Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The pure joy of giving

It could be any day of the year, but it just makes it easier to accept random people giving away unexpected gifts to strangers, especially dressed like that. And as one put it aptly at the end of event, it helps overcome our own hesitancy, push away doubts and just do it. The spirit of a festival affects us all, shoving everyday troubles away to be dealt another day. And instead, offers a chance to magically brighten our living, even on a cold day in December, celebrated as a symbol for all that is.

Alike 50-60 who made it happen (and others contributing only monetary wise), a chance to spread smiles among those who meet in our everyday living instead of yet another NGO/School gift distribution was compelling. And so, last Thursday, four teams started from Silk Board, Jayadeva Hospital, Tin factory and Yeswanthpur circle - 8 AM and thereabouts. All teams were then to converge to Cubbon Park to unite and revel in our day's experience.

Group C (the Sportive and Supportive team as it got labeled later) led by Gaurav (and supported by Hiren, Kamalesh) got us going with an outline of things to come. That was after we signed our attendance and pinned a self written badge (to identify ourselves, but I feel it served as a better identification amongst strangers that we were doing some team activity). Tasks were spelled out and readily we all raised our hands to carry them out. We then moved to Gopalan mall for breakfast (for some) in car and four motorcycles.

While waiting, Kamalesh, Ashish and Nadhiya carried out the first gifting - an elderly lady sweeper. The genuine joy on her face set the stage for our own experience too. And just before we were leaving, 6 kids added more color to the event - though a little spoiled by teens resorting to sneers and snides. Gaurav and team had already prepared us for this eventuality and we kept cool :) Apart from pre-wrapped gifts, we were also distributing toffees, biscuits and cup cakes and had money to buy food/drink - over the day it mostly involved fruits like banana, apple, orange and coconut water.

Learning on the go, we split the gifts into three bags (*, **, *** according to different age groups instead of boys/girls). Our next stop - near the Bypanahalli Metro Station. A large family selling various wares had bunch of kids - the smile and reaction to gifts and food items was overwhelming.

Being early in the day or what, we didn't meet any candidates at traffic signals. So, at Indiranagar Double road, we left Old Madras Road and decided to take CMH road. We treated a footwear mender and garbage collector. But still, plenty of goodies were left in our kitty. Murphy's law again to the fore.

Just past Ulsoor metro station, we spotted kids amongst construction workers. More smiles and joy, but a scared and crying kid too (later, other teams too revealed such incidents). And one sly fellow demanded and got a bat (which wasn't wrapped around the handle and thus spotted). All in all, the kids, their parents and us were all happier for the gifts received and given.

Onto MG road next. Just before Brigade road, spotted an old man struggling to walk - white plaster around a heel, asking around where to board a bus to Shivaji Nagar. We gave him cupcake (and biscuit pack which he refused) and brought him tender coconut.

The six ladies in our group then decided for a walk through Brigade road in search of needy (and call us if needed). Gaurav had an inspiration and along with Ashish carried it out - toffee and cupcake to a traffic cop :) Shortly after, myself and Ashish were called for service. The ladies were talking to a very old man selling ground nuts - got two packs from him and gave cup cakes. The very long walk thereafter to Residency road and doubling back to MG road wasn't fruitful in terms of gifting.

Meanwhile, others had got packs of cotton candy which we devoured before heading to final gifting location - Shivaji Nagar bus stand and neighborhood. The vibrant festival holiday mood was at peak here - so much hustle and bustle of crowd and hawkers alike and congestion so heavy that one couldn't walk more than two paces freely at a time. So, here it was that we managed to empty most of our hoarding, more smiles we saw, albeit amidst a tad uncomfortable surrounding of human congregation. And our elderly man with plaster was there too - must have got the bus without problems after all.

A light meal/juice at bus stand (too crowded here too) later, we headed to Cubbon park. More walking and a bit of confusion later, we finally gave rest to our tired frames and joined one another group near the museum. We greeted others whom we knew from previous treks, almost everyone was mingled - a big BTC family. A while later, the other two groups also arrived, almost simultaneously from opposite directions.

Ajita (overall organizer) got us quickly assembled (straight circle as the BTC joke goes) to conduct intro and feedback rolled together. As we were too many members, it took such a long time that Canteen wala got irritated as his customers found it difficult to find seats. We moved away (in our enthusiasm, we had quite overlooked our immediate surroundings) and formed quickly again to continue. People brought forth many positives and spark gleamed in their eyes as they reminisced the smiles and joy they had brought about.

Photo Credit - Shruthi
Photo Credit - Channa
Photo session (as separate groups as well as one big group) was followed by accounting and good byes to meet again to enrich ourselves as well the community we served. Sreeraj dropped me back home to end one of the best social events I have been part of.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mesmerizing Dudhsagar - 6,7 Sep 2014

The more popular a hill/waterfall becomes, its aura growing every year, the tougher it becomes to pay your first visit. Especially if you choose a date believing to be less strenuous but turns out just the opposite. All the effort and unsavory aspects perhaps impresses the memory much longer. And by that token, the pleasing moments seem even sweeter, giving a magic touch to enigma that is nostalgia.

To tame this beast, we had to register within hours of three BTC openings more than three months back! Organizers (Deepthy and Channa) had to re-schedule and settle for two train solution. And even then the bookings were spread across different coaches to accommodate our 22 member group. Detailed three page plan was sent more than a month back, but of course, we love last minute rush ;) Who'll get ponchos, tent, sleeping mats, food? To pack extra pair of clothes or not, shoes or slippers with straps, etc etc etc.

Sep 5. Train leaves at 9:15 PM. Friday evening. Priority for many is leaving office early, packing bags and beating traffic to reach Majestic. I recognize two back packers ahead in subway from previous treks - Vaibhav and Sudesh. About 30 minutes left, enough for them to have quick dinner. Long walk to platform 8, shoulders already protesting the heavy load. Too many chattering and excited trekking groups, identified easily by their backpacks/tents/sleeping bags/mats/plastic covers.

By 9 PM, most of our group had gathered near S4 coach, catching up with members met in previous treks. And after requesting some relocations, we squeezed and stood around full 8 seat compartment at one end of S4. Gaurav, as is his wont, got himself in line of fire, his Dum-malang-malang will probably become a legend in BTC history. Abhishek was another routine punch bag. Sudesh and yours truly were tagged the 'silent' and 'nice guys' :P. The raucous winded by 11 PM for fellow passengers benefit.

We reached Londa Jn around 7:30 AM. By then, we had freshened up and got a preview of things to come - lush green plants and trees, mountains, waterfalls and RAIN. Breakfast was assortment of idli-vada, vada-pav, tea/coffee etc. The vendor even had to replenish his stock to serve all of us. Crows and dogs on the hunt for scraps. Howling of few dogs roaming on the tracks was unbearable.

After packing/re-packing our heavy loads, round of introduction and group photos, we caught the second train to reach Castle Rock station. Contrary to our expectations, the general coaches was free enough to keep our bags easily and few seats to sit as well.

Finally, starting on the real tracks, we divided into two groups - fast trekkers to reach quick enough to reserve camping spots near waterfall and slow trekkers to follow behind leisurely ;) A sharp shower and multitudes of trekkers meant we couldn't assemble for whole group photo before starting. Out came our rain jerkins and ponchos and for most of the duration of our two day trek, we kept them on.

A dilapidated building just past the station, green all over courtesy algae, grass and the likes, was irresistible for a photo shoot, despite the rain and fierce wind. I guess the structure has become symbol of Castle Rock.

Our slow trekkers group itself got divided into two. Walking on rail track is monotonous and boring, which I had experienced previously at Sakleshpur. The concrete sleepers below the tracks are  preferred over rock ballast, but also slows our speed due to closer spacing than our normal walking length. And of course one had to avoid nastiness too. With about 14 km to be covered for the day, our heavy back pack and rain, one has to wonder the sensibility of such an undertaking.

Along our way lay plenty of small and medium sized water falls, tunnels and bridges. Plenty of rain in recent days and continuing, not unlike monsoon, meant that water gushed with plenty of force after passing man-made small tunnels under the tracks, joining some river beyond the cliffs to our right.

Now and then we would stop for passing trains, posing besides sign posts (especially the Goa-Karnataka one), waterfalls, bridges, tunnels (in total 11 from Castle Rock to Dudhsagar, each carrying a number and length among other details), etc. Ankit took most of our photos, but we didn't always take his :P And to make it worse, near a waterfall, a notorious monkey snatched a toffee packet while he was opening his bag. It was scary.

About lunch time, we reached half way mark - place called Caranzol. Owing to rain and other trekkers, we could find only a small shelter, just enough to place our bags and stand. Cakes, biscuits, Sudesh's khakara like snack were shared around. Plenty of monkeys, but not wild enough to come and snatch at us.

The other half of trek was more of the same - albeit even more rain. We saw railway workers having their lunch inside some of the tunnels. Thankfully, we didn't get caught inside one of the tunnels and having to endure loud passing of train - some trekkers from other groups did get stranded just as we had crossed.

At Dudhsagar station, huge crowd (after finishing their visit) was waiting to catch a train back. The waterfall itself is more than half a km ahead. Lot of groups were still moving forward for their visit - hawkers calling out for tea and snacks.

Even before the falls became visible, it announced itself with its loud roar around a bend. All the wind and rain spewed up enormous amount of water spray - flowing outwards from the falls and drenching people on the famous railway bridge. On occasions, it completely hid the other side. Someone throwing his t-shirt high up lost it to wind before gravity could win. Trains passing through were subjected to thorough wash as well.

Fast trekkers did such an amazing job of reaching early that our 6 tents had ample space to be put together near a two storey broken building on the other side of tracks. Of course, the rain meant it would be wet inside too, but there was no other option at all.

A small shop sold hot beverage and snacks - the best being vada-pav. Most of us reached well before 4 PM in the evening and it was a long wait for night fall. In an effort to keep the tents as dry as possible, we resorted to keeping our bags on wet floor and under dripping roof. That meant, very little space to move around or sit - there were trekkers from other groups as well. Those who were completely drenched just kept visiting the falls to be sprayed cold, now and then few snaps taken when rain relented.

The shop keepers weren't agreeing to provide hot water (for our cup noodles) like in past, so organizers did a quick fix of ordering Poha for dinner. It was good enough, considering the circumstances. By then, we were getting into our allocated tents and changing to something drier. And tents from other groups completely covered the small area, had to be careful in avoiding nails and ropes. Sleeping was difficult on wet mats, roar of the falls and trains passing every hour or so not helping - we weren't really too tired, more of shoulder aches and leg pains. 

Nonetheless, early morning just after 6 AM, we woke to much clearer view of the majestic falls. It lasted long enough for plenty of snaps before rain returned, igniting the ferocious spray again. After freshening up, we had Upma for breakfast. Channa distributed Chappathis he had packed from Bangalore. The shop also relented to give us hot water - atleast some cup noodles were consumed and importantly reducing some weight :P

After dismantling and packing the tents and back packs in rain, we had a group pic by the falls and started second leg of train track trek. We continued in the direction we came - intention was to reach Kulem and take a train back to Londa.

Around the bend, some distance ahead are multiple openings amongst trees giving the complete picturesque view of the falls and the railway bridge in one shot. There was even a hut built to the side of track, perhaps used by railway workers, there were trekkers hanging about when we crossed. The view and experience around the falls was reason enough to justify every other annoyance over two days and two nights in bad weather and difficult track.

Radio Dudhsagar, led by able Gaurav, Sudesh, Vaibhav and others, kept us entertained. They even tried to keep a theme going - new Hindi songs, old goldies and Kannada songs later on.

Distance to Kulem on rail route is less than first day's trek, but we took a detour at in between station - Sonalium (the name was cue to pull Sonali's legs). The muddy path was wide enough for jeeps to go, but it was numerous bikes that we saw (some sort of service provided as pillion ride - all the way from Kulem, nearly half that distance besides the rail track itself!)

It was a very welcome relief from having to walk on rail tracks. Even rain stopped while we were on this path. Dense forest on either side, plenty of streams cutting across - some wide enough for two buses side by side but not deeper than knee level, large butterflies, snails, etc. Thankfully, not a lot of dead leaves for leeches to prosper. Even so, just as we reached the train track again, one bit me and luckily was aware to remove the other.

Rain returned on the tracks. Our next destination was a small waterfall, 1-2 km before reaching Kulem. Mostly hidden behind trees, the noise gives it away. We left our bags on a small platform besides the track with someone manning the spot as and when the small groups arrived. Christening it as 'Chota Dudhsagar', we spent plenty of time there, with Channa again patiently catering to our photo demands. Not a waterfall as such, but series of rocks led to gushing water at some places. Force was so much that it was difficult to resist the flow and lean against the rock.

Snack and fruit fest after we were done. Thankfully, it had stopped raining. Our bags now were lighter too. A short distance ahead, all the streams we had passed by was flowing together as a river.

After reaching and dumping our bags in middle of platform, most went outside to have proper lunch. The few who remained had some more of Channa's Chappathis and tea. A cow on platform was hungry and stubborn enough to get something just to be rid of it. A large group (presumably from Pune) were having their feedback session. Some of then changed to drier clothes by utilizing a train scheduled to leave long afterwards.

By the time the train to Londa arrived, crowd had swelled to such an extent that people in general coaches shut door! Most of us had decided to risk the sleeper class anyway. And rain had a parting shot at us while climbing. Good business for TTE. We glimpsed more mesmerizing view of Dudhsagar as we neared the falls. The queue there was even more daunting that most/all sleeper coaches now resembled general ones.

The train covered the distance in about an hour what we trekked over two days. The misty mountains that we could see now and then were simply too good - worth a train travel just for that ;) Dosas, more vada-pavs and Ankit's chocolates for dinner. Feedback was full of praise for the organizers and fast trekkers. Cup noodles and weather were a sore point, but then the waterfalls more than made up for all for pains :)

Picture credits - Channa, Gaurav, Ankit, Anubha

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Channarayana Durga day trek - 31 August 2014

No matter how many treks one does, there is freshness on the next one. Turned out to be double bonanza on this last day of August with BTC. A large ensemble of 21 enthusiasts gathered by 7 AM at our usual location - Shanthala Silk house near Majestic. Deepthy and Hiren were on task to keep us on leash. Hiren and Abhishek (another organizer) were just coming off from 2 day trip from Kodachadri (talk about trek addiction :P).

Funny acting evokes real expressions :) (PC: Ritu)
Soon after our mini bus was on its way, the usual ice breaker - Dumb Charades started. And this time, thanks to Vikram, I managed to not make a mess :P Ritu's guessing were too unnatural to be often asked for a ban! We stopped at Dabbaspet for breakfast (idli-vada, good but a little spicy for my liking) and packed for lunch (Vaangibath and Chitranna). The enacting fun continued until we stopped for our first trek - Devarayanadurga.

Intro session
This hill is more famous for its many temples and well built steps from base criss-crossing its way through forest and road. We started barefooted from one rung lower than temple entrance after a round of introductions and snaps. A guava tree stood at the start of steps, but pilfered of any worthwhile fruit - which perhaps explained absence of this hill's notorious monkeys at that spot.

Despite starting high above, there were many steps to climb. It was a cloudy day and there had been overnight rain too. Which was good considering we had left our bags and water bottles behind. Past the steps and a pond, our climb was an interesting mix of abrasive sand, slippery wet black mud, boulders, bushes - making us crawl on occasions.

Bare foot, interesting trek
Atop Devarayanadurga
We stopped at hill's shoulder for a while - chit chatting, pics, enjoying views around - with someone naming many of the surrounding hills, some prank. A short climb later, we reached the peak. An open temple like structure devoid of idols was there. Quite breezy, threatening to blow stick figures like me and Ankit. Discussion and plans for Dudhsagar trek too.

By the time we reached base of Channarayana Durga, it was half an hour past noon. Villagers were playing with color powder, not unlike Holi, besides Lord Ganesha idol. The still gray sky and breezy conditions lessened the difficulties of climb that lay ahead.

Steep climb
A difficult slope right from base of hill, we found ourselves struggling to ascend continuously even for a minute. Numerous breaks and snaps kept us going, surrounding view of hills and lakes and fields pleasant too. The good news was that this arduous stretch required only half an hour, including breaks. Potential bad news was rain which might make our remaining climb and descent trickier.

Outer walls of fort and an entrance marked the end of this steep slope section. Once inside, easy trek wasn't the only welcome relief - trees growing on wall, lively lush green grass, couple of mangrove like trees at the edge of pond, various shelters and ruins greeted us. Rained for sometime, but didn't ruin our way much.

Pleasing views

Another 20-30 minutes to reach peak. Spotted Madhugiri in the neighboring hills on the way. Apparently that trek has been banned due to some bad incident, it would be shame if it doesn't reopen soon. As we neared the shoulder high bricked walls of peak, rain blanketed all around us. Drizzled a bit on us too but cleared and spared us again. Windows in the wall blew cold air - a natural freshness like no AC.

Atop Channarayana durga, rain all around
Hidden steps
The best and fun 'climb' was maneuvering stone projections and tree branches to reach a platform on the walls. Guess it was Abhishek who spotted it first, afterwards everyone had a go at it.

Vaangibath (Brinjal rice) was very tasty, which meant lesser wastage compared to previous trips. Followed by slices of cucumber. Abhishek managed to get extra piece promising oranges in his bag left back in mini bus (turned out he did have fruit contrary to our belief at the time, only it was mousambi not oranges).

A village group had reached peak by then. They were scouting for some particular type of grass, which they explained was used to prepare a medicinal mix.

We started our way back after entertaining and daring attempts of group pic. Descent didn't pose any trouble as rain had dried off. We stopped by the pond for a nice and long break. We had got separated into two groups - the first one reached the pond along a different path. It resulted in us meeting on opposite banks. We eventually figured that there was a path alongside the outer fort wall to connect the two, the mangrove trees made it difficult to spot.

Mangroves on a hill?
The steep slope portion on lower hill was much easier and faster to cross than it had been while climbing up. Three kids, full of wonder and curiosity about our group, saw us off while leaving. We stopped for refreshments (tea, coffee and rather colorful sodas :P) and feedback. Regulars were happy with continued good work from BTC while newbies expressed their joy of climbing seemingly insurmountable hill.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Rayakottai - 24 Aug 2014

The moment I saw Sangamesh's mail, I registered immediately - as I had never done a trek outside Karnataka. Not that man made boundaries matter when it comes to nature. It just added a superficial reason to choose between two treks on offer that weekend by BTC. Sangamesh couldn't make it though, so Deepthy and Ashwin were in charge instead. That meant all my 6 BTC treks with atleast one new organizer ;)
We were to gather at Bangalore City Junction at 6:45 AM. Learning from last trek's mistake, I arrived early. The passenger train 56514 (Bangalore to Karaikkal) was scheduled to depart from platform 1 at 7:15 AM. The huge crowd rushed to reserve seats when train arrived about 15 minutes before departure. We managed two compartments, more than enough for our 15 member group. Not noticing train number or details, two had caught some train leaving around 6:45 AM :P They got down at Cantonment to wait. And filmy style, one member got in just as train was leaving :D

Crowd swelled as stations came and we had to adjust - forcing ten of us in two seats and other five in adjacent compartment. As our ride was more than 2 hours, Deepthy asked around what to play - Dumb charades or Antakshari. Enacting it was to be, much to my dismay. And it soon turned worse as I botched mine in worst possible way - I missed my team mates guessing the answer correctly (Mandaakini)! :( :( :( Nonetheless, two rounds was loads of entertainment for us as well as to fellow passengers.

Intro session
Around 9:40 AM, we reached Rayakottai and had official intro session, right on the station platform. Most were BTC regulars. Deepthy and Ashwin re-iterated rules & regulations and informed that this was an easy trek. We had to walk about a km to reach main heart of this small town. One hotel was done with breakfast but helped us find another. We had dosas and packed Lemon rice for lunch (only 11 packs available) - which we almost forgot to take away while leaving :P

We bought a kg of Cucumber before walking a short distance to reach base of the fort. The villager in charge of gate keys had spotted us on our way and opened after short wait. There was a side path we could have taken, only later we realized that all the fuss was to get money for his 'services'. Our costumes and mannerisms brought fair share of curiosity especially amongst village kids.

Fort ahead
Another group of four were just ahead of us. Scattered cloud cover played hide and seek with otherwise hot day. Steps greeted us, some first timers wondering what the buzz was all about trekking. Few snaps and 20 minutes later, we came across a tattered brick entrance.

Time to climb
Still under the impression that it is an easy trek and loads of time to spend, we stopped more often and clicked more snaps than can be used as profile pics :P Deepthy was probably impatient to reach peak that she branched off different direction than Ashwin, rounding us at back, had intended.

We realized the error only after we had reached the dead end this way. A small temple had been fashioned in the gap between rocks - sort of cave with wide open space on one side. We didn't need second invitation to rest a bit and then cross over to the side for plenty of clicks.

All smiles :)
With this topsy turvy hill, one had no idea which is the peak and if it can be reached at all. We retraced and went the way Deepthy had taken initially. Caps and scarves were worn as it had become quite hot now and not much wind. 

We passed ominous looking boulders (and some more cave like spots) to the left, while the view of surrounding hills and town at the base was pleasing. The way curved around and was hiding the ruined buildings on one side of the hill. These brick structures didn't offer much shade for us to sit down for lunch, so on we marched to climb the one peak we could reach. Bit of wind cooled the temperatures, also helped reduce our water intake - we certainly weren't expecting this much effort for what was supposed to be 'easy' trek :P

Peak ahead
A large lamp, presumably lit by villagers on festival occasions, was at the edge of peak. And a small platform made of cut rocks in middle of the clearing. No shelter from heat though. We could see a lake at base of a surrounding hill as well as the train tracks on other side. Center fresh was passed around, water sipped, group pics taken and a decision made to reach the temple for lunch. People fantasizing cold drinks and juices and ice creams made others want them as well.

Organizers alloted 20 minutes to reach there and we surprisingly managed it - no stopping in between. Why not, when cool comforts and lunch was beckoning. But surprisingly, some were perhaps still full from heavy and late breakfast that even the 11 packets weren't all opened. Of course, our own ration of snacks were gobbled eagerly, topped at the end with cucumbers - cut using Deepthy's handy blade :P and miraculous procuring of salt-chilly mix as if it had been brought along for this very purpose. Some of us learned a handy hack too - rubbing the ends of cucumber to remove the bitter milk!

It was then time for nap for most. The rest chit chatted a while and then couldn't help ourselves from a bit of entertainment at the expense of sleeping beauties. Some snoring were recorded and then Ankit rolled a paper napkin to poke ears. I played my part in video recording :D

Train and Rain
Around 2:30 PM, it was time to descend again. Nature thought it appropriate to treat us with rain in the surrounding hills. And then a train came along to top it up. 20-25 more minutes to reach base. We stopped by a juice shop at cross roads - to partially fulfill our thirsty appetite built up at the peak. After lots of choices, we settled for two - lime juice, plain and soda filled. Our order left locals waiting long time for theirs.

Mission accomplished
With plenty of time still left for return train, we made full use of buying vegetables and eateries outside the station and more water as well. Another group pic by the sign board on platform. An argument whether nellikkai was a type of small amla or not. And then came the rain - slowly at first and then heavily. For some reason, platform was changed as well.

We weren't as lucky as morning this time in getting seats. But good enough to find standing spaces within same boggie, some climbing to upper berth and seats for few. Handy blade was utilized again - for guavas this time. About half an hour later, enough spaces cleared for all of us to adjust and sit/sleep. Expenses came to grand total of Rs 170, including Rs 5 for BTC fund. One way train ride of 99km costs Rs 25 compared to Rs 19 for bus ride from Indiranagar to Majestic :P Feedback was yet again positive along with some suggestions to improve. Kudos to Deepthy, Ashwin and entire BTC team :)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Amazing Antaragange again - 15 Aug 2014

Antaragange, the place where I started trekking more than 5 years ago, yet again had surprises in store. Having trekked there twice before, including cave exploration in 2011, I wasn't expecting much. Especially as our 12 member group were going on our own (much like my very first trek in Aug 2009), without a guide - pretty much ruling out finding and trekking caves.

Assembling at RMZ Infinity by 5:15 AM was expected to be delayed, but half an hour wait wasn't. Two cars and two bikes meant we were more flexible than say public transport or tempo traveler. The delay did turn out good though - we agreed to stop at Kamat for breakfast (I hoped we wouldn't miss it as was the case in 2009). Our day largely was that - ad hoc decisions, seemingly going wrong but turning out very well in the end. The two unfortunate pillion riders had to bear chilling morning as well - not for lack of jerkins but just missing out the detail before starting.

Everyone agreed to order idli-vadas, with some opting for second helping as well. Followed by tea/coffee. The bill surprised us all - costlier than RMZ bay! Food being decent was the only consolation - we left no tip :P

The sign boards on highway were helpful and we co-ordinated just to be sure. We reached around 15 minutes to 8 in the morning. The tri-color flag were flying high, literally, on some hillocks on the way. Functions were underway in school grounds. We were carrying one too.

Raring to go :)
Though we arrived later than planned, we were still early trekkers. Not all shops were open. Even the notorious monkeys weren't active yet. And I kept recalling tidbits of my two previous visits - first things in life usually have that effect.

It took less than an hour to reach the village by just following steps (constructed as well as carved) or the worn path amongst liberally spread out boulders. I thought I would be able to identify atleast where we had started cave exploration in the 2011 trek with BMC. Along the way we did stop now and then, enjoying the view and flora. Krishna would spot birds and name them - when most of the time we weren't even aware that they were perched high amidst branches in far off trees.

Flying high
My past experience having exhausted, we crossed the fields to our right and started climbing another hillock. We thought we could perhaps find a way to reach the far off hill where a huge flag had been erected and besides which four silhouettes were barely visible.

It was the start of proper trek - no more steps or worn paths. Thorny plants came instead. And some decent climbs. And of course, more snaps in the wild (relatively speaking). After sometime, in between which we got split into two groups - one scouting ahead and the other enjoying behind, we stopped under huge boulders for a break. A small depression filled with rain water was used by some to dip their feet! While Mohan was showing his spiderman skills to climb huge boulders - and had to help others who followed. Wind was quite fierce atop, could have literally blown me if I was careless.

After quite a long break, we were called down. A village kid (looked much younger than his claim of studying 7th standard) was offering to lead us to caves! And of course we accepted the offer. A splendid stroke of good luck it turned out to be.

Marching on
The kid's response to some questions were vague, especially regarding the distance to be trekked. It was growing hotter and our water supplies were running thin. In retrospect, we were better off not knowing ;)

Hard work
Sky is the limit
Our little guide was quick and sure footed in his slippers, while we must have looked crazy to him in our shoes and bags and clicking pics of stones. He led us away from flag hill, but that looked lost cause anyway, across more hillocks and views of fields that we were pretty badly confused while coming back. Just when we were growing uneasy, past 10 AM by then, nature gave us our first treat. Guavas! - red pulp type. There were enough for all of us - it almost became a game to spot a ripe one. They were delicious alright, but more so in rejuvenating without making us thirsty.

Resting time
Soon after, we were climbing the next hillock - ruins and small pools atop. We took another long break besides the pools, and of course snaps, including group pic clicked by the kid. To finally reach the caves, we had to first descend a tricky stretch and walk some distance amidst trees. Middle of which was nature's second treat - Butterflies, 100s of them! We just couldn't click enough. Such a nice natural spot, worth every step taken to reach there.

Butterflies time
And a little ahead was Jamun tree, but not good on taste. The trek was getting better and soon we reached the cave entrance - about an hour since the kid led us, three since morning. I am almost certain this one was different than the spot led by BMC in 2011 and probably less/not known amongst regular trekking clubs.

Excitement of entering caves was palpable - especially amongst first timers. At a glance from outside, it wouldn't seem that one could get inside at all. We did crawled inside one by one, and clicking many snaps of course. The drop in temperature was welcome as well. The small spaces were then joked as hall, kitchen, etc. More crawling and jumping and passing bags ahead as we went ahead, getting dirty in the process. We would alternate between narrow passages and large empty spaces. We even spotted a monkey skull and of course the spidey webs.

Narrow entrance
Living room ;)
Secret exit

40 minutes of awesomeness later, we were out the other side. The kid guide even tried to 'kid' that we were going back same way :P That would have been boring. It was half past 11 AM by then. We would have brought more water had we known we were to trek so long, but it only made the effort that much sweeter.

The kid was anxious to get back to his family near the hill he met us and we weren't matching his speed. The way back was different now and that meant we won't be passing by butterflies again nor the pools near the ruins. Sun was out in all glory, leading to breaks and adding to kid's uneasiness. He left while descending a hill (he had to go left and asked us to continue straight) - we gave him chocolate and money for his efforts.

After another round of guavas (but different place, as we were coming from another direction than we took while going to caves - we looted more this time, adding some to bags :P), we managed to descend next hill (path wasn't straight forward amidst trees and boulders and thorny plants) and reach a village path.

Wrongly assuming that this path would lead us down, we took left only to find the little guide with his family working! The kid was visibly distraught and almost shouted in defense that he had mentioned which way to go. We went back and continued further along the village path, only to realize that we simply had to cross the path immediately where we had climbed down - neither left nor right along the path :D Further trouble was only saved when some recognized the tall boulder with its heavy wind we had climbed prior to meeting the kid.

There were other trekkers around too, some asking us direction to caves - we cautioned them to not attempt without a guide. But we weren't asking them how to go back :P After spotting the tall boulder, all was well anyway. Reaching the base is not much to write about - except that we were craving for a cold drink and sweating much in the heat. Lot many people were climbing, some bare footed! At the temple, some of us took longer break in the shade of trees. I wanted to take out the 200 ml guava tetra pack - there came monkeys and trying to snatch my bag. Scary but somehow I got away safe.

It was baking inside cars when we reached base.Had to turn AC for few minutes before we could all climb in and leave. We had lunch at Shanthi Sagar (had breakfast here both my previous visits too), about a km from Kolar bus stand on the way to Bangalore. But to reach there, one has to take service road on right side - we couldn't co-ordinate in time, some had gone other side and had to come back. Food was decent again, complaint this occasion being long waiting time.

All in all, yet another wonderful trip to Antaragange. I guess it won't be my last visit either ;)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hutridurga Trek - 3 Aug 2014

By strange coincidence, my 5 BTC treks so far has been with  5 different guides. And each time I have come back with feeling of time well spent, memories added to feel good nostalgia. Even unexpected no-show by tempo traveler couldn't spoil our fun (it rather masked my 20 minute late arrival to meeting point ;) ).

Hiren, our guide, explained the situation and suggested public transport as alternate option and everyone agreed. We first had to board a bus to Market and then got a private bus to drop us nearby Hutridurga. Many seats were empty but got overcrowded along the way. We did our best to have fun - bus driver happily accepted our request to play Hindi songs from pendrive (until crowd built up and Kannada movie was played instead). And then, we even got to play Dumb-charades! Some very tough movies there (mostly given by Neer and 'yahoo' search by Gaurav) - I was clueless when enacting 'Don Muthu Swami' (somehow my team mates got it). After a round we had to stop as it became too crowded.

After breakfast (dosa and vada) and packing Chitranna (lemon rice) for lunch, we hired a pair of autos to drop us at base of this short hill (relative to ground level). We got their mobile number to hire them again while returning. Somehow, on both rides, we arranged ourselves in 5-7 grouping rather than 6-6!

Weather was close to perfect - wind and overcast sky didn't feel as if the day had gone past 11 AM. We gathered for intro session (with a mention of some earlier trek joke of 'straight circle') only to move away to avoid loud phone conversation of a villager. Our group this time was - Hiren, Gaurav, Vikram, Purvik, Neer, Sushila, Rishi, Geetha, Nasreen, Srikanth, Hrishikesh and yours truly. Most of them had done treks with BTC before - if I remember correctly, Srikanth mentioned that it was close to a year with BTC for him!

And so, we were finally underway for the main course of the day. We walked for a short distance following the hair pin bends of pretty decent road. Gaurav was apparently known for his photography skills and had to shoulder the responsibilities this time too. And more of his charisma (pranks would be better word :P) along the way.

Leaving the road, we soon reached a clearing. Natural cue to have a break and photo session. Strewn rocks and trees around, it was rather dark but pleasant. As we moved ahead, we crossed a series of fields, most of them red but workers around to let us know about not walking on them. And soon enough, we were at out in open, able to view broken fort walls and the hill with its multiple protrusions. Trees, old and new, some with orange colored fruit, as well as the surrounding valley coming into view as we climbed higher added grandeur.

Stone pillars forming cuboid entrances reminded me of Madhugiri, but their frequency and number here was more. And like other hills with temple atop, explicit steps as well as carved ones eased the climb. Not that this hill was anything more than 'easy' grade - just about one or two small stretches that really qualified for a breather.

Despite all the mini-breaks (along with never tiring snaps from Gaurav), we comfortably got to the temple atop the hill in about 70 minutes. The cool weather helped no doubt. Shiny bugs, wild flowers including flowering cactus plant, little pools of greenish water (with grasses and toads and garbage), a funny cartoon pointing direction, view of village at the base nestled between Hutridurga and another hill, etc got our fair share of attention before reaching top.

A broken brick ruin and yet another greenish mucky pool were beside the temple. We rested a while before Hiren led us to more exciting exploration and other side of the rather large area atop the hill. An almost hidden passage made of stone steps brought a new level of excitement - in retrospect, this definitely was the highlight in terms of visiting the hill.

On the other side, we suddenly felt uncomfortable due to lack of wind. Hiren was mockingly admonished, as if he had failed to control it. We were walking on lush green carpet of grasses, reminding of the western ghats. Moving on, we were dealing with the first real difficulty of the trek - maneuvering thorny trees either side of a boulder. Some, including me, got scratches to show for.

And soon after, we had reached our lunching point - close to the edge of hill and strewn with huge boulders. We left our bags under the boulders and moved about, soaking the view and clicking pictures. Hiren and few others went further to check for possibly better shaded place. Sun played hide and seek as was the case with wind. Rain was a possibility but didn't come except for a very thin drizzle for just a few moments.

Gaurav now showed a glimpse of his prank side - doing it all with a convincing serious face. While Hiren and others had gone, he took one guy's mountain dew bottle, passed around for few sips and filled water instead. Afterwards, while the guy detected something amiss, Gaurav let few subtle hints by way of conversation and finally truth dawned.

Having decided to settle there itself, we had lunch soon afterwards - passable given the circumstances but really packed in excess of most of our appetite. Nasreen then came up with game to play - an object gets passed around until music stops. Whoever last possessed it was 'out' and had to do some playful thing decided by others. Mostly it involved telling a movie dialogue/first crush, singing song, saying a brief history appended with funny words/sound, proposing, etc.

PC: Gaurav

After group photos (Gaurav had a remote, better flexibility compared to timer), we started descent. The thorny section was dealt better going down but we briefly wandered off from the hidden entrance. We took pics on the steps and rested a while.

PC: Gaurav

Wind was fierce about halfway down, moving about required caution - cue half-hearted joke of my thin body getting whisked away :P Climbing down is usually tougher for me, but this gentle hill didn't pose a trouble other than wind. Judging we were close, we took a break and auto wala was phoned to come. It turned out to be a rather long break with discussion on languages.

As we left the rocky terrain and reached the fields, apparently an old worker mouthed us off for taking this path with women members. Probably cautioning against wild animals or some superstition. We were certainly careful to not walk directly on fields.

Emerging on hill road, we could spot the autos waiting. Just after reaching the crossroads, we could spot rain around the hill. And would not reach us until we had caught bus to Magadi (to avoid crowded direct buses to Bangalore).

Most of us had tea (the worker having forgotten sugar and then giving it in extra cups!) - some got mineral water bottles, some had pani puri and chilly bhajjis. Gaurav, apparently was told by pani puri wala that the 50 rupees note he got from bakery was fake and got it exchanged. After relating this little incident, he proceeded to tell us, with a serious face, how to detect a fake note. Fold the note multiple times and then tap with a hard object - say back of ball point pen. Open it again and check if Gandhi's spectacle is broken or not! And to boot, he repeated this to the few who missed the first time on our way to Magadi - with a better performance! Oh, we aren't gonna forget this for a while, and if possible use the trick some day :P

We got a BMTC bus (but KSRTC route, meaning passes don't work) to Bangalore. As in morning ride, we played dumb-charades. But after the usual end-of-trek feedback session. And again, nearly all of it was positives and some suggestions. So, all in all, yet another awesome feel good event with BTC. Looking eagerly now for Dudhsagar trek in September :)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Cadence90 Sunday morning ride to BU - 22 June 2014

More than 2 months since my last ride with awesome bunch of cyclists turning up for Cadence90 morning rides on weekends, I was joining again. After the ride, I was in two minds to write yet another morning ride piece on my blog. But after midnight robbery (somewhere between 2:30 AM to 6 AM on 26 June morning, if my landlady is to be believed), I feel like recording my last ride - the loss is hurting even though I knew the risk before buying the bike from Decathlon on March 8.

I stay on 3rd floor of an independent house and the one occasion of hauling a friend's cycle up and down the cramped staircase had almost proved fatal. The only convenient option was to lock the bike in the small passage to left of steps - easily visible to street goers and no challenge in intruding other than someone happening to pass by or extreme misfortune of making loud enough noise to awaken those sleeping in ground floor. The chain lock was left wound to iron railings of staircase - my best guess is that the thief simply unwound the 1 or 2 loops from metal bar below seat. Earlier this month, my brother had lost (or stolen) the smartphone I had gifted him. My camera was ripped from baggage during bus travel to Rajasthan in February 2010. Clearly, some conspiracy here? :D (Update: a car stolen from next street last night - anyone got a solution to track vehicles after it is stolen?)

So, unless I move to a new place where I can keep a bike inside my room, I won't be buying another :( My fitness options are now going to be limited to trekking and running, but the greater pain is losing a commute option from Indiranagar to say Jayanagar/JP Nagar/Basavanagudi and obviously the weekend morning rides.

Coming back to topic, I had kept two alarms to avoid earlier lapse, but woke with first one itself. As with my first Cadence90 morning ride, I actually ended up reaching first - few minutes before alloted 6 AM. We started from Jayanagar around 6:20 AM (myself, Parameshwar, Narayan, Satish and Manjunath) - the waiting time talk centered around Dipankar's 54 hr 10 minute 1000km brevet. Not long after, it was left to Manjunath to guide me as the other three went well ahead, being accomplished riders and later joined by Phaneesh.

As we joined Outer ring road (with many ups and downs) near Banashankari 3rd stage, I got to see complicated route bus 201 going past stops like Kathriguppe on the way to Srinagar (someday I hope I will get to ride end-to-end :P)

Crazy bus route 201 :P
While downhills were thrilling (crossed 40 kmph), the many climbs (often gentle up slope for considerable distance) was challenging. That I could keep pace with Manjunath proved mutually beneficial. Now and then he would pass me tidbits of info of places we were crossing, previous rides, etc.

We turned left from Outer ring road to Gnana Bharathi Main road, greeted by the sprawling campus of Bangalore University. Flanked on both sides by trees, a polluted tributary of Cauvery (Nagarbhavi Thorai), long stretches of ups and downs, the overwhelming feeling was that of passing through a hill. Lots of early morning walkers, runners, cyclists were around and play grounds never empty.

The four of them were waiting for us at the end of road joining Bangalore University Road. After few minutes of rest and chit chat, we started the apparently famous round trip of BU road. Many other cyclists were doing their rounds and some of them branching to side road as we went past. The down slope was quite mesmerizing, enhanced by grey sky and chilling wind. That meant the return steep climb was daunting.

After one round, we all had tender coconut, except for Satish who went ahead for his second round! By the time we had our fill and cycling discussions, Satish had finished round two. And then about to start back, decision was changed to include yet another round trip :D Though I wasn't as exhausted as some of my earlier long rides, I played safe and didn't venture to sleep downhill. I didn't also want to keep others waiting.

Our next stop was for breakfast. Phaneesh left us to go directly to his place. Narayan was telling about some 100+ rides in coming monsoon months. The uphill to join outer ring road wasn't as tough I thought it would be. But generally, the pace was lot slower way back on outer ring road compared to morning. Climbs kept coming and descents seemed few and far apart. One particular steep climb in Banashankari 3rd stage was overwhelming.

Around 8:30 AM, we reached Kavali off Vidyapeeta Main road. The hotel is quite small, with barely enough walking space between eating tables. As is my norm during rides or trekking, I preferred idli+vada without even checking the menu. But was swayed to taste the unusual varities of dosa - I went with Manjunath's choice : Sprout dosa. Turned out a excellent choice, can't remember the last time I enjoyed dosas so much - I even gobbled few green chilly. Followed by half pineapple dosa - the sweetness not so gelling well with green chillies and chutney, but still good in its own way. I noted baby-corn dosa to be tried next time. Next we had Coffee (small size tumbler, but still quite good for just Rs 6). Oh, I so wish Kavali comes to Indiranagar soon. Much of discussion centered around Railways - fare hike, politics, unions, etc etc.

Going back towards Jayanagar, Satish and Manjunath were hatching a plan to Nandi. As I left them near metro, they bid goodbyes and to meet again in future rides. I told I was leaving to Rajasthan for two weeks and hopefully join in July. Little did I know that my cycle itself was vanish within four days.

And so, I am going to remember this 50+ kilometer ride more than it warrants compared to earlier cherished rides. I hadn't even required to pump air for 100 odd days I had the bike covering 600+ km. Even though there were minor issues, the loss has heightened the feeling that I had come to like it. Hope whoever uses it next would enjoy too.

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