Wild Wonderful Karnataka

Due North...   
By Hemant Murthy

  To start of, let me tell you our actual plans before I go ahead and describe what exactly happened. We were to trek from the village of Bandaje to Arrabbi Bandaje waterfalls, and then from there trek to the fort of Ballarayanna Durga and go ahead to Samshe via the villages of Maidaadi and Elniru. All this was to be done in three days, starting from the 2nd of October to the 4th of October. But destiny had other plans for us, and that is what I describe below.

What a bus!
  After a lot of last minute additions, drop outs, planning, and booking, we finally ended up with a group of nine people - Hemant (Hamy), Animesh (Himalaya Putra, Shambu), Prashanth, Kiran (Pinky), Gerry (the only girl in the group), Gaurav (Sher), Kapil, Mahesh and Suhas. Due to Animesh's heroic efforts, we got 9 tickets to Dharmasthala through "Genral Travels". The bus turned out to be a last-minute special bus, which was special in the sense that it was probably taken out from the junk yard to accommodate for the extra rush that day (long weekend, you see). Anyway, after a rather rough ride of 7 hours, we reached the temple town of Dharmasthala at about 7 AM.

Day 1
Reaching Bandaje.
  After getting our luggage (comprising of 9 rucksacks, 8 sleeping bags, 7 sleepmats, 3 tents, lots of food, lots of water and lots of chocolates) out of the bus at the bus stop, we asked around for means to get to Mundaje, which was one of the starting points for our trek. But we were told there was no direct bus to this place, and instead, we were asked to catch a local bus to the town of Ujjire. We did just that, being lucky to get such a bus within 10 minutes, and on reaching Ujjire, we caught two jeeps to transport us and our baggage to Bandaje (we decided against starting the trek from Mundaje, since we were a little short of time). We reached Bandaje, a small village of about 10 houses, at about 9:00. After washing up a Gouda's place and having a quick breakfast of chappatis, jam and chutney pudi, we started off towards the waterfalls at about 10. Or so we thought...

Due North
  According to the locals, we were one of the first groups to attempt climbing to the falls after this monsoon. They told us the route would not be very straightforward since the path would be covered with growth. We passed a few houses and after asking a local woman for directions, we started walking through the forest and up a ridge. We realized only later that we were headed the wrong way, Northwards!

  The actual path was supposed to head Eastwards (which we did not know), but we headed northwards. There was no path at all, and we started hacking our way through the forest. The ascent became steeper and steeper and it was only after climbing for about 2 hours that we realized we were actually headed the wrong way. At that point we did a quick check on the map and we managed to locate where we were. We had an option of heading back, but the slope we had climbed up was too slippery, due to the recent rains, or was made of loose pebbles, making it hard to get a grip on the ground. We decided to continue the climb northwards and reach the edge of the cliff and then try a way to head upwards from that point.

  The progress was very slow, because of the dense forest we were walking through and because of the slippery ground. At one point of time, we realized we were headed towards the left of the cliff, meaning that we would have reached to the base of the cliff instead of the top. At that point we turned eastwards and after negotiating our way around the base of the cliff, we were back on track on the correct side of the ridge. This part was very tricky because of the slope of around 50 degrees, which was made of loose pebbles and rocks. After this, we again headed northwards.

../images/dreams/hemant_bandaje/img1.jpg   The climb was getting more and more difficult. We had to reach the grasslands at the top of the ridge as soon as possible. The forest was much denser, and ground had become muddier. At one point we say signs of elephant activity - Huge piles of dung and big foot prints, and a path going upwards that was certainly created by a pachyderm, judging from the broken trees and bushes. We decide to follow this path. We slowly made out way to the top and at about 3:00 PM, the forests opened out into the open grasslands.

  What we saw ahead made our hearts sink a little. We had reached the edge of a cliff. And from where we stood, it seemed like the cliff was not so easily scalable. We walked a little ahead along the base of the cliff eastwards, but progress was slow because of the slippery rocks and the almost shoulder high grass that cut our hands and feet. We decided to head back to the open area at the base of the cliff and camp there for the night, since it was getting too late.

Camping for Night 1.
  While the others setup the tents, Kapil, Prashant, Animesh and I took turns to fill up the water bottles at a small waterfall nearby. We all got wet completely in the attempt from the spray of the fall. By the time we got back, the tents had been put up. There were two big tents and one small one. We put our entire luggage into the small tent, while we slept in the other two. For dinner, we made Wai Wai noodles and some chappatis (Earlier in the day, we had had a lunch of biscuits and some chappatis and apples).

  The view from our camping spot was spectacular. Once the clouds cleared up, we could see a cliff running eastwards, to the north and very close to the camp. We speculated a lot as to whether we would be able to scale the same to reach the grasslands at the top. To the west, we could see the Kudremukh range while to the south-west, we could see the fort of Jamalabad. To the East, we could see the waterfall and a number of other hills. Towards the south-east, we could see the route from Mundaje to the waterfalls. The view in the early hours of morning was also very impressive. The clouds had settled down in the valley and looked like a lake of white.

  We were all off to sleep early, because we knew we had a long way to go the next day. Gaurav kept the lions away with his snores ;)

Day 2
Walk along the cliffs

  We all woke up before 6 AM. No scope for brushing our teeth, because of lack of water, so we started packing up. We made some nice tea and had biscuits and chappatis for breakfast. At this time, Kapil and I thought of checking out the cliff and seeing if it was really scalable. The cliff looks illusively simple to climb, but it is nowhere near that. It took us almost half an hour to climb, and our hands and feet were badly cut by the shoulder high grass. Kapil went ahead and came down with the news that scaling the cliff face would be very very risky, if not impossible. So we abandoned the idea and decided to walk eastwards, along the cliffs, towards the falls. There was a gap in the cliff shown on the map and we thought we would be able to climb to the top at that spot.

  Walking along the cliffs in that forest was not at all easy. We had to find alternate routes very often, because the forest was too thick or because we reached another big boulder, a cliff or sudden drop. Kiran hacked a way for us, while we kept an approximately eastward bearing. The forest was thick and our progress was very slow. We were covering a distance of less than a kilometer in one hour. On the way, we passed a couple of small waterfalls, where we stopped for rest, biscuits and to fill up our bottles. The air felt more and more humid and hot as we reached noon. At about noon, we reached the break in the cliff.

  Here, we found a slope through the forest that went upwards towards the top of the cliffs. This seemed to be a difficult, but manageable climb, and we started off on all fours. At about 1 PM, we reached the base of another cliff. We continued around the cliff, and eventually got to the place between the two cliffs that we had seen on the map. It was a beautiful place. The path we took looked like a tunnel, with one of the cliff's overhang forming a ceiling above us. But we were in for another shock. The slope leading to the top of the cliff was broken by another waterfall. The wide gap and fast flowing water made it impossible for us to cross the chasm without great risk. We did not have a rope with us, but even with a rope, this crossing was difficult.

Climbing the ridge
  After this second disappointment, we had no other option but to backtrack and find another way to reach the waterfalls. We now realized that we were running out of time, and we had to find a decent camping spot. The forest was hardly an option, because of the presence of wild animals, and also because it was too dense to even walk through, let alone pitch a tent.

  We quickly came up with a plan of descending into the valley through the forest, crossing the Bandaje river and trying to climb up the top of the ridge that led to the falls (the ridge that we missed on day 1). We then thought we could climb along the ridge to the falls in time, or atleast find an open spot to climb (since most of that ridge is grasslands).

  We started our difficult descent into the valley, again cutting through the forest and slipping and sliding on the muddy slopes, and by 2:30 PM, we reached Bandaje river. It was a delightful sight, the river flowing fast over rocks and boulders, most of them covered with green moss. We were totally surrounded by forests, and at this spot we could almost see the waterfalls. We were very close to the base of the falls. Here we had some more grub, and then started the most difficult climb of our three-day adventure.

  We were on the west of the ridge and we had to reach the top. We decided to go for it the hard way - a direct climb along the side of the ridge. The slope was about 45 to 50 degrees, and was extremely muddy and slippery. And the entire slope was covered with the same dense forest. This time, Suhas led the way with the knife to hack out a way for us. The climb was slow, and with ever three steps forward, we almost slipped back one step. This was the second time we were climbing almost the entire height of the ridge, and we were exhausted. By 4:00 PM, we reached another obstacle - Another cliff!

Camping near the falls
  At this point we knew we were in serious trouble. We had only about 2 and a half hours of daylight left, and we were not sure if we would be able to make it to the top. Going down was hardly an option, and we started making out way around the cliff. We first headed away from the falls (southwards). After about half an hour, we found a way around the cliff that climbed over it and led towards the falls (Northwards). But progress on this path was extremely slow. Kiran had taken over the lead again, and he hacked out a path through the thick growth. This path was along the side of a cliff face, whose slope exceeded 70 degrees, and was sometimes only wide enough to allow a person to climb sideways. The slope of the path itself was steep enough to force us to climb on all fours. Every step was calculated, and we were moving at a snail pace of about 4 or 5 steps a minute. By this time, even the weather turned against us and it became cloudy, hampering our visibility. We could hardly see what was beyond 10 meters of us. We knew we had reached very close to the falls since we could hear its roar. But we could not see it.

../images/dreams/hemant_bandaje/img3.jpg   Very soon, we ran out of time. It was 6:30. We were no where near flat ground. We had reached the only open place in the climb - Between a boulder that overhung the cliff side and the cliff wall itself, there was a slightly open area of about 2 meters by 2 meters. It sloped a little bit, and on one side we had the cliff wall, on another the boulder, on the third side, we had a couple of trees and on the fourth side we had the path that led to falls. We decided that we would all stay in this place for the night. We were sure that we would find a way to the top the following day, and we were also sure we would never be able to descend the way we came up. And that was the only way up to the spot we had reached!

  We placed our bags around the spot and the nine of us somehow managed to huddle into this small place. We had to make sure that none of the bags fell out, since we were overlooking the cliff side. We also had to make sure we ourselves did not fall out, especially those sitting on the edge. It began to rain, so we took out the outer rain cover of one of the tents and draped it over us, tying the ends to the trees that surrounded us. When this was not sufficient, we took out the second tent's cover too, and draped that over the entire group. We had covered the ground with sleep mats, and that helped a lot. While Prashanth and I leaned against the two small trees for support, hoping they would not give way, Animesh was sitting dangerously close to the cliff side, while Kiran and Suhas with their backs against the cliff wall. The rest huddle in between us. With feet and hands entangled, it became very difficult for any of us to move without disturbing the others position. In all this mess, we managed to make a meal of biscuits and some pre-cooked noodles.

  The rains continued to lash the area, and our feet (especially those of the ones on the edge) were soaked, along with our shoes, socks, bags, etc. It felt rather miserable out there, but being with the rest of the group made each of us feel much better and safer. We never bothered much about what insects were around (there were many, and since we were close to the falls, there were would have been some crabs too). None of us really got much sleep, so we spent time singing and cracking jokes. All this helped keeping our mind off the daunting task of spending 11 hours in that position.

  By 10 PM, the rains stopped and clouds cleared out. The dim light from the half moon covered the entire area. We could see in the valley below, far off, the lights in the villages. But what surprised us the most was what we saw when we looked towards the falls. We were actually sitting about 60-70 meters from the falls. And we were near the middle of it! We were neither at the base of the falls, not were we at the top. We were in the middle. We could also see that there was no way we could climb ahead, as a steep wall of rock separated the top from where we sat. We had to head back. We had to head back the same way we thought was impossible to descend. We also realized that we did not have the time to make it to the falls and also make it back to Bangalore on time. We had to abandon the plans of reaching the falls altogether, and find our way back to the village of Bandaje. At this point, we realized we had mobile connectivity, and that was reassuring (we could at some time call in for help, right? :)

  This had been the most exciting day of the trek. Starting from trying to reach the waterfall on time, hacking through forests and climbing steep and slippery slope, we had ended up in the middle of nowhere, with the realization that we had to now find our way back to the village. We were so close to the falls, and yet so far. In the end, we all managed about 2-3 hours of broken sleep, and after what seemed like an eternity, it was sunrise.

Day 3
The impossible descent
   Morning welcomed us with more rains. But this bad weather did not last for long and very soon we had sunshine. By 8:00 AM, we were on our way down, after a breakfast of biscuits (surprising, how survived so much on biscuits). Just before this, Kiran tried to find some way of getting to the top, but gave up. It was not possible to climb the wall safely. And we had a vertical height of more than 80 meters to climb.

  The descent was, as we guessed, easier said than done. Loose rocks and muddy soil made it extremely difficult to come down and many times we had to rely on trees for support (which many times also gave way due to the weight, since they were all decayed). Our plan was now to head back down into the valley and cross the river, and then follow its course to the village. After about 2 hours, we reached the end of the cliff and started descending into the valley. The usual slip and slide and rock and roll continued, not to mention crossing more insect (Especially leech) infested areas. By 11:00 heard the roar of the river nearby and followed the sound to reach the banks of the same. And this time, luck was on our side.

Bathing in Bandaje Hole (River)

  We had reached a spot that was excellent for bathing. It was perfect in every way. We had the river water flowing fast over rocks that we could sit on while the water flowed over our bodies. We did not hesitate one bit to strip to our undies and enjoy the pleasures of a long-required bath (we were, by then, coated with mud). We spent a good half an hour in the water, almost forgetting that we had to reach the village soon. After the bath, we felt disgusted, when we realized we had to get into the same dirty shoes and find our way back. At 12, we left the place and headed towards the village.

Walk along the river
  We knew more or less where we were, and from the map (which was almost destroyed by the rains and the fact that someone set on the map case in our congested camping spot the previous night) we knew we had to walk as close as possible, along the river in a southwesterly direction. This was not easy, considering we had entered, what was probably the most dense part of the forest. Many a times, we realized we were walking away from the sound of the river and turned left to reach the river again. Keeping the course along the river was not easy, since our path was obstructed by thick growth, boulders and trees. We had a brief stop for lunch of Pongal and Bisibele bhat when we reached the river for the third time. Throughout the walk in the forest, we saw signs of wild life - Elephant tracks, pug marks of some big cat (rather fresh), a couple of diamond back vipers, crabs, scorpions, etc. By 3:00 PM, we were all worried that we may end up spending another night, this time in the forest. And that's when our luck changed for good.

The path to Bandaje
  We reached a clearing in the forest. And there we saw a pit. This was no natural pit, it was man-made, judging from the stones place around it. It meant we were somewhere close to civilization. We continued ahead and saw a tree with a small board shaped like an arrow pointing towards the river. There was nothing written on it, but when we looked around the area, we realized we were standing on a path. It was very distinct. One end led towards the river, while the other end led to a southwest direction. We had found the path which we were supposed to take on day 1! This was a very big relief for everyone, as we quickly gained speed and walked a brisk pace towards the village.

  By 5:00 PM we had reached the first house of the village. We were back into safe territory! We asked the locals how we could get back to Dharmasthala and they told us to go to the house of one Narayana, who lived about half a kilometer away. We reached his place and he told us the jeep would be there by 8:00 PM. He was kind enough to offer us his place for rest. We all had a bath in his house (outdoors, with water being pumped through a big pipe through an irrigational pump). His wife made us some great tea. We even got to pet a 5-day old calf in his place. It felt great to have a bath and get into clean clothes, sipping hot tea while enjoying the cool surrounding of the village. The jeep arrived at his doorstep by 7:30 PM, and we loaded our luggage and ourselves into the jeep. After spending a night in that wet and cramped camping spot the previous night, this seemed like luxury as 6 of us and the luggage sat behind, while 3 of us sat ahead with the driver.

Adventures never end.
The village roads were narrow and allow only one vehicle to pass at a time. If two vehicles come in opposite directions, they both have to go a little off the road onto the dirt on the sides. This happened at one time when another jeep came from the opposite direction. What our driver did not notice is that there was a deep pit on the side and he took the vehicle right over it. It came to a grinding halt with the left rear wheel dangling over the 2-3 meter high pit. Any further and we could have toppled over! The people from the left side first got off, then the remaining passengers. We managed to tilt the jeep more to the right while the driver got into gear and drove it out to solid ground. Like 3 days of the adventure that we already had wasn't enough, that we also needed this to happen! We never stopped wondering what would happen next.

Back to Bangalore.
   After that exciting jeep ride, we reached Dharmasthala at about 8:30 PM. Kiran managed to book us into an ultra deluxe bus which would leave at 10:00 PM. We had dinner in the Kamat hotel at the bus stop, our first proper meal since the start of the trek. We had meals, along with Mangalore buns and bhajjis. Mmmmmmm. By 10:00, we and our stinky baggage were in the bus (much to the agony of our fellow passengers). By 7:00 AM, we were back in Bangalore.

  What a delight it was to be back. The nine of us had been through some adventure. I think we would now be able to take on any sort of trek in the future after what all happened on this. I think we will also appreciate the luxuries that we have a lot more than before. But what really got us through was the team sticking together. None of us lost our tempers and none of us expressed any negative thoughts. Special credit goes to Gerry, the only girl in the group, who had come all the way from Hyderabad for this trek, for constantly smiling through all our problems. All of us encouraged each other and in the end we came out alive. And luck does favour the brave...

Hamy the Veggy ;)
6th Oct, 2003

PS: I've not named the report the usual way (Trek to ..., etc) since we never reached where we intended to :). I've named it "Due North" since we started off day 1 always heading due north.