Wild Wonderful Karnataka

Walking in the clouds... I beheld heaven...

R Sharada
That is the closest figure of expression to use for the experience we felt in this mullainagiri trek.. as I sat down to type this report, rewinding back 5 days to the weekend, I could still feel and hear the wind in my ears... and the mist... all around...

It was to be an experience of a lifetime, but little did we know then that it would be so. We -comprised of the usual group of enthu guys - DB, Venu, Sukesh (Venu's friend who was propelled into this by Venu's tremendous and contagious enthusiasm), Venky, Sridevi (Venky's wife who got inspired by our mail exchanges), our usual all-
../images/dreams/sharada_gr/mrs_1s.jpg time trekking enthusiast Kiran, Saro and of course, myself, given my insatiable love of nature. Mail exchanges were on in swing by sometime mid-october revving us all towards a trek. As always, I brought in the beach trek, and DB brought in his own love of KP. Bharata had been to Mullainagiri (highest peak of Karnataka) just two weeks before. His narration of how good it was had already tempted me to consider Mullainagiri and Mullainagiri it was decided, and we threw in a trek to the Bababudanagiri as well to complete that route. Dox chipped in his wishes over mail all the way from Arizona… and we were all set to board the bus to Chickmagalur on Oct 29, 2004 at the usual platform 2A at KSRTC. As always, food was a major point of discussion and planning (special mention should be made of Venu who even thought of tea breaks :)). Finally we decided to take minimum rations to last us for a breakfast and some snacks for the way as the major meals were to be arranged for, at the peak.
We reached Chickmagalur in the wee hours of the morning of Oct 30, at 4.45 am. Hotel Nandini at the bus-stand came to the rescue for breakfast plans (perhaps the only hotel to serve chow-chow bath at 5.00 am!
Which none of us dared try that time of the morning :(). So we all settled for the only other dish available - idlis, and of course how can one forget tea when the mallus are around? :) so, a round of tea for Venu and Sukesh and coffee for kiran and folks followed. We then decided to find some transport to take us to the beginning of the trail - the Sarpadari. Asking around we found that the first bus all the way to the Sarpadari would be quite late, as late as 8.00 am..whilst some other earlier buses could take us till Kaimara, which was around 7km from Chickmagalur, another 7 km from Kaimara on a tar road would take us to Sarpadari. So, we set off in the bus to Kaimara at around 6.30 am. One observation was made by then (which was to cause us some consternation later on the second day) - lots of police vehicles and policemen were seen at Chickmagalur. ../images/dreams/sharada_gr/mrs_2s.jpg
While we were wondering why, we realized from the newspapers that Oct 31 was to be the dattamala celebrations on Bababudanagiri, at the Dattatreya peetha, which was to be our destination on the second day. Little did we realize then how it would turn out to be… but we shall come to it later, in due course of events… back to the bus...

In about 10 mins or so, we were dropped off at Kaimara where we saw a road to the left, with a sign board indicating that was the road to Bababudanagiri. This was the tar road we to took..at 6.45 am in the morning to
../images/dreams/sharada_gr/mrs_3s.jpg reach Sarpadari. The effects of the hills was already upon us, the lush greenery around, the villages on the way slowly coming to life, the quiet morning silence broken by the early birds (and now and then unfortunately by the police vehicles jarring on our ears). The early risers were already on their way, including the hens, and kids and our mood and spirits were lifted and I felt all ready to take on the world, so to say!! Of course walking on tar road is not very interesting if you don't indulge in some adventures!! Someone had to do it, and this time it happened to be the 3 of us - Kiran, Saro and myself. Restless of having to walk on the road, someone suggested finding a shortcut through the numerous jeep tracks branching out into the various estates. At one point a villager smartly suggested that we take a jeep trail that was branching out to the right from the road as that would lead us back to the tar road faster. The rest of the gang had already marched
beyond the trail on the road by then, and so we waved to dB to tell him we were taking the shortcut and meet them back on the road ahead, or so we thought!! The trail kept going into the forest and through some estates until after 2 kms or so, I was beginning to suspect if it would reach the road at all. But hey, did we not have the eternal optimist amongst us?? who but Saro, who confidently shrugged off any doubts and told us to trudge on. Sensibility knocked in after a while when the trail started going lower into the valley further away from the road. We asked for directions at the next estate cottage - we were told to retrace and hit the road back at the same place we came off it. But we weren't done with our little adventure and not wanting to walk all the way to the tar road, we tried some intermediate trails and finally caught up with the rest back on the road with a sense of achievement, albeit on a perhaps longer route! But hey, this trek was beginning to get interesting already! :)

At about 8.45 am, we reached at a fork junction, where a board said left to Mullainagiri. This is where we made a mistake, for the left actually takes you to Mullainagiri by road. One has to take the straight road to reach
Sarpadari which is about less than 1 km away from this fork. We did not know it then and promptly took the left and must have trudged along for 2 kms on this road, when we saw a jeep that confirmed that we were on the wrong route. While we were deciding whether to walk back all that distance to the fork again, thankfully, we saw an Ambassador coming down the road and promptly waved it down and asked for a lift till Sarpadari. After some haggling we settled for 50 rupees. Never before had I seen the capabilities of the Amby to squeeze in 8 people, 1 driver, backpacks and all! While the packs went into the trunk with one or two left in hand, 5 of us packed into the back seat, whilst 3 packed themselves in the front seat! In 5 mins, we reached the Sarpadari arch. By now, it was 9.30 am, the morning breakfast was digested, and we were ready for a second round to go! One round of bread, cheese and dates for all, and we were set. The Sarpadari is very distinct marked by the ../images/dreams/sharada_gr/mrs_4s.jpg
arch which is supposed to have been donated by someone (the writing on the arch says that) and behind the arch is a flight of steps made in the rock and mud that wind up to lead to the trail from thereon.

This is where the real adventure started... half a km on the Sarpadari, and we were transformed from the earthly
../images/dreams/sharada_gr/mrs_5s.jpg world into a world covered with mist, and winds lashing at you from all around. This was to stay with us all through the trek to the peak, and the way down the next day. Visibility was slowly cut down to as less as 10m after a while… the feeling is indescribable, something that can only be felt by the senses, to be there to feel the wind on your face, the sound of it on your ears, and to behold the sight of the mist with your eyes. No mere words can do justice to describe the beauty of the place! The trail was moderately steep and a bit slippery because of the mist and damp weather.Somewhere on the way we came across a landmark tree, a lone tree jutting out on a clearing in the hillside, and halfway through the trail, we came to a vertical rock. The whole trail to the peak was around 3-4 kms. We however did not attempt to scale the rock by going over it; rather there were ledges that provided
footholds around the rock so that we could cross around it from the left. It wasn't too bad, though a bit scary at first (This was Sridevi's first trek and she did pretty well for a first timer). From there, the trail went up further, and we soon reached a big tree covered with algae, with a small shelter under it that housed a nandi.
It was a picturesque view and we all got quite drenched at that place, with all the mist condensing on the tree and falling off of it like rain drops. A short break here and we were off again. Another half hour or so uphill, and we hit upon the caves, that are close to the peak! We were quite excited to be able to explore the caves (there are 2 adjacent caves at this point). Some amateur photography was attempted by Kiran within the caves, while we explored them to some extent. Sukesh and Kiran ventured further deep whilst the rest of us went into the cave for about 30m. The caves wind and narrow down inside and continue further into somewhere. After some playing around within the cave with torches, we decided to get out and set off again. Little did we know then that the peak was like 5mins away from there!! Right after the caves, there is again a flight of neatly made steps, that take you to the peak. It leads into the temple compound through an opening in the compound wall. Looking around nothing was to be seen, ../images/dreams/sharada_gr/mrs_6s.jpg
only mist letting one to dream as though you were walking on the clouds… there was this temptation and urge to try to keep your feet in mid-air… into nothingness and the wish to fly (well, with the wind speeds, perhaps one could really fly, if you tried hard enough! ;) )

../images/dreams/sharada_gr/mrs_7s.jpg The temple compound encompasses the temple itself, another small construction with rooms which is used by the caretakers (a family with a small kid) to stay and cook, and yet another room to keep the cows and firewood. We first spoke to the caretaker (Kalle Gowde was his name I think), piled our shoes on one side outside the kitchen, and went around again, with a feeling of awe… the place was shrouded in mist from all directions and the wind was like a whispering banshee, literally shrieking into our ears… that was awesome!! Lunch enquiries were made and we were assured that it was ready! Steaming hot lunch - the best thing to happen on a wet damp day. We went to the other building adjacent to the temple which is where the family stays and seated ourselves in the hall on a wooden plank and we were each handed a plate.The menu that day was Anna and Sambaru.
Supplemented with our own pickles, bhujia and chips, it tasted great! Next on the menu was something equivalent to the morkuzhambu (in tamil), made from curds, followed by some upma which tasted delicious even though
it was cold! of course, we had beetroot dry sabzi to go along with the food and finally Anna Mosaru. After the meal, we were asked if we would want to try some Ragi ganji kind of thing. It was a bit sour but hey. It felt good sipping it hot in that atmosphere, though some of the others had some trouble gulping theirs down their throat!! ;-) All in all, a very filling and wonderful lunch and as we headed back to the kitchen area to wash and cleanup, a good siesta was topmost in everybody's minds. Mats were spread out and soon everyone was dozing, everyone except me, that is. I could not get myself to go to sleep and so I decided to chat with the temple folks.I picked up a conversation with the lady, albeit in half broken Kannada. She told me that she had been there for only about a year or so and had come up the same Sarpadari route the first time. The kid was a small boy of about 6 years or so and I enquired how or where he would get educated once he got older. She informed me ../images/dreams/sharada_gr/mrs_8s.jpg
that he would go down to the village to stay with their relatives when he grew up as that would be the only way he could go to a school near the village. I was left thinking how their lifestyles shape up, in these places… so
../images/dreams/sharada_gr/mrs_9s.jpg different from how we live, or take things, for granted! It was around 3.30 pm by then and still there was no indication of any sun showing up that day or the mist clearing up!! In fact the mist never cleared up all that day or the next day morning, so we never really got to see how the hillscape looked from the top!! :-) Waking up, some of us got into philosophical contemplations on the values of life - why we run forever trying to achieve all sorts of success or comforts, whilst at that point in time, just being there seemed to satisfy all our senses and wants and we felt at peace with the world. Next on the cards was some games to pass time and we played Uno and DumbC for a while.The need for a fire arose strongly by then, with no trace of warmth around, and at 5.00 PM we decided to see if we could light some fire to get ourselves a little warm and dry.
The caretaker first told us to make a fire on one side in the open, but of course, the wind had no such intentions
and kept blowing at its own pace. It took quite some bit of effort from our good old firemakers, Saro, and others to persist and get a fire going, and just when we were getting the fire up finally, the caretaker changed his mind and asked us to move it inside the kitchen area. After pacifying him that we would keep it around for just a short while, we warmed ourselves a bit and around 6.30 or so he moved the fire inside. It was dark by then and the fire inside was anyway a useless ball of smoke. Dinner was announced at 7.00 pm (which I have totally forgotten what we had, except the bhujia and the pickles). It was followed by another round of games and by 9.30 pm, we were lulled into our beds, by the vikramaditya story telling session that was being narrated by one of the caretakers in the next room. ../images/dreams/sharada_gr/mrs_10s.jpg

Next day started at 5.30, with a steady drizzle marking the beginning of the day. The caretakers at the temple
../images/dreams/sharada_gr/mrs_11s.jpg had a very clean and well-maintained restroom that we could use and I was really impressed by the cleanliness! Something for some so-called fashionable city dwellers to learn from!! A round of morning coffee and we started down Mullainagiri at around 6.45 am. The weather showed no signs of relenting and kept on the steady drizzle. It was awesome!! One of the person from the temple volunteered to show us the way till a point where we could follow the track on our own, as the track isn't very clear in the initial section. On the way he also showed us one more cave on that size of the hill, which was supposedly connected to the caves we saw the previous day before the summit. Visibility hardly went above 25ft or so. After a point, he showed us a small grass track and said we could follow the trail from there easily and so we did. Enroute we came across another
superb location, an opening into a valley down below with a gorge kind of a view. The wind was really strong and loud in this section! After fooling around for a while in there, we continued and the path was pretty simple after that and in 2 hours we reached a clearing with two benches, with a Vivekananda carved in stone,
which was right before the trail met the tar road below. It must have been some kind of picnic spot for the localites. Breakfast at this place, and we were down on the road. There is a police checkpost at this point on the road and except for 2 who opted out from here, the rest of us set for Bababudanagiri. Hitchhiking was out of question as we found out as soon we landed on the road - it was the annual festival at the Dattattreya Peetha that day and the road was filled with row after row of vehicles of all sizes, from 2 wheelers to jeeps to buses, taking cart-loads of saffron clad folks to the Peetha. Had we known before, we might have planned something else. That being said, we set out to walk the distance on road till we hit the point where we could catch a trail leading upto the top of Bababudanagiri.The road winds through the ghat section and provides some very beautiful views of the natural surroundings in these areas. ../images/dreams/sharada_gr/mrs_12s.jpg
We came across a small waterfall kind of place where we could see many people bathing. The place sure was crowded! Bharata had mentioned a possible route uphill, but we could not locate one specific route, as there seemed to be many small tracks going up the hill every 200 mts or so. At one point, we checked at a shop on the road where a person agreed to show us a route right next to the shop. The trail joined back at the road at a higher point and after that we lost the sign of trail again. The roads were impossible to tread with so many people who seemed more interested in smoking and causing nuisance rather than anything closely resembling religiousness. A dampener to the trek, Venu got fed up after a while and decided to find a different trail going up (thanks to venu and his daring ideas!!;-)) Some distance on the road, we saw something that looked like a trail in the slope, and Venu suggested we try this out. Trail or not, we decided to try it out, after a few metres it
../images/dreams/sharada_gr/mrs_13s.jpg became clear it was not a trail, just a path made by water or something perhaps, but the best (or worst) was yet to come. After some more distance along this path, the climb got steeper and steeper and there was nothing but loose and damp soil. We could still not see what was above and continued. By now there was no path, just loose and damp soil, with stones or branches around. We then realized that this was no trail, it was a landslide and the rest of it was looming before it. A steep surface with mud and soil with loose stones that got dislodged if you tugged at them. Goodness, I sure did get the scare of my life then. However, our ever enterprising Venu was not to be outdone, and soon we were all crawling on fours like monkeys, dig into the mud and crawl on fours to be able to get grips and move up.Venu went first with Sukesh after him with quite a bit of agility, I should say. The direction they chose also offered somewhat better grip compared to what DB and Kiran followed straight up where,
after a point, they were left hanging silly, with no more grip to move up! Myself and Saro followed them but decided to take Venu's direction and headed up while DB and Kiran had to do some lateral shifts at that point to position themselves in the same direction! It sure was a bit funny as well, though. Finally, we and our backpacks finally hauled ourselves over onto the road at the top, with passersby gaping at us, and mud all over the knees, legs and hands. The hilltop was less than a km from there but we ditched the plan seeing the long queue lined up on the road to get to the peak and head back. With all the usual trails taken by the people, we had to resort to some vague and small trail branching out below and chart out our route based on the sense of direction. This part was fun as there wasn't always a trail around but it was nice to sight the road below and head in that direction. The hillocks in this range are pretty smooth with small dry grass vegetation with some thorny bushes now and then. After about 2 hours of trekking down, we reached the road and lo, there was a bus waiting right there going to Chickmagalur. We huddled into it and set for Chickmagalur. A sumptuous dinner at the hotel and we started back for Bangalore that night, with memories of Mullainagiri that could never die out from our hearts!:-)

This was definitely one place to visit, in the rains and early post rains!!

~ R Sharada

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