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.

A trek to Tadiandamol

After a long gap of more than 8 years, I decided to trek again, and this time decided to do it solo. After looking at a bunch of trekking options in South India, I zeroed in on the Tadiandamol hills in the Coorg district.

Tadiandamol (also spelled Tadiyandamol) is the tallest peak in the Kodagu (or Coorg) district in Karnataka. The difficulty level of this trek is categorized as ‘moderate’, and it can be done as a weekend trek starting from Bangalore. I had read online that it is possible to camp at the peak or at the base of the hill. So, I had picked up a tent and mat for rent and carried them along with me.

The nearest town for this trek is Virajpet in the Coorg district. I boarded a KSRTC Volvo bus to Virajpet starting from the Shanti Nagar bus terminus on a Friday evening. The journey was uneventful, and I was at Virajpet at 4.30 am on Saturday. The total trek distance one-way is 8 km, and can be done in 4-5 hours. Since it was quite early in the day, and I did not want to end up reaching the peak right at noon, I decided to visit Talacauvery – the birth place of the river Cauvery.

Soon I reached the private bus stand in Virajpet, just around a 5 minutes walk from the main bus stand. From here, there are buses going to a town called Napoklu – which is mid-way between Virajpet and Talacauvery. The first bus for the day starts at 6.50 am, and I was soon on this bus making my way towards Talacauvery. Around 40 minutes into the journey, the bus crossed the Aramane stop where I would have to alight later in the day to start my trek towards Tadiandamol. I made a mental note of this bus stop.

The conductor dropped me at a junction called Nelaji from where he said the bus to Bhagamandala would arrive in 5 minutes. Bhagamandala is a small temple town at the base of the Talacauvery hills, and it is easy to find transportation to Talacauvery from this town. True to his words, the next bus was right on time, and I was dropped at the Bhagamandala bus stand. Here, I inquired around, and hired an auto-rickshaw to take me to Talacauvery and bring me back to Bhagamandala as well (costs Rs.250).

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Me with Talacauvery in the background

In the hot morning sun, Talacauvery still looked beautiful. After customarily visiting the shrines of the river goddess and Shiva at the temple, I sat on a park bench there and took in the expansive views of the valley below. Having spent a few minutes there, I got back to Bhagamandala in the same auto-rickshaw, and got ready for my onward journey.

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Valley view at Talacauvery

The time was around 11 am, and I was hungry. So, I gobbled up a couple of dosas in the nearby hotel and also picked up a couple of water bottles for my trek. Soon I boarded a bus back to Napoklu, and got dropped off in this town. A wait of another 10 minutes, and I got the bus going towards Virajpet, and got down at the Aramane (palace) bus stop from where the trek was to begin.

The initial 4 kms of this trek is practically a walk on a surfaced road – although it gradually keeps gaining altitude. Vehicles kept going up and down. In about an hour, I reached a view point from where the actual trek on a mud path starts. It is here that the vehicles have to be parked. Of course, the road isn’t very well laid, and cars with low ground clearance might have to be parked around a km before reaching this view point.

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The trek path. The cloud covered peak on the left is Tadiandamol

I started walking along the mud path and in around 15 minutes, came upon a forest checkpost. The guard gave me a shock when he said that camping on the peak or at the base is not permitted, and I would have to leave my tent, sleeping bag and mat right at the forest guard’s quarters. I did not expect this. The time was around 2 pm, and this meant that I would have very less daylight left to trek all the was up and make it back to this checkpost. With no other option, I dropped my camping equipment at the checkpost, and proceeded further.

The gentle slopes soon give way to a steeper rocky terrain, and walking continuously became arduous. Also, the fact that I had lost touch with trekking for a while did not help things a bit. Nevertheless, a group of youngsters were trekking along, and were passively accompanying me, and also sometimes encouraging me to make it to the top (thanks to them).

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Looking back at the path climbed
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The path gets steeper towards the top

Around half-a-kilometer before reaching the top, I came across a small shola forest, which was the most taxing of the whole stretch to cross. The long and winding roots of the trees crisscrossed the climbing path, and acted as steps on which one has to climb to move forward. Each step is quite steep, and your shoe grip could be pretty precarious on these roots. This is one section which needed careful navigation both while climbing, as well as when descending.

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Inside the shola forest – walking over the roots

It was 5.30 pm by the time I reached the peak huffing and panting all along. The peak seemed to be perennially surrounded by mist, and an Indian flag had been planted right at the top. On a clearer day, the view of the valley around would have been spectacular. But, I wasn’t complaining. The cloud cover and the mist was a welcome respite from the hot April sun, and helped me recover some of my spent energy. I spent around half-an-hour here clicking photographs, and relaxing before starting my descent.

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The Indian flag at the peak

The descent was even more taxing on my feet and knees, but I kept walking. Soon, I picked up my equipment from the guard’s quarters, and reached the viewpoint from where the mud path had started. As luck would have it, there was a homestay at this point, and the keeper allowed me to pitch my tent on their ground. Also, I got to use their facilities, and got served piping hot dinner with chicken. The material comforts helped me recover well, and I soon dozed off into a deep sleep cocooned in my sleeping bag inside the tent.

It should be mentioned here that the view point in front of this homestay is quite a sight both in the evening and in the early hours of the day. The lights from the towns of Madikeri, Kushal nagar, and Virajpet are all visible from this point at night, and it is quite a spectacle. Similarly, early in the morning, the whole valley is spectacularly covered in layers of mist, which gives a ethereal feel to it.

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Sunrise over the valley at the view point

The next morning, I started walking down and reached the Aramane or palace. This is the Nalknad Palace, which is nothing but a hideout built by the king of Coorg – Chikka Veerarajendra to escape from the onslaught of the British. The palace is maintained by the government, and has a keeper who could show me around. The 200 year old building needs better maintenance, but was well worth a short visit

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The Nalknad Palace

In no time, I made my way back to the main road and took a bus back to Virajpet. Food options around the Virajpet bus stand are scanty, and I had to be content with a fast-food joint. The KSRTC Volvo to Bangalore was delayed by an hour, but I was soon on the bus on the last leg of my journey that would soon end in Bangalore.

Some tips for this trek:

  • The toilets in Virajpet KSRTC bus stand are in decent shape, and can very well be used for freshening up in the morning.
  • The actual trek start point (the mud path) is 4 kms inside from the main road. So, to save energy, it would be prudent to alight at a town called Kakabe and hire an auto-rickshaw to reach this start point. That way, the total trekking distance halves to 8 kms up and down.
  • With camping at the top banned, the homestay at this trek start point looked like a good option to stay. They have their own tents, and also permit visitors to pitch their tent (if the number is less, I believe). The name of this homestay is ‘West Wind Cottage‘. Details are attached below.

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  • Once this homestay is crossed, no food or water is available (There is a stream which could have potable water in the post-monsoon months). So, make sure you carry some food and at least 2 liters of water per person as you climb. Many youngsters had not carried water, and were left quite tired at the top.
  • Wear sturdy footwear with good grip. The last section of the climb is quite steep, and one wrong step could leave you tumbling down the rock-strewn slopes. It is prudent to gauge each step and make sure the foot is well planted before making every move.
  • The trek path is known to be leech-infested during and after the monsoons. But the environs is also likely to be much greener and pleasant in this time. It is an year-round destination, and it is a personal choice when to do this trek.
  • As always, make sure to carry all your garbage and waste back with you to be disposed later at an appropriate place.
  • Camping at the top of the peak, and also at the big rock at the base of the peak has been banned from Jan 2017. A guard is posted at the check post to enforce this ban.
  • I found the most appropriate information on this trek at this link: http://kotresh.com/index.php/tadiandamol-trek

Videos from the trek:

 

 

Sakleshpur Green Route Trek

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
http://www.tripnaksha.com/index.php?option=com_trailembed&tview=134&trailname=Sakleshpur-Greenroutetrek&tmpl=component&theight=475&twidth=475