Tag Archives: Monsoon trek

As the Neelakurinji blossoms, the Nilgiris spectacles

Heard of the blue hills? Does the name ‘Nilgiris’ strike any bell? For those who know less, it is a part of the Western Ghats, a UNESCO World heritage site in the southern peninsula of India. The ‘Neel-giris’ literally translates to ‘Blue-Hills’ because these hills get their colour from a particular phenomenon. A particular species of the Strobilanthes kunthiana flowers, locally called the Neela-Kurinji bloom once in twelve years. When in full bloom, the entire hill range looks blue, thus giving the hills their name. The last mass-flowering of the neelakurinji flowers happened in 2018 and I left no leaf unturned to witness this spectacle. There were a couple of hotspots identified by the Kerala forest department where arrangements were made to allow visitors to see the flowers.
My friends and I decided to visit the Eravikulam National park, located close to Munnar. This stretch of the hills was where most of the blossoms were supposed to happen. After finalizing the visit dates in Sept’18, the Delhi friends had booked their flight tickets to fly down and the remaining of us booked our bus tickets from Bangalore to Munnar. I had got all the necessary entry permits from the forest authorities and booked accommodation in Munnar for all of us. All this was done months in advance to have a confirmed entry anticipating the tourist influx for such a spectacle, if we waited until later. We were all set and waiting for the travel to finally happen.

Come July’18, the rain gods had wreaked havoc in the western Ghats. The entire stretch of western Ghats in Karnataka and Kerala had been damaged by the heaviest rains in eight decades. The damage done was massive to geography, property and life along these areas. In the event of things, damage was done even to the neelakurinji plants and the blossoms were feared to be washed out. Once the rain gods had calmed down and the ground situation of floods seemed to have receded, we waited to see if there was any luck in waiting until September. We were in constant touch with a few locals who gave us the updates on the status of the blue hills. Come September and we decided to go ahead with our original plan. We all had finally arrived at Munnar and were heading towards Eravikulam National Park.

Once there, Yes, there were enough plants destroyed. The stronger few, had managed to bear flowers. We walked along the laden path, feeling grateful for at least so many of the plants had survived. Since these plants blossom only once every 12 years, it means that their reproduction cycle is longer than usual. This also means that, most of the Neelakurinji vegetation is lost in the 2018 monsoon and the next flowering cycle of the year 2030 may not happen at a mass-scale as it is usually supposed to happen at all!! Anyway, we enjoyed whatever we were witnessing.

img_20200216_1230514763208106210940115.jpg
The Neelakurinji flowers at Eravikulam National park

Also, Neelakurinji is only a sub-species of the larger group of flowers called the Kurinji. The Kurinji flowers come in several colors- white, peach, purple, etc. Here is a collection of the Kurinji flowers from Eravikulam National park that we saw during our visit.

img_20200216_1232387674453963735820057.jpg
The various Kurinji flowers at Eravikulam National park

So that said, I was back in my hometown the following week and visited our piece of farmland to check on its status after the monsoon. It used to be a spice plantation that remained unmaintained for a long time before we, siblings ventured into developing it. our farm is a short walk away from the main road. When we arrived there and decided to walk, the entire path was filled with what seemed like some weed that had overgrown during the monsoon. We used a machete to make way for ourselves to walk further. Just a few steps into the area, we were surrounded with pink/ maroon flowers all around us. ‘These weeds had flowered expansively’, we wondered. We took a lot of photos, made way for ourselves, finished our work and returned home. When we discussed about the weeds with the elders in the family, we were surprised to hear that these plants also belonged to the Kurinji family.

img_20200216_1228147702483363187051058.jpg
The Kurinji flowers from our farm in Kodagu

A little bit of googling allowed me learn that there are many sub-species of the Kurinji and each have their own flowering cycles. While some bloom annually, some bloom once in six years and some take a couple of decades. Neelakurinji was just one among them.

Lesson learnt: How often do we tend to ignore the little things from our own backyard? We think these are too trivial to spend time and look for things elsewhere. It is often that people associate that better things come only when money is spent and distances are travelled, but the truth may be that it is something that we have been conveniently ignoring in our own vicinity.
What is your take on this thought?

A valley frozen in time- Dzukou

Rolling hills that has many faces to call it BEST described… Every description depends on who saw it during which time of the year. I was heading to this valley in early winter, 1st week of December to be precise. That’s when the days are warm and nights are cold, but there is no snowfall.

So, as planned my friend and I set foot to see a valley that borders the states of Nagaland and Manipur. ‘It’s a magical place’ is the only thing we had heard. I had done enough research about getting there from Nagaland side and learnt that there are two routes with different difficulty levels. One starts from Jakhama village and the other is through Vishema village. Since we had hired a trek guide, we decided to take the route recommended by her. Initially, not knowing what terrain we would be trekking through, we had carried our large backpacks with all the stuff for our fortnight long trip in Nagaland. But then, our guide asked us to carry just thermals and enough water. “Food and blankets can be bought at the peak” we were told. Anyway, additionally we carried our sleeping bags and some food since we had to utilize what we had carried all the way from Bangalore 😛 We left our luggage at our guide’s house in Jakhama and took a short taxi ride to the start point of the trek. (Watch the video below)

We started to climb up from Jakhama by around 11.30.a.m. and the path was unassumingly steep. The entire trail was encompassed in a thick canopy of trees through which the sun rays could hardly penetrate. Although we were climbing at peak noon, it felt as if it was post sunset. The heat generated by the body while burning the calories seemed insufficient to warm us up. The trail only got steeper at almost 80deg gradient and we kept thanking our guide for telling us to leave our excess luggage at the base. Then suddenly, the forests opened to the blue skies… Before our eyes could adjust to the bright light, we were staring at our first glimpse of the valley. I was at a loss of breath. Not because of the tiring climb or the cold winds that was making it difficult for me stand on my feet, but because I was transported to a different world by the setting sun which had engulfed the green valley. I don’t know if I can express that feeling rightly with words, to simply put it: I was SPELLBOUND!

DSC_0713
The first view of the valley

It was a short walk further from there. The trail along the cliff with the green hills appearing one after the other and the sky changing its shade with every second, kept us going until we had finally made it to the guest house for the night’s stay. At 4.30.p.m., when we reached there, it just got dark with the last ray of white light. But the sky continued to mesmerize us as it turned from red to black, in between illuminating the silhouettes of the surrounding hills. I had started to freeze and shiver by this time as the temperatures dropped to single digits. But I did not want to move from there as I stared at what was the clearest night’s sky I had seen in a long while. So many stars twinkled over the Dzukou valley! As reality started to hit me hard, I had started to get cramps in my feet and had to hurriedly go and warm myself with the thermals and the firewood that was lit to cook food in the kitchen.

20191202_053509

As the night passed, the temperatures dropped further. Our thermals and sleeping bags didn’t seem enough and we borrowed additional blankets to help ourselves in the large hall which had just walls, a roof and a wooden floor to sleep on. I could barely sleep through the cold night. Although awake, I was waiting for the alarm to ring at 05.00.a.m. We were supposed to head out to see the Dzukou valley…

At 05.00.am. I was the first one to get up and step out for the hike down to the valley. The morning light was still dim, and I felt the earth below my feet crackle. It did not take me too long to realize that all the grass on which I was walking and the entire valley that surrounded me was frozen. The temperatures had dropped below zero and the frozen valley at a distance looked splendid! Soon, the others joined me, and we walked down the valley to witness what is supposed to be the main reason for our trek to Dzukou. The sunrise! We walked past what the locals call as the cave and walked over a frozen stream. We clenched bits of frozen waterfalls along the way too… And when the sun rose above and shone over the valley- It looked surreal. It seemed like the phrase ‘Frozen in time’ was framed after someone saw this place. The frozen dew drops reflected the lights of the rising sun and the sight was beyond my ability to describe. What I was experiencing from within was a sense of emptiness, accomplishment, happiness- well a medley of emotions. There has been NO place I had been to more beautiful than this, no I’m not exaggerating.

20191202_0647561534095250733529797.jpg
A frozen pond in Dzukou at Sunrise

The entire valley has a peculiar kind of bamboo grass which gives it its green color. The same valley looks as if it is covered in red/ pink during monsoon. That’s when the lilies, endemic to Dzukou valley bloom. And come during the peak of winter: The entire valley is painted white in snow. This is a photo my guide had shared with me of how the valley looked just 10 days after we returned. The valley does not fail to mesmerize people irrespective of the season they come. Well, after spending a good amount of time, we returned to the guest house, packed up to head back to Kohima, for the hornbill festival.

dsc_07144379477596795501608.jpg
The sky on our way to Vishema

By now, we were a big team of trekkers and backpackers who had all bonded over at the guest house and together we decided to take the Vishema route for our return. It was a brilliant decision, I guess! Had we taken the same route for our return; we would have missed the magical sky behind the forest canopy. The sky seemed surreal with every turn in the trail. The valley too looked magical at every corner. It was flat land that we were walking on mostly, apart from a short trail of very steep rocks to slide down from, until we finally arrived at the base. A pre-booked Sumo was waiting to pick us back to Kohima. I want to bluntly end this post because this place is something better experienced than written about.

img_20200203_2330265481290338984320661.jpg
The view point from the guest house. Top: After snowfall; Below: before snowfall

About the trek in short:

  • I believe what one calls difficult or easy largely depends on individual’s fitness level and trekking experience. According to me, the distance to the peak is short and could be done in 1-1.5hrs if it was me alone. But it was the first hike EVER for my friend and it took us around 4hours to reach the guest house at the peak.
  • Although people feel Vishema route is easier onwards, in my opinion- we made a good decision by walking the Jakhama route while going up. Since it is steep, climbing would be slow but the distance is shorter. In contrary, if we took Jakhama route to climb down, the gradient would put enormous strain on our knees which is why I suggest taking the Vishema route for the descent.
  • Cooked (basic & hygienic) food and potable running water is available at the top, so apart from energy bars for your walk, avoid carrying unwanted luggage.

Climbing the highest waterfall in Andhra Pradesh- Talakona

It is needless to elaborate on the names Tirumala and Tirupathi! Famous as the richest temple in the world, the seat of Swamy Venkateshwara- the lord of seven hills. What goes beyond just this RICH temple is its geographical location. For someone who has been there and used the 11km long stairs to get to the top, I’m sure he must have enjoyed the multiple pit stops and deviations off the course to see the ‘Papavinasanam’ and ‘Akasha Ganga’ waterfalls enroute. And then there is the magnificent Silathoranam, the natural arch bridge formed due to volcanic erosions several million years ago… As if these pit stops weren’t enough, one is bound to get enchanted by the stunning view of the entire range of hills surrounding the temple with the Nagari quartzite formations… Ever since I had been there, exploring these hills has always been on my bucket-list… And when I chanced upon an opportunity to do it over a weekend, I jumped in with excitement. Taking cue from a random couch-surfing meet-up, we had decided to hit the roads to explore the hill ranges of Eastern Ghats. So on a Saturday morning, we started from Bangalore before sunrise to see the highest waterfall in the state of Andhra Pradesh, nestled in the Venkateshwara National Park. While I slept for most of the way, I was awakened to a blurred view of a fiery-red sunrise seen through the dew-laden window glass of our car, cruising through misty roads with hazy paddy fields around. We stopped by at one of the several restaurants on the way for a nice south-Indian breakfast and coffee.

Click here for more weekend trip ideas

With good asphalted road all the way, we arrived at the forest check-post at Talakona. While our friend was getting the required permits / entry tickets into the national park, we got chatting with a fruit vendor who let us try the variety of fruits in his cane basket which all tasted as sweet as nectar. He then told us that he could be our guide (at a small cost) and show us some offbeat corners of the forest. We agreed upon the idea and promised to buy more fruits from him on our return to make up for his business. We then reached the eco-lodge, managed by the forest department and ordered for food which would be kept ready by the time we returned from our trek from the woods. We then drove up, till the Siddeshwara Swamy temple and parked our vehicle near the foothills of the waterfalls. Our guide took us off the course from there on through stone-laid stairs that seemed like we were walking into oblivion in the jungle that is notoriously famous for red-sandalwood smugglers and the elusive beasts- the Royal Bengal tigers. Our first stop was at this view point from where most of the green and brown stretch of alternating forest and quartzite was seen. After a short climb thereon, our guide made us cross a stream of water and took us to the edge of the rocky path. The stream now seemed like it was jumping down in a mad rush from the cliff we were standing upon, and we could hear the screaming of several tourists down beneath. That’s when our guide burst the bubble for us- We were standing right on top of the highest waterfall of the state. It was a nerve wracking experience to stand atop there and watch the water gush down under our feet and have a post-monsoon gorgeous view of the green ranges.

IMG_20171216_141757_HDR
The view of the ranges atop the waterfall

We were then guided through a canopy of lush green trees and hanging branches along the flowing water, at the end of where our feet stopped! Stopped in amusement… Amusement at what our eyes were seeing… A thick moss laden semi-circular rocky wall due to the flowing water over ages across whom several creepers hung and the water dropped down with all grace. This entire set-up of nature reflected in the mirror-like crystal clear water of the pond formed beneath where the golden fishes were enjoying their undisturbed swim. The rocks inside the pool made it appear rather shallow and was enticing us for a quick swim! With absolutely nobody else in the place- No exaggeration, it felt like we had found our long lost connection with nature right there! All unprepared for a swim, we put our legs into the freezing cold water to get a nice fish pedicure that de-stressed the city souls in us!

IMG_20171216_150524_HDR
The pool atop the Talakona waterfall

After getting our natural fish pedicure done, we headed back towards the base of the Talakona waterfall. But, it was a different route this time… It was a beautiful path with a canopy of trees, a deep gorge to our left and the massive rocky caves to our right accompanied by an eerie silence of the jungle… At the end was another waterfall. It was one of the levels of this multi-tiered waterfall which we had to cross through. For a look from the distance, we could not gauge the level of difficulty until we actually got on the rocky path to cross it. While each one of us mocked and took fun in laughing at why the other person couldn’t cross it with ease, we dreaded our own feat of the waterfall-crossing when we slipped, slid and even glided across the super slippery rock over which the algae had settled making it an armed to the teeth adventure. We had a friend who slid and landed right at the edge of the cliff, just an inch further would have taken him rolling down the multiple tiers of the highest waterfall of the state 😛 All said and done, with we being drenched to our bones, our jaws chattering with cold and an unexplainable feeling of accomplishment, we had reached the last part of our hike.

IMG_20171216_154525
The path across the caves

We then walked down to get a good look of the mighty Talakona waterfall from its base right-up, to understand where we had just arrived from… We then drove to the eco-lodge to dry ourselves, get some food and to call it a wrap for an eventful day that we concluded at twilight!

Mission accomplished.. Kumara Parvatha..!!

This trek was planned to celebrate the 1st anniversary of Sam’s farewell trek (Click here for details).. on the same day, exactly a year ago..

Let me get you going directly from where this trek to Kumara parvatha or KP peak is actually supposed to start. We reached Kukke Sri kshetra and checked into the lodge(a meagre 100Rs. Per day) run by the temple trust, freshened up and feasted on some sumptuous Mangalorean food for breakfast. Without wasting much time, we started the much hyped- one of the toughest treks in South India.. to the Kumara parvatha peak in the Pushpagiri wildlife zone.

The original plan was to start from the base by 7.00.a.m and camp at Bhatru mane. Then, leave Bhatru mane by 3.00.a.m the next morning and reach the peak to witness the sunrise, what is supposedly one of the best.

As planned, we entered the trekking trail.. It starts off with thick forest around and steep climbs uphill.. There was NO water sources along the way (We didn’t know that there was a perennial stream, with a small deviation after 2.5km) and a possibility of occasional encounters with elephants. We took frequent stops before taking a longer halt at Bhima’s rock. This stretch of 3km had oozed the fluid out of us..

 A view from Bhima's rock
A view from Bhima’s rock

Once this 3kms stretch was covered, we got our first view of Kukke town.. The thick canopy of forests made way to the grasslands after walking 1km further from there.. It was well past noon and the sun shined at its hottest.. We were running out of water already.. We started to wonder if Bhatru mane really existed and literally pulled ourselves to reach there. Or rather say, we pushed ourselves to walk the small distance that seemed never ending.. Finally… we were overjoyed at the first glimpse of Bhatru mane…

The first glance of Bhatru mane
The first glance of Bhatru mane

We ran down to his nestle amid a small piece of green land.. I find NO words to express the joy of finding water.. That too, clear and cold water from the stream that ran through his farm.. We had a simple, yet the tastiest lunch served by Bhatru and rested under the shades of his arecanut farm..

We then made a small change in the plan and decided to continue the trek until it was dark. We feared the pace at which we were climbing up and did not want to return late on the following day.. We halted at a view point along the way for some photographs, before reaching the forest checkpost. We continued our hike up after registering our names at the forest office.. We stopped again at yet another view point.. The sun was coming down by the time we reached kal-mantapa and hence we decided to pitch our tent near the stream that ran by..

The sunset from our tent

The sunset from our tent

I don’t remember which sane person in the group chose the place.. I agree that we got a place which became every other trekker’s envy.. The place was for sure, a top rated spot for sunset viewing.. But we girls, who stayed inside the tent know what we went through that night.. The tent was pitched on a slope, on the edge of a rocky cliff which seemed like the place where the earth ended.. It was soon dark and we ate the little food that we had carried and hit the bed (Read hit the rocks)..

The boys comforted themselves in their sleeping bags and threw the poor girls inside the tent.. The entire night went by like this: ‘Our respective backpacks were used as pillows inside our tent. We all would slide down with our bags inside the tent.. again we would push back everything and move up.. Slide down.. Slide up.. Phew..!!’ And a while into midnight.. The intensity of the wind also increased.. The cover of the tent started to fly.. We hoped for it to be 3.00.a.m soon so that we all could start our ascend.. But another surprise was awaiting us.. Madhu heard the cracking sound of the tent support and scared all the girls inside to vacate the tent. We carried our luggage from inside and jumped out of the tent, one by one.. The last girl just came out and the tent crashed down to a flat.. The guys woke up and one of them attempted to slowly remove the pegs.. One peg was removed and then… The tent flew.. away from our reach.. off the cliff.. down the valley.. We had borrowed the tent, on hire.

Everyone woke up and sat wondering why this had to happen. It was still dark at 4.00.a.m. and with the wind that continued to blow ruthlessly, our ascend to the peak seemed impossible.. We stayed back until sunrise 😦 We decided to compromise on one of the main agenda of our trek- Watching the sunrise at KP peak.

After there was dawn,one of the boys dared to go down the cliff. He had a thrilling feat with adventure and managed to bring back the tent that had settled on a boulder in the middle of a water body, down below in the valley.. More than getting excited about finding the tent, we were all celebrating his safe return.. It was around 7.00.a.m by the time we started our ascent.

Inspite of missing the sunrise, the views post that period were equally spectacular, all along the way. The climb was pretty smooth. It was around 11.00.a.m. by the time we reached the first peak/ false peak- Shesha parvatha.

Post sunrise

The view from the base of Shesha Parvatha

After just a few photo moments, we decided to continue our journey.. We descended the steep rock and waded through super cool, thick jungles.. And then, climbed up another steep rock. This rockclimbing with bare hands and legs reminded me of our monkey ancestors.!! A small walk further up took us to the actual end of the earth. Right there, we had conquered our destination- Kumara Parvatha..!!

Shiva temple atop Pushpagiri hill

Shiva temple atop Kumara parvatha

Thanking the diety with a small bow in the temple on the peak, we set our return journey.. Getting down the rocky slope of KP seemed tricky with one of my friends ending up with torn trousers when he decided to sit and slide down on his butt 😉

The descend from Shesha Psrvatha was no easy task either. The loose gravel all along the trail made walking difficult without slipping. It was 4.00.p.m by the time we reached Bhatru mane.. We realised that we had covered only half the distance and had very less time left with sunlight.. We had to complete the remaining distance before it got dark because that was the toughest stretch with thick forests and wild animals. We had a quick lunch at Bhatru mane and got some rest in fast forward mode and started our descend by 5.00.p.m..

We knew we had very less time in hand and a LONG way to go.. We all walked as fast as we could. Our legs had given up already.. I was preparing my mind to stay back in the forest and make a feast of myself to some wild animal at night.. I ran down the slope at times.. My knees seemed like they would part away from my thighs.. We saw the sun coming down.. We continued to walk fast.. We saw the sun going down the horizon.. We paced up.. Suddenly we all halted.. There was pin drop silence.. We realised that some wild animal(mostly elephant) was somewhere around.. It took us a few minutes to feel the sound move away from us.. Then, we resumed our walk. We saw the bright day fade into darkness and every shade in this process. The toughest and the last stretch was almost coming to an end.. We had FINALLY reached the KP gate… And the last ray of light too waned into darkness.. Thus came an end to the KP trek- a mission….. accomplished..!!

We all then freshened up at the same lodge and did a quick visit to the Kukke temple before hitting the roads on our return journey.

NOTE: The above story is written based on my trek back in 2013 when there was no restriction on camping in the entire trail. As on 2019, camping is allowed only around the forest checkpost and Bhatru mane. So, it is wiser to plan the distance, hiking time and camping accordingly.

Must do things/ Highlights of Kumara parvatha trek:

  • Bhatru mane is the ONLY place you will find food and it is an experience in itself to get your turn in the queue to have your meal served. The same basic rice and sambar is served for all 3 meals and nobody complains. Not tasty, but finding food after a long day is LUXURY here. Bhatru has a fixed time for serving food and very punctual. The crowd is huge especially on weekends and the wait for your meal can take longer if you dont have your own plate.
  • The sunset from the view point enroute forest checkpost or Kal-Mantapa
  • To watch the Sunrise from Kumara parvatha is like going to a different world. Try to make it there in time.
  • The sky is in its clearest form and star gazing at night is a whole different experience. You see so many stars, bright and clear that it feels as if the sky has moved closer to earth. We got lucky as it was also a night of a meteor shower, so we saw many shooting stars.
  • Drinking water from the stream felt like nectar. So clean and tasty. You can fill your bottles at 4 places along the way. First after 3kms, near the Bhimas rock. Second, at Bhatru mane. Third, at the forest checkpost. Fourth, at a stream just before kal-mantapa.

The Monsoon Night safari at Masinagudi

Too many details to type in about a super awesome weekend.. So let me zip through it ASAP 🙂

We started from Bangalore at 2.a.m. hoping to reach Bandipur by 6.a.m- That’s when the forest checkpost opens and we could spot few animals on the road.. But, due to frequent pit-stops, we made it only by 7.a.m.- Nevertheless, We spotted a good number of elephants, peafowls, fox, deers, sambars, wild boars etc.

A view of the valley from one of the hairpin bends of Ooty
A view of the valley from one of the hairpin bends of Ooty

First in the visit list was the Avalanche – A steep & breathtaking climb of 35 hairpin bends with deep valley covered by thick white snowy clouds on one side led us to the Queen of hills- Udagamandalam a.k.a. Ootacamund a.k.a. Ooty. Without wasting much time amidst the maddening crowd of tourists there, we drove down another set of 34 hairpin curves- 25 kms further from Ooty to reach the forest checkpost of Avalanche.. Thick rainforests on either sides, bumpy waterlogged pot-holes, scenic view of backwaters of the Emerald dam at every turn accompanied us all the way till the start point of the eco-tour.. Once there, we hired the forest jeep for a 24 kms drive through the Shola forests- It was indeed a BEAUTIFUL place 🙂

One of the many waterfalls tucked away in the Avalanche forest
One of the many waterfalls tucked away in the Avalanche forest

On a clear day, one can see the dam from this place.. A century old Bhavani temple, innumerous waterfalls along the way finally ended at Lakdi spot. This is a BEAUTIFUL place and a must visit for the backpacker.. Thick fog makes the visibility poor which adds onto the adventure of the jeep ride. If one is lucky, he could spot a leopard or an elephant on the way..

Enroute to Lakdi spot @ Avalanche
Enroute to the Bhavani temple @ Avalanche

After a short break at Ooty- the last place to fill fuel, draw cash from the ATM, buy the essentials- we headed towards THE DESTINATION- “Masinagudi”- a part of the Mudumalai forest range. We had booked our stay at the Whistling woods estate which is adjacent or rather located within the reserve forest itself..

Our cars were parked at the Singara checkpost, beyond which only jeeps/SUVs can be used to reach the cottages. This 3 km ride was a GRAND welcome in itself: Our road was blocked by herds of elephants, bisons and deers. These encounters took our excitement to a soaring high..!!

After a quick round of dinner, we all got ready for the highlight of the trip- The night safari: at 00.00 hrs in the night, who can believe if we say we drove in an open jeep into the heart of the national park in search of a tiger that was feasting on its latest kill..?? And once there, the screeching monster engines haulted, lights were switched off- Not even the moon; only the open sky with the twinkling stars guided us through. The only 2 sounds we could hear: The chirping of the crickets & the pounding of our anxious hearts.. What we all discovered right there, in the middle of nowhere was “ETERNAL BLISS”. Even after a thorough search through the remotest corners of the grassland, we could not find the tiger until 2.00.a.m. We were definitely sad about the fact, but the bumpy ride in itself was worth it all…….!!! We did spot a few other animals though..!!

Next morning, we were greeted by the excellent view of the Blue mountains through the window glasses.. We all jumped up for the guided walk along the stream lining the boundary of the reserve area.. We captured some rare fauna line the Nilgiri langurs, Malabar grey hornbill, Malabar giant squirrel, pea-fowl etc. in our machine-gun-sized cameras.. The climb to the tree top house is also worth a mention that gave us a good view of the forest around.. It was afternoon already by then and we had to pack up for the return journey… 😥

Unlike what happens usually on a return journey, all the 9 of us were jumping off our seats every 100 yards until we crossed Bandipur: We encountered atleast 24 elephants including a herd with a new born, atleast 20 peacocks all set to open up their feathers as it had started to drizzle, sounder of wild boars etc. Truly awesome 🙂

At Bandipur National forest
At Bandipur National forest

This is ONE trip I would love to do all over again and that time, it would be for a longer stay here… in the cradle of mother nature.. Just one FANTASTIC trip 🙂

Re-visiting the Happy Valley – Makalidurga

I had already been there before.. I knew what to expect (Click here to read more) and so had declined repeated requests for my participation in the trip.

Even then, the second visit to Makalidurga happened. I was forcibly dragged out of bed on a cozy Sunday morning. I was supposed to be the guide to the first timers so that they could hike up the hill.

I knew the way to reach Makalidurga- but could not guide them any further to the exact spot from where they could get the photo of the train crossing which they wanted.. Considering it was around 11.00.a.m, the sun had already reached a good position to suck the fluid in us..

Alighting @ the Happy valley : Makalidurga railway station
Alighting @ the Happy valley : Makalidurga railway station

We had left home without breakfast hoping that we could have something on our way and pick up some water bottles.. Hard luck..!! We could find neither!!

The Makalidurga railway crossing
The Makalidurga railway crossing

All of us reached a railway track finally.. And randomly climbed a hillock, climbed further up.. We continued to climb hoping to find some shade to sit and wait till our catch of the day appeared… But again, no luck- no water, no food, no shade. We randomly stopped on a considerably flat area without being able to proceed further under the ruthlessly shining sun and waited for the train..

After about half an hour, the smoke from the engine chimney appeared near the horizon.. We all got excited.. As it neared, the engine emerged from behind a bush, then a bogie.. Before our cameras reached their position, we saw the end of the train 😥 It was a small train with just 1 engine and 4 bogies…

So, we continued our wait.. After a while again we found some smoke at the horizon. So, this time we hoped that our tiring wait would end soon and we could get that perfect internet photo of a blue passenger train passing across the frame… Hard luck once again- It was indeed a super long train with over 55 bogies: But, it was a goods loco and not the one that we had waited for and moreover its colour did not match the background 😥

This meant that we still had to wait. We were restless… We decided to walk further up hoping to find some shade atleast..!! And we did find a small tree (or rather a bush). Something that was better than nothing, we thought. All the five of us squeezed into that small patch of shade and continued to wait….

After a while, we heard the hooting of a train at a distance… This time, we couldn’t see any smoke rising up… The sound became louder and louder but still- there were no signs of the train. But, we knew for sure that the source was somewhere closeby. And suddenly, a Nizamuddin-Yeswantpur bound passenger train came buzzing into our visibility. We all took our cameras out and started clicking… The train was really long and it stretched beyond the 2 ends of the frame. Yet, this was not the photo we wanted. The train was actually in the opposite direction. So, even if the engine is very much in the frame, it appears like it is gone beyond 😥 But, anyway it seemed like we could not hope for anything further because we were all dehydrated.. So, we had to be contended with what we got and return back to pavilion 😦

The Nizammuddin-Yeswantpur passenger
Our prized catch- The Nizammuddin-Yeswantpur passenger

Makalidurga Ghats- Inspiring the Indian Railways..

This one was totally unplanned..!!

We decided to visit the Ghati Subramanya temple on Ganesha Chaturthi day considering less crowd in a Subramanya temple… The place is about 13kms from Doddaballapura.

Ghati welcomed us with a mesmerising view of the hills, lakes (or rather puddles of water) scattered in the meadow and a lot of greenery around.. The boundary of the meadow was lined by a railway track- It looked beautiful.!!

A Welcome view to Ghati
A Welcome view to Ghati

And just as we slowed down to appreciate the view, a freight loco came zipping along the line- and now it looked picture perfect..!! And just as I thought that this scene was familiar- my mind wandered to recollect where I had seen it; and soon I knew the answer: it was the “Makalidurga Ghats” I had seen in an IRCTC- South Western railways hoarding at Cantonment station; I had then gone back home and googled about the place, but had soon forgotten…!! So, this is great !!

Temple entrance
Temple entrance

Ghati (3)
Outside the temple complex

We then proceeded to the temple and finished the darshan early(considering less crowd). And we then straight away followed the milestones to Makalidurga… Just back from a railway trek to Dudhsagar 2 days back- and here— an inspiration for another railway trek- We stopped our car close to the railway station and walked 3-4kms along the track to reach the bridge I had seen in the hoarding… But sadly, there was no train that would pass at that time..:(

The railway station as viewed from the bridge
The railway station as viewed from the bridge

We then explored the place around.. One of the hills offers an amazing view of the villages around.. There are ruins of an old fort atop the hill which makes it a great place for some exploration…

The Makalidurga temple
The Makalidurga temple

I later learnt that the place is crowded with trekkers on weekends who usually come here for adventure sports and camping.. Truly… its beautiful.. That too a place soo close to Bengalooru city??

A view from the road
A view from the road

It was afternoon.. and we did not want to take the risk of seeing the moon(Chauthi) on Ganesha festival day.. and so, started back early..

The IRCTC photo that I couldnt capture :'(Picture courtesy: IRCTC hoarding at Cantonment station
The IRCTC photo that I couldnt capture 😥
Picture courtesy: IRCTC hoarding at Cantonment station

A great destination…. totally unplanned.. totally AWESOME..!!!

The railway trek to Dudhsagar- Finally

If you have read my previous 2 posts- The railway adventure & Dos and don’ts , you’re sure to have got an insight to the adventure part of the trip..  Anyways.. now the trip part of the story.. 🙂

17 of us boarded MAS-Vasco exprs from YPR on Friday night and alighted at Castle rock station the next morning at 9.15.a.m. Castle Rock is cute little station which divides the village into two- on one side is the railway colony, school, hospital, offices etc. and on the other side is the town(if at all it is called so) with basic amenities like a grocery store and a few petty shops. The station is all green and is a treat to the eyes which just landed from a concrete city.

@Castle rock station- in the midst of the Braganza GhatsART a.ka. Accident Relief Train is parked by the side
@Castle rock station- in the midst of the Braganza Ghats
ART a.ka. Accident Relief Train is parked by the side

We started to walk towards Dudhsagar- encountering numerous waterfalls where we stopped each time to take good photos..

The entrance to Castle rock adventure camp
The entrance to Castle rock adventure camp

A total of 11 tunnels before you reach the waterfalls, plus 2 to reach the view point. The 1st one can be approached by crossing a girder bridge watching a scenic view of the valley.

Tunnel no.7 (3)
The girder bridge

The Rock formations- View from the bridge
The Rock formations- View from the bridge

The tunnel no.2 exit
The tunnel no.2 exit

The 2nd tunnel is the longest-at 624m. and the most beautiful one which resembles an entrance into a Castle.

A waterfall we explored after tunnel no.3

A waterfall we explored after tunnel no.3

With the 3rd one came a waterfall within a vault..

The cave by the side of our way
The cave by the side of our way

The waterfalls within the vault by the rail-side
The waterfalls within the vault by the rail-side

Goa territory starts here
Goa territory starts here

We crossed Goa border after finding our way out of the 4th tunnel.

Goa is just a tunnel away.. yay..!!
Goa is just a tunnel away.. yay..!!

After a long walk there on, we crossed tunnel no.5 where we were sidetracked by a goods train.

Run for life..!!
Run for life..!!

6th n 7th came together, 7th being nothing more than a small arch. Then we crossed 8, 9 and 10…

Light at the end of darkness..
Light at the end of darkness..

Finally we had a ray of hope after this 1..We had reached Dudhsagar station-all tired after a long walk in hot sun while on a monsoon trek 😦

The DDS station
The DDS station

Then, the 11th…. We were all hooting, clapping in joy as we were getting out of this one- And there we saw the 1st glance of the mighty “Ocean of Milk”.. Totally.. It was a a great sense of contentment after a long tiring walk- it was alllllll worth it..!!

Just out of tunnel no.11
Just out of tunnel no.11

The 1st glance
The 1st glance

Torch lights to keep us up all night :)
Torch lights to keep us up all night 🙂

The only shelter available to pitch a tent was already occupied by a large group and we had no choice but to tent in the open.. As we were basking in the glory of the waterfalls, it was soon dark.. We put up a small campfire sort of a thing so that we had enough light to see each other’s face- but the rain gods who did not appear during the trek spoilt sport now. We had to manage the rest of the night with our torches..

It poured cats and dogs the whole night.. The roaring noise of the waterfalls at the backdrop and the loud hooting sound of the train once in every half an hour, the tent pitched right next to the track with the waterfalls on the otherside- It was indeed a night to remember..!!

Next morning, we all rised with the sun and spent some peaceful time beside the violent waters..

The sea-of-milk.. Truly..!!
The sea-of-milk.. Truly..!!

It was already 2 days & 2nights since we last saw the restroom or a bathroom, we looked around to find a little place where we could finish that as well.. A small waterfalls nestled deep inside the woods- We girls just jumped into the water  while the guys kept a watch on trespassers at bay.. 😉

This is where every man wished he was that morning ;)
This is where every man wished he was that morning;)

Mythology says that the “DevaKannikas or the Apsaras are often seen bathing in the midst of the woods  before sunrise.. and if one is lucky, he can see them walk by in wet clothes” LOL… something similar to that, We couldn’t find a place to change, we all wore our jackets and walked 1.5kms towards our tents. On the way, we came across tens of trekkers who desperately stared at us.. Anyways.. the pristine water and the divine girls- deadly combo- Nobody could help the sight.!!

The Apsarakonda ;)
The Apsarakonda;)

We were told that the passenger train would cross the waterfalls by 9.15.a.m. This meant that we had to be at the view point by that time to get that perfect Internet photo..!!

Finally.. We got what we wanted..!!
Finally.. We got what we wanted..!!

And so we did…. After a long photo session and before the crowd who had just arrived in the train would spoil the peace, we headed back to our tents.. We had a round of heavy brunch and slowly packed up.. The initial plan was to walk the track all the way to Kulem, but owing to the cruel sun, we decided to take a goods’ train either to Kulem or Castle rock. We missed the goods’ train to Kulem by a few minutes and so  we had to wait at the Dudhsagar station for the passenger train going towards CLR.

And with that.. Curtains down to our trip to DDS falls..!!!Note:
1. Clicking credits to “Sam”- our official photographer during the entire trip..!!
2. If you’re camping there, carry tents- no matter what season it is.. Be prepared to get mobbed by monkeys
3. There is a guy who sells tea, dinner on Saturdays & breakfast on Sundays
4. You get booze near the shelter on a weekend night
5. There is a restroom (decent enough in the jungle) attached to the shelter
6. Buy a return ticket from Kulem or Castle rock depending on the direction you are heading to..

The railway adventure from Dudhsagar

< 16-Sept-12>

When you are back from a trek to Dudhsagar and talk about a “Railway adventure”- the usual things that strike anybody are train spotting, tunnels, wild encounters, the rail line that passes across the mighty waterfalls so on and so forth..!!! And there is ample information available all over the net about this walk along the railway tracks… So that’s the railway adventure…!!!

“NO…!!! ” I’m not here to speak about such a lame adventure- What if we did not come across any wildlife on our way..? There is always something even better that comes across as a compensation for not having any wild encounters..!!

We were all on our return part of our trip.. and were just happy that everything went on well so far.. And then began the actual adventure unfolding one by one..

Scene no.1:

We were mocked at, at Dudhsagar station when we enquired about the tickets. Why that? We had even requested the person at the ticket counter in Castle Rock to issue return tickets from Kulem to Londa as we did not want to take any chances. But, our requests were all turned down telling that it was not needed. Like every other tourist/trekker who comes to Dudhsagar, we too decided to travel ticket-less till Castle Rock station. There were more than 500 people who got into the Vasco-Nizamuddin express with us- all without a ticket..!! This is nothing unusual as each and every blog on the net speaks about ticket-less travel. In less than 5 minutes after the train had started, the TT came asking for our tickets. We honestly displayed our tickets(from Londa to Bangalore). He told us to show the tickets from Dudhsagar to Londa and we told him this was the only one we had. His voice sounded a little harsh this time. We explained all that we knew about the reason for this kind of travelling.. But now he told us to pay a fine of 500Rs per head. 17X500???? Noway..!!!! Finally.. he took us all to one end of the bogie and settled the scene for a total of Rs.460. That too- Till Londa 🙂 Now it calls for an adventure of travelling ticket-less right..??
But that’s not the case, everybody knows that there is no ticket issued from DDS, so this kind of checking is a major scam happening in these trains..

All ticket-less trekkers ready to jump into the Vasco-Nizamuddin exprs
All ticket-less trekkers ready to jump into the Vasco-Nizamuddin exprs

Scene no.2:

Onboard Rani Chennamma Express:

Approx.9.00.p.m.:  17 of us are playing dumbcharades, all seated in the same compartment and the entire bogie looking at us in awe(some jealous of us for the fun we were having, some surprised of the size of the gang, some enjoying the game with us, and some definitely pissed with the loud noise we were making). 2 police men walk across the bogie without bothering to notice anybody in particular.

Approx.11.00.p.m.:   We all decide to go to sleep as we were all pooped out of the long trek and most of us had to go to office the next morning. All are dispersed from the seats and preparing the bed.

Approx.11.30.p.m.:   Less than 2 minutes before we turned the lights off.. The 2 policemen appear out of nowhere..

“What’s going on here? We have received a call from the control room that there is a lot of noise coming from this bogie. Other passengers have complained about it..!!”

“But, we are sorry Sir, We had stopped playing half an hour ago and were just about to hit the bed”

“What are you playing with all these girls I say? and You.. dressed up like Y*su Chr*sta….” pointing out at XYZ..

XYZ got pissed off and revolted, “Mind your tongue, how dare you talk like that……”

The rest of us dragged him away before the scene got worse..

“Oh not just causing public nuisance, now you are fighting with a cop huh? All of you get off the train at Davangere station and lets talk about it in the station” the Cop asserted..

“But Sir, We will keep quiet now on and take responsibility not to disturb others. We are sorry..!!”

“We don’t know all that, get down at the next station or else pay a fine of 1000Rs. per head”

“Please consider, girls are travelling with us. We can’t get down in the middle of the night and we are on our way back, we don’t have so much money either”

“Just get down and lets see at the station”

This went on till approx.1.30.a.m and the entire bogie was watching the fun with no one even bothering to support us considering that we were all kids(or something like that, atleast out of courtesy)

Finally we all pooled in all the ‘Tens’ we had and settled the matter with Rs.500. A toll for absolutely no mistake of ours..!!

“The Indian Police”..!!! They are more than wild and entertaining who could well give an excellent replacement for the Orangutans- which are critically endangered.!!

Anything for money….. There is NOTHING that can be done to eliminate corruption in our country..!! We all speak volumes about a corruption free nation but we ourselves promote it in absolute helplessness..!! And Ohh?? Safety and respect for women???? what does that mean? I don’t remember coming across any term like that during my journey…

Dos & Don’ts for a Monsoon Trek

I’m just back from the monsoon trek to “The DudhSagar” falls… Well this one is which I had circulated just before the start of the trek- but did not find time to update in between all the excitement…

Since, I’m back now with more excitement than what I had left, some more updates to the list circulated before the start of the trek..!!

Do’s:

  • Shoes or floaters: Remember it is a monsoon trek in the Western Ghats.. So you might as well not end up spending 2 days with your feet soaking in wet shoes or walking bare feet and wind up with painful cramps.. None of us are going to carry you for the rest of the walk anyway, we will already be burdened with sufficient baggages to carry. So choose your footwear wisely or else, be prepared to be stranded along the railway tracks
  • Carry your own torches- else find your own way out of the numerous tunnels that we are going to encounter
  • Carry your own towels- Phuleeezz… no compromise and sharing on this one- come what may!!
  • Carry sufficient food for 2 days. Though this one is not a mandate! For all the meat eating fellas: you have ample number of leeches to binge on and a golden opportunity to taste a wide range of human blood. For those of you who are vegans: worry not, there will be twigs, barks and leaves all around us.
  • Own water bottles- or else we’ll push you into the mighty “Sea of milk” – the picture that you have been admiring with your jaws dropped everytime it is circulated.
  • Optional: raincoats / umbrellas or get wet in the rain totally- for you will not get such a pure rain water back home in the metropolis

Don’ts:

Dare not to forget the above..!!

Now the updated version:

  • In addition to the above points: Please carry extra cash- lest be mobbed by the railway police who will catch you and try to buckle you up in the name of causing public nuisance just for keeping the light on for extra few minutes..!!
  • Dare not to talk back to the police even though you are blamed for no fault of yours..!! You will have to spend the night at the police station instead of the train..
  • Carry tents to stay- don’t go just by a word of mouth, be prepared for the worse- You might have to get drenched in the pouring rain the whole night if someone had told you about a shelter.