Brahmagiri beckoning

I badly wanted to do Brahmagiri before end of 2012. No logical reason, but I just wanted to trek that mountain. Many are on my to-do list, but this was on the top. So the Christmas weekend gave us a very good opportunity and friends were able to take time off work and a plan was made.

We drove to Coorg, the four of us and were supposed to be joined by two there. Now, the beauty of driving is, you can stop where you want, take a detour and enjoy the surroundings. We planned to cover Melkote, Ranganthittu and Tibetian colony on our way to Ponnampet.

Mode of transport: Car
People: 4
Date: 22/12/2012 morning 7am
Place: Bangalore

We left home at 7am and stopped near Bidadi for breakfast at the awesome Shivadarshini thatte idli shop. Idlis there are absolutely awesome. I suggest to try this place for a break if you are traveling on Mysore-Bangalore road. We also tried chitranna which was ok. If you are a fan of strong coffee this is the place you should go. There are many other thatte idli hotels in the area, you can take your pick. We went here because it was recommended.

IMG_6956

Bidadi thatte idli – Shivadarshini hotel

Our next stop was Melkote, which isn’t much besides a Kalyani and a temple on the mountain. Get a water bottle when you start to climb the stairs though, steps are tall and tiring. We didn’t visit the famous two pillar place where lot of shooting happens. We simply didn’t have the interest after seeing all that crowd (due to it being a particularly auspicious day).

IMG_6963

Melkote kalyani (you can see the throng of people and clothes lined on the iron fence)

IMG_6965

Melkote temple – view from the road

Then we took a deviation towards Ranganthittu bird sanctuary. We had lunch at a restaurant there. It was decent, but not recommendable. Never take chapatis there, you’ll only get papads. Fried rice and pulao were edible enough. We also had ice creams since it was pretty hot.

IMG_7009

Ranganthittu bird sanctuary

IMG_7029

Lazy crocs at the sanctuary

We took a stroll to watch birds and unfortunately there weren’t many. There were the storks which were pretty comfortably colonized on a tree and a few lazy crocs basking in the sun. The place is pretty ill maintained (S however feels that it was well maintained!!!) and tourism isn’t promoted as well as it could have been. It made me feel wonder for what I paid Rs. 50 as entry fee. We left at around 2:15pm and decided to skip the Tibetian colony and hit straight towards Ponnampet.

We took Periypatna, Siddapur, Ammatthi route instead of the regular Hunsur road since it is in non-drivable condition. We expected to find a few elephants as it had gotten dark, but looks like the huge fellows gave us a miss.

We reached Gonikoppal at 7:30pm and had dinner at a nearby restaurant. Gonikoppal is a small place and good restaurants are hard to come by. The one where we went was decent. Since it is a completely kodava community dominated place, almost all restaurants serve alcohol and non-veg. Picky vegetarians should get their food packed before reaching here.

We reached Ponnampet at around 9:30pm and settled cozily at our friend’s quarters at CIT.

Date: 23/12/2012 morning 9am
Place: Ponnampet
People: 4

We were bathed and fed by around 9 am and packed lunch. We drove to the forest office at Srimangala to collect our permission for the trek, after which it was straight to the Brahmagiri base. We were quite late already, due to friends not making it in time.

We didn’t spend much time at Irupu falls as the water wasn’t that great and we had a big trek ahead of us. So we followed the guide assigned to us. Now this young man was very energetic, however lacked experience. We all took a guess at his age and we agreed it would be not more than 20. Since S had already done this trek once in oct 2007, we didn’t think his experience would be a problem.

IMG_7119

Map at the forest office, Srimangala

IMG_7135

A very meaningful board at the beginning of the trek

IMG_7140

Another save tiger board. Makes sense doesn’t it?

Friend K was leading together with the guide and due to lack of fitness I was the last and weakest link of our group, so S decided to walk with me. The sun was unforgiving and the heat unbearable. Off came my jacket, which was supposed to protect my skin. To hell with the skin when I was being cooked inside the jacket. Then started the sipping of water at regular intervals. Even with hats on we felt the our energy was being sucked out of us by the scorching sun.

After a couple of hours we first saw Narimale (Nari – Tiger, male – hill), and after a few minutes reached Narimale guest house, built by forest department for forest guards. Trekkers are also permitted to stay here for the night on their two day trek to Brahmagiri.

IMG_7163

Narimale

Our initial plan was two day trek – first day trek till Narimale guest house and stay. Second day trek the peak, come back, see around and climb down. However, our plan had to be changed as there was recent elephant attack on the guest house and the building was completely smashed. All for a packet of salt which people who cooked there the previous night of the attack, forgot to take inside. The packet which was left on the window sill attracted a herd of elephants who tore down the place just to get the salt. And now we were left with no place to stay the night. So one day trek it had to be.

IMG_7168

Forest guest house at Narimale thrashed by a herd of elephants

We replenished ourselves with huge gulps of energy drink and fruits and started walking again.

After a while we saw a couple walking far ahead of us with their guide, to whom our guide reached and after talking to them found out that they were walking to the temple in Kerala. Oh we didn’t know there was a route to the temple too.

We walked till 1:15pm when we saw a watch tower at around 2 kms. And we were climbing down instead of climbing up the peak. S couldn’t remember seeing a watch tower the last time. He briskly walked to the guide and stopped him. Where were we going? To the Kerala temple ofcourse. What the hell!!!

IMG_7203

The watch tower!

We had missed our deviation towards the Brahmagiri peak and walked further down to the Kerala side. Our guide didn’t even stop to ask us if that is where we were headed. Our guess is even he didn’t know the deviation to the peak.

By the time we retraced our steps back to the deviation it was 2:15 pm and we were hungry and tired and I almost fell down. We had lunch near a small stream and decided to call it a day. Yes, we decided to halt the trek and get back to the base before dark. It made no sense to keep walking as we wouldn’t be able to reach the base before dark if we wanted to see the peak. And we couldn’t stay at the Narimale guest house due to obvious reason. At lunch we got to know the age of our guide – 29 years!!!

On our way back we spotted a Bison at distance. It stared at us for a few seconds before disappearing into a bush. Wild animal spotting is always a joy! 🙂

By the time we reached our car, we were all exhausted. Perhaps not being in the best of health took a toll or may be the heat was too bad. Either ways, we couldn’t complete the trek. It was a bittersweet feeling for me. I was high on adrenaline due to the day’s events. But sad that I couldn’t see the peak.

On our way back, while people chose to dose off (except for the unfortunate soul who had to drive) I promised myself that, soon, I will be back to leave my footprint on the peak. Oh, I will.

Pushpagiri trek

I consider it my duty to inform you that this is quite a long winded post with complete details. Attempt if you have some free time at hand.

Once again, I dive into my own mind to retrieve the silver threads of wonderful memories I have of my treks/travels in the past as I have not engaged myself in any lately. This is an account of one such trek, my first tough one – Pushpagiri mountains. I hope you find it engaging, enjoyable and useful. So here we go.

I had neither heard nor seen this mountain before doing this trek. I wasn’t even serious about the height or the distance of trek that was getting planned. In short, I left all the planning to S and didn’t bother getting to know anything about where we were headed. This, in retrospect was a good thing. Because I might have thought only about difficulty all the while instead of enjoying the trek, which would probably hinder my attempts at completing it successfully. Which you’d agree would not be good as I’d be asked to go back to the base on my own.

It was planned that we are going to trek to Pushpagiri peak and I together with my cousin sister were the only girls in the team. Then my sister joined and that got the count to 7. I was seriously doubting the capabilities of the other two ladies, for they were not very strong both physically and mentally. And a serious trek needs mental strength to kick in when the body gives way. I tried to persuade them not to do it, but they were adamant. So I warned them that I am not going to be responsible for what happens to them. It is their sole responsibility to follow us to the top and back. For me too, it was a first serious trek but I was somehow confident that I will make it, come what may. Because I wanted it so bad, to do something, to feel the achievement and adrenaline.

By the time we reached majestic (in Blr) on Friday night, it was raining and we were dripping wet when we got into the bus. Needless to say that the journey was pretty uncomfortable, both for us and for our unfortunate co-passengers. The bus reached Somwarpet quite late as it had to wait for passengers to board in Bangalore, who were delayed due to rain.

I will skip the gory details of the travel and how we didn’t get time for a bath next morning, for everyone’s benefit.

After breakfast we bundled up in my husband’s brother-in-law’s Pickup to our base “Beedalli” which is 20km from Somwarpet. Coorg is such a beautiful place and I enjoyed the ride at the back of the Pickup, having wind in my hair and eyes closed I almost was one with nature. It was 9:40am by the time we reached the base. There is a temple which we didn’t visit due to time constraint. We had planned 8 hrs of total trek time and be back before sun down so we could reach the safety of house without any accidents.

I wasn’t a serious trekker before this one. I’d only done Savandurga twice and some petty walk in the park types. so when S tried to make me understand the seriousness of the task ahead, I overconfidently brushed it aside saying ofcourse I can do this. I really wanted to see what it would be like to be in a real jungle.

We started walking at 9:45am and just after half hour of walking (and signing some papers that indicated if  we happen to get eaten by any animal, it is due to our own sheer madness) we were in the Pushpagiri wild life sanctuary. And OMG this was REAL forest, with scary sounds and *GASP* blood sucking leeches! Eeyuck!

And so we walked on and on and on and on and were nowhere near any kind of clearing. Clearly the leeches were making every attempt to have the feast that they could smell/sense. Good thing we had tucked the ends of our pants in socks so none could crawl and climb on our legs, which would make me very uneasy. Every now and then there were scared shrieks from me, my sister and cousin, who were the girls on their first real trek. I personally found the moist creatures disgusting and they made me sick. Since it was a forest and it had rained continuously since past two days, it was very wet so there were a LOT of them, bloody things. One even managed to get into my shoe though the lace-hole. Can you imagine my horror?!

We stopped at every possible place where some strong sun would shine and clear ourselves. When I opened my shoe, there it was climbing up to the dark recesses where we couldn’t see it. The only way was to put a hand and pull it out. And no I didn’t do it, my friend did. Bless his soul. From then on there were regular leech clearance breaks for about a minute in the sun and then walk on. As soon as I spotted a bright sun patch ahead, I would shout in my officer like voice “leech clearance everyone” and people would start looking at their and others’ shoes, use deo sprays to paralyze them and kill some with the shoe if they really felt like and walk on. I carried a stiff small stick with which I would wriggle them out.

Brave soldiers resting on the rocky patch. Yes brave soldiers also wear cowboy hats on treks.

Then we came to the first rock patch and I heaved a sigh of relief because there was sun and there would be no more looking at shoes and we could relax after a long climb. I was exhausted and wanted to sit for a while but was too paranoid to land my bum on the stone lest some of that moist creature climbed up. You’d agree that it wouldn’t be nice to get a leech bite there.

Race of climbing the rocky patch. Yours truly comes first.

Yours truly looking up at sun in gratitude which actually looks like she’s posing for the camera. Co-incidences!

There are three such rock patches which we encountered after about half way through the forest. They are real blessings. There will be scorching sun and no chance of leech sticking. And they are very steep so better climb them first and rest on top for a while. For me, the blistering heat felt like caressing breeze for I could keep my mind clear from thinking about them (by now you know who).

As we went on climbing there was more sun and less leeches. At one point I decided I will not keep thinking if some have gotten inside my shoe as I won’t know even if they bite. And from then on it was easy to ignore the paranoia.

After stopping for a while for some oranges and water, and climbing for more than three and half hours we finally reached the peak. It felt good. The clouds, the view, the far away mountains in different shades. It was indeed a pretty picture, a very pretty one. But we had a deadline to meet. We had to start climbing down at 2pm so we could reach the base before dark (read: before the animals decide to find us for their dinner).

Scenic beauty

The chapattis with mango pickle and chatnipudi tasted wonderful after all that loss of salt from the body. And we started the descend at 2:15pm, glad that we were on time.

We are not criminals; faces are sprayed with paint because yours truly was feeling too lazy to use photo editing software to blur them.

We started in three batches. S with his friend, me with another friend, my sister and cousin with another friend, in order of their speed. We were in the middle and I decided to leave behind the friend, to join the two others walking ahead of me and called out loud to the S. He heard and called back, so he must be somewhere near. And I went ahead hoping I would be following quite near to him. We didn’t stop anywhere in the middle in the hope to get back early, so we skipped sitting on the rocky patches and looming ahead of us was the forest and how in the world had it suddenly gotten so dark in there?

I still couldn’t see the two people ahead of me, but wished they were nearby. In front of me now were some rocks which went downhill, may be a stream ran there in rains. And is that the trail? I climbed down and still couldn’t find two tiny figures climbing down ahead of me. This was wrong; I had gotten on the wrong trail. Since how long? And why in the world did I come alone?

Now I could clearly hear the strange scary forest sounds. Did I hallucinate about those faint footsteps somewhere nearby? Is that a deer? Or fox? Or tiger? Or leaopard? My heart thudded while I gathered courage and screamed to S loudly. Thankfully he heard me and came back after a few minutes. And in those few minutes I got the feel of the real wild jungle, which I hadn’t taken in while climbing up.

I didn’t think about how my legs hurt, it was as if they were programmed to jog in a certain speed and I just went with them and jogged my way back till we reached the stream where we had filled water while climbing up. I washed myself thoroughly off the sweat which made me look like I had a bath and forgot to dry myself. It was a welcome relief and when I looked back the mountain and jungle did look intimidating. How hadn’t I noticed it in the morning?

Waiting for others to come. And yes, that IS a bald patch there on my head.

Then we had to wait for the remaining people to come back which they did after an hour. And in the meanwhile I did a final leech clearance wherein I was proud to find that I had no leech bites at all. So huh, damn you blood suckers, you couldn’t get me. I almost went back to give them the finger, but then did it mentally. Wasn’t worth it to get inside the forest then.

Two of them crossing the hanging bridge towards the base. I’m on a spray-painting spree!

Our faithful companion of the trip barely escaped getting spray-painted, as yours truly realized nobody would recognize her anyway.

Distance trekked: 7+7 kms

Total time taken: ~8 hours

Mode of transport: Private

Food: Packed lunch and water filled at the small spring near the base

Energy supplements: Oranges + glucose powder

Leech care: Deodorant sprays, strong sticks

Result: Awesome joy, adrenaline rush, sense of achievement, break from mundane office life, refreshed body and mind

Will I do it again: Without a doubt

Now the time for some pointers, although the regulars already know this:
1. Attempt this if you are fit. Like really really fit. Coz there will not be a break to sit and relax in the middle. Not until the rocks which is a looooong way.
2. If you are a first timer, and are paranoid of leeches, don’t ever go here. At least not during rains.
3. Wear tight socks which has no designs (designs with little holes and stuff) and which is tightly knit. Put your pant ends inside the socks and if you want you can tie the laces tight over the socks.
4. Don’t wear shoes with huge lace holes, which welcome the little guests.
5. Carry a firm and strong stick which isn’t too long. Of course to remove the leeches stuck to the shoes.
6. Carry at least 4 litres of water each. You can fill it at the stream, which is the only source of water.
7. Carry fruits like oranges which quench thirst and gives energy.
8. Carry enough glucose; there are definitely chances of getting faint in the sun.
9. Never ever leave the group and wander alone when inside the forest. It is always better to stick together.
10. Having at least one person who has done this trek helps loads. In my directionless case, it is for staying on track.
11. Carry a deodorant spray each, lest you start fighting among yourselves for it. Spray it a little at the place where the leech has stuck and after few seconds it will fall off.
12. Carry hats/caps. Covering head in the direct sun avoids feeling too fatigued.
13. Don’t, for the love of all that you love; don’t scream/shot/have loud conversations in the middle of the forest. This scares the wild life. Don’t interrupt their lives with your presence. Just because you had nowhere to go, you don’t have to invade their space. Talk in hushed tones or don’t talk at all if you want to spot something.
PS: S spotted a Cobra and a deer. I of course was busy all the while looking at my shoes. Duh!
14. The above doesn’t hold in forests which have too much wild life. Screaming and talking loudly is considered healthier. You’ll guess why if you understood the 13th point.
15. Don’t be too scared, or else don’t go there. The forest and the sounds don’t help. Have a little courage; the animals usually keep to themselves and away from the trail.
16. FINALLY, DON’T EVER LITTER THE PLACE. It is a natural habitat for many beings, don’t spoil their home. Carry a plastic bag to throw your waste in. Carry it back to your place and dispose properly. Better to go with a group that follows this.
PS: This is true for so many tourist places which I’ve stopped visiting for the same reason.

After all this, while climbing down, we found a group which was climbing up and the guys were wearing, floaters!!! On asking he said, the first time there were too many leech bites though he wore shoes, so he wore floaters this time and he got only one. Now that’s what I call brave. Though attempt this at your own risk.

Save a grassland, save nature

Spreading the word, to save a grassland in Hesarghatta (near Bangalore), which is a wonderful habitat for migratory birds. The place is under threat from Govt. which wants to build a theme park there.

Please share the news and stop a natural habitat from being exploited. Please sign the online petition and support the cause.

http://www.change.org/petitions/the-chief-minister-vidhana-soudha-bangalore-stop-the-development-of-a-theme-park-on-the-grassland-near-hesaraghatta?utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition&utm_term=friends_wall