Railway track from Donigal to Subramanya - aka Green Route - is a 'must-have' in a trekker's 'done' list. And the track stayed in my 'to-do' list for a pretty long time. It was an article in Hindu  which Divya forwarded to me, that revived the plan. Ravishankar of 'The Wild'  suggested to wait atleast till October, when the track will not be that slippery. Meanwhile, we collected information from the web, most useful being a write up by Sharada R in DreamRoutes.org . By the end of October we started planning for the trek.
Sakleshpur is around 220kms from Bengaluru (Bangalore) and Donigal is 7kms further up in NH48. The railway track connects Hassan to Mangaluru (Mangalore) and passes through the western ghats past Sakleshpur. It runs around NH48 near Donigal, but gradually moves to the south of highway. The track passes through the stations Yedakumeri and Shiribagilu and then crosses the Subramanya road, which connects Subramanya with the NH48 at Gundya.
Our trek preparation started with booking the tickets, then arranging the sleeping mats and buying the MTR ready made stuff. Our plan was to take a friday evening KSRTC to Mangaluru, get down at Sakleshpur/Donigal, trek till Shiribagilu, walk over to Subramanya road, take a transport to Subramanya and then take a sunday evening KSRTC bus from Subramanya back to Bengaluru. The trouble was that there were only 5 return tickets were available from Subramanya.
On the trek day, 10 people turned up, 8 from Bengaluru - Pavan, Ashi, Rajesh, Vishal, Tiju, Prem and Sahu, Divya and her friend Padmini from Chennai. We had a big tension, when the Lalbagh express from Chennai got delayed by more than an hour, but managed to hold the bus for some time, thanks mainly to Prem - being the only guy who can follow Kannada well. Finally, Lalbagh express arrived at the station by 10.45 and the bus proceeded towards Mangaluru at 11.00, 45 minutes behind schedule.
Around 3.30 in the morning, We got down past Sakleshpur at Donigal (KM 229 in NH48), where a string of tea shops are there. We had tea/coffee there, heated up the MTR stuff for lunch and proceeded towards the railway station. It was a long walk in the moon light, during the wee hours of the day. Near KM 232, we saw a small hotel on the left side and asked him for directions. He told to look for a bridge, couple of kms away, a hotel on the left side and a road to the right, which will lead to the Donigal station. After some more walking and confusion, past a small temple on the right side, we did reach the bridge and a little ahead of the bridge was a tarmac road going up on the right side. This road is around KM234 (look for the milestones with distance marking; KM234 is infact the distance from Bengaluru and is most dependable in identifying the place).
From this tarmac road, the station is couple of meters towards the right of the first junction. At last, we could see the railway track, after walking for around 5kms. By then, it was around 5.30 and we started to get ready. Donigal station is marked as KM49 (guess, its the distance from Hassan), and subsequent markings are available in the track, which made it quite easy to keep track of the distance. There was a small stream near the station, which helped us brush teeths and answer the nature's call. Some of us took a mini bath, since the water was too good - freezing, but energizing.
Finally, at around 7.30 we started off along the track, towards Yedakumeri - our first day target. The highway was visible and was winding around the track for the first few kms, but then moved away. We proceeded along the track for almost an hour, before we encountered our first bridge at KM52. It was a small bridge, less than 50m long, but was enough to give us a feel of the bridges on the way. After you cover half of the bridge, I realized why it is considered scary. Its not that you will fall down, the chances are extremely thin, but if you do, it is very dangerous. The small gaps in between the planks will remind you exactly that, for the time you are crossing the bridge. The ground is usually very deep; deep enough for the mind to play tricks on you and scare you!!!
Soon after the first bridge, we settled down for breakfast near a thin stream. Bread - Butter - Jam and Bun. The weather was warming up by then and continued to be slightly sunny throughout the day. By around 9.30, near KM55, we reached the 2nd bridge, followed by the 1st two tunnels. The first two tunnels were small - only around 100m long and were almost continuous. There was a small opening on midway right of the first tunnel, through which we took to reach a view point overlooking the ghats and a water fall. We stayed there for a while, took some snaps and continued further.
Then on, the tunnels and bridges became frequent, longer, darker and higher. But, the scare was gone after crossing couple of bridges. The only exception being the sections of the bridge, where the planks are missing. Some of teh bridges even had a wide concrete side beam, making it easy to walk on the sides if needed. May be its not a good idea always, since, if you fall sidewards there is nothing to hold you!!!
By 11.15, before KM58, we encountered the first long tunnel - Tunnel 5 which is 254m long. We had to take out our torches and it is here that I realized my torch was not enough. It had feeble light and on top of that the battery was dying. Advice #1 - take a good torch and backup batteries when you are doing the railway track. But we managed with couple of good torches we had. Like bridges, tunnels also will become easy in due course, just that one has to watch out for some reptiles.
Around this time, couple of small trams carrying some of the workers/inspectors passed by and more people started appearing along the track. Work is on progress to upgrade this track into a functional broad guage. Soon after the trams passed, we heard the whistle of a train. To our knowledge, there was no other railway line in the vicinity and so this train has to be coming along this track. It took some 5-10 more minutes for the train to reach us. It was a small train with couple of boggies, used for transporting track-building material, like logs and planks. When the train came, Ashi and Sahu was in a bridge and they quickly moved into a side projection in the bridge.
It was lunch time by then. The walk was getting monotonous with nothing new to see other than construction work. We decided to take the break at the first sight of water and shade. But that was not for some time. Before KM59, we enquired a 150m long scary bridge. A km further up, it was a 383m long dark tunnel (Tunnel 6), so far the longest we encountered. Next to come was another long bridge (~200m) after KM61. Here, some workers at the base doing the renovation work, could be seen as small as ants. Immediately after this bridge a long tunnel followed, infact the longest tunnel during the trek - 575m long and pitch dark inside. There were tons of bats flying around and due to them the ground was really slimy, giving the whole place an eerie feel.
We went past another 150m bridge at KM62, to see the workers dislodging the stuff from the train. After enquiring them about water, we got to know that there is a stream soon after the next tunnel. The tunnel was long and towards its exit, there was a small stream of water. It was a slimy, dirty place, but already very hungry and tired we had no option but to sit down and eat!!!
Lunch consisted of chappathis, made on the previous day at 'Little Homes', Koramangala. It was made with extra oil, to stay for another day. We also had the MTR curries which we heated up at the tea shop in Donigal. At the end, chappathis were enough, but the curries were not. No problem, some of us spread butter on chappathis and ate! It was not a bad combination, especially when you are really hungry and tired!!!
We picked up ourselves by around 2.45 and continued for Yedakumeri. With the information available from various places, Donigal to Yedakumeri is 18kms and we should be there by KM67, which would mean that we are less than 5kms away from our day's target. That gave us some energy :)
Past some more tunnels and bridges, at KM64, we encountered one more big tunnel (410m). Soon after 4.00 we had crossed our last tunnel before Yedakumeri (Tunnel #18) and soon we saw the tracks diverging and the track started going around a hill, giving a view of the western ghats on your right. We walked around this hill and exactly at KM67, there was a platform on the right side, and a board saying 'Yedakumeri'!!!
It was 4.30 by then. We checked up the station, it had a lot of shelters, not so clean though. The platform looked like newly made and clean. After, sitting down and resting for an hour we all got up. Time to collect firewood, make the camp fire and cook food. There were lots of workers staying around the station and they were very helpful. They told us that there is a nice stream ahead and firewood will be available on the way. Some of us proceeded for a bath. Past the station, a small bridge, the railway track disappears, only to reappear soon with a waterfall on the left side and another bridge in the front.
The waterfall was good, with cold, refreshingly clean water. We had a small bath session, during which Vishal and Rajesh encountered some leeches. This created a leech scare that stayed till the end of the trip. We collected some fire wood on the way back, also, workers staying around the area helped us by providing some. We arranged 3 granite stones, and with the help of some petrol and dry grass the fire was up.
Vessels were out and the cooking started. First coffee, which was badly affected by the smoke. The cooks, headed by Padmini soon realized the mistake and then on kept the vessel covered. The sweet corn soup (ready to boil pack) was soon ready, then the MTR curries and rice. Vishal and Rajesh took over from there and prepared some kanji (rice soup with boiled rice). It took a long time to boil, during which we had some nice songs from Prem, Sahu and others. Finally the dinner was ready by around 9, the fire place was opened and some big logs were added to strengthen it.
Another group of trekkers (from Infineon) were also there in the station and Prem knew them. They had started trekking from Subramanya, towards Yedakumeri. It was a long way (around 30kms) and some of them took a jeep for some distance to arrive at Yedakumeri before dark. Others, seems to have had a tough time in the dark and arrived at the station in batches, the final batch arriving around 9.00!!!
There is an exit to the highway from Yedakumeri, which involves crossing the Kempuhole river, which might be OK in december. Hearing this Rajesh wanted to push. He wanted to reach the office on monday itself. It took some time to convince him that we all are going to reach Bengaluru by monday morning and he'll be given some preference in case the tickets are not available from Subramanya. Finally he gave up.
After dinner, we spread our sleeping mats in the platform itself and slept. It was a cold night, with frequent winds. Pavan woke me up in the middle of the night and said 'lets go inside'. He was literally shivering. But, the rooms were not so clean and he chose to come back and sleep at the same place.
The cold, full moon night finally ended and some of us got up at 5.30 to light up the fire. This time it was quite difficult and took us a long time. Finally, by 7.30 we finished heating up the MTR lunch, packing and other stuff to proceed to Shiribagilu, which is around 18kms from Yedakumeri.
Track from Yedakumeri to Shiribagilu was different in some aspects. First the railway track is hidden under tall grass for most of the time. The grass en route where upto 5 feet tall in some places. The greenery along the track was also more, compared to the first stretch, with grass growth even on the top of some bridges. Also, the tunnels were in bad condition, since the renovation work has not started in most stretches here. But most of these tunnels and some bridges could be bypassed through some jeep-track. Also, the distance marking along the track was less frequent in some areas and hence difficult to get the exact distances. But some markings on electric posts and tunnels would still give you an idea of distance.
Before KM71, there was a land slide on the right side of the track, thus resulting in a deep gorge. We took a break there and some snaps. Soon after that we had breakfast at a waterfall on the left side, half a km past KM71. It was again bread - butter - jam, milk and choco flakes.
Before KM72, we encountered the straightest tunnel in the track. It was so straight and the light at the exit was visible from the entrance itself, giving a wrong impression about the length of the tunnel, which was actually 366m long!!! It was not so difficult crossing this tunnel, since light was available throughout the tunnel, because of its straight nature. But, what made complicated was Vishal's discovery of snakes inside. He told they were small vipers. I was in the front of the trail and missed the sight.
The sight of vipers had its effect on crossing the next tunnel, which was 427m, curved and pitch dark. There was a road going to the right of this tunnel, looking like a bypass, but we didnt take it, since we werent sure. The tunnel was indeed difficult to cross, especially with lots of bats and water at the exit. Some of us, got our feets/shoes wet here, which means trouble for the rest of the journey. At the end of the tunnel, we could see the bypass road joining the track again. It was here that we spotted some leeches again, which triggered a 'check-the-shoes' syndrome from everybody and resulted in detecting couple of them!!! Just left us wondering about trekking couple of months before. These deadly leeches, now confined only to the water bodies, would have been there all over the place!!!
Tunnel 25, the second longest en route followed. It is 553m long, but somewhat straight and hence not so difficult to cross. Soon after this tunnel the land scape changed. The highway started to be visible on your right side and so is some construction work. Workers had lots of camps here, one inside Tunnel 26, which is small. Lot more tents and even a bike (a Boxer) on the way, it looked like a small town. Some more tunnels followed and humans started disappearing. It was here that I sighted some elephant dung. I told myself that it must be cows!!!
Somewhere here, we took a break and me took the oppurtunity to remove the shoes and try to wet the socks and feet. I got myself in the end during this with only Sahu in the vicinity. There we encountered another tunnel around 300m long and pitch dark. Me and Sahu struggled to get out of it, since we both didnt have a torch. I tried lighting my mobile, one match box and then my torch which was dead by then, but none of them was good enough to beat the darkness. We somehow managed to cross this and was running afterwards to catch up with others.
At KM80, we encountered Tunnel #35 (488m). Immediately after this tunnel, there was a water stream on the left and we settled down to have lunch there. At the end of the tunnel, somebody had written 'Take right for Gundya here'. Gundya is the place where Subramanya road meets the NH48. We also had vague information about an exit around Tunnel 35 - 37, but no enough to take it. With around 5kms for Shiribagilu, a possible 10km for Subramanya road and time around 1.30, it was decided to take this exit, if found. We had lunch at this place, which consisted of MTR ready to eat Pulao, Kharabath, Tomato rice .. etc. Pulao was a disaster, may be because its cold and any curries where absent. We ate whatever we had and proceeded further by 2.30.
The exit to Gundya went un-spotted, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise!!! Past tunnels #35, #37 and #38 (last one wrongly marked as #27), we encountered the longest bridge at KM82m, around 3.00. It started after KM82.000 marking and ended before KM82.250, with a length of approximately 240m. This bridge was indeed long, high and handsome offering a breathtaking panorama. Also, some of the planks were missing in between, thus revealing the fathomless gorge underneath you - scary!!! But we did spend some time on this bridge taking snaps and enjoying the panorama.
With just around 3 kms and 7 more tunnels to go for Shiribagilu, I started wondering if the distance is actually 18kms. But, soon some small tunnels appeared and somehow we were at Tunnel#45 before KM85. Soon after the tunnel, there was a bridge, with one more track going up on the left side. Soon some divergences appeared on the track and voila ... Shiribagilu station was visible. We had made it to the station by 4.30 and looked like we had enough time to get to the road.
Like Yedakumeri, there were some workers staying in this area too. On asking one of those guys, he told that there is an exit right after the station. We confirmed with one more person that the information is correct. Now, the information we had from different sources was that the exit comes after Tunnel #48 and I was confused. At this point I saw a small tea shop on the right side ... the same tea shop mentioned in R Sharada's trip log at DreamRoute.Org , where they have got information about exit after tunnel #48. I got down and enquired Mr. Bhaskaran Nair and he also confirmed that there is an exit soon after the station to a village called Anila in Subramanya road and the distance is around 4kms. Another enquiry about coffee/tea was met with a stern 'You go ahead and try to reach home, otherwise you will be late' and I obliged. There was another man, Mr. Nanayan and his kid daughter Yeshoda going towards the Subramanya road and was kind enough to take us with them.
This jeep-track starts right after the station and immediately before the next tunnel (Tunnel #46). Mr. Nanayan's mother tongue was Tulu, but he was fluent in atleast Kannada, Malayalam and Telugu. He told that the route is around 2 1/2 kms, and there is one bus at around 5.30, which we can catch. The next bus was supposed to be at 7.30, but jeeps might be available in between. He also told that this road is newly built for construction purpose (and that is why it is not mentioned in any other trip logs). Another info he gave was about a herd of elephants seen around this area, a week ago. Now, I remembered about the elephant dung I saw en route. They were not cow's :) At one point he showed us a short cut across a stream. Some of the guys were left far behind by then and we decided to wait. Ashi went along with him for some distance to see the route and came back to show us through.
The track is not so hard to follow and is wide enough for a truck to travel. If you dont want to take the short cut, it is simple enough - just follow the jeep track till you reach the main road. But the distance could not have been 2 1/2 but more of 4km + as told by people in Shiribagilu. Since, we walked for around 1 hour and still didnt reach the main road. But houses started appearing along the route and we proceeded to ask one of the ladies we saw. She told that the road is just ahead. Soon, we heard the sound of vehicles and yes ... it was the Subramanya road ... and we made it by 6.00.
After couple of yelling, whistles and photos we tried stopping couple of vehicles but none of them would. Finally, two buses (one Tumakura / Tumkur - Madikeri private bus, followed by a red KSRTC) came and the KSRTC stopped. The driver was really fast and agressive and we soon realized that travelling in a red bus is may be as scary as crossing a bridge!!! With 15kms to Subramanya, I spotted an overbridge, may be a railway cross .
We were at Subramanya by 6.30 and soon realized that the KSRTC we came in is a special trip from Sakleshpur and is starting back to Bengaluru the same night. The Rajahamsas were full and we almost decided to pick up 5 tickets in the red bus, when a guy approached us and told about a private bus (Kukkeshree travels) going to Bengaluru. The bus looked decent and we took the offer. Then we had some food at one of the hotels, rented a room in one of the lodges, took bath, some had a look at the Kukke Subramania temple, dinner and boarded the bus.
I got an SMS from Ashi at around 5.00, next day morning, saying that they all (people who took the private bus) reached home safe 'n sound 'n sleepy!!! By then our Rajahamsa, was nearing Majestic bus stand. Soon, we got down, dropped Divya and Padmini at the railway station and took a BMTC bus towards Airport road, to reach home by 7.00. The trip was over, the limping and pain will stay for another couple of days, but the memories? they should stay forever!!!