Street perfomers of New Zealand

January 26, 2010

I was at Wellington, New Zealand recently to speak at a linux conference. During my week’s stay there, I happened to capture a few interesting street performances at Cuba St and Manner’s St. Most of the performances were done for soliciting money (aka begging), but a few were for some cause.  Here are some sample videos I captured.

This is a boy who was dancing at a street corner to raise funds for his band’s travel to compete at a dance competition!

This was another performer seen playing at Manner’s Street. It wasn’t sure if she was playing for money or just for pleasure of playing

A drummer seeking money by his performance at Manner’s St.

Another money-seeking performance at Manner’s mall

An interesting puppet show seen at Cuba St.


Trekking in Shiradi Ghats: Venkatagiri and Arebetta

December 6, 2009

My third trek to Shiradi Ghats was supposed to be an easy trek. But at the end, we had hiked and trekked for around 25km in 2 days, which included thick forests, grasslands and railway track! But it was all worth, since from the vantage point of Arebetta peak, we got a top view of Shiradi range in its entirety – peaks all around, Kempu Hole river in the valley, Mangalore-Hassan railway line and the NH48 highway!

We had planned the trek in 2nd weekend of November, but rain played spoilsport again and forced us to postpone our plans by a week. On the eve of November’s 3rd weekend, we were all set to board the night bus to Kukke Subramanya, when I received a call from Sreekanth, who had reached Kukke a day earlier to do a solo trek to Kumara Parvata. Naren and I were supposed to join him in Gundya on Saturday night. Sreekanth informed us that he had just witnessed one of the harshest of rains while getting down from Kumara Parvata and he was bone-wet when he reached Gundya IB. Understandably he didn’t sound very encouraging and asked us to rethink on our plans of leaving Bangalore. Weather report said that there would be thunderstorms starting from 5PM on Saturday and I decided to try our luck. Naren was more than willing to proceed with the plan as he was trek-starved since his last trek to Ettina Bhuja an year back.

At 5AM we reached Gundya and stopped directly in front of IB. It was pitch dark all around and I realized that after having lived in well-lit city like Bangalore for long time,  my sensory organs have lost some shine and we were forced to use torch to walk a few yards into the IB. Sreekanth was woken up from his sleep and we just casually retired into the beds and next thing I know is Sreekanth waking me up at 7AM. After a nice hot water bath and a good Neerdose breakfast, we were ready to start by 8.30AM. This time I had insisted that we just need one guide, since the guides of Gundya were pretty expensive and they normally charged more than twice compared to their Charmadi counterparts.

We had done Mugilagiri during our 1st visit and Aramane Gudde in the 2nd visit to Shiradi. This time we had planned to cover Venkatagiri on Day 1 and Arebetta on Day 2.

Day 1

This time, the trail started pretty close to Gundya IB. Infact from the bridge (over Vidya river) near IB, we can see Venkatagiri peak very clearly.

Venkatagiri peak as seen from IB, Gundya

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After a few meters of walk we took the left deviation into a village road that leads to Venkataramana temple. Venkatagiri probably gets its name from this temple. After walking for around 500m, when the guide led us into the forest, our base altitude was 250m. We walked beside the Matsyadhara stream for a brief while before crossing it.  The forest floor was wet due to overnight rain and as expected there were leeches. We used pain-relief spray to counter them and sprayed it on our shoes and pants in liberal quantities. Similar to our Mugilagiri trek, this trail also had tons of leeches and we would have been in trouble but for the pain-relief spray, which turned to be a very effective way to counter leeches.

By 9.30AM we felt relieved to come out of forest and touch the Hassan-Mangalore railway line (440m) near tunnel 34.

Goods train near tunnel 34

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We took a 30min break here and got rid of leeches from our clothes.  From here we had to climb over the tunnel towards Venkatagiri peak. We entered the forests again and after a 30min climb touched grasslands at 600m. From this point, towards East, we could clearly see the bridge near IB from where we had started the trek. Towards Northwest, we could see Amedikal and Ettina Bhuja peaks of the Charmadi range. Venkatagiri peak was visible at a height in the Southeast direction.

Venkatagiri peak as seen from the trail

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Looking back …

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We continued our trek towards the peak and reached the base (665m) of Venkatagiri peak at 11AM.  This area had elephant dung all round the place and looked like a camping place for elephants.

Mushroom growing on elephant dung

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Towards north, Mugilagiri range was visible. It was almost midday, but being true to its name, the Mugilagiri peak was covered by clouds.

We started on the final ascent to Venkatagiri which involved a continuous uphill climb through grasslands. At 11.45AM we reached Venkatagiri peak (830m).  From Venkatagiri, Metikal gudda and Arebetta peaks were visible. It was so sunny and hot at the top and there was hardly any shade around. The place wasn’t suitable to have lunch and hence we settled just for a round of soup. We started the descent at 12.30PM. On our way back we met a team of 3 led by a guide on their ascent path in the midday sun and evidently they were struggling. They were carrying just a bottle of water and it was just crazy of them to attempt a peak with such meager resources. Their guide borrowed some water from us and he shared his concern with our guide. Apparently his group had taken a lot of beer before starting and he was worried about getting them back safely.

Train seen from Venkatagiri

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We reached back the base at 1.15PM and finished  lunch.  At 2.30PM we were back at tunnel 34 from where we had started.  Our plan was to spend the night in Arebetta railway station which was 5km from here and 8 tunnels away. Thus we embarked on the next leg of our trek which was on the railway track. This brought back memories of my railway track trek that I had done on this very same route years back when trains weren’t running on this route when it was still a meter gauge line. Now this route has been converted to broad guage and passenger trains and a lot of goods train run on this line.

Arebetta as seen from Venkatagiri

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Walking on the railway line is very uncomfortable, especially when you are in the last leg of your trek. We crossed many bridges and dark tunnels on the way. Just before reaching Arebetta station, we even took time and had evening coffee on the railway track. Mugilagiri range remained visible towards left throughout our walk. On the rocks beside the track, we could see a lot of wild banana pants (a variety of banana which grows on rocks called Kallu baLe in Kannada)

Wild banana seen adjacent to railway track

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We finally reached the Arebetta station at 5PM. Arebetta station isn’t operational yet, but it has a few houses built for railway officials where we had planned to stay. There was a big group of Bihari migrant workers staying at the station after their day’s work. But fortunately we got a room to stay in a house occupied by the contractor who was overseeing the repair work being performed by this Bihari labourers.  Thus the night was spent at a comfortable location. It rained slightly in the night.

Day 2

The day’s plan was to reach the peak of Arebetta. We woke up in the morning to the sweet music of flutes being played by Bihari workers who were staying next door. It was pleasing to see that despite their hard life, they still managed to play music. In fact they were skilled enough to prepare their own flutes from the bamboo shoots they picked from the forests. We had to do a bit of convincing to get them out and play to the camera, as they were too shy to perform in front of the camera.

Here is a short video (courtesy Sreekanth) of them playing flute.

Naren plays flute and was specially interested in them and tried his hands (well… mouth as well) on their flutes. He even managed to get a flute gifted to him!

Arebetta as seen from railway line

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We started to trek at 8AM. The initial part of the trek is on the railway track. We entered into forest after tunnel 27 and started climbing over it. There is a trail from here till the top of Arebetta. Part of this trail was built during a survey for a power project by KPCL. It looked like nobody had used these trail recently after rains and it was getting consumed by forest growth at many places. The steepness also added to the difficulty as it involved a continuous ascent.  To make it more difficult our guide lost his way more than once and deviated from man made trail into elephant tracks. The trail was full of elephant dungs and some of them looked quite fresh. We were doing the scariest part of our ascent through these trails and encountering a herd of elephants here would be least surprising! Our hearts pumped up for a second when Naren and I observed a disturbance in the forest canopy a few meters down the valley and assumed that it must be because of elephants. But our guide concluded that it is more likely be a herd of monkeys.

Mugilagiri as seen from Arebetta

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After wandering around in elephant trails for some time, we rejoined the actual trail after which the ascent became a bit easier. However at 780m the forest ended and grassland started. We were now walking through the head-high elephant grass. Last two hundred meters  ascent through this grass was a bit challenging as it was steep and also the grass was so sharp that it could easily cause cuts in the skin. We were at Arebetta peak (940m) at 10AM.

The contrast between Arebetta and Methikallu

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Arebetta in Kannada can be loosely translated as a ‘lessor hill’, but when it comes to the views from the peak, Arebetta is second to none. In fact, this was the peak where we had the best view of the Shiradi Ghats. One can have a panoramic view of mountain ranges all around from Arebetta. Arebetta creates two valleys, one towards North where Mugilagiri and Aramane Gudde range is present on the other side of the Valley. Towards South after the valley, Metikallu range which distinguishes itself with complete forest cover and no grasslands even at its peak.  Roughly towards East, the ranges near Sakaleshpura, Edakumeri and Devarabetta are visible.

Here is a short video of the peaks seen from Arebetta (courtesy Sreekanth)

Venkatagiri as seen from Arebetta

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Down in the valley towards North, both NH48 and the railway line are visible.

Methikallu gudda as seen from Arebetta

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We spent close to an hour at the peak. It was very windy at the top. We left the peak at 11AM and were back at Arebetta station at 12.30PM. We had to come back to this station since we had left our backpacks here. Next it was a difficult 5km walk back on the railway line. During this walk, we met a few teams who were doing the railway track trek from Subramanya to Arebetta. I was surprised to see that railway track trek still fascinates people given that there are trains running on the track and one has to constantly be on watch out for human excreta on railway track.  At 2PM we reached tunnel 34 and took a right deviation down into a forest trail which would lead us to Gundya. This route had a lot of leeches and we had emptied close to two bottles of pain-relief spray.  At 2.30PM we touched the jeep track, went past the Venkataramana temple at 2.45PM and reached IB by 3PM.

View from Arebetta

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After a grand lunch at IB, we proceeded to Subramanya, which was overflowing since we had come here on the eve of Rathotsava. Some experiences in Subramanya can be found here (in Kannada). In the evening it poured at Subramanya and as last time, we didn’t feel like having dinner, thanks to the cook at Gundya IB.

Kempu Hole as seen from Arebetta

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Back in Bangalore on Monday morning, I didn’t have to count the leech bites, I just had one from the entire trek! But by evening all of us started counting harvest mite bites which are more serious and long lasting than leech bites 😦


Trekking in Shiradi Ghats: Aramane Gadde

October 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

October 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.


Around Sonda Sirsi II

September 24, 2009

A few more places of interest around Sonda, Sirsi.

In one of my last blogs, I described many places of interest around Sonda, Sirsi. Last weekend I was in Sonda and explored a couple of more places: a beautiful waterfalls known as Benne Hole falls and a newly rennovated temple.

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There are quite a few falls in the Sirsi-Yellapur region. Magod, Shivagange, Satoddi, Unchalli falls are well known. Another falls which is as majestic as any of these is the Benne Hole falls. This falls is approchable from Sirsi-Kumta road. At 26km from Sirsi towards Kumta, we get a village named Kasage. Near this village, a village road deviates towards left which will lead to the falls. Kasage village is situated after Bandala Ghats and before Devimane Ghats.

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The village road is unfit for any car and only jeeps will ply on this road. Only first 4km is motorable and remaining 2km has to be done on foot. We were on a bike which probably is the best mode of transport on such roads. The route runs through what appears as forest and has many turns and forks. Not knowing which turn would take us to the falls, we went straight until the road ended in a small hill with a valley on the other side. Listening to the sound of water flow, we descended down the valley which was full of leeches and reached the stream and not the falls. Unwilling to take further chances, we climbed back, reached the road, back-tracked and took a turn which led to a farm house. The inmates gave us the right directions to the falls after which it was quite easy, but we still had to cover the last kilometer on walk which involved a descent towards the end. The area was full of leeches.

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September to November is probably the best season to visit this falls.  The waterfalls is formed by the Benne Hole stream falling from an approximate height of 200-300ft.  Benne Hole stream eventually joins the Aghanashini river. The stream was in full flow and matched its name (beNNe means Butter in Kannada) aptly. A local mentioned that the falls remains attractive only till December end with full water flow.

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One can reach the botton of the falls only when the rains have subsided and rocks are dry.

Satyanatheshwara Temple, Bakkala

Bakkala is a village at around 18km from Sirsi on Sirsi-Sonda route via Hulekal. After 2km from Hulekal, there is a left deviation which leads to this temple. Bakkala (corrupted form of Bakula) is a historic place and is believed to be in existence from Ramayana times. This place finds a mention in Satyanatheshwara purana along with Yana. It is believed that when Hanuman was carrying Sanjeevini hill to Lanka, parts of Sanjeevini plants fell here. This place is known for medicinal plants and a botanical garden comprising these is being maintained here.

Satyanatheshwara temple

The accurate period when the temple was built is not known but is estimated to be built b/n 1555 and 1610AD in Arasappa Nayaka’s time who was then ruling Sudhapura (which is now called Sonda). Temple rennovation work was started in 1999 and was mostly completed in 2009. Some parts of the roof are still incomplete. Looking at the amount of work done in 10 years in this temple, it is hard to imagine how much time and money our ancestors would have spent in building all those stone temples  which are scattered all over Karnataka and elsewhere!

Pillar

The temple exterior and pillars have been re-done using pink and white sandstone. Underneath the temple,  below the ground level, a Dhyana Mandira has been built which is very artistically decorated with various paintings involving Yoga mudras, chakras, asanas, dance postures etc. The story describing the uncovering of the Shivalinga and subsequent establishment of this temple has been pictorially carved on the temple walls.

Paintings inside Dhyana Mandira

Dhyana mandira

Dhyana mandira
This temple is worth a visit anytime if you are in Sirsi or Sonda. If not for anything, one should visit this temple to understand what it takes to (re-)build a stone temple. One can’t but appreciate the efforts that would have gone into building of our ancient temples.

A carving depicting Arasappa Nayaka transporting the Shiva Linga

Wall


Trekking in Shiradi Ghats: Mugilagiri

August 19, 2009

A straight 1km descent can be challenging in most terrains. If the descent involves negotiating knee-deep wet grasslands and trail-less forests with forest floor heavily infested with leeches, then the challenge becomes even greater. This is the story of my first trek in the Shiradi range of Karnataka Western Ghats.

In the past two years, most of my Western Ghats trek have been in the Charmadi Ghats. Now since I have completed many significant peaks in Charmadi, I decided to shift my base to the adjacent Shiradi Ghats. It was only August and the rains hadn’t completely ceased. But being starved of any adventure for past so many months, I convinced Sreekanth to join me. We consciously decided not to grow the team beyond two of us given that it was our first trek to the region and we were not sure about the logistic support available in the area. Also, since we were warned by our guide to expect a few spells of rain, we wanted only hard core trekkers with us.

Gundya, a village on the Bangalore – Mangalore highway near Kukke Subramanya is the base for many treks in the Shiradi range. Since no direct booking is available to Gundya from Bangalore, we booked KSRTC tickets till Kukke which is 22km off the highway from Gundya. The 11PM bus reached Gundya check post at 5.45AM on Saturday morning. Our guide advised us to finish our morning ablutions by the river side and breakfast at Hotel Santosh. The river Netravati was overflowing and reaching the river side didn’t look all that comfortable. Since Hotel Santosh was still closed we finished breakfast in another hotel. I can’t remember when was the the last time I had such awful idlies!

We met another group of around 20 members who were also using our guide’s services to trek to Aramane gudde. We had also planned for the same peak, but unwilling to be with 20 others, we decided to try Mugilagiri peak. Our guide planned to send his relative to accompany us. Our new guide arrived at Gundya cross at 7.30AM. We proceeded in an Auto Rickshaw on the highway towards Bangalore for a few hundred meters to reach the starting part of the trail to Mugilagiri. We hit the trial at 7.45AM and the base altitude was 300m.

Ascent
Ascent

The initial part of the trial was through forest. The ground was wet due to overnight rains. Both of us were prepared for a night stay at the top and hence were carrying our complete luggage of around 10kg each. Long break from treks and lack of recent physical activity had rendered me a bit unfit and I was finding it difficult to negotiate the ascent through the forest. As usual, we were the first ones to take this route post monsoon and we had to make our way through the forest growth. At around 9.15AM, we finally came out of humid forest and touched grasslands at 650m. But there was little respite from the humidity as the surroundings were very cloudy, with no winds. The peaks all round were mostly invisible, thanks to the clouds.

Next we had to negotiate a peak covered with grass. We reached its top (735m) at around 9.45AM. Here  a few adjacent peaks were visible for a brief while, since clouds showed some mercy. Venkatagiri and Arebetta could be seen prominently. Down in the valley, Kempu Hole river flowing like a serpent was visible. It was an amazing sight to see a river taking at least 3 zig zag turns in a single valley.

Kempu Hole river flowing in the valley
Kempu Hole

As per our guide, Mugilagiri is not a single peak but is range of peaks. Thanks to the clouds and also to the route we took, at any point in the trail only one peak was visible. Each peak is higher than the previous one and becomes visible only on reaching the previous peak. So the next part of our trek involved climbing from one peak to another and I can remember that we covered at least 7 peaks our way. At 10.45AM, we reached a peak at 845m, at 11AM a peak at 910m, at 11.50AM a peak at 1075m. At this peak we had our lunch. We had plans to camp in the night and hence were carrying tent and food for 2 days. But our guide suggested that he will take us downhill in just 2 hours and we could stay at Gundya and then could cover more peaks on Sunday. It was a tempting offer and we gladly accepted.

Cloud covered Venkatagiri range
Venkatagiri range

The plan was to cover rest of the peaks and reach the highest peak in the Mugilagiri range and then descend. We left our backpacks en route at a point from where we were supposed to start the descent and did the rest of climb without out any luggage. That was some relief and we could do some very steep ascent fairly comfortably. At 1PM we reached the highest peak in the range at 1250m. So we had approximately done a climb of 1000m. Views from this point should have been spectacular in other seasons, but clouds were playing spoilsport.

Mugilagiri’s highest peak
Mugilagiri's highest peak

At 1.30PM, when it started raining, we started descending. We reached the point where we had left our backpacks and from here guide started taking us straight down the valley. There was no trail anywhere but only fresh green grass which was thigh-deep at places. Fresh rains made the descent difficult for us. The terrain had become extremely slippery. The stones beneath the grass were loose and slippery and the backpack weight was pushing us down. Since we were on a straight descent path, the steepness also added to our woes. On the whole it was a very tough descent. I can’t remember how many times both of us lost our grip and fell.

Clouds over the valley
Clouds over the valley

At 3PM we were very relieved to see the end of grassland and beginning of forests. But we were still at 850m and needed to loose another 550m of altitude. As we followed the guide into the forests, it quickly became evident that we are not on any trial. The guide had an excellent sense of direction thanks to his 25years of experience wandering in the forests of Shiradi. His plan was to touch a stream from where there is a trail which would lead us out of the forests into the highway. Here again the descent was straight and this was no less difficult than the descent through the grasslands. There were plenty of leeches on the floor because of which we had to keep a fast pace. Our bodies were so warmed up that it looked like we had become immune to pains due minor falls we were having throughout the descent. At one point, I twisted my ankle, felt the pain and couldn’t keep pace with the guide. The guide offered to carry my backpack to which I had to agree if we wanted to make any decent progress. At 4PM, we finally reached the Birchina Halla stream (at 450m) dead tired. All of us had our share for leech bites and we took time on the river bed to get rid of them. The stream was flowing ferociously and without our guide’s help, it would have taken considerable effort to cross it with our tired bodies.

Another cloud masked peak
cloud masked range

On the other side of the stream, there was a trail, which was very welcome after such a tough descent. But there was one problem, the trail was heavily leech infested. I have been on trails which had leeches earlier, but this was different. Here I could see tens and hundreds of them all over the trail ever ready to get on to our bodies. We were running now and couldn’t afford to remove the leeches from our legs because any time spent idle on this trail would attract more leeches. The trail was interrupted by fallen trees at many places. But our guide’s good direction sense allowed us to go off the trail and later join it. As we came close to the highway, it started raining. At 5PM we were relieved to come out of the forests and join the highway.

Ridge we used on ascent
Ridge

After removing all the leeches, we started walking on the highway towards Gundya. We must have walked around 2km before reaching Gundya. In Gundya, we stayed at Forest Department Inspection Bungalow which was a very comfortable place after such a hard trek.  The trek had taken toll on our bodies and pains started to appear as the night fell. I could barely walk due to my ankle pain and Sreekanth had a rough knee. We were uncertain about continuing the trek the next day. Night was very peaceful though.

The guide visited us in the morning and advised us not to trek again today since he was also not 100% fit due to yesterday’s trek. Our pains had reduced, but it wasn’t worth to risk further injuries and hence decided to return to Bangalore. Mugilagiri should be a moderate trek in other seasons, but during rains or immediately after rains, other factors make the trek difficult in addition to just the altitude and the terrain. We wanted a Western Ghats trekking experience in the mild rains and we got more than we asked for! We returned from Shiradi on Sunday itself with the promise to come back again to explore the other peaks of the region. Back in Bangalore, I counted the leech bites and there were 25 in total!


Around Sonda Sirsi

December 24, 2008

I was mostly unaware of the natural beauty of Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka until my marriage to Veena who hails from Sonda. Since then I have done quite a few visits to Sonda and visited numerous places around it and amazed by the tourist potential (still not fully tapped though) of this green district.

Sonda is small little village in the Sirsi taluk of Uttara Kannada district situated at a distance of around 450km from Bangalore and 20km from Sirsi. It is mostly known as a pilgrimage center due to the presence of three prominent Mutts: the Swarnavalli Mutt, the Vadiraj Mutt and the Jain Mutt. These attract hundreds of pilgrims mostly through out the year. The green surroundings, typical to the Malnad area of Sonda and Sirsi add to the serenity of these places of religious importance.

Here are some of the places I have visited around Sonda, Sirsi, since last 3 years. Please note that all distances mentioned here are mostly approximate.

Madhukeshwara Temple, Banavasi
Sahasralinga, Sonda
Magod Waterfall
Unchalli Waterfall
Satoddi Waterfall
Sonda Kote
Muttinakere Venkataramana Temple
Hunasehonda Venkataramana Temple
Shivagange Waterfall
Mundige Kere Bird Sanctuary
Yana

Madhukeshwara Temple, Banavasi

Banavasi, which was once the capital of Kadamba rulers is situated at around 20km from Sirsi. The village road from Sirsi to Banavasi is very picturesque with green fields all round. There are a few sugarcane fields also which set up the traditional sugarcane crushing units for preparing jaggery (called Aalemane in Kannada) during Jan-Feb. If you are here during this time, you would want to stop by one of these places. You would be offered generous quantities of sugarcane juice straight out of Aalemane. One should taste this know how this differs from the cane juice available in the cities.

The 9th Century Madhukeshwara temple of Banavasi is dedicated to Shiva. It is a fairly big temple and is well protected.

Madhukeshwara Temple, Banavasi
Madhukeshwara Temple, Banavasi

The ornate pillars add to the beauty of the temple. Just outside the Sanctum Sanctorum, a stone structure is placed which looks like a throne or a couch.

Stone Throne

There is a beautiful bull (Nandi) in front of Shiva but interestingly it appears to be watching Parvati who is present in the adjoining temple.

Nandi

The temple campus has many beautiful stone idols of Gods and Goddesses.

Idol

Sahasralinga, Sonda

River Shalmala flows quite close to my in-laws house in Sonda. I have to just cross a few arecanut farms and paddy fields to reach the well known pilgrimage center in the river Shalmala called Sahasralinga. The place gets its name from the numerous (Sahasra = thousand) Lingas carved on the rocks of Shalmala river. Lingas with Nandi of all shapes and sizes can be seen here, some of them dislodged due to the force of water flow. It is better to visit this place when the water level is low when all the Lingas become visible.

Sahsralinga

Sashralinga

Sahasralinga, is approachable from Hulgol, on Sirsi-Yellapur road at around 15km from Sirsi. This place becomes a center of activity on Mahashivaratri day when people throng here to offer Pooja.

Sahasralinga

Magod Waterfall

Magod waterfall is formed by river Bedti which falls in two steps forming two falls. Though one could use an interior village route (Sonda – Upleshwara Cross – Magod Road – Magod Waterfall) to reach this waterfall from Sonda, the ideal way to reach this is from Yellapur which is around 50km from Sirsi. After traveling on NH63 from Yellapur for around 5km towards Ankola, there is a deviation on the left which goes to Magod Waterfall. The waterfall is around 15km from here. The road is reasonably well maintained and one can drive up the falls in a 4 wheeler.

Magod Waterfall (Sept)
Magod

Magod waterfall is visible at some distance from the viewpoint in the valley. From here, it is not possible to reach the base of the waterfall.

Magod

Magod Waterfall (June)
Magod

A nearby place to visit along with Magod waterfall is the Jenukallu gudda viewpoint from where River Kali is visible.

View from Jenukallu
Jenukallu

If you take the interior road from Sonda to Magod waterfall via Upleshwara, you could visit the Kavdekere en route which has a big lake and a temple.

Unchalli Waterfall

River Aghanashini forms a spectacular waterfall called Unchalli waterfall in a deep jungle. To reach this waterfall, start from Sirsi on Sirsi – Kumta road and reach Aminhalli (around 14km).  From here a left deviation leads to a village called Heggarne (around 19km from Aminhalli). The road is decent until Heggarne. From Heggarne one has to travel around 2-3km on a jeep track to reach the viewpoint of the waterfall. This last stretch is distance is best done in a hired vehicle or by walk.

Unchalli waterfall
Unchalli

From the viewpoint the falls is visible at a distance. Steps have been built from here to another viewpoint still down the valley which is built directly opposite the waterfall. The water flows down at a great force  raising up a cloud of water drops that could easily drench anyone at the viewpoint. It is common to find leeches in this area. Again one can’t reach the base of the waterfall from this viewpoint easily.

Unchalli

Visit to Unchalli waterfall can be clubbed with a visit to Benne HoLe waterfall which is approachable from a village called Nilkunda, around 14km from Heggarne. From Nilkunda one has to walk around 2km and descend down a valley to reach the waterfall. We tried doing this in September and were unsuccessful. The descent down the valley was so difficult and full of leeches that Veena and I got lost halfway, while the rest of the group went down. With so many leeches around, we had no option but to rush uphill. So no photos of this waterfall 😦

Satoddi Waterfall

Satoddi waterfall is formed by River Kali(or may its tributary) and is situated in Yellapur district. To reach this, start on Yellapur-Hubli highway (NH63), proceed around 2-3km and take a left turn into what is called Bisgod road. From here, proceed around 20-25km to reach a place called Kattige which has a Ganesha Temple. From Kattige Ganesha temple it is around 8-10km of jeep track to the waterfall.

Satoddi Waterfall
Satoddi

I visited this waterfall with my brother-in-law in September in a motorbike and it needed all the village-riding skills of my brother-in-law to negotiate the final few kilometers of slushy road. Even walking would on this road would be difficult with so much of slush all around. But all the effort is worth as this is one of the waterfalls whose base can be easily approached.

Satoddi

This waterfall is present upstream after the backwaters of the Kodasalli dam.

Backwaters of Kodasalli dam
Kodasalli dam

Sonda Kote

Sonda was once a royal city ruled by Swadi Kings and one can still see some of the remains at various places around Sonda. One such place is the Sonda Kote which is present on the banks of River Shalmala. Though it is called Kote, I couldn’t find any fort here. It looks more like a place where some royal remains have been protected by ASI. A small temple, a few cannons and a decorated single stone Kallina Mancha (Stone Cot) are preserved here.

View at Sonda Kote
Sonda Kote

Kallina Mancha at Sonda Kote
Sonda Kote

Muttinakere Venkataramana Temple

Muttinakere is a small lake in Vaja Gadde area of Sonda. Alongside this lake is a small but beautiful 17th Venkataramana temple built in Vijayanagara style. This temple has been renovated and is well maintained. A visit to this temple is worth if you are in Sonda. Daily pooja is performed here.

Muttinakere Temple
Muttinakere temple

Carvings on temple wall
Muttinakere temple

An abondoned temple near Muttinakere
Muttinakere

Hunasehonda Venkataramana Temple

This is another small temple present in Sonda dedicated to Venkataramana. To reach this temple, from Kamatgeri in Sonda, proceed towards Sirsi for around 1km and take a left deviation and proceed another 1km on the un-asphalted road. There is a lake alongside the temple. The carvings on the temple walls are interesting. Daily pooja is performed in this temple.

Hunasehonda Temple
Hunasehonda temple

Shivagange Waterfall

This waterfall is formed by River Shalmala (As far as I know). The approach to this waterfall is from a place called Hulekal, which is around 13km from Sirsi towards Sonda and 5km from Sonda towards Sirsi. From Hulekal, take the Jaddigadde road and travel for around 25km to reach Jaddigadde. From here it is around 2-3km on a Jeep track which is best negotiated by walk or a two wheeler.

Shivagange Waterfall
Shivagange

A viewpoint has been built from where the waterfall is visible at a distance. Me and my Uncle tried to descend down the valley to get closer to the falls but after a while found it too hard to negotiate the thick forest growth in the monsoon season. So had to return satisfied by the long-distance view of the waterfall.

Shivagange

Mundige Kere Bird Sanctuary

There is a small lake called Mundige Kere in Sonda which attracts hundreds of birds (mostly Cranes as per my very limited knowledge about birds) in June.  I am not sure if this can be called a sanctuary, but is definitely a place is worth visiting when you in Sonda and have some time to spare. From Kamatgeri in Sonda, proceed a few yards towards Yellapur and take a right deviation near Kasapal primary school and proceed a 1km further.

Mundige Kere
Mundige Kere

Yana

Yana has become a very popular tourist spot now with hundreds visiting it in the weekends. So no more details except for a few photographs.

Rocks of Yana
Yana

Yana

Yana

– with inputs from Veena Bhat, Vinayak Bhat, M S Bhat and Krishnamoorthy Bhat.


Trekking in Charmadi: Ettina Bhuja

November 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!


A Himalayan Trekking Expedition to Auden’s Col

October 15, 2008

(All altitudes mentioned here apart from Jogin and Gangotri peaks are as measured from my altimeter and may not be accurate)

Auden’s Col
Pre-trek Apprehensions
Day 1, 2: Reaching Gangotri
Day 3: Acclimatization Day
Day 4: Gangotri to (Bhoj)Kharak
Day 5: (Bhoj)Kharak to Rudragaira Base Camp
Day 6: Acclimatization at Rudragaira BC
Day 7: Rudragaira BC to Auden’s Col BC
Day 8: Auden’s Col BC to Advanced BC
Day 9: Col ABC to Auden’s Col
Day 10: Auden’s Col to Bakriwala Camp
Day 11: Bakriwala Camp to Gangotri to Uttarkashi
Day 12, 13: Back to Bangalore

Auden’s Col

Auden’s Col is a mountain pass which connects Jogin I (6465m) and Gangotri III (6580m) and is reportedly situated at a height of around 5400m. It also binds two glaciers on the opposite sides. One is Khatling glacier and the other one looks like the glacier belonging to Jogin I. Auden’s Col is approachable from Gangotri and one can trek up to Kedarnath following Auden’s Col and Khatling glacier. Auden’s Col gets its name from J B Auden, who first crossed it in 1939-40.

Auden’s Col
Auden's Col

In August 2008, Lakshminarayan (Lacchhii) of Bakpackers informed me of his plans to cross Auden’s Col in October. It had been two years since my unsuccessful attempt to Roopkund and I started giving serious considerations to Lacchhii’s plan. Chinmay and Sai Prakash, who had accompanied me in some of my previous treks were also thinking of doing a Himalayan trek this year and the timing Auden’s Col trek seemed to suit all of us. After doing some search on Auden’s Col, we finally decided to join Lacchhii.

Pre-trek Apprehensions

Though we registered for the trek, we had a lot of open questions about Auden’s Col and were not confident that we would really make it to the Col until the last minute.

  • Not much of information about Auden’s Col was available from the internet.
  • From a couple of available reports, it seemed that Auden’s Col involved technical climb and was very tough. None of us are trained formally in mountaineering.
  • A report mentioned that they were the 11th civilian team to cross the Col in 2007. We naturally started thinking if we are aiming for something which is beyond us.
  • People who have done Auden’s Col told us that this is an expedition and not a trek and cautioned us of the technical difficulties involved in this trek.
  • Worst of all, the news of Kalindi Khal tragedy(where a few people lost their lives) came in September. This was very depressing, but we had made all travel arrangements by this time.
  • We were very doubtful if our team would be equipped with all the gear needed to complete this trek safely.
  • I thought that September would be the ideal month to do this trek and we would be exposed to harsh climate in October.

Will such fears and doubts, majority of our team members had a meeting with Lacchhii in Bangalore where he successfully managed to address all our apprehensions. Lacchhii had outsourced this expedition to Himalaya Sherpa of Garhwal Climbers of India, Uttarkashi and we would be accompanied by experienced guides and they would carry all the necessary climbing gear and safety equipments. Our team consisted of 7 members: Lacchhii, Shashank, Chinmay, Dipayan, Sai Prakash, Manjesh and I.

Day 1, 2: Reaching Gangotri

Many of us boarded a morning flight to Delhi on Oct 2nd while others had left by train a couple of days back. The bus ride from Delhi to Rishikesh (~240km) was tiring and long (it took more than 7hours). We reached GMVN Rest House at 10.15PM, quickly gobbled up the dinner (packed for us by others who had reached earlier) and settled for the day. Next day we left for Gangotri in a jeep. The journey started well but soon the driver came into his own (turned rouge) and started driving extremely rashly. A mouthful from a couple of other drivers didn’t deter him. No amount of request/talking to him helped and we finally decided to leave him alone. We considered ourselves extremely lucky when he dropped us at Uttarkashi. We even considered for once that Auden’s Col climb might be easier and risk-free than this journey. Himalaya Sherpa who was organizing this expedition met us in Uttarkashi and gave us a pep talk. After lunch, we boarded a different jeep and reached Gangotri by 5PM. We were delayed by an hour due to a failed/fallen truck that needed to be cleared off the road. We stayed in GMVN Rest House for the night.

Day 3: Acclimatization Day

I got up at 5.30AM and had a hot water bath. My altimeter was showing a height of 3000m as against Gangotri’s official height of 3048m. The morning was quite cold at 14°C. Before the team got ready, I went out and had a small morning stroll till the forest check post on the Gangotri-Gaumukh route.

At 9.30AM we left for an acclimatization trek towards Kedartal. The trek was very relaxed and we proceeded at a gentle pace. Trekkers coming back from Kedartal informed us about snow fall at Kedartal. We even met a porter who had been to Auden’s Col in 2007. We collected information from him and he reiterated that it was a tough climb.

Thalaysagar peak as seen from Gangotri-Kedartal route
Thalaysagar

By 12.30PM we reached a point (3540m) from where Thalaysagar peak became visible. Since some of us didn’t want to stretch ourselves too much on day 1, we spent an hour here and returned back to Gangotri by 3.30PM. Just before it became dark, our food supplies and other material needed for the expedition arrived with the porters. Our guides hadn’t arrived until we went to sleep.

Day 4: Gangotri to (Bhoj)Kharak

This day’s plan was to reach Nala Camp. Day started early at 5AM. All of us were out with our nap sacks by 7.15AM. We started on the trail to Nala Camp without breakfast as we wanted to leave as quickly as possible. A porter was supposed to carry packed breakfast for us. The initial part of the trial involves a steep climb through a pine forest. At 8.45AM, we crossed Rudraganga river over a log bridge. The next part of the climb also is through dense pine forest. This area had lots of Bhoj trees. Only a single porter had accompanied us from Gangotri and we had overtaken him a long while back. Since there was no trace of any porters, we spent 10AM to 10.45AM on the banks of the river waiting for the porters to arrive. None except the first porter who started with us arrived and he didn’t have any clue about the remaining porters or the guides.

First view of snow capped peak
First view of snow capped peak

We left the porter back and the trek continued. We came out of the tree line and entered the grasslands. From here a snow capped peak from the Jogin group started becoming visible. At around 11.30AM, we crossed a stream in a huge landslide area (3590m).  At 12PM, we reached a campsite where a couple of climbers from Delhi who were attempting the Rudragaira(aka Rudugaira) peak were camping with their porters. As per the porters, this campsite was called Bhoj Kharak (3640m). We might have approximately covered a distance of 6km till this point. (Though the porters called this Bhoj Kharak, the map shows a point 6km away from Gangotri towards this direction as Rudragaira Kharak). As per the porters, the Nala camp was still an hour’s walk ahead. We waited for another hour for our porters to arrive, but they didn’t. We decided to reach Nala Camp once for all and started ahead. Fortunately for us, we couldn’t find the route ahead and were forced to stop. We waited at this spot for another hour and there was no sign of any porters. It was becoming clear that they were having serious problems as they should have joined us by this time, but we had no clue what the problem was.

Stream in a landslide area enroute Nala Camp
Stream in a landslide area enroute Nala Camp

Realizing the futility of our wait in the middle of nowhere, we decided to go back to Bhoj Kharak where we could at least take shelter in the other group’s kitchen tent. Finally at 2.15PM, one of our porters arrived with packed paratas, which was supposed to be our breakfast. This was a huge relief. Apparently we had run into porter shortage problem and the individual weight was too much for the porters to carry. This was slowing them down heavily. We had 12 porters, 1 guide(Shailendra Singh Bist or Shailu) and 1 guide cum cook (Bablu Thapa). In this, only Bablu had done Auden’s Col earlier. With serious porter shortage, some of the agile porters had to traverse the entire distance 4 times to ferry the load across.

Meanwhile, the sky became very cloudy and it started raining. Our tents were yet to arrive and we took shelter in the other group’s kitchen tent. Thanks to Lacchhii, their guide kindly provided us hot tea. It was around 5PM when our tents arrived and we shifted to our tents. The dinner (kichdi) was supplied into the tents.

Day 5: (Bhoj)Kharak to Rudragaira Base Camp

This day’s agenda was to cross Nala Camp and reach Rudragaira BC. I got up at 5AM when the thermometer was measuring 8°C.  By the time we completed the breakfast and started, it was 9AM. From Bhoj Karak, it involved an initial steep climb of around 150m. At around 9.45AM, we crossed a stone shelter(3900m) which suggested that a campsite is somewhere nearby. At around 10.15AM, we reached Nala Camp (4000m). We now had to cross a stream flowing down from our right. We carefully crossed this stream in the landslide area and reached the other side. From there Jogin I is clearly visible. We waited for around 30min for all our members to arrive. Today we were being led by a porter Nandu, a teenager who was the most agile, daring and talkative porter we had. Next we had a false climb of 50m before descending back to the right route. Any small climb was becoming very strenuous due the altitude.

Jogin peak as seen from Rudragaira BC
Jogin peak as seen from Rudragaira BC

At around 11.45AM, after a steep climb, we crossed a stream and landslide area and reached 4170m. From here onwards we encountered patches of snow. Next it was a continuous steep ascent. The progress was slow and we reached Rudragaira BC (4350m) at 12.30PM. We consumed the packed lunch carried by Nandu. At Rudragaira BC, Jogin I, Auden’s Col, Gangotri III, Gangotri II and Gangotri I are clearly visible. All these peaks were visible against clear sky only for 15min before clouds engulfed them. Today again our porters were late and there was no trace of any of them. Not before long after lunch, it started snowing and we ran for covers. Some of us occupied the stone shelters and others went behind the huge rocks. Almost after an hour, first set of porters arrived and we were quickly given mats to protect ourselves from snow. It was around 3PM when the tents were pitched.

Auden’s Col as seen from Rudragaira BC
Auden's Col as seen from Rudragaira BC

Today also porters had problems carrying the heavy loads and again were late reaching the campsite. Moreover, they seemed to be very disorganized and until all of them arrived nothing seemed to get done  If one porter carried the stove, the other carried the kerosene, another carried the milk powder and yet another carried the tea powder and sugar. So until all of them arrived, there was no respite for us. Lacchhii was not happy with this and threatened to end the expedition if porters can’t handle this and things don’t improve. Shailu requested for one last chance to improve the situation.

To add to our woes, there was no water at this campsite. The snow had to be melted for any water. Because of this it took extraordinarily long time to get the dinner ready. Today also, the dinner(Dal Chawal) was supplied into the tents due to bad weather outside. I had a very broken sleep and would get up and involuntarily do deep breathing to meet the body’s oxygen requirements. The tent Chinmay and I  were sharing wasn’t that great. During the night, the upper got removed leaving the tent wet inside.

Day 6: Acclimatization at Rudragaira BC

I came out of the tent at 6AM. Yesterday night’s snowfall had managed to change the brown colored grass into almost white. The temperature was -4°C. We were a bit relaxed today as we didn’t have any specific agenda. The breakfast was completed at 9.30AM. To reduce the weight for the porters, it was decided to wear the climbing boots (Koflach) from today itself and get used to them. Chinmay and I decided against this and were willing to put our newly acquired Lafuma shoes to test. We had gotten used to these shoes and saw no point in torturing ourselves with Koflach! I even decided to stick to my own gaiters as the ones supplied were very old and worn out.

Lacchhii decided to take us on an acclimatization climb and we started at 10.15AM. We climbed a ridge towards Rudragaira peak and at 11.30AM we were at 4500m. From here the Jogin and Gangotri peaks and Auden’s Col were even more clearly visible. Many of the members had a tough time during descent, thanks to the climbing boots.

For the first time in the expedition we had lunch in time at 12.45PM. However, things were not fully settled yet as Nandu ran back to the previous camp to fetch the Wheat powder to make Chapattis for the porters. I took advantage of the sunny weather by brushing my teeth after 2 days.

I had a good night’s sleep as I had acclimatized to the altitude fully.

Day 7: Rudragaira BC to Auden’s Col BC

Our day started badly with 6 out of 12 porters refusing to continue with us further. Apparently there was a huge porter shortage this year in Gangotri/Uttarkashi and some of our porters were made to join the expedition without being informed about the difficulties and the risks involved. 5 of these porters were seeing the snow for the first time and one of our porters was 60 years old! Our guides tried their best to work out a compromise and a resolution was reached only after Lacchhii stepped in. 4 porters were to return and rest would accompany us till the end, come what may.

Jogin’s glacier
Jogin's glacier

Manjesh was suffering from headache and loss of appetite. Added to this, a porter told him the stories of rescue from the last month’s Kalindi Khal tragedy and almost persuaded him to return back. In this situation of porter shortage, Lacchhii decided that it was best if Manjesh returned with those 4 porters. But there was a problem. To ease the load, a few sacks were shifted yesterday to Col BC and Manjesh’s sack had to be brought back. A porter who was to return was persuaded to climb till Col BC, fetch Manjesh’s sack and return back.

With everything sorted out, we left Rudragaira  BC at 9.15AM. Without Manjesh and a few porters we were now a group of 6 members with 9 support staff (guides, cook and porters). First we crossed a landslide area and reached the top of a ridge (4420m). At around 10.15AM, we reached the end of this ridge (4465m) by walking over it.  We got down this ridge and reached Bakriwala Camp (4430m). A stream flows towards left which we crossed and moved ahead to another ridge. From here it was a continuous walk on the ridge for around 75min to reach the end of the ridge. We got down on the left face of the ridge into the gully to reach Col BC (4560m) at 11.45AM.

Auden’s Col BC
Auden's Col BC

Today we had made sure that all the porters started together with us and within a short time of our reaching Col BC, porters also arrived. The place was extremely small and tents were pitched on rocks and stones. The only good point about this campsite that it had water supply in the form of a tiny pond. Heavy snowfall started and it continued for a few hours. Lunch cum dinner was finished in the mess tent at 5.30PM.

Day 8: Auden’s Col BC to Advanced BC

I got up at 4AM and it was extremely cold outside. I didn’t get the motivation to remove my gloves to get the thermometer outside! Whatever little rocky surface remained near our tents had turned completely white. The surroundings were very spectacular but it was also chillingly cold. The day’s agenda was to cross Auden’s Col today. Hence everybody got up much earlier than usual and by the time we finished the breakfast (noodles) and porters packed the luggage, it was 7.15AM.

Moving towards Auden’s Col
Moving towards Auden's Col

My toes had become almost numb and I badly needed to walk to heat them up. First we crossed a couple of snow laden ridges. At around 8.30AM, we approached a snow ridge which had to be climbed up using ropes. Our guides climbed first and fixed a rope from an ice axe which all of us used as support for climbing up. The ropes helped us to cover only 80% of the ascent and the remaining 20% was done by guides hand holding us. The altitude at the top of the ridge was 4615m.

On the ridge
On the ridge

The other face of the ridge was devoid of snow and was an easy descent. After this we climbed onto another ridge which was fully covered by snow except at the top. We were at the end of this ridge(4675m) at 10.15AM. Next we had to cross a small gully which again needed guides’ help. They marked the route and we followed them. Towards the end, most of us had to be hand-supported to move ahead. At 11.30AM we were at Col ABC (4720m). While 4 of us were doing good, a couple of our members were finding it tough and reached the Col ABC looking very tired. We had packed lunch here. Guides wanted to cross the Col today itself, but considering the overall condition of the team, Lacchhii decided to call it a day and thus we camped at Col ABC. We were pretty near to the Col and it was mostly a continuous ascent to the Col from here.

A view of the route back from Col ABC
A view of the route back from Col ABC

For the past couple of days we had been observing the Col and the nearby peaks getting cloud cover by noon. But today the weather remained extremely good till 4PM. We wondered if we lost our chance to cross the Col today. This campsite didn’t have water and we were almost camping on a glacier running out of Jogin I. The night was peaceful.

Auden’s Col as seen from ABC
Auden's Col as seen from ABC

Day 9: Col ABC to Auden’s Col

The temperature at 6AM was 0°C. We had a slightly delayed start at 8AM. Yesterday I had struggled a bit without crampons. Today I decided to use my personal crampons. Unfortunately the others didn’t have that luxury as the guides were carrying crampons only for themselves. With crampons I was able to move ahead with more confidence.

Approaching Auden’s Col
Approaching Auden's Col

From the ABC, we were facing a gully and guides started the gradual climb towards the right of the gully. At 8.30AM, we were instructed to stop and guides moved ahead in search of the route. At 9.30AM, they returned and asked us to back out and go down the gully in the left as the previous route was considered extremely risky ahead. We had to get down a bit now into the gully and with my crampons I could do it easily without any help. Next we had to move alongside an ice wall formation which looked extremely loose and dangerous.

Ice formations enroute Auden’s Col
Ice formations enroute Auden's Col

At 10.35AM we touched 4800m and from here abrupt ascent started. Now we were attacking Auden’s Col head on. I touched 4900m at 11.15AM and 5000m at 11.50AM. At 12.15PM, I passed between two crevasses and approached another one at 5050m. What started as an ankle depth snow was now knee depth or more at places. At 12.45AM, I reached 5110m ready to use rope fixed by the guides for the next 50m ascent. While doing this climb with the help of the rope, at 5140m, I had a sudden energy dip. I sat down on the steep snow face unable to move an inch further. Lots of thoughts crossed my mind and the prominent one was whether porters will be able to carry me up (or down). Without clear answers in my mind, I regathered my energies, decided not to look up the slope until I joined Lacchhii (Lacchhii was supporting the rope fixed to ice axe). From then on it was a slow but comfortable climb. Next it was my turn to support the rope by sitting on the surface where the ice axe was dug into. When the cold became unbearable, Chinmay took over. Finally everybody were through till this point. The going was tough particularly for the porters, with heavy weights.

A crevasse near Auden’s Col
A crevasse near Auden's Col

While we were helping to get the rest of the members up the slope, Bablu helped Lacchhii to reach the top of Auden’s Col. There was a long delay before Bablu returned with a newly made route at 2.45PM. Following this route, I reached Auden’s Col (5242m, as per my altimeter) at 3.15PM. During the last stretch, my nose had become so numb due to cold that I wasn’t getting the feeling of breathing if I exhaled through nostrils. I was inhaling through nostrils and exhaling through mouth. Within a span of 45min all the members and the porters were at the top. It was an emotional moment for all of us.

The other side of Auden’s Col
The other side of Auden's Col

Thankfully all of us were doing good wrt the altitude. The guides lighted camphors and thanked the God. We couldn’t but join their prayers. We had faced so many odds and now finally at the peak point. The view on the other side of the Col was breathtaking. The Khatling glacier and the crevasses therein were simply awesome. For sometime, we all forgot about our descent and enjoyed the moments on the top.

Another view from Auden’s Col
Another view from Auden's Col

We have had great weather till this time (4PM), but it was felt that we have too less time to attempt a descent on the other side of the Col. The guides decided to camp here for the night! But there wasn’t enough space to pitch all the tents and it was decided to pitch only the mess tent and 15 of us would spend a night in it. The tent was pitched in such a precarious position that if after coming out of it, were we lose a couple of steps, we would end up in a ice pond or a 50m drop into snow.

Khatling glacier and the mountains beyond as seen from Auden’s Col
Khatling glacier and mountains beyong as seen from Auden's Col

There was a strange incident involving a porter in the night. A porter suddenly became violent and lost control of his body. Other porters immediately recognized that he was under a spell and asked him for solution. He mentioned about a red sack he had carried throughout a day. The sack was brought in within no time and he was given some rice which he sprinkled on the bag and threw it out. Immediately after that he returned back to his original self.

We were cramped for space in the tent and struggled to catch a sleep. Everything was calm till 12AM when I was woken by huge sounds of high velocity wind beating against the tent. From here onwards our misery started. The wind was unrelenting and snow started to peep into the tents from whatever openings it had. Most of our sleeping bags started accumulating snow from outside. At some time, the main center pole of the tent gave in and the tent collapsed. It took an effort from the porters to get it upright again. We were waking up every half an hour by loud sounds and turn on the torches to check if our tent is doing good.  This wind pattern continued well after the sunrise and continued till 10AM next morning.

Day 10: Auden’s Col to Bakriwala Camp

It was impossible to get out of the tents until the winds subsided. We slowly started getting out after 10AM. Stove was set rolling and breakfast was prepared. There was a silence inside the tent as nobody was in a mood for any talk. Even Lacchhii, who is usually a very cool customer looked tense. The delay in starting was worrying us.  We had to do a steep descent of around 50m (approximate as decided by my eyes) using ropes. The surface of the descent which was rocky the earlier day had accumulated a thin sheet of snow and ice today. Shailu took around 45min to fix the rope to help us descent. Shailu and Bablu invited me and Lacchhii to climb up to a vantage point from where the trail ahead is visible. After showing the path ahead (the descent into a deep snow and glacier with crevasses) they explained us the difficulties involved:

  • Shailu himself had tough time to descend and he had a minor fall.
  • The ground immediately after the descent was covered by thigh-deep snow which would be very difficult to traverse.
  • We are already too late to start.
  • Finding path through the crevasses will be a time consuming effort.
  • Porters with heavy loads will find it tough to negotiate.
  • Two of our members are a bit slow and it can potentially be a problem.
  • It could take 30min for every member to descend and that means it would be 3 hours for the team itself. This means we could be too late in the day for any further traverse through the glacier.

Getting down the Auden’s Col
Getting down the Auden's Col

Lacchhii rightly decided to call off the expedition and decided to return back the same way rather than attempting to cross the Col and traverse the Khatling glacier. There was not an inch of disappointment as reaching Auden’s Col and spending a night at the peak was very satisfying. By 11.30AM we started back. Nandu taught me a technique of descending on the heals in snow and I used it effectively to do a speedy descent. I was at Col ABC at 2.20PM and Col BC at 4.20PM and at Bakriwala Camp at 5PM. While most of us reached the camp b/n 5 and 5.30PM, two of our members experienced a bit of moonlight trekking in the Himalayas to reach the campsite by 7PM. Strangely a porter and one of our members who were coming last mentioned about a female voice that had called from behind. Shortly after everyone was back, we did hear a fox barking for a long time very close to our tents and its shining eyes were visible. Surely we had two very eventful days.

Another ice formation
Another ice formation

Day 11: Bakriwala Camp to Gangotri to Uttarkashi

We wanted to reach Gangotri and if possible travel down to Uttarkashi on the same day. Guides said that it should take roughly 6hours from Bakriwala camp to Gangotri along a different path which bypasses the Rudragaira BC.

We had the best breakfast of the expedition with Puris and Peas Masala, Rice and Dal and started from the camp at 10AM, walked alongside the Rudraganga river and reached Nala Camp at 1PM.

By around 4PM we reached Gangotri and we must have covered a distance of 20-25km in the day. Without wasting any time, we left for Uttarkashi in a jeep and spent the night at Uttarkashi.

Day 12, 13: Back to Bangalore

We started on a booked vehicle to Rishikesh at 8.30AM. We thought we were very fortunate to get a decent driver who was willing to talk unlike the one whom we had encountered during our onward journey from Rishikesh to Uttarkashi. But it was not to be. After a few hours of driving, the driver’s mood changed and he started feeling very sleepy. We had a couple of really scary moments and forced a couple of breaks. Just before 40km from Rishikesh, the driver started using the parking brake very frequently and it was not until we reached close to Rishikesh that he mentioned that there has been a brake failure! The brakes were fixed in Rishikesh. As the luck would have it, our driver met the old driver who had driven us dangerously from Rishikesh and Uttarkashi and left the steering wheel to him. There was no dull moment during the next 30min drive from Rishikesh to Haridwar as the driver put up an impressive display of his driving skills. At the end, we again had the same feeling: Climbing Auden’s Col is easier than being with this driver!

Having stayed for the night in Karnataka Bhavan, Haridwar, we reached Delhi and then Bangalore by next evening.


Temples of Cambodia

July 27, 2008

I knew that Cambodia has many Hindu temples dating back to thousands of years, but it was not until I got an opportunity to visit Bangkok that I made a serious attempt to know more about them. As I started reading about them, a wonderful world opened up before me and I felt that I would miss a piece of history if I came back from Bangkok without visiting Cambodia. I was traveling to Bangkok on an official visit with Vatsa and he readily agreed to accompany me to Cambodia as well.

There is an overwhelming amount of information about Cambodia on the internet and sometimes too much of information can be a bit confusing when making travel plans. Taranga, a Kannada weekly magazine was running a series of articles on Cambodia.  That turned out to be what the doctor had ordered for us. The author had given extensive information about the temples and their architecture. Not only that, he had given a good account of travel as well as the accommodation information. Based on his article, we decided that we would need 3 full days to cover temples of significance around the Siem Reap area of Cambodia.

Cambodia provides e-visa and we could pay visa fees (25$) by credit card. I was pleasantly surprised to get visa confirmation within a day. The accommodation was booked online at Palm Village Resort, as per the recommendation from the article. The booking was confirmed without any advance payment and the charges were 39$/day for a double bed room. We planned to enter Cambodia though road via the Aranyaprathet – Poi Pet border. With all travel arrangements in place, it was time to make arrangements for food. Vegetarians generally have problems visiting East Asian countries and hence we decided to carry MTR Ready To Eat packaged food in sufficient quantity to serve us both during our 1 week stay in Bangkok and later in Cambodia. Only other concern we had was the weather. We were making this trip during end of June and it’s the beginning of rainy season in Cambodia. We had no choice in this matter as we were clubbing our personal visit to Cambodia with the official visit to Bangkok.

Arrival in Bangkok, Thailand

We reached Suvarnabhoomi International Airport, Bangkok on early Sunday morning. We had traveled to Bangkok on a single entry tourist visa and we needed to get a re-entry permit as we would be getting back to Bangalore via Bangkok. As per the information we had gathered from the internet, obtaining a re-entry permit was as simple as filling up a form (TM.8) and submitting it at the immigration counter in the Airport. But we realized that this is true for people who are ready to depart to Cambodia by air and road travelers had to apply for re-entry permit by visiting the immigration office in Bangkok. This was a bit unexpected for us and we didn’t have time to visit the Bangkok immigration office in our busy schedule in Bangkok.

A couple of agents we contacted refused to forward our re-entry permit applications to the Bangkok immigration office saying that the Office had become very strict with respect to re-entry permits these days and a personal visit was preferred. Another option we had was to get a re-entry stamp when we cross the land border at Aranyaprathet. When contacted over the telephone, the Bangkok immigration office wasn’t able to give us a definitive reply about this possibility. Next couple of days were spent anxiously before we obtained the contact of Aranyaprathet immigration office. The Office clearly told us that it is indeed possible to obtain a re-entry permit while leaving the Thailand border. So we were all set and were eagerly waiting for our official work to get over.

Road travel to Siem Reap, Cambodia

All the temples which we wanted to visit including the famous Angkor Wat are situated in the Siem Reap province of Cambodia. So our plan was to stay at Siem Reap for 3 days and cover most temples around the place. One can reach Siem Reap by Air, but our plan was to travel to the Thai border town Aranyaprathet and cross over to Cambodia and travel further on road. Vatsa suggested that we leave our luggage behind in Bangkok and carry only bare essentials to Cambodia. Accordingly we booked a room (we had to spend a night in Bangkok after returning from Cambodia before returning to Bangalore) and left most of our luggage in the hotel.

Rail travel to Aranyaprathet

Our day started at 3AM on Saturday morning. Since we were staying in the outskirts of Bangkok, we had decided to start from our Hotel at 4AM in the morning to catch the 5.55AM train to Aranyaprathet from Hualamphong Station. We could locate the right ticket counter and the right platform number with the help of an English-speaking person at the information counter. The train was an ordinary one with no marked seat numbers.  We were one of the first to board the train. Ticket cost was 46 Thai Baht (THB). Throughout the journey, the train was full of activity with hawkers selling various food items. Once the train left the Bangkok city, the landscape changed: the high rise buildings gave way to green fields and the change was sudden and abrupt. Our entire week in Bangkok was spent amongst fashion-conscious young people and just a few kilometers away from Bangkok, the change in people’s attire was so noticeable. Our breakfast was completed with an instant coffee and an ultra big guava fruit. Our passports were checked twice: once while leaving Bangkok and next when nearing Aranyaprathet by Police. The entire train journey was through the country side and train stopped at every other station. The scenes at many stations were very similar: villagers waiting to welcome their friends/relatives who were arriving from the city. We reached Aranyaprathet at 12PM.

Border crossing

We took a tuk-tuk (a two wheeler in the front joined to an open 3 wheeler at the rear) to reach the Immigration office at the border. This 5km journey cost us 100THB. Once at the border, we get surrounded by agents who offer to help us get Cambodian visa and arrange travel to Siem Reap. At the immigration office, there is a separate counter to issue re-entry permits, where we submitted TM.8 form with a visa fee of 1020THB. We got re-entry stamp without any hassles within 20min. Crossing countries through road was a first time experience to me.

Enter Cambodia

Once out of Thai immigration office, we enter the Cambodian territory. One has to walk around 200m to reach the Cambodian immigration office. But with no visible signboards, things get confusing and that provides ample business opportunities for touts. In our case, one guy started working as our guide even after repeated refusals from us. There is a huge difference in the road quality between Thai and Cambodian sides. While it is clean and asphalted in the Thai side, it becomes dusty and dirty in the Cambodian side. One can be forgiven for missing the Cambodian immigration office as it is a small room in one corner with 3 counters. Our entry was cleared within 15min and our guide led us to a bus stop from where we were picked up by a bus and dropped at a taxi counter (a distance of around 1km) free of cost.

Entrance to Cambodia
Entrance to Cambodia

Taxi ride from Cambodian border to Siem Reap takes around 3.5 hours. Taxi can accommodate 4 people with 600THB for each. We shared the taxi with a Spanish couple. The entire ~150km journey to Siem Reap from Poi Pet border is mostly through un-asphalted road which is under construction at many places. But that made little difference to our driver and as he sped his Toyota Camry though the rough road.  The weather was extremely hot and any passing vehicle would rake up a huge amount of dust reducing the visibility to zero. Even this didn’t bother our driver. Though it was largely entertaining for us, we had a couple of scary moments when our vehicle was on wrong side with zero visibility but still racing ahead at 60kmph and when our heads managed to dash against the car’s top ! The way the villagers,  specially the students on bicycles gave way to taxis at slightest notice told us how feared these taxis are on this road.

Road to Siem Reap
Road to Siem Reap

The road passes through many villages and we could see tender coconuts being sold at many places. We tried in vain to explain our driver to stop at one such place, but finally showing a coconut tree did the trick. The fresh tender coconut water gave us a huge relief from the heat. I can’t remember when was the last time I saw such huge coconut in Bangalore.

We reached Siem Reap at 5.15PM. Thankfully, the road conditions changed abruptly as we entered Siem Reap. We had to take a tuk-tuk to reach the Palm Village Resort. This resort was outside the city (~3km out of the main city area!) and hence we were supposedly charged more (3$).

Our next 3 days were going to be hectic. We ended a long day with dinner of MTR RTE food. The hotel staff were kind enough to accommodate our special request to heat MTR packaged food for us.

Day 1

The heat of Cambodia was a bit too much for me and yesterday whole day I was almost drenched in sweat. Hence we decided to start our temple visit quite early in the day. In the first day, we had planned to cover the temples in the Angkor Thom area and hired a tuk-tuk(15$). The tuk-tuk driver first took us to the Angkor entrance where we purchased tickets to visit the Angkor temples. These tickets need to be produced at every temple in the Siem Reap area (including Banteay Srie and Kbal Spean). We purchased a ticket valid for 3 days by paying 40$ per ticket. We had to pass the famous Angkor Wat temple to reach the Angkor Thom area.

Bayon
Bayon

Angkor Thom area has a cluster of temples. The first temple we visited was Bayon, the temple with faces. Bayon is a Buddhist temple built by King Jayavarman VII in 13 AD. Bayon is very unique with huge-sized King’s face carved on Gopuram-like structures. The temple is built at many levels and one has to climb many stairs to reach the next higher level.  The outer walls of the temple have been carved with depictions of war scenes. Interestingly there are a few marine war scenes also. Many pillars with Apsaras can be seen.  We could see a few Shiva Lingas also in this temple. We could see miniature pillars (supporting the doors and windows) which reminded us of the Hoysala-style pillars. As we reach higher, we came face to face with the King’s faces. On the topmost level one can see King’s faces all over the place. The temple is fairly big, very impressive and we took 2 full hours to cover the temple. In Indian temples we are used to seeing a carving out of single stone but here most carvings comprise of multiple stones. It is hard to imagine how the sculptor has achieved this level of alignment and precision with this style.

Bayon
Bayon

The next temple, Baphuon was under restoration and we could only get an extenal view of the temple. Next we climbed the steep stairs of the Phimeanakas temple which was mostly in ruins. An interesting legend is associated with Phimeanakas. It is said that the King would visit a Serpent disguised as a Woman (Nagini) every night at this place.

Leper King’s Terrace
Leper King's terrace

Next we saw Elephant Terrace and Leper King’s Terrace. These two places are quite close to Bayon. Elephant Terrace is a long platform (300m wide and 2.5m high) with walls engraved with life sized elephants, Garuda and Lions. It is said that King used to view his elephants’ procession from this terrace.

Leper King’s Terrace is more beautiful and bigger than Elephant Terrace with fine carvings of demons, mythological figures and Nagas on the walls. The walls are packed with carvings, at some walls up to 6 different levels of carvings can be seen.

Leper King’s Terrace
Leper King's Terrace

I had read that one could find many beggars (some of them amputated because of land mine blasts) around the temple area of Siem Reap. But we could find only a few of them. Near Elephant terrace a girl child of around 10 years was accompanying a boy of around 3 years and the little one had a fall and he started crying. Moved by this, when we offered a denomination in Riel (Cambodian currency), the girl flatly refused to accept it and instead demanded dollars from us! It had already come to our notice that dollar was the most preferred currency here, and it got confirmed now. Even beggars preferred dollars. The girl persisted with us for some time, and accepted Riel when it became clear to her that we aren’t parting with any dollars.

The first thing that catches our attention around any temple here are the children selling various items to tourists. Any foreigner visiting the monuments get surrounded instantly by a bunch of children competing to sell their items for a few dollars. Interestingly, most of these kids have picked up enough English to converse comfortably with the tourists. As anywhere else in Siem Reap area, the prices are inflated by at least 3 times and you are expected to bargain.

Serpent at the entrnce of Preah Khan
Preah Khan

Our post lunch session started at 3PM with a visit to Preah Khan temple which is located a few kilometers away from the Angkor Thom. On either side of the entrance there is a huge snake (may be around 50m long) structure supported by Devas and Asuras on either side. This arrangement could be seen at a few other temples and at all fort entrances (4 in number, one in north, south, east and west). However at most places, this monument is in ruins and I don’t remember seeing even one complete snake hood without any damage. Preah Khan (translates as Sacred Sword) is a fairly big Buddhist temple with a large part of it in ruins. However whatever that remains, is worth a visit anytime.

Preah Khan
Preah Khan

Proceeding along the same road, the next temple we reached was Neak Poan, a temple in the middle of an artificial reservoir (was devoid of any water when we were there). Neak Poan is a small temple with two gigantic serpents encircling it. The information board at the monument mentions that the reservoir’s original dimension was 3.5×0.9km and the water had curative properties. With water around, Neak Paon would have looked very nice. We could locate a reservoir gate made of stones which probably was used to control the level of water around the temple in its prime years.

Neak Poan
Neak Poan

The tuk-tuk driver next took us to Ta Som. Most of Ta Som is in ruins. The internal style of Ta Som appeared very similar to Preah Khan. Ta Sam was relatively smaller compared to others we had seen. The highlight of the temple was a monstrous tree growing on the temple. It looks awesome as if ready to swallow all the stones hindering its growth. The nature’s strength is at display here and it would have taken hundreds of years for the tree to assume this proportion. So it is very hard to imagine how this sort of extra growth on a temple could have gone unnoticed to mankind.

Ta Som
Ta Som

The next temple we visited was Maebon (East). This was the first Hindu temple(dedicated to Shiva) we were visiting. All the others till now had been Buddhist temples. This temple looked very different.  It rises to a considerable height with 3 levels and has 5 huge Gopuras. Again many parts of this temple are also in ruins. The kind of stone used here probably also contributes to its degradation. The stones in the entire temple have developed holes (probably due to natural reasons) and this itself gives a distinguishing appearance to the temple. Some of the stones used in the temple closely resembles the bricks typically used in Coastal towns of Karnataka for building houses. It takes a bit of effort to reach the topmost level of the temple, but the panoramic view from the top justifies the effort.

A tower of Maebon
Maebon

The last temple we saw in the day was Pre Rup, a Hindu temple. To us, this appeared architecturally very similar to Maebon, with same type of stone used in its construction. This temple raised to a good height and we could see lots of tourists at the top waiting to catch a glimpse of sunset from here.

Pre Rup
Pre Rup

It was 30min past 6 in the evening when we came out of Maebon. It had been a long day in the hot sun. We lost lots of body fluid, but fresh coconut water, available at every temple served as our regular replenishments.

Day 2

This day was reserved exclusively to visit Angkor Wat which boasts of world’s largest temple complex measuring 1sq km. Since now we had become fairly familiar with the Angkor area, we decided to hire bicycles for our 2nd day’s tour(3$/day). The tourist crowd at these temples are so much that it becomes difficult to photograph a monument without any human in the frame. So we reached Angkor Wat quite early at 7.30AM.

Apsaras in Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat

At the entrance of Angkor Wat, we are welcomed by huge sculptures of Lions and Snakes. The temple is surrounded by a moat which needs to be crossed using a bridge of couple of hundred meters length. The temple complex is so huge that we had to walk a few hundred meters to actually reach the temple proper. The temple is built at multiple levels with steep stairs provided to reach a next higher level. The best carvings of Apsaras can be found in this temple. The height of the temple at some places were such that, my camera wasn’t able to get the entire temple wall in a single frame. One can be left wondering about the sheer magnitude of this temple.

Inside Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat

We covered the interiors of the temple first and reached the back of the temple within an hour. The temple seemed to end so quickly and we stood wondering where we had missed the most important part of Angkor Wat, the bas-reliefs (carvings projecting slightly outward from the background). Then some carvings on the exterior walls of the temple caught our attention. It had a depiction of Samudra Manthana, the churning of the ocean, by Devas and Asuras. The bas-reliefs should be covered in the anti-clockwise direction, but we ended up doing it clockwise. With this I had to sometimes cover the entire wall, and re-do it clockwise to get a complete picture.

Churning of Ocean, Bas-reliefs, Angor Wat
Angkor Wat
The exterior walls have depictions of  battle of Ramayana, battle of Kurukshetra, Yama, Heaven and Hell, army of King Suryavarman II. We could identify most of the characters in the carvings here. Angkor Wat was originally a Vishnu temple and we could find many carvings of Garudavahana Vishnu. The battle of Ramayana shows Vanara Sena, Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman, Vali, Sugreeva etc. The depictions of Heaven and Hell is very interesting with very violent torture scenes like piercing a person with nails. One of the characters easily identifiable from the battle of Kurukshetra is Bheeshma on bed of arrows. We could also find many other Hindu Gods like Ganesha, Indra and Varuna.

Yama, Bas-reliefs, Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat

Bheeshma, Bas-reliefs, Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat

Rama with Hanuman, Bas-reliefs, Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat

Vishnu on Garuda, Bas-reliefs, Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat

We took close to 2 hours to cover all the bas-reliefs and I left the temple with only one feeling – a sense of satisfaction. I felt that my visit to Cambodia has been worth with this visit to the bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat. It was 11.30AM when we came out of the temple complex. We decided to cover Thommanon temple before retiring for the day. We had to bicycle a few km in the hot sun to reach Thommanon. Thommanon is a small Hindu temple dedicated to both Shiva and Vishnu, but we found only the Buddha idols in the Sanctum Sanctorum.
This 12th Century temple is in a good condition compared to others from the same period. However coming from Angkor Wat, the art work here would seem dull as the outer walls of the temple are mostly undecorated.

A carving of Vishnu, Thommanon
Thommanon

Opposite to Thommanon, across the road is the Buddhist temple Chau Say Tevoda, to which we gave a brief visit. However this temple is mostly in ruins and not yet restored fully. We had planned to see only Thommanon, but we couldn’t resist a visit to Ta Keo, which is a few km ahead of Thommanon. Ta Keo is a fairly big Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, but as with other Hindu temples here, the only remains are usually the dislodged Shiva Linga. Ta Keo is built in several levels and raises to such a height that it is referred to as temple-mountain. Only physically fit can negotiate the steep climb and reach the topmost level of the temple. The construction of this temple is said to be incomplete.

Ta Keo
Ta Keo

Both Vatsa and I were on bicycle after many years, and it was a long tiresome ride back to the Hotel. In the evening we spent a couple of hours shopping in the Old Market Area of Siem Reap. Shopping here is an entertaining experience with most of the shops competing with each other to sell similar goods. Hard bargaining is the way to go and nobody gets offended if we start bargaining from one quarter of the quoted price.

Day 3

On day 3, we left the Hotel at 8AM by taxi(45$) towards Kbal Spean, which is at around 50km from Siem Reap. We passed Banteay Srey on the way, but our driver advised us to visit Kbal Spean first as it involves a climb, which is best done when the sun is still mild. Kbal Spean is Cambodia’s version of our Sahasralinga (Thousand Lingas) present at Sirsi, Karnataka. This place also has lots of Lingas carved on the rocks of the Kbal Spean river. We had to do a 45min walk (a mild climb actually) to reach the actual place where Lingas are located. The place is very scenic located right in the middle of a dense forest.

Shiva Lingas, Reclining Vishnu, Shiva and Uma with Nandi at Kbal Spean
Kbal Spean

The water level in the river was low and hence all the Lingas carved on the rocks were clearly visible to us. In this place, the river mostly flows on a rock bed and most of it has been carved with Lingas. Unusually we could find many Lingas in a single Yoni. I don’t remember seeing this anywhere else.

Apart from Lingas, there are carvings of reclining Vishnu and Shiva with Uma on Nandi. Vishnu and Shiva can be seen on many rocks. There is also a carving of Brahma on a lotus flower. So this is a very unique place in the midst of green settings with the Hindu trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara present side by side. This surely must have been considered a very holy place when these carvings were done (11th to 13th AD).

Banteay Srey
Banteay Srey

On our way back from Kbal Spean, we stopped at Banteay Srey. This 10th AD Hindu temple is constructed form pink sandstone.  The temple stands out from rest of the temples with its intricate carvings. The artwork is very fine and is a pleasure to watch. We can see many references to Hindu Mythology in this temple.

Vali – Sugreeva battle, Banteay Srey
Banteay Srey

Angkor Wat has almost become synonymous with Cambodian temples, but we would have surely missed something had we not seen Kbal Spean and Banteay Srey.

A false door at Banteay Srey
Banteay Srey

On the way back from Banteay Srey, we paid a quick visit to Banteay Samre temple. The weather had turned cloudy and there were no tourists in the temple, which made the temple visit even more special. I would probably remember the quiet moments spent in this temple for many more years to come. The silent stones of this temple had the power to take us back in time.

Banteay Samre
Banteay Samre

As we walked out of Banteay Samre reluctantly, it started to rain as if to signal a climax to our Cambodian temple visit. We were satisfied having seen most of the significant temples in the Siem Reap area, but our driver mentioned that we had missed an important one, Ta Prohm. So unwilling to send us back without a visit to this, he kindly drove us to Ta Prohm, which is near Angkor Thom area. Ta Prohm appeared very similar to Preah Khan but much bigger. However many parts of the temple are still covered by the jungle overgrowth. Most Cambodian temples have been restored with other countries’ aid and Ta Prohm and parts of Angkor Wat have been restored with India’s help.

We were back at the Hotel at 2.30PM and rest of day was spent at the Hotel itself as rain didn’t allow us to venture out. We had been mostly using our own food stuff (MTR food), but for the dinner, we were insisted by the Hotel staff to try out their rice and vegetarian curry which turned out to be very tasty.

Back in Bangkok

We started back to the Cambodia-Thailand border early next morning. It was again a rough ride, but this time it had become even more interesting with rains. But this time, our driver was a bit conservative and turned down our request to drive faster. We were in Aranyaprathet, Thailand by around 12PM and the train to Bangkok was at 2PM. Unwilling to wait, we decided to take a bus to Bangkok and reached Bangkok by evening. We were too tired and ended the day early.

Next day we had some time to spend in Bangkok as our flight was in the night. We took the opportunity to visit the Bangkok palace and a nearby Buddha temple. Also we managed to spend a few hours at the MBK shopping mall.

Bangkok Palace
Bangkok Palace

Reclining Buddha
Reclining Buddha