Thursday, March 18, 2010

Kudremukh Peak - Go test your lungs & legs



                                    The mobile was very close to my ears, when the alarm went, and I sprang to my feet. In the darkness, I heard some one asking me to switch off the alarm, and I was back on earth, for it was Sreekumar. Of course Pramod should be there, by his side. We were at Mallya Residency, Agumbe, and we have to leave by 5 AM to Kudremukh, for this shall be the day of happenings – I realized. And you, my reader, may refer my earlier post, if you are keen, on how I reached Agumbe, from my home town, Trivandrum. And, yes my dear, it’s evitable.

              Got ready by 5 AM, and rang up Ganesh. With in 10 minutes he appeared with his Maruthi 800. The early morning drive through the rain forests of Agumbe should enthuse, for I have a task ahead today, and I kept my window panes open, despite the chilling breeze. Not even a single vehicle crossed till Sringeri, and we were there before the sun. Had a hurried darsan and left soon. Had tea from Jaipura bus stand and went past Balehennur to reach the small town of Kalasa by around 8.30 AM.


                                                  Kudremukh national park is the second largest declared wild life area in the Western Ghats,with a spread of 600 square kms, and falls in Chikmaglur district of Karnataka. The park got its name, from the highest peak within it, which resembles a horse face – the Kudremukh peak. The trek to the peak starts from a tiny village, Mullodi, at its base. Mullodi is around 8 kms from Balgal, and access from Balgal is only by 4 wheel drive jeep – or the two leg drives, that you are. Satheesh, belongs to Mullodi, and arranges treks to the peak. His house is almost last one of the village, and there after it’s the protected area. I had contacted him two days back for the necessary arrangements viz. permission from forest dept., booking guide etc.

            Contacted Satheesh, from Kalasa, and drove to Balgal, whichis 10 kms further, to the Mangalore side. It was a total of 114 kms from Agumbe to Balgal, one side, and we paid Ganesh Rs. 1500, though our agreement was Rs. 6 per km. Satheesh had arranged a 4WD jeep at Balgal and we had a hard time in it, for the next one hour, to reach Satheesh’s house at Mullodi. The village is bordered by towering grass hills.

            Satheesh is an enterprising farmer, that he had coffee, spices, coconut, arecanut, tomato and what not, in the 20 plus acres of land around his house. I was surprised to see that, he even had paddy farms, at this height. 

                            It was 9.30 AM by then, and Satheesh’s family served us with rice balls and chutney, and we finished off the whole thing, they had prepared. Our guide, Reghunath, turned up by then, and we got ready for the trek. A dog, by name ‘Hunda’, owned by none, soon established bonds with Pramod.

                       Satheesh once again confirmed the permissions over telephone – BSNL signals are strong enough, at certain positions. Satheesh’s family handed over the packet of lemon rice, our lunch, and a bottle to be filled and refilled from the brooks, along the trek path. We were off by 10.15 AM, lead by Reghunath and Hunda following.

                        We thought Hunda would return after a while, but to our surprise, he accompanied us the entire journey, till dusk. Within about 30 minutes we reached a brook and quenched thirst. The water had a different taste, but was cold enough, to take away the heat.

                    Filled the bottle and crossed the brook and we had a glimpse of the distant distant peak. Only the tip of the peak was visible.

                              It looked very far and too steep, that I doubted whether I would make it. And Reghunath, our guide, announces that it’s not that far, but just 12 kms one side. To the right of our track, we found an abandoned old building.

                        A man named Lobo had agricultural lands in this region during the early 19th century, and he had built two or three houses, which are now abandoned and added to the sanctuary. Another 15 minutes of trek took us to the next house, which was almost in ruin.

                        Till this point, about one and a half hour from the start, the trek was easy, with frequent brooks, grass hills, shola forests, little ups and downs, all in regular intervals. 

Just after this we had a steep hike, to get to the top of a hill.

I broke down twice, as I felt that my lungs would burst. It took around 25 minutes to get to the top.

                                          It’s worth a mention that once the hike went steeper, Hunda opted to be at the back, closely following the one who trailed. And most of the time it was none other than me. After another 15 minutes of easy walk, reached another brook, which was little below our track.

                                    Here we took some rest as we had similar hike to follow.

                              Filled our bottle, had a face dip and went for the next one. This time my throat dried up. Luckily the hike ended at another water source and I drank and drank and couldn’t even get up from that place, for a while.

                                           It was around 12.45 then, and we were almost at the foot of the cliff. But we are no cliff hangers. I could trace the track, towards the right, along the grass hill side, at a lower gradient, moving away from the summit. Reghunath explains that we have to travel about 1.5 kms to the right, along less steep path, climb up the hill and then walk to the left, the same distance, to conquer the peak, which is right now towering before us. Adding to the woe, there are no water sources, for the next two kms. Filled the lone bottle we had and our bellies, and got back to feet. The next 15 minutes, along the narrow hill side track,wasn’t that tough, for we had the vista around. Mountains and mountains and nothing else.

                               I wondered, where our starting point was, and got informed like this; count the mountains on your right, Mullodi is at the opposite side of the sixth mountain, and is not visible from here. Sreekumar couldn’t resist, conveying this information to his wife at home, and I wonder what her response had been.

                          Light moments did not last long. We were about to take on the steepest and longest hike, among the four such, along the entire trek.

                             Ten steps up, 15 second rest, next ten steps…, this was the strategy I adopted. Those 15 seconds were spent for photography, and all the more to keep me alive. Odd was my strategy and I was trailing. But Hunda was patient enough, to be with me. And he was found enjoying the vistas equally.

                          And by 1.30, that horrible stretch ended, and I found Pramod and Sreeekumar crashed at the top. I followed suit.

                                  Lying on ground, I found the summit, just about one and a half kms away. And I could see it from where I lied, the last stretch of about half a km, is yet another hike. I knew I was drained, but decided to get myself there, even if I had to crawl. Got to my feet, gulped from the bottle, what remained, and went on.

                                     Got to the foot hill at 1.50 PM. 

                            The last stretch, just around half a km, not that steep as the earlier; but dear, I had almost nothing left in me. I found Pramod experimenting with close steps, in an effort to avoid lifting legs up.

                                     I thought that would take time, and I should reach there before I fainted. I decided to stick by my old strategy and it worked. Just a few steps to the goal, I saw Hunda shooting ahead, to be the first over there.


Then Reghunath, Sreekumar, Pramod, and though last, but not least, yeaaaaaah, I made it.

Fell flat with a pounding heart and wheezing lungs. Slowly sat up to see where I was.

                            To the left of our trek path was the thick woods of Kudremukh Park, home to almost all typical fauna of Western Ghats.

                      In fact, I was lying just close to Bison droppings. Got up and staggered around. Reghunath points to the south, the hillside town of Belthangadi, and Arabian Sea is to our west. From east to north we had folds of Grass Mountains, with misty tips. The second highest peak of this region falls on the other side of Mullodi, named ‘Irumoor Guppi’. It can be hiked with half the effort and the views are equally fascinating, it seems. There are a few more cliffs to the right, adjacent to the apex, and before we could focus our cameras, mist spread, covering the panorama.

                          Slowly crawled down to the woods and opened our lunch packet. Our bellies were full of water and couldn't take in much, to Hunda’s pleasure. The flat surfaced rocks, within the woods, appeared to be better than the bed cushions, and dozed off till 3.30 PM.

                                 Hunda opted for a cooling session.

               Return journey, along the same path, wasn’t that tedious, except for my aching toes.

                       Stopping every now and then for a photo session, we kept on walking, at a moderate pace, and reached back Satheesh’s house, by 6.30 PM, without much happenings.

                             Had tea and then moved to the small, but beautiful falls on Somavathi River, very close to Satheesh’s house. Lit by the full moon and no one any where around, we sat beneath the falls for a while, though it was chilling. Back at Satheesh’s house, we had a small campfire and then food was served.

              We had rice, Sambar, Pickles, Papad and egg burji and don’t know how much we ate. We were allotted a small room in his house with sufficient bed spreads and blankets. As you would expect, the night was very cold.

Got up early morning and left Mullodi, by 6.45 AM, in the jeep Satheesh had arranged. From Balgal took a bus to Kalsa and hired an autorikshaw for the famous Horanad Annapoorneswari temple. The auto driver Mr. Prabhakar was kind enough to wait for us, and we got back to Kalasa in the same vehicle. Prabhakar took us a hotel that served neat and tasty food. After break fast boarded the 8.45 bus to Karkala,via Kudremukh town. Major part this journey was along the thick jungles of Kudremukh National Park, and got down at Karkala, famous for ancient Jain temples. Explored these monuments and took another bus to reach Mangalore by 2.30 PM. Did some shopping for the kids at home, and boarded Maveli Express which left Mangalore at 5.40 PM and reached Trivandrum at 7.30 AM on 1st March.

Pramod and Sreekumar rushed to their homes, as they were to be at office by 10 AM. And me………I spent the whole day at home.

Afterthoughts:
 
                             It would be better to reach Satheesh’s house by evening, so that the trek shall be started, early morning, the next day. If the peak can be reached by around 11 AM, there will be enough time to explore the thick woods on the other side of the peak, which we missed for lack of time. Mountain folds will be much more greener, after the rains………….yes, if you don’t bother leeches. Mullodi and surroundings are worth a visit, even if not for the trek. Should take family along, next time, to be with another family, in surroundings, totally strange. For, our kids are just living to learn and not learning to live.

Forethoughts:

                                Satheesh, Mullodi, Kudremukh shall be contacted at 09481074530 or 08263249595. Just inform him about your plans and appear before him, for he will take care of all other hassles. He charges Rs.300 per head, per day, with vegetarian food and Rs.350, if non veg. The food is a part of what they prepare for them and hence don’t expect much delicacies. Jeep fare from Balgal to Mullodi is Rs. 400, one side. If you are on the budget side, you may walk along the jeep track to Mullodi in 2 hours. Satheesh took Rs. 115, per head, as trekking fee, to be paid to the Forest dept., and I didn’t feel he was cheating us. The guide fee is Rs.250, and if you could afford, pay little more, for it’s a full day job for him. 

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kodachadri – Agumbe ; Following the Pilgrims

                          

                The original plot was Pramod’s, and he had a hidden agenda. Pramod is a pious man – of course a nature enthuse too - and a frequent visitor of Kollur Mookambika. We had earlier discussions on the rain forests of Agumbe, and he succeeded in presenting his regular pilgrimage as a pleasure cum adventure trip to Agumbe and surroundings, before us. He could trap six fools including me, playing the Agumbe card. 

                We met at evenings for the planning, and at the second day itself, I could sense the hidden agenda, as Pramod insisted on Sringeri, another place of pilgrimage, vaguely stating that it’s near Agumbe. I decided to play the fool, as I had plans on Kodachadri hills close to Kollur, and of course Agumbe. Our initial line went like this; leave for Mangalore by train on 24th of Feb. Hire a cab from there, move to Kollur and then trek to Kodachadri for the night stay. Second day : Trek back to Kollur and reach Agumbe after darsan. Third day : Full day trek to Narasimha Parvatha and to reach Sringeri by evening, and then to return back to Agumbe, after darsan. Fourth day : Agumbe wandering till noon and return to Mangalore, to catch the night train to Trivandrum.

            I tried my best, to squeeze in, either Saravathi valley trek near Jog Falls or Kudremukh peak trek, Chikmagalur, but failed for time constrains, imposed by crooked planer. Still I did some research on these places, as I knew Pramod would not object any last minute change, if Kollur and Sringeri were spared. 
                    Collected all useful contact numbers, booked all rail tickets and accommodations wherever necessary-- and our fools got wiser one by one. They dropped in a regular manner- one per day, and finally, two days prior to our journey, only the wise planner and the smart mender remained. Showering abuse on the traitors, we boldly decided to hold on. Pramod went on for a last minute catch, and hooked Sreekumar. Sreekumar is a 70% pilgrim, 20% tourist and the remaining 10% some thing else. But he was capable of swapping the interest levels, as situation demanded, and thus could cop with us. For instance, he turns a 100% monster, if not fed in time. Plans shattered, bookings canceled partially, we boarded Maveli Express to Mangalore, by 7.30 PM on 24th Feb, deciding to take it on, as it comes.
                       Reached Mangalore Central railway station by 9 AM on 25th. A bus bound for Kollur was ready outside the station and we boarded it. We had dropped plans to hire a cab so as to curtail the expenses, as there weren’t many to share. This bus had its usual plight and reached Kollur by 1.30 PM, and it was almost clear that we may not reach Kodachadri before dusk, if we attempted a trek. Rented a room at Trivikrama lodge, just opposite to the temple entrance. The room was neat and spacious for three of us, at a remarkably low rent of Rs. 150 per day. 

          Decided to hire a Jeep to Kodachadri and to return to Kollur by night. Had rotten chappathies for lunch and went to the jeep stand. They demanded Rs.1400 for the trip – Rs. 175 each if there are 8 travellers. We waited a while and could gather around 4 more, and started off by 3.00 PM. Drove along the Shimoga bound road, through Mookambika Wild life sanctuary and took a right deaviation, just after Nittur. At Kattinahole deviated right to the mud road.

          The next 45 minutes, put the 4WD on test, and of course our spine. The bumpy ride ended at Kodachadri shrine by 4.30 PM.

                The Sarvajna Peedha, where Sankaracharya performed meditation is atop the hillock and can be reached only by foot. There are two tracks to the top, just after the shrine. The one to the right is steeper and the left one is of lower gradient.

Srekumaracharya Enlightened
         We opted for the steeper one for the up climb. Went past the Ganapathi Guha and completed the climb in half an hour.              Once atop one would never wish to return. The vast expanse of Linganamakki reservoir, on river Saravathi, falls to the north.                    This reservoir had killed the Jog falls, as it is just above the falls. The jog falls remains a dry cliff, most part of the year, except during heavy monsoon shower, while the shutters are opened. This may be the fate of the beautiful Athirappillli falls near Chalakudi, once the Athirappilli power project is sanctioned, I fear. The Chakra reservoir resembled a pond towards the east.          The thick woods below the cliffs appeared darker in the faint light of the setting sun. 
                       The terrain in this region of the Western Ghats is deprived of the common fauna – the elephant. The west horizon went reddish, and we dropped our plan to move down to the Chithramoola Guha on the South.                Chose the less steep path for the return, and walked slowly to reach the shrine below, by around 6.30.                Left the place just after sunset, to reach back Kollur, by around 8 at night.                   I opted for biscuits and fruits, sensing the danger; but Sreekumar went ahead for yet another experiment. Beware - Hotels around the temple are sure to ruin your health. If you have own vehicle, you may move to Jadkal junction, just 8 kms from Kollur, towards Kundapura, to find small hotels that cater to the villagers, and not to the tourist stuff. I got this information from a Jadkal native, I got acquainted the next day, in a bus journey. We were to leave for Agumbe the next day, but there were no direct buses to Agumbe, from Kollur. On enquiry at the bus stand, we were informed that a bus leaves for Dharmasthala at 6.45 AM, which passes through Hebri, at the foothills of Agumbe. We have to pay a visit to the temple and catch this early morning bus. Went to bed early.

         Sreekumar woke me up by 3.45 AM, and we were at the temple gates by 4.30.                     
                      Apart from darsan, pilgrims had poojas to offer, and some how we could make it to the bus stand in time. Boarded the bus, which started 10 minutes late. Though we were the lone passengers at the start, the bus got half filled at Jadkal. Shibu , who got into the bus from Jadkal, was a migrated farmer from Kottayam, and soon we initiated a chat. He had rubber, coconut and arecanut plantations, at Muthoor, near Jadkal, and had recently expanded by adding another 15 acres of land at Haladi, enroute Hebri. At Nembu junction, our bus took a left deviation while the right goes to Kundapura on NH 17. Shibu was happy in the absence of elephants in their forest, in a farmer’s interest. 

                       Went past Ampar and reached Haladi, where Shibu got down. We moved on via Albadi and reached Hebri by 9.15 AM. Hebri is a small town. Albadi is directly connected to Agumbe via Someswara and if we had own vehicle, we could have bypassed Hebri. A tea shop opposite to the bus stop offered a variety, and we tasted all they had, for a meager 61 bucks. Only mini buses ply to Agumbe, and we got into one, that goes to Shimoga via Agumbe. Went past Someswara village, and entered the Ghat section. The driver, of course a regular guy, negotiated the hair pin curves with such an ease, that my kid does the midtown madness. We had to cling on to the window rails many a time, but our fellow passengers were least bothered. Drove into Agumbe bus stand by 10.30 AM.
                 Agumbe is a small villge, tucked in the rain forest , famed for the highest rain fall in South India. And, for the same reason it’s the home for King Cobra, in the Western Ghats. This isolated village was brought to lime light by the mid eighty DD serial ‘Malgudi Days’. We had booked a double room at ‘Mallya Residency’, a small hotel run by Sudheendra Mallya, just opposite to the bus stand. Met Mallya at his provision store in the ground floor, and he provided his Maruthi 800 with his driver Ganesh, a nice young chap, for our wander. We drove towards Shimoga and took a right turn at Guddegere to enter a village road, which further turned to a hilly track, that lead us to Kundadri hills. There’s a Jain temple atop with a green pool aside.          Ganesh had carried food for the fish in the pond, and he went on feeding them, while we roamed around.               We could spot Agumbe village on one side and the Varahi reservoir on the other side.                    Spent a while enjoying the breeze, and descended, went further along the village road, to join Agumbe – Sringeri road at Bidargode and later took a right turn, for Sirumane falls. On the way we could have glimpses of Narasimha Parvatha peak. 

Oh! I forgot to mention that we had already dropped Narasimha Parvatha trek, but included Kudremukh trek – the more difficult and testing one – and we have to leave early morning tomorrow, for the same.
Soon we reached Sirumane Falls and we were the lone people there.                Surprisingly the fall was still live, even in the peak of summer, and the water was clear as tear. Got under the falls, and felt it cold even at noon.                  We owned the whole fall. It was a nice massage, and once out of it, all the stuff that we had gulped from Hebri, had vanished.                Drove to Bidargode via Kigge, aong the other side of Narasimha Parvatha. – Kigge is the place where Narasimha Parvatha trek ends. Ganesh stopped at a small hotel at Bidargode, and to my delight, they had fish delicacies too. Ate to content and left for Jogi Gundi, falls close to Agumbe town. Had to walk a little through the thick jungle and it wasn’t worth.                 The falls had almost dried up and a small stream was feeding the pond below. Jumped into the pool and aquatics by Sreekumar followed.                  Walked back, got to the vehicle, drove to the town and then to Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS). There we met a volunteer by name Vipul, and had an interesting chat on their activities.               They had rescued and relocated hundreds of King cobras and had radio chipped 5 among them. Among the 5 three are still alive, and they regularly track them, as part of research they carry out over there. They even provide accommodation, for those with their eye. If interested, here’s the link – www. arrs.agumbe.com
Paid a short visit to Doddamane (The Big house), where Malgudi Days was shot. The present owner of the house, Kasthurakka, was a friendly lady, and she welcomed us.                    It was an old fashioned building and I struggled to link the views to the good old memories. Sreekumar hadn’t even heard about Malgudi Days, and was all the while wondering, why we should peep into some one’s residence. And the poor guy is still being tortured in friend’s circles.Thanked Kasthurakka and went down the Ghat to the sunset point.                  The place was crowded, and we left soon. Got back to the Mallya’s and settled the bill, as we had to leave for Kudremukh, at least by 5 in the morning.             He charged Rs.350 for the room and Rs.1100 as car rent for the day. He had also agreed to drop us at Kudremukh, early morning, for Rs.6 per Km. Ganesh agreed to be back by 5 AM, and left.
That night, after food at a local tea shop, we went for a long walk along the village roads. We were all alone in the darkness. Thoughts sprouted – Who had a hidden agenda – Was it Pramod or I – And who follow whom – Are the pilgrims following the traveller???????????

Of course we will visit Sringeri, early morning tomorrow......it falls on our route to Kudremukh.

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