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 ;)

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