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.

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Sri Kalabhairaveshwara temple, Balige

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

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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 🙂

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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.

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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 to Devkara falls

October 2, 2015

Devkara is a small village present in the border area of Yellapura and Karwar. Now it is mostly an abandoned village thanks to relocation after Kadra and Kodasalli dam projects.  But this village hides a natural treasure, a spectacular waterfalls which the locals call Devkara Vajra. Devkara stream falling from approximately 200-300m height near Devkara village forms this waterfalls. Devkara stream  eventually joins the Kali river. This falls can be approached from the Kadra side as well as from Yellapura side. Here is my story of multiple attempts to reach this waterfalls from Yellapura side.

1st attempt

In May 2014, my brother-in-law and I rode a bike from Sonda, Sirsi, traveled to Yellapura and then to ಈರಾಪುರ village. We hardly had any information about the falls then and unfortunately we couldn’t reach anywhere near the waterfalls. All we could get was this distant view of the Kodasalli back waters.

Kodasalli backwaters

Kodasalli backwaters

However we did establish a local contact who agreed to take us to the falls next time.

2nd attempt

I was at Sonda, Sirsi in the first week of Oct 2014 and took that opportunity to revisit Devkara falls. This time we reached the local contact’s place at  ಈರಾಪುರ village and started trekking in the forest route at 10AM. Along with the guide, our local contact was accompanying us with his school going son. The guide took us on a circuitous route and we first reached very close to Kodasalli reservoir at 11.30AM.

Kodasalli dam

Kodasalli dam

We were walking on a mountain range overlooking a valley in which Kali river was flowing. On the opposite side of the river was another range where the waterfalls was present. After walking through the forest for an hour, we finally emerged out on top of the mountain range at 12.30PM. This place was called ಹಬ್ಬು ಕೋಟೆ/ಕಟ್ಟೆ and it provided good view of the distant waterfalls. From that far off distance the falls looked so big and we wondered how gigantic it would it appear from the base. Unfortunately we hadn’t planned for a day long trek and we were just carrying a few raw cucumbers and butter milk which we completely finished at ಹಬ್ಬು ಕೋಟೆ.

Distant view of Devkara falls

Distant view of Devkara falls

Since reaching the base of the falls from here was out of question, our guide offered us to take us around a bit and show us a few places of interest. Thus we proceeded ahead on the same mountain range and reached a place called ದೇವಿಮನೆ. This is some sacred place in the hills where the villagers would come and offer prayers once in a year in November. From this place we did venture ahead a bit to get a clear view of Kadra reservoir. Instead of returning back via the same route, our guide suggested that we could do a full circle by getting down to Devkara village and then climb up ಬೆಂಡೆಘಟ್ಟ to reach back ಈರಾಪುರ village. We didn’t really know how much time and effort that would take, but just agreed.

After a steep descent we were at Devkara village at 3PM. The village is mostly deserted with a few houses still remaining. There is a Ramalingeshwara temple in the village where Pooja is done once a week. A priest comes from a far off distance every Monday for this purpose.

Devkara village

Devkara village

Ramalingeshwara temple, Devkara

Ramalingeshwara temple, Devkara

We were now walking beside the Kali river. A trail exists from Devakara till ಬೆಂಡೆಘಟ್ಟ, but were dead tired since we hardly had any solid food since morning. The journey seemed endless and we finally reached the foothills of ಬೆಂಡೆಘಟ್ಟ at 4.15PM. The climb up is abruptly steep and it took quite a bit of effort and time to reach the top at around 5.30PM. Our enterprising guide could find some tender coconuts in an abandoned house and that came as a big relief to us. But the relief was short lived as it started raining. By the time we reached our local contact’s house, we were completely drenched. We consumed the food that we we had planned to have for lunch here and started back on bike towards Sonda at around 6.30PM. Next 60km drive through the winding forest roads was mostly treacherous with non-stop hard rain. Our adventure finally ended when we reached home at 9PM.

3rd attempt

Though we had seen the waterfalls, that was hardly satisfying since we hadn’t been able to reach the base of the falls. So last week we made another attempt to reach the falls. This time I took Naren with me to my in-laws place. My brother-in-law found a person from Devkara village itself who had relocated to Sonda. He was ready to guide us and we thought our 3rd attempt should be a success since the guide was born and brought up in Devkara village and he should be able to guide us to the base of the falls.

4 of us started in 2 bikes at 8AM from Sonda and reached ಈರಾಪುರ village at 10AM. Thanks to two wheelers, we were able to cover some trail distance too on bike. At 10.30AM we were at the starting point of ಬೆಂಡೆಘಟ್ಟ (470m) from where we had to descend. At 11AM we reached 130m and touched a flowing stream locally called  ಈರಾಪುರ stream which eventually becomes Kali river.  We walked towards Devkara village alongside the stream and at one point, the falls becomes visible towards our left.

At 11.45AM, we reached 70m and crossed the stream which was utmost knee deep. Next we had to cross another stream that flows from Devkara falls and joins the stream that we just crossed. This stream was flowing with good speed and we had to find a suitable place to crossover. Thanks to our guide, we did find a reasonably safe place to cross the stream where the water was thigh deep at places. We were able to cross it with reasonable ease using sticks for support. We were now at the periphery of Devkara village and were walking along a few abandoned houses and paddy fields.

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Next it was some hide and seek with the waterfalls as it is located in such a place covered with dense forest towards its approach that it is not visible at every point on the approach path. There was no well defined path to the falls, but we had to make one by clearing the forest growth and following the general direction of the waterfalls.

Devkara falls

Devkara falls

At 1PM we reached a rocky clearance from where the falls was visible fairly clearly. Based on our last year’s experience, we weren’t taking chances with food and hence were carrying sufficient amount of Pulao, home grown cucumbers, butter milk and ಚಕ್ಕುಲಿ. We finished lunch on these rocks. We had still not reached the exact base of the falls and hence ventured into the forests a bit more to check if better view of the falls could be had. At 2PM we reached another rocky clearance from where we had a decent view of the falls. We decided to end the quest here since the path ahead to the ultimate base of the falls was difficult and it was already well past midday.

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On the way back, it took two hours for us to reach ಬೆಂಡೆಘಟ್ಟ base and after an hour we were back at ಈರಾಪುರ village. Thus on the third attempt, we finally had satisfying views of Devkara falls! It was not just about the falls, but this also turned out to be good trek worth remembering after my previous trek in the same area.


Kudremukha Trek

December 25, 2013

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

Kudremukha peak seen on the left side of Gaumukha peak

Kudremukha peak seen on the left side of Gaumukha peak

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

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

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Hirumarguppi peak

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

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

Kudremukha peak

Kudremukha peak

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

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Views around Kudremukha peak

Views around Kudremukha peak

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

Chundi peak

Chundi peak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Trekking in Himalaya – Animal Pass and Sara Umga Pass

October 13, 2013

The ascent is hard on lungs, the descent is painful for knees,
the thin air at the altitude is unforgiving,
living out of tents in the mountains with minimal facilities is certainly
not enjoyable,
the time spent on the peak or pass is hardly a few minutes.
Why do men come back to mountains again and again ?

I had just reached the snowline at 4300m, barely 200m below the Thamser Pass on 7th October 2012. The going was tough and I whispered to Naren – “Mate, We have done enough of Himalayas, guess it’s time to say goodbye”. Naren echoed along the similar lines while fully agreeing with me. Back from the successful trek to Bara Bhangal in Oct 2012, our outlook gradually changed and by beginning of 2013 we had both decided to give another try to some other pass in the High Himalaya. All the pains were forgotten and we were actively planning for our next visit – that’s the lure of the Himalaya! As usual we contacted Kaushal Desai from above14000ft who suggested Animal Pass trek which he was running for Sharada and Saravanan (Saro) and their group. Since Kaushal mentioned that Animal Pass is like a family trek in terms of difficulty level, we pushed him to give us another alternative which is more challenging. As a result it was decided that we will do Animal Pass along with Saro’s group. While they return via the same path, our group will continue ahead, cross Sara Umga Pass and reach the other side at Chota Dhara. Since horses couldn’t cross Sara Umga, we had to depend on porters which increased the cost of expedition considerably. Last minute drop out of a member from our group didn’t help us and resulted in further escalation of costs. The desire to be on the mountains and also to cross a challenging pass was so high that we were silently ignoring the insane amount of money being spent to realize our Himalayan dreams this year. Thus we had two groups doing Animal Pass together and our 2 member group continuing with Sara Umga Pass. Animal Pass group included Sharada, Saro who had accompanied us to Roopkund trek earlier, Dr Sreekumar (SK) and Dr Pradeep (both basically dentists), Venu who had accompanied me on one of my beach treks earlier and Preeti my colleague who was venturing into Himalayas and also into serious trekking for the first time. Sara Umga group included Naren and I.

Our trek started on the 3rd weekend of September 2013. We joined Saro’ group at Delhi airport and proceeded to Himachal Bhavan in a metro train. Unlike last year, we had booked tickets to Manali in HP tourism’s volvo bus. The bus service turned out to be much organized and left Delhi on time and the journey itself was much comfortable.

Day 0: Acclimatization in Manikaran

We got down 50km before Manali at  Bhuntar(1080m) from where we took a local taxi to Manikaran which was the base for our trek. After an hour’s drive in the winding roads beside the River Parvati we reached Manikaran(1650m) at 8AM.

Manikaran town

Manikaran town

Manikaran is a place of religious significance for both Hindus and Sikhs. There is a Gurudwara here and a temple complex dedicated to Rama, Shiva and Hanuman. Numerous hot water springs present here are a major attraction.

Hot sulpher water joining the cold waters of River Parvati at Manikaran

Hot sulpher water joining the cold waters of River Parvati at Manikaran

We had a full day ahead of us since the trek was starting only the next day. Morning was spent doing a small acclimatization trek to a hill adjacent to the river bank. Naren, SK, Preeti and I climbed up to the top of the steep hill and gained around 300m altitude while Pradeep could do half of the distance. Post lunch, we spent some time relaxing in the well maintained hot water sulphur spring behind the Rama temple. This was supposedly an off-season in Manikaran and less crowd in such places makes the stay a bit more enjoyable since there is so much less competition for space and resources in such a small town. We had breakfast and lunch in a small eatery run by a family and the ambiance was such that we felt being treated as guests rather than as customers.

Day 1: Manikaran to Tosh to Buddhaban

While we were having our breakfast, Kaushal arrived from Manali with his support staff which included the guide Chander, a mountaineer himself, a cook and 3 porters. We started in a couple of taxis, drove for an hour and reached Tosh village (2380m). As we approach Tosh, we can see a major Hydro electric power project under construction, which I understand would have a capacity of 2000MW! The trek started at 9.45AM in very sunny and bright conditions. The initial walk is via the Tosh village itself. Tosh has a shrine dedicated to Jamadagni Rishi. Tosh also boasts of many facilities for tourist accommodation and we could see quite a bit Israelis who apparently come to Kasol (which is called Mini-Israel), Manikaran and even up till Tosh in search of greener pastures of Marijuana.

Starting of the trek at Tosh village

Starting of the trek at Tosh village

At 11AM we had left the village behind and reached a stream crossing point (2500m) which was supposed to be our 1st camping site as per Kaushal. Camping just after an hour’s walk on the first day of trek didn’t look too appealing to us given that the next day’s campsite Buddhaban was just 2 hours walk from here. So we convinced Kaushal to take us to Buddhaban directly. So an oversight by Kaushal in his itinerary had given us an extra day, only time would tell if that would help us or harm us.

Kutla

Kutla

The ascent is gradual and mainly through the pine forest. We reached the last village along the route called Kutla (2675m) which can serve as a potential campsite. While most of our group members were carrying walking sticks I borrowed a nice stick from the shopkeeper at Kutla. Through out the trail we could see survey stones installed by the ongoing hydro power project which suggested that this trail is going to be a proper motor-able road in near future. We reached Buddhaban (2725m) at 1PM.

Buddhaban campsite

Buddhaban campsite

The campsite was right on the bank of Tosh river which appeared milky white, but had too much soil particles to be consumed directly. We had to depend upon a tiny stream of freshwater that trickled down from the mountains. There was another team from Mumbai camping in Buddhaban already. Lunch was prepared and served within an hour. Kaushal’s treks are known for good and tasty food and Saro had made special request to Kaushal to get the same cook they had got during their Miyar Valley trek. But going by what we got from this new cook, we were doubtful if food is going to the highlight of this trek.

There was enough time in the day to play cricket in the makeshift pitch prepared by SK. In the evening SK, Pradeep, Preeti, Venu, Naren and I did do a small acclimatization walk for an hour, but couldn’t gain much height as the clouds closed in threatening to rain. However the night sky was very clear and the stars were out in their full glory. I was having a slight headache which indicated that I was still acclimatizing to this height.

Day 2: Buddhaban to Sharam Thach

I had good night’s sleep but was woken up at 4.45AM by the heavy rains and thunderstorms. We had noted down the 10 days’ Accuweather weather prediction for Manikaran and as per that, today it was thunderstorms. Fortunately the rain stopped in an hour and it was 9°C at 5.45AM. For most part of the trek we would be following the Tosh river which ran down from North to South in the valley and hence it took a while before the morning Sun from the East could reach our campsite. After the breakfast which consisted of Bread, Oats and Cornflakes, we started the day’s trek at 8.30AM.

The pace of rest of the group was a bit too slow for us and hence Naren and I soon moved ahead and reached a small waterfalls area (2780m) at 9AM. This waterfalls was formed by the water gushing down the slopes into Tosh river. A dog had joined us by now and it was leading us on the right path. Dog’s pace was much better than us and every now and then it would wait for us, ascertain that we are coming and would proceed ahead. We continued the ascent through the forests and by 9.30AM we were at 2885m from where we could see a few tents of the labourers from hydroelectric project pitched on the right bank of Tosh river. At 10AM we reached Shiyadi Thach (3000m) campsite. This place had a wide opening in the canopy and we settled down on a huge boulder beside the cultivated Marijuana field and waited for the rest of the group to catch up. While we were using hats to protect ourselves from the Sun, the dog was lying down beside us in our shade.

Shiyadi Thach

Shiyadi Thach

By 10.30AM the entire group was at Shiyadi Thach and we started back on trail. The next stretch involved a few ascents and descents in the forest and we crossed a stream and reached 3215m at 11.30AM.  Next we walked past a few trees which looked like fig trees and they stood out in the company of pine trees. Here the dog was joined by a similar looking bitch and they continued the march together. At 12.50PM we crossed a stream over a stone bridge laid out on a pair of log woods and reached Sharam Thach (3345m) campsite at 1PM. We ate the packed lunch consisting of an Aloo Parata.

Sharam Thach campsite

Sharam Thach campsite

The porters and horses had reached just before us and had only pitched kitchen tent and a couple of tents when the sleet shower started. Soon it turned into a heavy rain and we ran around and got all the bags, sleeping bags and mats into the tents before settling down in our tent. As per weather report, thunder storms were predicted for Manikaran today and we were always walking with good pace to escape any showers. We had managed to do that, but rest of the group was caught up in the rains and by the time the last of the group members arrived at Sharam Thach, it was 3.15PM. Most of them had arrived completely wet. There was no respite from the rains and it continued to pour down till 8PM in the night. We had some minor irritants like water condensing inside the tent as well as coming into the tent via window opening due to winds.

The day ended pretty early and the night was cold. The old sleeping bags without the chord to tighten the hood didn’t help in retaining the body heat.

Day 3: Sharam Thach to Shamshi Thach

I got up at 5.30AM and the temperature was 5°C. Yesterday’s rain had completely washed off the clouds and the sky was clear. The weather was perfect to try out some breathing exercises. We started the day’s trek at 8.30AM. Today we were out of the tree line and were supposed to walk on the left bank of River Tosh and cross multiple ridges on our way to Shamshi Thach.

Though Accuweather predicted sunny and clear weather for next 3 days, Preeti, based on her yesterday’s ordeal decided to join me and Naren in today’s trek. Unfortunately for her, we soon lost our way and couldn’t locate the trail. There was a huge mountain running alongside the river on our left with multiple ridges and the river itself was to the right of us. We could see a fairly big ridge at a distance running down and tapering towards the river. We knew if we reach that ridge, further progress of the trail will be visible, but Naren and I differed on how to approach that ridge. While I preferred to not lose height and walk along the mountain face, Naren preferred to descend and walk on the river bed. Finally we decided to stick to the middle ground and ended up being neither here nor there. But this had it’s own share of thrills especially for Preeti as we negotiated stretches of boulders. Finally at 10.30AM after a steep climb we finally reached the ridge (3600m) and caught up with the trail as well. Unfortunately the entire team followed us even when we signaled them to maintain height and not to loose the trail. So everyone including Kaushal had to go through the effort of the steep climb to re-join the trail on the ridge.

The next stretch was mostly easy without any major descent or ascent. At 11.30AM two snow capped peaks became visible, with one of them looking like a tooth of a carnivore!

Tiger tooth! as seen enroute Shamshi Thach

Tiger tooth! as seen enroute Shamshi Thach

An unnamed peak as seen enroute Shamshi Thach

An unnamed peak as seen enroute Shamshi Thach

By 12PM were were able to see the campsite but a bunch of streams separated us and the campsite. Nowhere we could find a suitable place to cross with our shoes on and followed the stream up on it’s course to see if it offered any easy crossover points. But it was already midday and the streams were running full and we had to retreat and cross the streams with barefoot. We finally reached the Shamshi Thach (3680m) campsite at 12.20PM.

Shamshi Thach campsite

Shamshi Thach campsite

The settings of Shamsi campsite was spectacular to say the least. To the East, the River Tosh flowed in all its majesty. Even though the width of the river was fairly small, the sandy shore was unusually wide for a mountain river.  Behind the river was a pyramid shaped peak. To the West of the campsite, a few streams dropped down the rocks to form waterfalls and a multitude of streams that eventually joined Tosh. Towards North, at the end of Tosh valley, we could see the Sara Umga Pass. While SK, Venu, Preeti and I were exploring the sandy shores of Tosh river, I could see Sharada and Saro walking up the streams towards the waterfalls to figure out a crossover point. Eventually I had to go and show them where to cross the streams.

Sara Umga Pass as seen from Shamshi Thach

Sara Umga Pass as seen from Shamshi Thach

There was an Italian climbing team of 3 men who were already camping at Shamshi. Kaushal was providing logistical support for them too. They had a full fledged kitchen and a much experienced cook. We had Pakodas followed by rice bath for lunch. Naren, Preeti and I did a small evening walk too. By 4PM all the streams that were running down from the mountain become muddy and non-potable. However there was one tiny stream which remained good throughout the day which became our source of water in this camp. By 4.30PM itself, the meadow lost the last direct rays of Sun after which it started becoming pretty cold.

Day 4: Animal Pass

The temperature at 6.15AM was 4°C. The breakfast was good for the first time, thanks to the cook Kishen from the Italian camp.  The plan for the day was to reach Animal Pass and be back at the camp by evening. Pradeep hadn’t acclimatized and hence he decided to skip the trek. Saro too had mild altitude effect and moreover was suffering from stomach upset. So he also decided to skip the Pass. Sharada decided to stay with Saro. Thus the group attempting the Animal Pass had Naren, SK, Venu, Preeti and I. Kaushal, Chander and Bhagwan Das, the guide from the Italian camp were leading us. We started at around 8AM. The trial was fully uphill and we were making steady progress and reached 3775m at 8.30AM. By this time, Naren who was suffering from altitude sickness was lagging behind with a lone porter with him. In fact Naren had fixed a turn around time of 12PM and do as much as possible by that time and return back.

Extreme left - Devachan, Snow peak around center - Papsura, Extreme right - Dharamsura or White Sail

Extreme left – Devachan, Snow peak around center – Papsura, Extreme right – Dharamsura or White Sail

By 9AM we had reached 3915m and now the view to the Tosh Glacier was slowly opening up. By now we had lost Naren completely at the back. We were now able to see  three peaks in the Sara Umga range clearly. Devachan peak (6200m), Papsura Peak (6451m) and Dharamsura peak (6446m) also called White sail were all visible. Harish Kapadia in his book “Across Peaks & Passes in Himachal Pradesh” writes: “The legend has it that the two mountains gain ascendency over each other according to whether the forces of evil (Pap) or those of good (Dharm) happen to prevail over the world at that time. So now we know!”

Tosh river

Tosh river

As is typical in such climbs, we were reaching the top of a ridge only to see the next higher ridge in our path. At 9.30AM we reached 4000m. At 10AM were were at 4100m from where the vegetation became less and less and it was mostly boulders on our way. We reached 4200m at 10.35AM and 4300m at 11.10AM from where we could see a bearded vulture or Lammergeier in flight.

Tosh Glacier

Tosh Glacier

The ascent continued over rocks and rubble and we reached a lake (4340m) at 11.25AM.

The lake near Animal Pass

The lake near Animal Pass

On the other side of the lake was the Animal Pass. The blue coloured lake was very beautiful and the 360° view around the lake was breathtaking. While Venu preferred to stay put at the lake, the rest of us continued towards the Pass. First we had to reach the other end of the fairly big lake by negotiating the boulders. Next it was a steep climb over loose soil and small rocks. Kaushal and Bhagwan were leading and it was difficult to climb in their pace. Towards the end, I lost them both in the front and also Preeti and SK being led by Chander at the back. I reached Animal Pass (4500m) at 12.40PM.

The Animal Pass as seen from the lake below it

The Animal Pass as seen from the lake below it

While Kaushal and Bhagwan proceeded further up towards the right of the Pass to check out the views from there, I was satisfied to catch a glimpse of Deo Tibba (6001m) from Animal Pass and remained there.

Deo Tibba as seen from Animal Pass

Deo Tibba as seen from Animal Pass

To the left of the Animal Pass, raises a rocky peak called Ali Ratni peak (5490m) as per Kaushal.

Ali Ratni Tibba in the background of Animal Pass

Ali Ratni Tibba in the background of Animal Pass

After a few minutes Preeti with her hand firmly in the able hands of the guide Chander arrived followed by SK. Preeti didn’t let loose of guide’s hand till she reached back the campsite safely! Another member who reached the Pass without much fuss was our dog which even stepped onto the snow and rolled over it to cool itself down.

We started back at 1.40PM and took the left bank of the lake while we had ascended on the right bank. When we reached the end of the lake where we had started out from, we had done one circumambulation (parikrama) of the lake! We joined Venu near the lake at 2.30PM. For the descent we took a slightly different path and did a steep descent of a huge grassy mountain face to reach the Tosh river bed instead of taking the original route which had many ridges to negotiate. The clouds were coming pretty down sometimes and walking in the midst of the clouds was some experience.

The final descent from Animal Pass

The final descent from Animal Pass

Naren had returned back with the porter after having reached 4200m. He hadn’t acclimatized fully yet and Kaushal indicated that it will be risky to ask him cross Sara Umga. Naren and I deliberated over our next course of action. While Naren said he is willing to return back the next day with Saro’s team, I suggested that he could try coming till next campsite Kuta Thach and remain there while I try to reach Sara Umga and come back. So crossing Sara Umga plan was thus dropped.

Day 5: Shamshi Thach to Kuta Thach

Saro’s team’s mission was accomplished and they were ready to return today. They had decided to cross Sharam and reach Buddhaban in a day and reach Tosh/Manikaran/Manali on the next day itself. In the morning Naren appeared quite OK and he said he can make it to Kuta Thach but at his own slow pace.

At 8.30AM we bid goodbye to Saro’s team members who were on their way back. At 9.45AM Naren and I along with Kaushal, Chander and two porters started towards Kuta Thach. The Mumbai team had arrived at Shamshi yesterday evening and were also moving up to Kuta today. The trail had an initial climb just after Shamshi. The Mumbai group members who were carrying their day packs themselves were struggling on this stretch and so was Naren. However Naren was able to overtake the Mumbai group and make progress.

The full glory of Tosh glacier

The full glory of Tosh glacier

Ice ends and the water begins - The origin of Tosh river

Ice ends and the water begins – The origin of Tosh river

At around 11.30AM we were very close to Tosh glacier and we could see the snout of the glacier from a short distance. At 12.30PM we touched 4000m and from here it was mostly a walk on the level ground without much of an ascent. At 1.15PM we reached 4045m where we finished our packed lunch which consisted of 2 chapatis. At 1.50PM we walked past a possible campsite which had no water source at this time of the year.

At 2.10PM, we could see the campsite and Kaushal went ahead while I waited for Naren to catch up. At 2.30PM we crossed multiple streams which included a major one which needed assistance from the guide for crossing. We reached the Kuta Thach campsite (4065m) at 2.30PM. What could be attained in less than 2hours was done in 4.45hours since Naren’s was struggling a bit.

Kuta Thach campsite

Kuta Thach campsite

Kuta Thach wasn’t as pleasant a campsite as Shamshi. It was in the middle of a rubble and looked like a place unfit for human habitation. A tiny stream flowed beside of our campsite which now consisted of 2 dome tents and 1 pyramid shaped tent for porters. The stream water had to be sieve-filtered since it had too many organic floating matter. The campsite was right beside the glacier and a 50m descent towards our right would have landed us straight on the moraines of the glacier.

Minimal kitchen supplies were being carried and we had to be content with half-cooked MTR pulao. Naren wasn’t doing good and I was hoping a night’s rest would serve him good. Naren had by now developed diarrhea for which he took some medicines from a doctor who was present with the Mumbai group.

Clouds started closing in around the campsite by 3.30PM. Maggie noodles was served as snacks and Rice and Sambhar were cooked for dinner.

Day 6: Kuta Thach to Shamshi Thach

The noise inside the tent when it rains doesn’t usually bring in a good feeling. This noise started during the later half of the night and continued well into the morning. We had planned to start the hike to Sara Umga pretty early in the day at 7.30AM since it would take at least 8-10 hours from Kuta to reach the Pass and come back. Any hopes of doing Sara Umga today were all washed down when it started snowing and the visibility was reduced to a few meters. It was as if the entire Kuta camp was engulfed in the clouds. The Mumbai group started to descend even while it was raining. Naren’s diarrhea had turned into stomach pain by now and the doctor suggested him to take antacids before he left.

Snow at Kuta Thach

Snow at Kuta Thach

We had an extra day and we could have stayed at Kuta today to see if the weather clears tomorrow. But Naren’s condition needed immediate descent and his body had failed to acclimatize. As soon as the weather cleared, we started the descent at 11.30PM. The descent back to Shamshi turned out to be very long since Naren was finding it difficult to walk even 10 steps continuously without a break. Kaushal and I would walk ahead, then wait for Chander and Naren to catchup. In the middle of the descent, after looking at Naren’s condition, I decided to stick with him.  His progress was painfully slow while he was having regular painful stomach spasms. With continuous pushing and encouragement, I managed to get Naren to the campsite at 4PM.  Naren’s condition was very similar to what he had undergone last year when crossing Kalihani Pass.

We had a good lunch, thanks to the cook Kishen at the Italian camp. It started raining at 5.15PM.

Day 7. Rest day at Shamshi Thach

Since we had enough days left and since Naren was yet to recover fully, we decided to spend a day at Shamshi. I got up leisurely at 6.30AM to find the sky mostly clear. The Sara Umga pass visible at a distance was slowly getting covered by clouds and became completely invisible by 8AM. So even if we had stayed back at Kuta yesterday, in all probability we couldn’t have made it to the Pass given the weather.

We had planned for a minor hike in the surrounding hills, but I could only do a bit of ascent to the waterfalls area. This waterfalls was the source of all the streams near the Shamshi campsite. The weather turned dull and was pretty fickle. It would be sunny one moment, only to become cloudy and drizzly the next moment. All we could do was to sit inside our tent and go to kitchen tent at regular intervals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The train of cloud as seen from Shamshi

The train of cloud as seen from Shamshi

One has to spend an idle day in the mountains to really understand how boring it can be in the mountains with nothing to do for the day! Here is a quote from Eric Shipton’s Upon that Mountain that best describes our mood on this day:

I doubt if anyone would claim to enjoy life at high altitudes — enjoy,
that is, in the ordinary sense of the word.

There is a certain grim satisfaction to be derived from struggling
upwards, however slowly; but
the bulk of one’s time is necessarily spent
in the extreme squalor of a high camp,
when even this solace is
lacking…… except for the briefest moments, during which one is not
usually in the mood for aesthetic enjoyment, there is nothing to look
at but the bleak confusion inside the tent
and the scaly, bearded
countenance of one’s companion — fortunately the noise of the wind
usually drowns out his stuffy breathing; worst of all is the feeling of
complete helplessness and inability to deal with any
emergency that
might arise. I used to try to console myself with the thought that a year
ago I would have been thrilled by the very idea of taking part in
our present adventure, a prospect that had been seemed like
an impossible dream; but altitude has the same effect on the
mind as upon the body, one’s intellect becomes dull and unresponsive,
and my only desire was to finish the wretched job and to get down
to a more reasonable clime.

Day 8. Shamshi Thach to Tosh to Manikaran

The morning was extremely cold and the surroundings had turned slightly whitish with bits of snow and ice all around. The first thing I told Naren in the morning was “Naren, I think …”, the rest was filled in by Naren himself when he said “‘… we should attempt to reach Manikaran today”.

So we started at 8.30AM and made some good progress. While I was accompanying Kaushal, Chander was coming with Naren. As we descended more, Naren’s condition improved dramatically. We reached Sharam Thach at 10AM, Shiyadi Thach at 11.50AM, Buddhaban at 12.45PM, Kulta at 1.20PM and Tosh at 2.15PM. I met the Kutla’s shopkeeper from whom I had borrowed the walking stick and promptly returned it to him. He was impressed that this walking stick had reached Animal Pass!

From Tosh, we took a taxi and come to Manikaran at 3.15PM. The first thing we did in Manikaran was to take a dip in the hot water springs. The sulphur springs had such a soothing effect that we came up from the Kund with no pain in the body whatsoever!

Apparently the Goddess scorned our softness. She also rammed home
the message that success does not depend on money. This was my
most costly expedition and it proved to be the least fulfilling.
My financial graph showed clearly that the tighter the funds,
the more memorable the outcome. Nothing in Nanda’s domain is
won easily.

                                                                          Bill Aitken
The Nandadevi Affair

And I couldn’t agree more with Bill – nothing in Himalaya’s domain comes easily.


Burude and Wate Halla water falls

December 7, 2012

During my previous visits to my in-laws place in Sonda, Sirsi I have visited various waterfalls. While I described Mattighatta falls here and Benne Hole falls here, the rest of the waterfalls in the Sirsi-Yellapura region are covered here. When it looked like I have visited most of the waterfalls in the region, I came across Burude falls which is located in Siddapura taluk of Uttara Kannada district. As usual, my brother-in-law and I started quite early  on a Sunday morning with the intention of seeing Burude falls as well as Wate Halla falls which I had unsuccessfully attempted a few years back. We were doing this in November which is usually a good month to visit these remote waterfalls. Some of these waterfalls are so remote that two wheeler is the best mode of transportation to reach them.

Burude or iLimane Falls

We first reached Siddapura from Sonda, Sirsi and continued on Siddapura-Kumta road for around 20km reach a place called Kyadgi. Just after Kyadgi, one can see a sign board instructing us to take a right deviation for Burude falls. From here it’s around 5km to the falls. Somewhere midway on this road, we had to cross a stream on bike and continue on road on the other side. Then we cross a small cluster of houses name iLimane due to which this falls is also referred to as iLimane waterfalls. One can drive up to the point where tourism department has built an open shelter for tourists. After descending down 20 steeply built concrete steps, we had to do some serious descent to reach the base of the waterfalls. The waterfalls is absolutely not visible from the shelter and steep descent makes this falls almost unapproachable for family kind of tourists.

IMG_3428

Burude falls – top two sections

The river flows down in 5 steps here, each forming a nice waterfall. Only first three of them are visible and one could reach the top of the 4th one but not the base. We did make some attempt to reach the base of the 4th waterfall, but the vegetation was simply too thick and we had to retreat.

IMG_3421

At the top of Burude falls

IMG_3418

2nd section of Burude falls

IMG_3398

The stream flows down to form more falls after this…

There was enough water in the stream even in November to make the visit worthwhile. It will be very difficult to visit these falls in rainy season due to leeches. The ideal season to visit is between September and November.

Wate Halla Falls

I had attempted this waterfalls in September 2009 with my wife and other relatives. While we were descending to reach the falls, my wife and I lost the guide and others in the front and were forced to come back. There were so many leeches that it was impossible to stand there a second without a leech getting on to us! This time I was hoping that it would be more easier since it was November.

Wate halla falls

2nd and 3rd sections of Wate halla falls

This falls is approachable from Nikunda on Sirsi-Kumta road. At Nilkunda, take a right deviation into Nilkunda-Devimane road. After a kilometer from here, a stream cuts the road, and after the stream the road forks. The right hand fork is easy to miss, but this is the road that will lead to Wate Halla falls. The stream can be crossed on bike most of the seasons except during the rainy season. After a kilometer’s walk from here, one can see a path descending down into the valley which will take us to the Wate Halla falls. We couldn’t see any other possible routes down the valley anywhere nearby except this one.

1st section of Wate halla falls

1st section of Wate halla falls

A steep descent of 100m will take us to the base of Wate Halla Falls. The stream flows down in 3 steps here forming 3 waterfalls. Wate in Kannada means a variety of bamboo and Halla means valley. The waterfalls thus gets its name due to the abundant presence of this variety of bamboo in the valley.

Visit to Wate Halla falls can be combined with the Unchalli falls which is quite nearby. Again its impossible to reach the base of this falls in rainy season and mostly difficult until September.

For those interested in temples, its worth a quick visit to this temple in Nilkunda.

An old temple in Nilkunda

An old temple in Nilkunda


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.

mattighatta4

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


Ombattu Gudda Trek

February 23, 2010

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

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

Day 1

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

Mugilagiri as seen from trail

ombattu-mugilagiri

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

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

Mushroom growth in the forest

ombattu-mushroom

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

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

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

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

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

Campsite (Photo Courtesy: Sreekanth)

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

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

Day 2

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

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

Deepadakallu and Jenukallu peaks

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

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

Deepadakallu peak (Photo courtesy: Sreekanth)

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

Any shade is welcome

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

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

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

Bettada Bhairaveshwara temple

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

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

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


Trekking in 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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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!