Wednesday 16 November 2016

Kumara Parvata - trekkers' ecstasy


Kumaraparvata fondly known by the acronym KP among the trekkers, is a strenuous trek in South India.  There are two trails to reach the peak, one starting from Kukke and the other from Somwarpert in Coorg. The peak is at 1712m. The trail from Somwarpet is not so difficult as the base is already at 1100mts and we cover a mere 600m altitude in 7km. Kukke on the other hand is at 125m, requiring us to cover 1500m in 15km. The region falls under Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary.


We joined the BMC India group to do the trek. Trekking began at a narrow trail near Kukke Subramanya Temple at 8am after a nourishing breakfast. The first stretch was 7 km which we could cover in two hours and reached the famous Bhattara Mane at Girigadde by 10a.m. This stretch goes through dense forest, hence most of the trail is covered. It was disappointing to see plastic littered all around, spoiling the serenity of the jungle. The climb is steep and the added weight of tent and sleeping bags made it a bit more strenuous. One can't miss the Bhimana Bande (Bhima's rock) on this route, a favourite for group photo. 

Image courtesy:


Bhattara Mane is a time warped house of Narayana Bhatt. Built in typical Malanadu style, this house can accommodate any number of people with lots of food and hospitality. Like in any Malanadu region, there is literally 24hrs running water - cool and tasty. There are 4 restrooms to complete your abulitions. Typically they will dish up meals for 200+ trekkers on the weekend. Upma for breakfast and wholesome rice sambar pickle, with lots of buttermilk to wash it down, for lunch. It is a great place to feel nostalgic about childhood, if you grew up in rural village with cows and dogs running around and unpretentious people . The tea here reminded me of my ancestral home adding to the feeling at home. Remember, they carry all the supplies walking up the trail. We relished the meals with lots of respect thanking their hard work. 

(C) Vimal Samuel

Following an early lunch at 11a.m. few of us went ahead to unload the weight of sleeping-gear at our campsite near Forest Office, 5min walk from BhattaraMane. Keeping our bags as light as possible we commenced at 11.45am on the trail towards Shesha Parvata, the peak before Kumara Parvata. After a short ascent we came across a resting place with benches - this could be a brief stop to catch your breath. Next milestone is the stunning Kallu Mantapa. View from here is breathtaking. Just before reaching Kallu Mantapa there is a stream -a good refuelling stop. This trail between Kallu Mantapa and Shesha Parvata is the toughest with steep climbs and loose rocks. The view from Shesha Parvata is dazzling, if the sky is clear. Part of the trail from Somwarpet is visible from here.

A thick forest separates the two trails. The walk through this forest  gave us respite from the sun . A small stretch in this trail excited me a lot taking back to rock climbing classes, desiring for more of it. It was a huge rock we trudged on the extreme end pushing ourselves up with whatever we could get as support. It was very short but fun. It didn’t take much time to reach the peak from this point and we made it by 2.45 pm.


The cut off time to start our descent was 3.30p.m, as the clouds start covering up and gets darker, making it tricky to cross the forest.  We started to descend by 3.15pm, as the leaders were with the rest who were just reaching the peak. Keeping up with the tradition of getting lost we deviated the wrong way. After descending quite a distance we realized that we were on wrong trail. Shesha Parvata was on the opposite side so we had to wade through the enthralling jungle to get on the other side. There was no clear trail through this really thick forest, but what seemed to be an elephant trail with some dung (not fresh though). We decided to head back as the time was short. When we came out of the forest it surprised me to see some people. Talking to them we understood it was the Somwarpet trail. Pushing our limits and performance to the maximum, we reached the fork just in time to join the rest descending from the peak. The whole adventure took 45 minutes with minor ascends and descends.



 Descending to our campsite from the peak took two hours.  The trail seemed more pleasing with the sun turning orange and hiding behind the clouds intermittently. Watching the moon rise between the mountains was eye-catching.  Full moon was just 2 days away thus making it bright enough for us to get back to campsite, though we had to switch on our flashlights at some points.  Pitching our own tent gave a gratifying feeling. Wolfing  down a sumptuous meal we crashed into the sleeping bags and the next thing we knew it was morning with the birds chirping - and lot of people chit chatting and planning their day. It was surprising to see around 150 enthusiastic trekkers in one place. 


A healthy breakfast from Bhattara Mane and we started our descent towards Kukke. A little after reaching  the base, we drank tender coconut which gave us the much needed electrolytes. We were reminded of our trek to Sohkhmi (in Sohra) - though Kumara Parvata is not as strenuous as that - which had really tested our endurance. KP trek requires good endurance, it is like running a marathon, you need to keep going at a slow pace without stopping. This was a well deserved welcome back trek for us - three years since we did serious trekking. Now we are not able to rest our feet on ground and are already planning for the next trek!

How to reach: If you are driving from Bangalore, you can reach Kukke in the afternoon, post-lunch climb until Bhattara Mane and stay overnight. Start climbing at sunrise and reach the peak and descend which gives you lot of extra time.

KSRTC runs AC and Non AC buses to Kukke (Rs 600, Rs 300 respectively)

Where to Stay: There are many lodges around the temple in a wide range of prices, to stay at Kukke. Call up BhattaraMane if you need meals/stay. Carrying own tents is highly recommended. Mr Bhatt's contact number is +91-9448647947.

Forest Permission fee: Rs 200 per head, none is going to accompany you on the trail.

If you don't want to bother about these things, just join BMC on their well-planned trek by paying Rs 2700 per head.

Image courtesy:

Day 1: Bangalore to Kukke overnight bus trip

Day 2: 6am : reach Kukke
8am to 10am:  reach Bhattara Mane and have lunch.
12noon - start from Forest Office and reach the peak by 3pm
3:30pm - ascend and reach Forest Office by 6pm to pitch the tent.

Day 3: After breakfast start at 8:30a.m and reach Kukke at 10a.m.
Leave Kukke by 12noon to reach Bangalore by 9pm. 

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Banasura Hills and Thirunelly - serenity meets divinity

"It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves" - Edmund Hillary
Hoping to conquer ourselves after a gap of three years , we set out to Wayanad. This time we had a joyous company of Gokul. Pakshipatalam was the destination but the trek is cancelled indefinitely (Contact Begur Forest Office at Mananthavady for more details). Hence we decided to trek the Banasura hill. Thirunelly temple was another place of interest for us.  

Ancient Thirunelly Temple is around 30km from Mananthavady (Rs 27, 1hr). This temple is inside the Tholpetty forest range. A short walk from the temple premises will take you to Papanasini river. Panchatheertham Tourist Home will offer basic rooms for Rs 300 (Tel: 04935 210201/ 04935-210055). There are many other options around - Ambika Tourist Home (Tel: 9747 916355/9495280427). Brahmagiri trek also starts from Thirunelly.  Check the status with Forest Office in advance as there is news that trekking is cancelled due to wildlife.

While waiting for Gokul, we enjoyed testing our glucose and cholesterol at the bus stand - a small kiosk run by the Govt of Kerala to monitor the health of God's Own People.

As we didn’t get a direct bus to the temple, we boarded the one towards Kutta and got down at the junction where the road deviates to Thirunelly temple . Crunchy and juicy Kuttettan's Unniappam welcomed us and kept us occupied until we got bus to the temple. There was a long queue of people near the temple waiting to meet a herbal medicine practitioner. We walked barefoot around the ancient temple taking-in the divine atmosphere and then walked to Papanasini. This temple is not so commercialized and still offers a serene atmosphere.  Gokul forgot his kaalankuda (single fold crook-handle umbrella) at many locations which gave us ample time for photos.

Evening was free and after a not so nice experience of watching movie in Wayanad, I was hesitant to give it a third try. Convincing me took a while and we opted to watch Pulimurugan (Malayalam movie starring Mohan Lal).  It was an entertaining movie but it was the experience which was incredible.  Starting from waiting in the ladies queue for the tickets - which is possible only in Kerala I am sure - to the non stop whistling ( by me of course ) during the movie, I was totally immersed in the world of cinema.  

Banasura hills are around the Bansasura Sagar Dam - constructed in 1979 across a tributary of Kabini river. Known as the largest earth dam in India, this dam recently made news as the first Solar project atop a hydel dam.  Legend says that the Asura king - Banasura, (the son of King Mahabali)undertook a severe penance on the top of these hills and thus it was named after him.

There are many hills around which are worth hiking up for a bird's eye view of the dam and the green mountains soaked in the morning mist. Easiest is to hike to Kattukunnu which would not take more than 90min of ascent. Another trail of 3hrs hike will take you to an altitude of 6800ft if you are blessed by good weather and wild animals - elephants, wild boars and gaurs (Bos gaurus) roam around in this area.

You can reach Kappikkalam to obtain your permits and start your trek. Padinjarethara is the nearest town and Kappikkalam is easily accessible by an auto-rickshaw (Rs 50) You can take a KSRTC bus starting at 7 a.m. from Mananthavady which loops  Mananthavady- Padinjarethara-Banasura-Panthipoyil-Vellamunda-Tharuvana-Mananthavady.

Trekking fee needs to be paid at Vana Samrakshana Samithi office of Varampetta, near Kappikkalam - depending on the duration of the treks starting at Rs 750 for 3hrs for a group of five and the guide's charge is extra. At 8.30 a.m, we started walking at a good pace and reached the peak by 9:45am, despite Gokul's selfie-stops with his new Decathlon shoes. Watch out for leeches in the first phase going through a dense forest with many damp areas. At the peak, while we were soaking in the greenery around, we chatted about early migration to Malabar, global warming, real estate and education. After having packed breakfast (puttu/kadala)  we returned to the VSS office by 11:30am. 

On our way back we made a stop at the Meenmutty Waterfalls and the swim in the pool was revitalizing. This is not the big Meenmutty falls, but a smaller one near Banasura Dam.

We walked back to Kappikkalam bus-stop but there was no bus showing up for a while. We got a free ride by a truck (TATA 1016) and the driver was happy to take us until Padinjarethara.  After a quick lunch, we visited Gokul's friend's family at Tharuvana. While relishing a delicious snack called Pathal and black coffee, 82year old grandmother fondly called Achamma (father's mother) had many stories to share about her childhood which gave us a glimpse of past lifestyle and education at Malabar. She never went to school but she was taught by a visiting teacher to read/write/arithmetic writing on palm leaf using 'naarayam' (stylus). Achamma was the first native person we met in Malabar; where most of the locals are second generation migrants from Kottayam.

We walked back to the CITY through the fields and enjoying the evening sun. Later in the evening we returned to Mananthavady riding another KSRTC bus for a good night's sleep and Gokul returned to Vadakara for his journey to Alleppey.  Next morning, we returned bus-hoping to Bangalore via  Kutta-Ponnampet-Gonikoppal-Hunsur-Mysore. Stopping at Kuttettan's was highly tempting!

How to reach:  An overnight KSRTC bus from Bangalore to Mananthavady costs Rs 390 (Non AC- Rajahamsa Executive) If you have lot of time, you could take a bus from Mysore via HD Kote-Bavali during the day. Better roads to drive is via Mysore-Hunsur-Gonikoppal-Ponnampet- Kutta-Tholpetty.

Where to stay: Kabani Tourist Home at VC Road Mananthavady (Rs 400 dbl) is easily accessible and one of the cheapies. Hot water and clean toilets, but carry some extra bedsheet.

Where to eat: A small but clean restaurant by the name Kabini is hidden next to Parayil Tourist Home very close to Kabini Tourist Home dishes up usual Kerala delicacies cooked using firewood. Puttu/Kadala/Egg Roast Rs 40. Vegetarian Meals Rs 35.

Going Around: Plenty of KSRTC and private buses from Mananthavady bus station to any direction in Wayanad. There is a direct day bus at 10:30am to Bangalore - a favorite of the students.

Tuesday 16 August 2016

Hampi - the bouldering capital

Travelling - it leaves you speechless and then turns you into a story teller. - Ibn Battuta.

The quote holds good for me, and this could be one reason why it's easy to strike conversation with anyone at any given point of time.  Having travelled for an year across India and then retiring to the normal job didn't seem so strange at the beginning. After a while when the real self awakens - especially after the long hours of zazen (the zen meditation practice)  - the travel itch started appearing time and again. We did manage to travel a bit in between, but there hasn't been any post in the recent times.

As the quote from Walt Whitman goes - " Not I nor anyone else can travel the road for you. You must travel it for yourself". Pondering on this thought, and deciding not to postpone my desired trip to Hampi any longer, made up my mind to travel solo. Travel solo, but not alone - reflecting on these words I signed up with a group - Get Beyond Limits - for a  two day "Hampi Bouldering and Heritage Trek". Though a bit apprehensive at the beginning  it didn't take long to be optimistic about meeting interesting people and making new friends! During the fun filled bus journey from Bangalore to Hampi , with the positive  vibe and  seasoned travellers, the journey seemed short and new friends were already added on my list.

It was a two day expedition, and the most fascinating part was the bouldering session.  Bouldering session with Tom and Jerry Climbing was priceless,  my rock climbing experience did help me but this is more raw - you don’t have harness on you - and it's only the rock and you. Being a little discomposed, climbing at the first attempt was not easy. Thud! On the crash pad !! It took some time to give it a second attempt which was better, thanks to the reassurance from the crowd and the trainer who kept suggesting the alternate ways to help me get to the top.  Though it was just a rock, the feeling  was that of conquering a hill -  in fact the fear of not being able to climb the rock was conquered .  We further tried our skill of bouldering on other rocks. 

There aren't many restaurants in Hampi that serve local food. Most of them cater to the taste buds of Europeans and Americans. Mango Tree Restaurant serves delicious food, close to Virupaksha Temple. With adequate time to explore the heritage side of Hampi, we started walking without wasting much time. A place so terrific in ruins must have been enchanting in its prime. The visit to Sanapur lake was the prized moment in the whole trip , the reservoir was full and the wind blowing made us drench in the water. This was unexpected and made the surprise invaluable.  Leaving  the lake and reservoir adventure behind us, we climbed on a hill to watch sunset. Exploring further, a beautiful cave  was found- I am indebted to Jatin for showing me to the cave - from where the view of sunset was par spectacular.  The sumptuous dinner from Laughing Buddha was appetizing  and a good way to end the eventful day.

Next morning waking up at 4a.m. saddling on our hired mopeds, we set out to Anjaneya hill to catch a glimpse of sunrise. It was fun riding the TVS XL  Heavy Duty on the empty roads and 18 of us riding together was amazing.  Next destination - Vittala Temple  -was made a tad more interesting by doing a quick hike around the small hills to reach the temple instead of going on the road by the electric vehicles. I would like to thank Shaswath for being such a good company in crazy things we did in the trip and for sharing the moped. We then went on to the waterfalls where few of them tried their diving skills and enjoyed swimming. Here I took sometime to be with myself and sat next to a small waterfall close by. The sound of the flowing water took me back in time when Romin and I sat by a waterfall in Kemmanagundi on one of our first treks together.

Locals are very happy when we talk to them in Kannada and are generally  helpful . We stayed in The Gopi Island Guest House, at Virupapuragaddi . Sharing room with Neha was like sharing it with a friend I knew for long time - Thanks Neha for making it so easy and simple. It's always better to be a little cautious, as we ran in to a small trouble in terms of  money with one of the boatmen. It has been a very different experience travelling solo -here a quote from  Jacqueline Boone " Travelling solo doesn't mean you are alone, sometimes you meet marvellous people along the way and make connections that last for a lifetime". Indeed I made many friends and have added many good memories.I feel more confident to travel solo again… Don't worry, Be Hampi !!!