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My day out in hills December 5, 2009

Posted by Sree in India, Trek, Western Ghats.
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Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim trek was my last solo trek. When I decided to one again, Bharata gave the idea of trek to Kumara Parvata. It was way back in Nov 2000, I had last been to KP along with Kumar, Ashok, Bharata and Karthik. I had taken a day off on Friday so as to beat the crowd of trekkers who come to KP almost every weekend. However, weather report was not very encouraging as it predicted thunderstorms at around 2PM. Generally weather in November is pretty dry, but thanks to El Niño, weather has been erratic this year. I was ready to brave it with some rain gear. Ok, so much for the preamble.

KSRTC bus dropped me at Kukke Subramanya at 6AM. I almost sleepwalked to Temple luggage counter and dumped my backpack and took daypack with me. After freshening up and having a light breakfast of some idlis in a nearby hotel, I started off at 6:30AM. After nearly a km walk from the temple, I reached the trailhead. There are lots of changes there since I came here 9 years back. The trailhead has the distances to various points and information of where water is available. Since I was doing a day trek and had two more days of tough trekking in Shiradi ghats, I decided to come back after reaching the stone Mantapa which would make 16km round trek.

Initial 5km stretch is in the forest. Since it was early morning and sun was not yet out, there was little light in the forest. I was almost running up in the trail to protect myself from the bloodsucking leeches that were on the attack from all directions. The trail even though difficult is well-defined, thanks to loads of hikers. KP trek has become a de facto standard for the hikers of the South India. The downside of it is pollution. There was garbage littered all along the trail in forest. People still need to know a lot about Leave no trace. I was the only one hiking to KP that day as it was a week day. My initial run had slowed down to a trot thanks to the treacherous terrain and humidity in the forest. After an hour of non-stop hike, I reached Bheemana Bande – a giant boulder in the path which was at 3km distance from the trailhead. This is the first place where water is available…. in a nearby stream. I threw my daypack on the rock and started plucking the leeches from my leg. I don’t mind these leech bites or little blood loss, but these bites cause itching for a week and that is a nuisance. There is an interesting article on how to remove leech in Wild Madagascar site.

After 10 minutes rest, I again started off. The jungle was quiet except for some bird chirps and occasional Cicada hum. Saw a couple of small snakes near the trail, but they didn’t pose for a photo. I stopped near the end of the forest for some rest. I had an energy bar which completed my breakfast. The forest cover gave way to elephant grass. Here the straight trail changed to switchbacks. The early morning dew was still on grass and within minutes my clothes were wet. Thankfully there were no leeches here in the grasslands. But grass brings a bigger threat! The sharp grass blades harbor the Harvest mite (or Chigger). Checkout Wikipedia for more info on these nasty creatures.

Pretty soon I reached a signboard which announced that I am entering the Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary. Couple of minutes of walk and I was in Girigadde. The name itself means farm in the mountain and it’s true to its name. Here the farm owned by Girigadde Bhatt and their house is the only place where trekkers can get something to eat on this entire trail. The barking of the dogs must have signaled my arrival. Bhatt came out of his house and asked my whereabouts. He was surprised that I am hiking alone. I told him I will go till Mantapa and will be back by 1PM for lunch. Filling up my bota bag, I went ahead to reach the Forest Department check post. This was a small shed in 2000, now it’s a full-fledged office+house. The forest guard was not there, but his assistant was reluctant to allow me to hike alone. He quoted that in 2007, a lone hiker got lost in the forest near and after that Forest Department made it mandatory that only groups of 2 and above are allowed to hike. I told him that I had been to this place long back and I pretty much know the way. Moreover, my target is just stone Mantapa. After some pleading, he obliged and allowed me to go ahead.

The trail is pretty well-marked and I went up and down the rolling hills. That’s the beauty of the KP trek. You climb one peak; you see there is a taller one behind it. This thing goes on and on. Sun was shining in the midst of the rapidly moving clouds. At around 10AM, I reached the Mantapa. Every hiker to KP has a story to tell about this stone structure. It’s an ideal camping place with water available in the nearby Kallinamancha tank. Even though the tank dries up in summer, nearby stream will have some water. Back in 2000 when we camped here, we made a rudimentary shelter with some blankets and survived the night very well. I snapped some photos and took a long break here. It was still 10:45AM. Since I had time, I decided to go up in the trail. As I went up, the trail became tougher. By now air was chilly and sunshine was the thing of past. Moreover thick mist descended on the mountain which reduced visibility to just a couple of meters. I wanted to go the place where I took the photos 9 years back. But as I went up the Shesha Parvata and looked around, the thick mist ensured that I didn’t see anything.

Here I had to make the decision. It was already 11:45AM. I need to climb down nearly 9kms now. And I have to save my knees and ankles as I had two more days of hike in unknown terrain. Moreover I need to beat that thunderstorm. I don’t want to be in open grasslands when the lightning strikes! So I started to climb down. The decent was tough given that the trail was moist. It was almost 1:15PM when I reached the Bhatt’s house at Girigadde. After resting for a while, lunch was served. It was a simple menu of boiled rice, vegetable curry, chutney, pickle and yogurt. At that time it tasted so good that I devoured the food quickly. Now finally that stomach is full, I started to take stock of the situation. Bhatt told that it rained the day earlier also but it was a short spell. The clouds had covered the entire sky. I decided to leave soon. By 2PM I left Girigadde. The rain hasn’t started yet. The weather was hot and humid. The sound of cicadas was too loud. I quickened my pace to cover more ground.

As I entered the forest by 2:30PM it started to drizzle. I was not stopping for anything. I put on my rain jacket over the daypack and went as fast as I could. Soon, the forest become dark as the cloud cover thickened. Initially the jungle canopy was able to hold off the rain but as the rain intensified nothing could stop it. The lightning strikes also began. I have seen thunderstorms elsewhere, but this one is so different. The forest was dark and spooky. There was no sound except for rain and thunder. The giant trees looked like monsters in the lightning flashes. The thunder was so loud that I had to close my ears! What began as a rain soon turned to a torrential downpour. The violent face of the nature was unleashed. Pretty soon, the trail was full of water and looked like a stream. My shoes were also full of water and I had to walk off the trail. Leeches were least of my concern then. Lightning bolts were almost incessant. The rain continued to pound hard. Even with the jacket, I was completely drenched now.

Finally at around 3:15, I came out of the forest to the road point. I stood in the shelter of a nearby hut and assessed the damage. Only two leech bites! I stood there for about half an hour and then the rain abated. Slowly I walked back to Kukke Subramanya. I picked up my backpack from luggage counter and reached bus stand at 4:30PM. It started to rain again. I caught a bus to Gundya and reached the Inspection Bungalow at 5PM. It was only after I took a hot shower and had something to eat, I felt alive again.

It was a successful (?) end of the day one. Still two more days of treks in those mountains were ahead, but I was accompanied by Bharata and Naren and a guide also. I had an early dinner and after finishing few chapters of ‘The Call of the Wild’, hit the sack.

Epilogue

The next day morning, we climbed Venkata Giri in Shiradi mountain ranges. We camped in an unopened railway station that night. On Sunday, we climbed Are Betta through a dense forest trail full of elephant dung! (Read Bharata’s blog for day 2 and 3  of the trek). Came back to Gundya that evening and left to Bangalore that night. It was one heck of a long weekend!

Glossary

  • Parvata – Mountain
  • El Niño – It is a periodic change in the atmosphere and ocean of the tropical Pacific region which affects the global weather conditions.
  • Ghat – A term for mountain ranges; used frequently in South India.
  • Bota bag – Traditional Spanish wine skin; I use it to carry water.
  • Mantapa – A pavilion made from stone or wood.
  • Idli – Steamed rice cakes; traditional breakfast in South India.

Footnote

The pictures are in Picassa album. Videos are on YouTube playlist.

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