Trek from Jenukallu Gudda to Shivaganga falls

ಏಪ್ರಿಲ್ 13, 2014

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

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

View from Jenukallu Gudda

View from Jenukallu Gudda

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

Dried up river bed near Kelase village

Dried up river bed near Kelase village

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

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

The confluence of Bedti and Shalmala rivers

The confluence of Bedti and Shalmala rivers

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

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

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

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

River Shalmala

River Shalmala

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

Shivaganga falls

Shivaganga falls

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

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

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Kudremukha Trek

ಡಿಸೆಂಬರ್ 25, 2013

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

Kudremukha peak seen on the left side of Gaumukha peak

Kudremukha peak seen on the left side of Gaumukha peak

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

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

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Hirumarguppi peak

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

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

Kudremukha peak

Kudremukha peak

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

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Views around Kudremukha peak

Views around Kudremukha peak

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

Chundi peak

Chundi peak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ombattu Gudda Trek

ಫೆಬ್ರವರಿ 23, 2010

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

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

Day 1

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

Mugilagiri as seen from trail

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

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

Mushroom growth in the forest

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

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

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

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

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

Campsite (Photo Courtesy: Sreekanth)

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

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

Day 2

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

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

Deepadakallu and Jenukallu peaks

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

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

Deepadakallu peak (Photo courtesy: Sreekanth)

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

Any shade is welcome

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

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

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

Bettada Bhairaveshwara temple

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

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

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


Trekking in Shiradi Ghats: Venkatagiri and Arebetta

ಡಿಸೆಂಬರ್ 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

ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ 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

ಆಗಷ್ಟ್ 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!


Trekking in Charmadi: Ettina Bhuja

ನವೆಂಬರ್ 22, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kapila river which we had to cross
Kapila river

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

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

First glimpse of Ettina Bhuja
Ettina Bhuja peak

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

Another view of the peak
Another view of Ettina Bhuja

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

Campsite
Campsite

Reached the campsite, time to relax
Relaxing at campsite

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

The Ox’s shoulder
Route to the peak

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

Sunrise
Sunrise

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

A view of a distant hill
Distant hill

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

Ombattu Gudda, as seen from Ettina Bhuja
Ombattu gudda

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

Early morning views from the peak
Early morning view1

Early morning view2

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

Feeding the fish at Shishileshwara temple
Fish feeding

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