Ah(!) or an Aaaahhh!!
One couldn't really mark the difference between the two exclamations after ending the EB2OG trek. At any given time, one emotion paved way to the other. The first one being ultimate satisfaction and the other being pain.
I, for one can vouch for both! However, the spasms that hit me on the first day was clearly overshadowed by the glee at the end of the trek, when the group reached the Gundya highway. It was evident that the final stretch took a lot out of everyone involved, more so, since the invitation to cleanse ourselves in Kukke Subramanya and have a good meal was too enticing.
I am sure that everyone had been looking forward to the 19th of November to start the exploratory expedition. Blogs had been read and memorized; Google Maps had been re-visited, items had been bought and checked.
The group met at Majestic at 10 PM and informal introduction were exchanged. First timers like myself, kind of bonded immediately given that the lost look on one's faces was met by another. Organizer Ambareesh was the single point of contact at that time and he definitely looked like he knew what he was doing. We loaded ourselves and our bags onto the bus and set off for Mudigere. An hour of idle chit-chat was enough to rock us all off to a brief nap. We were jolted out from it almost immediately when we crossed Bangalore. Given the road infrastructure and the chronic battling with pot-holes, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. A good night sleep would have done a world of good, though.
We landed at Mudigere at around 5:30 AM and scouted for the only public washroom which didn’t have electricity. There is something about the human mind, that doesn't complain much when it knows that the next two days is going to be impossible to find a man-made toilet!
Once we were done with our morning ablutions, we had breakfast in Mudigere Bus-stand Hotel. And then we started our journey at 6:30AM in an arranged mini-bus and landed at Bhyrapura temple by 7:30AM. The first hour was spent in getting ready in our trekking gear, photography and formal introductions. This is an old Temple and adjoining it there is a Pond/Kalyani to the left of it (have to go down a bit, using steps), in summer this is the last source of water. Ettina Bhuja (EB) can be seen from the Temple and a foot path follows behind the Temple towards the peak. Before leaving, a formal Intro was done, for some reason all members looked a bit embarrassed while doling out personal info!
Ambareesh and Abhiram in the meantime scouted the topography and discussed the (hopeful) marks. I trudged along just to get my own whereabouts and check my compass.
At about 8:30 AM approximately, we were ready to go. Ettina Bhuja looked majestic from where we started. It really stood out due to its unique shape and the cloud wavering around it gave it a smoky look. We started our first descent with some trepidation but as the trek began, some of us got quite vociferous and the excitement took over.
EB was worth the climb as all around it, one could take in nature's beauty and eccentricity at the same time. Eccentricity can sometimes be fortunate, as in this case Nature has taken into account every measure to keep this place as virgin as possible!
From the Ettina Bhuja peak, we can see Amedikal Gudda, Deepadakallu, Jenkal Betta, and Ombattu Gudda (OG). We could even see the Jeap track near OG, which was Day1’s camp site. As we could see, we have to cross a thick jungle between valley of EB and one more peak. After that we have to climb a few peaks to reach Jeep track.
After photo sessions by 11AM we started getting down from EB, its normal descend. But after that the Jungle was very thick and there was no path to reach next grassland. We took almost an hour to cross the jungle as it was thick and of loose mud. EB was now to back of us, and we could see the other face of it. We had lunch by 1PM and after taking brief nap, by 2:30PM started again. From here we have to climb a peak in grassland, which was the toughest part of the trek. Being an exploratory trek definitely meant that the trails were very difficult to find and that was the icing on the cake. There was one such when we weren't able to find the best path and that resulted in a virtual 80 degree climb using just bunches of wild grass for pulling ourselves up by nearly 3~4 feet. A 21 gun salute to those savannah grasses for holding our weights through the entire journey.
Abhiram and Rajesh were excellent compatriots for Ambareesh and I guess their company gave him a lot of confidence in this expedition. Between the three of them, they exchanged the roles of trek leaders and sweepers. Lakshmish and Suman volunteered on quite a few occasions to check out new paths and were successful as well.
It was at this juncture that the group had its first casualty in me. After negotiating a goat path, I had multiple sprain spasms which resulted in a blackout due to loss of salt. At this juncture, I must thank Priyanka (for electrol), Rajiv (trekking poles and accompanying), Laksh, Ravindran and Neelima (accompanying) and everyone else for offering to share my backpack. I hope, my stubbornness to carry my sack wasn’t misconstrued. I just felt it was unfair for anyone else to share another's burden while lifting their own.
After much travail, we landed at the first campsite on Jeap track near OG. I was the last to make it up there. Until that point Vasant, Neelima, Ravi and Laksh had already characterized for the fourth innings of the LORD OF THE RINGS: The Indian Version! Their taunts hung around until the very end.
Ombattu Gudda (OG) was now very clearly visible, may be just half an hour walk. Jeap Track will link between Saraswathi Estate and Lakhsmi Estate. As soon as we landed, Ambareesh and Priyanka brought out their cooking gear and lit the stove. It took a bit of time, but they finally were able to shield the stove from the gusts of wind. The first item to be dished out was hot soup; half a cup for each of the members. The warmth of the soup brought back some life and a bit of energy. Most of the members had bought along food packets. I had mis-interpreted instructions and had come in with just biscuits, cake and an apple - a beggarly meal. Hari was gracious enough to offer me a packet of MTR pongal, which was a big help. A thousand thanks to him for that!
We could not make camp fire, as we arrived here in dark, so searching woods was very difficult. Once we had our supper at 8 PM, the sentry duty was spread across 14 people. Karthik and myself were exempted. I strongly believe that that night's rest was one of the major reasons for my quick recovery. Rajesh's wild staff was our only means of defense and the sentries held on to it dearly. We had spotted enough and more bison dugouts and elephant dung along the way and that was enough to help us be on alert. We unpacked our sleeping bags/mats/ tent and went to bed. At the time we did, it was quite warm, but as the night progressed, mist covered our covers and a cold draft was in the air.
6:30 AM is an ungodly hour to wake up and a few of us struggled to snuggle out of our respective bedding. Weather was pleasant and sky was very clear. At 7:30 AM we started our journey towards OG. The path was precarious as ever. There was no dearth of loose mud, tricky rocks or ill-traveled ground. Every one of us had our share of nasty, embarrassing falls but none of us looked deterred. We were on top of OG (ninth peak) by 8AM. Now Deepadakallu and Jenkal Betta was opposite to us. From here its full descent till Adda Hole, i.e. we have to climb down nine hills (OG) to reach a stream called Adda Hole.
We trekked via forests, hills, streams, banks and ledges. All of them had a trick up their sleeves and doled them out generously. En route one such, some one spotted a baby snake and the excitement and fear was palpable! Being an animal enthusiast, I somehow made my way from the back of the line to right where the snake was. An inconclusive debate between Ravi and myself left the snake to decide for itself whether it was a viper or a constrictor.
During the whole trip we found gushing streams on both days, which was against our analysis, but boy was it welcome. We re-filled our water bottles whenever such an opportunity presented itself and drank to our heart's content. The pristine quality of water was over-whelming and a complete contrast to what we are used to from our city taps!
This whole region is Leech kingdom and they are abundant. We lost a lot of time trying to pry them out using salt, snuff powder, lemon and fingers but there was no real respite. Every time we checked our legs there were always a couple making their way up the shoe to a more comfortable spot up our limbs. They just wouldn’t bog down and after a while, I left them to take whatever they could. However, with 24 bite marks discovered later, I am still quite sure I was least affected. The others had a worse experience. It can be a problem when nature is your adversary. The terrain is a hotch-potch conundrum which primarily needs luck to unravel it. After a few hiccups, we finally found the path and religiously followed it in the hope of find the junction. When the front liners hit it, there were loud cheers all around and we immediately took a breather. We gathered our wits and our resolve and made a final check of our water and food supplies. It was at this point that my shoe which had been faithful to me over the last 6 years broke down and wilted. When I inspected it, the sight was pure torture. There was no sign of soles left and the punishment seemed a lot worse than it deserved. I had to donate it to the forest as my last homage and piously tied it to a tree as a warning sign for future trekkers. It was a peace offering.
The last 8kms from the Kabbinale river crossing until Gundya highway was the most arduous. It was evident on everyone's faces. We were begging for a sight of civilization but it didn’t relent for two hours. The leeches did give us faithful company though, all along the way. It seemed like the longest 2 hours of our lives and the darkness all around didn’t help a bit. Fortunately, there was a visible jeep track from the river to the highway and all we had to do was follow it. However, the woods still had one last boomerang to throw at us. About 3 kms into our walk, we found ourselves following a deviation which in no way resembled a jeep track. After a few minutes of deliberation we decided to back track until we found the elusive jeep trail. The sign we were looking for was the under-growth between the legendary jeep tires marks. A minute later we found it and realized the reason for having missed it. Where there was once a clear pathway, there lay debris of fallen tree. Ambareesh traversed the blockade and found the trail and we set off once again.
Finally 2 kms later, we heard the alarmed bark of a pariah dog kept by the village folk and then some lit bulbs. To me, it was like Diwali! The relief at hitting the pit-riddled highway was amazing. It was 8:30PM in the night. We took a left and sighted a small roadside drive-in shop. We converged on to it like starving wolves and finished off 16 cups of tea, 14 packets of BOTI, 4 packets of Bingo chips, 1 packet of popcorn, 1 plate of double omelet, an idli plate among others!
It was 9 PM by then and we were too weary to make it to Gundya checkpost and bless the eatery owner's kind soul; she called us a jeep and a van to take us to Kukke Subramanya for Rs. 325 each. The drivers used their skills to maneuver past the beaten roads and brought us to Kukke in half an hour. We took a hasty bath in the filthy river, had a hearty dinner and paraded into the waiting KSRTC VOLVO bus, which left at 10:45PM. It had never seemed as comforting! We reached Bangalore at 5 AM on Monday morning.
As tough as the narration might sound, this had to be one of the most rewarding treks of my life and I am sure the feeling is mutual with my team mates. It took a day to recover but the sense of fulfillment and the terrific experience we had, ranks as high as the sky and beyond. And I heartily thank Bangalore ASCENDers (BASC) for arranging such a challenging trek.
Karnataka is certainly a boon for the avid trekker and I am sure we will all get together for our next adventure soon.
Join Bangalore ASCENDers @ CLICK HERE
Written by: Brighu and Ambareesh Event organized by: Ambareesh Karanth
Image Gallery: Muralidhar, Karthik H K, Ravindran, Harimanjesh