Having been bitten by the trek bug quite recently, I was on the lookout for a group of trekking enthusiasts. Soon enough I came across BANGALORE ASCENDers (BASC) and quickly registered myself. My first opportunity to go out trekking with this group arose when Vinay KGS organized a two day trip to Belum-Gandikota-Ahobilam over 26/27 Jan 2013. I registered as fast as possible when I saw the event listing and was heartily gratified to see my registration accepted.
We set of from Bangalore on 25 Jan night, my pickup point being the Shantala Silk house and arrived at Belum caves after a seven hour drive. A giant Buddha statue smilingly welcomes all visitors to the caves. There was a guesthouse nearby and we were allowed to use the facilities there. Soon after, we had our breakfast and headed out towards the caves. The caves, located in Kolimigundla village in Kurnool, are a major tourist attraction and are maintained by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department. Entry to the caves requires payment of an entry fee upon which a guide is also provided, since it’s not possible for visitors to traverse the passages by themselves.
Our guide very patiently explained to the group the history and the geological aspects of the cave and then we set out exploring the caves. Our guide had explained that the caves cover a length of nearly 3.5 kms out of which we would explore about 2.0 kms.
Walking the passageways of the caves seemed like walking on another planet. The passageways very broad and tall to start with, would many times narrow down requiring us to bend in order to avoid getting our heads hit on the rock above.
It was an ethereal and amazing experience seeing the rock mould itself into all sorts of shapes and sizes including but not limited to, a smiling Buddha, a crocodile and then a banyan tree and then multiple cobra hoods and many others. Some of the halls such as the meditation hall were big enough to accommodate a house inside them and in a number of places stalactites and stalagmites had fused creating giant pillars. The caves even had an underground stream topped by a perfectly shaped shivalinga called the “Patalganga”. Air vents had been drilled into the caves at regular intervals so as to combat the humidity which can reach as high as 100% at some of the deeper parts of the caves. Above all the caves were a dream come true for the photography buffs in our groups and they wasted no time in getting the best possible shots of the various aspects of the caves. We discovered that nature can be as beautiful and stunning below the surface of the earth as above it.
After having spent quite sometime in the caves we assembled at a nearby restaurant and had simple but tasty Andhra style meals for lunch.
After lunch we then set outset out for the Gandikota gorge, also called India’s Grand Canyon, in Kadapa district. Gandikota gets its name from the fort adjacent to the gorge on the Erramala hills through which the Penna river flows. The Gandikota fort is huge and regal with the doors having huge iron spikes. The gate is about 20 feet high and the fort region houses a number of small fortresses as well as a bustling resident community. Inside are two beautiful temples and an architecturally stunning mosque called the Jama Masjid built by the Qutub Shahi rulers. A massive granary and the Ragunatha temple and Madhavaraya temple are situated near the mosque— these ancient structures, built between the 15th and 16th centuries stand out for their architectural beauty.
Then we walked towards the gorge. The climb is easy at first, until we got to the huge boulders and rocks. A hundred feet below, the 300ft wide Penna flows by at the foot of the red granite hills. Gandikota’s landscape with its abraded rocks and hills and ancient structures that carry the weight of history, is an unforgettable one and a photographers paradise.
We could not camp at the banks of the Penna since the water level was low in the present season and then made our way to a hotel near the fort. The owner offered some dormitory accommodation as well as permission to do our own cooking and lighting a campfire. Vinay got to work making hot strong tea for the group while the rest of us got busy with cutting vegetables for dinner. Once Vinay got the vegetable pulao cooking on the portable stove we settled down for a vigorous session of Antakshari. The singing talent of the trekkers was on full display during this time. This session was followed by dinner of yummy vegetable pulao and a roaring campfire. We had to start early the next morning for Ahobilam and so we retired soon after the fireside introductions.
We started early next morning and reached Allagada after a three hour drive. After breakfast we set of again and arrived at upper Ahobilam at 8.30 am. Upper Ahobilam consists of nine temples in the Nallamala range of the eastern ghats and is dedicated to Lord Narasimha. The nine temples represent nine facets of Lord Narasimha and the trail to these temples lies through the forest.
We visited the first temple at the base of the foothills of the mountain, and then set out to explore the other temples in the mountainside.
The visiting a few temples on the lower levels of the mountain we took the trail to the Jwala Narasimha temple which is on the higher point of the mountain. The trail passed through forests which still had the green look despite it being the post monsoon season.
The Jwala Narasimha temple is cut into the mountainside and near it is a rock outcrop over which a small stream flows. This temple is dedicated to the fierce form of Lord Narasimha and depicts him slaying the demon Hiranyakashipu.
A trail near the Jwala Narasimha temple leads to the star attraction of Ahobilam, the Ugra Narasimha Sthambha. Ugra stambham is regarded as one of the best Ahobilam attractions. A legend is associated with this place as well. The story goes that Lord Narasimha appeared before Prince Prahlada to kill Hiranyakashipu at this place. To go to "Ugra Sthambha", we had to pass through a narrow stretch of rocks which were slippery and had steep drops on both sides. The last stretch was tough and there were places where if you had reached a certain point, there was no way you could turn back. But, the kind of joy that a person will get when you reach the Ugra-Stambham will supersede any of the troubles that you might face during the climb.
The climb down was also difficult. The rocks were slippery and it was proving a bit difficult to get a firm foothold even with shoes on. Finally with lots of monkeys for company we trekked back to the foothill of the mountain. Finally after all our team members arrived we left for lower Ahobilam where we visited the Lakshmi Narasimha temple (Prahalada Varadan temple) and spent some time there and refreshed ourselves with tea and snacks.
This brought to an end our two day itinerary and shortly we started out back to Bangalore. Finally the group of thirteen tired but satisfied trekkers reached Majestic bus stop at 4.00 am in the morning and bade each other goodbye until next time.
My first trek with BASC turned out to be better than expected, offering a great trekking experience coupled with great views, witnessing amazing natural phenomena and the ambience of a great team of trekking enthusiasts who never say no. Thanks once more to team BASC. A note of appreciation for all the hard work put in for providing the team with an experience to cherish and remember for a long time to come. Unforgettable with a capital "U". Thanks also to the pillar like personality of the "Doctor". I hope this is a partnership with BASC as along as I am in Bangalore. Thanks once again for the tremendous views, the heart warming camaraderie and of course the sweat one has to put in if one is to keep connected with the potential nature has endowed each and everyone of us with. In the end we even miss the fights we had with the group. Deepest thanks also to all members of the team without whom the views world have been less beautiful and the journey less sweet.
Written by: Vinay Kamath
Post - 2
The very thought of Eastern Ghats put me into curiosity and I wanted that curiosity around me till I had reached that place. I was just too excited as it was a least known place. Well! So started my journey. The TT arrived late, picked rest of the trekkers on the way and now gosh! the TT was full with 13 enthusiastic trekkers. Since it was too late, everyone tired after work & waiting, we watched a movie "HongKong nalli Agent Amar" and then most of them came out with whistles, jokes etc, later quietly crawled into the darkness.
Day 1 : Belum Caves & Gandikota
A cloudy morning greeted us in AP at 5'o clock with no clue as to where we were, I went into the guest house that was arranged. Some (Harsh, Neelanjan & Vishwa) sleepy-heads slept like they had never slept in their lives. Anyway!!by 8 AM we were ready to start the day. Next we had to charge our fainted souls so found a hotel nearby that made damn delicious Dosas! and mandakki! we gulped them as fast as we could and started our journey towards Belum Caves. While we waited for the caves to open, many guys (vishwa, shiva, suresh) made sure they got profile pics for their FB page Mr. Doctor started his photo shoot in differnt angles, colours etc in front of a magnificent Buddha statue with all of us posing for 1 photo for more than 5-10 mins !!!
The UNDERGROUND CAVES opened at 10am. There was a guide who was very talented-multi-linguistic & started explaining the very minute we entered it. The very 1st look of it was just breathtaking, it was humungous, something unimaginable and can only be experienced. He explained the various limestone formations, rig the river that was flowing, the curves, humans bone/carvings found, various minerals available, Germans were the 1st explorers etc.
These caves extend upto 7kms but only 1.7kms has been discovered & is open for public viewing. As we continued going deeper and deeper (crawling, bending)we reached 120ft below the ground also found the source of water "anthara gange". Though it was very humid it was totally worth it!!!! My photographic memory will never erase this pic. It was a treat for the photographers(Akshata, Vinay, Doctor, Vishwa). Indeed this was the best experience were it will put you to a different thought process. It was afternoon when we finished the caves exploration, had very hot spicy Andhra meals and left to GANDIKOTA with the memory of caves still lingering! We reached at around 3 or 4 pm. Explored the fort, mosque, heard its history from Mr. Doctor and started walking towards a board that read "George Penna". After climbing few rocks finally we saw something that makes you feel you are somewhere else and not in India!! It was "The grandest Canyon" that I had ever been to! I made sure Akshata clicked many pics of me here in this wonderful place, rest of them got busy with their cameras & posers, some sat quietly and captured the beauty. The layered rock formation for such a long distance on either side of the penna river made me wonder about the beauty of nature & its creations (basically lost in thought). Saw a beautiful sunset and headed back to a very nice guest house by APTDC.
Dinner- Awesome Pulav! after a tiring day with flooded thoughts this was exactly what I wanted. Well prepared by Doctor & Vinay. Everyone helped them by cutting vegetables, supplying dry fruits etc. Meanwhile there was war of songs sung with full energy, campfire was set by the fellow trekkers, a quick formal intro session happened and thus the day ended deliciously !!! :)
Day 2 - AHOBILAM Trek
Started at around 5:30 in the morning with more enthusiasm (songs in TT to brighten the mood!) On the way to AHOBILAM captured nature at its full glory, saw beautiful sunflower, cotton & Maize fields with sunrise in the backdrop makes you forget all the hustles of a city life. Reached Ahobliam, gobbled oil less dosas, idlis & mandakki again, checked if god was doing great! & started our trek..!
This forest is a part of NALLAMALA Forest Range. There are 9 temples there, we trekked to around 6 or 7. At one of the temples a devotee was distributing "panaka" to all the people who where going there in that scorching sun-such a kind gesture. Half way in the trek we saw other devotees climbing steps, chanting but the rest half that was challenging not many devotees were to be seen. It was a little difficult in certain places as there were slippery, broken small stones in the trail. So with chitter-chatter, small talks, banter, sometimes whimsical, we reached the top. Vinay had injured his leg before the trek, Still with his "never say die" attitude he made it to the top. YAY!! :) When I was about to actually feel good saying yes! I did it!! Ram told us, there is something more! Well!! we took a break, filled our tummies, with some yummy chapathis, kachoris, took loads of pics (in style!) absorbed the view and relaxed. It was an entire range filled with a canopy of dense forest. I secretly wished I was a bird & started hallucinating. Once we were done relaxing we had to explore some more of the mountain to reach another temple that was at the very tip of a rocky mountain. This was indeed challenging! and a new experience. It was a very narrow path, rocky, steep overall ADVENTEROUS! Sometimes scared the hell out of me but sometimes I imagined what if there was bungee jumping here! wohoo!!! Once done with this adventure we started moving downhill, this was pretty smooth. Saw a small stream, many pink faced monkeys that gave us company for a while and FINALLY we reached our TT, freshened up, paid a visit to the main Aahobilam temple. It is a typical Tamil Nadu temple with the walls made of stone and carvings of Hindu mythology in them. Saw a mildly setting sun, felt the divines, binged on some food and started our journey back to the polluted city life.
Wish the journey never ended.
A trip to remember :)
Written by: Aparna
Post - 3
Every time I sign up for an event with BASC, I mostly don’t show up in the final list at all or rather show up at the top of the waiting list. But somehow this trend gets always reversed when a trip gets organized by Vinay. I remain very positive.
This time the trip was two days and since it was organized by Vinay I was keeping my fingers crossed, and it happened to be my first event with BASC after two years of association that I get to go for a long weekend.
I never read BASC mails properly, never read in detail where they are going to and for how many days. The reason is that most of the times I don't get shortlisted. The second reason why, even after getting shortlisted, I don’t read description of the place to visit is simply because I don’t want to lose the charm and surprise of getting to a new place. It gives you a much more mysterious and thrilling feeling when you are going to an unknown place and since organizers undertake planning the route in detail. So I like to enjoy the unknown flight with known pilots. This time was not an exception though, I opened the invitation mail and saw the pics loading, after seeing the first two pics, the grand canyon pic and the illuminated cave picture I stopped scrolling and went to BASC page for sign up. This was the first time I was feeling...YES!! This is a very different event and the pictures smell like a real adventure. The caves and the grand canyon were so inviting and so mysterious in pictures.
It was so surprising that there are places in India so close to Bangalore, yet we kind of waste time by exploring small hilltops as weekend gateways. I’m not going to tell you detail how we reached etc, it was 400km overnight journey of 13 members,but let’s move straightway to cave exploration.
The first place we went to was the underground cave, 3.5 kms at length under 132 ft below surface maintaining 33 degree C round the year close to the core of the earth. The AP govt has opened the cave only 1.5 kms of length for tourists and put illumination and ventilation by year 2000. The moment we reached the place I was imagining that the place should be inside a mountain as traditional caves, but this 3.5 kms cave was completely underground, suddenly it starts out of nothing from a the plain surface of cultivation field and takes you down 25 feet where you will be welcomed in a circular shape dome. Imagine yourself inside a beer bottle, the top mouth is illuminated by sun and you’re standing inside on the very bottom. After the initial few steps the inside a huge tunnel leads to a 3storey building high cave. There the journey starts toward another major dome shaped tunnel.
Lucky we were that we reached the place early being the first few tourists able to take snaps without any public spoiling the pictures. After 5-10 minutes the illuminated caves looked so mysterious and interesting I couldn’t wait for the guide and started to walk alone and explore.
Belum cave holds more magic… the deeper you go, the more exciting and changing the scenery becomes. At some places you have to squeeze your body under the hanging rocks, at some there’s hardly space to walk and you have to crawl and other places are hugely spaced blank darkness mysteriously soft lighted with yellow and white halogens. Yellow colour lights once reflected in white lime stone fills surrounding places with an unearthly look. It reminded me Arabian nights and Harry Potter together. I have never seen mini sized bats hanging from low ceiling, which gives you a very uncanny thought of about messengers of Dracula. surely I would have screamed if I was left alone in those hanging rocky shelves of million years.
The ending places were marked and closed with irons railings, although there’s no chance to get lost with all markings and only one way traffic, I saw people still getting or walking together and girls were holding hands tightly. Such is the environment and ambiance of the Belum caves. You may see the shiva linga submerged partly in the under earth river flowing calm at one of such endings where you have to tightly walk down to another level through a spiral stair. Belum cave reminded me the travel through the mine 4D movie I experienced at Wonderla. The experience of Belum cave is very different and very exclusive, one needs to visit this place early 10am to avoid rush and to explore it in its full serenity.
we had another wonder and rock solid amazing view waiting for us same day back to back. I never thought we all will see a mini grand canyon in India, I didn’t believe the pictures mailed to us in the invitation mail. I thought it must be some angle only from where it looks like mini Arizona.This place is Gandikota, the canyon area is surrounded with high valley and mega size rocks. Looks exactly like the dog fight sequence in movie scenes of MIB part 1. The plateau suddenly drops and forms huge crevasses, deep down at the bottom flows the river Peneer and both side stands huge projecting rock shelves. The valley is overlooked by the distant dotted rolling fans of wind energy power grids sitting on top of long wide high plateau. This place is called by the BASC team grand canyon of India. Name exactly matches this place.
After the whole day program we were tired and few of us wanted to jump in to the green algae filled water of the slow flowing river peneer, somehow I discouraged one or two and the rest few were discouraged by the setting sun. We calculated it may take too long before we could make it to the lake where the river is forming its mouth. The setting sun gave us some opportunity for great photography with wind turbine silhouette. While the sun was getting set exactly opposite we spotted the yellow full moon rising. This was an opportunity for night camping in the open. The team was divided by half at the opinion of whether to camp open riverside or take up dormitory and sleep fondly. At last after much fighting Vinay came up with a very tactical and political idea of keeping both sides vote bank equal and happy, so we took up the idea of staying in the dorm and also putting tent outside and do camp fire and cook outside under the moon.
Rest of the story was quite simple, girls immediately took up good places to sleep and we boys started peeling potatoes and onions and soon started crying. When all cooking arrangements were finished the girls came in fresh tees like bottled cherry and cheerfully asked whether they can lend their hands to cut or peel something for the cooking. After little prove they surrendered and told “we don’t know even how to cook”. So we can well understand if someone cant cook obviously they don’t know how to peel or cut vegetables too, so guys we proved that boys are the best once again. Mr.Vinay made nice looking sugarless diabetic tea and his excuse was, Mr. in-charge had forgotten to buy sugar, someone even came up with an idea of dropping some hard sugar candy in the diabetic tea instead of sugar. At night few slept outside including me under the full moon and rest went inside the dorm. I planned to sleep in the sleeping bag in open but after hearing the story of a half feet long red yellow centipede which stormed the cooking place while I was taking shower, I immediately dropped the full moon idea and grabbed the tent. Romance would not be very pleasurable with a half feet scorpion kissing inside your ear .
So three wishes of mine came true in this trip
1) Have a 2-3 days trek trip
2) Trek / picnic in an extraordinary place
3) Sleep under full moon in open
And obviously got new exciting friends with very big big and heavy cameras etc etc, its very interesting how people behave at the start of a trek and who they become after finishing the collaborated adventure. First meet up- all are shaky and shy, travel time- little ogling at each other and sizing up, start of the trek-who can beat whom in walk or in stamina, middle of the trek- asking for water, saying thank you and getting introduced informally, taking help, end leg of the trek- all are combined and friends talking bubbling and chatting or pulling legs. After the trek- exchange of phone emails followed by temporary closure with fb request and promises to see again .
Story didn’t end yet, next day was another rock hard adventure, 75degree climb in upper Ahobalam hills dense Nallamala forest .
Mr vinay made nice looking and nice taste pulau at night after being thrashed for making diabetic tea. While he made it all alone all others played antakshari. even here boys made the mark over girls and 2nd time we proved ''boys are the best'' and the most permanent marker was Ramkumar the signature singer, the most remarkable thing in the camp fire was 5 people said their hobby was chess and we guessed they copied each other.
Well next day we went to upper Abholam, on the way had the best local dosa ever, this place was crowded with people which disheartened myself much. I was having a mental expectation that this place would be dense Nalamalla forest etc and the trek would be rigorous… but it turned out to be easy with one part where we faced a challenging almost 75 degree climb of 200 meters, it was really good one to climb and get down. It reminded me kanoor kote trek , a very similar situation that shivered my spine seeing the seep descent toward the debbe waterfall in kanoor kote trek. Narashimha parvatha I should call this place because this place has 9 temples of lord narashimha at various places and the most difficult one was the top of the hill with a 5feet long one way path to the tricky top temple.
Overall it was a very special trek, full of nice people big cameras and very exciting personalities. hope BASC arrange few more treks in same trail. This is a first of kind trail I would like to go again asap.
Written by: Neelanjan
Post - 4
My first journey with BASC started with Eastern Ghats trek . It was a usual Friday rush near majestic, long standing queue of vehicles trying to outpace others at each traffic signal.
Met a few BASC`ians, couldn’t stop talking about different treks and their experiences in the past. Later we were joined by "Solo trekker - the Blue :)" .We hit the road by 11 PM.
We reached Belum caves in the morning and dorms were booked for few hours to catch up on the early morning sleep .
Day 1: Belum caves are accessible open only after 10 AM . so we had to wait . Belum Caves are underground caves, Well maintained and lighting arrangement is being major highlight .
We saw bats and different rock formations . Guide was good enough to explain the background of the place except at one point he said "This looks like skeleton or something likewise :) "
In the evening we went to Gandikota .It has a lovely fort on the banks of River Pennar . Photo sessions were in full swing , who would like to miss a photo with Grand Canyon of India .
The Day was made special with night cooking, with everybody pitching in to do their bit . Vinay and Doctor planned for "Pulav" which turned out to be very tasty.
Seems like BASC has really good cooks .
Day 2 : We went to Ahobilam Temple. Trek started with shrines in lower Ahobilam which were easily accessible , Few shrines were very steep, made us to put some effort to reach the shrine .
Overall it was a pleasant trip with Caves exploration , Panoramic View of fort and trek to holy shrines . - Fun filled Weekend activity .
Written by: Sriharsha Aithal
Join Bangalore ASCENDers @ CLICK HERE
Composed by: Jithendra B N
Event organized by: Vinay
Event Date: 26th & 27th Jan 2013
The Crew: Vinay, Vishwanath Banakar, Dr.Harish Babu, Ramkumar, Harsh, Akshata, Madhu Bagur, Suresh Babu, Shreeharsha Aithal, Nilanjan, Shiva Kumar, Vinay Krishna Kamath, Aparna
Expenses: Rs 1,700/- per head (including food, hired TT, accommodation, entry charges)