The most memorable trek of my life

Warning: This is quite a long post and no pictures too. You’ll find out the reason as you read through.

Until now. And the most trying too. You’ll soon find out why.

The trail of Bababudangiri to Kemmangundi has been my favorite as it was my first trek where I slept overnight in a tent, in the middle of the forest and mountains, beneath the twinkling stars. It was unbelievable, it was magical and funny. You can find the details here and here.

Right after monsoon, we planned this trail again with new people. There was only one very experienced trekker – S. He had been here 6 times before this. I and friend K were the only ones who knew this from the previous trek.

So 9 of us started at around 6:30am from Bangalore in a tempo traveller. Some were meeting each other for the first time. Some were first time trekkers. We stopped at Hotel Mayura at Bellur cross for breakfast. After sumptuous idlis, dosas, vadas and khara bhaths, we got back on the road towards Chikmagalur via Hassan.

When so many people are together, a place can hardly be silent. What started as a friendly discussion, soon reached the status of heated arguments, which died down after we agreed to disagree (some rather reluctantly) and peace prevailed.

After reaching Chikmagalur (and picking up a tent from a friend), we took the road towards Mullayyanagiri and after a deviation, were climbing uphill towards Bababudangiri.We could see drifting black clouds and knew that rain was apparent. However, how much of rain, was something we couldn’t have expected. The prediction on Accuweather was that we could expect storm that night.

The road, towards the end was blocked due to construction work (just like the previous time but this time for a longer distance). We wore our belongings on our backs and like warriors marching towards battlefield, we marched towards Bababudangiri and then reached Gaalikere.

We couldn’t eat our lunch here, unlike last time as there were a lot more people. We walked further and then opened our lunch (packed at Chikmagalur) near a rock and ate. Food always tastes so amazing when had amidst nature. Much to our dislike, it started drizzling. We had 4 hours of walk ahead of us to reach the camping site and with rain it would get difficult and not to mention uncomfortable.

We donned our best jackets (few had to borrow since they came unprepared – good lesson for future) and marched forward. It was around 5pm when we reached our campsite. The light drizzle had started to gain more strength and it was obvious that we would have good rain that night. So a poll was taken whether to walk further and complete the trek in the dark (which I cannot even begin to imagine) or walk back to Bababudangiri (which would be disappointing and of-course means walking in dark) or to spend the night in tent in rain. I immediately knew that option three was best since it didn’t include walking in the dark. If we died, we would all die together in the storm and not by falling down the side of the mountain or being eaten by predators. You can say I have a very imaginative mind, especially during difficult circumstances.

Thankfully most people opted to stay back. We pitched tents in the rain. Talk about tents and rain and the scene that plays out in front of me is the pegs coming off after we repeatedly drive them inside the wet earth. And that is what was happening with us. However we finished all three tents and some very hopeful boys even tried lighting a fire! I need not say that they weren’t successful and we all got into our respective tents to settle down, which means push all the heavy bags at the corners of the tent so it doesn’t get blown away by the monstrous wind and sit and shiver. It was rather cold and we were all wet from head to toe.

After sometime we realized that the cold was becoming unbearable and we made the decision to spend as much time as possible in a single tent which was holding up well compared to the other two. Unfortunately that was a three men tent. We had to spend time until next day 7am with in each others warmth. That night, rain came down like I’ve never seen it come down. It lashed from all sides making the tent tremble and water came in through the net-like sun roof covered by a meager piece of material for roof. And we sat in there, not minding the water flowing beneath us and the tent coming down on us due to the roaring wind. The only thing we had to hold on to (besides each other) was hope.

Dinner of chapatis gave us something to do and that too was quickly over. Someone suggested talking. We did talk a lot, about  – first impression of each other, first crush, childhood dream etc. It all went pretty well in the beginning and the bottle of elixir (vodka in this case) was being passed around to keep us warm. As soon as we started getting sleepy is when we felt the suffocation. 9 of us were stuffed inside a 3 men tent. I made up my mind to move to another tent. S came with me and so did friend K. We saw that another 2 men tent lay flat due to the wind. The spacious one was holding up, to where we shifted.

From here, it is only my experience that I can document as I wasn’t aware what went on in the other tent. We didn’t talk after coming to the big tent. My teeth were talking to each other and I was shaking rather badly. I got into the sleeping bag, S took a blanket, so did friend K and we tried to sleep. The elixir worked well for sometime and I even slept for a while and when it started wearing off, I would wake up shaking only to take a sip and try to sleep. S started shaking bad and I opened up my now wet sleeping bag to get him in. We had each others warmth even though we couldn’t close the bag. We realized friend K was shivering. I could even feel it. But we could do nothing about it. He didn’t complain. I’m guessing he didn’t have the strength to. Sometime during the night he went to the other tent again to get some warmth but came back. Three from the other tent also followed him due to space constraint. and we all decided to sit up and spend the remaining time talking or rather breathing in each others breath.

Everything was wet, the tent, sleeping bag, backpacks, clothes we wore, jackets, everything. We prayed fervently to all the Gods we could remember. Eventually it was light and yes, we could see that our prayers yielded and rain stopped.

I still didn’t want to go out of the tent into the bone chilling cold. But I had no option. I came out and just stood still, biting my teeth together and making my mind immune to the cold.There was fog everywhere. Visibility was only a few meters. Few guys from the other tent were already out and about their business. Soon everybody was cleaned up and we finished the chapati breakfast. We started on our way further.

Since all of us were tired, we decided to not to go all the way to Kemmangundi (also because it is a very slippery descent) but to get down to a village called Santaveri. The two routes diverge at the British bungalow and that was where we were headed. I was filled with a renewed conviction of making it all the way to the end without letting out an ouch. Thorny bushes were really bad. There was no trail and bamboo had grown all over making us get our bags down and walk on all fours. I mustered all the strength that I could and pushed forward.

We had to cross a small stream the banks of which is filled with leeches. After that we walked uphill and lost our way. Just like that. Thick curtain of fog was not helping one bit. We couldn’t see any further than about 15 meters in any direction. So we decided to walk close to each other so the first person should be able to see the last.

We roamed for a while and reached spots we hadn’t seen on our last visit. Sometimes the path would end in a steep incline down the side of the mountain. We simply couldn’t see any of the features surrounding us. How was one supposed to decide which way to go. Even though compass directed us towards the right direction, we couldn’t be sure of the terrain. Time was running and we had to act if we didn’t want to spend another night there.

Now again, we were presented with two options. Either take our time, explore and find out route, if failed pitch tent for the second night. Or go back all the way to Bababudangiri. People were desperate and many suggested that we go back. Then I suggested to break for lunch after which we may take a poll and decide. S didn’t have lunch and went around looking for familiar trails. Friend R went another way. By the time we were done with lunch, fog lifted for a while and S said he was positive about a trail and we could take a chance. We decided to give it our best, again prayed to all Gods and walked. Surely, it was the right path.

I couldn’t contain my happiness on seeing the British bungalow. More than happiness it was relief, that from here, we couldn’t get lost. We spent some time there and started walking towards Santaveri, where we spotted few wild Sambar deers at close proximity. Road towards Santaveri is a jeep track used by forest department. Now it was filled with hungry leeches who made good use of the opportunity that presented them meal in form of us.

British bungalow pic from the previous visit
The ruined British bungalow pic from the previous visit

From there we walked like zombies until our vehicle came to pick us up. Bless their souls, S and friend R had dumped their luggage and gone to get the vehicle for us. They even got us bhajjis and mandakki.

There was talk of stopping on the way to shower. But I realized we were all completely dry right then and I couldn’t spare a minute out of my snoozing time to shower. Not then. Soon, we all dozed off, only to wake up for dinner at Hassan, then back to sleep until we reached Bangalore.

A hot shower later, I could appreciate what I had, however less it was. I appreciated our small house, our small bed, the hot bath, hot food, just about everything. And I thanked, everybody existing and non-existing for what I had. That night, will always remind me to be thankful for what we have and to realize the strength that we don’t know we have.

I also appreciate everybody who shared the tent with me that night. Especially my two younger sisters who were on their first trek, and in all probability a last one with us :P. Also friends who lent their arms and legs to be used by others as headrests and whose breath I have inhaled to be alive. I appreciate S whose impeccable sense of direction and years worth of trekking experience helped to find out the right trail.

I will do this stretch again and again and again. It is so beautiful, that I cannot even begin to explain but in all probability I will never go again when there is a rain prediction.

Now time for moral of the post:

1. Always be over prepared when going out of civilization.

2. Always count in the unknowns and prepare for them.

3. Always have plan B. And plan C just in case.

4. Do not discourage or talk negative during difficult times.

5. Always wear good shoes and carry a good backpack.

6. Carry jackets and rain jackets according to weather predictions. Carry always if you are easily irritable.

7. Always carry compass and a map.

8. Get GPS with terrain if you are not sure about the trail.

9. It is best to have one or two experienced trekkers who know the trail very well. Best are qualified guides.

10. Lastly always help, share and smile. You’ll be lifting someone’s spirit.

You can find the pics from previous visit here.

Find the Kannada version of the trek from Thrilochana Rajappa here.

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Monsoon pilgrimage – Mullayyanagiri

I am back again and looks like this series is becoming pretty long winded. The reason I am doing installment posts of this trip is to do justice to all places that deserve a good deal of description.

Chikmagalur (Mullayyanagiri)

Date: 17 Aug 2012

Mode of transport: Car

We reached Chikmagalur by 12:30pm and were pretty hungry. Hence, it was unanimously voted that we need to get our stomachs filled before we went any further. Hotel opposite to the KSRTC bus stand was pretty decent. Only basic items were available. I chose veg-biryani and others took meals.

Our mood lifted as we drove towards the familiar road of Mullayyanagiri, the tallest peak in Karnataka. We had a few incidents en-route, courtesy our very rude and idiotic driver. Thankfully none of them related to accidents. He simply refused to drive to the top, arguing that no car can pull in that incline. Of course we being the seasoned travellers and given that S graduated from CKM, we didn’t buy his argument. In fact the car was very old and the engine was weak and hence all the drama.

Seethalayyana giri math is a stopover en-route.  Last time we rode here, we had stopped parked bike at this place and climbed on foot from there onwards.

After a lot of coaxing, we reached the base of the stairs in car. Light drizzle had started by then. It was cold and the climb up the stairs was nice. I soaked in all the beauty I could. On a non foggy day, beautiful mountain ranges are visible which make for very good photographs and backdrops for photographs. There was green everywhere and a little misty. Made me feel like it was a dream.

Mullayya temple at the top doesn’t fascinate me much. Added to it, this time there was a group from nearby village, one of whom had become God and demanding some stuff. Initially it got me curious and my mind was making plans to bust him, but common sense prevailed and I left the place.

Trivia: Mullayyanagiri is the tallest peak of Karnataka. Standing at 1930 meters above sea level, it is one of the trekking routes in Karnataka. The place Chikmagalur district itself belongs to Malnad region and the peak decorates the majestic Western ghats. Hence green and cold can be witnessed at the top.

One can visit Bababudangiri and Manikyadhara falls too.

We drove back to Chikmagalur and started towards Hornad.