Let me start with an apology to all those who have conquered these mythical hills long long ago and kept it as one of the most well kept secrets in Western Ghats. Also, let me pray for all those who were lost here, including people I knew. I dont want non-serious trekkers coming to this place and making it another garbage area and I am trying not to put so much information here, to help non-serious trekkers or kill the suspense, thrill and challenges involved in this trekking trail. For a long time, Ombattu Gudda had been a secret of only hard core trekkers and by now, the place has accounted for a few trekkers getting lost and even some lives! While praying for no more mishaps in this area, I also hope that the mystery of these hills remain as it is.
I first heard abt it some four years back, but could not proceed further due to the lack of information. In recent times, with a slew of blogs available in the internet, the maps from Survey of India (map #48, p/9 1:50,000 or map #48 s/w and n/w, p/9 1:25,000) and equipments like GPS and compasses, more people have conquered this place. Ofcourse, even more are getting lost in those jungles! The first time I seriously started thinking about Ombattu Gudda was as recent as Jan 2008. A little later, I saw Peter & Chennai Trekkers planning to head to Ombattu Gudda. But their plan fell around the Vishu weekend and I couldnt have joined. Instead, I thought of going there myself and almost planned it in March end, if not for a last minute dash in office. Luckily, for me, Peter could not carry on with his original plan and re-scheduled it in May ... and I gladly joined!
Ombattu Gudda / Ombattu Gudde / Ombathu Gudde is @ an altitude of 971m in the Kabbinale reserved forest range accessible from Hosakere (near Mudigere) as well as from Gundya. The usual trek trail is to start from Gundya check post (in NH48 / Mangaluru / Mangalore highway), head towards a water falls, climb up Ombattu Gudda, get down @ Hosakere and take a bus to Mudigere. We too planned to do the same over a weekend ... but the only difference with the normal groups heading to Ombattu Gudda was the team size. Peter had an ambitious team size of 31 people! Big crowd for even a small trek around Bengaluru (Bangalore) and a nightmare to manage @ a place as treacherous as Ombattu Gudda!
Anyways, on a friday evening, Preethu and I reached @ Bengaluru railway station, were we spotted Ramki, Anala, Priyanka and Krishnamoorthy waiting with truck load of cartons, filled with water bottles! Before 10 we had full house, with 18 people from Chennai and 3 people from Tuticorin landing @ the railway station. All the people, except Ravi, from Yercaud Trek was there for this trek as well and it was nice meeting all of them again. I also knew a few others like John and Aditya thru mails, though I've never met them. Divya had a surprise in store wearing a beautiful white saree and we all were left wondering if shez joining the trek or heading for a fashion show in Bengaluru ;-) Another surprise was a 2nd Sandeep from Chennai, whom we'll refer as Sandy from now ;-) We took turns to shift the luggage (some heavy cartons containing water bottles) to the back side of the station, were our private bus waited.
Since, most of the people from Chennai had missed their dinner, we stopped at a dhaba on Mangaluru road. At the dhaba, a few people were reported to have fainted after seeing a lady with open hair and wearing a white saree. I wud also have fainted, had I not recognized that the ghost which scared the people was actually Divya!
|Getting Ready for the Plunge
We reached Sakleshpur by around 4 in the morning and fortuanately was able to take the Shiradi ghats (in spite of the road repair which was going on) to reach Gundya check post by day break. After a small break for changing, distributing the supplies, packing the bags and snaps, we took the jeep track towards Ombattu Gudda @ abt 6.30.
Jeep track is now a Footpath
The jeep track initially was amidst houses; but, as we progressed, it narrowed down and became a small footpath. There were some signs of moisture and good greenery even @ this peak summer; the path had a good 'junglee' feel about it. We had our first share of confusion when the road was crossed by a dried up stream leading to another path to the right, which we soon found to join back the main path :)
I was carrying a heavy bag, with a tent, lenses, camera and two sleeping bags and soon realized it was more than I can handle. With the humidity, I also started sweating profusely and its not a nice feeling when sweat impedes the vision and drops into the mouth. It was a welcome break, in little more than an hour from the main road, when we found ourselves near the first stream, which was beginning to dry in the summer. I gladly washed my face and hair in the cool waters to brace myself for a tough trek ahead. It is here that we first spotted leeches, generating interest, especially in those who havent seen them yet!
Miles to go before we sleep ...
Next break was another hour away, in an open land, from where we could catch a glimpse of the mountains (not Ombattu Gudda, I guess). The sunlight had begun to seep thru' the forest and it was getting hotter. Hence, the third leg took a little more time than the first two. The number of obstacles, fallen trees, branches growing into the path ... etc, were also more now. I was finding my bag a little too heavy by now and decided to empty some of the things I carried (atleast the milk packets and chappathis) at the breakfast point, so that I could move along the rest of the group comfortably. Preethu spotted a leech moving inside her dress and had to search a while to pick it up. It was all swollen and happy by then after a good feast!
Dip in the Stream or Hike up the Mountains? We want both!
By about 9.30 we were near the Kabbinale Hole, where we planned to get fresh and take our breakfast - chappathis and jam. The stream was a li'l stagnant on one side, but had clear water on the other side. Peter jumped into the water straight away, followed by the rest of the gang and started making merry in water. Mahalingam, the youngest dynamite in our group, seemed the most ecstatic in water, with Srikanth and Sandy splashing water on him and each other. I was content initially in photographing the action, but the lure of water, as always, finally got to me. Armed in my lungee, I plunged. Soon, Peter reminded us that the major part of the trek is only going to start now and we need to move fast to make it to the grass lands before the light fades.
We ended up spending an hour in water, before starting to move again. It is from here that the real trek started. Peter, Arul, Ramki and Shyam, the leaders of the group had plans made too. The idea was to let Arul lead the group, closely followed by Peter, then Ramki. Shyam and Amal was to bring the rear up. We had a walkie-talkie set as well to make sure there is enough communication between front and rear, with Amal and Peter carrying it for now. I was a little late packing up after the time in the pool and four of us (Preethu, Amal, Shyam and myself) ended up in the rear.
The instructions from the walkie-talkie (from Peter) was to continue along the river and we did just that. But after a few minutes of making our way through the bushes and rocks, unable to spot others, doubt crept in. A little ahead, we spotted some more people including Ramki, but soon realized that they were as lost as us! In between, somebody told that two guys started walking up the hill (and away from the river) and Amal volunteered to go and hunt for them. It was all chaos, until, we spotted Srikanth coming back, looking for us. Soon, we spotted Peter and the rest of the gang waiting for us. We all looked at each other, as if to say: "Welcome to Ombattu Gudda - the paradise for people who wants to get lost!"
Looks like most gangs, heading to Ombattu Gudda, are getting lost around this stretch. If u observe the map carefully, we need to head north a little while from the river and most of the people heads towards the jungle right here. We should ideally, follow Kabbinale Hole for almost an hour before turning north among other smaller streams. For most part of the trek, the path is pretty close to one of the streams till the last climb to the grasslands.
River and Rocks
Peter's verdict after this initial goofup (which took about an hour to rectify) was straight-forward. We should move in a group! From here on Shyam took up the sweeper responsibilities to heart and Arul was excellent as the path finder! We were walking along the river now and it went on for some time. The path criss-crossed the river every now and then and we kept following the stream, with Peter and Arul rechecking positions on GPS and map every now and then to make sure that we are on the right track. One bad thing that happened during all this was one of the walkie-talkie falling in water and becoming useless. This made things a little more diffcult since moving in a group was a must now.
The going was tough with slippery rocks and time running out. It was also important to make sure that everybody kept together. Shyam kept saying "Move People ... Move it ..." and made sure that the people behind (including me) kept up with the front runners, which included Arul, Sabith, Rudee, Vivek, Ramki, John, Anala ... among others. There were people like Prem, Srikanth, Sandy and Sreekumar (I actually forgot a few names here ... 31 people u know!!!!), apart from Peter and Shyam, who were helping out others to sail through the slippery rocks.
Preethu had a bad cramp in between but was ready to go in no time and even refused to hand over her bag, in spite of Peter and Prem offering to carry it. While, we were chugging along, the water in the stream was crystal clear, all along. Any time u r thirsty just sit down and drink water ... wow!!! Btw ... all water bottles were emptied to reduce the weight and we were carrying only empty bottles. Why carry artificial mineral water when we are walking next to a crystal clear water stream?
Revelling @ the Falls
After walking for abt 3 hrs along the river, we finally reached a waterfall @ abt 2'O clock. It was time for a break. Lunch boxes (bread and jam) were opened up and some people (the first one being Peter, himself) headed to the waterfall to get soaked. As usual, I spent a while with the camera, but, ultimately headed to the waterfall. My trousers and t-shirt was dripping wet coz of the sweat and I decided there was no point in trying to change it before heading to the waterfalls.
In another hour we climbed up by the side of the falls and headed up. The trail got steeper from here on and the rocks were slippery. This ensured that we took more time to head towards our camping point. The final climb which was supposed to take us to the grass lands never seemed to come. According to one of the blogs, this was abt 2km vertical climb and a very tough one. Obviously, this wud have been a tough one to do once its dark ... and that meant we had to hurry.
Divya, already figured out that walking in the slippery rocks is easier without the shoes and Preethu started using the same tactics with some success. We crossed one stream after the other and climbed one slippery rock after the other and it was getting darker and darker. Arul had been going ahead every now and then and coming back with the news of "Therez a path ahead" and Shyam kept pushing people with his trademark "Move people ... Move it ..." The desperation levels of some reached the levels of saying "Whoever says move ... I hate them all!", "I am not moving an inch now!", "I hate that guy Arul ... cant we camp somewhere here???" ... etc etc. I am not saying who said all these ... c'mon ... u guys can guess!!!
At abt 6, with darkness already looming large, I suggested camping near the falls and Peter supported me. I was actually waiting for that scary 2km vertical climb and didnt want to do that in the dark. But, Arul already moved ahead and we decided to follow him. Time for trekking in the dark along a 70 degree (and possibly vertical later) ascend! Frustration had crept in by now and even Shyam started shouting "Is there any space to camp up there?" Amal, headed up to look for people at the top and see if he can get any news.
Finally, by the time it was pitch dark, Amal came back with the news that there indeed is camping space @ the top. This, surely elicited responses like "Liars ... I cant walk in this night!". People from the top kept assuring that the grassland is nearby and people @ the rear kept throwing tantrums! In between, Arul himself came down and assured that the 'promised land' is just abt 10mins! People showed us lights and kept pulling up the entire group. Shyam, Rudee, Amal ... etc came down and helped to pull up people. Finally, after numerous falls, slipping and even crying, by abt 8'O clock everybody was up and sure enough ... there was 'promised land' at the top ... lush green and bright even in the night, with a view of the sky and the far away hills!
Lying down all exhausted @ the 'promised land', serious questions came to my mind about my own fitness! This trek, though long, wasnt exactly a tiring one and the exhaustion I was facing wasnt really justified. Infact, I'd been feeling that I've slowed down considerably in the past few years ... but never as bad as this. I thought of a few solutions, like cutting down the comfort and carrying lighter sleeping bags ;-), cutting down further on lens & photo equipments, cutting down on backup items like milk packets. Someone even suggested shaving my hair and beard to save on weight ;-) ... but I knew that its all excuses. The only weight that really mattered was somewhere near the waist-line (which I usually hide for photos by holding the breath!) ... with a little more belief and some effort to stay fit, I shud be able to do better!
Thank god, the 2km vertical climb never came - it shud either be an exaggeration or a wrong way. I felt that, since we did the trek during summer, climbing along the water falls was possible and we could avoid that 2km vertical climb. Thnx to Arul, the path finder, and Peter for taking us through the best route possible. In hindsight, getting up here after a climb in the dark was the best thing we did. It not only made things doable for the next day, but also saved us from the dangers of camping near a water source in summer, with wild animals roaming around. Also, the last water source was just behind us and it was always possible to go down and fill the water bottles needed for the following day and cooking. Later, Shyam also located a climb up to another hill, which might have been the 2km vertical climb, straight up from the water falls.
Not everybody was as beaten as I was ... and some of them quickly cut grass around the fire area, collected water, setup the campfire and prepared the cup noodles and soup. I slipped into the lungee (again!), gobbled up the dinner, spread the tent, sleeping bags and soon crashed into a good sleep. There were some initial worries of wild animals and lying in the open, but I doubt if that affected anybody's sleep :)
Next day, we were all ready by 7, with Peter, Arul and Srikanth already gone down to fill up the water bottles. There are no water sources in the hills from now on and it was important to carry enough water. When I looked around, there were peaks all around us, but the map says Ombattu Gudda is towards North-east. Arul, as before was leading the group, with the rest of the gang following. We started off towards the North - East direction, but slowly started drifting southwards as we kept going down through the bushes. Peter, smelt a 'bug' and rushed to the front, suggesting not to lose the attitude we gained. To correct the 'bug', everybody headed back to the base camp and after more discussion, headed a little west of north, descended a little and then started climbing up again. In abt 20 mins time we were near another grassland with clearer views. Looked like, this is were the notorious 2km vertical climb landed!
|Me ... Trying hard not to look beaten ...
Our camping site, as per Peter's GPS equipment was @ a height of about 560m and we had to reach a height of 971m @ Ombattu Gudda. Hence, it was quite important not to lose altitude. Our path, even now was among the bushes, occassionaly with a view of the surroundings. But, as soon as we reached the next grassland, @ abt 8.30, it all changed. There were some beautiful views on offer all around us. Lush greenery till the horizon, punctuated with dark green areas of thick shola forests, covering mountain ranges on all four sides. We had one more steep climb ahead of us, again to the North-East direction, which took us to even more heights with gentle breeze. Now, the views were good and all the tiredness of a hard trek was beginning to pay!
Up Up & Away
Kissing the Clouds and Looking @ the Valley ...
We opened up our remaining food packets (bread, chappathi, jam, ketchup) and had it for breakfast. At 9.30 we started climbing again and proceeded steadily to the next hill in another half an hour. Here, John spotted a few orchid flowers and went to collect the flowers. We were almost in celebration mode with only abt 200m ascend left and tiredness already gave way to excitement of finally making it to the Ombattu Gudda. Before 11, we could see the jeep track heading to Hosakere to our left when we reached the hill just before Ombattu Gudda. From here, the jeep track may be accessed to our left (North-west direction) and Ombattu Gudda to our right (eastwards). We had a short break, left our luggages there and headed to our final frontier. In spite of a tiring day behind us and an option of staying back and waiting for the rest of the gang, only 3 people stayed back. Actually, by the time I even started from here, I saw people like Sabith and Rudee running towards the peak!
The Final Frontier!
Its Photo time Boys ... Amal and Shyam!
From here to Ombattu Gudda peak was straight forward. Couple of ups and downs, enjoying the views around and taking snaps. Ombattu Gudda is definitely not the tallest peak around. There were even more majestic peaks all around us, seperated by deep valleys and thats one more reason why the surroundings looked so beautiful!
Thnx for Saving my life ... Preethu with Prem and Sandy
At abt 11.30, we were at the top of Ombattu Gudda. It was time for photo sessions and Preethu wanted a pic with two of her best buddies Prem and Sandy, who literally pulled her up for most part of the trek. Infact, she wanted a paragraph to be dedicated to these two :) Speaking abt dedication, one thing that Peter used to motivate people (Preethu, Nayantara, Priyanka ... etc) was an offer to dedicate a paragraph for them in the blog! And rightly so ... coz of the way they braved thru this in spite of extreme difficulties, refusing to even give away their bags. Kudos to u all! Ofcourse ... the whole group (most of us hardly knowing each other before this event) was always ready to offer a helping hand whenever they can. Without this help and co-operation and the leadership skills of Peter, Shyam, Arul, Ramki and a few others, a big group like this, may be for the first time, couldnt have made it to Ombattu Gudda. Kudos to the Chennai Trekking club and the spirit of trekking!
Kudos to Chennai Trekkers!
To celebrate the occassion, one of the trekking club t-shirts (Vivek was brutally stripped of his t-shirt) was hoisted at the peak as a flag. Hope it stays there till our next visit!
After all the photo sessions and celebrations, it was time to go back. People from Chennai had their tickets booked in a bus starting @ 11pm from Bengaluru and it was looking increasingly difficult to catch it. So, we were back to the luggage point @ abt 20 mins and along the trail towards the jeep track in another half an hour time (by abt 12.30). There was a trail, along the bushes all the way till the Lakshmi estate premises, where we can hit the jeep track heading to Hosakere. It was back to civilization with a few workers around this area. The jeep track would lead to Hosakere where the bus was waiting for us. Though, Hosakere is abt 13kms from this point, it was a little lesser to the tar road and we braced ourselves for a walk along the sunny jeep track @ mid noon to get back home!
Quick Lunch @ the Jeep track
This was probably the toughest part of the trek, with an ascend in the beginning and hot sun @ its zenith. To make the matter worse, most of us were hungry and even short of water. At 1'O clock we stopped for another munch and finished of whatever was remaining as lunch and then continued the walk. The jeep track actually goes higher than Ombattu Gudda @ 1065m, when it winds around a hill and offered good views around us. Once the ascend was over and some tree-cover was available, giving us shade, things became easier. Time was running out now and catching the 11pm bus looked even more difficult for people from Chennai. Peter already started discussing alternate plans like booking tickets in anther bus or taking a train early morning.
Preethu was finding it extremely difficult and Shyam was again at it with his "Move people ... move it", without which it wud've taken a lot more time. Preethu was indeed dragging herself all along and trying her best to catch up with the rest. In between, Sandy snatched her bag, in spite of her protests, to make things easy for her. By abt 3.30 we saw Rudee coming back and told us that the Lakshmi estate house was just ahead. He helped us with the luggages and we were soon @ the estate house, where we could refill the water bottles, wash our faces and take some rest.
Some of the guys, Arul, Prem, John, Sabith, Amal, Rudee, Ramki ... etc went ahead to catch the bus and get it back to as far as they can. The tarred road was about 3kms from this point and we kept meeting people telling us that it is 'just ahead'. We had to cross a gate in between, where a person (carrying a gun) told us that the bus is waiting a 'furlong' away. Finally, by abt 4.30 we were at the tarred road, where the bus was waiting for us, thnx to Prem, John, Sabith ... etc who walked another 4kms, till Hosakere, in this hot sun to get the bus here!
It was time to go home now after an exciting trek. We started back @ 5 and people from Chennai didnt have much hope of making it to Bengaluru by 11, in time for their bus leaving to Chennai. At 6.30 we were at Sakleshpur for a lunch cum snacks cum dinner and then headed to Bengaluru by 7, to reach there by 12. A swaraj mazda (tempo traveller) was arranged for people to get to Chennai, which came only @ abt 3 and they had a tough time and a sleepless night reaching home @ only 10am. But, I am sure they wudnt mind after the exciting experience @ Ombattu Gudda!
Kudos once again to Chennai Trekkers club, especially Peter, Arul, Shyam and Ramki for pulling off something as wonderful as this without any mishaps. Not everyday wud u spot a group of 31 at the top of Ombattu Gudda! I guess, I also may have a first to claim at the top of Ombattu Gudda, as I may be the first person to conquer this peak in a lungee ;-) ;-)... Oops ... I shud've hoisted my lungee as another flag there - may be next time! kudos to me too!!!
Does the trek live upto the hypes in a few other blogs? To some extend! At the same time, its surely not an absolutely tough trek to do with a 99% chance of getting lost in a thick jungle infested with wild animals. An experienced trekker, equipped with the map and compass, should be able to find the way. Thanks to the sharp minds who lead the group in our case :) The map shows an alternate route to Ombattu Gudda along Adda Hole and Devar Halla, before finally approaching the peak from the east side along a steep climb. It will be fun to do this some time too :)