್ 25, 2013

My last tryst with Karnataka Western Ghats was in 2011 when we trekked to Deepadakallu and Jenukallu peaks from Maragunda. A couple of disturbing incidents involving trekkers getting lost/killed in the forests  dissuaded us from exploring any new routes. Having completed most of the exciting trails in Charmadi and Shiradi range, we were mostly content doing an yearly Himalayan trek. But after a partially successful Himalayan trek to Saraumga Pass, we were longing to get back to the forest trails of Western Ghats. There are only a few options if you want to trek in Karnataka Western Ghats with proper permission from Forest Department – Kudremukha and Kumara Parvatha come to my mind. Since I had done Kumara Parvatha already twice, we decided to do the famous Kudremukha peak.

Kudremukha peak seen on the left side of Gaumukha peak

Kudremukha peak seen on the left side of Gaumukha peak

Kudremukha has become synonymous to trekking in Karnataka and it is a favorite beginner’s destination. Though we knew it would be crowded during the weekends, we decided to go ahead since it was one of the few officially permitted trekking trails. The trek was planned for the last weekend of November. The group comprised of 7 trekkers: Naren, Austin and his friend Prashanth, Preeti, Pradeep and I. The group had two beginners: Preeti for whom this was her first Western Ghats trek though she had done Animal Pass Himalayan trek earlier this year and Pradeep who was an absolute fresher. I contacted Sathish from Mullodi village at Kudremukha base who provides lodging and guide services to the trek. Logistics-wise this is an easy trek since everything including permission, food, guide and accommodation was being arranged by Sathish.

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We boarded the Horanadu bus on Friday night from Bangalore. What to expect in next 2 days was evident when we got a a bunch of over-excited trekkers in the bus for company who hardly allowed us sleep. We reached Kalasa at 7AM where Austin and Prashanth joined us. Next it was again a short bus journey to reach Balagallu village. From there it was an uphill climb through the winding roads in a jeep and we reached Mullodi village at 9AM. Mullodi village (1180m) is situated at the base of Kudremukh mountain range. Our accommodation was arranged in Sathish’s house which would be hosting 15 other trekkers we were told earlier. But we were surprised to find out that there will be at least 50 more trekkers camping at this house for the night. Fortunately most of the people had already started the day’s hike, however there were still enough people to form a queue at the only one bathroom that was present at Sathish’s house. Since bath was out of question, we gulped down super-hard idlies with a beverage that tasted like anything but tea.

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Hirumarguppi peak

After paying the Kudremukha National Park entry fees and trekking fees (Rs 275/- per person per day) to a forest department official who was present at Sathish’s house, we hit the trail with a guide at 10AM. There are two main routes to the Kudremukha peak from Mullodi. First one is a longer one that touches Gaumukha peak. The second one is a more direct route to Kudremukha peak with the trail distance of 10km one way. We chose the direct route since longer route was out of question when we start the trek as late as 10AM.

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The trail quickly leaves the village behind and enters the forest. We crossed a couple of streams in the forest and by 10.30PM, we could see Gaumukha, Durgadabbe and Kudremukha peaks clearly. Hirumarguppi (Thirumalaguppi – the corrupted form) was also visible towards our left. By around 11AM, the real ascent started and we met scores of other trekkers who had started before us. The groups had too many first timers and hardly followed any trail discipline by resorting to extreme shouting and whistling. Unwilling to spoil our trek, we increased our pace to maintain a considerable distance from this noisy crowd. The pace set by Preeti, Pradeep, Naren and I was a bit too high for rest of our folks to follow and we gradually left them as they settled into their own pace.

Kudremukha peak

Kudremukha peak

Kudremukha peak is at around 1800m, so this trek involves an scent of 800m from Mullodi village. While the ascent is mostly gradual, the final ascent to the ridge line which leads to the peak is challenging. The guide took us via the straight ascent path instead of the usual zig-zag winding route. We made good progress, thanks to the oranges we were carrying in plenty. At 1PM we reached a stream and were just 100m below the peak. We completed the packed lunch provided by Sathish. Unlike our other treks where we carry our own food stuff with us, in this trek we had completely outsourced food and stay to Sathish. I had to force the chittranna down my throat due to lack of other food options. Here we decided to wait for rest of our group and they joined us at 1.30PM.

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Views around Kudremukha peak

Views around Kudremukha peak

The final 100m assault to the peak turned out to be easier than anticipated and we reached the Kudremukha peak at 1.45PM. As we reached the peak, another group which had come via the Gaumukha route left giving us some silent moments on the peak. The weather was mostly cloudy and cleared up intermittently to give us glimpses of the mountain range around Kudremukha peak. Our guide offered to take us down via the longer Gaumukha route, but we declined since some of our folks were really tired and we wanted to reach the village before it turned dark. It does become dark very early in the forests in the winter.

Chundi peak

Chundi peak

As the noisy crowd of trekkers started to arrive at the peak, we made an exit at 2.30PM. The descent turned out to be longer and strenuous than anticipated. The trail which we had covered enthusiastically in the morning now appeared to be never ending and we dragged our feet along to reach Mullodi at 5.30PM. We had left Austin, Prashanth and Chinmay with the guide behind and they reached around an hour later.

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The sight at Sathish’s house wasn’t that pleasing as new bunch of trekkers for tomorrow’s trek had arrived. Tents were laid out all around the house to accommodate them and there was contention for all the resources in the house from food till bathroom. When resources are in short supply, people let go of courtesy and staying at such place is no longer enjoyable. We had come in the anticipation of washing ourselves with hot water. With one bathroom catering to 25 odd people, that wasn’t possible. Naren, Pradeep and I washed ourselves in the cold water of the running stream. Though it was extremely cold, it was simultaneously refreshing after a hard day’s trek.

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We were given a room inside the house and most of us were carrying our own sleeping bags. Already crowded house became even more crowded with the arrival of BMC crowd. In all there were more than 50 people staying in that house with two toilets and 1 bathroom!  Things were in such short supply that Sathish struggled to provide us the required floor mats. As the tired trekkers hit the bed, BMC folks started playing Anthakshari and the idiots refused to stop even after our objection. Finally Sathish had to intervene to settle the matter.

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Some of us got up as early as 5AM on Sunday to use the most precious resource, the toilet! We had asked to our guide to take us to a hill locally called Chundi that is located adjacent to Hirumarguppi peak. This route is not frequented by many and we hoped to get some real trekking experience since there wasn’t any well marked route to this peak. While Chinmay, Austin and Prashanth preferred to stay back, Pradeep, Preeti, Naren and I started on the 2nd day’s trek at 8AM.

The initial path is via hills covered by fern shrubs and it soon led to grassland where the head-high grass was seen at many stretches. The ascent was also very rapid and we felt like doing some real trekking. We started attacking the Chundi peak head on and were doing some serious ascent on its grassy slope. We reached 1235m at 8.50AM, 1500m at 9.45AM an with just one tiny break we reached Chundi peak (1630m) at 10.15AM.

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Unlike yesterday where we had reached Kudremukha peak in the afternoon, we were at Chundi peak well before noon. The cloud cover wasn’t there and we got good views of the peaks around. In fact Chundi offers a very good view of the Kudremukha peak and the abrupt fall in the rocky face of Kudremukha peak is nicely visible from Chundi. We started the descent at 11AM. To make the descent interesting, we choose a different route that consisted of multiple adjacent hills and we planned to take the ridge line to cover all those and then descend at the last hill. This part of the trek turned out to be very good with nice views of the charmadi range on the other side. The route involved multiple ascents and descents and the extra grass growth made it more challenging. At one point the descent was so steep that sliding down was an easier option that walking down. We also passed beside a cluster of rocks that had all the signs of an active bear den.

We hardly took any breaks and reached Mullodi at 1.30PM and had a nice bath in the river. By 4PM we reached Kalasa, visited Kalaseshwara temple and then proceeded to Horanadu where we joined rest of our folks. After a good dinner at the Annapoorneshwari temple, we started back to Bangalore.

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Ombattu Gudda Trek

ಫೆಬ್ರವರಿ 23, 2010

Any trekker worth his salt would like to have Ombattu Gudda in his resume! Ombattu Gudda trek has become so mysterious over last couple of years that it is very hard to ignore it if you are a serious trekker. The interest in Ombattu Gudda stems mainly from the numerous stories of people getting lost and getting rescued. I myself am aware about 2 groups that got lost and later rescued/found their way back this season. Everybody seems to have a story to tell after their tryst with Ombattu Gudda. So here goes our story…

There is a category of adventurous trekkers who go by map and GPS and attempt Ombattu Gudda by themselves. Then there is another category who play it safe by employing a local guide. We belong to the latter category, since we don’t think highly of our abilities to navigate and maintain direction sense in thick forests. Our last trek in the Shiradi range of Karnataka Western Ghats was to Venkatagiri and Arebetta in November 2009. Our guide was categorical in saying that it is not safe to attempt Ombattu Gudda until late January or February. Thus we had to wait till 2nd weekend of February to attempt the Ombattu Gudda trek.

Day 1

This time we were a team of 5: Austin, who was doing his 2nd trek with us after Aramane Gudde trek,  Sai Prakash with whom I had done Auden’s Col Himalayan expedition, Naren who was rejoining us after a long break and Sreekanth who has  been a regular in all my Shiradi treks. As usual we boarded KSRTC Rajahamsa bus and reached Gundya IB early Saturday morning on time. The inmate of the IB knows our preferences by now and served us tasty Neer dose. The trail starts in the Kabbinale reserved forest at a distance of 2.5km from Gundya towards Mangalore on NH48. We crossed the bridge over Adda hole river on NH48 and enter the forests towards right at 9AM. The base altitude was 255m.

Mugilagiri as seen from trail

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As we hit the trail, our new guide, an old man, who claimed to have seen 70 springs surprised us by asking if we had collected permission letters from the Forest department. In all our previous treks, our usual guide used to “inform” Gundya Range Forest Office about our planned treks and never carried permission letters. But he had sent this old man with us after convincing him that we are in possession of all the required permits. The old man had a valid reason to ask about permits – he was detained for a night at Sakaleshpur Police station when he had accompanied another group of trekkers a few weeks back. Apparently a few members of the group got separated from the rest and were picked up by the Police on suspicion of being naxalites! During this episode, our old man was taken to task for having “guided” this mis-guided group of trekkers! Though we got seriously worried for a while, we decided to proceed with the plan and the old man was more than willing to take us on the trail. The previous experience with the Police had hardly affected him or may be earning some money was more important to this old and poor daily wage laborer.

The trail is through a dense but young forest (old trees with huge trunks were hardly to be seen). The trail was fairly wide and looked like a well trodden path. Since it was early summer, the ground was almost completely covered by dried fallen leaves. Thankfully there were no leeches. In our last trek, Sreekanth and I had suffered a lot due to chigger bites. Sreekanth did a study about chiggers and we were ready to try a few things this time to avoid chigger bites. We had started out in the morning by taking bath using a medicated soap that would repel chiggers, but I was taking no chances; I was wearing my snow gaiters! Any thing and everything to keep chiggers away!

Mushroom growth in the forest

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We picked up a route map to Ombattu Gudda in the trial (possibly dropped by previous trekkers) and the map brought some relief to our guide. Not that he would use to map to locate the path, but he strangely believed that he wouldn’t have to spend a night again in Police station if we show the map because the presence of map with us will prove that we are trekkers and not naxals!

At 10.15AM, we crossed the 1st stream and at 10.30AM crossed another stream. We had now left Dakshina Kannada district and entered Hassan district.

The trail continued without any break in the forest for another hour and we reached a fairly big stream at 11.30AM. As per our guide this stream was called Devaragundi since there was a Chowdeshwari Devi Temple a few yards downstream to which villagers visit annually. The stream provided us the 1st major break in the forest canopy and we could see Mugilagiri peak at a distance. We spent close to half an hour on the banks of this river, crossed it and continued further into the forests. The trek inside the forests was monotonous as the scenery hardly changed. Though we had walked close to 3 hours now inside the forest, we hadn’t gained any significant altitude! This was a bit unusual for a Shiradi Ghats trek, where it was common to gain altitude and hit grasslands after a short trek in the forests.

At 1PM we reached another stream named by our guide as Kanyegaya stream at 322m. This is where we had lunch. The rocks on the river bank were so hot  that they were enough to warm up our MTR ready to eat packets!  We crossed the stream at 1.45PM and continued on the other side of the river. At 2.15PM we left the river side and entered forests again.

Next it was a continuous walk inside the forest for close to 2 hours and we reached the the campsite (434m) beside Kabbinale river at 4PM. This was one of the very unique treks where we had spent full day inside a forest and hardly gaining any altitude!  Now I could clearly appreciate why our guide insisted on attempting this trek in early summer. During monsoon this forest would simply be impenetrable as crossing  so many streams would be very dangerous and post monsoon the forest floor would be one hell with blood sucking leeches. We must have done something like 15-18km trek through the forests.

Campsite (Photo Courtesy: Sreekanth)

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The campsite had very attractive settings. We were camping on the sand bed under a huge rock overlooking the wildly flowing Kabbinale river. The locals refer to this rock as Ole Kallu (Ole in Kannada means Stove and Kallu means Stone) as it is an excellent place for kitchen and camping. We were carrying 3 tents, but none of them were put to use. The rock itself provided natural roofing. We had all the leisure in the world to go through the motions of tea, soup and dinner.

And we did have a dip in the river and didn’t forget to wash ourselves with Sreekanth’s medicated soap!

Day 2

We had planned to start very early but by the time we finished breakfast and got ready it was 7.45AM. From the campsite, through some clearing in the forest canopy, parts of an adjacent hill was visible. We needed to climb that peak next. First we crossed the Kabbinale river and followed a path into the forests. After a few minutes into the forest, our guide suddenly realized that we are about to take a very circuitous route to the peak and turned back. We followed him and crossed a stream which we all assumed was the Kabbinale river where we had camped. But this was a different stream according to our guide and in the next 15 min we crossed two more streams which looked all very similar. By now I had completely lost the direction sense and it was evident why so many people get lost in these forests. All the 3 streams we crossed looked so similar and if left to us, its very hard to say where we are in this wilderness. Even during 1st day’s trek through the forest, it we wander off the trails and get lost, the forest range is so massive that we could spend days doing circles in the forests and not reaching any civilization.

Leaving the 3rd stream behind and walking for a few meters in the forest, our guide stopped at what seemed like a random spot and started a straight ascent! This was the first ascent of the trek and we having it easy until this time. The ascent through the slippery forest floor was tough. There were thorns all around which also troubled us. We did almost an hour’s climb and finally emerged out of the forest for the 1st time in the trek at 9.30AM! Now we were at the top of a hill (620m), overlooking a valley and massive range beyond that. We couldn’t but appreciate the direction sense our old guide. He had chosen such a perfect (which had looked like a random spot to us earlier) path to get to the top of the hill without any clear visibility of the top from where we started.

Deepadakallu and Jenukallu peaks

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From this hill we could see Kumbarahalli range towards  North-East, Ombattu Gudda range towards North, Deepada Kallu and Jenukallu peaks to the right of Ombattu Gudda range and mountain ranges near Shishila village (Charmadi range) towards West. Now we could clearly see our destination and the potential path we could take. Being at an elevation is such an advantage in the mountain ranges as it gives you a direction perspective which can hardly be had when you are deep down in the forests.

Next part of the trek was a slight descent through a grassland. We reached another peak (736m) at 10.45AM. At 11.30 AM we reached the end of the grassland and re-entered the Shola forest patch at 820m. At around 12PM, we were nearing a stream in the valley when we heard some man-made noises down in the valley. There are two dangers in these forests. First is the elephant whose movement was very evident throughout the trail. Next is the illegal Ganja growers deep inside the forests, who are known not to take chances and let their guns talk first. The man-made noises down in the valley alerted us and we walked silently forward to a point (840m) where we crossed the last stream in our path towards Ombattu Gudda.  We never had to face any water shortage throughout the route, thanks to the streams. If this route has so many streams in Feb, one could imagine the abundance of streams and difficulties it brings in the post monsoon season.

Deepadakallu peak (Photo courtesy: Sreekanth)

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After crossing the last stream, we walked in the forests for about half an hour before emerging out into the grasslands (980m) at 12.30AM. For one and a half days, forest canopy had protected us from Sun, but now we were out in the open at the mercy of midday Sun. The Sun was so harsh that we had to take constant breaks. Each of us were carrying sufficient amounts of Oranges and they are life-savers in this hot and humid conditions. Now we had one big hill to climb and this was Ombattu Gudda, we were told. It took us close to 2 hours to climb the next couple of hundred meters. We reached the peak (1150 ) of Ombattu Gudda at 2PM.

Any shade is welcome

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We were thrilled to have made it to the peak without getting lost! The views all round were spectacular. The peaks of Deepadakallu and Jenukallu (which are both 1000m+ peaks) were close by. Ettina Bhuja peak was also visible from the far ranges of Charmadi. But spending time on the peak was not a viable option due to the harsh Sun. We continued ahead with the descent on the other side.

The forest ends abruptly at the other end and we encounter wide open spaces. An hour’s walk led us to a stream where we finished the 2nd day’s lunch. On the other side of the stream there was a wide jeep track which we started following with the hope that it would lead us to civilization. But there was some nasty surprise when the jeep track ended in a forest! Our guide was so good at directions all this while inside the forests, but once out of it, he looked lost. We back tracked, came near the stream and took another jeep track. Now none of were sure where we were going, whether we would reach any civilization, but we had no option other than to try out all the available routes. After a couple of kilometers walk, distant fields and a village were visible and that came as a great relief to our tired bodies.

Continuing along the jeep track, we came across the Bettada Bhairaveshwara Temple. We walked past a few estates and reached Maragunda village at 5PM.

Bettada Bhairaveshwara temple

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Villagers of Maragunda were happy to see us come this past without getting lost. They shared a few stories of their participation in the previous rescue attempts of Ombattu Gudda trekkers. One villager gave us a big surprise by concluding that we hadn’t reached Ombattu Gudda at all!  Looked like we had missed Ombattu Gudda by a whisker. Instead of Ombattu Gudda, we had climbed an adjacent mountain and reached Maragunda village. But there was no disappointment, since this was one of the difficult and unique treks we had done in the Western Ghats region. One complete day’s trek inside forest was really special.

From Maragunda, we reached Hanbal and from there to Sakaleshpur and back to Bangalore.

So this is our story of our Ombattu Gudda trek. We were so near, but not there yet! But there is always next time and the next time we will approach the Ombattu Gudda not from the Gundya side but from Maragunda which is a base to two other peaks: Deepadakallu and Jenukallu.


Trekking in Charmadi: Ettina Bhuja

ನವೆಂಬರ್ 22, 2008

Story of my trek to Ettina Bhuja peak in the Charmadi range of Karnataka Western Ghats.

It had been exactly 2 years since I did my last Western Ghats trek to Amedikal. The approach to Amedikal trek is from a village near Dharmastala called Shishila. Another peak that one could attempt from Shishila is Ettina Bhuja, which gets its name from its appearance. The peak looks like an Ox’s shoulder. This peak had been in my wish list since then, but managed to actually plan for it only now.

Ettina Bhuja is an easy climb compared to Amedikal, and can be done in one day with some effort. However we wanted to enjoy the experience of camping at the peak and hence decided to do it leisurely over two days. I just had a 3-men tent with me and hence wanted to limit the number in the group to 3, but Vatsa was willing to hire a tent and join the trek. Thus we became a group of 6: Ananth, Bharadwaj, Vatsa, Arun, Naren and I.

As usual we started from Bangalore KSRTC bus station on a Friday night. The destination was Kokkada, a small town 14km before Dharmastala on Bangalore-Dharmastala route. From Kokkada, we had to travel further 18km to reach Gopu Gokhale’s house in Shishila village. This time Gopu Gokhale’s brother Vishnu Gokhale was helping us with the arrangements. A native of Dharmastala in the bus warned us that we would find it difficult to get transportation from Kokkada to Shishila (our final destination) during early morning hours. But we got an assurance from Gokhale’s house that we will get Jeeps at Kokkada.

When Vatsa’s alarm woke me up at 3.45AM, I switched off mine (which was set to 4AM) and went back to sleep, only to be woken up abruptly by my trek mates getting ready to leave the bus with their luggage. We had reached Kokkada Circle as early as 4.10AM! Not a soul was in sight except for a family waiting for transportation. They informed us that it is unlikely that we will get any transportation until the day breaks completely. As they left in a jeep, we become the sole inhabitants of the Kokkada Circle. Some of us settled down in front of a cement shop to continue with the sleep. An auto rickshaw arrives and we find out that since the road from Kokkada to Shishila is in a very bad shape, autos won’t ply on that route and jeeps would charge exorbitant money. A couple of auto driver’s jeep contacts refuse to turn up even when we are ready to pay them extra. With nothing going for us, we wondered if getting down at Dharmastala would have been better. But the driver informed us that a milk van would arrive at  5.45AM and that could take us to Shishila. We decide to wait for the it.

The milk van arrived promptly at 5.45AM and within no time we boarded it from the rear end where milk vans were loaded.The road was in extremely bad shape and few of us struggled to find a sitting-equilibrium position and had to travel standing! But unbelievably, Arun was seen dozing off towards the end! After an hour of very rough ride we reached Shishila at 6.45AM. Locating Gokhale’s house wasn’t difficult. After a hot water bath and idli-sambar breakfast, we were all set to hit the trail. Chennappa our guide also joined us. Chennappa had accompanied us to the Amedikal trek also. We were the first team in 2006 season to visit Amedikal and Chennappa informed us that we would be the first to reach Ettina Bhuja in this season. Season’s first trek in Western Ghats adds to the challenge as trails would have disappeared or would have seen lots of forest growth during the monsoon. The first group would end up clearing out the growth and making the path.

Another group of 24 members arrived at Gokhale’s place as we were about to leave. We were a bit concerned that the trail would be too crowed with such a large group, but fortunately for us, they arrived late. And more importantly there were on a day hike and wouldn’t be camping for the night.

From Gokhale’s house we started in a jeep at 8.30AM. The asphalted road quickly made way for kacchaa road as we traveled towards the last village in this region before Chickmagalur border. We crossed a couple of streams en route. The back-wheel driven jeep had little trouble negotiating the hard rocky path. We reached the beginning of the trail at 9AM. My altimeter measured 363m.

Kapila river which we had to cross
Kapila river

I was wearing slightly worn-out shoes and after first 15min of walk into the forest, both of my shoes reached their end of life almost simultaneously. I had grossly mis-estimated their health. We had reached the banks of Kapila river which had to be crossed. I laid my shoes to rest there and remaining trek was done in my slippers. Crossing the stream wasn’t difficult as the water was barely knee deep. On the other side of the stream, we moved into the forest on a timber route (An abandoned road which was used during logging in the past). This timber route moves closely alongside a river, which Chennappa says, flows down from Bhyrapura and hence is called Bhyrapura stream.

At 10AM, we were at 450m altitude. Here the timber route ends. We left the Bhyrapura stream in the right and started the real climb towards left. We were in a fairly dense forest and the dampness around was an ideal setting for leeches. We immediately become aware of them as they tried to get on to our skins. Ananth’s deodorant spray succeeded in delaying the inevitable leech bite by a few minutes. Chennappa’s sickle was immediately put to good use. The trail had to be cleared off the thorny bamboo shoots at many places. At around 10.45AM, we reached a small opening in the forest canopy at 630m from where we could get the first good glimpse of Ettina Bhuja peak. From here onwards it was a continuous steep ascent through the Shola forests.

First glimpse of Ettina Bhuja
Ettina Bhuja peak

At 12.15PM, we reached a small stretch of grassland at 875m. From here, the Ox’s shoulder is again visible. Next 30min of the trek was though a tiny forest patch before hitting the grassland again at 1000m. This grassland is much bigger than the earlier one and had head-high grass. After crossing this grassland we decided to break for lunch. Each of us had made our own food arrangements for the trek. Chapattis and MTR items were consumed. Lunch ended with Vatsa’s Chikkis.

Another view of the peak
Another view of Ettina Bhuja

Next part of the trail was through a small forest patch. After this forest patch, the tree line ends from where it’s just grassy hills. We reached our campsite(1200m) at 2.30PM. Our experience during Amedikal trek had made us weary about camping at the absolute peak. We had been at the mercy of rains and winds back then. Hence this time, we were camping at a place which is slightly lower than the peak. But the surroundings of our campsite were no less attractive. To the east of our campsite was a forest cover followed by distant hills including the Ombattu Gudda peak,  to the south was a valley where a stream flowed and a hill beyond it. To the north was another valley ending in distant villages and to the west was the imposing peak of Ettina Bhuja. A few of the other group’s members managed to reach till our campsite and quickly returned back.

Campsite
Campsite

Reached the campsite, time to relax
Relaxing at campsite

It had been an ideal day of trek as we had enough time to pitch our tents and laze around the campsite. Vatsa and I were carrying our camphor tablet stoves specifically to prepare hot tea and soup. Chennappa fetched water from the nearby stream. After tea, we started on the final climb to the peak. Arun and Ananth preferred to stay back at the camp while rest of us moved ahead. Though the approach to the peak looks daunting, it is in fact easy and it just took less than 30min to reach the peak. The altitude of Ettina Bhuja is 1300m as per my altimeter. So from Shishila it involves an altitude gain of around 950m.

The Ox’s shoulder
Route to the peak

The peak offers one additional view that is not visible from the campsite, which is the view towards west where we could see the Amedikal and Minchukallu peaks. We had been to both of these during our earlier attempts. We waited for sunset, but coudn’t get good views due to the clouds all around. We reached back to the campsite before it became fully dark. Chennappa had made arrangements for a campfire to the north of our tents at a slightly lower altitude between the bushes to prevent any damage to the tents due to fire. But the night was not windy at all due to the cloud cover. And it wasn’t cold. At around 8PM, moon was fully out and provided ample brightness in the night. Droppings of a carnivorous animal in the campsite suggested that this area was frequented by animals. According to Chennappa, it belonged to fox.

Sunrise
Sunrise

Dinner started with hot tomato soup, whose preparation took around 30min. We consumed the food we had carried and settled in our tents. I was using my brand new tent for the first time and was impressed by it. It was very spacious for 3 men inside. The night was warm and I didn’t feel that we are spending a night in a Western Ghats peak, thanks to the clouds.

A view of a distant hill
Distant hill

We woke up at 5AM and were ready to climb the peak again within no time. Without waiting for Chennappa, who was still asleep, we moved towards the peak in the darkness assisted by our torches. Mid way Ananth decided not to attempt for the peak, as he felt rocky terrain was not his forte. Rest of us moved ahead and were on the peak much before the Sun was ready to come out. But it was still cloudy with no winds and our chances of a good sunrise view was very remote. However the views all around especially the one down the valley was very good. As it became bright, Ombattu Gudda became visible. Thus our destination for next trek was decided on the Ettina Bhuja peak itself. I heaved a sigh of relief as Bharadwaj’s camera battery exhausted, as some of us were relieved from the potrait-photographer’s job 🙂

Ombattu Gudda, as seen from Ettina Bhuja
Ombattu gudda

From Ettina Bhuja, one could descend towards Moodigere, but there was one attraction at Gokhale’s house that was hard to resist: the river that flows in his backyard. Hence we had planned to return the same way back from the peak. We packed up and left the campsite at 7.15AM as soon as Chennappa was back with filled water bottles. The peaks here are not very far away from human habitations and we could get full strength mobile signals on the peak. We called up our jeep driver to pick us up at 12PM. During the descent, we made good progress and with just one break, we reached the timber route at 9.20AM. Our descent was helped by the route being made more clear by the to and fro movement of the large group yesterday.  It was 10min walk from here to the place where we had crossed the stream yesterday. We had enough time to leisurely prepare tea and finish breakfast on the banks of the river Kapila. At around 11.20AM, we came out of the woods and entered the village. Since our pick up jeep would arrive only at 12, we decided to continue our trek, but on the road now. We must have walked for around 45min before the jeep arrived. We were back at Gokhale’s house at 12.30PM.

Early morning views from the peak
Early morning view1

Early morning view2

Vishnu Gokhale suggested that we take bath first before having lunch. Thus we proceeded through the Areca nut farm to reach the Kapila river which flows pretty close to his house. The water level was less than thigh-deep and was ideal for bath and relaxing after a trek. We spent close to an hour in the river before returning back for a simple but sumptuous lunch at Gokhale’s house. Since we had enough time, we paid a visit to the nearby Shishileshwara temple. Though the temple proper was closed, we had an interesting time feeding the fish with rice. Fish is revered here and they are present in plenty and they are bold enough to snatch the rice directly from human hands.

Feeding the fish at Shishileshwara temple
Fish feeding

We left Shishila in a bus and reached Kokkada and from there to Dharmastala in a jeep. Dharmastala has been our base for all Charmadi treks. We sticked to our usual ritual of visiting the temple, having temple food followed by lassi in the temple street followed by cold Badam milk at the Dharmastala KSRTC bus station. Vatsa deviated a bit from the rules by convincing a few folks to have hot Bajji and Bonda. It had been a perfect trek and one of the most economical of our Charmadi treks. The per head cost came to around Rs. 900/-. I only wished that the trek was a bit more challenging and the night at the peak was a bit more cold. Naren mentioned that I could be excused for wishing that after my last trek to Auden’s Col in Himalayas!


Trekking in Charmadi: Amedikal

ನವೆಂಬರ್ 25, 2006
The month of October had been quiet without any treks as our planned trek to Charmadi was getting postponed due to rains in the Ghats. While I had covered Kodekallu, Jenukallu, Barekallu and Kallarabhi falls during my first trek to Charmadi and Minchukallu and Dondale falls during the second trek, we were aiming at Amedikallu this time. After much waiting and postponing we decided to ignore the weather forecasts, and explore the Ghats during the 3rd weekend of November. This time we were a group of 7: Me, Veena, Ananth, Gautham, Naren, Ashok and Ramya. Expect for Naren, Gautham and Ananth, others had at least one experience with the Charmadi Ghats.
Ashok,Ramya,Veena with Amedikallu in the background(3 stones and turtle-shaped rock can be seen)
Amedikallu
As usual we boarded a bus to Dharmastala on Friday night. We were supposed to get down at a place called Kokkada which is 15km before Dharmastala on Bangalore-Hassan-Sakaleshpur-Dharsmatala route. But due to traffic jam on that road, our bus took us directly to Dharmastala via Modigeri-Ujire route. Our local contact from Shishila village, Gopu Gokhale had sent a jeep to pick us from Dharmastala itself. We then traveled to Kokkada and further 18km from Kokkada to reach Shishila village. Gopu Gokhale’s house was our base camp. After a refreshing bath, we had a nice breakfast at his place. At around 10.45AM, after a 30min jeep drive from Shishila we finally reached the starting point of the trail to Amedikallu (~250m). We had our first animal sighting on the road itself when the driver had to apply the brakes hard to let go a passing snake! We were being led by two guides: Chennappa and Kumara. Though the weather forecast for Saturday was rain, the sky was holding up, but it was very cloudy. With no direct sun, it appeared to be a perfect weather to start an arduous trek.

View1

Amedikallu is one of the significant peaks of Charmadi range and apart from the route we were taking, there is at least a couple of other approaches to this peak. The name Amedikallu is a combination of two words: Ame – Turtle and dikkel – Tulu word for Stove. Amedikallu has a huge monolith at the top which appears like a giant turtle and 3 huge stones which give an appearance of a stove. The initial trail was through a fairly dense forest, but the trail itself was pretty wide. That was because the trail was being used by the forest department quite frequently and they had even planted quite a few saplings in the area, may be as part of reforestation. After a while the trail narrows down, the forest cover increases and the climb becomes steeper. The weather was humid as expected and by the time we take our first break, most of us are drenched, not due to rains but because of sweat. Even Gautham who belongs to the neighbouring Karkala wasn’t spared from sweat. We witnessed a complete skeleton of an animal probably killed and consumed by a carnivore.
A view of Yerikallu(appearing pointed towards right) in the background
view2

The forest had leeches but not too many to bother us really. More than leech, it was mosquitoes which were troubling us. At around 12PM, we come out of the forest cover and entered the grasslands (~600m). That’s when Amedikallu peak becomes visible clearly. All along the route, the other nearby peak, Ettina Bhuja (meaning Ox’s shoulder in Kannada) remains visible. For the next 3 hours we climb continuously, mostly through grasslands. The grass was dense throughout and it was head-high at many places. This part of the trek would have been doubly tough if there were no clouds to guard us from Sun. As we reach higher, many surrounding mountains become visible; Minchukallu, Yerikallu, Ettina Bhuja to name a few. We had many photo-breaks throughout this climb. While the married ones were searching for that next good photograph to fit the frame, the eligible bachelors were busy photographing themselves to get that one good shot to help them in bride hunting.

An other view

view3

At around 3PM, we had reached the base of the 3 stones (dikkel). We finished lunch here. We had Chapattis with MTR side dishes for the main course and biscuits with jam for the deserts. One could camp here for the night but it would take considerable effort to fetch water from the nearest water source. But since nothing can compensate for the feeling of reaching the absolute peak, we decided to move ahead. The target was to reach the top of the huge turtle shaped monolith rock from here. But since the rock facing us had 90degrees gradient, we had to cross over to the other face of the rock by walking along its side through the dense forests. The moment we entered the forest growth, we were completely cut out from the rest of the world. The growth was thick and since we were the first ones to take this route to the peak for this season, we had to make our way through the forest.

Making our way through the forest growth
Making our way up

The guides led us excellently from the front by clearing out the forest growth. While we were climbing an Indian Sambar rushed down making big noise. Only Ramya could catch a glimpse of it through the thick vegetation. The commotion created by Sambar disturbed a squirrel which was spotted by Naren and he claimed it to be a red tailed malabar squirrel. It was 5PM by the time we came out of the woods and entered grasslands again. Now we were at the back side of the turtle-shaped rock and it took another 30min of difficult climb to reach the peak.
view4

We had finally reached the camping ground which is about 25m below the absolute peak. Our guides suggested that we camp at the absolute peak on the rocks. So we had to again do some climbing on the barren rocks this time. Except for Ashok, Naren and myself, others in the group were pretty new to climbing on rocks. With some effort we finally made it to the peak with all our backpacks and tents. My altimeter was measuring 1250m, so we had gained an altitude of 1000m while covering a trial distance of probably 6-8km. While we sat down to enjoy the surrounding views, the guides went down looking out for a water source. We just had enough time to prepare refreshingly hot tomato soup before it become dark and started to drizzle. Ashok’s 4-men tent was quickly out and we managed to pitch it up on the only stretch of grass present at the peak adjacent to a rock. Though we had another 2-men tent; there was not enough space to really pitch it. The dinner was finished in a hurry under a rock. Though we had carried stove and utensils, the conditions weren’t suitable for any kind of cooking.

Our camping ground (we spent the night below this rock)
camping ground

After dinner the rain stopped but it had become very windy. Without other options, 7 of us occupied the 4-men tent and tried to catch some sleep. But for some of us, it quickly became unbearable. Naren and I decided to brave the winds rather than getting cramped inside the tent. Soon we were out with our bed sheets and occupied an opening below a rock. The opening below the rock was so small that we could only lie down. Though the rock provided us some shelter from the rain, we were thoroughly exposed to winds from 3 sides. It was a Herculean effort to keep the bed sheet in position due to high velocity winds. We managed to get some sound sleep until 11.30PM when we were woken up by the flowing water under our mats. Parts of our bed sheets were wet by this time. We then realized that it was raining heavily. But we didn’t have any options apart from staying put under the rock. From then on until morning we got up every hour, adjusted the bed sheets and tried to sleep again. The situation wasn’t any comfortable for those in the tent. Water seeped in and they had to hold on to the tent frames to make sure that tent doesn’t collapse.

Early morning view
Early morning view

Finally our ordeal ended at 6AM when it became bright outside. The place looked nothing short of any heaven. We were above the clouds and we could see the lower mountain ranges completely covered by clouds. This was closest to Ksheerasagara (metaphor to ocean of milk in Kannada/Sanskrit) that I have seen. We could even see our own shadows getting formed on the moving clouds at a great distance. Occasionally the moving clouds would result in a completely circular rainbow. Sometimes the clouds would cover us entirely and reduce the visibility to a few meters. Thus our morning at the peak turned out to be colorful and spectacular.

clouds

Since we didn’t have much water left, we decided to postpone breakfast until we reach a water source. By 8AM we started getting down. Since it had rained in the night, the ground had become very slippery. By 9AM we had reached the point where we had lunch yesterday. We took a long break here. We started with tea, had Chapattis and finally ended with jam. There was no water here also. Guides had to bring water from a far off distance. Water can be a concern for trekkers here. Unless accompanied by guides who are willing to fetch water from far off valleys, it can be difficult. In fact in this whole trail, except for one place, I didn’t see any water source. It was always the guides disappearing into forests and brining us water.
Ocean of clouds
Ocean of clouds

From here onwards it was a continuous descent through the grassland. This time we were not fortunate to have cloud protection and were directly exposed to Sun. It was a pretty tiring descent in hot and humid conditions. Looking back, it would have been very tough had we encountered this weather during our ascent. This time we could spot a Sambar grazing at a distance clearly. As it usually happens in all treks, during the last lap through the forests, we literally had to drag our feet to move forward. We managed to reach the end of the trail at 2PM. A jeep sent by Gopu Gokhale picked us up and dropped us at his place. Gopu Gokhale served us luxurious lunch on plantain leaves. After such a sumptuous lunch Naren, Ashok and I decided to take bath in the River Kapila which flows adjacent to Gopu Gokhale’s farm. It was a soothing experience exposing our tired bodies to the cool flowing waters of Kapila. While we were relaxing, the fish were busy cleaning our wounds from leech bites.

Surrounding mountains

From Shishila we went to Dharmastala in a jeep. We visited Shishileshwara temple on the way. The temple is on the banks of Kapila river. One can feed fish here and we could see hundreds of them fighting for the rice which people offered. The fish have grown so fearless that they come and fetch the rice directly from our hands.

Dharmastala was crowded to the brink as the Lakshadeepotsava (festival of a lakh lights) was to happen the next day. As always we had food in the temple and left for Bangalore in the night.

To those who want to do this trek:

– Gopu Gokhale in Shishila provides excellent service including arranging for guides, transportation, food and even probably stay.
– Camping at the peak is not such a good idea. 25m below the peak there is a fairly decent camping ground.
– Amedikallu is not a day’s trek if you are serious about reaching the peak. Excluding breaks, it took us 6hrs for ascent and 5hrs for descent. Of course we took a bit more during ascent since we had to make our way through the forest towards the end.
– Water availability can be a problem in this trek. Be sure to hire a local guide who knows where to find water.


Charmadi calls again

ಡಿಸೆಂಬರ್ 16, 2005

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)
Trek starting

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)
Minchukallu peak

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
Ramya and veena

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.

Kumbhakallu peak
Kumbhakallu peak

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)
At the peak

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
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
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.

Aniyur stream
Aniyur stream

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
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.

Dondale falls
Dondale falls

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.


Trekking in Charmadi Ghats

ಡಿಸೆಂಬರ್ 9, 2005

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.

Day 0

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.

Day 1

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!

Alekhan falls

Alekhan falls

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.

charmadi2

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.

charmadi3

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.

At kodekallu peak

At kodekallu peak

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.

Day 2

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.

charmadi6

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.

Kallarabhi falls

Kallarabhi falls

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.