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. 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 :)

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