Category Archives: Treks

In which Leeches feast

So we learn about this place near Ujire which is supposed to be a really nice trekking trail that doesn’t usually feature a lot when folks are talking about trekking in Karnataka. While obviously folks seem to have trekked it, there’s not a lot of information floating around.

And the title kinda says it all. We chose November on the premise that the rains would’ve abated. However, it rained, and it rained copiously all over the Peninsula leading up to the trek. And just to trick us into going, the rains stopped for a couple of days prior to us leaving. Obviously, we weren’t going to let a little bit of the damp to dampen us. (Yeah, tired old joke). However on the night we left in the comfortable confines of a new Innova, it rained. Which brought out the collective population of leeches in the entire southern Western Ghats on to the trail leading to Bandaje Arbi. For that is where we were going and where Mr. Murphy decided leeches should be.

The Urban Yogi pondering over the evolutionary need for leeches.

This post is going to be short on both details and photos. For the simple reason that on the way up, all of us were worried about not getting feasted upon, so we didn’t stop too much. And our confines-of-A/C-offices flogged bodies couldn’t take the rush-up-the-hill-before-we-get-bitten pace. So there are no photos going up. Once we got up there, we barely had time to find a place to camp – which was relatively leech free – before we could cook and before the rain Gods descended upon us again. Which left us grappling with another issue. One of our allegedly (meaning the Usual Suspect was lying through his teeth) waterproof tents turned out to be not. So in a tent meant for 3, there were 7 sweaty, hungry trekkers. But then what is life without some breaks? And it did come through with the showers stopping in about 20 mins and then with some amount of water evacuation both the tents were fairly sleepable. Which is a long winded way of saying that we didn’t even get to the waterfall. Where by the way, there are excellent spots to camp.

The Farmer making the most of the morning light at Bandajje.
The Farmer making the most of the morning light at Bandajje.

The next morning we woke up as refreshed as we could’ve been in the circumstances. But again, we didn’t go all the way up to the waterfalls. For those interested, the trek begins at Bandaje. This is near Ujire and Dharamasthala. You’ll need to call up Narayana Gowda, whose farm is at the base of the trek who’ll then arrange for one his trusted lieutenants Vasu to come with you. The actual trek is from Bandaje to Ballalrayana durga to Sunkashale. Or the other way around. Because the elephant grass between Bandaje Arbi and Ballalrayana durga was not cut, we were hesitant to go all the way over to Sunkashale. Like all places remote, transport to and from your entry and exit points are minimal so you’ll need to make arrangements.

And yeah, try not going when the leeches are feasting.

Stopping Time

Ok, so it’s time for the quarterly “team” building activity to be completed. Considering that the last time it was the cool climes of March, we’d gone to Amgol. Much fun and beer was had by everyone. The rains, that usually bless Bangalore around April, playing hooky this year, we planned on come place cool. Factoring in pre-conditions like weekend travel, interstate taxes and the memory of sore butts traveling 12 hours to Amgol last time around, we settled on Chickmagalur district. Having talked to the experts and read up the other expert, we decided upon the Jainkhan estate. To clear up, this is not a combination like the Jain Chicken that you get in Gujarat. This is the real deal. The name is derived from the huge number of bee hives that the estate had earlier. So there. That is something that is cleared up. The estate itself is a little difficult to find. After you reach Chickmagalur town, drive towards Aldur. Take the road that leads to Koppa for about 7 km and then just before Herur, you’ll get a left turn to the closest town, Basarikatte. You’ll then need to ask someone for Jainkhan estate, which is another 4 km uphill from the town.

What I didn’t understand though are the clocks at this estate. All of them showed different times. Which didn’t change. Throughout the day. For some reason, all the clocks at the estate had stopped. Not that it mattered to inveterate slackers like us. We had an excellent time, pretty much doing nothing. The matter of most consequence achieved over the weekend was; nothing.

Mornining breaking over Jainkhan estate, Chikamagaluru.

Having started in the night from Bangalore, we reached the district by 5ish. However, finding the estate itself took a little longer and post an excellent breakfast people promptly parked themselves horizontally. I was out and about though, the sky being an excellent shade of blue with a lot of clouds and clear visibility of the rolling hills beyond. The estate bungalow is about 30 years old – though the style is very colonial – and is situated on a short piece of flat land framed by the Western Ghats on three sides. From the veranda – where white tailed swallows had made their nests – you can sit in an easy chair and doze off to the sounds of the birds twittering, the insects buzzing and the far away sounds of people working the estate.

The only fly in this Arcadia is the fact that the estate is at the back of beyond. Which is the whole idea some might say. But if you miss out something (read booze) it is a royal pain getting out. However, the excellent manager at the estate, Sadashiva was very helpful in procuring the said Ambrosia.

After a while, the smells of cooking roused the rest of the party and people started flocking towards the veranda. Everyone was in a pleasant torpor and a lazy game of carrom and even lazier conversation ensued. This was pretty much a place holder as people evidently were thinking about lunch. Now let me digress. Food here is absolutely, lip-smackingly wonderful. The entire menu is simple, homely and most important of all seemingly inexhaustible. The natural conclusion would’ve been a pleasant siesta. However, Sadashiva invited us to join him on the rounds of the estate.

The estate itself rolls over a 100 acres of hills. As we walked across part of it, we gleaned such bits of wisdom as identifying a Robusta plant versus an Arabica; what are the watering needs, what birds flock to the estate (we heard the peacocks, but didn’t see them) and what it takes to run a coffee estate. We then walked around the perimeter of the estate and a short hike later found ourselves on a small hill behind the estate. The entire length of the Chickmagalur district seemed to spread out under us in an emerald carpet. In fact, for the more active of our brethren, this hill affords a nice way to fill in a morning. The hike itself is not strenuous and there is shade for the most part.

The view from the hillock at Jain Khan Estate, Chikkamagaluru.

We walked back in the fading light to be treated to a spectacular sunset. The fading light also signalled the start of our Bacchanalia. In a manner of speaking. Most people hitting the “high” note pretty early. A fire was lit and then with warmth within and without, we held forth on heavy topics that ranged from why the Male of species always has to make the first move, to whether the country is going in the correct direction. Thereby proving that men indeed can’t focus on one thing completely. A few blokes did try to disprove that focusing entirely on the alcohol and eschewing all extraneous efforts. A quarter moon shone briefly before exiting the stage for the fireflies to complete a perfect evening.

The morning brought a wonderful skyscape again, with fingers of mist probing the ranges down the bungalow. It also brought another fabulous breakfast. People prolonged the inevitable and only the thought of the Avanthi Estate (also owned by the same owner) near Magundi and the river sped up matters a bit. However, the river itself was a little disappointing with the lack of water and the fact that there were folks washing clothes on either banks.

The river behind Avanthi Estate, Chikkamagaluru.

Jainkhan is also at the foothills of Merti Gudda, a 1695 meter hillock. There are drives that go all the way up, but you can trek it from the base too. You’ll need to enquire with the Forest Department before you go. You can do that at Chickamagalur or in Bangalore. Since there are no water sources, it might not be a good place to camp.

We then started off for Bangalore with most folks still being as active as a sloth bear in hibernation. The bus ride home was remarkable for the spectacular sunset that greeted us and the 7 times that “Mungaru Maley” soundtrack played. So the next time you are in the mood for lazing, head up to the hills – though the coffee perks you up, there are plenty of reminders around you that the clock is not ticking.

Kumara Parvata or why I need to be fit

 

I’ve been lazy lately. A statement my near and dear ones would like to contest. On account of my being lazy forever that is. It is always the time that is debatable, not the fact. To get to the point, I used the weekend of 15th Dec (see, see, the lazy bum write NOW!) to finally get around to trekking the Pushpagiri. Which a lot of folks know as Kumara Parvata. Over the last 3 years, we’d made atleast 2 other plans that I know of to trek, which for the usual reasons (hey, I was not to blame, OK) fell through.

A view of the Kumara Parvata from about a 3rd of the way up.

As always, we suddenly decided that we had to trek Kumara Parvata and as it happened it was a Wednesday. We figured we will ask for permission to camp and asked at the Forest office in Malleshwaram. As it turned out that was entirely superfluous. More on that later. Because we decided late, no tickets were available to Subramanya, where the climb starts. Word of advice, be sure to get a booking in one of those Volvos. We booked our selves on the last seats on the last bus to Hell. The seats kept sliding and the driver was obviously someone who rode a moon buggy, for the crater sized pot holes on the ghats didn’t tempt him from stepping off the accelerator. The last part of the ride – post Doingal near Sakleshpur are, to put it mildly, torturous. We arrived a little worse for the wear at around 7 at Subramanya. For the finicky amongst us, the temple complex has facilities – quite decent I might add.

The route to the climb is to the right of the temple (if you are facing the temple). You will need to walk up a bit and there is a gap between the shops and pretty much follow the road. I’d heard from a lot of people that KP is quite tough and while I will not disagree, it is primarily due to the fact that it is quite long. The first 200 to 300 mts is densely forested and slightly damp so there are chances of leech bites even in winter. Once you come out in the open, it is quite sunny and if you choose the wrong season, it might be quite harsh even. A little after you cross the wooded area, you will chance upon Bhat’s house (Bhatre mane). He provides breakfast upto 9.30 I think and start lunch at 12.30. 30 INR for one lunch, didn’t ask about breakfast. So the point is, if you are going to get here between these times, it would make sense for you to go ahead and not stop. We spent about 2 hours idling about here.

And here is the other reason, why you should keep on going. There is a forest office (house? outpost?) just a couple of minutes up Bhat’s house. You’ll need to get permission from here to camp. As I mentioned earlier, this permission seems moot. There is a 70 INR charge to trek. You will have to haggle if you want to camp. You’ll be first told with a look of great regret that you cannot camp. Even after you clinch the deal there is a baleful look of having done you a great favour. You’ll thank your stars for this stroke of luck for about as long as it takes you to spot the other lucky ones ahead or behind you on the mountain

There is an old heritage structure up the face of the mountain called the Mantapa. You could camp here, but if you are a large group (anything over 4) it’s difficult. There is a water source near by, but not much of a level ground to pitch a tent. We moved further along and almost reached the top before night fell – and it fell fast. To give you an idea, I was the slowest one (which why the title) and climbing out of Bhat’s house at around 1.30 in the afternoon took us about 5.30 in the evening to be just short of the top (there is no peak as such here). We stopped liberally to soak in the views and to replenish our selves. Which is a word of advice. Since we pretty much caught the last bus out, we didn’t load up on water. Carry enough and more water and lime/moosambi. It was the moosambi pieces that did the trick for us. A quarter of a sweet lime every 45 minutes and you are good to go.

The Usual Suspect doing his thing at the Mantapa, on the way up.

Just short of the top, you will run into another wooded area. This is a typical Shola forest and you can find a place to camp here. There is a water source nearby, and a couple of clearings that you don’t need to work too much to pitch your tent. You can also go all the way to the top, because it really is a short climb – unless you are very tired or it’s too dark. There are some scary verticals that you need climb when it is nice and bright. Or bright enough to see where you will fall.

We started our climb and descent around 5 in the AM. Budgeting a half an hour break to admire the show that the sun and clouds had put up for our benefit, we were down the peak and about 15 kms from Somwarpet by 11.30. To get down to Coorg, the descent is in the same direction as you came – for a short while, and then take a right. There are no landmarks, nothing so you will have to spend some time hunting. The only idea that you can have is that the route to Coorg is to the far end towards the south-west. Now here is the kicker. You will find 0, zip, none, nothing to transport you once you get down. So unless you had your own transport – and asked the driver to stay at Somwarpet and come and pick you up near Bidalli you are screwed. Which is exactly what happened to us. Till a bloke took pity on us and piled us along with the fish that he was selling and dropped us off at Shantahalli. Which itself is about 8 kms from Bidalli where you will descend. The village of Bidalli is exactly 5 houses. Don’t count on getting anything beyond the rudimentary biscuits. Besides the shop is closed on Sunday. There is a bus at 9 AM from here but that might not run on Sunday either. The only way to get out of hiking another 10 kms from the junction where the road from Bidalli meets the road to Somwarpet is to have someone willing to pick you up at Bidalli. Alternatively you can climb from Coorg and get down at Subramanya. There are more options of transport from here on account of the temple.

One of the Usual Suspects enjoying the morning show at Kumara Parvata.

While we were done with our climb and descent by 11.30 in the morning, it was 4 in the afternoon before we got any transport and we reached Bangalore around midnight.

For those of you who have a GPS unit, these might help. Subrahmanya 12*40.000′ 75*35.600′ 123mts, Bhatara mane 12*40.156′ 75*39.144′ 836mts, Mantapa 12*39.815′ 75*40.133′ 1204mts, Campsite 12*39.889′ 75*40.803 1576mts, Peak 12*39.719′ 75*41.201′ 1712mts

But it is all worth it. After all it’s not every day you get a fitness check up like this.