I would like to highlight these points:
- This trek is now not allowed. It is illegal to actually walk on active railway tracks.
- You may be questioned by railway authorities if found trekking here. And, believe me, they do not want people walking on active railway tracks and bridges.
- There were incidents where the train had to slow down when the driver saw some people on a bridge, and it is an uphill journey, and slowing down train makes it difficult to pick speed again, which is not nice for them.
- There is not much fun now, as the bridges have been laid with metal sheets, and it is not as exciting as walking on concrete sleepers alone for support.
- You won’t be allowed to tent or camp at Yedakumari, as senior officials visit these stations often, and it is an active station now. Civilization is more than 2 hours of walk from there.
- You won’t get permissions anywhere to do this trek.
It was two in the morning. From the cozy comfort of the KSRTC volvo, we got down at a dingy little tea shop in the highway town of Donigal. The plan was to start the trek from the Donigal railway station. After sipping uber-hot cups of tea, we enquired how far it was to the railway station. The chaai shop guy said it was 3 kms. We started walking in the darkness of the night, with the sole light from our torches swaying up and down the long stretch of the Bangalore-Mangalore highway. Every other second, the silence was broken by a crazily speeding vehicle that was hell bent upon driving us away from the paved road into the muddy footpath. The seven of us talked, laughed, chatted and walked.
After several minutes of walking (it should have been 60 minutes), and definitey covering a lot more than 3 kms, we reached a place that somewhat resembled a railway station. A steep climb up from the road took us to our planned starting point – the Donigal railway station. It was 4 am, and it was pitch dark. The station guards were asleep in the rooms, and we did not want to wake them up. We knew that trekking on a functional railway line was illegal, and were pretty apprehensive that they would drive us away from the station. Silently we tip toed to about a 100 yards away from the station entrance and sat down on the platform for the day light to start peeping out, so that we could start our walk on the tracks.
After about an hour, we started. Walking on a railway track is by no means child’s play. It is difficult, it is painful, and it is dangerous. One wrong step, and you would instantly fall down and bang your face into the concrete sleepers. We had to keep all our torch lights on while walking. The width of the sleepers was in such a way that the middle of our feet started paining slowly. Nevertheless, we knew we had to cover 18 kms of such track-walking, and we were prepared. We had to reach Yedakumari – our destination station by noon so that we could make it before dark to the highway. So, we continued our walk in the dark for the next 3 kms or so. That is when we reached the first bridge.
The railway track to Mangalore passes through some of the most picturesque hills of the western ghats. The train pulls up through these ghats chug-chugging along the bridges and tunnels. The whole stretch of the railway line passes through a number of such bridges and tunnels. Walking on these bridges is supposed to be the most thrilling part of this trek. You are high up in the hills, walking on the bridge, with ground at more than a 100 ft below your feet. You have nothing to hold on to, and one wrong step could leave you hurling down to the valley below. You have to be really careful and alert. And the tunnels are another story. If the train comes through when you are walking inside a tunnel, all you can do is wedge yourself in the small 4 ft space in between the speeding train and the tunnel wall, as the train brushes past your face. It is a shaky experience.
But we did not get to experience all the thrill. A metal sheet had been laid all through the length of the bridges, and it took away half the fun already. Walking on these metal sheeted bridges was a piece of cake. Contrast it with the earlier situation where you had to cross planks that were a foot and a half apart, and a couple of hundred feet high in the air. This track was previously abandoned, and train movement started here only in 2005. Around 3 to 4 trains pass through this route every day, most of them goods carriers. Since some repair work is going on in these tracks all the time, the railways decided to lay these metal sheets so that the workers can walk through the bridges easily without fear.
After walking for around 7 kms, we sat down to have breakfast. One of us had brought nice puliyogare, and the hunger made us lick it down to the last morsel. One thing I have to mention is, all along the route, a number of railway workers keep working on repairing the tracks. The kids in these groups keep asking you for biscuit packets. It would be a nice idea to keep some biscuit packets to give these kids.
Along the path, there were steep hills in some places, lining the track, and they had put metal meshes to keep the rocks from falling into the track. Rajesh displayed his monkeying skills by climbing up one of these meshes and posing for the camera.
As the day progressed, it was getting hotter and hotter, and the pain in our feet was tending to unbearable. We were looking for some kind of water source so that we could cool our heels. Soon we found one. A stream flowing through the ghats was good enough for us to jump into immediately. We played in the water for around an hour. The water was chill, and the stream was deep at places. But we had been to a lot of such streams in our treks, that we found no problem with it. The pain in our feet reduced a little, and we regained some of the energy lost due to dehydration. I should say that everyone doing this trek should carry at least 2 litres of water. That is what saved our day.
We had lunch at a small elevated place along the track. I had prepared nice tomato thokku the previous night in Bangalore, and carried it along. We had a feast on readymade chappatis and tomato thokku. A few packets of MTR ready-to-eat sambar rice packets also helped. Re-energised after the lunch, we started walking again.
As we were nearing the Yedakumari station, some of the railway offiicials who were inspecting the tracks stopped us to ask why we were walking on the tracks. They said we could be arrested for tresspassing on railway property. We had to blabber this and that, to escape from them. They warned us, and told us not to walk on the tracks. We sheepishly nodded our heads, and continued once they left. After walking 18 long kms, we finally reached the Yedakumari station, where a new shock awaited us.
By the time we reached Yedakumari, we were all panting and gasping. Our feet were completely sore and it pained like we could not keep another step ahead. We asked the guard in the station how to reach the highway from there. Shock! He asked us to walk another 4 kms, where we would get a forest path on the right. We had to walk into the forest from here, to reach the highway.
Swearing and cursing, we started walking again. This last 4 kms was the most painful of the whole trek. When we reached Yedakumari station, we had thought the trek was over, all the pain was over. But when we were told to walk another 4 kms, our spirits died away instantly. What a pain! Finally when we all made it to the start of this forest path, we could no longer stand. We all sat down to rest. There was hardly any energy left in us for the day. We were wondering aloud how we were going to make it through the forest to the highway, when our saviors appeared.
A jeep magically appeared on the forest path. It was some railway jeep, which was supplying gas cylinders for welding the joints in the tracks. We just casually asked the driver how far it was to the highway. He said 7 kms, and through the jungle, with elephants moving around. What??? We had expected the walk to be 1-2 kms, but never imagined it would be 7 kms. We were shell shocked. Then came the relief. The jeep guy offered to take us down to the highway. He said, it was dangerous to walk through the forest, and asked us if we wanted to hop into the jeep, so that he would drop us in Sakleshpur. We immediately jumped into the idea. What a relief that was!
Later we learnt that the jeep came there only once in 15 days. I don’t know if it was mere coincidence, or something else that the jeep came to the right place to pick us up at the right time of the day, as though it was waiting to carry us only. It was a long and bumpy ride to Sakleshpur. We had to cross a river in the middle, and the Mahindra jeep effortlessly accomplished the task. We also saw a lot of elephant dung along the forest path. In about an hour, we were in Sakleshpur bus stand.
That night, we stayed in a hotel in Sakleshpur, and the next morning, climbed a rustic and bumpy bus to Bangalore, with a whole lot of memories about an unforgettable and painful trek on the tracks.Honest advice: This trek is illegal, and it is no longer exciting enough to do this trek (because the bridges have been well-protected). Other than the stream in the woods, there was not much of enjoyment in this trek. I would say, you can give this one a pass.
You can take a look at the trail for this trek here. It has been mapped at TripNaksha