Balagal - Mullodi - Hiremaleguppi - Navooru - Belthangady trek in December 2013
Its been a while since I did my last trek - long enough to get that itch to look out for something interesting! It came in the form of a mail from Vishwanath[1
], talking about a trans-western-ghats trek around Kudremukh ranges. I had done a trek to Kudremukh
in November 2007 and knew how lush green those hill ranges are - no way I was going to miss this!
The plan was to take a tempo vehicle and travel to Kudremukh on a saturday, stay at Mullodi, complete the trek on sunday and return overnight. A day before the trip, Vishwa sent me the pick-up route for the tempo and the closest point for me was at Ramakrishna Ashram, Basavangudi. I was out of my house early morning, took an auto to Basavanagudi and reached the place on time - but the vehicle was a little delayed.
I had company in the form of Mithun - who was also set to join the trek. He had done a few treks before, the most interesting being Ombattu Gudda - where he went with a guide and ended up walking non-stop for two days! I could not help mention that this is usually what happens in a Ombattu Gudda trek
- with or without the guide! Also, I could not help wondering if and when I will ever manage to go back to Ombattu Gudda, now that trekking is restricted by the forest department after a student lost his life there. Procedure for getting permission seemed a little difficult as well, unless we go through a guide - but the whole thrill of an Ombattu Gudda trek is to explore your own trail.
By 8, the tempo came in and looked almost full - I could not find many familiar faces, except Anand, whom I had met for Narasimhaparvatha Trek
. I also met Vinay, who had done a few treks with Vishwa before. But, the real surprise was meeting Ananth - we recognized each other only after chatting for a while - whom I had met years back in 2002, during a trek to Siddarabetta (which is undocumented, but, I managed to revisit Siddarabetta in January 2010
). It was a pleasure meeting after so many years and more importantly, being able to recognize him!
Next stop was at Vishwa's house, were he and two other members - Kranti mam and Chaitanya - joined, along with the supplies. Now, we were all set to go and reached Tumkur road pretty soon. At Nelamangala, we took the Mangalore road, which is now a good 4-lane road almost till Hassan. By 10, we were near Kunigal and stopped for breakfast. The restaurant looked crowded, but we did not have much options as it was already quite late for breakfast. In the end though, we could savour some nice thatte idli, vada and sambhar.
Past Sakleshpur, we turned towards Mudigere and then took the Kottigehara / Kalasa road. I had a little nap in between to compensate for the early start :) By 2.30, we were at Kottigehara and stopped at a local shop for lunch - meals with sambhar and rasam, not very good or particularly tasty ... but it took care of the hunger :) and again, we did not have many options.
We passed by Kelagur tea estates by 4 and stopped for a tea, during which I checked out the shop and ended up buying a bottle of honey. In another hour or so, we went past Kalasa and a little later we could see the outline of Kudremukh ranges in the distance. I wanted to jump down and take a picture, but the driver refused to stop as there was not enough space there. Just a few turns later, we reached Balagal village, from where the jeep track to Mullodi village starts. Unfortunately though, the outline of the hill ranges was not visible, even after I walked around looking for a clear view.
The main road continues towards Kudremukh town, from where the trekking permission needs to be taken. But, Vishwa had managed the permits before-hand and we could get down here and take a jeep ride towards Mullodi. Meanwhile, the tempo will head towards Navooru village, near Belthangady, where we would trek to, the next day. The jeep required three round to take all the people and luggage and I was in the last one, with Ananth and Vinay. The ride was a bit rough, but was made interesting when Ananth narrated his experiences from a Nanda Devi expedition. Due to bad weather he could not complete the expedition, but ... wow! Great to finally meet someone who had attempted a ~8000m peak!
We reached our camp - the Mullodi house - in Mullodi village by about 6.30. The place turned out to be the same house where I had stayed during the November 2007 trek to Kudremukh
. I could not recognize any faces from the last visit, but the house and surroundings loked very familiar. The first thing I remembered was the stream next to the house were we had bath last time. Unfortunately, the stream looked almost dry this time and it was getting dark already leaving me not much time to check out the surroundings.
In spite of not having anything to do, evening was quite interesting, when I got to talk to and get to know the rest of the gang. Chaitanya, a student from Pune, came here just to join the trek. Kranti mam - probably the oldest member in the gang - had a few treks under her belt. Srikant sir came with his 9-year old school going daughter Avani. Shashidhar was the elder brother of Anand. Dr Prabhakar, Dr Lakshman, Sreenivas Reddy sir and Om Prakash sir looked like they are in late 40s, but sounded a lot younger in terms of spirit!
Gathered around the fire
With cell phone reception only available for BSNL, that too only at one corner, I borrowed Srikant sir's phone and managed to make a call home. Our hosts set up a camp fire and we all sat around it to fight the cold. The elder ones shared stories about their childhood experiences and was appreciative of the fact that the youger lot had interest in things like trekking! We got in to an interesting discussion around 'in-our-childhood-there-was-nothing-interesting-other-than-drinking' ... which may have been true. Obviously, the opportunities and exposure available to our generation was a lot more higher.
Soon, it was dinner time - chappathi, some awesome chicken curry, palya, rice and sambhar - and the lights were out soon after. Some of us caused trouble for the rest by snoring loudly ... I atleast remember Kranti mam getting up in the middle of the night and in her frustration, requesting another person to just get out or stop sleeping! I was a bit scared with this as I was notorious for my snoring habits as well. I requested Chaitanya to tap me if I snore too loudly and ended up trying to sleep light ... if such a thing was even possible. Nevertheless, in the morning, I was told that I snored enough to lead the symphony (or, cacophony) at times!
The day started as early as 4, when a rooster's call woke me up - now thats not happened for a few years! At 4.30, there was a wake-up call to ensure that everybody is up. Eventually, by 5.30 itself all of us were set to go. The start was delayed for some more time as our guides were delayed.
Crescent moon was rising up from behind the hills and the sun seemed to be right behind - as it soon started to become brighter. We formed a circle on Om Prakash sir's advice and did a formal round of introduction. The lunch boxes were distributed for each person to carry and by then the guides arrived - by 6.15, we were all set to go.
Vishwa explained the plan for the day - we would head towards Hiremaleguppi peak - adjascent to Thirumaleguppi - and then get down towards Navooru. The trail from Hiremaleguppi towards Navooru is long and takes most of the day - hence the early start. Highlight of this trail is beautiful views of the Kudremukh ranges, specifically the twin peaks of Thirumaleguppi and Hiremaleguppi. Climbing either of Kudremukh or Thirumaleguppi will take more time and leave us with little time to complete the trek to Navooru. With camping not allowed anywhere inside the park, we had to reach Navooru by the end of the day.
Out of our camp, we passed by a few more houses, which also looked like homestays / camps. The jeep track soon turned in to a foot-path and the fauna around us started to get thicker. Kranti mam had a little trouble when the soul of her shoes came off, but she tore it off and continued to walk! It was apparently a new shoe ... well she said it worked better without the souls.
The gang & Kudremukh peak!
Soon, we reached a fork, with the trail to Kudremukh going straigh ahead. Our trail - towards Hiremaleguppi - forked off towards left, with a valley coming up between the two trails. A little walk through a shola forest and a small ascend up a grass-land ... we were in open land. To our left was the Balagal valley, covered in a carpet of clouds ... and to the right was the Kudremukh valley with the un-mistakeable tip of Kudremukh peak jutting out from the rest of the grass-land.
Photo shoot near the stream!
We passed by a couple of shola sections after this, one of them hosting a stream. A little more ahead, we could see the Hiremaleguppi peak as well ... with greenery covering the trail all the way to the peak. The grass lands had a light tinge of gold, making it a touch more beautiful! We stopped a while savouring the views all around us ... which only got better as we headed towards the peak.
A tinge of gold to the grass!
Can u spot the ants???
With too much of landscape to savour all around, I was a bit slow and fell back behind the rest of the gang. With grasslands all the way till the peak, I could see most of the guys going ahead - as if they were ants in a green carpet! So, there was no reason to worry about getting lost - as long as I can stretch a bit and catch up with the rest when it is required. But, I was forced to pick up pace when Vishwa remined me of our tight schedule.
The slopes of Hiremaleguppi
Peekaboo ... or is it Peak-a-boo?
The valley separating us from the Kudremukh peak turned deeper and wider as we went up. We were walking by the edge of a hill, with the Hiremaleguppi peak straight ahead of us. The peak belonged to a range with a few other hills further towards south-east, to the left of our trail. We could see atleast one peak - Thirumaleguppi - which looked a little taller than Hiremalegupppi and had a rocky face towards west. By now, the sun was making its way out of the hills and started peeping out by the side of Thirumaleguppi.
At the top of Hiremaleguppi
The yours-truly pose
As we approached the peak, we could also see its western face, which looked rocky and steep at the top. By about 8.30, I joined the rest of the gang at the top of Hiremaleguppi, where the GPS showed about 1500m in altitude[2
]. We stopped a while for photographs, before opening up the breakfast packets - steamed rice balls, a local delicacy, which reminded me of a sweet dish, localy called 'kozhukkatta
' that amma used to make.
A foot-trail was visible across the valley and the guide confirmed that this is indeed the trail that we are going to take. It goes along the valley for some distance before meandering to the east of the hills on the opposite side. With a long day of trekking ahead of us, we kept the break shot and were back on our feets by 9.
Let the descend begin!
The toughest part of the trek was just ahead of us, as we now had to descend towards the valley and it looked pretty steep. To begin with, we had to go around a few boulders and then walk down the grass-land at a very difficult angle. We tried different approaches like sitting and sliding down, avoiding the grass to get a better foot-hold ... and just running down. All of them had its own difficulties and the group took a good amount of time to descend to the valley, almost 250m below.
Steep descend by the cross!
As we descended towards the valley, we spotted a cross - our guide told that this is the grave of Simon Lobo, a man who lived in these hills. The Lobo-mane
, en route Kudremuk peak
, where he used to live was used by hikers till a few years back. But now, with years of neglect, it is in a dilapidated condition.
The twin peaks
At the valley, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the twin peaks - Thirumaleguppi and Hiremaleguppi. The later looked pretty with a lush green carpet cover draped around it, while Thirumaleguppi looked a bit intimidating with a predominantly rocky visage. Towards left of these peaks, we also had the Kudremukh peak, with its tip now heading in to the clouds.
Typical Shola trail
We entered a shola forest soon and passed by a tiny stream by about 10.30. I remembered Vishwa mentioning that we may not have any water sources later in the day. I had some more left in one of the bottles and somehow felt that the last water source is further ahead. This turned out to be a mistake, which I realized soon after! It was getting hotter and the water-level in my bottle kept going down - with no signs of any more streams.
Look who is hiding behind!
As we walked along the valley - away from the two peaks, Hiremaleguppi looked much smaller compared to Thirumaleguppi. To compensate, yet another rocky peak started showing up further east of Thirumaleguppi. Our guide mentioned that this peak is called Athiberi.
By now, we were mostly walking inside the shola forest, with occassional views of the three peaks. With some distance between us and the peaks, now all the three peaks looked like one single hill range. Thirumalegupppi was definitely the most significant one in this range, with the other two peaks forming its flanks on both sides.
All 3 of them - together
We had an obstacle on the way, in the form of a fallen tree. Couple of us, who was ahead at this time, managed to cross it by getting down from the trail, taking a path around the tree and climbing back up. The climb back was a bit steep and the presence of loose soil and rock, along with dry leaves covering the ground, made it a little more difficult. With more people taking this trail, the loose soil and rocks became more and more unstable causing some anxious moments for the last few. Especially, Avani, who was almost the last person to cross had some trouble, but the guide helped her with the task and Vishwa went back to lend an additional helping hand.
The whole manoeuvre cost us more than half an hour and it was about 12.30 by the time we were all back on the feet. My water bottle was completely empty now and the throat was already dry. The prospect of no water for the rest of the day was a bit scary! But, I had two packets of milk in case of emergency - even though milk is not the same as water :)
We got another steep descend soon after this, this time due to the soil and rocks eroding from the trail, making it slippery. This section also delayed the group with some of the members taking a while to cross it. Specifically, Avani was getting leg pain and was wobbling a bit. But, the girl showed tremendous determination and offered to continue walking.
I was very thirsty by now and decided to open up one of the milk packets. As usual, most people did not show much interest and I had to finish most of the packet, which I did without much trouble :) The milk gave me enough fuel to move briskly for the next hour or so - most of it through forest cover. By the time we took the next break, the GPS was showing an altitude of a little above 600m.
Lets take a break!
Some of the guys - atleast Ananth - were ahead of us, but I knew that Vishwa and the guide - who were keeping company to Avani - was behind. We decided to wait for some time here for them to join. I opened the 2nd milk packet also - this time more people were interested to try it out! Some of the guys were hungry enough to open up the lunch packet and munch on to the raw chappathis - we had no idea what was supposed to go with it and who was carrying it! In any case, I also tried one of the chappathis, if nothing else, it should reduce the weight of y backpack :)
What do u see there?
Some biscuit packets were also opened by the time Avani joined us. Her legs had swelling and she was in pain, but the girl managed to keep going in spite of that. A little ahead of this, we came out of the forest to a rocky vantage point with open views of the valley. Hiremaleguppi was barely visible as the peak was directly behind us now, but Thirumaleguppi and Atthiberi was visible to our far left (almost due North), though they looked quite far. Slightly towards right of this, I could see a vague outline of another hill range[3
] - other than this, the valley ahead of us looked mostly flat.
A little ahead of this point, we reached a jeep track. Our guide told us that the jeep track eventually leads to Navooru - it has 16 hairpin bends and we would be taking a straighter and shorter trail through the forest. There were sign boards for Kudremukh peak as this was essentially the trekking trail from Navooru to Kudremukh, which is now not allowed by forest department due to the limitations in camping inside Kudremukh national park area. There was a sign board as well, stating that entry is not allowed without prior permission from forest department.
With no signs of water anywhere, we finally decided to open up the lunch boxes. Vishwa distributed a yummy tomato & onion curry / chutney with which I literally swallowed the rest of the chappathis. He also joked that he changed his usual menu of 'Puliyogare' as I had expressed my dislike for it during our last trek! Well ... I did love the new menu :)
In the next two hour or so we passed through yet another shola forest, occassionaly crossing the jeep track. At some point, in our bid to cut through the meandering jeep track we ended up taking a wrong turn to eventually reach a dead end with thick tree cover. Ananth was keeping ahead here and as soon as we realized that this was a wrong trail, he lead us back for some distance and corrected the course before hitting the jeep track again.
After this, we continued to move along the track with occassional short cuts to avoid the hair pin bends. Ground was covered with dry leaves, mostly coming from the bamboo shoots present on either side of the track. I was with Vishwa, Anand, Ananth, Vinay and Chaitanya at this stretch when somebody from ahead started shouting out who-are-you in Kannada. Vishwa responded with a who-you-are, only to hear back forest-officer and a let-us-see-your-permits! Vishwa assured us that there is nothing to worry as he has all the required permits. In any case, the whole thing turned out to be a prank played by Shashidhar.
By 4, we eventually hit a tarmac road and started hearing sounds of vehicles. Vishwa had already called for the tempo and I could only manage a glimpse of the vehicle as it was speeding down the tarmac road! Ananth and Vishwa managed to atleast keep their luggages in the vehicle, but I could not reach before it turned back. Apparently, the driver refused to pick everybody up as the road was curvy and slippery - this was fair, but, it may have made sense to wait for atleast a few, so that he could pick up a few who had difficulty walking. It sounded strange that he came all the way, knowing that he can not pick up anybody and just decided to go back empty!
It took almost half an hour more before I got to see the tempo again. Ananth and Vishwa raised ahead, while I was mostly with Vinay and Chaitanya. There were a few houses in between and we could finally see people. Near one of the houses, I was threatened by a pet dog standing right in the middle of the road! I was pretty much alone here and the rest of the people had just gone ahead. I waited a little to see if any one else will come by or if the house owner would come out and rescue me hearing the dog bark loudly. But, no one bothered - eventually, I had to pick a stone and shoo him away!
I also spotted a sign board pointing to a stream, which was tempting in two ways - my water bottle and throat was totally dry and a good dip in the stream may have been amazing after a sweaty trek. But, I was not carrying any change of dress - everything was in the tempo!
End of trek?
Another 10 minutes or so, I reached a check-post and just after that was the tempo, parked near a house. A few of the guys were already there - waiting for tea and snacks offered at the house. More than the tea, I was excited to see a tap from where I could fill my water bottle. Almost two litres were gulped up in no time ... and that was such a relief!
Kudos to the little girl with a big heart
Rest of the people arrived one after the other, including Vinay and Chaitanya who had gone for a dip at the stream. The best moment though, was the sight of Avani and Srikant sir arriving amidst loud applause! With her feet and knee all hurting, the girl had been through some pain ... but kudos to her for not giving up and to keep going. Her first reaction was that she will never go for a trek again ... but that changed once she got some rest and the pain went away.
By 5, we were headed towards Belthangady and we could not help wonder why our tempo driver refused to pick up any one after coming all the way up! Vishwa's only response was that the guy did not listen to him, which was quite believable as the driver picked up a fights with almost everybody on the road during the rest of the journey. We had a refreshment break at a house in Belthangady, during which Vishwa, Ananth and me went for a visit to our host's estate guest house near Uppinangady. We could take a quick bath there and eventually reached back to Belthangady by 7.30, where a tasty home made dinner awaited us!
At about 8, we were back in the highway towards Bangalore, via Ujre - Charmadi - Mudigere - Belur - Hassan route. Yet another beautiful trek had ended, but I was sure to return to Mullodi - for another shot at Kudremukh and Thirumaleguppi.
- Vishwanath runs an adventure organization called Summiters.
- In comparison, Kudremukh peak is 1892m and Thirumaleguppi is almost 1700m.
- In later analysis, this range may be Ballarayanadurga.
© 2015 Sandeep Unnimadhavan