Savandurga, a huge monolithic hill about 60kms to the south west of Bangalore at an altitude of about 1250m, is a popular trekking destination. The hill actually consists of two distinct peaks - the Billigudda (white hill) and the Karigudda (black hill). Both the peaks are almost of the same height, with Billigudda about 20feet taller. Most trekkers who go to Savandurga only scale Billigudda and go back home, while Karigudda remained largely unexplored.
In my first trip to Savandurga, I too planned only to go Billigudda, but ended up losing my way in the jungle in a completely bizzare manner. Almost 8 years later, I went back to this hills for a normal trek to Billigudda. I have heard a lot about the Karigudda (black hill) by then. I searched in the internet for information about the Karigudda trail, but found very little.
Naturally, after scaling Billigudda, I wanted to explore further and decided to go down again to Savandurga, check with the locals to see if there is a trail and take it whatsoever! Amal agreed to come along with his wife and friends, but backed off on the day. That left only Sudeepto and Priyanka as company. We went in my Versa this time and after breakfast at 'Trupthi Upahar' on Bannerghatta road, were soon on our way to Savandurga. We took the Big Banyan Tree road and reached Manchinbele by about 9. The road further had a good avian population and we took our time to cover this stretch. At about 10.15 we were at the Savandurga base trying to identify a trail to reach Karigudda.
There are two temples at the foothills - the Veerabhadraswamy temple and the Narasimhaswamy temple. The trail to Billigudda starts near the Narasimhaswamy temple, which is further down the road. This time we stopped on reaching the Veerabhadraswamy temple and enquired with a few locals. The first few people pleaded ignorance, but when I checked with a person at the nearby post office, he suggested that we can take the trail from behind the temple till we reach the remains of the fort and then continue along the fort wall. This was enough information to start with - so we happily parked the car, packed our bags and took the trail which he pointed to.
It was about 10.15 by this time. We passed through a few fields well covered with trees - specifically tamarind trees, as we could pick up a few tamarinds from the ground. Somewhere along the way, a dog couple accompanied us and Sudeepto postulated that it was after the buns he was carrying in his back pack. Priyanka was not so sure that they were after the right people as we did not carry anything good to eat.
|Entry to Karigudda?
In about 5 minutes, we climbed some steps paved with granite and reached a Mantap - obviously part of the ancient fort that existed here. As we went up, there was a trail running to the left of the fort wall, with trees on the other side and dry colorful leaves covering the trail. At some parts, the trail was paved with granite steps and there were occassionally markings on the rocks indicating the direction. The trail to Karigudda was not as wild as I imagined!
At this point, it looked like a very comfortable trek - with good shade to save us from the scorching sun. The ascend was moderate - we gained good altitude in a short time, but it was not too steep either. There were some clearings in between to give us good views of the valley behind us and the temples. I was searching for the Versa in front of the Veerabhadraswamy temple, but could not find it - as it was hidden behind a tree. We all started wondering if Versa is still there. I told them that it should not be a problem to get back to Bangalore as autos should be available till Magadi and it costs only Rs 18 to go to Bangalore by bus :)
We could also see the Billigudda peak - unmistakeable with the Nandi Mantap on top - towards far right on our trail. The dog couple gave us company all this while and patiently waited for us whenever we stopped for photographs. In about half an hour, we could see a vertical rock face to our left. We could also hear a whistling sound from inside the rock. Sudeepto was certain that it was not the sound of any birds - but some rustling side inside the rock. Isnt this the real rock music!
The fort wall disappeared here and the trail continued on along this rock face. Now, the shade gave way to small shrubs and huge boulders all around us. Unfortunately, the grass and fallen leaves along this trail was burnt - possibly in a controlled fire to prevent forest fire - making the whole place look a lot drier than it actually was.
Taking a break with the Canine companion
With the boulders all over the place, the trail soon became more interesting. Some of it was too big and we had to circumvent them to go ahead. We occassionaly climbed on trees and passed through the gaps in between the boulders. But, there was never any doubt, as the trail was clearly marked with blue paint.
Sudeepto on the prowl!
A little past 11, we reached yet another landmark - a cave like formation formed by the boulders. There was very little light coming from the top through a gap. At the exit of this cave was a man-made door - made out of granite columns. This door would have prevented the exit getting blocked with debris for centuries. I could imagine men crawling through the boulders, before the door was ever made.
How old is this door?
Are we done?
In a few more minutes we reached an open area. On a huge boulder that blocked our way, there was a two sided arrow, painted out of the same blue that led us all the way till here. Now, which side was Karigudda? We decided to move to the right side first and immdeiately saw the Billigudda peak far ahead of us. As we took a few steps, it felt like the trail markings were leading us towards Billigudda. Soon, it felt quite logical to assume that the two sided arrows were pointing to Karigudda on the left side and Billigudda to the right!
We retraced our path and came back to the boulder with the two sided arrow. This time we moved to the left side and soon saw a hill to the left. This was the same rock face we were following for the last half an hour or so and now we could see the top portion of this rock face. At the base of this hill, we could spot a few foot holds, carved on to the rock to facilitate climbing!
It looked as if the hill was inviting us to climb up and we could not refuse the invitation! The rock face was quite steep and climbing it would have been impossible for us - if not for the foot holds. Even with the foot holds, it was a little scary as we looked down - slipping from here would be fatal!
Billigudda with its Nandi-Mantap
As we dragged ourselves to the top, I was starting to wonder, if this was indeed the Karigudda peak. Soon, we had an answer. This hill ofcourse stood out of the jungle around us and gave us a good view of the Billigudda, but there were two more taller hills adjascent to this one. The one to the right was atleast a 100feet taller and for now looked like the real Karigudda! The trek was not complete by any means, but we were already quite close.
The pool, with Billigudda in the background
It was about 11.30 by now and we had enough time at our disposal. We decided to take a break and explore this hill - which turned out to be a very interesting place by itself. Right at the middle of the hill there was a huge burrow, which accumulated rain water forming a big pond. Our canine companions - who had accompanied us all this while - happily jumped in to the pool to take a dip. It would have been quite a refreshing dip in this heat, but we didnt take it as Sudeepto spotted bees near the pool. May be the pool and the bees had something to do with the 'rock music' we heard down below.
Karigudda is the one at top right
We took our time to look around, the Billigudda looked far, so did the foot hills. The two temples - the Veerabhadraswamy temple and the Narasimhaswamy temple - looked beautiful from here. Even this time, I could not identify if the Versa was still there - it still looked like hiding behind a tree! To the right side of the Veerabhadraswamy temple, there was a huge lake - something that caught my attention even from the top of Billigudda.
|Shall I take a dive?
Further right from the lake was a near vertical rock face forming the first of the two taller hills adjascent to the one we were standing on. The hill to its right was clearly the tallest in the region - barring Billigudda. I could not help wondering if it really looked darker than Billigudda to warrant these names?
At about 12, we said good bye the pool hill and were climbing down the foot holds. On reaching back the boulder with the two sided arrow mark, we now headed in the other direction. We followed the trail marks to enter in to a cave of boulders, but after we came out, the arrow marks were missing. We went ahead for some more time expecting the arrow marks to show up again. The trail seemed to be gradually going down the valley and Billigudda now looked closer.
Finally, we were blocked by a boulder with little space to cross over, especially with the trail totally covered with thorny bushes and the valley on the right side looking quite steep. I tried crossing over, but it looked difficult even though not possible. It was time again to remember the misadventure in March 2004 - even if we are able to cross over, it may not really mean that this is the right trail. It was quite easy to get stuck in between some boulders and it was only prudent to turn back and look for another trail.
We did exactly that and headed back towards the arrow marks. On the way I spotted an opening towards the right side (which should be towards Karigudda) through a set of boulders and we decided to take it. A little more ahead and the trail marks were back again!
Following the trail marks, we soon reached the other side of the valley (towards the west side - facing Magadi road). The trails first led us to a view point and then headed back towards the south. This time also, it looked as if we were losing altitude, but, thanks to the trail marks, there was not much of a doubt. The trail seemed to be going around the boulders, towards Karigudda. The canine couple gave us company even here and enthusiastically led the way.
All trails lead to the Ganesha!
Soon, we could spot another fort wall on our right - this time on the west side of the hill as we were heading southwards. The trail marks also seemed to be indicating towards the fort wall. So, we ended up reaching the same and on crossing over, reached a flat area with a few dilapidated mantaps and collapsed wells. Also, there was a rocky hill just ahead of us with a Ganesha carved on to its base. The blue trail marked seemed to be towards the Ganesha, which looked actively worshipped even now, as it was anointed with saffron and turmeric.
The hills here looked tall and we were now looking for ways to get on top of it. Even the dogs who gave us company till now, looked hesitant here. We started off from the extreme right side and then had to move towards the extreme left. There were a few footholds here, but after climbing a few feets, they disappeared. So, we had to pull up ourselves through a gap between two boulders and then crawl up to make it to the top. It took us about 15 minutes to reach the top.
Checking out the views from Ganesha hill
The real Karigudda was only a few meteres away from the top of this hill. A good leap could have taken us to the top of Karigudda from here :) but a deep valley between the two hills dissuaded us. Instead, we took another break here and opened up the bag packs to refill the stomachs. The dogs did not look quite enthusiastic about the dates and fruit bars that we were carrying. The male sniffed at the dates and left it alone, while the female ate it after taking a while. After a while, it even took the male's share and Priyanka was quite to declare that females always adjust with whatever facilities that are available.
Billigudda from Ganesha hill
I was wondering how we could bridge the gap between the two hills. We could get down half way from here and walk on a level area to get to the base of Karigudda. But then, to climb up Karigudda from there would have been a tough ask, given its smooth rocky surface and the steepness.
By the time we descended down this hill and headed back, it was about 1.15. The male dog disappeared after a disappointing lunch but the female kept us company for some time. We headed back towards the fort wall and then northwards along the trail marks. We had some trouble figuring out the gap through the boulders after which the trail starts to go up. We went down a little bit and soon realized we were off-trail. It took us a while of looking around before locating the trail leading up, but eventually we found it and headed back.
Moving along the trail, I spotted another gap through the boulders in the direction of Karigudda. We took this trail, went around a hill, through an area of throny bushes and finally spotted the base of Karigudda ahead of us. The rock face here looked menacing and absolutely impossible to climb up. Even the female dog, who faithfully accompanied us all this while, abandoned us here. We moved around the rock face looking for an easier aproach before finally getting blocked by thorny bushes.
Now, we had to give up and get back to the trail or try and go up right here. On closer examination - from a branch of the tallest bush I could get into - I could notice some crevices on the rock face about 2meters from where I was standing. There was also some grass growth to give additional support. So, it may just be a matter of pulling up ourselves till that crevice and then walk up along the rock face. Crazy as it sounded and felt, that was our best chance of reaching the peak!
Can you see the steps to the pool hill?
After a few trials and errors, I did manage to move up from the bush and get a hold on to the grass. Once there, I could get a grip on the crevice and the rest looked possible. Priyanka followed me and moved up with some support from both of us, while Sudeepto waited down, in case of emergency :) Finally, all of us got a hold on to the crevice and then started crawling up along the rock face. It was extremely scary to even look down as the rock face below the crevice was very smooth and steep. After moving up for almost 10 feets on the rock face, there was a burrow on the left and it became flatter. That was it - time for celebrations as we were finally on Karigudda!
Enjoying the view of Ganesh hill
The world looked a much better place from here - Billigudda almost at the same height and the pool hill way below us. The steps up the pool hill was also clearly visible from this angle. The ganesha hill looked like a boulder from here! It was about 2.30 by this time and hopefully we had enough time to spent at the peak.
After the celebrations, we opened up the back packs - buns, milk and dry fruits - for lunch. The dogs were long gone now and Priyanka sympathized with them for having missed the 'sumptuous lunch' after working so hard to earn it. It was a very happy and satisfying moment - a few minutes back it looked difficult to make it to the top and we were contemplating a return. Thank god, we didnt!
At about 3.15, we were back on our feets, crawling down the rock face. It looked quite scary at the beginning, but we managed to do this one step at a time. I slided down meter by meter, secured myself with whatever grip was available and then waited for Priyanka to move down. Once, both of us were on firmer ground, Sudeepto demonstrated how easy it really was - he just walked down the rock face all up right and comfortably landed at the bush. The body is capable of doing a lot - its only the mind that pulls us back!
From the base of Karigudda, we went back to the nearby boulder - first in the direction we came from, but as soon as I saw an opening towards the pool hill we took it. After a little bit of searching for a trail, we were back at the boulder with the two sided arrow - a lot faster than we expected. The Karigudda was actually not much far from the pool hill, but we had taken a round about trail after following the trail-marks towards the ganesha hill. But, on our way back, we just looked for a way towards the pool hill and reached there quite comfortably.
It was now about 4 and we kind of sprinted down. The trail was now well marked - along the vertical rock face of the pool hill, through the man-made door out of granite columns and then towards the fort wall. We met two guys on the way - they had gone to Billigudda in the morning and now wantd to scale Karigudda. We gave them all the information we had and wished good luck - may be they were a little late to reach Karigudda, but they could easily reach the pool hill and come back.
We moved quickly along the fort wall and reached the place with tamarind trees. There was some confusion as we were about to reach the last remains of the fort (the entrance with a mantap) but we soon found the correct trail. Soon, we could see the Veerabhadraswamy temple and yes ... the Versa was still there!
The official carrier for treks :)
Before 5, we were done dumping our bags in to the Versa and were on our way back. I stopped on the way (near a quarry) for another set of photos with Savandurga in the background - but this time with the Versa. The lighting was not as grand as we had encountered during our Billigudda trek, but I still had to take a Versa and Savandurga picture!
The drive was slow and involved looking out for birds and a beautiful sunset soon after the Manchinbele reservoir. By 7, we were at Kengeri and after dropping Sudeepto and Priyanka at Bannerghatta road, I was home by 8 - to share the adventure with the family :)
I did spend some time analyzing old pictures - taken during the misadventure in march 2004 - and concluded that I lost my way somewhere between Billigudda and Karigudda. But, now that both the peaks are conquered and the ghosts are exorcised, it will stay as just a bizzare aberration. Thanks to the hills to have saved my life once and then allowed me to climb both its peaks!