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Shivaganga - Trek to Shiva's abode in December 2008

Shivaganga (Shivganga, Shivagange, Sivaganga, Shiva Ganga) is one of those many trekking spots I missed, inspite of being so close to Bangalore (Bengaluru). Guess, once you are a regular in Western ghats, its hard to even consider the 'betta's (Kannada word for hills) around Bangalore. Apart from Shivaganga, we have many more trekkable 'betta's to visit around Bangalore, including the famed Skandagiri aka Kalavaarahalli Betta. Coming back to Shivaganga, it is about 56kms from Bangalore, with an altitude of 1368m. It has a famous 'Shiva' temple @ its foothills and a holy spring (called 'Olakallu Theertha', meaning water inside the rocks) en route to the peak.

We made a plan to hit Shivaganga on a sunday afternoon and started around noon time. After wriggling through the city traffic for close to half an hour, we were @ Tumkur (Tumakura) road. The initial stretches of Tumkur road is congested, thanks to the construction of the elevated highway going on in full pace, and it took us about half an hour more to reach Nelamangala. Preethu was already complaining of heat and hunger, so we started looking for a dhaba and found one a few kms from the toll plaza. After the lunch, comprising chicken curry, dal, rotis and rice, we were back on the 4-lane Tumkur road (NH4). With filled stomachs and near empty roads, the travel was a lot more enjoyable, in spite of the heat.

By abt 2'O clock we were @ Dobbaspet town, got out of the highway and took the left towards Shivaganga. Shivaganga is about 6kms from this point and is visible from Dobbaspet town onwards. The road (Dobbaspet - Yediyur road, I guess) is decent with just a few bad stretches. We were soon at a circle and took a right turn towards the foothills of Shivaganga. After passing through a busy street, with vehicles parked on both sides, we reached the temple entrance. From here, we turned right again, to park the car near the pond. There was already a huge crowd present here, including families. After packing our bags (it just had the camera, few lenses, tripod and a water bottle), we were ready to ascend Shivaganga.

We entered the temple premises and took the steps leading to the main temple. Wearing a footwear or shoes is allowed, for most parts, unless when you are entering the temple sanctum. Still, it feels a little blasphemic to wear a shoe when a lot of people are bare footed. There were numerous monkeys patrolling the entire trail looking for people carrying any food items. They seem to ignore hard objects like camera ... etc, but anything eatable, including offerings for the deity could be in danger!

At the main temple, we turned left for a 'Pradakshina' and then took the trail towards the 'Betta'. The initial part of the trail has many fruit and juice shops, selling pineapple, cucumber, sugar cane juice, water, aerated drinks and many other eatables. Due to the monkey menace, its wise to buy them and have them right there. With the sunday crowd, the heat, and a reasonably steep climb, they sure were doing good business. The sad side effect of this was the litter being thrown around. I saw that most of the shop keepers were sensible to keep dust bins and use it. There was also a lot of sign boards saying 'No plastic zone' ... etc, but that didnt help either. I hope, some regular clean up is being done here.

This portion of the trail is well marked and is along hard rock faces. But, the climb is made easy for devotees with steps cut on the rock and railings to hold on to. Soon, we passed through an arch seating a beautiful 'Nandi' (Shiva's Bull). By this time, we could have a panoramic view of the surroundings and the nearby hillocks were appearing small.

About half an hour from this place, we reached the big queue waiting for a glimpse of the 'Olakallu Theertha'. I was hesitant to remove my shoes and stayed out, while Preethu paid the entry fees (only Rs. 4, which I hope is spent rightly to maintain this place) and went inside. She came back some 15 mins later, thrilled that she could touch the water. It is believed that only good people can touch this water :) - good that I didnt try ;-)

Nandi with the roof
This Nandi has a roof!

The view of the surroundings was only getting better as we climbed and we were already higher than most of the things around us. Past the 'Olakallu Theertha', the ascend becomes moderate for a while. There are only a couple of shops in this stretch, but the littering was still as much as the earlier stretches. There was a huge boulder along this trail on top of which there was another 'Nandi' with a roof built above it. On one side, we could see the peak - a huge vertical rock face, about 200m!

Sandeep en route Shivaganga
Urs truly striking a pose

The best part was that the sun was now blocked by the peak and the temperature was a lot cooler without direct sun. Infact, with a nice breeze, it was like a nice walk in the park. In between, we saw an opening in one of the rocks, with water coming out of it. Looked like this is overflowing from the 'Olakallu Theertha', but there was no way to confirm.

A little later we reached a water tank amidst huge boulders. The climb became steep from here on and goes along the rock face. Like most part of the trail, there are steps cut on the rock face and railings to hold on, atleast on one side. But, the climb is almost vertical at some points making it tricky. Preethu started repeating her threats of 'never coming for a trek again' :), but it was only a matter of managing the fear of heights.

With so many families coming here, there was a steady traffic up and down. There were traffic jams, caused by some hesitant climbers and some rash climbers looking to overtake all the time. There were elders, kids and people carrying their babies. It was amazing to see the spirit and devotion of these people, climbing up without even a footwear and some with just slippers. In fact, only a few people were wearing shoes. In spite of this, we were surely among the slowest climbers! I had a nice shoe with good grip, bought only a few days before, and found it quite comfortable to climb. Preethu too, in spite of her fear of heights, fear of slipping and fear of monkeys hovering all over the place, did climb without much trouble - never mind her repeated threats of 'never coming for a trek again' :)

Finally, we reached directly below an overhanging rock face, which is the main peak. The trail goes around it and becomes almost vertical before reaching level ground. At this point, there was a boulder on one corner hosting a 'Nandi' and steps leading to a flat area. The boulder had steps, albeit vertical, to climb up and railings to go around the 'Nandi', which is cut on the rock. It was time to enjoy the view, click photographs and adore the beautifully carved 'Nandi'.

Right below Shivaganga
Right below the peak

Nandi @ the top
Nandi on the boulder at the peak

View point @ the top
Conference hall @ the peak???

After getting down from this boulder, we headed to the flat area. It had another temple and few shops selling water, butter milk and other drinks. Preethu didnt want to have anything and headed to the temple. Meanwhile, I had some buttermilk and lime juice, which had a rejuvenating effect. On one side of this flat area was a huge monolithic rock bed, offering a panoramic view of the surroundings. The rock bed was big enough for a conference room and even had railings around it :) Though, the location's beauty is marred by a few electric posts, cables and flags, it was a still a good place for a few clicks and to admire the view.

View from the top
View from the top of the peak

We @ the top
We, @ the peak

From the view point @ the rock bed, the whole trail was visible, apart from the entire landscape surrounding Shivaganga. We could see the temple complex and even the pond, where we parked our car. The trail had a flat region soon after the 'Olakallu Theertha' and then it continues on one face of the peak. There were a lot of people still moving up and down the trail. With the soft chilly breeze and the evening sun emitting golden rays, we had a good time there. It was about 5'O clock then and may have been worth waiting for the sunset. But, there was a risk of the light fading quickly after sunset, making the descend tougher and riskier.

Fanta Monkey
A Fanta drinking monkey

The descend was much swifter than I expected. In spite of the near vertical descend along the rock face, we managed to climb down at a reasonable pace. It was also fun watching herds of monkeys (some of them infants) sliding down the rock faces. At some point, the guys ahead of us were heard commenting that 'they are having a meeting and taking stock of the coconut and bananas they stole'. In between all this, I had a slip and a bad sprain, but managed to keep moving. Preethu was looking forward to having the sugar cane juice while descending down and I was wondering if the shops will be open after 6.

Nandi @ the arch
Nandi, pond, stairs, rails and the hillocks ...

We managed to reach the 'Olakallu Theertha' by 5.30, in spite of the heavy traffic. I had a small break near the 'Nandi' for snaps after promising to catch up with Preethu soon. Eventually, we were back near the shops before 6 and one of the sugar cane juice vendors were still open. I had 3 and Preethu had 2 glasses of divinely sweet juice and my tally for the day read, 3 glasses of sugar cane juice, 2 glasses of buttermilk and a glass of lime juice :)

Soon, we were at the temple complex. Preethu had taken a small bottle of ghee to be smudged at the idol and we forgot to do that while coming up. While she went in to do that, I roamed around the temple complex admiring the architecture and taking snaps. The temple was indeed interesting, with pillars and carvings all around. Monkeys also made good subjects for pictures :) Finally, I went inside the temple complex too, which had its fair share of 'Shiva Linga's and 'Nandi's.

Monkey @ the temple
Shiva's sentry???

It is believed that the ghee smudged on to the idol is converted back to butter, because of the coolness of the idol. The butter is then given back to the devotees, along with the usual 'Prasaadam'. As soon as we got out holding these items, we noted monkeys eyeing us. To avoid any trouble, we finished the 'Prasaadam', right there and slid the butter bottle into my jeans pocket. There were stories that the monkeys may even frisk you, if they suspect anything - but luckily that never happened!

My sprained feet was paining as soon as I stopped walking and it stayed a little immobile for the next couple of days. Few minutes later, we were at the foothills, took the car out and headed back to Tumkur road and ultimately to Bangalore. While on Tumkur road, the peak was visible to our right, with the red sky giving it a nice backdrop. With its approach side facing us, we could almost trace the trail we took to the top of the peak!

Its been a while since I did any trek near the 'betta's near Bangalore and looks like there are so many well known places to explore. Lets see how many more will be explored in days to come. I just hope that this will mark for us the beginning of a few one day treks around Bangalore.

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