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 :)

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