Monday, October 26, 2015

Kolli Hills - 17,18 Oct 2015

Ah, the sweet pain in thighs and calves after two days of trekking. 


After so many years of trekking exclusively around Bangalore and Western Ghats, I've got chance to trek in the Eastern Ghats, twice this year. First was one of the best experience ever - Nagala. Kolli Hills had plenty of water fun too, but sadly, no pools to jump. Thanks again Bangalore Trekking Club.

This time, we had two teams gathering at BTC's usual spot at Shanthala Silk house (the other group going to green carper Kudremukh). We took a few group pics and impromptu intro session before starting on our separate ways. Ours was a small group - 9 members (Vikram, Ameer, Venkatachalam, Prashant, Chidambaram, Sourav, Marthe, Hillary and yours truly), with Chidambaram joining us on the way at Namakkal. Since we had introduced ourselves already, Dumb Charades on our names was ruled out. Instead, it became a detailed personal info discussion. With mandatory questions like age, do you cook, are you married, etc



We reached Nallathambi resort just after 6 in the morning. We got a big hall with accommodation for 12. Very neat and spacious. Ameer took responsibility to co-ordinate with the guide (speaking in Tamil). After freshening up, we had breakfast at Semmedu (along with A2B sweet poli, brought by Chidamabaram) and packed parcel for lunch. We were then on our way to Arappaleeswarar temple.



The guide was already waiting for us there. He gave a brief of what to expect - total 12+ kilometers of trek, ending with visit to Agaya Gangai Falls. He described the trail to be steep as well as plenty of flat sections. So, after buying Rs 10 entry tickets, we got going.




Plenty of tourists and pilgrims, mainly to visit the falls. The numerous steps leading to the falls were obviously easier going down. Flanked on both sides with plants and trees and pretty large spider webs, we got a glimpse of range of Kolli Hills as we climbed lower and lower. Even the steps at some places were constructed akin to plenty of hair-pin bend roads we traversed to reach the resort.



After going pretty close to the falls, we took a deviation into the forests to start our actual trek. We knew within a few minutes the nature of our track and that the climb back was gonna be very difficult. The trail was, as is common, one person wide. I always wonder if these forest trails were all man-made or a mix of man-made and stream path(formed during heavy rains). We saw more of those monster spider webs and some interesting insects now and then.



With no recent rain, the trail was dry and not slippery. But it took a long time to get used to slope (mostly down). Plenty of red ants on our way, but I don't think anybody got bitten the whole day. After a short while, we reached first of the four caves. Cave might be too strong a word for it (usually 2 huge boulders set against each other), but we'll stick to it as is dubbed by the locals (written on boulders). The stream flowing down from the falls was close by but not accessible. We took our time resting and clicking pics and got going again.




About half an later, we reached the second cave. Couple of Sadhus were camping there. We settled for a long rest around the strewn rocks and boulders on the banks of gushing stream. Prashant and Chidambaram got into water, Vikram and Marthe jumped rocks to explore around, while rest of us just idled around. Small butterflies took to tasting our water bottles.

It was only after we were all ready to go that we realized we had to cross the stream! Suddenly the monotonous trail became interesting. People stood at various spots and passed on bags and sandals and shoes to the other side. Those who could overcome fear, leaped across, while others got a helping hand. After I jumped and skipped and climbed to the other side, my body finally got the trek Thrill. Like something awakening within, some lock opened specifically for body exerting activities. Walking on the trail became much easier, my steps more assured.



The rest of hour's trek to reach final cave was much of the same kind of trail, with stream to our right and occasional glimpse of hills around giving a refreshing change of view. The final spot (fourth cave) had the most religious artifacts and apparently some Sadhus actually live there (and the other similar spots in the area).



After just a few minutes there, we tracked back and went down near the stream for lunch. We realized very quickly that we were heavily short on water but couldn't help it. The stream water was dirty - filled with washed off dirt and sand. So, by the time everybody had a dip (it happened very slowly, only few had gone at the start and then one-by-one all went in) and had lunch (along with tasty sprouts, thanks again Chidambaram), we resorted to filling bottles with as less dirt as possible. We tried waiting for it to settle down in water bottles, but no luck. The guide took to getting kerchiefs from us to use it as filter while filling - the best we could manage. Verdict - safe enough to consume, no visible side effects :P



Our guide was itching to leave early as he had to go some other town afterwards. But he understood our idea of fun and did well to go along with us - sleeping when we took long in water, helping us with spots near cave 2, kerchief filtered water, more waiting near the falls, etc. And answering our various queries as well.

We started our trudge back, thirsty but determined. We stopped only for two short breaks, to catch our breadth, before reaching the stream to cross. This time many more jumped and skipped around. And Vikram managed to slip himself wet just before the last jump, much to everybody's amusement :P



The remaining distance to the steps near waterfall proved much more difficult to cover. The trail was much steeper and we were yearning for a drop of water. Our guide knew some spot for cleaner water than the stream and took two bottles and a kerchief to fill. Of course we shared and finished before starting again.



Around 4 PM, we reached the steps and heaved a sigh of relief. And then, again much like earlier, one by one we got into waterfalls. Just getting near it was difficult with slippery rocks. And there was no chance to get under. The forceful water spray alone drenched us. It was difficult to keep our eyes open. And it was cold, very cold.

And then came the ice cream topping. The steps to climb up. Excruciating step, one at a time, holding onto helpful railing, taking break very often, stopping to view those tranquil hills by the dying light, we did it. Once we had all come out, the authorities promptly shut the gates to steps. Probably been waiting for us!

Lime sodas, pulpy oranges, tea, snacks, water, temple visit - and then we reached the resort to freshen up before going back to Semmedu for dinner. Ameer's desire to have food at some Silverline hotel went yet again unfulfilled. Instead, we had sumptuous dinner at Vasantha Maligai. After getting back, we played Dumb Charades. Between my sneezes, Ameer's frustration to get across his meaning, Marthe's stunning enacting for 'Saving Private Ryan', we had the best laughs and general fun time.



We got ready early on Sunday, checked out, had breakfast again at same place as day before and were on our way to more waterfalls and temples. The first of which was Masila. Falling down like a typical slide in amusement parks, it was nestled in between two hills. The Sun was out baking us but the water was cold. Too much crowd though. After a bit of local herbal concoction, we next went to Ettukai Amman (8 handed goddess) temple. It had a serene walkway from the road to temple. 



And then to final waterfall of our trip. Visible from road, we had to climb down broken glass ridden muddy path. By the time we reached the falls, this too became crowded. Water gushed down in much thinner streams but forceful nonetheless.

So and, like all good things, this wonderful trek came to an end as well. We hopped on for 70+ hair-pin bend ride, stopped for a light snack at foothills, had sumptuous lunch at Namakkal, singing along chart-busters like Why this Kolaveri, Tum Hi Ho, etc an evening snack and feedback session and back to Bangalore in time to see India lose the 3rd ODI vs SA.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Reconnecting Dots - donating Water Purifier at Swanthana Care

A refreshing experience with Reconnecting Dots. A simple concept and effective. Raise fund for a social cause and execute it. Nothing much new. But it is the manner of doing the job that speaks volume.

The event was donating two 25 liter water purifiers for Swanthana Care. Reconnecting Dots, not only ensured installation, but the quality of purifiers (to avoid cheaper quality purifying rods). And when the hired workers for installation got to know nature of the job, they took it to their heart as well and generously contributed towards donations!

On the event day, there were school kids from different classes come to visit the mentally and physically challenged children. The kids performed dances and then volunteers from Reconnecting Dots joined hands with school students in visiting and distributing chocolates (which had to be hand fed in most cases). One couldn't but help recall the movie - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Source

We then got to see the various classrooms (all colorfully decorated, with plenty of sketches plastered all over) as well as specialized seating/sleeping arrangements. Lunch was getting ready for the kids. We then formally took part in unveiling of the water purifiers. Some volunteers had brought children books, which they donated to the institute.

After which, we gathered in a room. Pranesh, director of Enable India (which works to train differently-abled and get them placed), took us through his journey of leaving job and joining Enable India. His most pertinent lesson was to stop perceiving the kids as disabled and hence to be pitied upon - instead focus on what they could learn and achieve. An example being the use of spectacles over coming eye defections. He then distributed coffee mugs to us all - another initiative by Reconnecting Dots to reduce use of paper cups in office.

Source

Some of us left after that, while the remaining volunteers took to feeding the kids their lunch. So, a very good experience of crowd funding and crowd sourcing working well for a cause - Reconnecting Dots, Enable India, volunteers, fund raising, the institute as well as workers installing the water purifiers contributed to fund.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mullayanagiri to Baba Budangiri - 26,27 Sep 2015

If you are a frequent trekker in Karnataka, it won't be long before you hear of the highest peak - Mullayanagiri. You hear tales of its accessibility via road. Of the Sarpadari trail. And Baba Budangiri would be thrown in the narration. The listener would often get confused that the trek includes two peaks instead of usual single peak treks like Tadiandamol, Kudremukh, Kumara Parvatha, Kodachadri, etc

BTC adda - in front of Shanthala Silk House
As usual, we gathered at Shanthala Silk House, opposite Terminal 3 near Majestic. There were 3 trekking events from BTC alone and 2 other groups nearby. After BTC group photo and confusion for some regarding the team they were joining, our very amiable group of 12 (Vikram, Srikanth, Vijaykumar, Aruna, Lokith, Santhosh, Sangeetha, Mahesh, Kirti, Sathesh, Anent and yours truly) started our journey in TT driven by equally amiable driver Manju.

Despite being 15th trek with BTC, I was in for a pleasant surprise. Introductory session started in TT itself with everyone enacting their names Dumb Charades style. For obvious clues, we let our imagination run wild instead of guessing the right answer. That done, everybody gave a short intro. At midnight, we wished one of the BTC organizers - Ajita a happy birthday. Hats off to this passionate and volunteer organization that ensures a fun filled event every time like no other professional body can.

Early morning around 5 AM, we were jolted awake due to bad road and thick fog (except a few Kumbhakarans who continued sleeping). We reached our home stay at Kemmangundi about an hour later. Manju changed punctured tyre and we roamed in vicinity taking pics and enjoying droplets falling while organizers helped by Vijay took care of our accommodations. We got a temporary room to get freshened up - some of us trekked up to hill top to use common restrooms.

the helpful Restorent sign board
One could say the Horticulture Department Guest House has developed into a sort of mini hill station with its many cottages and cars & tourist vehicles lined up outside. It is an amazing place to stay - the sheer varieties of plants, trees, flowers, insects added to the lure of tall and broad mountain ranges all around. They could do with a basic online search for signs in English though - to avoid spelling errors like Restorent.

Temple at Kallathi falls (Photo Credit: Anent)
Hebbe falls is now a restricted area. So, after breakfast, we got into TT to go to Kallathi falls - about 10-12 km away. There is a temple built between huge rocks and statues carved on boulders in the way of the falls. Plenty of worshipers. Some of us braved the cold to trek further up and take a dip under the gushing waters. The path was littered with abandoned cloth (not sure if it is part of some religious ceremony) - overall not a great experience compared to famous western ghats falls.

Rejoice, all you spider fans
After customary group pics and changing to dry clothes, we had cucumber and started walking towards Kemmangundi as TT had not yet returned from fixing the punctured tyre. Naturally, the talk centered around treks and some discussed about their upcoming detailed plans like Chadar trek (Chadar became Kirti's nickname for rest of the trek :P). While we had sung enthusiastically on the way to falls, most were drooping with sleep on the way back.

When hunger gnaws
We immediately headed for lunch on reaching the home stay. Parota, variety rice and veg curries to go with. Topped by a gulab jamun at the end. Filling and sleep inducing. Our two storey accommodation was ready by this time and we were all impressed by the spacious and clean rooms - 6 beds each, perfect for our 12 member group. We had some time to kill before our evening trek. After some small talk, Vijay took it upon himself to entertain us till our stomach hurt and ears bled. Suffice to say the protagonists of the love story had plenty of real life (and even characters named on the spot from our group) elements. In the end, we slapped Sidhu's obsession with Shanthi on Vijay and earned him Shanthi as nickname. On our part, we poked holes in his narration and otherwise encouraged wild theories.

just a glimpse of our heavenly stay
Around 4 pm, we got ready to trek to Z point, carrying water bottles, snacks and torches. The view point was series of hills near our stay, so TT wasn't required. On the way, there are jeeps you can hire to reach Shanthi falls - about 2-3 km of mud road after which trail starts to the hills. The mud road was slippery at many places due to overnight rain and occasional stagnant small pools. Leeches too, but not plentiful like forest trails in western ghats. Average 1-2 bites by the time we got back to home stay.

soon, we will amidst those very misty clouds
We got clear view of lush green grass covered peaks with misty clouds hanging about as we hiked around the hills. There were other trekking groups with us as well as jeeps passing (requiring us to shift to very edge of road). Shanthi falls was short in height as well but much better than Kallathi falls. It was visible even from a distance when we started the trek. There isn't much space around and we decided to keep trekking. Many trails to choose, we took tougher trail - leading away from Z point but climbing higher. It also avoided the crowd already assembled at Z point and more were headed that way.

Shanthi Falls
The steep and slippery climb lasted only the first short climb - won't be a problem at all if dry. Looking back, we could spot mobile tower at top of our home stay and its surrounding hills. Sun set would be in that direction as well. The misty cloud curtain (like a milky river) over those hills was already mesmerizing and would get better as we climbed higher and higher.

who'd wish to trudge back?

We did take some time to acclimatize - this was our first real climb and short steep beginning was far from ideal gentle slope. Thankfully, we had a clear weather after foggy day. We couldn't stop taking snaps with such an enticing view all around. Our frequent rests would get extended as we simply couldn't decide when to stop taking pics. Anenth, the photographer, kept us busy with his action call, while Aruna, the other photographer involved us with awesome positions and angles to click photo with. The organizers had to remind us about reaching the mud road before darkness to get us moving.

close competition with 'green carpet Kudremukh'
With so many arching peaks, we didn't have a destination as such. We would climb a hill, rest, jump around and then repeat. At the final hill top we decided to stop at, the Sun painted the sky a brilliant orange. Such a contrast from foggy morning. And then we got moving back - much faster going down (though a little more trickier). Just before the final steep hill - we got to see brilliant sunset, with equally shining almost full moon on the opposite side (and the intersecting hill curves allowed the perfect shot too).

the rising Moon
and the setting Sun
We had free reign to click pictures with waterfall this time. We filled our empty water bottles before starting again. There still enough daylight to see without using torch. There was commotion and gathered group just after the falls - we learned that a person had slipped and they were trying to lift him up using a rope, tied to a tree for purchase. Dampened our happy spirits. The rescue was going on even after we had reached back the home stay and then heard during dinner that the person was taken to hospital in Chikkamagaluru.

Torch light shining, we moved as brisk as possible, staying as a group (though mostly it got split into two) - the person ahead warning and guiding to avoid slippery mud. It felt much longer in dark to reach the intersection. We tried our best to look for leeches and remove them. And then took a decision to continue trekking to hill top of our home stay to wash and remove leeches before going to our rooms. By now, we were tired and feeling pain - we certainly expected about 6 km hike than the ~10 km trek that it became.

The group got split into two again. We were taking the hair-pin bend road to Raj Bhavan (the garden atop the hill, with its cottages and view points). We, the slower group, stopped to take a breather by sitting on few benches near the edge of cliff. Moon light shone brilliantly, gentle breeze blowing. And commotion audible and torch light visible from the rescue operation still going on near the falls :-/

We took our own leisurely time to freshen up before going for dinner. Hot water (geyser! on a trek! what luxury :D) was so inviting for many to take bath. We wanted to preserve as much snack as possible for breakfast the next day and trek, but hunger pangs while waiting for everyone to get ready finally got the better of us and we tore at some biscuit packs. Dinner menu turned out to be same choice as lunch, but still we got wiser in ordering to our tastes and choices. We planned to leave early morning the next day, so we wound up the day around 10:30 pm with alarms set to get ready by 6:30 am.

I woke up suddenly from a bad dream. Fear rose as I couldn't place where I was. Who were these people around me. That snoring! OMG, WHERE AM I? Sanity returns. I remember that I am on a trek :D I go back to sleep almost immediately.

5:35 am, alarm rings and I hurry to turn off as I was instructed to not wake anyone before 6 am :P There was no power. I tried the tap at wash basin - no water. Tried tap in bathroom - no water. But flush was working in the toilet. It was raining outside, not very heavy but steady enough that I thought there was a chance of no trek that day. Part of me wished it would be canceled! I was aching and signs of oncoming cold (I blamed the previous day's fog and cold water bath at Kallathi falls). Went back to sleep. After sometime, alarms rang. I told no power, no water and raining outside. Everybody went back to sleep! :D I stayed in bed for some more time. Then I thought to check what was going on in the ground floor. Most of them were ready! Water was coming! What is going on? I come back, no water at wash basin. Went to bathroom, tried the tap - this time turned the knob in center - viola! water. How stupid of me :( Only consolation was the delay I caused didn't matter in the end :D
I had bouts of excessive and continuous sneezing, and even two others in our room sneezed. They said that it was probably just early morning cold in play. And incredibly, it was the case. After everybody had freshened up, separated out what to carry and what to leave behind in TT, parting group pic, we reached TT only to find he was under it changing tyre again! Anyway, it gave us opportunity to trek up to Raj Bhavan and click pictures of beautifully maintained flower garden and flora in general. The view from top was mesmerizing too - rain had stopped by then and clear blue sky above us.

the beautifully maintained gardens
Vijay co-ordinated again with local guides for Mullayanagiri - Babu Budangiri trek. We had planned to have breakfast on the way - but couldn't resist gobbling plenty of snacks until then. So much so that when we stopped at a village (with a shop to repair the punctured tyre) we were reluctant to have breakfast. We also had a clear view of Top falls - much more enticing than the ones we visited on Saturday but not accessible :-/

After breakfast, we started Dumb Charades. We logically split into two groups of 6 each (front two rows and back two rows). It so happened that the teams were heavily mismatched :D While our team needed just a glimpse of part of a word to guess the remaining, the front team took lot of time and resorted even to guessing alphabet by alphabet :D :D :D By the time everyone had a go, we had reached the check point where the guides got in. We filled water bottles from a tank nearby and in short while, we reached Sarpadari - starting point of our trek. Some misfortune on Sunday - Sangeetha had to stay back in morning session owing to food foul play while Srikanth would stay back in afternoon session owing to knee strain.

Start of Sarpadari trail
Our guides - Sudharma and Udhay were pretty cool and good. After instructions (pretty much BTC rules) we were on our way for the main event of trek. The trail, appropriately named Sarpadari, had a gate with inscriptions right beside the ghat road. Overnight rain made the path slippery, but thankfully sunny morning had mitigated much.

snaking our way up

The initial snaking trail proved the most toughest of the entire trek. One has to walk on a narrow path much like hair-pin bends, any slip likely fatal as there is nothing to hold on the grassy mountain. That said, it took less than half an hour to climb this slippery path, after which it was much easier and the path strewn with stones to provide better grip. And of course, the muscles acclimatized to conditions.


we would be reaching those hills with towers in the background later...

Mullayanagiri peak - notice the garbage collection

Dark clouds were forming overhead. As we climbed higher, we came closer to ragged cliffs, longer grass, boulders and few trees around. There were some short stretches of steep climbs too, nothing overly difficult. We didn't know it then, but worst was behind. Looking down and around, we could see hills and thick forests, with occasional small lakes and the snaking roads as well. Much like Saturday evening trek, we were climbing hill after grassy hill, taking breaks, and 10 minutes past noon, we reached the Mullayanagiri peak. Just about 75 minutes from Sarpadari to temple at the peak. There is road access from other side and large crowd were going about. Vijay and one of the guide did a spontaneous garbage clean up! much to the surprise of crowd.

While those were gone to dispose of the garbage, the rest of us got busy clicking pics in so many poses that the other guide got a bit irritated and expressed that we may not have time to finish the entire stretch of trek :P So anyway, after about half an hour spending at the peak clicking pics and visiting temple, we started our trek again. The path went around the temple and now we had much wider view of our way ahead (what with being on highest peak and all). The pattern again was hiking across multiple mountain peaks, but much longer and wider than shorter ones we crossed earlier.

continuing our trek, behind the temple
Cloud cover had grown - visual treat ahead with some peak shining in Sun and others in shade. We were literally walking amidst clouds and a short while later, it started drizzling. By the time everybody covered their bags and put on ponchos/raincoats, it was raining steadily - not heavy though. The trail was mostly gentle incline (either direction) and not slippery. We were walking faster too, urged by the guides that we need to finish lunch around 2 pm to finish the trek. The rain stopped after a while but before we thought of removing our covers, it returned, heavier this time - but still not drenching or threatening.

When the rain cleared again, we emerged into blue skies with few white clouds ahead. It was darker behind though. We stopped to remove our covers and have a healthy dose of snack and water. Everybody had taken organizers words very seriously - so much we had brought that plenty was remaining even after end of day. Not that we complained :P

aren't you tempted to trek on this trail?

The snaking roads were visible again - we could clearly see three long stretches, stacked one below the other. The noise they made and the occasional horns were irritating though. Our trail became a little more rough, larger stretches of ups and downs, some ragged cliffs and edges. And then smoothened out near the lunch point - the road cuts the trail between hills. It was pretty hot when we finally reached - 15 minutes past 2 pm. We filled our water bottles at check point and then a short distance further, TT and lunch packs were waiting.

tucking in as much as possible for long haul after noon

Near the edge of road, we sat on rocks with Sun baking down. Plenty of rice, parota, curry, pickle, snacks for lunch. We ate as much as possible to sustain us for a longer trek ahead. And that it was tasty helped. We could see three big peak ahead of us and asked the guides which was our destination. He said we would be crossing all :D I was particularly scared by the closest one - it was very jagged and looked ominous (which turned out to be false alarm)

Few minutes past 3 pm, having filled our bottles again, we started again. Sangeetha was fit and raring to go (having heard us express the beautiful views in the morning session) - while Srikanth had to stay back to avoid risking strained knee on a long hike. The jagged mountain did have edges and we often walked in a straight line skirting the cliffs (on either side), but not as scary as the slippery Sarpadari trail. It was humid and our heavy stomach meant it was slow going.

the jagged trail

looking back

To our right was thick forest covering mountain side all the way down. And there were some habitation in midst of it all. Clouds played hide and seek with Sun, but it didn't look we will get another rain spell on our path. We took break more frequent than in morning session, but I would say we were steady and not missing any opportunity to enjoy the view (taking snaps with them goes without saying). No sign of leeches anywhere, they rarely are in grasslands far from trees.

long way to go...

We had to just keep walking - hill after hill, up and down, take break, have snack/water, again and again. We would often look back, to see dark clouds covering the ranges around Mullayanagiri. Guides, on their part, kept misguiding us about end point. Sometimes, it would be just about half an hour of brisk hike left. Sometimes it was crossing just 2-3 more hills. Oh, it was way off the mark :D After 4:30 pm, misty clouds drew our attention. They moved fast, like huge white jet trail and shortly completely obscuring large swathes of mountains. I couldn't help remembering my Kodachadri trek from 4 years ago.

when things go hazy...
And then we ourselves were completely surrounded by fog. Visibility reduced to few meters. And of course, we had to stop a long time, break as well as various poses to be clicked. No wonder, it is one of the best trekking trails, especially for beginners. And on we continued hiking.

Suddenly, out of nowhere it seemed, two black dogs appeared in our path and they seemed very intent in getting food from us. The guides informed that they come often and apparently all the way from Mullayanagiri. They stayed with us almost till end of the trek, way past sunset.

...to when it clears
Around 5:30 pm, the fog cleared from our path - after a short spell of drizzle. Looking back, we had yet another view of misty cloud river, Sun about to set, much like on Saturday. More spectacular, if it could be imagined. We settled down for yet another long break and photography. The mountain's shadow was visible on the valley below us. And partial rainbow forming on clouds to our right. By the time we were winding up, lightning crackled in those very clouds.

After a short climb, we were atop a peak overlooking a wide open area, with good mud road and plenty of TT and buses parked. A shooting was going on close to lake on far side. We thought it was end of trek and some even went to watch the shooting. The lead guide informed that we had plenty more walking to do! And to hurry up with possible rain on the horizon.

Only about half of us had got torch with us. We were tired but not short of enthusiasm to trek further. Our direction changed, almost doubling back in the direction we came - but different stretch of hills. The spectacular cloud show was still on and at the fag end of sunset, a brilliant orange lit up overhead with thick clouds and lightning in the eastern direction.

sky ode? (Photo Credit: Aruna)

The ground was wet and became slushy further down. We had to be careful with our footing. As it became darker and torch light absolutely necessary to see the path, we walked as fast as possible, ignoring our tired legs. We could see some lights in distance and not long after we finally reached the road and declared the trek done with. We still had to walk a short distance to TT, shops lined to our right near the temple. We had refreshing tea/coffee at one hotel and were on our way back towards Mullayanagiri (to drop the two guides back at the check post too).

It was raining outside, while we tried hard to ignore the stuffy smell of our clothes and wet shoes/socks. We tried to finish the remaining snack, but they just were plenty left. On top of it, we had bought dil pasand before starting back (they tasted awesome :P). Vikram took it upon himself to keep us from falling asleep - he poked and prodded people to narrate some interesting personal anecdotes. After dinner (where we also had the feedback session), Kirti wanted to keep the narration going and ended up having to tell different things all by herself (some were downright scary and we had to interject with funny interludes). By 2 am, we were back in Bangalore - yet another wonderful and memorable trek with BTC came to an end. Can't wait for the next one :)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Grand Odyssey - 13, 14 Oct 2012

After being able to complete only about 100 KM riding during Cruise to Coast, I tried few things to improve my efficiency: no shoulder bag and no camera - energy bar, fruit drink (not sure), a guava, seedless dates and other essentials went into shorts pockets and the specially made cycling jersey I bought from CAM.



Our base was at Kuppalli - where famous poet Kuvempu was born. Like Cruise to Coast, it was good to be accompanied by my colleagues Yashwanth, Mitesh and Praveen. And improvising from that experience, Yashwanth and Mitesh teamed up while Praveen and I tried to be together as much as possible. 


Monsoon had painted the landscape green, but it was a hot October weekend we ended up with. It feels all the more pleasant to recall that I did around 130 KM of cycling. Physically taking action to lighten my load and reduce distraction improved my mental strength and concentration too. I drove slowly (compared to fast pace of Mitesh and Yashwanth) but steadily, counting numbers and pushing just a bit farther on uphills rather than stopping to take a breather. I caught up with the duo when I finally stopped for the first break (for tender coconut) and then was inclined to keep pushing ahead of them (instead of stopping by a pleasant river bridge with hills in the distance).




It turned more challenging after that with series of uphills. Again, I pushed as much as possible to keep moving but stopping often as it became too difficult. And then took a long break waiting for my colleagues to catch up with me at a junction from where we had to take a left turn (with pretty bad roads ahead). I definitely remember relishing an energy bar while waiting.

The next stretch was close to a nightmare with bad roads. I ended up with flat tire as I was nearing a village (Note: I was renting a bike from CAM). I waited in the hope that first canter (support vehicle in case someone is tired and needs  lift, also carries food/water/extra rented cycles, etc) was behind me (else I would have had to wait a long time for the second one) - as well as came to know from villagers that a mending shop was about a kilometer ahead. This turned out to be blessing in disguise as the replacement was a Schwinn branded bike in better shape than the one I was riding. Though it wasn't suited for my height, it was definitely better experience.



Then sometime later, with Sun scorching us, we reached Mani dam (after a bit of circuitous path). So many fast riders were already relaxing under the shade, having informed that we won't be allowed to on concrete structures (words fail me) of the dam. We were able to dip our feet on fringe waters where some meter marking pillars were placed  at different depths. When I brought out my guava to eat, someone remarked that he would like some of that ;)

We had lunch and rested a while (Mitesh literally slept). We were to take a longer route back to Kuppalli which turned out really really long than expected. Praveen's heavier cycle (definitely not suited for such long rides) hampered him a lot and took to photography (especially birds and half a snake).


Morning ride - Blue, Afternoon - something close to upper Gray route (snapshot from Google Maps)

Yashwanth and I now tried to keep company, and can't recall but I think Mitesh was with us for a while that afternoon ride. We had to ask plenty of times to be sure, as most villagers insisted that we take the morning route back to Thirthalli and from there to Kuppalli :P

We took lot many breaks and some stretch of roads were bad again. One of the breaks was a bakery, where we again inquired about the route and another at some junction (might be the road turning back towards Thirthalli in map above) where one of the organizer caught up with us (I got out the seedless dates - much needed and shared).

After about ~90 KM for the day, Yashwanth and I called it quits and got into bus. I was certainly pleased with how much I could ride (~160 KM in single day I did later that year - a ride to Mysore, would just about triumph this one with the uphills and heat). Some awesome riders did it all the way back to Kuppalli - hats off to them.

It was pretty dark by the time we reached the home stay. For dinner, we walked some distance (armed with torches) to a hotel? Again, don't recall specifics, but it was eventful one. Sort of remember something about elephant menace and some encounter with electrified farm fences.


The planned route for second day had to be changed to avoid cycling to Thirthalli again. Instead, we went opposite direction to Koppa and then onward to Balehonnur (about 50 KM in all). But first, after breakfast and packing up, we visited Kuvempu's burial site - Kavishaila. It is atop a small hill, with megalithic rocks arranged to resemble Stonehenge. The climb was too steep, some dragged their bikes, while others (again pleasant to recall that I pushed myself to take breaks and peddle rather than drag) rode it to the top. The effort gone into the burial site made a lasting impression.


The roads were good throughout, unlike bad patches the previous day. All the pushing beyond normal endurance began show and I wasn't as persistent or efficient. Still, I was single minded enough to ride as long as possible. Around Koppa, the support vehicle watched and guided us towards the right turn.


After that, it was rolling hills for long distance. The one big stretch (2+ KM) of downhill was one for nostalgia. The empty roads, wind rushing, hands free (for sometime) - peak of cycling magic. Like all good things, it had to end and riding became progressively harder as the Sun beat harshly again - roads shimmered too. Even relatively flat uphill was daunting. Remember seeing tea plantations on the way. It ended finally with giving just few kilometers short of destination. Nonetheless, one of the best trip - more because of the distance I could ride than weather, road and scenery. 

Photo Credits: Praveen, Yashwanth & Mitesh

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