Trek to Kudremukh Peak (May 19-20, 2007)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Trek to the Kudremukh Peak in Chikmagalur District of Karnataka. Read the three part series here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Another co-trekker's account of the same trek here

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Trek to Kudremukh Peak (May 19-20, 2007) - Part 1

The Kudremukh Ranges
If you ask my opinion about the most beautiful part of Karnataka, being the mountain person I am, the answer inevitably would be the kudremukh ranges. As one trudges through chest-high grass unaware of what lies a few feet ahead and makes sense of the path that is not well traversed and yet takes the time to look around and soak in the beauty, its hard not to be overawed by the majestic mountains all around. None more majestic than the 1892m high horse-shaped Kudremukh Peak. You get this view when you march from one dilapidated house to another in the deserted village some 10km inside the kudremukh national park. The Lobo house among these houses was popular with trekkers of yore as they would rest here overnight and try an assault on the peak the next morning. The more brave souls would camp at or near the peak itself, braving the wind and the chill and wildlife. But such things are ruled out these days since camping inside national parks is all but ruled out. It is next to impossible to get a permit for doing so unless you have a valid reason for the same. The village in question (Tholali) has an abundance of fruit trees like the guava and jackfruit trees around the abandoned houses. With no humans for miles around and gentle mist floating in from the west, it is as close to paradise as I can possibly imagine.
(pic: view from near the top of the peak facing east)


We Start...

The story doesn't start from there though. It started 36 hours back as we, the 10 of us, left Bangalore on a sultry Friday night. The heat in May can be unbearable even in Bangalore. We had chosen trekking in K.N.P. (Kudremukh National Park) as a relief and a break from our mundane routine. An overnight drive takes one through Tumkur, Arsikere, Kadur, Kottigehara, Kalasa and Samse. It lies some 300 odd kilometers from Bangalore in the western ghats. If you manage to reach Kottigehara at the break of dawn, try to keep yourself awake because the view that enfolds through your journey over the next 90 km or so is absolutely divine. The road is in a decent condition and sees little traffic so early in the day. You are taken through beautiful dew-laden tea estates (probably the only ones in Karnataka). If you are lucky, then you might find yourself facing the plateau and the sun soaring above the white sea of clouds which cover it. Pretty soon, you will have crossed Kalasa, a major temple town. There are a few hotels here where you can choose to have your bath and breakfast. A short detour (15kms) takes you across the River Tunga and to the other famous temple town of Horanadu. Be warned that it can be very crowded on weekends. We chose not to stop anywhere and drove straight to Samse (12km from Kalasa) which lies on the way to Malleshwara or Kudremukh Township.
(pic: vista of the Kudremukh ranges which was to be our indulgence for the weekend)


Change of plans!

It was about 8 in the morning. The facilities for breakfast and bath in Samse are at a bare minimum. It is just a sleepy hamlet on the foothills of the Kudremukh Range. There is a home stay that has been opened recently but we didn't give it a try. Our plan was to get a permit from the forest dept office in the township and start the trek as soon as possible. Half the group alighted at Samse and unloaded all the luggage. We wanted to camp overnight at the Lobo house and trek to the peak the next morning. The 11km drive to the township is through lush green forest in the National park. The township lies within the park and was created to house the employees of the Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Ltd. (kudremukhore.co.in) which has been thankfully closed down from 2007. We paid the entry fee (Rs.30 per head), trekking fee (Rs.50 per head) and the guide fee (Rs.100 per trek) and returned to Samse. We were also informed by the forest office that no person is allowed to stay within the park after 6pm strictly. So this meant we had to alter our plans. We decided to trek down to Mullodi where we would halt for the night. This village lies just outside the national park.


The unending walk

Our vehicle dropped us at the Basrikal gate. This is where the mud road to Mullodi begins. Its a pucca road on which jeeps can traverse. It has been improved vastly since the last time I trekked in 2005. After crossing a small stream right at the beginning, its a steady climb winding through many plantation estates. Though the stated distance is about 6km to Mullodi, it feels more like 10-12km since the path keeps gradually climbing and the road keeps curving, hugging the hills to our left. At each one of those curves, we would be enticed into thinking that the destination is just after the curve only to be disappointed. Our city bred bodies certainly aren't built for such hikes. After huffing and puffing through the way (never admitting to being tired though), we finally reached the familiar terrain of Mullodi. It lies right on the Somawathy valley overlooking the Somawathy waterfalls. The jeep track ends here. Alternatively one can fetch a drop from the jeeps traveling on this route (about 250-450 depending on the number of people in the group and your negotiation skills). Being the last ones to reach, we saw other taking generous amounts of refreshments and giving their limbs much needed rest and we joined in.


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Trek to Kudremukh Peak (May 19-20, 2007) - Part 2

Chill under the waterfall
After a few minutes of rest and recharging the bodies, we could already hear some of the guys having a splash, literally, below in the waterfalls. Not to be left behind, we soon joined them. The water gushing down was not in any great quantity as it was summer. What ever was present was thanks to the rains that had hit the region the week before. It helped us though as we could cooled ourselves down standing right under the fall. That being easier said than done provided the slippery rocks we needed to reach and stand on. Almost everyone had a spectacular fall or two. One of the guys even smashed his mouth against the rocks and was incapacitated enough not to do the trek the next day. I had a end of day story to tell too while trying to jump from one rock to another with the camera in hand. The next moment, the rock I landed on was providing me with no grip at all and I was sliding down on my tummy to the waters below. I only managed to keep the camera and my head as high as possible so that they wouldn't bang against the rock while I slid in to the waters. Thankfully the water was only waist deep and the camera survived with just a spray of water. Birding wise, I could hear a lot of bulbuls and see some flying around too. But since we were close to water and in a large group, no birds dared to perch anywhere close. I had to be satisfied for the day just watching them fly around at a distance. We spent the time relaxing there while the sun set on the distant horizon.
(pic: chilling near the waterfalls)


The night and the daybreak
Though we were equipped with tents, we decided to take the offer from one of the household at Mullodi to stay at their home. The house of Sathish is the penultimate one on the path that leads inside the National Park. We spent time gazing at the starry sky trying to spot shooting stars and making sense of the weird noises coming out of the forest (ok, they were peafowl calls) and hills all around. After dinner, everyone fell fast asleep. The morning next, we woke up early and were ready to start the trek at 6.30 in the morning. A few hundred feet from Mullodi village the National Park begins and a primitive signboard proudly announces that the peak is 8kms away. Don't be fooled by that! It feels much much more.


The onward trek
The first landmark on the way to the peak is the Tholali anti-poaching camp (APC) where a forest guard would be present and to whom we are required to report. He would then be the guide for us since a department guard has to accompany any group trekking inside a National Park. To reach there the path follows a valley that offers spectacular views of the range. Quite pleasingly, the many houses and fields that used to dot the valley have been evicted and the land returned to where it belongs, the forest. Though it presents the picture of a degraded forest, it won't be time for nature to reclaim what was rightfully hers. Along the way, there are numerous streams that cross our path. Some of the streams don't even have bridges across them or have a rudimentary one log bridge. One has to cross such streams jumping from one slippery rock to another. It was much easier this time because the streams had barely any water. After trekking for almost 3.5 hours we reached the APC location that I knew from my previous trek. But we were baffled to find the camp deserted and the hut that served as the camp in shambles. We were more confused because we had met the forest guard the previous day on our way and had informed him about our trek. We decided to continue with the trek since the path to the peak was fairly straight forward. We later found out that the APC had been moved closer to the park boundary and we had missed seeing a board pointing to the camp when we had crossed one of the numerous streams.
(pic: view of the evicted houses and the degraded forests across the valley)


Lobo house
A kilometer or so from the erstwhile APC, the trekking path from Navoor joins ours. Soon we reach the Lobo house after crossing a stream. There are two abandoned houses close by here with the first one (on the right) in a habitable condition. Continuing further, the path takes a gentle climb over a mound where the grass has grown chest-high to cover the path up. We had to literally make our way through the grass keeping the third and last house in the village as a direction marker. We knew we had to pass that house on the way to the peak. It was slightly scary because the grass could hide literally anything, from a leopard to a cobra to a bison - all of which are equally dangerous when ambushed. Now this is the place where I felt that connect with nature, feeling one and part of it. Its only when you look at your fellow trekker that reality strikes - that you are a mere guest in this paradise. As described in the opening text, the KP is already towering on your left with the clouds gently kissing it as they floated eastwards. Towards the end of this grassy mound, we emerged in a forest with tall trees that seemed straight out of Sherwood. Realizing that we had lost our way, we trekked inside the forest in the general direction of the last village house. Fortunately, we found the house without wasting too much time. It was rewarding to say the least thanks to the guavas, of which we could not have enough. It was about 11 in the morning by then.
(pic: near the erstwhile APC at Tholali. The Kudremukh peak on the elevated horizon)


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Trek to Kudremukh Peak (May 19-20, 2007) - Part 3

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Climb, ahoy!
Beyond the house, one can see a path going up a small hill. To reach the hill, we again had to make our own path in tall grass. As we start to climb the small hill, we realize its not small after all. In fact, during the whole trek, this part is the steepest climb and feels more so because one is taken totally unawares. On the way up, we saw many black-shouldered kites soaring in the wind and keeping close to the slopes to hunt for snakes and rodents. But they were too far away to get any decent pictures. (Yes, I was carrying my 400mm DO on this trek - one main advantage of having this lens!) At the top of this hill, there is a flat place with a lone tree aptly named onti mara. This is a Jamun tree and had plenty of fruits which the guys didn't miss harvesting. The trek further is characterized by gentle walks along the hillside interspersed with two extra-long shola stretches. In aftermath of rains, walking inside these shola stretches can be a walk through hell thanks to the millions of writhing blood-sucking leeches that infest these forests. During our last trek, we had to pluck our atleast 5-10 leeches each even after running non-stop through the shola. But this time no such horrors and we enjoyed a leisurely walk in them. We even tried to refill our water bottles with the meagre flow of water in the streams but found it non-potable.
(pic: collecting Jamun fruits from the ground at the ontimara)


To the top
After the second shola, we come across a waterfall where we relaxed and refilled our bottles. Especially in the months from April to early June, one is advised to carry enough water (3-4 lts per person) or carry water purifying tablets. The water flow is thin and may contains larvae and other particulates which could be bad for your tummy and health in general. We spotted a juvenile snake (pit viper?) hiding in a crevice in a tree. Did not disturb it much, except to take a couple of pictures, lest there were more around. The path from there is a long zig zag one where we walk in the direction away from the peak for a long while. There are plenty of large sized flies (no idea about the ID but they were 0.5-1 inche sized) which are found on the grass in the dry season. Look out for them for their bites are very painful. The bites don't seem to cause any rash though. Insect repellents in the form of skin applicants may help. There is an old dilapidated church which was built by the british. With a waterfall between us and the church, we did not want to take a detour to visit the church. At his point, a "hairpin" curve and we are walking towards the peak again. We walk alongside dense evergreen forest on top of the mountain. The path to the peak keeps steadily climbing. There is even a lake and a broken-down guest house from the British era beside the lake. Finally we reached the peak at about 2. The face gives you spectacular view down provided the mist clears. This happens rarely though. On the top of the peak there is a board pointing north saying "Kudremukh peak 1km" and perhaps is correct because further north there is another peak which is higher. But I have read somewhere that it is another peak which at 1892m is the actual second highest peak of Karnataka. The kudremukh peak on which we were standing is at around 1872m.
(pic1: the juvenile snake, pic2: dense forest alongside our path almost near the peak.)


Back to the base

After spending almost an hour at the peak during which the mist never cleared completely, we decided to trek down. It was around 3pm. Climbing down is easy especially when it is dry and hasn't rained for some days. In the last trek, the rains had made the path very slippery and every step a dicey proposition. We still had to contend with tiredness and dehydration since the humidity was fairly high and potable water availability fairly low. We reached Mullodi exactly at the stroke of 6. Some of the guys who had reached early had already hit the waterfalls again. They had also arranged through telephone for a jeep to come from Samse to pick us up. Thanking our hosts (and paying them a very nominal charge for hosting us) we left in the Jeep (all 10 of us with the jeep driver and our vehicle driver who wanted to 'just have a look' crammed in it). He dropped us in Basrikal Gate for 350 rupees. We had dinner (delicious dosas and rice) at the hotel there and left for Bangalore.
(pic: view from near the church. Somewhere at the end of the valley lies Samse, visible on a more clear day.)



Note:

  • Karnataka wilderness tourism website has detailed information on trekking routes within KNP. http://www.karnatakawildernesstourism.org/Trekking_opp_in/Kudremukh.htm
  • Naxal activities have put a question mark on nature lovers' visits to the KNP. But as per the information I could gather, their activities are more concentrated in the Kerekatte range and in and around Sringeri. After speaking to the locals, my understanding is that their focus is the establishment (read forest dept, KIOCL and the police) and would not harm nature lovers. But do get a clear picture of the state of affairs at the time of your visit before going ahead.
  • Please do not have create any naked flame while trekking inside the forests, especially during summer months as the grass is dry and ripe for forest fires.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking during treks.
  • Except for 2-3 dry months, this region is relatively wet. So if you are trekking, be aware that the leeches are almost everywhere in the trekking path.
  • In my opinion wearing rugged all-weather sandals are a better option and extremely convenient than shoes for trekking. Plucking leeches out from the legs is easier that way. Also because of the number of streams in the path, removing and wearing the shoes everytime is irritating. For the leeches, you can make a loose fitting canvas bag that serves as socks. Other remedies like salt and tobacco are more curative than preventive measures.
  • The family of Sathisha are very non-intrusive yet friendly people. It is a pleasant non-commercial homestay option from where trek to the peak is just a days trek. Facilities are pretty basic but more than adequate given the settings. You can talk to him before reaching the place on 082632-49595. Please treat them well and give them no reason to complain however because other trekkers need to use their facilities in future.



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