Wednesday 29 December 2010

Cherrapunjee- Hidden Treasure in Abode of Clouds

A solo traveller is never as isolated as the term sounds. Even if I leave home alone, my journey will be lively with the company of local people and other travellers. Read the full story...

The British used ‘Scotland of the East’ catchphrase to describe Meghalaya’s dramatic waterfalls and Rocky Mountains. I would not think this is an overplayed sobriquet. Meghalaya is ideal for both the armchair and adventurous traveller. Once you are in Guwahati, don’t wait for a permit, just board a mini bus (Rs 78, 4hours) from ISBT terminal. Alternate option is to grab hold of an Indica or Sumo from Paltan Bazar for Rs 150/200. If you love sexy curves, bring your own vehicle and tackle the winding roads of Meghalaya- good tarmac and splendid views; I was missing my Yamaha RX100. Once you cross the Assam border there are just three colours- blue sky, green forests, black roads. After a shameless bargain, I could obtain a bed at Hotel Blue Pine (0364-2229814, GS Road s/d Rs 300/600 geyser, TV). Hotel Ashuthosh Inn (0364-2221276/94361-65135, s/d Rs 550/850) and Hotel Rainbow (0364-2222534, d Rs 700) are two more options on G.S Road. Met with Mr.Biju Joseph- a friend of HV Kumar and he briefed me about a few sights nearby and Mawlynong village. MMTP (Mallu-Mallu Trfr Protocol) worked well between us.

At an altitude of 4,908 feet (1,496 m) above sea level, shivering evenings at Shillong call for a fleece jacket. Walking around Police Bazar, Bara Bazar and Ward’s Lake gave glimpses of Khasi culture. Khasi women wear a pinafore in checked cotton, tied up on one shoulder. Including women, everyone chews betel leaf; lime and areca nut go together. Evening food stalls, western-clothed college students and the tourists flocking around it was more crowded than I was expecting. Yellow-and-black Maruti Suzuki 800s ply as city taxis carrying a minimum of seven people and it can go up to ten (Rs 5-10 per hop). Shared taxi is a good concept- 1)Cheap 2) Low carbon footprint 3)Always a girl is sitting next to you!

Meghalaya Tourism offers package daily tours to various places of interest, check their office near MTC bus stand on Jail Road if you are an armchair tourist. English is more useful than Hindi; many of them speak first-rate English with a Welsh accent without any trace to the Indian language influence, thanks to the Welsh missionaries. Most of them are Christians and religiously attend church on Sundays.

Rise with the sun and you will not miss the fun. I was using Google Maps on my cell phone for directions, thanks to Savindra Tiwari-Sachin’s brother who gave me a Meghalaya mobile connection. After munching an omelette and noodles, I made use of the Hindustan Bedford city buses to hop on and hop off to go around the city. After photographing All Saints Cathedral, Welch Presbyterian Church on Kachari Rd–illustrations of the Colonial timber architecture, I walked to Don Bosco Museum of Indigenous Culture ( near Sacred Heart Theological College, 9:30am-3:30pm). Tours at DBCIC last for an hour with excellent audio visual presentation and tribal artefacts displayed in the seven storied tower. Humbled by the tribal life and dance forms of the Northeast states I acknowledged the fact I have seen very little of this region so far.

Umiam Lake was my destination after a yummy lunch – pork noodles and sizzling soup. Spread over 220 square km, popularly known as Bara Pani meaning Big water is 17km north on the Guwahati-Shillong road which you can’t miss; by shared Sumo Rs 20, 40minutes. There are many adventurous water sports if you are not aqua phobic. Later in the evening, I met with Ms. Carol at D.D Laloo & Co, G.S Road- they sell camping gears and two colourful tents dragged me to this shop. Carol (Tel: 9863115302) takes care of the cleanest village in India- Mawlynong and as there was no easy mass transport to this village I decided to head to Cherrapunjee and got Mr. Bansan’s (Tel: 9615093898) contact from her and confirmed a bed at his hotel.

 Sohra village (Cherrapunjee):
A sleepy town with basic infrastructure compared to crowded Shillong; 60km from Shillong, you can reach this statistically wettest place in the world by a shared Jeep/Sumo for Rs 70. The telephone exchange at Sohra is out of order for last two years or so! Reading from Lonely Planet, I was riveted to the idea of trekking down to see the ‘living root-bridges’; so nothing else was not a major treat for my camera- Nohkalikai Falls, Mawsmai Caves, Monoliths and grassy moors. By evening, I met with Bansan; a tourism graduate who left his career at Pune and running a hotel/restaurant at his hometown - we had a long chat for hours. It was like meeting an old friend again after a long time; strangers are friends yet to meet. Bansan mentioned that he is going fishing to a nearby river with his friends and I casually asked him. “Can I tag along with you?” Though he was dubious about my fitness to trek down to the riverside and stay with them with minimal creature-comforts, I could convince him I will do anything to enjoy the nature and reiterated that I am not a tourist but a traveller. Sharing a fag and chewing a betel leaf with him made our friendship even stronger. I checked in at his place - Halari Restaurant (near Police Station, s/d Rs 600/800), the best accommodation in my trip.

Living Root Bridge:
Next two days’ agenda was trekking down to Meghalaya’s unique ‘living root-bridge’. Bansan gave me a hand-drawn map to reach the root-bridges and made arrangements to stay overnight at Nongriat village. Ficus Elastica tree-roots are trained over a period of more than ten years by directing the upper roots of the trees to the other side of the river and penetrate the soil. The roots gain strength over time and form a sturdy bridge and some of them are 500 years old and the “Double Decker” is the most legendary.

At 8 am paying meagre Rs 10 for breakfast- two puris, sabji and a red tea, I walked down to Mawluh village past Cherranpunjee Cement Ltd factory. Bansan was waiting near his house at his village and gave me the directions to the bridges. Though there was an option to take a taxi to Mawshamok, next 10km walking was appealing due to the flora/fauna and pleasant weather. Walk past the tiny hamlets of Mawshamok and Tyrna- your last option to get food-Lumsophie will welcome you with millions of butterflies of various colour and size. Giant spiders cast their enormous web to catch these sexy beauties. I was spellbound by these fluttering splendours and just watched them standstill. There were a few set of concrete steps going down and I chose the first set seeing the tiny board of ‘living root-bridge’. A few dozen steps past, I did not know how the next few hours were spent and I was deep inside the forest. Natural springs, butterflies, steep up and down trekking-finally; I was at the root bridge-the unique architecture in the world was worth the physical strain. Nongriat village was supposedly after the root bridge, so crossed bridge and hiked for another one hour but could not find my way further after a waterfall. I started digesting the reality that I am on the wrong trail, hiked back to the starting point and I lost my way. Though my fear factor is close to zero, Man Vs Wild episodes flashed through my mind. I did not have the equipment or skills of Beary Grills; one packet of biscuits, water from the springs, magnetic compass and following my instincts –I was back to Lumsophie village by 4pm- after a good adrenaline rush. There I found the countless concrete steps over the next 3km to the double-decker, but decided to return as I hated concrete steps and I was running out of energy after 8hours of hiking. Got back to Mawshamok and while munching some snacks; I befriended with a gentleman from that village on his way to Shillong who offered a drop back to Sohra and I was back at Halari Restaurant.

Next day, I took the same hiking path to see if I can go further after the water fall. Cederic from France – I met him during breakfast -was an avid rock climber and he joined me in this trek. Both of us could not find any route further the water fall and returned by 4pm and had lunch at a tiny restaurant at Tyrna- rice and boiled pork; the smart and attractive girl at this place spoke fluent English, cooked two omelettes as a bonus. There were a dozen kids aged around two or three saying ‘Hi’ to Cederic and asking him ‘What is your name?’ We got a taxi back to the hotel; bon voyage to Cederic and I was looking forward to go fishing next day. Double-decker? Next Year!

Trekking down to the River:
Since 8 am, I was ready and waiting for Bansan and friends. They arrived at 11 am with tents, sleeping bags, grocery and fishing rods. Aaron Laloo (Tel: 9774031871) owns XSV adventures and organises camping tours, trekking, hiking etc in Meghalaya. Sympian was the fourth person- works at the cement factory. We were dropped 2km from the town to start trekking down to Lyngam River. After two hours of knee-breaking steep trek, we reached a tiny village and two other villagers- Bah Pen and his cousin joined us. Their hospitality was commendable and they provided red tea and some snacks. In their baskets, there was a chicken travelling with us and some other food items. By evening after 6 hours we reached the riverside. Pristine blue coloured crystal clear water! Tranquil and pleasant weather and musical waterfalls! I can’t ask for more in life. We pitched our tents and a makeshift kitchen was ready. Delicious fish curry and rice was cooked for the dinner– never had such a tasty fish curry -kudos to Bansan.

Next day in the sun-soaked late afternoon, I took pleasure in swimming. Later, I learned from Bansan that not many knew swimming and they were watching me with admiration. Bamboo canoeing was another tough but cardiovascular activity. There was a hair-rising wire bridge right across the river to cross and reach other villages. I made tea in the evening and pop corn was our snacks. We were camping in tents for two nights and three days. Fishing, swimming, rock climbing, bamboo canoeing, cooking, bonfire were the highlights. We relished smoked pork, baked beans, chicken and fresh fish with rice for meals. Aaron explained fly fishing and demonstrated the same. I was amazed seeing his toolkit and various gadgets for fishing- he had been doing this since childhood.

On the Rocks!
Bah Pen and his cousin amazed me with their life skills-they have a solution for every problem from nature. They used tapioca as food for fish and immersed the baits in finely cut rectangular blocks of tapioca. Compared to the modern fishing rods, bamboo poles and homemade wheels toiled better in fishing; Bah Pen placed his baits strategically after spotting big arm size fish resting on the rocks in the river belly. Mercury was hovering around 14C; a bit chilly at night and warm during day. Chicken was carbonated entirely before cooking and rice was cooked in water mixed with chicken blood - called 'Jadoh' in Khasi. After three days of living with bare basic creature comforts, I was a lot contented with life. Sipping rum and brandy, smoking French tobacco and local ‘Joy’ bidi, chewing betel leaf, enjoying the camp fire, I lived my ‘reclaimed’ life –next to riverbed, sleeping in tents and – ON THE ROCKS!

Khublei Sohra!

By Sunday, we trekked back to the town, taking multitude of breaks and we were back at Halari by 7pm and Pork Hakka noodles welcomed us. I stayed two more days at Halari and took a Sumo back to Shillong, and then I was a bit satiated with 4 weeks of travelling, searching for new friends, adventure, and experience. I would go back to Cherrapunjee during monsoon (Apr-June) to enjoy the dramatic thunder showers.

I booked a tatkal ticket GHY-ERS using NGPAY from mobile and got back to Guwahati to board that train. Stayed at Ananda Lodge (s/d Rs 140/200 MN Road, Ph: 0361-2544832) for a day. During my return trip, I got another friend in the train -Ms. Liju –she is working in the paramilitary force SSB (Sashastra Seema Bal) guarding Indo-Nepal border. When I reached Kerala, the pouring rains welcomed me and I felt so good to be home. A dream of visiting Northeast India was fulfilled- was planning since 2008; indeed it was worth waiting two years!


The no of plastic bottles I bought in 30days is ZERO. I drank from restaurant/hotel jug, tap water at railway station, natural springs in forest, river water while camping and my tummy was never upset. Bottled water is just a marketing gimmick. At  the rate of 5 litres of water per day I should have bought 150 bottles.


Tuesday 21 December 2010

Tawang - Unexplored Paradise

I am surprised why Tawang is not part of Tibet. Geographically and religiously it makes perfect sense to me if Tawang was part of Tibet. More military personnel are found in this town than civilians, because it borders with Tibet and Bhutan and much-hyped tensions between India and China. Tawang was the center stage for 1962 Indo-China war. One of the first places to witness snowfall in Indian Himalayas, Tawang ranges from 6000ft to 22000ft. Tawang has a great importance in Budhism as 6th Dalai Lama was born, 13th was hiding in 1911 avoiding the Chinese invasion on Lhasa and the present (14th) fled this way to India in April 1959. The second largest Budhist monastery in the world is situated here. Politically this sleepy town plays an important role as McMohan line passes through Tawang, signed in 1914 Simla Accord between the plenipotentiaries of British India, China and Tibet. Thanks to HV Kumar for the persistent morale boost in this trip and Lonely Planet guidebook for the guidance.

In Line Permits:
If Tawang generates interest in your traveller, first learn about the permits required to enter Arunachal Pradesh. It sounds ridiculous that an Indian national needs ILP (In Line Permit) to enter this state. Arunachal permit is a two day affair and you apply on a working day, the permit will be issued the next day 10am- need two passport size photographs and ID/address proof copies, original has to be shown to the officer. Pay an amount of Rs 30/- for the application form and processing. If you need to go to another place in Arunachal, a separate permit is required- Itanagar and Tawang calls for two permits- so carry enough copies of ID/address proofs and photographs. Arunachal Bhawan is near DownTown hospital on G.S Road, Rukmini Gaon, Dispur. Any bus to Dispur from Paltan Bazaar will carry you there. If you are more tech-savvy and not in a leisure mood to waste one day for this permit, you can contact Himalayan Holidays and they will arrange your permit if you email them photograph and ID proof and ILP can be collected at Guwahati.

Rest of India prepaid mobile connections do not work in Northeast India. So if you need relentless mobile connectivity, make sure you have a postpaid connection from rest of India. While waiting for the ILP for two days using the cheap network of city buses, I was exploring Paltan Bazar, Fancy Bazar, Kachari Ghat, Cotton college etc enjoying the delicious Assamese food and a comfortable stay at Ananda Lodge (s/d Rs 140/200 MN Road, Ph:0361-2544832) Guwahati. My survivable Hindi speaking abilities were put to test while interacting with the locals especially during evening chit chat with Mr. Upen (Tel:9859722990) working at the lodge. Many were surprised to meet with a solo India trotter and “I am from Kerala” was helpful as everyone knew at least one Keralite.

You can’t reach Tawang in a day or one go if you are using mass transport. Guwahati-Tezpur-Bomdila/Dirang is the way to go, by halting a night at each place. One fine day morning, I boarded an ASTC bus to Tezpur from Paltan Bazar bus station adjacent to the railway station. A shuttle service bus took me to ISBT terminal and in a deluxe 2+1 bus, I was tavelling comfortably to Tezpur at a cost of 145/-. Worst case, you can obtain a seat in a Tata Winger from Network Travels, Paltan Bazar at a slighly higher cost. It takes 5 hours to reach Tezpur and post lunch, I settled at Hotel Center Point (s/d/st Rs 450/600/1400 Main Road, Opp. Police Station) at Tezpur. The City of Blood, this ghastly name is not justifiable -well kept parks and lakes makes Tezpur one of the best towns in Assam. Exploring this town on foot gave me a kaleidoscope of Assamese culture and scenic views -Padun Phukhuri Lake, Chitralekha Udyan, Ganeshgarhg temple, Agrigarh Hill, Oguri Hills and sandy Brahmaputra banks. Unexpected delight was a group of boys and girls from a school with multi-ethnic Northeast characteristics dancing to the tunes of a folk song and this was being shot by semi-professional videographers. 4pm sunset gave a good view of mighty Brahmaputra.

Tezpur to Dirang:
Wake up with sunrise and reach a few Sumo counters along the road near the bus station, I could secure a seat to Dirang for Rs350/-. Tata Sumos do a great job in this route with 12 people and 500kg of luggage.The last row is really bad and your head will develop a bulge if you are not carefully holding on to the seat. The roads are yet to be asphalted, I could see more buldozers and earth movers than cars or jeeps. A long convoy of army vehicles delayed our trip many times on this post war scenes like roads. Passing Bhalukpong, Tenga, Seppa and Bomdila, I reached fabulous stone village Dirang after 9hours, thanks to a puncture and the bad roads.

At an elevation on 1621m, this Tibetan village was chilly at 5pm in the evening, it was close to single digits on the mercury. Though it is not publicly available like Bhutan, if you seek you will find a restaurant to warm up with a peg of whisky for Rs 25. I could find a cheap accommodation at Hotel Moon (03780-242438, s/d/tr 200/300/600 w/ shared bathroom and TV). Hiking around the Dirang valley next day morning after a nice breakfast and red tea- more appropriate name than ‘black tea’ as per its color, gave me immense pleasure to meet the locals, ITBP (Indo Tibetan Border Police) officials and a few kids. The kids wanted a printout of their photograph, after getting a printout for Rs 20 I was searching for their house showing their photograph and a neighbour lady promised me that she will deliver to the intended recipients. Apart from the Yak club and Dirang monastery, a hot spring 30min walk on the way to Tawang, Rs 50 by taxi one way is not to be missed at Dirang. While the temperature outside is hovering around 10C, it was too cozy to scrub the dirt and fatigue enjoying the warm medicinal bath. SBI ATM is the only option to pull out money and its downtime is not predictable-so withdraw enough money when you see the ATM working. Deforestation for firewood and plastic littering are two major issues to be curbed in this Monpa village. Uttam was my best friend at Dirang who runs a stationery shop.

Dirang to Tawang:
I was seated in a Sumo by paying Rs 400 for a Tawang ticket and when I reached Se La Pass at 4176m where snow will appear first in early October, my dream of watching snow in India was fullfilled. A few switchbacks on this end of the world endless roads, there is a little shack to serve you tea near Jaswantgarh - a 1962 war memorial for three soldiers who combated bravely to protect their motherland. Lhou village, 18km before Tawang is very attractive according to the locals and you may detour if you are driving own vehicle.


3048m above MSL, accommodation at this jaw-droppingly scenic valley is expensive and the cozy Hotel Dungphoo( 03794-223765 d with pvt bathroom Rs 600) was my favorite. Getting across with the rest of the world is painful from the telephone booths, better inform your dear ones that you are in a paradise where ‘connecting people’ is far from a dream. Touristy destinations are Tawang Gompa- 2nd largerst Budhist monastery in the world, Gyangong Anigompa for Budhist nuns. I took a little more pain to wake up at 4am and caught up with Lobsang (9402650726/223277) who offered to take me around Tawang. We set out at 6am to see the early snowfall and spotted Yak(male), Dri(female), Dzo(crossed with domestic cattle). Lobsang was entertaining - stories varied from his 14yrs army life, family, legends about lakes and temples, Budhism and Dalai Lama. We covered Shungetser Tso(Madhuri Lake, named after the Bollywood flick Koyla), P.T Tso lake and many more lakes each of them was prettier with the bare black rocky mountains and the lakes border frozen subsoil supporting low-growing vegetation. Though restricted to civilians and foreigners strictly prohibited; Lobsang’s acquaintance with the military made our Tawang safari pleasing covering some of the highest motorable roads in India by his peppy Suzuki Alto. ‘Lhasa 508km’ was a tempting signboard but there is no overland route from India to China. I salute the army men who spend their best part of life in the bunkers with limited creature-comforts at sub-zero temperatures to protect Tawang - a roadblock in Indo-China reconciliation. Jai Hind!!

Post a sumptuous Naga lunch with rice and pork fat, I explored Urgelling Gompa, learning the basics of Yellow Hat branch of Tibetan Buddhism, Tawang Monastery meditatively watching the Buddhist nuns, War Memorial thanking the 2420 soldiers who gave away their life to a eventually unsuccessful war - the legends and history made me more knowledgeable and humble. The population at Tawang seems to be affluent and literate, fashion conscious youngsters riding pricey motorbikes and apple-cheeked school kids are omnipresent. Private transport are hatchbacks and mass transport is managed by a fleet of Tata Sumos-Land Rovers of India. For a 10hours Tawang Safari, I paid Rs 2500 to Lobsang; a token of appreciation of Rs 200 extra for the breathtaking places in the paradise unexplored and a good friend’s company. People are very friendly, I was running into the kitchen in the restaurants to warm up from the piercing cold, -5C temp in the night and shops/restaurants comes to a halt at 6pm. A sense of national identity is lucid and they proudly proclaims ‘our country’ and ‘our army’ during patriotic talks; contrary to the popular notion that this part of India is the ‘least Indian’.


Though I was planning to reach Tezpur from Tawang in one day, I had to break my journey at Bomdila, after I found that there is a Togyar festival at Bomdila monastery. Phurpa Tsering my friend from this trip hails from Tawang and looking forward to marry again which is common in  polygamous Monpa tribes. Tata Sumo, I had been travelling broke down due to leaky radiator and the driver kept trying his best by pouring turmeric powder to fill the hole in the radiator and frequent stops to fill water from the streams. I collapsed at Bomdila, Hotel La(03782-223344 s/d Rs 250/350) and the owner Tashi TSering and I were close friends after an hour of conversation.

Tashi woke me up next day morning and invited home to treat with special tea - butter, salt and local tea leaves. Tashi spoke faultless English, graduated from a college at Shillong and his grandfather was in Lhasa for higher education. He loves South Indians and been to Chennai and our conversation topics were religion, south Indian hospitals, languages in Arunachal. He has nice new rooms added to the hotel, built behind the old wooden building. I explored Bomdila on foot - APST bus station did not show a sign of life, the annual day celebration at the vast ground was spellbinding. Hiked up to the Bomdila monastery to watch the mesmerizing Togyar festival dance forms.  A clown tickled our funny bones and he did a good job of fund raiser. Wearing masks of skulls and various demons, the lamas performed cham to the accompaniment of traditional Tibetan instruments- used in Tibetan Buddhism to exorcise devils. A vegetarian nutritious lunch was provided free of cost to the audiences. I befriended with Samudra Vijaya from Mumbai and Kedar Mukherjee from Mumbai who were participants of National Trekking Program organised by Himalayan Holidays, and their experiences were enchanting.

Finally it was time to say audieu to Arunachal Pradesh- ‘The land of Dawn-lit Mountains’ home for 65 different tribal groups -Monpa, Adi and Apatani are a few of them. Declared as a fully fledged state in 1987, Arunchal has more than a dozen tribal languages and Hindi is widely spoken and used as a common language among locals. 7 hours of Sumo trip via the winding roads and I am back at sweaty Tezpur from freezing Bomdila and set to Jagiroad, Assam to celebrate Diwali with Sachin; I needed a vacation from my trip :-)


Life is  ONE, Make it LARGE !

Monday 22 November 2010

Kemmangundi - The picturesque hill station

Kemmangundi in the state of Karnataka, India, at a height of 1434m above sea level, is known for its valleys that plunge into deep lush bowls of tropical forest sprinkled by rains and waterfalls. This sprawling hill station was the summer house of King Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV and within Tarikere Taluk of Chikmaglur District. It is ideal place for trekkers, is about 250 km by road from Bangalore with impressive waterfalls, misty mountain peaks, natural streams, thick-pile carpeting of vegetation and a few insects -thirsty leeches and chirping crickets. Major attraction is Hebbe Falls: the descending narrow route of 8km will take us for views back up to the falls and cliffs, where water gushes down from a height of 168 meters in two stages to form Dodda Hebbe (Big Falls) and Chikka Hebbe (Small Falls).


Starting on a friday evening is ideal for Kemmangundi-Mulayangiri trip. We took NICE road from Bangalore city to reach Neelamangala and reached Chikmanagalur in 4 hours as there was no heavy traffic. Staying at Chikmangalur that night was more viable since driving to Kemmanagundi after dark hours is not advisable. there are a few lodges. Next day morning, drove towards Kemmangundi via Lingadahalli (45km) instead of taking the Mulayanagiri route. Locals will guide you to Mulayanagiri route, so ask for Lingadahalli on the way. Take a left turn just after an IBP petrol bunk on this road- last option to fill fuel tank.

Accommodation options are either at
Horticulture Guest house (if you are lucky to get a booking) or the bigger Raj Bhavan. You need to call at LalBagh, Bangalore (Tel: 
(080) 265719252657018126570824) to book your rooms. There are also limited home stay options. At the guest house, the once-pleasant rooms have some scuffing and bathrooms are stained. Bring your own bed linen or sleeping bag. Though tatty, these rooms are cheap and cost Rs 200 for a double room.There is a restaurant and it serves veg and non-veg food options but with a limited menu. The kitchen cooks up whatever it happens to have in stock. if you need more creature comforts there are a few home stays in and around Kemmangundi. We settled at Ozone Valley, a nice homestay which is on the way from Lingadahalli. This family-run homestay will stay and food at 1000/- per head. Negotiable during off-peak season, provides comfy sleeping options with clean attached bathrooms.

After rejuvenating at the water falls you can take a jeep back if you ran out of fuel, otherwise you can trek back. Jeep drivers charge you 400/- one way and it is a 4WD jeep track and the jeep will be tested its climbing skills at various point en-route. You may hit your bones against the metal inside the jeep. The walkaholics among us walked back and the exhausted took a jeep back. We had lunch at the guest house restaurant and they were ready to keep their 'CLOSED' board after 6 of us hogged most of the food available there. After resting for a while, we warmed up through the waving trees and mud roads to pit ourselves against Z-point. This is a must-visit place at Kemmanagundi - 2km from the Horticulture restaurant. Walking 30min through the winding route along the lip of the vast green mountain is the only way to reach here.

Raj Bhawan: RajBhawan is a better horticulture guest house - the best accommodation you can get at Kemmanagundi. This ideal honeymoon destination, offers a spectacular view of the surrounding hills. Sunset seen from this location is memorable. The Horticultural Department of the Kemmangundi maintains a beautiful rose garden here in Kemmangundi with a wide range of rose blooming in this garden. Raj Bhavan is at a further 15min drive from the guest house and the rooms are good value and nicer than the gloomy corridors and lobby suggest and this hard-to-beat option has helpful staff, zealous room service and superb food.

Mulayanagiri:Next day morning we started start to Mulayanagiri - this is a scenic drive but a tad dangerous due to the potholed roads . Bad tarmac and winding road- but the the view on your side is breathtaking. We took two hours to reach Mulayanagiri since we stopped often to enjoy the nature.The Mulayanagiri peak with a height of 1,930 metres (6,330 ft), it is the highest peak in Karnataka. Climbing endless steps was a test on our knees but the scenery is magnificent. After scaling this peak, it was time for lunch and we headed towards Chikmangalur town. Kemmangundi is amazing for its cool temperature and this was particularly realized when we reached sweaty Chikmangalur at 2pm.

What to carry: Some winter wear and trekking gear. A torch and umbrella will be handy and a pair of change clothes as the waterfalls are tempting.
Precautions: Salt, tobacco, Odomos etc for preventing leeches. Turmeric powder to stop bleeding and itching once you are bitten by a leech.

When to go: Any time when you feel you are stressed and need some cool and fresh air. Oct to Feb will be relatively colder. The maximum and minimum temperature range varies from 18 to 28°C

How to reach: There are two routes from Bangalore: Bangalore –Nelamangala – Kunigal- Hassan –Belur –Chikmagalur –Lingadahalli –Kemmangundi (Reccommended) Bangalore –Neelamangala- Tumkur-Karur-Kemmangundi. Either way it takes almost the same time. Hassan route - roads are good in surface and traffic is more whereas Karur-Tumkur road surface is bad but traffic is less.
By Bus: You will get KSRTC bus from Bangalore to Hassan and Chikmangalur, from there you have to take another bus to Kemmangundi. Owned/rented vehicle is more convenient as the public transport is not very frequent from Chikmangalur.

Friday 22 October 2010

Kudremukh-Samse: from the horse face

It is Deepavali again...another week in the year for asthmatic and high decibel crackers. Let's escape from the city - that was our initial trigger for going to Kudremukha for the long weekend of Deepavali but we did not want it cost an arm and a leg. Though we planned to leave by 4pm from corporate habitats in Whitefield, it was 7pm when we hit NICE road at Bannerghatta road - thanks to job pressure, late school bus and the notorious traffic snarls. We could not cover much distance on Friday and decided to halt at Channarayanpatna (aka CR Patna) on Friday night after covering 165km. After a refreshing breakfast breakfast at Kamat, CR Patna, the route we followed to Kudremukha is CR Patna(165km)- Haasan(195km)-Belur(230km)-Kottigehara(290km)-Kalasa(330km)-Kudremukha(350km). The road surface from Belur to Kalasa is not so great except a short patch. This would take more than 3 hours if you go non-stop. But you would stop at many places to enjoy the scenic, breathtaking western ghats especially after Kogur Tea/Coffee estate. Stopping at Kogur Tea Estate near the bridge to enjoy a piping hot cuppa is a good idea. En route, I had to listen to many cock and bull stories by Ancy - some of them I have heard many times in the past. We stopped on the way to check out the corn farming areas.

Quick facts:

Location: Mangalore is 128km from Kalasa and Udupi is 107km. 90km from Chikmangalur, Kalasa is 330km from Bangalore and Kudremukha is 20km from Kalasa. You can head to Sringeri or Karkala through this route.

When to visit: October to March is the best time. During monsoon, life comes to a stop at Kudremukha.

Where to stay: Upasana home stay, Silent Valley Resort, Nammane home stay. Cheaper options are some lodges at Kalasa or Bhavathi Nature Camp (dormitory) -single room for Rs100 and a double room for Rs 260.

What to carry: Some winter wear and trekking gear. A torch and umbrella will be handy. Be always ready to jump into water and so change clothes. Waterfalls are tempting.

Precautions: Salt, tobaco, Odomos etc for preventing leeches. Turmeric powder or oil to stop bleeding and itching once you are bitten by a leech.


Our destination at the sleepy town Kalasa near Kudremukha National Park is called Upasana - a homestay run by Leena/Sukumar/Abhinandan. A great place to stay and relax at the foothills. To reach this beautifully maintained home stay you need to turn left at Samse Junction to Mavine Kombe. Click here to see the route map and other details. Don't try to find out this place after 8pm in the night. In case you need to ask someone, ask for Sukumar Shetty's house - Upasana is not a well known name here. There is a swimming pool, a good collection of books etc in case you don't want to go around instead just stay at Upasana. They can accommodate 30 quite comfortably at this house consisting of 14 rooms. The tariff is Rs 1000/- per head per day including food. Food and stay is free for kids. They provide very good rooms and excellent vegetarian food. Alcohol cosumption and non-veg food is not entertained at its premises. We were welcomed by Leena and we had the liberty to choose any rooms of our choice. We picked 3 west facing rooms at the front of the house and got ready to raid the dining room for lunch. We were welcomed by sumptuous malnad style meals.

Didupe Falls

After our meals, we headed towards a nearby waterfall called Didupe. We walked for 15min to reach there enjoying the flaura and fauna. As described by one of us, it was a private waterfall with total privacy. Kids were having a ball of a time playing in water while Oswin and I were busy shooting pictures of the waterfall. As usual I was a victim of leech bites - 3 of them attacked me this time. We returned late in the evening back to Upasana. It was a good cardiovascular excercise. We enjoyed the coffee and later dinner with Leena/Sukumar/Abhinandan at Upasana.

Early Birds

Next day morning, Oswin and I woke up at 5:30am and got ready for a short drive into Kudremukha NP for early morning misty scenic views. When you enter the park, you need to collect a pass and later you need another pass with timestamp from the forest office if you are coming back to this gate. You should not be staying more than 1 and half hours inside the national park. We drove upto Lakya Dam and clicked a few pictures and the drive was really nice. We found a mallu tea shop next the hanging bridge on this route. I have heard the joke that a mallu tea shop was there on the moon when Armstrong landed their first time. Tony - the dog at this tea shop was so cute and he wanted a hug and pat from us. I thought he was speaking in Malayalam by moaning and barking. Tony almost french kissed Oswin!


8am - we were back at Upasana for breakfast. Out of the different local attractions - Hanumangundi, Gangadikal, Ambatheertha, Sirumane waterfalls, Bangarabalike, Vadamane, Ballarayanadurga, Gangamoola- we chose to go to Hanumangundi waterfalls. On the way we stopped at many exotic places and enjoyed watching the nature closely. We went down all the way to the waterfalls and I could not resist. I jumped into water and started swimming to the gush of white, foamy water falling from almost 20ft height.The kids enjoyed playing in the water. Climbing back those 200 odd steps was not an easy task. On our way back, we saw the erstwhile KIOCL which stopped in Dec 2005. Around 2pm we got back to Upasana for lunch. Though tired, we were looking for more activities in the afternoon. While some of us were enjoying in the swimming pool, I had a nap to rejuvenate. Next agenda was to walk up the tea plantations; but we could not reach the peak since it was getting darker and colder after 6pm. We returned after walking up a little distance and started back - it was just a drop in the bucket. I enjoyed a solo walk in the pitch dark pathway checking out the firefly look-alike worms' occasional lighting- my solar torch was not far from reach. Then we headed to the sleepy town of Kalasa - to experience the local culture and delicacies. At Kalasa, we did some shopping to boost he local economy - bangle shop, local restaurant, the old style textile shop, STD booth etc. Thanks to my cast iron stomach - I enjoyed a malnad style Onion Dosa with Chutney and Podi.

Tea Plantations

Next day morning, all of us were ready at 6am to trek through the tea plantations. We walked slowly enjoying the lofty mountain and the mist soaked walkways amidst the lush green tea estates and natural streams sans discussions about the white balance or aperture. It was a slow trek enjoying every bit of it - nature at its best, many wild and domestic creatures - grass hoper, centipede, rooster, dogs, buffalos, cows. Finally we reached a place close to the peak. I found a nice platform to sleep in the sun soaked but cool floor. Others walked another 1km before returning. The tea estate manager came through the route to check who we were and why one guy is sleeping on the floor with a camera and a book on his lap ! Tea Estate employees had started their work while we came down through the plantations. After breakfast, it was time to pack our bags and return to Bangalore's hustle and bustle. We bid adieu to Upasana and on our way to Belur- Haasan - Kunigal- Neelamanagala- NICE Road- Bangalore. We were back in 7hours - thanks to our precarious drive through ghats and the 2 lane roads and a top speed of 145km/hr. We had a great weekend trip to Kudremukha. Need to return again to scale some of the peaks - Ballarayanadurga and Kudremukha peak sometime next year.