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!


Western Ghats trek: Pushpagiri and Kumaraparvata

December 14, 2006

I prepared this write up 2 years back when we trekked to Pushpagiri and Kumaraparvata, but didn’t get around to publish this. Doing this now as I look back at this trek after 2 years.

The moment we had been waiting for had finally arrived. It was company’s year-end shutdown time and our plan for a long trek was ready. Ashok and I had a full week of adventure ahead of us. Initial plan was to trek for around 60km from Madikeri to Kukke Subramanya through the pristine forests of Western Ghats. We reached Madikeri on a Friday morning only to find out that our local guide was missing in action. And the advice we got was not to attempt the forest trek all by ourselves. For once we heeded to the advice and quickly formulated an alternative plan. We were to attempt a trek from Somavarpet to Subramanya covering Pushpagiri (altitude 1712m), Sheshaparvata (1538m) and Kumaraparvata (KP) (1399m). The advantage of trekking in a short group of 2 was already evident; within no time, the decision was taken. We were all set with our standard backpack; a change over set of clothes, sleeping bags, chapattis to last for 3 days and some fruits.

After a filling breakfast at a family friend’s place in Madikeri, we boarded a bus to Somavarpet at 9AM. It took almost 2.5 hours to reach Somavarpet. The otherwise uninteresting bus travel was made a bit eventful by a foreign-traveled, village-settled estate owner. While he wanted to show off his English familiarity, I was in no mood to use English in this Kannada land.

View of Pushpagiri from Bidalli
Pushpagiri from bidalli

The actual trek to Pushpagiri starts from a village called Bidalli at 20km from Somavarpet. Buses go towards Bidalli only 3 times a day(7.30AM, 2.30PM, 5.30PM – this might have changed now). Since it was already past midday, we spent Rs 175/- on auto rickshaw to traverse this distance. The money paid was worth as we got some interesting facts and stories about the place from the driver. Most interesting of them was a caution about not to attempt a peak called Chikkabetta in the Pushpagiri range as this peak is cursed and villagers don’t go there. We weren’t worried as it was unlikely that we would end up on this peak given that there is not trial to this peak.

Near Heggademane
Near heggademane

The route from Bidalli to Pushpagiri takes us through these well known landmarks: Heggademane (Heggade’s house), Shanta Mallikarjuna temple of Kumarahalli and a forest check post. A signboard at Bidalli mentions the distance to Pushpagiri peak as 8km. On the way to Heggademane, we had to cross a river on a narrow bridge (a bigger motorable bridge is being build beside this – this might have completed now). On the other side of this bridge, there is a jeep track up to Kumarahalli temple. Heggademane is a small cluster of houses, where one can break for lunch. Food is served on request here. Temple is situated in a scenic place, with a huge Banyan tree on its side and a big shed in front, which can be a convenient place for night stay. Water is available here.

We spent a few minutes in the temple before proceeding further. Already delayed by half a day, we were apprehensive about starting the trek in the afternoon. The locals and pilgrims with all their good intentions, warn and caution people about the animals, mostly elephants in these forest ranges. With every word of caution, our enthusiasm was turning into a bit of fear. We have found this attitude almost everywhere; locals normally try to dissuade trekkers from taking on the trail. But the final words of encouragement from temple priest led us forward with full vigor and enthusiasm.

We finished lunch alongside a small stream near the temple. Chapattis were consumed with jam and chatnipudi. Another 20min of walk took us to a forest check post, where we paid a nominal entrance fee and camera fee. On chatting with the forest guard, we got to know that trail is in good condition and there are no chances of getting lost. And another group of 6 people had started just 15min before us. Regarding spotting any elephants or other animals, it is unlikely, we were told. Regarding spotting naxalites or rather being spotted by them, forest guards categorically declared that this part of Western Ghats is free from naxal activities. We were relieved.

We left behind the other team of 6 after brief introduction. They had stopped for lunch. From here the real forest of Pushpagiri range begins. The forest is pretty dense and with our limited exposure to forests, we concluded that this is next only to forests of Agumbe – Narasimhaparvata trail with regards to density of trees. The trees were huge and canopy was thick, there was a good under growth also, owing to good seasonal monsoon this time. Surprisingly forest guards had cleared the trail recently. At about 3/4th of distance, we were to encounter a rocky terrain and we were instructed by guards to take left deviation. The right deviation would lead to Kumaraparvata bypassing the Pushpagiri peak.

It was already 3.30PM and we were still in the beginning phase. To avoid getting caught in darkness, we increased our pace and reduced the stops. Nothing was visible all round except for trees. Chirping birds were every now and then disturbing the silence of the forest. According to the forest guards, the peak is a 2 hours walk, but after walking for 2 hours, there was no sign of any peak nearby.

We arrived at the steep rocky path mentioned by guards where we had to take left deviation. Until here the path is fully through forests and relatively easy. From here the steep rocky terrain starts. During this season, the last water hole is before this deviation. We would later find out that next availability of water was only at Kumaraparvata. Some clear proof of elephant activity was found from here onwards with small bushes being trampled, huge bamboo shoots being broken, stump remains of smaller trees and lumps of elephant excreta. It is hard to imagine that elephants with their huge bodies are able to maneuver this steep rocky terrain. Elephant traces could even be found in some of the viewpoints overlooking deep valleys.

A valley view
Valley view

The other group also had caught up with us by now. So together we moved up and up, seemingly from one peak to another. There was no time for disappointment as reaching Pushpagiri peak before sunset was foremost on our minds. The final part of the climb consists mainly of rocks interspersed with patches of loose forests. At 5.45PM we were on Pushpagiri peak. At the peak there is a cluster of stone-built small temples within a compound wall.

As expected the view all round the peak was spectacular, there were green mountain ranges as far as the eyes could see. We didn’t have much time to enjoy the view as we had to find a suitable place for the night and collect some firewood. Fortunately we found enough wood nearby. There was a flat rock surface just beside the temple where we could spend the night. The camping activity was evident in this place and it looked like the obvious place to spend the night. We watched the sunset in the backdrop of the huge rock face of Sheshaparvata.

Early morning view
Early morning view

With the sunset came the chill winds forcing us to light campfire and start preparing for dinner. The other group invited us to be their guests for dinner. They seemed to be carrying the entire kitchen with every conceivable kitchen item with them. Their group even had a designated chef, who guided the whole process of cooking. Rice was cooked within no time. It didn’t matter that it was half-cooked for want of enough water. Rasam was also prepared. We had soup for the starters. This was definitely an unexpected grand dinner for us. It was a great dinner in the moonlight on a full moon day.

We quickly settled around the campfire. I was forced to start the Kannada antakshari, after which Byatraj from the other group took over. This group was different from what we find usually on treks. It consisted of a radar engineer, a scientist and couple of boys from a village nearby Bangalore. Wide range of topics were discussed from radar technology to the extinction of dogs in villages because of wolves.

We settled down to sleep at around 9PM. Ashok and myself had sleeping bags while others had plastic cover underneath and shared bed sheets over them. The night was bright with moonlight but chillingly cold. Nothing mattered to our tired bodies as we got a decent sleep. We were woken up a couple of times by angry burst of expletives by the members of the other group trying to hold on to their precious resource, the bed sheet.

We got out of our wet sleeping bags by 5.45AM. Thermometer was measuring 9C. All of us rushed towards the eastern edge of the peak. lest we should miss the sunrise. Camera was set on tripod and we eagerly waited for the sun to appear. The lower mountain ranges in front of us were completely covered by thick clouds giving an appearance of an ocean.

Clouds

It was getting brighter and sun was still covered by clouds. When we were about to return disappointed, sun finally came above the clouds. The sunrise changed the color of clouds from brick red to golden yellow.

Sun rise
sunrise

Now we rushed to the opposite side of Pushpagiri to check how Sheshaparvata looks. And it did look spectacular like a mountain on fire.

Sheshaparvata
Sheshaparvata

It was time to pack up and leave. Breakfast was not on the agenda as we had no water left from our previous night’s grand dinner. Next destination is Sheshaparvata. The route involves a steep descent on rocks and an ascent through a dense valley.

We spent almost an hour on Sheshaparvata peak basking in early morning sunlight. Both Pushpagiri and Kumaraparvata are visible from here. The view of clouds flowing out of Pushpagiri peak gave us an out of the world feeling; there certainly cannot be a more enjoyable and peaceful heaven than this. It was a bit of nostalgia for me and Ashok since Kumaraparvata was our first trek almost 5 years back (now 7 years). While the other group was involved in taking photographs, Ashok and I spent some silent memorable minutes on the rocks. Everything comes to standstill in this place. You can spend hours here listening to the music of winds.

Clouds flowing past Pushpagiri
Clouds covering pushpagiri

Kukke town is also visible from Sheshaparvata. From here it is an hour’s walk to Kumaraparvata. After a small descent from Kumaraparvata, we reach the famous ‘stone mantapa’. It is a small stone platform just enough to accommodate 4 people to sleep. This place has been serving as camping ground for trekkers visiting Kumaraparvata for years now.

Kumaraparvata peak
Kumaraparvata

Kumaraparvata forest range is known as Bisle forest range. This forest is King cobra’s habitat. A couple of meters down is the first available water hole. Here water flows as a tiny stream. We spent almost and hour and a half here and completed our breakfast. Everybody reduced their backpack loads by consuming as many MTR ready-to-eat packets as possible. Breakfast was accompanied by a tasty tea prepared with all the leisure in the world. It then took some effort to get started again after such a heavy breakfast.

From here the trail goes towards the Bhattaramane amidst a place called Girigadde. The route is mainly in the grasslands spread over the hills. Negotiating this part of the trail can be pretty tough when the sun is directly beating down on us and with no water source till Bhattaramane. This entire stretch seemed to come under the rain shadow region and nothing seems to grow here except grass. By this time we were meeting many groups who had come from Kukke and trying to reach Kumaraparvata. After a quick stop at Bhattaramane, we started our descent again. The forest check post near Bhattaramane has been renovated and now they collect entry fees from the trekkers. The route from Kukke to Kumaraparvata has become very popular and it was surprising to see hundreds of people of all ages groups attempting Kumaraparvata from this route. Needless to say that most of them halt and return from Bhattaramane. Rest of the trail till Kukke is through forests, and is a welcome respite from the beating sun. But after so much of trekking, it can be quite an effort on the tired knees. We were dead tired when we reached the end of the trail at 12.15PM. It is about half an hour’s walk from here to the Kukke town, where the famous Subramanya temple is situated.

view
We had reached Subramanya on a special day. That was the last day the temple would be open before it gets closed for renovation. There were some grand celebrations arranged for this occasion. We booked a lodge and straight away headed to Kumaradhara river for a bath. After a leisurely darshan in the temple, we finished the day with a sumptuous temple differ. At the end of two days, Ashok and I were in no mood to return home just yet. Another trek plan was taking shape in our minds. We were to attempt a railway track trek from Subramanya to Siribagilu. This involves walking on the abandoned (was abandoned 2 years back, now is close to being operational after gauge conversion) Mangalore – Bangalore railway track, which runs through dense forests in this region.

Next day started early for us at 5AM. We bid goodbye to our friends, who were mostly asleep. After a nice breakfast in Subramanya we boarded a jeep towards Gundya at 6.30AM. Gundya is a village on Bangalore – Mangalore national highway and is about 20km from Subramanya. At 13th km on Subramanya – Gundya road, the Mangalore – Hassan – Bangalore railway line crosses over the road. This is where our railway trek starts.

It is more common to do this trek from the other side: Hassan – Sakaleshpur – Yedakumeri – Siribagilu – Subramanya as that side has more tunnels (longest one of around half a km) and long bridges. From Subramanya till Siribagilu, there are 11 tunnels (longest is around 200m) and a few bridges. Walking on these tracks is a nice way of experiencing forest trek, but on a relatively easier trail. Tunnels will be pitch dark and bridges can be scary for acrophobic people.

Especially during rains, tunnels are likely to be waterlogged and bat droppings could make matters worse. And bridges can be very slippery and in fact dangerous also. We took 3 hours to cover this distance. Though villagers warned us that elephants have been spotted in the area that day, we were not lucky enough to meet them.

The railway track
Railway track

From Siribagilu, there is a jeep track through forests connecting the Subramanya – Gundya road, this time at 5km short of Gundya. This was the best part of our trek for the past 3 days. The forests were absolutely silent except for the noise generated by our walking on dry leaves. Elephant activity was evident through out the track. Elephant dung was still very fresh, not beyond a day’s old. Now we suddenly became conscious of animals around us. We envisioned meeting an elephant herd and thought what just two of us could do in such a situation. We just started moving ahead now being more sensitive to the surroundings. Now we were even noticing how a single dry leaf negotiating its way down through the thick growth could make a considerable amount of noise. No amount of words can substitute the actual experience here. There was no evidence of this jeep track being used by humans or vehicles lately. The track cuts right across a stream.

Insidea tunnel
Inside the tunnel

Crossing the stream wasn’t difficult as the water level was very low. It took us an hour and a half to reach the Subramanya – Gundya road. From here it was a hard walk of 5km on road to Gundya from where we caught a bus to Hassan and from there to Bangalore.

– With inputs from Ashok S.


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.


Trekking in the land of elephants

August 21, 2006

The Independence day weekend was approaching and we had multiple plans for the long weekend. But none of them worked out since monsoon was active in most of the Western Ghats. While Naren, Ashwath and I were getting ready to drench in the rains of Kemmannugundi, we came across this announcement from the Youth Hostel Association of India(YHAI). They were organizing a 2 day trek to Soligeri, a small village amidst the Kaveri valley.Along with us, Seema and Chinmay also registered for the trek.

This part of the Kaveri valley had been sealed off for normal public since many years due to the activities of forest brigand Veerappan. It is only recently that a few routes here have been opened. But since this place falls in the prime forest lands of Cauvery Wildlife Division, Kanakapura, a trek to this place involves some logistics issues. It is not advisable to venture into these forests without getting prior permission from the forest office. This was one of the motivating factors for us to join this YHAI conducted trek.

Shashidhar from YHAI, Bangalore was leading the trek. After completing the formalities of filling up the application form for the trek, we got started in a tempo traveler(TT) by around 9AM. Our group had 15 participants. The first break was at Kanakapura where our breakfast was arranged by a few members of Youth Hostel and Rotary Club. After Kanakapura we continued on NH209, crossed Sathanur and reached a village called Honnaganahalli where we took a left turn. From here it was around 2-3km on the village road before we reached the Harihara village(720m). This is where we picked up two villagers as our guides. After a mini break for jaggery-sweetened tea at the village, we started again for the last leg of our journey. Most of us climbed on to the roof of the TT and had fun avoiding the tree branches, some of them being thorny. After 15min of this joyful ride we finally reached the starting point of the trek at around 12.30PM.

A view of distant hills
View of forests

After distributing the food stuff including the packed lunch equally among everybody, we spent around 15min in the introduction session. Shashidhar concluded the session by spelling out the rules of the trek. The trek started with crossing a tank bund. The condition was overcast and it started to drizzle just as we started. Fortunately it rained only for a few minutes and this pattern continued almost till evening. The initial trail is through the Basavana Betta State Forest. This is more of a village road than a forest trail. For the first time I saw the ‘bElada haNNu’ tree (Elephant Apple or Wood Apple) here. We could get many fruits but none of them were fully ripe.

A view of surrounding forests
A vew of surrounding forests
We stopped for lunch at 2.45PM on a rocky hill. The packed lunch consisted of 2 varieties of colored rice and it was very filling. This hill was right in middle of a dense forest and it offered good views of the surrounding mountains. From here we enter a village and walk through the fields which were ready for sowing in this rainy season. At around 4PM we reached the Soligeri village (1100m).

Soligeri is an extremely backward village consisting of around 40 families. This village became infamous during Veerappan times for supporting him and hence facing the wrath of police. This village is right in the middle of a forest where wildlife is still active. The humans here are in constant friction with the wild elephants. The fact that there were 200 families here once shows that elephants have had the upper hand till now. The main occupation of the villagers seems to be basket weaving and silkworm culture. Probably they use the naturally available bamboo for basket weaving. The houses in Soligeri are arranged on the caste lines, with people from same caste grouped together.

Fields near Soligeri village
Fields near soligeri

Our destination for the day was the forest inspection bungalow(IB) located at 1150m above Soligeri village. We were told that we couldn’t proceed further until the forest officials who had gone to IB returned to Soligeri. It was not until 30min the forest officers returned. While Shashidhar was busy with the main police officer, we got our bit of information from the lower officers. A week before, a forest department driver was shot down by poachers in this area and after that incident officials had strengthened the routine inspections. We were told that YHAI had come here without taking prior permission, which in fact was very surprising news for us. We didn’t know that such things happen with YHAI. But Shashidhar had good local contacts which probably saved the day for us. Shashidhar managed to secure the required permission and the keys for the IB where we were supposed to stay for the night. One good thing was that the main officer (who belonged to the Sathanur range) was very enthusiastic about allowing city-bred young trekkers like us to this forest area.

River Kaveri
Kaveri valley

There is a water scarcity throughout this path. Hence we filled our stomachs to the brim with the water available in Soligeri village. Since potable water wasn’t available in IB, we needed to carry our supplies from this village itself. Finally we got going at 5PM and reached the IB at 5.30PM. This is the highest point in the surrounding range and offered breathtaking views of the Kaveri river right from Shivanasamudra till Muthathi. Even one of the waterfalls at Shimsha (Gaganachukki) is visible from here. On our way to IB, we had to cross a water hole, which is frequented by elephants. This water hole is visible from IB. [Un]fortunately we couldn’t sight any elephants, though we could see fresh elephant dung all along the path from Soligeri village to IB. The place had two buildings, one the main IB and the other was a room, which is now being used as kitchen. The place had no water or electricity. We collected firewood from the forest and tried to get the fire going. Since it had rained here, the wood was damp and we spent more than an hour just the get the fire going. Once the fire was firmly there, it stayed well into the night.

Kaveri valley
Kaveri valley

The Youth Hostel members and the Rotary Club members and their friends whom we had met in Kanakapura now joined us. They had used bikes to come to IB. While the dinner was getting ready Shashidhar got us together in IB and asked everyone to speak on our pet topics. Thus we spent an hour where people mostly discussed about the problems plaguing our country. The dinner served was excellent; it had rice sambhar and even curds ! After dinner all of us gathered around the fire and played Anthakshari well into midnight. While we were at it, the other group from Kanakapura (YHAI and Rotary members) enjoyed themselves with alcohol. There is a strict no-to-alcohol and smoking in YHAI treks, but this trek was an exception. Even our village guides consumed alcohol and created noisy scenes in the midnight. One of them sported blood stains on this shirt in the morning. Apparently he was beaten up in the night for some reason.

A view from Inspection Bungalow
View from ib

It was 5.45AM when Naren and I got up. We paid a quick visit to kitchen to check how our Kanakapura group was doing. All of them were still lying down not yet out of their alcohol effect. The group had littered the place all around and the kitchen premises looked like a dust bin. Convinced that it would be a while before we get going from this place, Naren and I occupied a vantage point on the rocks and performed our routine Pranayama. The valley was covered completely with clouds and nothing was visible. It remained like this almost till 8AM. While breakfast was getting ready, Shashidhar divided us into groups and sent us on a nature walk with two guides. While one guide took a group deep inside with a promise to find peacocks, we made our guide (who was still in the hangover mode) to return to IB. When everyone was back, Shashidhar made us go through the routine of giving presentation about our nature walk and he gave a lecture on elephants and their habitat.

Lost in the view
lost in the view

The drunken Kanakapura group finally returned leaving behind the garbage. It would have been a perfect night in the beautiful surroundings except for the alcoholic mess created by this group. By the time we finished our breakfast and hit the trail, it was 11AM. Not an ideal time to start the trek in these hot and humid conditions. For most of the time it was downhill walk through the shrubby forests. The trial distance from IB to Bheemeshwari(which is our destination) is 14km. The trail is mostly easy and probably elephants also take the same path here. Though it shouldn’t take more than 90min to cover this distance we took close to 3 hours since there were a few first timers in the group. There were in fact too many breaks and it was getting difficult for us to get warmed up every time after a break. The lack of water in the entire trail made the trek a bit more difficult. Though we couldn’t sight any elephants, we did see what we thought was a monitor lizard and a herd of deer as we approached Bheemeshwari.

The deer we saw near Bheemeshwari
deer

At around 3PM we reached Bheemeshwari which has now become well known due to the Jungle Lodges and Resorts. Bheemeshwari gets its name from a small temple of the same name situated here. We finished our lunch on the banks of Kaveri. Our idea of taking a dip in Kaveri was quickly dropped since Kaveri was in full flow almost breaching its banks. The excess water from KRS and Kabini dams was the reason for this. As we rode along the banks near Muthathi, we could see hundreds of tourists probably many disappointed as there was too much of water for a comfortable dip.

A few words of caution for those who want to do this trek:

The area is rich in wildlife (especially elephants) and poachers. So never venture in to these forests alone without informing the authorities. Take prior permission from either Kanakapura or Sathanur wildlife division. They will send an armed guide equipped with crackers( to drive away the elephants). My gut feeling is that this entire route might not be safe for women in smaller groups.


Charmadi calls again

December 16, 2005

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

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

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

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

Minchukallu peak (the right one)
Minchukallu peak

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

Ramya and Veena negotiating the thick growth
Ramya and veena

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

Kumbhakallu peak
Kumbhakallu peak

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

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

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

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

A veiw of the surrounding mountains
Surrounding mountains

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

Minchukallu in the evening
Minchukallu in the evening

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

Aniyur stream
Aniyur stream

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

On the rocks: Bharata, Veena, Ashok
Bharata,Veena,Ashok

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

Dondale falls
Dondale falls

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


Trekking in Charmadi Ghats

December 9, 2005

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

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

Day 0

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

Day 1

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

Alekhan falls

Alekhan falls

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

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

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.