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

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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

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 Charmadi: Ettina Bhuja

November 22, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kapila river which we had to cross
Kapila river

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

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

First glimpse of Ettina Bhuja
Ettina Bhuja peak

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

Another view of the peak
Another view of Ettina Bhuja

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

Campsite
Campsite

Reached the campsite, time to relax
Relaxing at campsite

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

The Ox’s shoulder
Route to the peak

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

Sunrise
Sunrise

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

A view of a distant hill
Distant hill

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

Ombattu Gudda, as seen from Ettina Bhuja
Ombattu gudda

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

Early morning views from the peak
Early morning view1

Early morning view2

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

Feeding the fish at Shishileshwara temple
Fish feeding

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


Beach Trek: Bhatkal to Kundapura

December 27, 2007

I hadn’t done any major treks in this season while end of year 2007 was fast approaching. With not much time left for elaborate planning, I decided to do another beach trek, which probably is one of the easiest treks to organize. There is no confusion of the trails here and we are never too far from NH17 and hence never cut off from civilization. So the beach treks along Arabian sea in the Karnataka region need very simple logistics support. Food and night accommodation can always be arranged in the adjoining village or city, if one is not equipped to camp on the beach. To continue from where I had left last time, it was decided to trek from Bhatkal to Kundapura on beach this time. Many people were eager to join this time and I had to actually limit the number of participants. So we were a group of nine: Prasanna, Naren, Bharadwaj, Sripathi, Chandra, Chandru, Hariharan, Vinayak and I.

Start (L2R: Hari,Sripathi,Naren,Bharadwaj,Chandra,Prasanna,Vinayak)
The group

While Naren and Vinayak were to join to us directly at Bhatkal, rest of us boarded a Bhatkal bound 7PM KSRTC bus at Bangalore on a December Friday evening. We traveled for 14.5hrs through a long and circuitous route (Bangalore-Hassan-Charmadi-Ujire-Mangalore-Udupi-Kundapura-Bhatkal) to reach Bhatkal at 9.30AM ! We came to know only later that people from this region don’t use KSRTC from Bangalore but usually prefer private services.

Naren and Vinayak had already booked a couple of rooms for us in Vaibhav lodge for our morning ablutions. For want to time, we had a quick working breakfast at Vaibhav Hotel. (There are better eating places in Bhatkal than this; Vaibhav is highly not recommended). Now we had to find a suitable place to start the trek. There is a tiny water mouth at a distance of 6km from Bhatkal (towards Kundapura) at a place called Sodigadde and we were to start our beach trek from this point. Local Tempo service was used to cover this distance from Bhatkal to Sodigadde on NH17. It was 11.45AM and our group turned down my proposal to cover the rest of the distance of around 1km from Sodigadde to actual beach by auto and enthusiastically started on foot. So we spent some valuable energy walking in the midday sun and finally reached the beach at 12.15PM.

We walked on the sand for an hour until the beach stretch was intercepted by a tiny rivulet at a village called Alavegadde. The local kids helped us to find an appropriate point where stream could be crossed on foot. After walking further for around 15min, we reached the point where Alavegadde river meets the sea and this meeting point was too deep and wide to be crossed on foot. Fortunately we were just in time to catch a fishing boat which was all set to enter the deep seas and the fishermen were kind enough to help us cross over to the other bank.

Lake near Dombe
Alavebagilu Lake

Though google maps had shown a couple of breaks in the sand stretch, most of them turned out be plain green fields and not any hills as we had visualized. So most of the times we were walking on plain beach and did no climbing whatsoever. I had insisted on carrying oranges and some of us were carrying more than necessary quantity of them. So soon we could see generous people offering each other oranges and thereby reducing their backpack loads. We took lunch break at 2PM. At around 3.30PM we were at a village called Dombe where we could find a fresh water lake(Alavegagilu kere) beside the sea. There were a few kids enjoying the cold lake water bath in the hot afternoon and we were more than eager to give them company. The break really helped to us rejuvenate ourselves and without much trouble we reached the Someshwara temple of Baindoor at 4.30PM. We had probably covered a distance of 6-8km on beach for the day.

Someshwara temple, Baindoor
Someshwara temple

Someshwara temple is situated on a small rocky hill (which we had to negotiate) overlooking the sea. The surroundings are beautiful and temple has a calm atmosphere inside. Adjoining the temple is a rock, underneath which fresh water flows 24hours. This is called Nagatheertha. The name comes from the fact that a snake can be supposedly seen under this rock 365 days (The temple folk mentioned that a snake was sighted here in the morning also).

A view from Someshwara temple

One of our group members had used his contacts to secure a reservation in the Baindoor Govt IB for our night stay and after some confusion we settled down in IB before it became dark. After a good dinner, we crashed for the day with plans to get up as early as 5AM next day morning.

The trek group was so good this time that people actually woke up at 5AM! Some of them were so considerate that they took cold water bath at 5AM in the morning without wasting precious morning time waiting for hot water. Everything went as per plan and we were out of IB by 7AM. A little distance after Someshwara temple in Baindoor, Uppunda river meets the sea. The local folk advised us to continue our trek after this point (Uppunda Village). This involved covering 3km on NH17 and a further 2km into the actual beach. This time, everyone willingly agreed to take Autos to cover this distance of 5km. So our 2nd day’s trek started at 8AM. The plan was to cover most of the distance before 12PM after which time it gets too hot.

We did a pretty brisk non stop walk for an hour probably covering around 5km to reach Koderi village where Yedamavina Hole (stream) joins the sea. As we were approaching Koderi, a fishermen volunteered to help us cross the stream. It took him two trips in his boat to ferry us to the other end but he flatly rejected our repeated requests to accept money for his services. This was in sharp contrast to my previous beach trek experiences where people actually tried to charge us more for the boat service. We had to enter the Koderi village and cover some distance (around half a km) on road before joining the sea again. Though some villagers told us that it would just take an hour to reach the Maravanthe beach from here, one of them who had observed our pace on the beach earlier, clearly told us that we would take at least 2.5 hours to reach Maravanthe.

Next it was quite uneventful long walk, sometimes on the beach and sometimes on the village road running parallel to beach. Walking on hard village roads under the shades of coconut trees is much preferred than walking on loose beach sand. We reached a village called Navunda at 12.30PM. From Navunda it is around 1.5km to Maravanthe and from there it is around 9km (on road) to Kundapura. Attempting Kundapura was out of question given that it was already past midday. Navunda village was just 200m from NH17 and we were tempted to call it quits at Navunda. We must have covered approximately a distance of 12km on beach from Baidoor to Navunda. While others settled down in the comforts of a hotel waiting for their overnight bus to Bangalore, I boarded a bus to Sirsi to start the next leg of my long vacation.

Bharata B Rao- bharata{dot}rao{at}gmail{dot}c0m

My previous beach treks:
Ankola to Gokarna
Gokarna to Honnavar
Honnavar to Bhatkal


Beach trek: Honnavar to Bhatkal

January 28, 2007

It was second weekend of January and we were ready to continue our trek along the coastline of Karnataka. After having the done the Ankola-Gokarna-Honnavar stretch, this time the plan was to continue from Honnavar and reach Bhatkal via Murudeshwar. Not much planning and preparations were needed for this trek as we had decided for a night halt at Murudeshwar, which is a popular tourist center.

The group started with Naren and me, but quickly we were joined by Veena, Ananth, Prasanna and Kulki. Going out of Bangalore on long weekends is turning out to be real tough these days with all kinds of transportation running full. Fortunately we could reserve our return tickets from Bhatkal, thanks to Naren’s contacts in Bhatkal.
Our bus started 1 hour late due to heavy traffic around Majestic. Accordingly we reached Honnavar an hour late at 8.45AM. Honnavar surroundings had become familiar to us, thanks to our last beach trek. Without wasting much time, we quickly checked into Hotel Sanman to finish our morning ablutions. The breakfast at Kamat Hotel was followed by sweet tender coconut. We even packed lunch from Kamat.
At the start, Kasargod beach(L2R: Veena,Bharata,Naren,Prasanna,Kulki,Ananth)
Trek start
We had ended our last trek at a village called Karki near Honnavar. River Sharavati joins the Arabian sea after Karki village. Hence we wanted to start at a point after this river mouth. Autos were hired to reach a village/beach called Kasarkod, which is right after the long bridge across Sharavati. It was 11AM by the time we touched the Kasarkod beach. We were expecting mild temperatures in January, but that was not to be, the thermometer was already showing 30. We could see an island to the right which we had used as landmark to reach Karki last time. Now we had to walk towards left away from that island.

The initial stretch from Kasarkod to Apsarakonda(As seen from Apsarakonda)
Initial trail

The initial trail is a 5km continuous beach stretch which ends in a hill near Apasarakonda village. We covered this uneventful stretch in about an hour. A fisherman advised us not to cross the hill from the rocky beach end, but rather climb up the hill. We took his word and did try to follow the trail, but had to retreat as we could no longer trace the trail after sometime. Returning back to the beach, we decided to take the rocky path to cross the hill. Though walking on rocks right adjacent to the sea was fun, the end was never in sight. We walked almost an hour and a half on the rocks. Rocks were literally thorny at many places. At many places, crossing the sharp edged rocks needed lots of attention.

Rocky path
Rocky path

At around 1.45PM, there was some respite from the rocks when we entered a tiny (around 10m long) beach stretch. We needed this to literally cool off our heels.
Another view of rocks
Rocks2
Crossing the next rocky stretch turned out to be a bit tricky. When it appeared that we can’t cross this without taking some amount of risk, we abandoned the idea and tried to cross over the hill by climbing it. But when we quickly realized that climbing is not feasible, we turned back and reached the tiny beach stretch again. We had two options, either to retrace our steps back until Apsarakonda and enter the village there or try to climb up through the thick vegetation. We choose the latter and Naren led us from the front by clearingall the vegetation and making a path for us to follow. Though it started well, he could do that for around 30min before he got exhausted and I took over. The vegetation was very dense and it was getting difficult to force our way up thro’ such dense bushes. I could manage for another 5min and we were still halfway from the top of the hill. It was 2PM in the afternoon and with sun beating down hard, Naren and I lost all of our energies and had to resort to glucose supplement. That’s when Naren and I decided to head downwards. Though others following us wanted to try a bit more, we were absolutely in no condition to do any further climb.

We failed to get past this hill
last hill

We took half an hour to descend and reach the tiny beach stretch. What was a tiny beach stretch 2 hours back wasn’t there anymore as tide had changed and the sea had encroached further till the rocks. Without an inch of shade anywhere, some of us had to finish the packed lunch in the open sun. At around 3PM we started back and reached the Apsarakonda beach by 4PM and spent around 30min in the beach. Though the current was strong, we had some nice relaxing time. We needed this after such a tiresome day at work. There is a freshwater source at Apasarakonda. By walking beside it, we reached a temple affiliated to Shringeri Sharada Mutt. There is ample space in the temple for night stay and food is also available on request here. But since they didn’t have bedding arrangements with them and neither we were carrying any; we couldn’t make use of this excellent opportunity to spend the night in that serene atmosphere.

Fields and Sea beyond as seen from Apsarakonda
Fields and sea

We did a kilometer of walk thro’ the lanes of Apsarakonda village before reaching NH17 at 6.30PM and boarded a tempo to Murudeshwar. If we had followed the trail which goes over the hills as mentioned by the fisherman at Apsarakonda beach, we should have ended up in Manki village which is around 4km from Apsarakonda village by road. One should ideally start this beach trek from Manki and not at Honnavar/Kasarkod. From Manki it is around 12km to Murudeshwar, and from what we heard from villagers, is free of any major rocky stretches. So ideally one should start from Manki in this stretch instead of Kasarkod like what we did. It was 7PM when we reached Murudeshwar.

Shiva at Murudeshwara
Shiva at murudeshwara

Most hotel rooms in Murudeshwar are exorbitantly expensive and we found one hotel charging as much as Rs 1200/- for a double room! We finally managed to find a decent looking midrange hotel. Most of us didn’t have energy to go through the routine of wash and bath; dinner was foremost in our minds. After a quick visit to the Shiva statue we settled for the night in Murudeshwar.

Next day started early with breakfast and a visit to the temple. There is an ancient Shiva temple here. We started the 2nd day’s trek at around 9AM. The route from Murudeshwar to Bhatkal is a continuous beach stretch of around 12km. At around 2km from Murudeshwar is Kaikini village and at around 4km is the Bengre village. At 11AM we reached Alavekodi village which is around 8km from Murudeshwar. At Alavekodi, we left the beach and entered the village. We entered a house to replenish our water sources. The curious inmates of the house were more than willing to be our hosts. We had entered the village to visit the Durgaparameshwari temple. The temple is big and beautiful. The temple is on the banks of Venkatappa river where the river joins the sea. We had to use the boat service to reach the other side and join the beach again. From here we walked for around an hour to reach Herthar village where we decided to end the trek. We had to walk around half a km before boarding an Auto to Bhatkal. We had reached Bhatkal at 1.30PM.

Walking past Kerekund (Kakekunda as per locals)
Kerekund
At Bhatkal we had lunch in Vaibhav hotel which is probably the only decent vegetarian hotel there. We hired a room in Vaibhav lodge to spend the evening. While Kulki and Prasanna returned back to Honnavar from where they had return tickets to Bangalore, rest of us decided to check out the Bhatkal lighthouse. We had to hire an Auto to reach the lighthouse. We could spot police vans stationed at many junctions on the way to lighthouse. We had reached Bhatkal on a day after the local protests against a suspected terrorist arrest. Fortunately the city remained peaceful until we were there.
The lighthouse is situated on an elevated hill. There is a small temple adjacent to the lighthouse. A good view of the sea and surrounding areas can be obtained from the top of the lighthouse. We could see the Hog island here. The next stretch of beach towards Kundapur is also visible clearly and we even started making plans about how to approach our next beach trek. We witnessed the sunset from near the lighthouse. After an unexpected dinner at Naren’s friend’s house in Bhatkal, we boarded the night bus back to Bangalore.

Sunset as seen from Bhatkal lighthouse
Sunset

My Previous beach treks:

Ankola to Gokarna
Gokarna to Honnavar


Trekking in Charmadi: Amedikal

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

View1

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

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

An other view

view3

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

Making our way through the forest growth
Making our way up

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

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

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

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

Early morning view
Early morning view

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

clouds

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

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

Surrounding mountains

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

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

To those who want to do this trek:

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


Beach trek: Gokarna to Honnavar

February 19, 2006

Sharada, my colleague had been planning for a beach trek some time now. I felt that a trek along the Arabian Sea coast would be a nice way to start the year. Both of us have done the stretch from Ankola to Gokarna. This time we have decided to do the next stretch from Gokarna to Honnavar. The Gokarna to Honnavar stretch is longer than the Ankola to Gokarna stretch. Both Gokarna and Honnavar belong to Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. This time we are six of us; I and my wife Veena, Sharada and her husband Saro, Ananth and Venu. While Sharada felt that she might not be in top form for the trek, Ananth had confidently agreed to be part of the trek after a 2 year gap.

On a January’s Friday night, we board the 9PM Rajahamsa bus from Bangalore to Gokarna. Winter had entered its final few days and we were hoping that the sun in the beach would be bearable. Gokarna is 472km from Bangalore. The bus travels well over 10hours to reach Gokarna at 8.45AM. We pass Honnavar along the way, where we hope to reach on Sunday evening by trekking on the beach. As per the milestones, it looks like the distance between Honnavar and Gokarna is on road is at least 40km. We wonder if we would be able to cover such a distance in 2 days.

I had thought that the touts (read priests) would approach us only at Gokarna temple. But here they are, in the bus stand, inviting tourists to their lodges! We have already booked a room for our brief stay in Gokarna. Many (mainly priest) families in Gokarna have converted their houses into lodges to accommodate the pilgrims. We check into our room and quickly finish our morning ablutions. A few of us get a quick wash also. By 9.30AM we are out of the lodge with our backpacks.

At the start: Venu, Veena, Sharada, Ananth, Saro
Starting of the trek

We could hardly resist the temptation of the ultra-size tender coconuts on the way. After breakfast in the Pai Hotel, we proceed towards the Gokarna beach. Meanwhile a tout directs us to the Kudle beach. From Gokarna, we wade our way through a hilly terrain to reach the Kudle beach. There are many resorts in and around Kudle beach mainly catering to the foreign tourists. In fact, in this beach and in all beaches of Gokarna, we can see mostly foreigners. Gokarna is a sacred place no doubt, but I didn’t observe anything special spiritually (like Yoga Ashrams) which generally attract foreigners. Of course beaches are an attraction. There is a hearsay that outsiders come to Gokarna mainly due to ease of availability of drugs. In fact, I was inquired by a passerby if we are interested in purchasing ganja from him.

Kudle Beach
Kudle beach

We reach Kudle beach at 11AM. It is burning hot and and we start sweating. If feels as if we have expended good part of our energy already and we are still at the beginning. We cool ourselves by gulping down the lemon juice. Kudle beach is limited by hills on either side. While it looks a bit difficult to follow the sea after the Kudle beach, we nevertheless want to attempt it. But a foreigner (who says who has been living here for sometime) discourages us. While he wants us to back off and climb over the hill to reach the next beach, we insist on checking out the rocky beach path. When he starts to get upset, we give up, return back and take the hilly route. While crossing the hill, we see a foreign woman heading somewhere. But on seeing us, she follows us for some distance. After checking where we are heading to, she returns. Already prejudiced, we almost conclude that the foreigner has actually sent us over the hill on purpose. We reach Om beach by 11.30AM.

Om beach
Om beach

Om beach gets its name from its OM shape. The OM shape of the beach is best visible from the adjoining hills. Again we had to leave the beach and tread over a hill to get past the Om beach. While Venu tried to take the rocky path adjacent to the sea, he eventually had to retreat and join us. The rocks can be dangerous to negotiate without proper gear. Walking on the barren hills can be tough compared to walking on the sea, where there is at least a cooling effect on the feet.

Halfmoon beach
Halfmoon beach

At around 12.15PM we walk down a hill and meet the sea again. This is Halfmoon beach. It is a very short beach and we can see a few foreigners here. The next beach we encounter is the Paradise beach. This is also short but beautiful. This is the last beach on our way which is inhabited by foreigners, the vendors and the resorts. After this we shall be on our own, of course we shall have fishermen for company.

Paradise beach
Paradise beach

This area around Gokarna is quite hilly and it is not possible to always walk alongside the beach. We have to cross many hills in between. At around 1.30PM we reach a place which has some vegetation and it looks like a cultivated area. When we see a fresh water source and a few villagers having their lunch, we also decide to break in this shady area for lunch. Post lunch we walk for around 15min to reach a village called Belikan. It is around this village where the Aganashini river meets the Arabian sea. When we come to this point, the beach stretch is intercepted by the river and we can see the beach continuing at a distance. Ideally we should have accepted the offer of a fisherman to ferry us to the next beach. Instead, we make the mistake of walking along the river bank.

Sharada and Veena on the banks of Aganashini river
Aganashini banks

We cover quite a distance to reach the next village which is big and looks like the hub of fishing activity. We had to wait for sometime to get a boat for river crossing. And we are still nowhere near the beach. A villager whom we met on the boat is returning from Gokarna and is headed to the next beach. We decide to follow him.

Most of times during our treks, I have seen that villagers don’t quite see and appreciate our effort in treading the difficult and not-so-common routes. So there is always some confusion when we inquire about the directions. While they think in terms of easiest way to reach the destination (which typically would be taking a local bus or boat or human inhabited paths) while we always look for routes amidst hills and forests. There can be miscommunication sometimes and this time it cost us a few more hours in the midday sun. We should have accepted the fisherman’s boat ride offer at Belikan.

The kind villager whom we are following happens to own a small resort in a secluded beach called Barka beach. He caters to the foreigners who look beyond the crowded beaches of Gokarna. Most of us are very tired by now and it takes a good effort to negotiate a hill and a large rocky terrain. We hit the beach at 3.30PM. Temperature is in upper 30s and the heat is unbearable. While the villager moves ahead, we decide to take a short break. There is no shade around but we are too tired. After another 45min of walk, mostly on rocks, we finally reach the Barka beach.

Barka beach
Barka beach

Barka beach is very short, may be just 50m in length. It is sandwiched by hills on either side. There is only one resort here run by our villager. We are dead tired when we reach here and the lime soda from the resort comes as a great respite. After filling our bottles with the naturally available drinking water here, we start climbing the hill on the other side of the Barka beach. It is a very steep initial climb. A resident of the resort accompanies us for some distance to show us the way. Most of the hills we have crossed are kind of tiny ones, but this one looks huge in comparison. We reach the top and continue walking along the grassy path. A fort shows up at a distance. We have to reach the fort and get down the hill to join the sea again. The other side of the hill is visible from the fort. The vastness of the coastline is amazing. There is coastline as far as we could see. We are somewhat relieved that we would not be crossing any hills for next considerable stretch of the beach.

The long beach stretch
Long beach stretch

On the fort side of the hill, there is no definite trail and we have make our own way down. The soil is loose and the terrain is slippery. And moreover we are not equipped to walk on this terrain; we are wearing beach slippers. After half an hour’s grueling climb downwards with a few minor slips, we rejoin the beach. It is 5.30PM in the evening and we decide to cover as much distance on the beach as possible before sunset. At around 6PM, we approach a place which looks like an ideal camping ground. There are some fishermen’s houses around; we decide to camp here for the night. This place is called Sangam beach.

Sangam beach
Sunset at sangam beach

After deciding our camping location, some of us relax our tired bodies by jumping into the sea. While we are at it, the sun goes down and we get a clear picture of the sunset. We pitch up the 2 men tent and lay the mats around it and light the candles. When we start our candle light dinner, a villager, attracted by our candles comes across to investigate. After assuring us of our safety in his village, he disappears. While Veena and Sharada enter the tent, rest of us lie down on the mats and wrap ourselves with bedsheets. I sleep soundly till 12 in the night, when I wake up due to numbing feeling in my hands. Now in addition to our bedsheets, Ananth and Saro had thoughtfully pulled over a plastic sheet over us. Next I am woken up only by the alarm ringing at 5AM. Surprisingly there has been no dew through the night.

The village is still asleep; we approach a well to replenish our water sources. Fortunately villagers have left a tumbler outside which we use to draw water from the well. At around 6AM, we get going on our 2nd day’s trek. The continuous beach stretch ahead of us is around 7-8km and we cross Gude Angadi, Holanagadde and Kadle beaches on the way. We spot a tiny tortoise, probably making its first attempt towards the sea and a star fish. At around 7.30AM, we have reached the other end of the continuous beach stretch. Next we have to cross a hill. We finish our breakfast on this hill. On the other side of the hill is a beautiful semicircular beach which could serve as an ideal camping place.

The semicircular beach
The semicircular beach

After crossing this beach, we get past another hill and reach Honnali village. This is fairly big Muslim village. It looks like the entire village has lined up on the road adjacent to the beach to have a look at us. We feel like being part of some procession. When we ask for directions from a villager, he clearly mentions that we get a stretch of backwaters ahead of this village where there will be no boat service. His advice for us is to take a bus at Honnali to Kumta and from there enter the village again. But we are not keen on entering Kumta now and decide to take a chance. To cross Honnali on the beach, we have to cross another hill, which is quite rocky. We reach the top of this hill at around 9.30AM. There are two dilapidated structures here which look like abandoned houses or watch towers. After spending some photographic moments here, we move downhill and join the sea, this time a stretch of backwaters.

A view of Sea
A view of sea

We meet another villager who advises us to enter the village and from there to Kumta as it is not possible to cross the backwaters. Though we can see some boats lined up on the other side, nobody is ready to ferry us. After our continuous waving, a small boat approaches. This boat is too small even for 2 people, informs the fisherman. For some reason, the fishermen are reluctant to untie their boats and help us cross this tiny stretch of backwaters, even though it means earning some easy money. While we almost decide to enter Kumta without other options, a fisherman from the other side offers to ferry us for Rs 200/- We gladly accept. It is 10.15AM when we reach the other side.

The sea gulls and Dhareshwar hills in the background
Dhareshwar

On the other side of the backwaters is a straight stretch of beach of around 4-5km, which ends in the hills of Dhareshwar. After half an hour’s walk we reach a beach which looks ideal for a dip. We spend around 30min relaxing in the sea. On this stretch of the beach we encounter a herd of seagulls numbering thousands. After an hour’s non stop walk, we reach Dhareshwar, by which time we are very tired as the sun is directly on us. It is believed that the Ravana’s efforts in disengaging the Shiva’s Atmalinga dropped by Lord Ganesha at Gokarna led to some coverings of the Linga to drop off to nearby places. One such place is Dhareshwar, which now has a Shiva temple. We enter Dhareshwar village and replenish our water sources. Ananth and Venu decide that it is enough of trekking for them. They would continue rest of the distance till Honnavar on road. We transfer most of our luggage to Ananth and Venu and move ahead on the beach.

Ramanagindi beach
Ramanagindi beach

From Dhareshwar, we cross another village before joining the sea. At around 1.30PM, we reach the Ramanagindi beach, where we enter a house to finish our lunch. The inmates of the house kindly offer us refreshingly cold drinking water. Sharada offers the remaining food to the cows, thus we finish all our food stock for the trek. We are on beach again at 2PM. Next we cross yet another hill. Now we have reached a continuous 5-6km stretch of beach which would terminate in a village called Karki. Near this village there is a small island which is visible from a far off distance.

Island near Karki village
Island near karki

It takes us 1hour 30min to cover this beach stretch. We cross Tarebagilu beach just before reaching Karki. It is around 3.45PM when we reach near the island and from here we have to leave the sea and enter the land to reach the Karki village. We walk at least 2km in the village before touching the main road from where we get transportation to Honnavar. We reach Honnavar at 5PM and join Ananth and Venu in Hotel Sanman.


Trekking in Charmadi Ghats

December 9, 2005

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

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

Day 0

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

Day 1

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

Alekhan falls

Alekhan falls

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

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

charmadi2

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

charmadi3

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

At kodekallu peak

At kodekallu peak

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

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

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

Day 2

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

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

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

charmadi6

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

Kallarabhi falls

Kallarabhi falls

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

 


Beach Trek: Ankola to Gokarna

November 27, 2005

It was end of September and the rain had shown temporary respite in Karnataka. We were getting ready for our first trek of the season. Our first choice was Narashimha Parvata near Agumbe, but Raghavendra Pai (the local contact) advises against it as Agumbe forests have become official naxal area now. Naxals might leave us alone, but Police are sure to trouble us, informs Mr. Pai. I had been thinking of doing a beach trek for a long time. Though there was a fear of rain, we agreed on doing this beach trek from Ankola to Gokarna. Ankola and Gokarna are two coastal towns in Uttara kannada district of Karnataka. This trek involves walking along the coastline of Arabian sea crossing many hillocks and fishing villages on the way. My colleague Sharada had done this trek from whom I get all the necessary details.

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After last minute dropouts, nine of us were ready for the trek. The group has many first timers, but this easy trek is an ideal beginners trek. Not much climbing is involved but it is a long walk on the sea shore in humid conditions. Nithin has convinced his wife Shantala to join the trek. Ashwin and his wife Aparna have joined enthusiastically along with their cousin Chinmayee. Nithin has invited 3 of his colleagues Sandeep, Pujar and Raghavendra also. We board the Sugama bus to Ankola. Nithin and Shantala barely manage to board the bus after spending almost 2.5 hours in Friday evening traffic.

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The bus reaches Ankola at 7AM on Saturday. Rain had just stopped here after pouring continuously for last 9 days. Most of us complete the morning ablutions in the KSRTC bus stand toilet; while our ladies group conveniently finds a church for this purpose. Church people welcomed us with excitement, but were a bit disappointed after knowing that we had just come to use their toilet facilities.

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The actual trek starts from a coastal village called Belikeri which is about 30min bus travel from Ankola. We are finally ready to hit the trail; I mean the sand, at 10.30AM. The humidity and heat of the sea level is a bit too much for us – the people who live at 900m hill station of Bangalore. There is an excitement as we come in contact with the sea for the first time. We will be with this sea for the next two days. The sea in this region appears very calm. Waves are hardly to be seen and water is not that clear, mainly due to the port activities in Belikeri. Its 11.45AM when we reach the first fishing village called Deshina Halli. It is a small village with a few thatched huts amidst coconut trees. Many manual boats have been lined up on the coast. We need to cross a small green hill next as the coast line is not accessible. It is too dangerous to follow the sea along the actual coast line here.

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We quickly join the sea after a short stint on the hills. Next important village is Gabth Halli. Here a river stream called Gabth Keeni joins the sea. Usually this will be knee deep, but today it is flowing full due to rains. We had to book a boat to cross this small stretch of fresh water. At around 1.45PM we reach another village Shedikuli, where we break for lunch in the shade of coconut gardens. Fresh water for drinking is obtained from the village. Chapattis are quickly consumed with MTR side dish.

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At 3.45PM we are on the banks of the stream Nadibagh which has to crossed. The actual point of river joining the sea is just about 25m, but appears too deep to cross there; moreover there is strong current also. We find a circuitous route of more than 100m where the water is at maximum waist deep. After observing our inexperience in crossing the river, a villager shows us the way through the water. We cross many tiny fishing villages and reach the regions biggest

village called Belambar at 4PM. Our plan was to reach the next village called Manjugoni on the same day, which involves going past a huge hill. We get different views about the time required to cross the hill. While one villager says it takes just about an hour, another manages to convince us that it will take at least 3 hours. We decide to camp in Belambar for the night. There was a Government School amidst beautiful green surroundings which looks like an ideal place to spend the night. After our failed attempt to get the school doors opened, we decide to use the school verandah as camping ground.

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An hour is spent in the sea and we take turns to clean ourselves in a tiny fresh water stream. It has become dark and its dinner time. We start the dinner with a hot vegetable soup and its again Chapattis and MTR side dish for the main course. Though we aren’t equipped for the campfire, Nithin lights up the night with his sweet songs. Others also chip in. Sometime in the midnight it pours, but we are protected by the school roof. Everybody gets a sound sleep except Raghavendra, who is woken up frequently by cats and bats.

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We get up at 5AM on Sunday and take more than an hour to get everybody going. We take around 2 hours to cross the hill through a well defined path in the hill which connects Belambar and Manjugoni. To proceed further from Manjugoni, we have to cross a big river called Gangavali. Fisher men offer their boat services to cross the river. This side of sea appears more beautiful and rough and water is clearer. We break for a tea in a village house. The bore well water here invited us to enjoy a fresh water bath. From here its around an hours walk to Gokarna beach. We reach Gokarna at before afternoon.

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Gokarna is a temple town famous for the temple having Lord Shiva’s Atmalinga. This place is very sacred to Hindus. Many come here for performing death rituals of the departed ones. Today Gokarna temple has been commercialized beyond belief with priests donning the role of touts. They use all the skills in the book to attract people to get some Pooja done. Many priest-turned beggars harass the visitors. While some of decided to rest in the temple premises, others visited the Om beach. Thus we had an evening’s time to spend in Gokarna. One can continue the beach trek further down towards, Honnavar, Murdeshwar and may be all the way down till Udupi and Mangalore. May be it would at least take another 4 attempts to cover this entire distance