With a closed group of family and friends, about 10 of us planned this weekend trek to this lesser known hill, a little away from Bangalore. We started from Bangalore at 05.00.a.m. with an intention to finish the hike back down before the sun goes up. It was dawn by the time we drove towards Kanakapura and reached a village called Kanchanahalli, in Malavalli Taluk of Ramanagara district. The Kaccha road thereafter till the base of the hike, passes through fine landscape and traditional village of ‘Mysore Karnataka’ region. The hill is a part of the ‘Kabbala Forest reserve’ area. The early morning rays added extra charm to the cloud kissed peak of the ‘BheemanaKindi hill’ at the distant end and the fog covered coconut groves and vibrant green farms on either side of the road. What else? Picture this: A dozen peacocks dancing in the middle of the road! Well, a pleasant welcome; I must say 😊
We finally arrived at the base of the hill, parked our cars and started the ascend. It starts at a small godown sort of a structure from where, is a well laid out stone path through the forest, right till the destination. Well, let me clarify that unlike most of the common treks around the city that promise you a breathtaking view after a good climb, this one has a MASSIVE stone arch at the end. With this large arch, goes the legend from Ramayana. ‘Bheema’ hit the large rocky monolith with his ‘Gadhe’ and thus resulted this Natural arch, locally called as ‘Kindi’. The smaller pieces scattered are believed to be the ones which appear to have been arranged one on-top-of the other in the adjoining smaller hillocks by the consecutive civilizations, over a period of time.
The difficulty level of the climb is moderate, but the gradient is steep. Since I hadn’t eaten anything since the previous afternoon, acidity was taking a toll on me. I was feeling nauseous and tired and trailing everyone on this trek. (That’s also the reason I didn’t take many photos of our ascent and the video attached below includes more visuals from the descent). I somehow made it to the top, all worthwhile the effort. A small temple dedicated to Nandi sits in a corner underneath the massive rock arch overlooking the dense forest cover below. Apart from a few squawking peacocks and chirping birds, we thought we were the earliest mammals to arrive there. But not until we saw some freshly laid elephant poop at the peak…!
I had some biscuits and relaxed there for a bit until I felt fine. From a few known localites, we had heard that there exists a perennial pond somewhere close by. We walked behind the boulders that overlooks the millet farms beneath. We climbed up the hill further and we ventured out in pursuit of the pond. Mind you, the trek path ends at the temple and we were venturing out beyond, into the forest (Do not try this adventure). The sloppy path didn’t have a proper trail and we followed each other and stayed together so that we wouldn’t get lost. We walked further, a few broken trees (Bamboo, Indian Gooseberry, hog-plums etc.) perhaps warned us from going further, the pachyderms had just crossed the path. From there, we arrived at a small opening in the green cover- a large boulder. As the mist had engulfed the entire view, we sat there for a while hoping for it to clear out and get some good view of the valley below. But no luck and we decided to walk back.
Our stomachs were grumbling for food by the time we reached back to the base by 10.00.a.m. One of the members in our group had a relative in Kanchanahalli and hence, we were invited for brunch at their house. We drove to their house, passing through my FAVOURITE views of Karnataka: The rural hamlets of ‘Mysore Karnataka’ region. Traditional houses with wide porticos on raised platforms, red-oxide floors, clay tiled roofs supported by wooden pillars are a delight, I tell you!! Sometimes, cattle sheds on one side and a bicycle on the porch too is a common sight, so very typical to this region and so warm and old world. I have always gaped at those tiny streets in awe. So, today was my first opportunity to see the interiors of one such house, all that I had only seen in Kannada movies till date. Picture this: they are locally called ‘Thotti mane’ and the central living room has a central area which opens to the sky. Talk about natural ventilation and lighting, it has been part of our ancestral architecture from time immemorial. It also serves as an area to wash our feet and hands when we enter home, before we touch anything else. (Connect it with self-sanitizing during Covid times, after you come home from outside??)
Well, a pleasant happy day for me and a nice, happy, simple, warm meal for the tummy 😊 We head back to the city…. Hoping for another warm weekend to arrive soon….
This is yet another of my family’s random drive day, thanks to Corona unlock weekends… This time, our random pick was in the direction of Bannerghatta forest. We drove past Jigani marble market towards Ragihalli state forest. We drove around randomly and stopped wherever we thought we had a good vantage point. The place being around the fringes of a national park and in the fertile stretch of countryside, there was lots and lots of greenery all along. We stopped by at the IIM-B new campus plot near Mahanthalingapura from where we got a distant view of the ‘Ragihalli Betta’. (Remember our drive to Gullahatti Kaval? We had the view of the hill from a different direction- Click here to read the complete article) The cloudy and cool weather here made everything perfectly amazing, with a great combination of bright green and dull grey. With permission of a millet farm owner present there, we sat in his farm overlooking the green valley for a while, with some packed food and water.
After resuming our drive and on recommendation of a friend, we deviated from the main road leading to the Ragihalli state forest. It was quite an offbeat surprise for our ageing hatchback, but he performed smoothly compared to any youthful 4×4 SUV. A random deviation got our hatchback into an overflowing stream (with water level almost up to the doors). We didn’t know the way ahead, but our driver(my brother) didn’t switch off in the middle of the stream. Another car in the opposite direction directed us to the correct road from where, it was an unpaved gravel laid forest path for a few more kilometers, before passing through a couple of laidback villages. After the tree laden trail was over, small rocky hillocks appeared to our left and a vast stretch of farmland flanked the valley to our right. Apart from a few villagers transporting their goods on two wheelers, we were the only people in this stretch for most distance. We continued an uphill drive until there appeared a junction with a temple at the top. Watch the video of our drive below:
A milestone at the junction read that it was ‘Koratagere Doddi’. Thanks to the lockdown and social distancing norms, it had been several months since I had been to a temple and I was excited at the sight of it. From the architecture of it, the structure seemed to be a Sun temple. But google says it is a ‘Paanchala Kshetra’ that was closed at that time. However, the place seemed to be beautiful and we decided to park our car and take a stroll. We walked a few yards to our right and believe me when I say, it looked BEAUTIFUL! We were at a flat rocky tabletop cliff from where we could see a good stretch of the city outskirts. We decided to sit there for an hour at least and enjoy the strong breeze that kissed our faces hard. But yeah, the time was cut short by the rain gods who manifested themselves from the distant dark clouds to a sudden pounding of rain.
We had no choice but run to our car for shelter. But wow, what a wonderful setting it was: Green grass, grey sky, hill on one side, valley on the other and a lonely temple ahead of us. We saw no signs of the rain stopping as we waited in our car and decided to continue our drive, back home but in the direction of the road ahead of us. Thanks to the rain, we did nothing specific to stop-by and take note of. But yeah, the Ragihalli Betta now appeared closer and COMPLETELY mist / cloud laden, a view not everyone gets lucky with.
Overall, a wonderful day out with family to a place where I belong: to Nature 😊
So yeah, the bike is fixed. I am fresh. I remove and keep my sweatshirt in my bag in a way that I can pull it out without having to open the bag. It’s already about 12:30 by now. I set out to cover as much distance as possible by dusk. Well I took Nashik-Shirdi road because that was the shortest distance. Oh boy, shortest distance turned out to be a nightmare. The road is okay for maybe about an hour from Pune; there on, it is more of a fucking off-roading course. The road is literally non-existent for a hundred kilometres atleast, riddled with huge potholes and roadhumps where it is not necessary. One fucking hell of a road! Pretty fortunate not to have crashed on this section because of the unmarked roadhumps. Even in broad daylight, I couldn’t go past 40kmph without risking a fall or ruining my bike. The road pretty much stays the same till Malegaon.
I leave Dhule just before darkness prevails. It becomes a very monotonous situation from here. Almost zero traffic after dark and no street lights or illumination for the highway. It is just me, riding alone in the dark, among occasional trucks. I have to ride through Khargath Sendhwa. The Road seemed twisty turvy with occasional potholes and what looked like debris on the sides. I passed a R15 couple here in this section. Without much thought, I continue my journey in the darkness. I did stop once, near what I can explain as a petrol pump- pretty much away from me. Just when I’m stretching my ass off, the R15 guys show up right next to me. They stopped to enquire about my destination and why I’m riding alone. I initially thought I’m about to get mugged, but these guys actually advised me to stop for the night as the journey on this road, at this hour was not safe. And they ride off.. Of that was so not expected, from a stranger..!
Well now, I also ride out almost as soon as they left. I next stopped at Khargate tollgate. Here, I had to listen to three people advising me to stop and take the night off because it is not safe to ride alone on this road. Oh okay, now I’m kinda curious and cautious about riding anymore. So, I ride a little further from the tollgate till I find a brightly lit place which had boarding and lodging. I decide to finally take off for the night and catch a shut eye for the ride next day. It’s about 9.00p.m. now. And I take a room that is pretty huge for a single guy like me. All I had to do was to uncloth myself. That was it, I set an alarm for 5.00 in the morning because I can’t wake up any sooner. That’s all I remember. One super deep sleep I was in, as soon as I hit the bed. So peaceful sleep I got, like proper deep sleep…
The alarm went off on time, only to be snoozed till 7.00a.m. because I’m lazy to ride out in the cold. So I finally get off the bed, take bath etc. and ready by 8.00.a.m. I have 2 cups of tea and vacate the place. Remember, I’m still a 1000kms away from my destination.
By 8:15 I’m already on road riding out, not till I spot a board indicating a town called Gujri. Oh well Gujri, what better name to have a picture taken with. Just a brief picture stop. Okay.. that’s the last stop major picture stop of the day. The whole day went riding pretty much non-stop, except for the fuel stops. So yeah, I rode and rode the whole day because this was my last day to reach in time. I pass through Dhar, Ratlam, Mandsaur, Neemuch City and Chittorgarh. This Chittorgarh happens to have a massive fort. But for me today, no time. So onward… The whole road has been good wide road, so no tension. But now new tension, I can rain see clouds in the far distance. So I take a brief pitstop to cover my bag and continue.
Nothing much worth mentioning along the route there onwards. However, it’s become pretty late by now. Almost past lunchtime. I ride till I reach Kishangarh. Oh, this place is like Jigani neighbourhood of Bangalore. Only Marbles in this city. This city is filled with marble sellers. Italian, Indian, whatever marble you want you will get it here. A Marble market city. So by the time I leave this city, it is already 5.00.p.m. I drape my blanket and get prepared for the “Thand”. The next city is Kunchaman city. This city seemed a little dirty with slush almost everywhere. Then I realise that it had rained here. It’s kinda wet and cold. So take the road to Jhunjunu via Sikar. This road is good but single lane, no street lights. Almost reached Sikar, when I’m having a tough time riding the bike. Because it suddenly became unbearably cold and was completely covered in fog. Even the other vehicles seem to be driving super slow. I almost fell off once because of a mound in the middle of the road. I almost immediately stopped, to take stock of the situation. The road was wet because it had rained. Not only had it rained, but it was a hailstorm and the temperature had dipped to near zero. The mounds on the road were mounds of hail stones and I had almost fallen off because of them. Shit crazy it was. Who expects rain in the middle of a desert region? Yeah, so I pass through that area and reach Sikar. Then reach Jhunjunu and finally take the deviation towards Alsisar. This fucking maps can take through some crazy routes if you are not careful enough..!
However, it took through some road and put me back on the right road in a while. Yeah peace. . It is 11:30pm and I’ve reached my destination. “Alsisar Mahal“. And I’m all set for the festival. It is cold and I am tired. I had been waiting to just get a place to sleep.
And so yeah, I reached a music festival in just around 50+ hours from Bangalore. To the ‘Magnetic fields ‘ music festival from the ‘Silicon City’ Bengaluru in 50hours..!
To be continued….. Part 3
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So, as the title suggests.. this is about my journey between Bangalore and Alsisar, in the winter of 2019. It is not another bike riding blog that you’d find spamming the internet. This one is a story.. About “HOW” I got there, when reaching the destination was the target. But as things unfolded, I’m writing this today to share my story with you all..
One day, while scrolling down on my Instagram feed, I come across a post seeking volunteers for the magnetic fields music festival. A festival I have been following for a few years. Given this chance, I filled in the questionnaire on the given link. A few weeks went past and I had eventually forgotten about it… To be noted: I was unemployed or rather occupied with agriculture, until this point..
So in the month of November, 17th to be precise- I applied for a job as a sales consultant at a luxury bike dealership in Bangalore and got employed also. Trust me, this was the easiest aptitude I have ever answered! The test was held in the dealership itself, which had a good playlist playing in the background as I was taking my test. It was more like: I enjoyed my time giving the test.. So, I sailed through that and got employed also. Well, everything was alright but not right.. I was employed at the place for exactly 8 days. Exactly a day before my birthday. The Best birthday gift ever, that was it: I got an employment termination. I was let go because I was not enthusiastic enough. Yeah, right! 100% agreed, I don’t give a damn either.
Post this scene, I’m cycling back home.. Well, that’s when I get a call. It’s a person calling to seek more information about me and my application for volunteering. She called to ask me if was interested and if they could hold a video interview. Oh, well! Why not? All done and now I’m in, as a volunteer…
They call again exactly 7 days before the event, to reconfirm my participation. Done, set I am; Atleast for the event. Not set with how to reach the event… Well I spoke to my parents and tried to get money for my journey tickets. They probably thought I was joking and did not bother to respond. I did this till the last buffer day for me to leave home to reach the festival venue on time. Even on the last day, I’ve asked but no avail. Well, I’m not good at convincing I guess. I did my mental calculations and came to a decision that given the pace and ticket availability- train was ruled out and plane was fast but extra expensive, considering last minute booking. So, I decided to ride to Rajasthan.. In 2 days flat! Well yeah, I did ride 2200 kms.. in a little more than 48 hours, though.
I leave home after realizing that it was futile, trying to convince my parents to agree for plane tickets. I packed essentials like one thermals, one pullover, shoes, 3 pairs of clothes and not much cash. I’m full rich you know, only cards.!No one at home is happy about my last minute plans to ride 2000 odd kms with absolute no planning. Most important thing I did was stick my name and emergency contacts written on a paper on my fuel tank, just in case something went off route. Okay, tata, bye bye to home.. For the next 10 days.I leave home at around 4.00.p.m. straight to the service centre. Oil changed, chain lubed and tensioned, all while listening to the workshop supervisor telling me to replace the chain kit and tyres, as both had exceeded their life. Yes, I know they needed a replacement but I didn’t have enough time. Okay, I agreed to his advice telling him that I’ll do it in Pune. My bike was ready, atleast for the night until I reached Pune, just a few hundred kilometres away..05:15.p.m., I start my lonely ride to reach Alsisar as early as possible so as to not miss the reporting, day after tomorrow. So now, I’ve left home just before night fall and I have 2000kms to ride. I stop for dinner at a roadside hotel at about 10.00.p.m., the only hotel that seemed to be brightly lit. There was not a single tea shop the whole time. This first night is nothing much interesting except for continuous riding all night, till I eventually got tired at about 02.a.m. I was finally tired, enough for a major pit stop in the middle of nowhere. Also, I had underestimated how cold it might be.. Standing cold and riding cold are very different levels of cold.! Had to wear my thermal and my pullover to feel, just warm enough that night. I eventually stopped at a truck lay-by, which are more common than hotels after passing Hubli. This place seemed good enough to stop because there was a bright mast light installed nearby and there was nothing else other than this small bus-stop like truck lay-by. I was tired, so I just decided to lay down on the broken benches.
My bad, this place sucked! Because, every now and then these sugarcane farmers went by in tractors, blasting music at that dead hours. And also because it is a national highway, every truck and bus whizzed past the shelter making my rest-stop unbearable. I vacated the place in 20mins to find a place that was more silent. I ride for the next hour, till I finally reach Kolhapur tollgate. Being dead tired and partially sleep deprived, I give up riding.. It is probably 3:30-04.00.a.m. Being at a considerably more safer place with constant security, I just pass out on my bike, at the tollgate! I did wake up eventually, feeling just a bit fresh at about 5.00.a.m.Time is running out and I’ve not covered half the distance. Oh shit, I’ll get late. I almost immediately leave. Sometime into the morning ride, I am greeted by a fellow rider on an older red Ducati while he gracefully overtook.By day break, I’m almost in Pune. At 6:30-07.00.a.m., I’m at Khatraj Ghat, full of fog. Well, I ride into Pune and miss the exit I should have taken to enter the city from Swargate. Instead, I happened to take the ring road which bypassed the city and took me through Hinjewadi and Pimpri. Here is when the first balls in my mouth scene happened… I just happened to go past Tata motors at Pimpri and stopped for my morning tea as it is almost 8.00.a.m. now.. I don’t know if it was the tea stop or some inauspicious time of the day; My bike chain seemed to have gotten jammed and was making a very uncomfortable metallic rubbing noise. At this point, I was barely able to ride it.. I got off the bike and started to push it, because the nearest service centre at Chakan was just a few kms away.. Even pushing became difficult as the chain had jammed or become tight. I gave it a thought, then hopped on and rode. It was nerve wracking to listen to the chain rubbing against some other unfigured part… I prayed the whole trip from Pimpri to Chakan, just that the chain doesn’t snap.
For my good fortune, the chain repaired itself I guess and everything became normal again, just as I neared the service centre. Guess what? I’ve arrived too early to the store. It’s 9.00.a.m and the service opens at 10.00. Good that the showroom guy had just opened. He was cleaning and setting up the store. I tell him to inform me when the service supervisor arrives and pass out on the showroom table, till almost 11.00. Eventually, he did come. This service centre guy gave me the best attention I’ve got. I told him the problem. He however, was not able to verify it because the chain had magically fixed itself. I got it lubed and tensioned again. Trust me, the chain and tyres had become overused by now. I tell him my destination and he was surprised. He also repeated the same, what I had heard in Bangalore. “Change your chain set and tyres, or you’re not going to make it back to Bangalore..!” I give him my assent to do it in Jaipur.
I remember how Indians went frenzy to watch the movie- ‘Bahubali 2: The conclusion’, a story that is something purely fictitious. But, ever bothered to know what the ending of the two greatest stories of Indian mythology is like? What happens to the protagonists in Ramayana and Mahabharata? No, they don’t end at wars. There’s more to it and I’m pretty sure most of you wouldn’t know.
I was lucky that my travels took me to these places that are often spoken less about. Tucked away from the mainstream tourist circuit, these places were a sort of discoveries for me that happened only because I travelled. Read further to know more.
1. Ramayana- The conclusion Ayodhya and SriLanka are two places that comes to our mind instantly when we think of the epic Ramayana. The climax of the story has Lord Rama bringing back his wife Sita safely, after waging a war against the demon King Ravana. They then return to Ayodhya where preparations are on for Lord Rama’s coronation as the King. But sooner, he realizes that the purpose of his incarnation on earth was completed and he had to return to his abode- Vaikuntha. The story concludes in Lord Rama undertaking his Jal-Samadhi by walking and drowning in river Sarayu. This place is marked by the modern day ‘Guptar Ghat’ at Ayodhya.
2. Mahabharata- The conclusion Kurukshetra, in the modern state of Haryana is one place that we immediately associate with epic of Mahabharata. Of course, the climax has the war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas at this place. But the primary protagonist of the epic- Lord Krishna sees his end in the modern state of Gujarat. He finds his way back to vaikunta after serving the purpose of his avatar on earth. As he readies himself to leave earth, he sits under a tree in meditation at Bhalka theerth also known as Golok Dham. Krishna’s feet are shot at by a hunter named Jara, mistaking it to be that of a wild animal. Krishna who is fatally wounded then walks into the river Hiran, where he drowns for life. This spot is marked by a marble replica of a pair of feet on the banks of the river, near Somnath.
Visiting the Saurashtran region of India was a last-minute inclusion in the itinerary of our trip which was otherwise planned only to ‘The Rann of Kutch’. It was noon by the time my friend and I arrived at Junagadh, by a train from Ahmedabad. After checking into a hotel at a walkable distance from the station and freshening up, we relished a sumptuous ‘Gujarati Thali’ at a nearby restaurant. After a while, we set out to explore this historical city of Junagadh, a place lesser known on a typical backpacker’s circuit.
With a short autorickshaw ride, we reached the entrance of the Uparkot fort. This place is what gives its name to the city. ‘Juna-Gadh’ in local language means ‘Ancient Fort’. This fort dates to 3rd century BC, to the Mauryan Era. It must have been a massive structure back then. With several dynasties ruling this region over time, there are many historical remnants of structures that were eventually added. However, all are in bad shape now. The Buddhist cave, the Jumma Masjid, the tomb of Nuri Shah, the Naghan Kuvo stepwell are among the few that have stood in time. But Adi-Kadi Vav and Nawabi lake are the structures that I found interesting among all. Adi-Kadi Vav is a stepwell facing the Girnar hills, to which we had to descend a flight of stairs to reach water (mind you! The water is extremely dirty with all the trash). Whereas the Nawabi lake is an artificial pond that required an ascend of a spiraling staircase where the reflection of the Girnar hills looked beautiful in its water. This spot also had a dozen peacocks walking around the pond. Our walk tour ended in a couple of hours and we decided to walk back to the town.
This gave us ample opportunity to photograph the rustic, old world and yet vibrant streets of the old city. Almost every corner of the lanes and its doors seemed like they had stories to narrate. As planned, we arrived at ‘Mahabat ka Maqbara’ at sunset time. These twin tombs of the past rulers are very beautiful, and it is only enhanced by the shades of the setting sun. We were very particular to photograph this place at the golden hour and were happy souls towards the day’s end for capturing those amazing silhouettes.
After a long walk further in the quest to explore the market area of the old city, we kind of came to realize that we were lost in the cramped streets of a place that seemed like Namma Bengaluru’s Pete area. Google maps was of very little help so much so that we reached the same spot after walking around in multiple directions. Finally, we hopped into an autorickshaw to get us to the hotel, not minding the short walkable distance that was indicated by Google. We wanted to get some rest as our night was going to be long. We set the alarm to wake up by 10.00.p.m. so that we could start to hike by 11.00.p.m.
However, I slept a wee bit longer and had been shaken up neither by the alarm nor by the panic-stricken friend’s endless calls from outside my closed room doors. When I woke up from deep slumber, it was 01.00.am and my friend was almost in the verge of fainting to know that I was not responding inside a closed room 😀 We then got an auto ride to the base of the Girnar hills, the climb of 10,000 stairs had to be done before sunrise. The plan was to ascend at night, catch the sunrise from the peak and descend back before the harsh sun rose up during the day. Post breakfast, we would leave for our next destination. We were already running behind schedule.
We commenced our hike and there was barely anyone else with us. The winds were very strong and the rustle of the trees as we passed through the initial stretch of forest was creepy in the moonless night. The Girnar hills is believed to be older than the Himalayas and a pilgrimage site for people across faiths. Several structures like emperor Ashoka’s rock edict, Jain temples, ancient inscriptions etc. are things that kindle the history buffs if they are not interested in the pilgrimage including the Jain tonks or several other temples from across time in history. However, after climbing about 5,000 stairs, my legs were tired and couldn’t catch up with my friend’s pace. I could have completed it though, only at a slower pace. But, we wouldn’t have been able to make it back in time if we had to catch a morning bus to our next destination. Fearing which, I decided to sit back and let my friend go ahead and complete the hike. However, he was not okay with the idea to let me sit alone all night (it was bloody dark and windy with NO ONE around) and decided to head back to the hotel with me. So, the descent of 5000 odd stairs on our way back wasn’t easy either. I was unprepared for this long hike and I guess it was a wise decision for me not to continue the ascent. It would’ve taken a real toll on my legs and the rest of the trip would’ve been screwed up. But what makes this a memorable trip is the fact that this was the first EVER hike that I gave up halfway, without completing.
Then, we telephoned the same rickshaw guy to give us a ride back to the hotel. It was a short but a nice ride. The proximity of the Gir National park had herds of Nilghais, boars and other wild animals on the highway that we were travelling on. A stay in the ‘Gir National Park’ is a dream for another day. Perhaps when I have more days in my itinerary and more money in my wallet. Maybe that time, I will have more stamina to reach the peak of Girnar too. But for now, we were reaching our hotel for some more sleep.
Here’s a story of when the ‘Plan A’ went kaput and we were stranded in an alien land without a ‘Plan B’. No mobile phones working and no internet connectivity to reschedule our return tickets, here’s a snippet from our first trip farthest from home. This post is written by Lahar Ganapathi, my brother and my favorite co-traveller on most trips. This is a throwback post to the winter of 2015, When we were among the earliest few Indian travellers: Doing the Chadar trek.
So, it’s the peak of winter in the north of India. Chadar trek was finally happening which was planned a few months in advance. With all the built up excitement, we left Bangalore for Leh. Delhi was where we met a few others doing the same trek, however they had bad news for us. That was of the Zanskar River being blocked due to a landslide upstream and all activities downstream indefinitely banned, or rather a section 144 was imposed. We were not the ones to be disheartened by the news and continued to Leh, onward from Delhi after a night’s sleepover at the Indira Gandhi International airport. So, after an uncomfortable sleep in the waiting lounge of the airport and a few hours of delay later in morning, we finally took off for Leh.
The view from above the Himalayas was breathtaking from the point where the Gangetic plains raised up to the mountains. There was stark difference as we saw a plain flat ground rising drastically, forming the snow-clad mountains in a matter of minutes. A flight to Leh in peak winter provided a beautiful view of the mountains in full glory, as if they were majestically looking down towards flatter lands at the bounty they provided. So, after all the aahs and oohs we finally took notice of the changing landscape as we reached Leh, white snowy terrain giving way to brown rocky terrain. In a moment we were already over Leh airstrip and we landed without any bumps. The announcement stated the temperature as 6 below 0.
Being from the temperate part of India and never having experienced such a low temperature, excitement took over my sensibility and I got off the plane wearing only a normal woolen sweater (good enough to push through winter in Ooty or any other hill station down south). Yeah, such a jerk I was to do that. At first, the cold did not feel much different from other places. But, trust me it was -6 at 12:30 in the afternoon, with overhead sun. 10 minutes was all it took to knock the heat out of me. As it got unbearably cold, I scrambled for my warmest layer. It took three layers to feel warm enough. We caught a taxi to the hotel where we were scheduled to meet the other trekkers and the organizer. By this time, barely half an hour after laying foot in Leh, the cold had already F*&%$# up my toes to the extent to not feel anything for the next few days. The first news we got from the organizer was what we had heard in Delhi. ‘Zanskar is blocked and the government has banned activities downstream’.
Okay, enough for the first day. We huddled up near a gas heater in the hotel, while sipping on some hot yak milk tea. We were provided with a room for the night at a nearby accommodation. All done, we gathered in the room to discuss plan B for the next few days in Leh. Good night.
We woke up and immediately I noticed the frost on the window glass. The moisture in the room had frozen on the windows. First for everything, I was immediately mesmerized by the intricate pattern ice tended to have. Okay, so after a warm comfortable sleep we were ready to beat the cold. Once outside, we could notice that our body had “somewhat” acclimatized to cold. No tap water in Leh in winter; so don’t expect luxury of running water. You’ll be provided with a bucket of ‘hot’ water, which is normal water ‘feeling’ hot. We were then off to the hotel to meet the organizer, he had his own Plan-B for the situation. He claimed to take us to Nubra valley and Hemis national park, home of the rare Himalayan snow leopards. Our calculations were that, it would be a waste of money to do only two things for the cost of the whole trek. So, we opted out of his itinerary and took refund. We also made friends who liked our approach to the situation, a couple from Hyderabad who incidentally became best of friends over next the few days. So, now we are left in the streets with enough cash, more than enough cold and no idea as to what next.
Our immediate requirement was clear, to find shelter for the next few days. By then it was around 11.00 in the morning and we headed out hunting for a room. Since it was the season when Leh has the least footfall, it was kind of difficult to get a room as most of the hoteliers had shut shop for the season and the remainder were booked. Finally, we did manage to find an accommodation. We stayed with a family who rented out their son’s room to us. So accommodation set, what next?
We set out on a walk to the main market. We made a few enquiries around with the locals, about places of interest in and around Leh. We were immediately made aware of the ongoing Gustor festival at Spituk monastery. We immediately set out for the festival. Hired a cab and off we went. This monastery happens to be right across the Leh airport and has a commanding view of the runway. Looked like the whole of Leh had descended to the monastery. The road leading to the monastery was blocked a mile away due to the surge of vehicles and people coming to the festival. Chill, we ain’t scared to walk a few hundred yards. We passed through various stalls that were selling festive items and tents that served hot tea and lunch. The locals, all had a peculiar warmth in their sun burnt faces: so welcoming and refreshing.
As we walked, an air force plane flew past us to the runway. All ration to Leh is carried out by air in the winter as the roads are closed due to snowfall. The festival was one of a kind experience, something we probably had watched only on TV: Horns, colorful masks, bells, buddhist monks and their humming of prayers. Nice, we sat among the devotees and enjoyed the festivities happening in the courtyard. After it was done, we headed back to the parking. But this time, we stopped for lunch in one of the many tents. Ah, scrumptious, we filled our belly and topped it off with a hot tea. We were set for the next few hours. We headed straight to the main market since we had no other plans yet. Walking around the place, there were quite a few small stupas scattered around the main market area. We stepped into a few shops for the sake of buying souvenirs. At no time did we feel as being outsiders in Leh, pretty easy to mingle among the residents.
Okay done for the day. We walked back to our homestay and settled down. At dinner, it was decided that we eat something what the locals prefer. Not knowing what it was, we just told the landlady to serve us ‘whatever the locals eat’. Yeah, that’s it. In came a bowl of steaming hot thukpa for each of us. More like a thick soup mixed with chunks of meat and lots of vegetables. So much, for not knowing what the locals eat. Blah, it certainly did not satisfy my hunger and I ended up eating my sister’s share, as well as a serving of rice. Okay done for the night. Tomorrow is going to be a good day.
We had done a little socializing in the town last evening and ended up getting a car guy to take us to places around Leh. His was a comfortable Tata Aria. We left to Pangong Tso, A bloody massive lake situated across India and China. We were told by the car guy that it was the lake or place where the last scene of the movie 3-Idiots was shot. Oh okay! We didn’t know that, didn’t care either. Enroute to pangong we passed through the school where the Phunsuk Wangdu from that movie resided. Also, we passed through lakes converted into ice hockey rinks. Ice hockey seemed to have a good following there. But as the driver noted, not much was done to develop the sport.
It was quite a long journey, we took a pee stop at some barren place. Tanks emptied, and what we saw was a vast barren stretch of land. So off we were back in the Aria. We could see snow filled peaks in the distance getting nearer with every passing kilometer. And after a while we were at Chang La, a pass situated at 17688 ft or 5360mts above sea level. Another pit stop, this time it was because of the snow. We stopped just to feel snow, because Why not! Okay my sister barely stepped out of the vehicle only to get back in. It seems she felt a jolt of extreme cold ride in her spine. Ha, rightfully the lostlander, who lost her senses in the cold. Kid me not, every breath there took an effort, the altitude made us tired for every step we took.
Okay Chang La conquered, next stop was Pangong tso. Maybe an hour or so from changla, we reached Pangong. So much excitement to get on a frozen lake.. So we spent a while there clicking pictures, admiring the beauty of the place. It has been the closest I have been to China. So long to Pangong, we headed back to civilization.
We were dropped off at Shanti Stupa, a major tourist attraction in leh. Thank god, it was winter and no tourist to crowd the place. We had the whole place to ourselves. It was around 5:30.p.m., so we walked back from there to our home, through the desolate streets of Leh. Not a single soul was seen loitering in the evening. It was getting insane cold as the darkness loomed over…
Oh, I forgot to tell about the magnetic hills of ladakh. Our Aria-man took us to this place called as the magnetic hills where cars and others wheelers defy gravity. Stop your car on the slope and watch it slowly roll up the slope defying all known logic of gravity. After this, we were taken to our beloved river which gave haath at the last minute, Zanskar. Or it was rather the confluence of Indus and Zanskar. We did actually go down to river bank when a police van appeared out of nowhere asking us to leave the spot because of the section 144 or curfew imposed in the area (remember the landslide that made us change our plans? That one!).
Okay lucky enough not to end up in a police station I guess. The road enroute to this place is somewhat good, vast stretches of dry land with snow filled peaks in the distance. Our Aria-man was kind enough to tell us that these vast stretches served as testing grounds for Mahindra vehicles in high altitudes and that they have tested almost all their vehicles there. This was quite a day actually, we’ve been driving the whole day. For lunch we stopped at this particular town which looked dreamy, with shops lining both sides of the road the entire town’s length.
As the lockdown is easing out and the Covid positive cases in India are on a rise, many people are opting DIY (Do it Yourself) day trips and hikes over organized group trips. Either with just family members or a closed knit of friends is what seems to be an option for some time more to come. Quite a few of them have been asking me to give them suggestions of where they can go for short drives or hikes. One such suggestion is ‘Kunti Betta’. Although I had done this hike with an organized itinerary by ‘Plan the Unplanned’, one can try this by themselves. However, a hike in daylight is suggested over our pre-dawn adventure.
We started from Bangalore at midnight as we wanted to reach the peak before sunrise. It was still dark, cold and windy when our minibus reached the parking lot of ‘Sri Shankarananda Bharati Vidyapeeth’ school at Kachenahalli village in Mandya district. We climbed a small flight of stairs, walked past a temple pond (we couldn’t see but only were told by our guide) and continued to walk in a single line following each other’s torchlights. While a couple of them tripped over small stones on their path, a few others got their shoes wet by stepping into water puddles in the dark. With torchlight, our guide navigated the path through thick shrubs, tall grasses and large boulders enroute. We reached the peak in a couple of hours.
It was dark when we reached the top and it was unexpectedly cold. I hadn’t gone with enough warmers but that didn’t stop me from sleeping on the cold rock until dawn. I watched the stars in the clear sky and didn’t realise that I had surrendered to the sleep gods. I was awakened by a fellow hiker at dawn. The view of the distant lake and sugarcane farms looked nice from the top. Also, several other rocky hillocks dotted our view. The one we were standing at was named after Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas. History has it that the hill was earlier called as the ‘French Rocks’, named by the French army in the pre-independence era. Although it was partially cloudy by the time the dawn broke, we still got lucky to get a glimpse of the sun that morning. After taking enough photos, we started our descent.
Since there are lot of loose rocks, there were possibilities of slip. Only during descent, we got a sense of the terrain and the view which we had missed while climbing up. We soon reached the temple pond at the base beside which there is a large monolithic rock. The localites use this as a giant slide. I too climbed up this rock and the kid in me had fun sliding down from this version of the desi slide.
Our stomachs were grumbling by that time and there was no food around. With permission, we could use the washroom at the school. We then commenced our return to Bangalore with a breakfast stop at ‘Maddur Tiffanys’ for their signature dish- Maddur vadas with Masala dosa and filter coffee. The landscape was beautiful with green sugarcane farms extending on both sides of the countryside roads before we hit the highway.
A word of advice though:
Since there are too many hillocks in a cluster, having a guide would be better to find the right peak.
Since we hiked before dawn, there was also the fear of confronting wild animals like bears and leopards. Although, we didn’t see any, this was told by someone in the group.
Although we did only the early morning hike, you can make it a full day activity. These are a few things you can include in your itinerary:
Since Mandya is the ‘Sugar Bowl’ of Karnataka, you can visit any of the small sugar/jaggery making setups on the farms enroute and savor freshly made jaggery.
A lot of people visit the Tonnur lake (about 10kms away) from Kunti Betta and take a dip there. Alternatively, you can visit Manchinabele dam or Kanva reservoir. We skipped it as we were told that the soil on the banks was marshy at the time we visited.
You can visit Ranganathittu Birds sanctuary and take a ferry ride in the river.
You can also visit ‘Janapada Loka’ to get an overview of the folk-culture from across Karnataka.
Lockdown 5.0. simply put, was just another normal day in Karnataka, except that the educational institutions were still under lockdown. So, unwinding on a weekend after a long work week was normal too. With friends, I chose to hike on a Sunday morning to Madhugiri betta, the second highest monolithic hill in Asia. We started from Bangalore at 04.30.am. hoping to start the hike as soon as the gates were opened. While KSTDC has been abundantly promoting post-Covid tourism in the state, we had a surprise awaiting us at the trek base. Since Madhugiri fort comes under ASI’s protected monuments (controlled by the central government), we were told that trekking wasn’t permitted by the Central government. Hence, we were left with two options. Either return home or find another hill nearby where we could hike.
We chose the latter. So instant suggestions that came from someone in the group was Devarayanadurga and Siddarabetta. Then, we decided to give Devarayanadurga a miss as we all favoured a hike over a flight of stairs. We arrived at the base of Siddarabetta where we noticed a board that said, ‘climbing the hill with footwear was a sin’. Since many people use this path to visit a temple situated halfway, we didn’t want to hurt the local sentiments by wearing our shoes. Thinking that ‘a barefoot hike was definitely going to be an experience’ in our heads, we left our shoes back in our car.
The initial part of the climb, until the Siddeshwara Swamy temple was steep but easy with well laid out steps and iron rods to hold onto. When we reached a small temple kind of a spot, the path split into two. The Siddeshwara Swamy temple was to the left, where too many people seemed to be as if there was no pandemic going on and there exists no concept called ‘Social distancing’. We decided to distance ourselves from the gathering and took the path to the right. With having to pass between too many boulders, it did seem a little confusing initially. The distant passing clouds now seemed as if they had come to meet and greet us. But after walking a little ahead, we reached an area that was a transition from dry rocky mountain to rain soaked green forests. The real challenge of walking barefoot started there, with unassumed ground with gravel and possible thorns from the shrubs.
A little further, we reached an open rocky area where the view in front of us was playing hide and seek with each passing cloud. Apart from the drizzle and gusty winds that made it difficult for us to stand, we were mind-blown by the view we saw each time the clouds cleared out. There exists a small rain fed pond, a couple of meditating chambers that house Shiva Lingas (history unknown) and dilapidated remains of an old fortress. There was nobody else other than us in this entire stretch. We walked further and crossed two more hills before deciding to return, or else we would lose our way back.
It started to rain on our return, and we were quite drenched by the time we made it to the car that was parked just at the base point. The small eateries and stalls were slowly opening by that time which we chose not to visit, in order to avoid any social contacts with anyone else outside the group that we had gone in. We ate a few biscuits as a substitute for breakfast that we had carried from home and decided to stop the car next, only at home. It was a much-needed break and a pleasant little hike.
It is an easy hike and very good for beginners.
Be careful to carry all snacks only in a closed backpack as there are too many monkeys on the way.
It has been nearly 3 months of staying at home due to the nationwide lockdown and the fear of the pandemic. With India’s unlock 1.0 in place, our family of four decided to take a short drive outside to breathe some new air. We planned to head to ‘Mango Mandi’ at a village called Somanahalli, off Kanakapura road for this weekend. As we reached there, we learnt from the locals that the government run fruit trading market has been shifted elsewhere for social distancing purposes. However, buying mangoes was just a reason for us to go out and the idea was to go “somewhere” outside home.
This reminds me of some old travel tales of my family. On weekends, my parents used to take us to Majestic bus stand from where we would board a random bus to a destination, that we had unheard of. Back then, BMTC buses plied with boards called red-board and black-board. Red-board for villages outside the city limits and Black-board for those very much within the city. We would sit in just any Red-board bus and buy a ticket to “the last stop”. Most people (Villagers travelling to and from the city) on these routes used to be familiar with the drivers and conductors. Hence, on issuing the ticket to the last stop to us, the conductor would enquire “Whose house we were visiting or where we wanted to go in the last stop”. We used to then get into a conversation with them and get details about the village we would reach at the end of our journey. We would then walk around these villages, appreciating the lung space, learning about new crops, new traditions in the countryside etc. We had thus explored “Remote” villages like Kumbalagodu (coffee plantations), Begur (the oldest Kannada inscription), Hesaraghatta (horticulture & animal husbandry farms), Gollahalli (so many varieties of Gollahallis in different directions of Bengaluru), Harohalli (so many varieties of Harohallis in different directions of Bengaluru), Haniyur (Madure Shani mahatma temple), Devanahalli (Tippu’s fort) etc. Come today, Bengaluru has grown to ‘Bruhat Bengaluru’. People would laugh at you if you called some of these places remote. Why that… even the house where we live now had once been our destination on one such Red-board bus journeys!
Back to this weekend of Unlock 1.0, we decided to continue on the road that we were driving until we reached the dead end. And that’s how we reached a village called ‘Mukkodlu’. The name of the village came as a surprise as there exists another village of the same name, back in my native district. The red soil of the farmland was being ploughed all along our route and readied for sowing Ragi millet during the monsoon. The clouds looked amazing with newly laid asphalt road. The green hills complimented the scene well, with ‘Munikallu betta’ to the right and ‘Ragi halli betta’ on the distant left. A little further from there exists the Muninagara reservoir. We thought we would stop by this place on our return.
The reservoir and beyond comes under the supervision of the forest department, a sub-division of the Bannerghatta National park. We proceeded further to know where the milestone indicated ‘1km’ – Gullahatti Kavalu. That also happened to be a ‘Dead end’ on Google maps, from where we would return. Also, the idea of our drive was to not meet any villagers or eat at any petty shops which we normally did on such trips. When we reached our destination, the end of the village was marked by a peepal tree and a government school. The ‘Arali katte’ are arenas buzzing with life and a hub of activities on a usual day in the Indian villages. This one here, was staring at us with all villagers confining themselves to their homes for social distancing. We sat there for some time, soaking in the fresh air on the fringes of Bannerghatta National park before returning.
On our way back, we decided to stop at the sight of the reservoir. My itchy feet wanted to hike a bit and I dragged my folks along with me for a few meters away from the road. It was indeed a good decision. Considering we were in the fag end of summer, the reservoir still held a good amount of water. A localite who had come there to graze his cattle told us that wild animals like elephants, leopards, deer, peacocks, wild boars, porcupines etc. are spotted here in the mornings and on most other occasions. At the first sight, it seemed to me like the Kabini backwaters. Kabini is like a summer resort for all wild animals. When all water bodies within the forest run dry, this spot holds enough water and all animals come here to chill in the summers. The fact and the view of Muninagara reservoir too gave me a similar feeling. We sat there for some time until the rain gods showered blessings on us.
Thus, a day in India unlock 1.0 was well spent.
Note: For the adventurous ones, there exists a trekking trail called ‘Muni nagara trails’ on google maps starting from the reservoir to the Ragihalli betta. But ensure that you have all permits in place before venturing on a trek here. As afore mentioned, this area belongs to the Karnataka forest department.