Packing for trek, bus travel, walking under the forest cover, crossing the tree line, passing by shola forest ranges, crossing running streams, negotiating the unending ridgeline in the grasslands under scorching Sun, the high of reaching the peak – All these motions were mostly forgotten and felt like things from the previous life as other interests kept me busy during the last five years. My last trek was to Devkara falls was way back in 2015.
Austin, with whom I have done a few Shiradi treks was camping in his Sakaleshpur Coffee estate for sometime and we thought what better way to catch up after a long time than spending time together in a Western Ghats trek. Thus it was decided to trek to Ballalarayana Durga in the Charmadi range.
Naren and I started from Bangalore in KSRTC Rajahamsa bus which dropped us at Sakaleshpura at 3 in the morning. Austin had arranged our pick up and we reached his estate house and completed our morning duties. The day’s plan was to trek to Ballayarayana Durga from Sunkasale. We were out on the road before 6AM in Austin’s cousin Denver’s car. It was close to 2hrs drive via picturesque winding roads with a stop in Kottigehara for breakfast. Nirdose, Idli and Pooris were on the menu.
We reached Sunkasale by 8AM where we met J W Lobo, Austin’s distant relative. J W Lobo has retired after serving Govt of India in ICCR, MEA and has done extensive study about the region around Ballayaranana Durga and its history. He had done complete arrangement of our trek including getting forest permission, arranging for guide and working out our itinerary. First he gave us a brief account of the history of Sunkasale through which the forgotten High Road or the “Heddari’‘ that was used more than 1000 years back to travel from Mangaluru to Chikmagaluru passes. It was in 12th AD that Veera Ballalaraya I of the Hoysala dynasty constructed a toll gate (Sunkasale) on the “Heddari”. He also built the fort on Durgadahalli Hill which came to be known as Ballalarayana Durga. (Source: Book Ballarayana Durga by J W Lobo).
Anil Gowda, an officially trained trek guide from the forest department joined us here and together we went first to visit Sri Kalabhairaveshwara temple at Balige. This temple was built by the Hoysala Raya by the side of Heddari. The temple is at an elevated serene location, and is accompanied by a tank nearby. Daily Pooja is performed at this temple, but the Garbhagruha wasn’t open when we were there, but we could take a parikrama of the temple.
At 9AM we were at 1150m when we hit the trail.
J W Lobo accompanied us till the view point from where Kadtikal Ghat and Rani Jari peak are visible. As per Mr. Lobo’s book, Kadtikal Ghat remains as historical testimony to the sufferings of thousands of Mangaluru Catholics who were captured, enslaved and taken as prisoners by Tipu. This Ghat and the Heddari remained as the main route from Coast to regions beyond Ghats until Charmadi Ghat road was formed in mid 19th century. A vertical drop point, popularly known as Tipu drop is present at this point. As per natives, this was where many people were dropped down and it got its name from the perpetrator. Mr. Lobo explained to us the history of the place and took leave while we continued towards the fort with our guide.
The initial climb is through a semi-dense forest and we were out of forest cover at 10AM (1330m). It is just a 15min climb from here to the top of the hill (1410m) through which the fort wall runs.
Our next destination was to reach one of the entrances of the fort. Thus after a 30min short walk we reached the fort entrance at 10.45AM (1330m).
After a short break here, we restarted the trek at 11AM with the aim of reaching Bandaje waterfalls. Our guide set a steady pace and all of us followed him promptly without much breaks in between. Both the shoe soles of my long unused hiking boots had given away in Bangalore itself the previous night and I had to hurriedly buy a pair of slippers from the Majestic bus stand area. Hiking in this new footwear, which was unsuitable for this terrain did give me some problems but harsh Sun was a bigger concern for all of us. There was hardly any shade and we were completely exposed to Sun. However as usual with all our treks, we were carrying enough oranges which gave us much needed energy throughout.
We were mostly walking along the border of Chikmagalur and Dakshina Kannada districts. The fireline created by the forest department to prevent the spreading of fire along the district border was prominently visible. We could also see a few hills fully burnt from forest fires on the Chikmagalur side.
At 12PM we had reached an altitude of 1300m and from here the descent started. While we did pretty well with the ascent till now, descent was pretty painful for me. We reached the top of Bandaje falls (1040m) at 12.30PM. There was a good amount of water in the falls in this season also (mid February), but the full grandeur of the falls isn’t visible from the top. A bit of adventure in reaching the edge of the rocks to have a better view could have helped. We have usually done such things in the past, but refrained from such avoidable risks this time 🙂
We had reached the falls quite early in the day and had enough time to relax and enjoy our MTR ready to eat lunch at the falls. After an hour’s break at the falls, we started back at 1.30PM and reached the base at 4PM.
J W Lobo had arranged for early dinner at Durgadalli Home Stay. Sanjay Kumar of the Guest House had prepared a good spread that started with local delicacy called Tambuli and ended with Jamun for desert. However I skipped this good dinner as I wasn’t feeling hungry at all after our MTR ready to eat lunch.
Next we visited J W Lobo’s estate house, where we had interesting discussions about various topics from history. We thanked Mr. Lobo for arranging this perfect trek, took leave of him and drove back to Austin’s place in Sakaleshpura.