Friday, January 22, 2016

Antaragange Caves - 16 Jan 2016

First of something you love is always special. It was my fourth visit to Antaragange and it still had surprises in store. We gathered at the usual meeting spot - Shanthala Silk House opposite Terminal 3 at Majestic. 40+ BTCians (there was another trek to Hutridurga) mingled, old timers greeting each other while new comers eagerly asked all sorts of questions on trekking and BTC. Uncharacteristically the tempo travelers were late, so some of us went to nearby hotel for tea/coffee/breakfast. And we took the opportunity to click combined group photos as well.

About 15 minutes to 8 AM, we finally got our ride. Hiren and Sreemoyee gave an intro talk and then we all had to enact our names as our introductions. Some were lucky to be guessed soon, some were sly and lots of fun. We followed it with a bit of dumb charades with films and songs and moved on to Antakshiri. Around 9:30 AM, we stopped at Sri Shanthi Sagar hotel, very close to Kolar. While we had breakfast and another round of tea/coffee, we ordered tamarind rice as parcel for lunch. An hour later, we reached the base at Antaragange.


Before starting the trek, we stood in 'straight' circle for formal round of introduction, followed by remainder of BTC rules and policies. We then finally started our trek with everybody warned of naughty monkeys until 100 or so steps to the temple. This time, there weren't people filling pots from the perennial spring.


Just as we reached, a kid (didn't look the age to be studying 9th standard as he claimed) asked if we required a guide to lead us to caves. We said yes. The trek could reasonably be said to start amongst the hillocks past the temple, but few were already interested to know how far we had to go :P Admittedly, the steps and initial steep climb is of Moderate difficulty than the Easy tag for this day trek. And the mini rests turned out to be extended photo-shoots, given the large group :P


As usual, there were plenty of people climbing alongside as well as those coming back. About an hour later, the guide veered us from usual trail to the right - turns out apart from numerous caves, this smaller one had perennial spring, just like the one near the temple! It took us more than an hour for everybody to visit and come back. Our guide seemed very practiced at this: he would ask us to wash our hands just beyond the source and then scoop with our folded hands to taste the sweet water. All the while holding a torch in that narrow dark space. By just a few minutes, another group were behind us and had to wait for us to finish. Still, that didn't feel a boring exercise as numerous boulders around gave us opportunity for daring climbs and photo shoots.

We then continued on the regular path to reach the muddy ground beyond which are village farming lands and roads. The guide wanted to lead us to a viewing spot nearby, we asked him to take us to caves instead. I kept asking him to lead us on the path with butterflies and small pond which I remembered from my previous visit. Either he didn't know or didn't want us to go as it would take much longer time, so we didn't go that way. Perhaps next time ;)

But before moving on, we wanted to take some group shots given the wide space and hills behind. That soon turned into jumping spree, with everyone trying their best to launch themselves as high as possible.

And now, for icing on cake - the famed caves. Right from entrance, it was a series of narrow spaces. Only someone familiar with the route can traverse this maze. Another group was following us close behind as well. We took plenty of photos of course.

About 20 minutes later, we emerged into a wide enclosure. It doubled as our little break before continuing on. More narrow crossings ahead, usually taking about half a minute or more per person. We had to do all sorts of yoga - bend, reach out for a foot holding, watch our head/neck from scraping, etc

Finally, at 20 minutes past 2 PM we had emerged out of the caves (sense of direction only known to the guide) and settled for lunch between boulders and shade of a tree. We topped it up with snacks, cakes and biscuits.



For next 40 minutes, we traversed fields, large flat rocks, coming across dirty wells, etc to reach another temple with a perennial spring source forming a greenish pond. Teerhalli main road was close to this spot. By this time we were getting tired and running out of water. Though the guide was eager to show us more spots, we asked him just the way back from here on. After taking more group pics by the stepped pond, some of us climbed to near by tall boulders upon which a strange looking statue had been built. The rickety iron staircase with only the railings and outline of steps (no foothold!) was a risky undertaking in itself.


We then went back to the series of cottage like structures (apparently some sort of acting/art coaching is done there). The guy there was extremely helpful in many ways - gave clear instructions to our TT driver to come towards us on Teerhalli road, fill our water bottles, restroom facility and so on. The place was very well maintained including a garden. As we left after much needed rest, we fed their two dogs with leftover rice from lunch. I searched on Google maps and think this was the spot

Then we resumed our hike - walking towards Kolar highway to meet our TT on the way. It was interesting as well - cutting our way on rocks instead of following hair-pin bends, walking on foot high wall built on either side of road, some interesting flora, etc.

On our way to Bangalore, we stopped by Sagar hotel again for tea/coffee/juice. Feedback session was full of praise for organizers and constructive suggestions (especially for pot-luck lunches instead of parcel from hotel). And then while some took to resting and going through photos, back seaters put effort at amazing songs to sing. 

When travel and trekking meets amazing BTC group, magic day is assured :) 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Natural pools of Nagalapuram - 2,3 Jan 2016

The natural pools in Nagala beats any water sports in a themed park I've been to. In less than a year, I was back to dare myself to jump from a stomach knotting height. Heart felt thanks to Bangalore Trekking Club for once again organizing a wonderful trip and 14 fellow trekkers for all the sweet memories.

We gathered at Terminal 3 to catch a bus. Organizers Ameer and Lokith had managed to procure 5 life-jackets on rent despite the unusual  demand. Only Ameer and I had been to Nagala before and we did our best to hype up the location and expectations. I think we fell well short, it has to be experienced to suspend belief. After quick round of introductions, we boarded ksrtc bus to Puttur.

Luckily, there were enough empty seats to spread out, keep our luggage and rest as comfortable as possible in public transport. We reached before 4 AM the next morning, waited for sometime and then caught the next bus to Nagalapuram village. This one was even more empty, but with worn out seats and rickety windows. We still managed to catch some sleep in the chill.

Early morning chai
At the village, we had our first cups of tea/coffee and then waited on steps in front of shops to wait for organizers to arrange a place for freshening up. Our lead guide Giri (whom I knew from previous trip) and his companion Suresh soon arrived. The marriage hall we made use of last time was being rented for cotton sales, so we had to use another marriage hall close by. It was still under construction, but fit for our purposes. We then had breakfast and a long waiting time to get lunch packed. Meanwhile, the local guides and organizers went shopping for rice and supplies for dinner that evening.

On our way to hills
Fun started right away with our 50 minute bumpy bolero ride to the base. From serene fields to hills in the distance and stealing sugarcane to selfies. Before starting, everybody got their lunch packs and went about securing their backpacks for the trek ahead.

At the base
It was a sunny day as expected. Giri and Suresh led at the front, while Ameer brought up the rear. First timers had plenty of questions which Giri patiently answered (he was genuinely happy to lead and proud of the place). He told us how the dam was flooding during the recent cyclones.

Part natural, part man made dam
Our group was quite energetic and made quick progress towards first of the three pools. The initial walk besides the banks gave way to well worn path amidst trees and bushes. The stream was never too far from us. Stones and thorny bushes restricts the pace, but probably not so much given our heavy backpacks and overhead Sun. We took breaks often, many a times just for the fast and slow trekkers (relatively speaking) to catch up. All along, nostalgia was too strong as and when I recognized some spots from last time, including a doggie joining us.

One of the numerous breaks

At one of those spots, there were so many frogs (or toads?) that it was difficult to not step on one of them. As we neared the pool, we found Amla (Indian Gooseberry) trees. Giri and Suresh helpfully climbed and plucked loads of them.

Finally, at half past noon, we reached the pool. Dinesh kickstarted by going in first. Giri guided people wanting to jump, showing the spots, brief techniques and leading the way for the first 20+ feet jump.

Enjoying in the natural pool
Non-swimmers took turns with life-jackets and helped by Giri and swimmers to get used to water and have 100% faith. While waiting for my turn, I did my best to capture moments here and there. Just standing besides the top spot was a bit scary. Dinesh, Vivek, Radhika, Aliasgar and Lokith took lead after Giri, while Ameer had a lengthy mental battle despite a successful attempt last time.

Giri, showing how it is done

Among non-swimmers, Sahana, Saleem, Syed and Shilpa were quick to trust life-jacket and jumped quite a bit around. Susmitha and Vidya became accustomed by the third pool. Mounika was kinda meh to all our jumping antics despite knowing swimming well - she finally took the bait of 10+ feet jump the next day :P Despite phobia, Akash did his best to get in water and more importantly took wonderful pictures :)

When I finally got my chance, I started with small jump, then about 10 feet jump before climbing again for icing on the cake. Aliasgar was kind enough to take over shooting responsibilities. I just made sure video was being taken and then jumped on count of three, before my fear of heights near edges could take over. My landing went awry and it hurt for a while, but it was SOOOOOOOOOOO good to do it again! :)

Even our shelter is natural made ;)
About 3 hours later, we called it enough and had lunch - yummy lemon rice with snacks. After some rest, we trekked for another half an hour to reach the cave (still in damp clothes), just below a hill top, ideal location to camp and spend the night. For now, we continued to the stream above which is famously known for magic pool - a natural slide on rocks ending with deep pool.

Natural slide (Photo Courtesy: Akash)

Like before, swimmers took lead to show how it is done. Many were skeptical at first and then couldn't hold themselves from repeating it many many times. One just needs to be careful in folding hands before sliding, rest is all magical :)

The climb back up on ragged and sharp cuts in the rocks was the only difficult part. Sandals with straps are ideal to go in so that it is easier while coming back. And then there is a narrow spot, allowing a 10+ feet jump. Most of us jumped, some doing it multiple times. Yet again, I did it quickly before fear could set in. Giri, Akash and Vivek took plenty of pictures and videos (Overall we had about 10 GB of images and videos to share :D)

After we changed to dry clothes, most of us settled down for much needed rest. Guides and few others went down to collect wood for cooking and camp fire. From previous experience, we knew there were rats about and we spotted them from time to time.

While we waited, we munched on snacks and then started a very convoluted Antakshri - movie names in pretty much any language - Telugu, Kannada and Tamil were most popular. Malayalam, English, Hindi, Gujarathi and Marathi were thrown in. Most of the times it was like rapid fire quiz, very difficult to keep track. It was fun and definitely good for time pass.

Like last time, we all went up for a while to sit under the brilliance of the sky, twinkling with stars. Highlight was epic monologue by Saleem on the science behind Interstellar movie. After dinner (tamarind rice, white rice, pickle, curd, snacks, etc), we spread out our sleeping mats and settled to play mafia, moderated by Mounika. While the first round was admittedly funny as participants were getting to know the rules of the game, the second round resulted in clean routing of mafia, courtesy immaculate policemen and doctor.

wakey wakey

After bit of re-arranging and plenty of adjustment, all 17 of us fit in that small flat space for the night. Plus the doggie. Few wakings apart, I had a good sleep. After freshening up in the morning, we kindled the fire again to heat MTR ready-to-eat packs followed by cup-noodles and normal ones. Some hadn't paid attention to mail circulated before the trip regarding food, but in the end it all turned out sufficient.
Co-ordinated crossing

By 9:40 AM, we started our trek to the third and final pool. We had to go down to the stream below and continue following it all the way to pool. Of course, we took plenty of pics before starting. After steady hike and numerous breaks (including wading in thigh deep water), we reached the spot by 11 AM.

This time we only spent 2 hours in the pool :P Intention was more about getting everybody to visit the hidden small waterfall on the other side. Swimmers took lead in guiding the non-swimmers in batches. While we were at it, another group trekking from the other side met us.
Third pool, with hidden waterfall behind those rocks
The pool near the waterfall was ideal to spend lot of time (which the now confident non-swimmers made full use of, especially floating). And the rest of us took turns to jump from about 15 feet in the front. 1-2-3 and jump became a mantra. Few even took to give us a show on head-first dive, back jumps and so on. A big thanks to Syed, Akash and others who patiently took photos and videos.
Lunch spot
After crossing the stream, we had lunch - khakras, bread (thanks for peanut butter and pineapple jam), biscuits, cake and whatever snacks we had remaining. Giri told us that we could spend some time in yet another pool, so we didn't spend much time relaxing and walked in damp clothes again.

We took about two hours to reach there. With plenty of breaks, water-filling, snaps and chit-chat about treks. It was a wide and good spot to spend time, though just shallow pools. Many villagers were already enjoying, so we decided to give this one a skip. We changed to dry clothes, kept out the damp ones to dry and settled for much needed rest and more chit-chat.
Good-bye Nagala, we'll be back another day
The break also helped to break the monotonous march to starting point. By 5 PM, we reached the dam and took plenty of group pics. Some villagers were curious about our trip, while some were genuinely surprised at such an undertaking. While waiting for our bolero ride to come, we went over photos and videos on our cameras and formed whatsapp group. We even had a prolonged discussion on fat loss and how Yoga seems best choice. Over and above nature, it is the wonderful people who make the trip memorable. Thanks everyone :)

At Nagalapuram bus stand, we had time just enough for cup of tea/coffee, before we got lucky to get a bus to keep our luggages without an issue and get seats a short while after getting in. We had some very spicy discussions :P before reaching Puttur. After some inquiry, we went to Jyothi mess for dinner. We ordered every variety of dosas available and few plates of chappathis too. Food was tasty, onion-dosa was the best. And then a round of ice-cream. Just about 20 minutes left when we entered bus stand. Since the other trekking group were also taking the same bus, we had to adjust by keeping our luggages below the seats.

Overall, yet another wonderful trek with BTC. What more could one ask to start a new year with? Eagerly awaiting Kumara Parvatha trek with BTC this month. And I think I will be back to Nagala next year as well :P

Friday, January 1, 2016

Bengaluru to Mysuru - 160km of exhilaring Cycling

I was just into second year of long distance cycling. Had heard cycling feats of friends completing 300+ kilometers of cycle ride in just one day (to and fro from Bengaluru to Mysuru). And of course, there were events like 1000+ KM rides in western ghats. Whilst I knew these beyond my endurance and desire, there certainly was a wish to ride somewhere far from Bengaluru.

So, on 23-December-2012, I went along with Yatin and his friend (who had also lent his Rockrider for me to use) on a trip to Mysuru. My fellow riders from previous trips - Praveen, Mithesh and Yashwanth couldn't join. I had stayed overnight at Yatin's place near Windtunnel road. We started very early in the morning, around 5 AM, braving the chill. It was a touch difficult to ride in the dark upto Madiwala and then traffic and street lights were sufficient.

We rode non-stop for about 40 KMs, down-slope going out of Bengaluru helping. Hands were numb after the hard ride, but gave sufficient warm-up for the toil ahead. Pro-tip: use gloves! We had consciously made a choice to take the Kanakapura road instead of Mysuru highway - adding distance but at the same time much emptier road than the highway. Don't remember correctly, but I think we stopped for tea about 5-10 KM before reaching Kanakapura - where we had breakfast.

It was much more sedate pace after that. After an hour or so, we stopped to have tender coconut (sugarcane juice also helps a lot on long rides). Often, Yatin's friend had to wait for us to catch up, he being a pro cyclist and used to much longer rides. Route was pretty much straight forward to follow, other than some turnings near lunch time. I think it was Malavalli where we stopped to have lunch, about 110 KM ride since morning (around 70 mile mark in the map below). We were now much confident that we would be able to finish the ride, despite uphills ahead. And importantly, plenty of time remaining in the day. The lunch spot had convenient narrow lane to park our bikes and remain in our sight from tables.

Created on - check above map here.

After lunch, our pace got even slower. The afternoon heat didn't help as well. For most part, we rode at our own pace and catching up during breaks. Large sections of roads without habitation around. Thankfully, there was a tender coconut seller at some village bus-stop. The seller became very interested seeing my attire and bike, where I came from, my destination, etc. Even wanted to have a ride, somehow managed to convince that it wasn't my bike (which was true) and escaped from there :P

Last 15-20 kilometers were pure test of will to peddle despite the cramps. Only the closeness to destination kept myself and Yatin going. We would stop every kilometer or so to catch breadth, thankful for even a bit of downslope (which meant no peddling). At that stage, even relatively flat road becomes tough to ride. Not to forget, sitting on the saddle was painful. Pro tip: use padded cycling shorts.

As we entered within limits of the city, we often asked for directions to the Mysuru Palace. And stopped at a medical store - don't remember for what, might have been spray or moov. There was some protest going on at the palace, so in a hurry, we couldn't get a proper photo with the three of us! (I am the blurry figure on the left)

Few minutes were still left to 6:30 PM. After a discussion, plans to stay overnight was shelved and we went to bus station instead. We fit our bikes on the side luggage compartment of Volvo bus (bikes were fit in standing position with some adjustments for height) - the luggage charge was like Rs. 50/- or something, after some negotiations.

On the way, we had dinner stop, so no worries on that aspect too. We slept for most part of the journey. On reaching Bengaluru (Shantinagar depot) around 11 PM, we had to ride another 10-12 KM. I thought it would be difficult to get the legs moving so soon, but it turned out much easier. After dropping off the cycle, Yatin's roommate Devang was kind enough to drop me back to my place in Indiranagar.

And that is how, for the only time so far, I did 160+ KM on a bicycle in a day :) So proud of myself and the memory is ever so sweet to recall. Hoping that I will do some 100+ KM ride this year too :)

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