Ballalarayana Durga Trek

February 23, 2020

Packing for trek, bus travel, walking under the forest cover, crossing the tree line, passing by shola forest ranges, crossing running streams, negotiating the unending ridgeline in the grasslands under scorching Sun, the high of reaching the peak – All these motions were mostly forgotten and felt like things from the previous life as other interests kept me busy during the last five years. My last trek was to Devkara falls was way back in 2015.

Austin, with whom I have done a few Shiradi treks was camping in his Sakaleshpur Coffee estate for sometime and we thought what better way to catch up after a long time than spending time together in a Western Ghats trek. Thus it was decided to trek to Ballalarayana Durga in the Charmadi range.

Naren and I started from Bangalore in KSRTC Rajahamsa bus which dropped us at Sakaleshpura at 3 in the morning. Austin had arranged our pick up and we reached his estate house and completed our morning duties. The day’s plan was to trek to Ballayarayana Durga from Sunkasale. We were out on the road before 6AM in Austin’s cousin Denver’s car. It was close to 2hrs drive via picturesque winding roads with a stop in Kottigehara for breakfast. Nirdose, Idli and Pooris were on the menu.

We reached Sunkasale by 8AM where we met J W Lobo, Austin’s distant relative. J W Lobo has retired after serving Govt of India in ICCR, MEA and has done extensive study about the region around Ballayaranana Durga and its history. He had done complete arrangement of our trek including getting forest permission, arranging for guide and working out our itinerary. First he gave us a brief account of the history of Sunkasale through which the forgotten High Road or the “Heddari’‘ that was used more than 1000 years back to travel from Mangaluru to Chikmagaluru passes. It was in 12th AD that Veera Ballalaraya I of the Hoysala dynasty constructed a toll gate (Sunkasale) on the “Heddari”. He also built the fort on Durgadahalli Hill which came to be known as Ballalarayana Durga. (Source: Book Ballarayana Durga by J W Lobo).

Anil Gowda, an officially trained trek guide from the forest department joined us here and together we went first to visit Sri Kalabhairaveshwara temple at Balige. This temple was built by the Hoysala Raya by the side of Heddari. The temple is at an elevated serene location, and is accompanied by a tank nearby. Daily Pooja is performed at this temple, but the Garbhagruha wasn’t open when we were there, but we could take a parikrama of the temple.


Sri Kalabhairaveshwara temple, Balige

At 9AM we were at 1150m when we hit the trail.


Start of the trail

J W Lobo accompanied us till the view point from where Kadtikal Ghat and Rani Jari peak are visible. As per Mr. Lobo’s book, Kadtikal Ghat remains as historical testimony to the sufferings of thousands of Mangaluru Catholics who were captured, enslaved and taken as prisoners by Tipu. This Ghat and the Heddari remained as the main route from Coast to regions beyond Ghats until Charmadi Ghat road was formed in mid 19th century.  A vertical drop point, popularly known as Tipu drop is present at this point. As per natives, this was where many people were dropped down and it got its name from the perpetrator. Mr. Lobo explained to us the history of the place and took leave while we continued towards the fort with our guide.


Kadtikal Ghat (Photo courtesy: Naren)

The initial climb is through a semi-dense forest and we were out of forest cover at 10AM (1330m). It is just a 15min climb from here to the top of the hill (1410m) through which the fort wall runs.


Ballala Rayana Durga Fort

Our next destination was to reach one of the entrances of the fort. Thus after a 30min short walk we reached the fort entrance at 10.45AM (1330m).


After a short break here, we restarted the trek at 11AM with the aim of reaching Bandaje waterfalls. Our guide set a steady pace and all of us followed him promptly without much breaks in between. Both the shoe soles of my long unused hiking boots had given away in Bangalore itself the previous night and I had to hurriedly buy a pair of slippers from the Majestic bus stand area. Hiking in this new footwear, which was unsuitable for this terrain did give me some problems but harsh Sun was a bigger concern for all of us. There was hardly any shade and we were completely exposed to Sun. However as usual with all our treks, we were carrying enough oranges which gave us much needed energy throughout.


We were mostly walking along the border of Chikmagalur and Dakshina Kannada districts. The fireline created by the forest department to prevent the spreading of fire along the district border was prominently visible. We could also see a few hills fully burnt from forest fires on the Chikmagalur side.


Fire line along the border of Chikmagalur and DK districts

At 12PM we had reached an altitude of 1300m and from here the descent started. While we did pretty well with the ascent till now, descent was pretty painful for me. We reached the top of Bandaje falls (1040m) at 12.30PM. There was a good amount of water in the falls in this season also (mid February), but the full grandeur of the falls isn’t visible from the top. A bit of adventure in reaching the edge of the rocks to have a better view could have helped. We have usually done such things in the past, but refrained from such avoidable risks this time 🙂


Bandaje falls starts here

We had reached the falls quite early in the day and had enough time to relax and enjoy our MTR ready to eat lunch at the falls. After an hour’s break at the falls, we started back at 1.30PM and reached the base at 4PM.


MTR RTE lunch (Photo courtesy: Naren)

J W Lobo had arranged for early dinner at Durgadalli Home Stay. Sanjay Kumar of the Guest House had prepared a good spread that started with local delicacy called Tambuli and ended with Jamun for desert. However I skipped this good dinner as I wasn’t feeling hungry at all after our MTR ready to eat lunch.

Next we visited J W Lobo’s estate house, where we had interesting discussions about various topics from history. We thanked Mr. Lobo for arranging this perfect trek, took leave of him and drove back to Austin’s place in Sakaleshpura.


Trek from Jenukallu Gudda to Shivaganga falls

April 13, 2014

Any day I would prefer bone-chilling cold or even rain to scorching sun during my treks. Apart from Ombattu Gudda trek and beach treks, I haven’t done treks post December in any trek season. So I was a bit weary when Pradeep Hegde invited me to join his group which was attempting to trek from Magod Falls to Shivaganga Falls during 1st weekend of April. I have visited both of these falls but the challenge in this trek was to follow and walk beside the river between these two falls. But the invitation was hard to resist as I would be venturing into Karnataka Western Ghats region in Uttara Kannada District for the first time. Moreover, I was just a participant in this trek as opposed to being an organizer in most of my treks which sometimes is easy.

Though I had booked the bus ticket till Yellapura, I got down at Sonda for a quick visit to my in-laws place, had a good breakfast and got myself dropped at Magod falls (around 35km from Sonda) in bike by my brother-in-law. While I waited at Magod for rest of the group to arrive, Pradeep asked to me instead come over to Jenukallu Gudda, a view point overlooking a valley and which is around 4km from Magod. Apparently a local had advised Pradeep to attempt the initial descent from Jenukallu Gudda since descending down the Magod falls will be difficult and will need ropes. Though our group was equipped with ropes, we decided to start with an easy descent. The group had 12 members: Pradeep, his neighbor Satheesh, Avinash, Venkataraghavan, Vinayak, Nagarjun, Bharath, Ravi, Naveen, Sriharsha, Abhishek and I. The original plan was to reach Bedti river at Magod, follow it downstream till it joins Shalmala River and continue following Shalmala river upstream until it reaches Shivaganga falls.

View from Jenukallu Gudda

View from Jenukallu Gudda

We started the descent from Jenukallu Gudda (470m) at 10.45AM. The descent was mostly steep with dry leaves on the forest floor making the descent a bit more challenging.  We lost altitude quickly and hit a jeep tack (80m) at 11.30AM. We took right deviation into the jeep track and started walking with the hope that we will reach the confluence of Bedti and Shalmala rivers along the way. After a few hundred meters into the track we could see a dried up river bed towards our left and we continued the walk for an hour or so under direct sun before reaching a Siddimane (A house belonging to Siddi tribe) at a village called Kelase. To our surprise, we learnt from Siddis that we are way ahead of the confluence point and are in fact walking in the opposite direction! At Siddimane, we took a break to prepare lemon juice since fresh water was available here.

Dried up river bed near Kelase village

Dried up river bed near Kelase village

At around 1.15PM, we reversed our direction, continued to make progress on the jeep track and reached another Siddimane at 2PM. We had a good lunch that included “Avalakki oggarane” from Pradeep’s house and “Masala Majjige” (butter milk) mixed with lemon grass. Post lunch, a Siddi boy briefly accompanied us till the river and after which we were on our own walking upstream along Shalmala river (after the confluence with Bedti) which had a good amount of water in it considering that it was summer. We were now on the right bank of the river and the path mostly consisted of boulders. The heat was a bit too much for me and the walk was made further difficult by the blisters I had all over the feet.


We went past a few Siddis who were fishing and finally reached the confluence (125m) of Bedti and Shalmala at 4.45PM. While the confluence point had a bit of depth and hence calm waters, the Shalmala side had gushing water and was rocky.

The confluence of Bedti and Shalmala rivers

The confluence of Bedti and Shalmala rivers

Many of us spent some time cooling ourselves in Shalmala while most of the group had an extended river time at the confluence point. Swimming and breath-holding skills were at display: while Satheesh excelled in swimming and managed to crossover to the other bank, Vinayak could hold breath under water for more than 2min!


Our camping site was on the river bed at the confluence point which already had arrangements for stove (made of stones), all we needed was to get some dry wood which was available in plenty. Boiled rice Ganji with pickle, curd and butter milk was on the menu. Ganji was so very filling and was a bit unusual for me since we usually stick to ready-to-eat stuff to keep the logistics simple in our treks. The night was cloudy and warm and sleeping inside the sleeping bag wasn’t an option for many.  There was even a light drizzle past midnight.

On Sunday morning, we got up fairly early and wanted to end the trek before noon to avoid the harsh summer sun. The combination of pickle and freshly obtained honey (given to us in the morning by Siddis from their night’s catch) gave a distinct flavour to yesterday’s Ganji and I could see Ganji was more in demand than the freshly prepared maggi noodles! We started upstream alongside Shalmala river at 8AM after a round of lemon tea with honey.

Shalmala river side was very rocky and we were mostly walking over huge boulders. We had to cross over to the opposite bank multiple times whenever forward progress on one bank was difficult or impossible. With the amount of water in the river in April, we mostly could negotiate the river without much difficulty and I am sure the challenges on this trail will be totally different if the water level was high. But we were facing a different challenge and that was the dry heat. The rate at which I was loosing water via sweat seemed to be more than the intake rate. Given that we were walking beside a river, there was never shortage of water fortunately.

River Shalmala

River Shalmala

At 10.30AM when I was feeling a bit down, we had a lemon juice break. I must have taken close to a litre and it really helped to get my energy levels back. Next we climbed over to a small hill only to realize that it was more difficult than a small jump over the rock that we were planning to originally avoid. Thus we had to backtrack and make progress over the boulders itself. The quest for the end (Shivaganga falls) continued and we kept making progress in the hot sun. I even reached a stage where I felt just drinking loads of water wasn’t helping me and had to resort to Glucose which Pradeep was carrying. I can’t remember when I had taken Glucose on a trek, must have been in the last decade, but such was the harshness of this trek for me.

Shivaganga falls

Shivaganga falls

Finally we reached the base of Shivaganga falls (270m) at 1PM where we consumed chapattis for lunch with Chatni pudi, jam and honey. Next it was a steep climb to reach the view point of the waterfalls (465m) from where we had hired a jeep. Thus ended one of the most difficult treks I have done in recent times. Though the trail distance and the terrain was manageable, the summer sun brought out a whole new challenge to the trek. I have done treks earlier in other extreme conditions like winter trek at -20°C in thigh deep snow, altitudes upwards of 5000m etc, but this summer trek in seemingly easy terrain turned to be a trek to remember as far as endurance is concerned.

Map of the route we took is here, courtesy Vinayak.

More waterfalls around Sonda, Sirsi

April 21, 2012

My visits to my in-laws place in Sonda village, Sirsi, Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka have never been dull. Every time I have come back after visiting a worthwhile nearby place, be it waterfalls or temples. You can checkout my previous two trip reports here and here. The visit during December 2011 was no different. I was ready with the details of two more waterfalls. As usual my brother-in-law, who has been part of my earlier explorations was more than happy to accompany me.

Distant view of Mattighatta falls

Distant view of Mattighatta falls

Our first destination was Mattighatta falls. We left home after breakfast in a bike. Bike is the preferred mode of transport in these places. It generally takes us nearer to the waterfalls than any other mode of transportation. To reach this waterfalls, one has to first reach a village named Hegde Katta. Though we took the Hulekal road from Sonda to reach Hegde Katta, one could ideally start on Kumta Road from Sirsi and reach Hegde Katta. The distance between Sirsi and Hegde Katta is around 15km. From Hegde Katta, proceed on Mattighatta road for a distance of around 8km to reach Devanahalli. From Devanahalli proceed further for a distance of around 15km to reach Mattighatta village. From Mattighatta village a downhill drive of around 2km will take you to Kelagina Keri.


We were told that there are two options to view the waterfalls: first option is to do some climbing and see the waterfalls from a distance and the second is to descend down the valley and reach the base of the waterfalls. Given that it was December, we chose the latter option as water level was likely to be low in December. We took the road in front of the Government school and reached Vaidya mane, a farm house. After getting further directions from the inmates, we started towards Siddi mane which involves walking inside the arecanut plantations. Siddi mane has a cluster of houses occupied by Siddi people who work as laborers in the nearby plantations. A Siddi woman gave us further directions to the waterfalls. A short walk from there would lead us to a river and she asked us to walk “in the” river for a kilometer or so to reach the falls. We were amused by her description of waking “in the” river. We went ahead concluding that she meant walking beside the river.

On the way to falls

On the way to falls

We reached the river and started walking on the banks. The river was pretty narrow and either bushy or rocky on both the banks. We had to cross over to the opposite bank multiple times since it was impossible to make progress on the banks. We realized what it means to walk “in the” river when most of the times we were negotiating the boulders in the river. The water level was low and I am sure it will be very difficult to approach this waterfalls even in the month of September when rains would have stopped. After a kilometer into the river, we finally reached the base of the waterfalls.

At the base

At the base

Even in the month of December, the river had enough water to make the waterfalls majestic. The high rising rocks on either sides adds to the beauty of the falls. The base had thigh-deep water. Reaching the base of such a beautiful waterfalls in such a remote location was a very fulfilling experience. During rainy season, Mattighatta falls could easily add more arms: a nondescript section seen a the top of the rocks could easily turn out to be majestic falls by itself.

At the top

At the top

On our way back we met the Siddi woman again who informed us that they can host people visiting from outside and they had even hosted foreigners. We climbed back up and reached Vaidya mane. The landlady kindly offered us butter milk which is always such a good drink when you are tired and thirsty.

Our next destination was Shirale falls which is near Yellapura. We reached Yellapura after a drive of 50km from Sirsi. Shirale falls is approachable on Yellapura-Karwar highway after Idugundi and just before the Shirale village. We must have covered 16km from Yellapura when we saw the direction to Shirale falls marked on a bus stand wall. We took a left deviation into a village road, traveled for 1.5km before reaching a village which had a cluster of houses. One person reluctantly showed us the way to the waterfalls after collecting an entry fees from us. The waterfalls is in a private land and hence the entry fees. The water gushes down from a height of around 150ft to form a waterfalls. There wasn’t enough water during this time and we felt it is not really worth visiting Shirale falls. On our way back, the villager who collected entry fees from us described all the trouble he is having with so many visitors coming to visit this falls and creating nuisance and leaving garbage behind. Apparently he has started collecting entry fees to dissuade people from visiting. I wouldn’t recommend a visit to Shirale falls to anyone as it is not really worth for all the trouble and travel involved.

Shirale falls

Shirale falls

Mystery trails trek: M M hills – Naagamale – Palar

September 16, 2006

After a month of planning the day had finally arrived. We boarded a Tempo Traveler(TT) to Male Mahadeshwara Betta (MM hills) on a friday afternoon. The forests around the Kaveri river have been relatively unknown to me until my last trek to Soligeri. Now we were all set to explore another region of the Kaveri valley during this trek from MM hills to Palar via Naagamale village.

This trek is part of the mystery trails trek, a forest department initiative. After the end of sandalwood smuggler Veerappan a couple of years a ago, the forest department has opened a few trails in Chamarajanagar, Kollegal and Kanakapura wildlife divisions. Though we have been trying to come here since last year, we could get booking for the route of our choice only this time. Naturally we were excited and many people showed interest in joining the trek. Till very recently I was finding it difficult to find an other person willing to join my treks. But these days it is becoming hard to say no to people. After much deliberations, we finally limited the count to 10. Our group consisted of Naren, Seema, Chinmay, Ananth, Gautham, Ashwath, Keerthi, Nalini and Balaji.

There are two routes from Bangalore to MM hills. One is through Kanakapura and other is through Maddur. We took the Maddur route since the new 4 lane way from Bangalore to Mysore is in excellent condition. From Maddur, we have to deviate to Malavalli, cross Kollegal before reaching MM hills. The road from Malavalli to MM hills is generally bad and at parts there is simply no road. We managed to reach MM hills at 9.30PM. We had reserved the rooms in Shivadarshini, an accommodation facility run by the temple administration. MM hills, situated at an altitude of 900m is a very famous Shaiva pilgrim centre. There is an ancient Shiva temple here to which thousands of pilgrims visit. After a simple but tasty dinner in the Nanjundeshwara hotel, we ended the day.

The entry
The entry
Saturday started early for us. We paid a visit to the temple early in the morning, but weren’t allowed to go in as the temple opens only at 8.30AM. By the time we assembled at the forest office after finishing breakfast and packing lunch for the afternoon, it was 8.30AM. After paying the fees for the trek and signing on the risk form, we got going at 9AM. A guide (Iranna) from the forest office and a couple of other villagers were to accompany us for the trek. The route from MM hills to Naagamale is less of a trail and more of a village road. This is in fact a pilgrimage trail taken by people to reach Naagamale. Though the trail distance is 14km, the terrain is mostly easy since there is no great altitude variation. It takes almost an hour’s walk before we get past all the villages and start walking in the forests. It rained a bit as we left MM hills, temperature was in 30s and humidity was high. This made all of us sweat a lot.

Quenching the thirst
Quenching the thirst
At around 11AM, we reached a place which had a small water body, called Gaudsi lake. A group of villagers proceeding towards MM hills informed us about the presence of elephants in the area. They had spotted a few a couple of minutes back. We could sense some movement on the other side of the lake and we expected to get at least a glance of the elephant. Since the area is very bushy, even if an animal is present, spotting it wouldn’t be easy. Our guide Iranna sent one of the villagers to the other side of the lake to look out for the elephants. We could see Iranna loading his 303 rifle even as the villager rushed back after spotting an elephant in the bush. The anticipation was growing and we decided to wait for the elephant to make an appearance. The stage was all set for the show. The lake itself was the stage, the elephant was the performer and we were the spectators at the other end of the lake.

The bath
The bath

While some of us argued about the futility of the whole wait, Iranna was keen on waiting. After a difficult 15mins of silent waiting (some of uswere too excited to remain silent), the drama unfolded. The area hadn’t received much rains this season and this lake was one of the few remaining waterholes for elephants. Probably unable to bear the thirst and heat, the elephant, which was all this while waiting for us to move on, decided to come out of the bushes. As it made a majestic entry, we were absolutely thrilled. It was an almost fully built adult male elephant with tusks of half a meter length. First the tusker performed the ritual of mud bathing. In the next act, it entered the lake and quenched its thirst. Then it was full 15mins of bathing which invovled sprinkling of water all over its body. The continuous clicking of 10 cameras from the other side made little difference to the tusker. Finally satisfied with its act, the elephant performed its last act, which was mud bathing and disappeared into the bushes.

(All elephant photos are courtesy of Naren)

It took some time for us to realize what we had witnessed. We had seen an a lone tusker in its territory. And that too not from a far off distance sitting in a protected vehicle. But we were as close to elephant as 50m, without any protection and at the complete mercy of the elephant. And it was the most thrilling moment of my 6 years of trek life. It took another 20min for us to reach the next village called Indignata(874m). On the way we saw a dried dung of a carnivore which had lots of deer hair. Iranna informed us that it was leopard’s dung. After a tea break at Indignata, we trekked for another 90min to reach our destination, the Naagamale(853m) village at 1.30PM.

An early morning view from Naagamale
Early morning view from nagamale
Naagamale is a small village surrounded by forests from all sides. Forest department had arranged our stay in a big room adjacent to a school. We finished our packed lunch comprising of Idly and Chapatti. Thanks to Ashwath (who was responsible for the kitchen department), we had generous amounts of curds which helped us gulp down the cold and dry Idlies. We had lots of time at our disposal and spent 90min of it in the afternoon siesta. At around 3.45PM, we started towards the Shiva temple in Naagamale. It is about half an hour’s climb from the village to the temple which is situated approximately at 1000m. During this walk, Iranna explained about the development activities taken by the forest department which is otherwise known for corruption and lethargy. I was really impressed to know that all the money generated by such treks are really being spent for the development of the villages. In fact the government doesn’t take any money from this trek and the entire money goes to the local area development fund. Many young villagers have come forward and registered as guides for these treks with the forest department. So these treks are kind of providing part time employment for these village youths.

The sanke and Shiva linga at Naagamale temple
Naagamale temple

The temple at Naagamale has got an amazing setting. It has a huge rock in the form of a Linga and an other naturally formed rock behind which resembles a Naga (snake). So effectively it looks like a snake protecting a Shiva Linga. Since this place is at an elevation, it offers panoramic views of the Kaveri valley. The Hogenakal falls and the backwaters from Mettur dam are visible from here. We spent close to an hour in this place. It has been a practice to cover the distance from the village to this temple with bare feet. In fact I saw a notice board which cautions the devotees against drinking, smoking, spitting and even speaking bad things!

A view from the trail
A view from the trail
We reached back Naagamale village before sunset. While we were idling out time, sumptuous dinner was getting ready for us in a house adjacent to our room. We had carried all the ration from Bangalore itself. In addition to that, the villagers were kind enough to prepare Ragi balls, the local delight. I was eating the Ragi balls for the first time. Though it is extremely good for health, it is not really tasty since it has to be swallowed and not chewed. The room we were staying was so big that it could accommodate at least 100 people.

Another view
Another view

Asalways, the next day started early for me and Naren. It was just 2 days past the full moon and the surroundings were looking pretty nice in the moonlight. We spent some quiet few minutes doing Pranayama before even others were up. After sunrise Gautham and Ananth joined me in Pranayama while Naren played soothing tunes with his flute. Upma and Gajar Halwa were served for the breakfast. We started on the 2nd days trek at around 8AM.

Morning Pranayama(L2R: Gautham, Bharata, Ananth)

The initial trail from Naagamale till Parasalnatham(654m) is very scenic. The remaining distance is mostly through the plain forests with not much altitude variations. The 2nd day’s trek also turned out to be interesting. We saw several pug marks, remains of a deer and a chameleon..


Iranna showed us a rock where Veerappan and his gang were once hiding. This is the place from where a village boy doing sentry duties was captured by Police. After a tiring final few kilometers of walk, we finally emerged out of forests and entered the Palar-Gopinatham road at around 12.30PM. Our guide Iranna was carrying a wireless equipment which helped us to get our TT to this point. Since we had completed the trek well ahead of schedule, we had enough time to visit the Hogenakal falls. The lunch was taken in the Gopinatham village to which Veerappan belonged. It is around 30km from here to Hogenakal falls. To reach the waterfalls from the Karnataka side, we had to take a coracle ride upstream the Kaveri river for almost a kilometer. Kaveri was flowing full adding the beauty of the Hogenakal falls.

Hogenakal falls
Hogenakal falls

We came back to MM hills where we said goodbye to Iranna and the villagers. These people had been extremely helpful to us for the past two days. In fact, this whole program was arranged and conducted very well by the forest department. After negotiating the bad roads of Kollegal and Malavalli, it was midnight by the time we reached Bangalore.

Charmadi calls again

December 16, 2005

After my first trek to Charmadi in October, I had decided to visit the Ghats again at least 3 more times. With that I would have covered many significant peaks and waterfalls in this range. So here I was in November planning for my 2nd trek to the region.

Our guide Isubu of Charmadi prefers to have more people for company. Hence he had instructed me to come at least in group of 6. Moreover in this region, the trek works out economical if there are enough people to fill a jeep as we have to engage a jeep to reach the base points of the trail. So this time we are 7 of us: I and my wife Veena, Sreekanth and his colleague Eti, Ashok and his fiancee Ramya and Ashwin, Ashok’s brother. Ramya is a complete beginner for treks. Ramya appears confident; we aren’t sure if her confidence in scaling the peak is strong or her inclination to be with Ashok is stronger. Ashwin is apprehensive of his fitness to complete this trek, but finally decides to join.

At the start: in front of Hasanabba’s Hotel Charmadi
(L2R: Bharata, Veena, Ramya, Ashok, Sreekanth)

We reach Dharmastala at 6.15AM on a Saturday morning. After breakfast and return ticket reservation, we set out to Charmadi in a jeep. It is 8.30AM when we reach Charmadi. This time our plan is to trek to Minchukallu peak on day 1. As per Dinesh Holla of Youth Hostel Mangalore, this is the highest peak in this Charmadi range. We board two Autos and reach Kakkinje village at 9AM, where we shift to a 4 wheel drive jeep. The jeep enters the kaccha road in no time. It is less of a road and more of a rocky terrain. It is more than an hour since we started when we reach a place which looks something like a dead end. Isubu has missed the route and the jeep has to backtrack for a couple to kilometers before finding the right path. After another 30min the jeep finally stops beside a tiny stream in a fairly dense forest. Our trek starts from here. Isubu informs the jeep driver to pick us up at 6PM in the evening. But the pickup point is different from this as we plan to get down from the Kumbhakallu side in the evening.

Minchukallu peak (the right one)

The trek starts with an initial steep climb through the forest. Most of us are already gasping for breath. During my last trek to Charmadi in October, the weather was nice and cool. But this time it is hot and humid. My thermometer reads 34C. We emerge out of thick woods only to be confronted by grass almost 5ft in height. The trail is nowhere in sight, but Isubu has some sense of direction and we follow him navigating the tall grass. It is around 12PM when we take the first break. The Banana (the Nendra [Kannada word] variety) which we had picked up from Ujire tastes very good. We are told that infact they are very nutritious. Ashwin looks tired and he is already thinking of staying back and joining us when we return from the same path. But after a bit of encouragement and a dose of glucose Ashwin is ready for the next lap.

Ramya and Veena negotiating the thick growth

Now we have gained some altitude (700m to be precise) and are walking in the grassland completely exposed to sun. We are taking frequent breaks and Ashwin keeps lagging behind. While Ashwin wants to stay back, Isubu isn’t happy leaving him there. The route we have taken is frequented by elephants and Isubu isn’t comfortable leaving Ashwin alone there. As Ashwin gives up, Ashok takes the responsibility of staying with him until we get back from the peak. So we move ahead leaving Ashok Ashwin pair behind with a wireless set. Ramya is looking visibly tired but decides to come with us. We have been seeing the Minchukallu peak ever since we started; it looks so near but we are walking towards it all the time. We cross a couple of small hills on the way and a valley where we replenish our water supply. The stream is too tiny to collect water directly into our bottles. Isubu quickly chops off a bamboo shoot which we employ as pipe to direct water into the bottles.

Kumbhakallu peak

It is around 1.45PM and we are feeling hungry. That is when we realize that we have left our lunch pack behind with Ashwin. We have to survive on oranges and sweet lime until we rejoin him. We take a break on a rock finishing our final stock of fruits. Ramya looks exhausted but it is too late to turn back. She says that all peaks look similar and wonders if it makes any difference if we scale Minchukallu today. We have no answer, we just get going. We keep in touch with Ashok over the wireless and inform our progress, or rather Ramya’s progress to him. After sometime we are no longer in the line-of-sight range and our communication ceases.

At around 2.30 in the afternoon, we are finally on Minchukallu peak. This peak is at 1343m as per my altimeter. Veena looks visibly relieved after reaching the peak. We can’t stay long here as we have absolutely nothing to eat. We spend half an hour of photographic moments at the peak. Isubu is hopeful of spotting elephants or bison from here, but we find none. So we start back on our return trek. Isubu mentions that it will be 8PM by the time we reach the jeep pickup point, but we don’t believe him. We think that he is just trying to get us walk quickly. It is around 4PM when we rejoin Ashwin and Ashok. We get a new lease of life after eating chapattis.

At the peak
(L2R: Isubu, Veena, Eti, Bharata, Ramya, Sreekanth)

From here we take a diversion towards the Kumbhakallu peak. Not many of us have the energy left for another climb as per the original plan. So instead of taking Kumbhakallu head on, Isubu is now taking us beside it. Everybody seems to have already decided that the trek is almost over. Most of us extremely tired. When that happens, legs stop coordinating with the brain. That is when people start slipping and falling down. The trail completely covered by grass doesn’t help us. We keep falling down every now and then. While Ashwin leads the group with maximum number of falls, Eti competes with him. Ramya is also close behind. Even now we are not aware of what lies ahead of us. We are hopeful that once we cross Kumbhakallu we will reach the jeep pickup point.

A veiw of the surrounding mountains

Isubu has become silent. He no longer responds to the queries about the remaining distance. We cross Kumbhakallu at around 5.30PM and reach a valley. It is beginning to get dark; especially in the dense growth of the valley, it is even darker. At around 6.30PM it becomes pitch dark. So now we are walking silently in a line guided by torches. There is no energy left to complain about the terrain; there are bigger issues to worry about. What if our jeep driver decides to return back not finding us at 6PM ? Even Isubu appears clueless at times about our next plan of action. After an hour’s walk, we are finally out of forest and hit a jeep track. We walk for half an hour on this track to reach our destination. But the jeep is nowhere in sight. Isubu checks with the only house here and they have seen nothing of the jeep. We are in a private estate and there is no hope of getting any vehicle here. Isubu silently moves ahead and we follow.

Minchukallu in the evening

It is 8PM and we see a vehicle approaching us. It should be a jeep and it should be our jeep. Who else would come here at this hour ? The jeep had in fact arrived here at 6PM but without finding us, the driver had gone to check out the morning’s drop point in case we returned from there. Not finding us there, he was making a second trip to this place. We are completely dependent on the driver in these places and fortunately drivers are sensible enough not to let us down. We come back to Charmadi and book the last 3 remaining rooms in the Hotel Mavantoor of Ujire. It is 9.15PM when we check into the hotel. Only in the bright surroundings of the hotel that we become conscious of our appearance; we need a wash. After a good dinner and a thorough wash we end the day. It has indeed been a very long day.

Aniyur stream

We get up leisurely on Sunday. Ashwin and Eti decide against joining us on the 2nd day. We reach Kakkinje village where we are joined by Isubu and Asman, Hasanabba’s son. Today the plan is to reach a waterfall named Dondale fall. Again we book a jeep to reach the base of the trail. At around 10AM our jeep approaches a private estate which we have to cross. Isubu’s attempt to let us in fails this time and we are forced to divert to an alternate route. This turns to be a blessing in disguise as the jeep track ends near the Aniyur stream. Our trek begins today by crossing this stream. Though the stream is just knee depth, we end up having a few tough moments crossing this stream since the current is strong.

On the rocks: Bharata, Veena, Ashok

We cross a mildly dense forest after that and enter a village and walk besides some fields. We again hit the forest, this time pretty dense. Humidity is at its peak and temperature is 35C. And the trail has leeches and plenty of them. We walk alongside the stream for some distance. The sight of a river flowing in a dense forest is so beautiful. The wilderness of the surroundings is very inviting. We reach Dondale falls at 12.15PM. Every waterfall is attractive and this one is no exception. This waterfall is quite wide and there is a large rocky area by the side of the stream which is under shade. There is a lot of space here and it is an ideal place for a night camp. We spend close to 2 hours relaxing at the falls. I and ashok spend sometime bathing in the cold water.

Dondale falls

At around 5.30PM we are back in Ujire and quickly vacate the hotel to spend more time in Dharmastala. First we climb (by steps) the small hillock in Dharmastala where there is a 14m statue of Bahubali. The adjoining area is vast and there is some serenity in this place. Next we join the long queue of people wishing for a glimpse of Lord Manjunatha of Dharmastala temple. Today there are more devotees and it takes us an hour for this. The temple offers lunch and dinner to thousands everyday. We too finish our dinner in the temple. We then proceed to the new big KSRTC bus stand of Dharmastala to start our return journey to Bangalore. Isubu has already given me the itinerary for the next Charmadi trek, the Banjar peak and the Banjar falls.

Trekking in Charmadi Ghats

December 9, 2005

Charmadi Ghats is a range in Western Ghats of Karnataka bordering Dakshina Kannada (DK) and Chickmagalur districts. The part of Ghats which I would be exploring starts near a village named Charmadi. It is not sure if the village gets its name from the Ghats or vice versa. Charmadi, a very small village, is approachable via Dharmastala and Ujire from DK side.

Not many people had reported much about trekking in this area. Dinesh Holla of Mangalore, associated with the Youth Hostel there, provided information about the routes and the local contacts. Youth Hostel, Mangalore arranges treks to this place frequently. The local contact Hasanabba is a social worker in Charmadi and is well known through out the area. He runs a hotel called “Hotel Charmadi” which mainly caters to the truck drivers (the highway connecting DK and Chickmagalur passes through this village). The guide Isubu is a middle aged man who works for Hasanabba and who has spent around 40 years in this region. He knows every inch of the forests here. With such a well informed local guide, it is possible to explore those unfrequented routes, which otherwise is not possible.

Day 0

It was mid October when Bharadwaj (more familiar by his nickname Pilla) and I decided to check out the Ghats of Charmadi. As always we begin our weekend trek on Friday night by an overnight bus journey from Bangalore to Dharmastala. The unprecedented rains which had inundated Bangalore had just stopped. Hasanabba informed from Charmadi that it was raining mildly there but that shouldn’t stop us. Pilla meets a colleague (a native of Ujire) of his in the bus and he instantly calls us mad for having ventured upon a trek in this season with just two of us. Added to that, Pilla also meets his company’s HR who couldn’t resist from commenting if she would see Pilla back in office again. Not a good beginning but we are already on our way.

Day 1

The Rajahamsa bus arrives in Dharmastala at 5.30AM . Dharmastala temple complex has good staying arrangements for devotees. We finish our morning ablutions in the well maintained community toilets. We also finish an early breakfast in Dharmastala. Buses ply regularly on Dharmastala – Ujire route. From Ujire one route goes to Mangalore and the other to Moodigere (of Chickmagalur district) via Charmadi. Ujire is around 10km from Dharamstala and Charmadi is further 15km from Ujire. We take a jeep and reach Charmadi at 6.45AM . It looks like the village is still sleeping. It is Ramzan time and we had to wake up Hasanabba from his morning sleep. After some wait me meet our guide Isubu. Isubu is the corrupted form of his original name Yousuf!

Alekhan falls

Alekhan falls

Isubu’s plan is to first take us to Alekhan falls which is on the Ujiri-Moodigiri highway at around 8km from Ujire. After more than an hour’s wait for any kind of transportation, we finally board a tempo at 8.45AM . While Isubu prefers to be alongside the driver, Pilla and I very enthusiastically get on to the empty backside. The ride is rough and bone rattling. We feel relieved to be one single piece when we reach Kottigehara village. We have come 8km ahead of Alekhan falls because Isubu needs to finish his breakfast in Kottigehara 😦

We had come for trekking, but instead we are walking back from Kottigehara village towards Alekhan falls on asphalted road. Weather is soft on us and the surrounding mountain views are extremely beautiful, so we haven’t lost anything, we feel. Moreover Isubu talks non-stop recounting many interesting events of Charmadi Ghats. A car with a Sardarji and a foreign lady drives past us, stops, reverses and approaches us and offers us lift. We are pleasantly surprised. But for reasons best known to Isubu, the offer is turned down. We finally arrive at Alekhan falls. While Alekhan falls is visible completely from the roadside; one can also get down a few meters to reach the base of the falls.


After a long walk on the road we reach the starting point of the trail to Bidirutala hill at 12PM . The beginning of the trail is wide and looks like an abandoned jeep trial, but quickly it narrows down and becomes steeper. It takes an hour for us to reach the Bidirutala hill. The view from the top is spectacular and we can see green mountains all around as far as the eyes could see. I have seen many parts of Western Ghats (like Pushpagiri/Kumara parvata, Mullaianagiri, Narasimhaparvata(Agumbe), Kodachadri), but I can’t remember anything like this in terms of vastness and natural beauty. Charmadi Ghats are simply amazing ! We spot a few bisons grazing on a distant hill as we move along.


Clouds cover us from everywhere and it appears as if it will pour. We quickly finish our lunch of Chapattis and MTR RTEs. Our next destination is Barekallu(or Balekallu) peak. We cross a couple of small peaks on the way. At some places Isubu gives us options; either to cross the peak on the edge or through valley. On the edges, usually there is only grass and in the valley we can find dense forests. Thus we move ahead by alternating between grasslands and forests. Here the definition of Shola forests seems to fit the best; vast grasslands separated by narrow dense forests. If it is sunny to walk in the open grasslands, we have to face the leach wrath in the dense forests. Isubu is equipped with a paste made out of Nashya [Kannada word] powder and coconut oil, which when smeared on shoes will keep the leach away. At 3PM we are at Barekallu peak. Since Barekallu is at significant altitude, many peaks in the range are visible from here. One can see Jenukallu , Kodekallu, Yerikallu, Minchukallu and Kumbhakallu from here. We spend half an hour on the peak before starting to our next destination – Kodekallu.

At kodekallu peak

At kodekallu peak

Kodekallu [Kannada translation: kode – umbrella, kallu – stone] has a big umbrella like stone on its peak. We spot bear pug marks in this place. We spend sometime in the peak enjoying the serene atmosphere here. From here Isubu took us through a downhill trek in a rocky and shrubby terrain. The highlight of this part of the trek was sighting a porcupine from a very close range. Isubu would have liked kill it for meat but we turn down the idea.

At around 5.30PM we emerge out of the woods and enter the road. We keep walking towards Charmadi in a hope to catch a passing vehicle. We walk for around 2 hours, waiving in vain at every passing vehicle for lift. Finally a lorry stops and puts and ends to our misery on the road. After finishing the trek in the woods, it is kind of hard to recharge ourselves again for such a long walk and wait. The lorry driver knows Isubu and that’s the reason he had stopped. We can’t imagine where we would have ended up otherwise. Lorry driver recounts some crimes that have happened here over years. It appears that many killers dump the bodies in the forests here. But people keep finding them out and Isubu says he himself has spotted a body once. Because of all this trucks don’t stop anywhere in between (of course private cars are out of the equation anyway) in these Ghats . This driver is a typical of a lorry driver, drunk, and talking endlessly about his life as a driver, from which we get some idea about their tough lives as drivers.

So finally at the end of the day one, we make an entry into Hotel Mavantoor in Ujire in our dirty trek getup and with the lorry driver for introduction. It takes an effort to remove all the leaches from our shoes and clothes. After a refreshing bath and a sumptuous dinner, we crash for the day.

Day 2

We start to Charmadi village again after a heavy breakfast in the hotel. The journey till Kakkinje village is in a jeep and the rest till Charmadi is by Auto. Though we would like to climb Minchukallu today, Isubu prefers to do a less tiring work today. So his plan is to visit a waterfalls named Kallarabhi falls. To reach this falls, we board Chickmagalur bound bus at Charmadi and get down at the 9th cross (yes such a milestone exists). From here we walk around a kilometer on a
jeep track to reach YNK estate, a private estate. During British times and just after independence, there was a practice to let farmers and estate owners
to use the adjoining forests for forest products like leaves, dried up wood etc. But they are not allowed to do logging. Many still hold on the forests allotted to them at that time. Isubu mentions that YNK estate controls around 3000 acres of forest around the estate. So now we had to get permission from these people to cross the estate and reach our destination.

No one is allowed inside the estate even for trekking purpose without permission. But Isubu uses his influence to let us in and the presence of Asman, Hasanabba’s son also helps. Asman a 9th standard student is keen on trekking in Charmadi and he usually joins any group which comes for trekking in this area.

The initial trail from inside the estate is a jeep track. We cross a couple of human settlements also along the way. People who work in the estate live here. We cross a beautiful stream named  Banjar on the way. For more than a kilometer the path is alongside a canal which has been constructed to direct rainwater towards the turbine run power generation unit. The power generated here by naturally flowing water is enough to illuminate around 30 houses in the village, mentions Isubu.


The rest of the path is through some dense forests. We reach the Kallarabhi falls at around 12 in the noon . Isubu had to clear a lot of bamboo growth before we could approach the water falls. As expected the falls is spectacular, but rocks haven’t dried up yet and entire area is very slippery. One wrong step and we could end up in the downstream of Banjar. So in this season of rains, there is not much moving space near this falls. Pilla and I take a quick bath and we finish our lunch here.

Kallarabhi falls

Kallarabhi falls

It is 4PM when we are back on the road and again we had to wait for an hour for any kind of transportation. This time we manage to get a local bus which drops us at Charmadi. After saying goodbye to Isubu and Asman we take leave from Charmadi, again in a lorry. Our return bus from Dharmastala is at 11PM and hence we had enough time to visit Manjunatheshwara temple in Dharmastala and have temple dinner.