Trek to Huthridurga (Uttari Betta)

Having lived in Bangalore for more than 10 years, I had been checking out the BMC website (Bangalore Mountaineering Club) quite a few times. This is known to be a popular agency that organizes treks around Bangalore. A casual check lists a bunch of treks of various difficulty levels being conducted on all weekends of the year. Though I have trekked with a bunch of strangers several times in the past, I had never signed up for one organized by an agency or a club. So, despite the list of treks looking pretty attractive, I hadn’t gotten around to actually sign up for one of BMC’s treks.

Buoyed by the experience of trekking to the Tadiandamol peak in Coorg, I convinced my wife to accompany me on a short day trek with the BMC. Without further ado, we pored over the list of treks available, and zeroed in on Uttari betta.

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Bangalore is surrounded by a number of hills and hillocks – all waiting to be explored. One such relatively unknown hill near Magadi is Huthridurga (also known as Uttari betta). At an elevation just over 1000m, and with a short trekking path of 3 kms, Huthridurga is ideal for casual hikers, first-time hikers, children, and family. There a several small rain water tanks at the top of this hill, alongside an old temple dedicated to Shiva, built by Kempe Gowda. Remains of an old fort can be seen at several places along the trekking path on this hill.

The pickup at the BMC office in Indiranagar was spot on time at 6.30 am. After picking up around 15 participants from different points, we were treated to a sumptuous breakfast at A2B on Mysore road. The trek leaders picked up packed lunch for the group, and soon we were driving through the Magadi road. In about 2 hours, we could make it to the small village at the base of the hill.

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The group had a bunch of youngsters, some couples, solo trekkers, and even a child. A number of participants were first-time hikers, and a few were trekking with BMC for this first time. After a round of introductions and selfies, we quickly started our ascent.

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The trail is mostly rocky – going over boulders and steps carved into huge rocks. Considering that this is an entry-level trek, the trek leaders did a good job in motivating and catering to the needs of all participants, making sure none was left behind. Since it was a hot sunny morning, with no signs of clouds or rain, we took short breaks wherever there was shade.

There was a small cave as we reached closer to the peak. Some of the trek participants went to explore the cave, while the others spent time photographing the beautiful view of the plains from above. Parts of the trail was quite steep, and having good hiking shoes definitely helped cover them easily. I assume it would be slightly more challenging when it rains, but not really dangerous.

Very soon we reached the top and the group scattered around exploring the place and enjoying the cool breeze at the top. The packed lunch boxes were opened and gobbled up by the exhausted group sitting under whatever little shade could be found at the top.

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In about half-an-hour, we started the descent, and it took much less time than going up. We boarded the bus parked in the small village at the base, and were soon on our way back to the city. It poured cats and dogs on our way back to Bangalore.

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Based on this experience with BMC, I found them well organized and quite helpful. This would definitely be a good option solo trekkers. I would look forward to do more treks with them in the future.

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Chikmagalur in the rains

Rolling green hillslopes in every direction you can turn around and look at; Your eyes cozily indulging in the game played between the mist and the mountain peaks; all this, and spending the evenings sipping steaming hot coffee lying around doing nothing in a 300 year old hertiage home – this is the summary of what we did on a three day trip in the heart of Western Ghats – the pride of southern India.

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I may never get tired of visiting Chikmagalur year after year. There must be some magic in this quaint little district in central Karnataka. This is the district that grows most of the coffee we drink; the home of the tallest peak in the state; the land where the spectacularly ravishing Malnad dishes like kadubu, akki rotti, shaavige and kaai haalu have reigned high; the supplier of iron ore for over a quarter of a century; an area of rich bio-diversity; and most importantly, the place where my family came from. I do not remember how many times I have been to Chikmagalur before, but I know the trips would not stop.

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I and my wife were one of the three couples who got together to visit this beautiful place in the middle of August. Monsoon is one of the best times to visit Chikmagalur. The brown iron-rich slopes of the lazy mountains of western ghats especially get blanketed in green during the monsoons. We decided to brave the rain, or rather, enjoy the rain for three days, leaving behind Bangalore to continue building its flyovers.

In recent times, the drive to Chikmagalur has only become better than ever. The four laning work on the Bangalore-Mangalore road has been progressing quite fast. The stretch from Nelamangala to Bellur cross is complete, and the stretch to Hassan is being developed quickly. The route would be- Bangalore – Hassan – Belur – Chikmagalur.

Link to the route on Google maps: http://goo.gl/XjIfE

On the map, zoom into Hassan, and see how I have bypassed Hassan town to reach Belur. Please follow this bypass – your vehicle would be very thankful you did.

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When I think of Malnad cuisine, the places which come to my mind, of course other than my home, and the homes of my umpteen relatives dotted around Chikmagalur – are the homestays. I just love food in homestays. This time, we decided to find one which would be ideal for all of us to stay, soak in the mesmerising mountain scenery, and enjoy the scrumptious food as well. Remember that, when I say Chikmagalur, it is not the sleepy little town – which is the headquarters of the district – whereas, it is the whole district itself. So, do not be restricted in looking for homestays around the Chikmagalur town – not worth it. Zoom out of the town, and look for homestays nestled in one of the many coffee estates of the district – you would not be disappointed. Our choice was Gonakal homestay – 25 kms from the Chikmagalur town – on the Tarikere road.

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The home we stayed is a 300 year old heritage house. It has been refurbished, and maintained spotlessly clean for the guests. A courtyard in the center of the house, which opens to the sky is the highlight. There are tasteful carvings on the wooden doors and pillars, which adds to the aesthetic appeal of the house. The hosts – the Gowdas should be definitely commended for their hospitality. Anudeep – the owner’s son took good care of us – gave directions to places to visit, briefed us of the history of the place, the family, the hunting traditions, and the ecology of the surroundings.

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The food was a delight to the palate. We had akki rotis, parathas, kadubus, shaavige, pooris, and what not – all happily doled out from a kitchen manned by the landlady. Out requests for coffee and tea were always fulfilled in the three days we spent in the home. The lip-smacking evening snacks were thoughtful, and rain pouring through the open courtyard while muchning on the snacks, only made us all fall in love with the place.

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We did an evening drive up Mullayanagiri – the tallest peak in Karnataka. The winds are generally strong around this hill, and it would be smart to take a windcheater with you. On a clear day, the views from the top will be unparalleled. However, mist can play spoilsport and cover up the entire valley leaving you blind. A small temple on the climb up to Mullayanagiri is a nice spot to park your vehicle, and take a hike on a rainy/cloudy day. On clearer days, the top of Mullayanagiri remains as inviting as ever to the nature-lover.

The most popular hill station in the non-touristy district of Chikmagalur is Kemmangundi. The hill is simply and iron-ore hill, and this gives the red color to the ranges. That is where it gets its name – Kemman, or ‘kemp mann’ – which means red soil in Kannada. The famous Kudremukha iron mines are not too far away from here. However, iron mining has been stopped in the district since the last 7 years, due to increased pressure from naturalists and environmental activists. The place is now free from the commercial activities of iron mining, and entirely a haven for trekking and tourism.

Coming back to Kemmangundi – it is a tiny little hillstation – that ends before it begins. There is a park and a children’s play area, and when you cross these to the tip of the ridge, you get a beautiful view of the valley below. Nevertheless, there is a small hike along pristine hill scenery which takes you to Z-point – the highest point tin Kemmangundi. This hike is a must for anybody visiting this place – the high point of your trip. The hike is around a kilometer, and should not take you more than an hour. You will be rewarded with more greenery than your eyes can take, or your camera sensors can capture. It is pure bliss.

The wind was blowing heavily when we reached the Z-point – and the mercury was falling – and three couples in this atmosphere meant romance was in the air. We sat around the hills enjoying the atmosphere, snacking on the biscuits we had carried along. Even after an hour, we could not drag ourselves out of this utopian surroundings. However, we had to. On our way back, we made a stop at a small, but charming waterfall. The hike to the Z-point made our day in Chikmagalur.

A jeep ride downhill from Kemmangundi to Hebbe falls would have been a highlight – but it could not be done. The recent Supreme court ruling which banned tourism in core areas of national parks has stopped jeep access to the Hebbe falls. An alternate route exists to the falls through coffee estates – but rainiy season in the hills brings with it the problem of leeches. A 4-5 km downhill walk with leeches getting on to your legs is the last thing couples would want on a romantic day out 😉 So, we decided to give it a miss. I should point out here that leeches are harmless and do not cause any pain when they suck out your blood. 484552_10151182826551885_1706680034_nThey do not spread any kind of infection. A little salt should make the leech leave its hold and fall. So, let not leeches hinder your experience in the western ghats. (The hike to Z-point does not have many leeches – however, the small waterfalls has some. So, plan accordingly).

A visit to the world-famous Hoysala temples of Belur and Halebid in Hassan district would be a delightful addition to your trip to Malnad. The temples have paid guides who can make you wonder at the architecture and skillfullness in carving out these outstanding pieces of art, and also the history of the Hoysalas. I have also talked about another symbol of heritage and awe – the Bahubali shrine in Shravanabelagola. This is also on the route from Bangalore to Chikmagalur.

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The best thing to do in Chikmagalur would be doing nothing. Just take a reclining chair with you to sit in the verandah of your homestay and gaze at the hills. The western ghats have been witness to many a historical events and culturally significant turnarounds – all the time nurturing in themselves the abundant flora and fauna – a lot of them endemic to this part of the world. Whether or not Western Ghats have to be a UNESCO world heritage site is a hotly debated topic these days. The need of the hour for development. as well as the need to preserve the bio-diversity of the valleys – both sides of the argument find merit. My only hope is that the district of Chikmagalur, and the Western Ghats in general, retain the loving memories they manage to invoke today – for the generations to follow too.

Also read:

My previous visit to Chikmagalur.
More pictures from Chikmagalur and Belur.

A weekend break in Yercaud

A mystical cover of mist slowly roves across the valley, and as it moves, a gentle drizzle of rain drops drifts in the air towards you. As you stand in the comfort of your balcony, the magic of the rain mixed with the myriad lights of the valley below transport you to a world so surreal that, doing nothing becomes all what you want to do here. Welcome to Yercaud.

For all the western ghats buffs among us, this idyllic hill station of Yercaud, nestled in the green bosom of the eastern ghats, comes as a surprise. A relaxing 4 hour journey from the maddening crowd of Bangalore lands you in Yercaud. Ideal for a quick weekend visit, Yercaud is one of those hill stations which still remain calm and peaceful, tucked away from the prying eyes of the tourist crowd. Apart from visiting a couple of view points, and boating in the lake, there is nothing much to do, and that is why you actually enjoy the beauty of this place.

Yercaud

The route is simple.

Bangalore – Hosur – Krishnagiri – Dharmapuri – Salem – Yercaud    (230 kms)

Once you reach Salem, you will reach a Y-junction where you will have to choose between going into the city, or continuing on the NH7. Take the road that goes into the city, and reach the five-road junction. Here, take left towards the Sarada-college road. After about 3 kms on this road, you will reach a signal where you should take left to reach Yercaud. There are sufficient sign boards all along to guide. The ascent is gradual and starts around 8 kms from here. The hair-pin bends are manageable if you have previous ghat-driving experience. Also, the roads are butter-smooth throughout the drive. Expect to pay tolls close to Rs.200.

The Route

One of the highlights of this drive is the breakfast at Adayar Ananda Bhavan just before you reach Krishnagiri. You can feast on yummy dosa, vada, idly, pongal and filter coffee. But the place is perpetually crowded and you will have to elbow your way through a crowd eager to pounce on the offerings as much as yourself. The food tastes good, and there are not too many good alternatives to this place. A2B also serves packeted snacks that you can carry and much along on your drive.

My enjoyable experience in Yercaud was also due to my place of stay. I chose GRT Nature Trails, a wonderful boutique hotel overlooking the Shevaroy hills. The hotel itself is perched on the slopes of the hill, and the view from here is spellbounding. The view is also available from the rooms. The rooms are super-comfortable and provided with 3-star facilities. One highlight is, they have a good collection of movie DVDs (English, Tamil, Hindi and Telugu) and books – ideal for anyone who just want to laze around in the room. The hotel property itself is tastefully done, and has a ‘Skywalk’ on the roof. This is a glass-floored walkway, some 100 feet above the valley below. At night, the whole of Salem town comes alive with lights, and it is a treat to watch. So, even if you do not stay here, it is worth visiting the roof-top restaurant to get a spectacular view in the evening.

GRT Nature Trails

There are other good accommodation in Yercaud as well. Check out hotel reviews on TripAdvisor. Hotel Shevaroys is an option I found pleasant and affordable.

Restaurant

Coming to food, we had our lunch at the GRT hotel’s restaurant. It was a buffet with a decent spread. The best part was the Tamil dishes on the spread – vazhaikai poriyal, karunai kizhangu varuval, poondu meen kulambu, and many other similar stuff. I and my wife relished the food quite well. The desserts were yummy and there was a lot of variety to choose from. The restaurant itself is quite comfortable and located at the highest point in the hotel, overlooking the valley.

The Lake

A small lake in the center of the town attracts tourists. We chose a pedal boat, and pedalled as much as we could. The boat was too small for my size, and I had to really struggle to fold my legs and pedal. Choosing an oar-boat will be a better option – it comes with a boatman. Around the lake, don’t miss sampling the hot bhajjis. We also had bhel puri, but it was not much impressive. Adjacent to the lake, there is a deer park. It houses some animals in enclosures, and is ideal for a small walk around. My wife, especially, enjoyed the swings put up in the park.

There are a couple of view points – Ladies’ seat, Gents’ seat, Children’s seat and Pagoda point. There is a Servarayan temple, and a rose garden as well. These are your typical tourist spots, and can be covered in the morning. It shouldn’t take more that 3 hours to see all of them. The drive up to these view points and the winding routes are much enjoyable than the destination itself. Some vendors around these view points sell different varieties of fruits, which would be worth trying out. Monkey menace is omnipresent – so beware!

Room

If you are interested in a bit of descent and climb, you can visit the Killiyur falls. But, expect flowing water only during the monsoons. Also, there is an All-Terrain-Vehicle (ATV) track near the Grange resort. It would be fun to try this out with a bunch of friends.

Ladies Point

Despite all these, as I had mentioned before, spending a night here, and lazing around doing nothing much is the ideal way one should enjoy Yercaud. Some blogs claim that a day trip to this place is sufficient. My take is, you gain nothing in a day trip. Spend a night and relax in the hills; enjoy the sun rise and the sunset; boat in the lake; have a cozy dinner with your partner; take a small walk – eat hot bhajjis; wake up in the morning – drive around to the view points; have a pleasant drive back to Bangalore. This is how I would recommend spending a weekend in Yercaud.

Hogenakkal

We were done with our stay in Yercaud by noon on Sunday. I and my wife decided to take a detour to Hogenakkal falls near Dharmapuri on our way back. That was an interesting experience as well – but to talk about in another post. This is the route we took on our way back.

Yercaud – Salem – Omalur – Mecheri – Pennagaram – Hogenakkal

Hogenakkal – Pennagaram – Palakodu – Rayakottai – Hosur – Bangalore

Falls

I liked this route better because of the greenery, variety in terrain and small villages that come in between. In contrast, the spectacularly laid NH7 is a bit monotonous and boring. So, it could be a good option to make this detour while driving back.

In short, Yercaud is definitely a worthy break for a weekend visit from Bangalore.

February post

Blogging had been on a long vacation. Today morning wonly it came back I say!

Dell
Dell

My PC broke down one fine day, and I decided to make my long term dream to own my first laptop come true. But hell broke loose from the day I ordered the laptop. (Yes, I ordered it, because DELL does not sell it off the shelf. And, I wanted a Studio 14 with Core2duo and with the maximum RAM memory they can stuff in, which was not going to be available off the shelf anyway). Coming back to hell, the laptop I ordered on Jan 4 did not come to me even after Feb 4.

Life came to a standstill, similar to traffic in Bangalore, which grew to insurmountable magnitudes, all the pleasures of life seemed to hopelessly drain into Ulsoor lake and I had to spend several sleepless nights in pain and anguish in this one month, because I had no PC. Finally, Brahma, the unworshipped god, decided to heed to my prayers and voiced a curse that Dell should give me an Intel Core i3 laptop instead of the Core2Duo I had ordered, and Dell had no other option but to execute the order of the one above. Dell gave me a wonderful looking laptop, and exported me to my ‘second life’. Phew!

Marriage
Marriage

I was admiring the sheer beauty and awesomeness of my new laptop, when I felt a sharp excruciating pain at the back of my neck. I groaned in agony, and reached out my hand to the back of my neck to feel what caused the pain. It was a bite – an insect bite – to put it in comfortable words – a bug bite. Then it dawned upon me. I had been bitten by the marriage bug!

I did not realise that January 2010 – the month I had promised my parents I would signal green for marriage – had already come! I was caught completely off-guard when I was asked to give a photo of mine in which I looked everything but what I really am. Wait! That is not ethical – I tried to say, but was swat down heavily with the ‘Kosu-bat‘, and the photos I hated the most (From the enna-kodumai-sir-idhu list) were ripped off from my Flickr albums. The photos have been doing rounds all over Karnataka ever since, trying to attract a suitable ‘cow-girl’ for my parents (Adhaanga… maattu ponnu).

BMTC
BMTC

In other news, BMTC has found a new passenger in me. Born with insanely large feet, which only accept shoes of size 12, I realised that I could not reduce my footprint. So, as a counter-measure I decided to reduce my carbon footprint by shunning my car and going to office in BMTC. Nice. The ride in the Volvo buses has been smooth for the past month and a half. Taking a bus to office has a whole set of advantages – right from taking off the tenshun of driving from your head, to letting you listen to the mellifluous voice of Goundamani in your ipod. Come on… everyone knows the unspoken truth – sight adichifying and jollu vittufying (revolutionary terms from Tamil language equivalent to the English term ‘ogling’) at the bus-traveling figars – the best way to spend the 45 minutes to office constructively. (Especially if you work in a detested-by-the-fairer-sex  industry like mine). Mission is accomplished I say.

Watched a Tamil movie called ‘Tamil movie’. (Tamil Padam in Tamil). Ayyoo… how many Tamil…!!! A bold venture into the parody movie genre in Tamil. It was refreshing. Despite having irritating actors like Venniraadai Murthy and Paravai Muniyamma, the movie was interesting enough. For a first kind of effort from a first time director, the movie was commendably good. Hope it yields more movies of the same genre in future.

Lalbagh Flower Show 2009

  • The Annual Independence Day Flower Show in Lalbagh, Bangalore was held from August 7, 2009.
  • This was the first ever flower show I attended, and it was very interesting.
  • I do not have a macro lens, so managed the shots with my 70-300mm VR telephoto zoom. (Emphasizes the need to get one soon).

Lalbagh Flower Show 2009

Lalbagh Flower Show 2009

Lalbagh Flower Show 2009

Lalbagh Flower Show 2009

Lalbagh Flower Show 2009

Lalbagh Flower Show 2009

Lalbagh Flower Show 2009

Lalbagh Flower Show 2009

Lalbagh Flower Show 2009

Collage of colors

And this is an image of a frog in my garden… 🙂

Frog at home

Stamp papers in Bangalore

Update :: July 2011::

Buying stamp papers in Bangalore has changed ever since this article was written. The procedure now is like this:

1. Go to any sub-registrar’s office in Bangalore.
2. Procure an ordinary stamp paper from one of the shops nearby which sell these (not very hard to find).
3. Get the first page of the agreement typed, which mentions the name & address of parties between whom the agreement is executed.
4. Go to a window in the sub-registrar’s office, where you pay the necessary fees, and get the paper ‘Franked’.
Franking: A stamping machine is used to render a red-colored stamp on the paper, authenticating it, and showing the stamp value (also has sub-registrar’s signature).
5. Voila! You are done. This works for all types of documents, including rental agreements.

Note: I have noticed that in some cases, where the first page of the agreement is not typed, the name and address of the parties is written on the stamp paper itself (on the stamp), and the franking is done on that.

Buying stamp papers in Bangalore has been quite an ordeal of late. The serpentine queues in front of the State Bank of Mysore would be a nightmare for anyone who could even think of buying stamp papers. (Read here). Besides, it eats up almost the whole day, and comes as a curse for working professionals who are in need of stamp paper. So, what is the easy way out?

E-Stamping!
The Stock Holding Corporation of India Limited is the company which has been authorized to sell e-stamp papers across Karnataka. (Check their e-stamping website).

There are quite a few e-stamping centers in Bangalore, where you could get a stamp paper with the denomination of your choice just within a few minutes. However, instead of the papers printed with the rupee note kind of stamp at the top, here you would get an e-stamp. This is essentially a printed information with the document number, and a couple of other numbers, and it says Government of Karnataka e-stamping with the national emblem of three lions on it.

Stamp papers - Before and After (Courtesy: http://www.chowchowbath.com)
Stamp papers - Before and After (Courtesy: http://www.chowchowbath.com)

A couple of days back, I had been to the Domlur BDA complex (Near the Domlur bus-stand, adjacent to Domlur fly-over), which houses the Sub-Registrar’s office. I wanted to get an e-stamp paper. I was given a form to fill, where I had to mention the type of document, the first and the second party details (name and address should be suffcient. PAN number in case of high-value registrations), and sign it. The form should be given at the counter with the amount for which the stamp paper is sought. The amount could be paid in cash, or by way of demand draft. I guess this depends on the total amount being paid. I had to wait for approximately 10 minutes, and then the person at the counter gave me the e-stamped paper. The whole process took me just around 15 minutes. The stamp duty for different types of instruments is displayed on the notice board in the office. It is also available online here.

The e-paper is as authentic as the normal stamp papers. Also, since this has authentic numbers printed on it, anyone can verify the authenticity of the e-paper by logging on to this site (http://www.shcilestamp.com) and entering the appropriate numbers from the e-stamp paper.

The working hours for the e-stamping facility in Domlur BDA complex is from 9:45am to 4:30pm with a lunch break from 1:00pm to 2:30pm. It is open from Monday through Saturday. In addition to Domlur, this service is also available in Jayanagar and Koramangala sub-registrar’s offices (SHCIL branches). The government is also looking at making e-stamping the only way of buying stamp papers in future, as this eliminates all duplicate stamp papers and scams, and also renders authenticity to the papers by way of printing these numbers and making them available online.

Thanks to Kiran for providing useful information in his journal.

Addresses of SHCIL e-stamping centres in Bangalore:

Head office:
SHCIL, Bangalore Stock Exchange Ltd.,
Stock Exchange Towers, 51, 1st Cross,
J.C. Road, Bangalore,
PIN : 560027
Ph: (080) 22995246, 22995236

Jayanagar:
Shop No.7, Ist Floor,
#44, 33rd Cross, Jayanagar, 4th T Block,
Bangalore
PIN : 560011
Ph: (080) 26991062, 26991060

Koramangala:

Shcil, # 103, 1st Floor, Mig
Khb Colony, 17 Th Main, 5th Block
Koramangala, Bangalore
PIN : 560034
Ph: (080) 25529149, 25529150

Malleswaram:

Shcil, No.13 Vasant Milan, 1st Cross,
Malleswaram, Bangalore,
PIN : 560003
Ph: (080) 23318225, 23560525

Domlur:
Shcil, Domlur BDA complex,
Near Domlur Bus Stand, Bangalore
PIN : 560038
Ph: (080) 25352907