July 4th, a Friday evening was when I teamed up with my colleague Prem and his German class friends - Balaram, Priya, Amrutha and Karan and set off on Sugama bus to Kalasa. I had previously trekked with them last November to Kodachadri. It was good to see this energetic team again; three of whom are marathon runners. After a little chat in the bus, we soon dozed off. You can also take the KSRTC Volvo to Kalasa but I would recommend the spacious seats on this Sugama sleeper bus. At around 5:45AM on the 5th of July, we were at Kalasa. We waited for our jeep to arrive that had been arranged through Rajjapa, our home stay owner. The quiet little town of Kalasa was slowly waking up and I made use of this wait by having my must have morning tea, at a local tea stall. The jeep arrived after about 20 minutes and we drove 17kms towards the home stay with a left deviation at Ballegallu on Kalasa-Karkala Road. Mullodi house is owned by Rajjapa ( 9481179008, 7353963826, 08263-249333). He could also arrange for permissions from the forest department and a guide for the trek apart from obviously providing shelter and food. Rajjapa’s house is located on a very picturesque location.
At an optimum elevation, it stands amidst the mountains. Here, he lives with his wife, two daughters and another lady whom I presume to be his sister (I heard him call out Akka once) and an unidentified infant. The kids have to travel 15kms in a jeep to Kalasa everyday to attend school. The elder one is in the 10th grade and "the camera shy" little one, is in her first grade. Rajjapa’s brothers who live downhill also host guests but they do not have as many facilities as Rajjapa. They might be less expensive but you may have to sleep in their living room. On the other hand, Rajjpa’s house has two attached rooms and he was more than willing to offer, if required; as described by him to the couples in our group, "a first class bedroom" inside the house. They are priced Rs800 per person including food. If you eat animals, they charge you Rs 200 more.
Apart from us, there was another group of bachelors staying in the adjacent room. Lets call them "The KSRTC group" as that was how the jeep driver referred to them while waiting for their KSRTC Volvo bus to arrive at Kalasa.
We paid Rs 1000 for the jeep ride and quickly freshened up. Local food, Pundi was served with sambhar and chutney. Coffee was offered along with the food. After breakfast, we took off on our journey to the Kudremukh peak with our guide Shivakumara which I heard has Sukumara due to his stammering problem (Guide fee - Rs 500). I called him Sukumara until I met his dad the next day, who told me his actual name. We started the trek at around 8:30 AM after paying the forest fee to Rajjapa. He told that the forest officials came by every day to collect the fee and issue tickets (Rs 275 Per person).
The trek route starts just behind the Mullodi house. The route immediately enters a very scenic uninhabited land.
We cross 9 small forest areas spaced approximately equidistant from the base to the summit between the grasslands. During the month of Monsoon, these forests have some deadly blood suckers. Yes, the leeches! We had expected this anyways so we were kind of prepared. Our necks ached to keep constantly looking down at our shoes and pull away the climbing leeches but the view was unbeatable and worth all that pain. But one forest area (The last but one) really made us run for our lives. The dampness attracted hundreds of leeches; out of which at least a ten started to climb every shoe. Without stopping even for a second, we ran towards the other end. However, by then several leeches had successfully made its way to our socks. Some held on to the shoes, some sucked through the socks, some got into the socks. It was horrible! We had to drag each one out and clean the shoes before continuing. Some salt sprinkled on them made them feel drowsy and fall off on their own.
It drizzled most of the way and after we were done with the forest area, it rained heavily. The weather was marvelous. On our way we spotted a herd of Sambars who stopped for a minute and stared at us- the uninvited guests.
I always prefer the part of the trek that is above tree line. The dampness of a tree line area makes me suffocate but the grasslands on the other hand, makes me feel liberated. Rest of the journey was mostly uphill and was reasonably steep as compared to the previous leg. At one of the streams, we found a skull of an animal. We concluded that it was of a deer or a Sambar. All through the trek, I secretly desired a friendly visit of a Tiger. By the time we reached the summit after an extremely steep last stretch, it was raining heavily. But, that did not stop us from eating our packed lunch even with our ponchos on. That day, in the time of such hunger, Pulliogre that we carried from the home stay seemed the best lunch ever. We had taken 4 hours to reach the summit on an approximately 9KM trail. From two kilometres to the peak onwards, you shall see milestones to KMP (Kudremukh Peak).
Disappointingly, it did not stop raining for a long time and we never got to see a view from the peak. After about 40 mins, we decided to not wait any longer and head back. But, in about an hour’s walk downhill, the sky cleared and displayed a scintillating view of the nature. In ever direction greenery was in abundance. That’s when I realised that how different this place was from my previous treks. This was a proper forest area with no sight of human interference. However, extreme conditions do not support a healthy wildlife here. A recent survey held by the Forest department, that invited civilians to participate, counted a diminishing number of Tigers in this area.
All through the return journey, I was bowled by the beauty of this place. I think these images could express in a better way than I could, in words.
Thanks to the shower, the leeches had been washed away and we confronted less of them on our way back. During our return, we were accompanied by one of the members of the KSRTC group who was unwell and did not want to spend anymore time at the summit like his friends. He kept walking without attending to the leech attacks. By the time we reached the home stay, he had brought back, a badly bleeding leg and several leeches. All of us cleaned our shoes and socks, dragged away the remaining leeches and cleaned up. We were served hot onion pakoras with some much required coffee. We had taken almost the same time back as we had taken to climb - 4 Hours.
There was another group who were visiting and two among them had trekked to the summit while the rest returned, unable to handle the leeches. They kept enquiring about their friends but we had not seen any other team except for the KSRTC group whom we met very close to the summit. They feared that their friends might have lost their way in the woods as they were trekking without a guide. Apparently, those two had met the KSRTC group midway and were with them while we met the group near the summit. Obviously, we had no way to distinguish the members. Anyways, their friends returned and they left to Kalasa to find a hotel to stay.
At around 7:30 PM, we were served dinner. Chapatis, Rice, Sabji, Sambhar and Curd. It was more than what we could have asked for. During the dinner I had a small conversation with Rajjapa about the types of trees in the forest, local cuisine and its similarity with that in Mangalore, Forest department and researchers staying at his place to spot wild animals and a variety of frogs that are all around the forest. We also discussed how Tigers find it difficult to catch a prey in the hills as compared to the flat lands, where it could easily chase its prey. And how it was equally difficult for the elephants to find bamboo or food of its interest in these regions. During the conversation, Prem mentioned that I blog and Rajjapa wanted me to create and maintain a website for him. I politely refused to his request by saying that I could publish his home stay details in my blog so that people are aware of it. He also suggested that if we had time next day, we could visit by jeep, another beautiful place called Kyathana Mekka. Which we did not get time to though due to our planned return trip.
While enquiring about the Forest department, I learnt that it was about few kilometres downhill on the Kalasa-Karkala road. They too have a stay area and they do arrange treks to different peaks around the place. He also informed that December would be the right time to visit and witness a beautiful display of greenery without leeches. However, I think a Monsoon trek is an experience on its own. Tired by the eventful day we retired to bed early. Apart from the occasional waking up due to the heavy rains that made the plastic which covered the window flutter madly, the sleep was fulfilling.
Next morning, I was up by 6:30 AM and decided to take a walk. There is a small waterfall near the house. Being all by myself at the waterfall capturing images, I hide a quiet and peaceful moment with nature.
It was while returning that I met our guide Shivakumara’s dad who is the brother of Rajjapa. He informed me that there were few men staying at his place too. We had a short conversation that discussed the crops he was growing before he took leave to attend to his affairs in the paddy fields.
After tea and breakfast, we booked a jeep to Horanadu (Rs 1500). On our way, we stopped at a tea estate and then made another quick stop at Kalasa to buy some local tea powder and Asafoetida. Others bought some local Papads made of Sweet potato, Jack fruit and Palakh. At Horanadu, even though it was crowded, we had a quick darshan; thanks to the system that handles a crowd properly. We get to view the beautiful idol of goddess Anapurneshwari from very near. Delicious free lunch served at the temple of goddess who’s name signifies "The giver of food and nourishment" is not to be missed.
We had booked our return journey through a Karnataka Sarige bus from Horanadu. It leaves Horanadu at 1:45 PM and reaches Kalasa in 15-20 minutes. You could choose to board the bus there as well. Or you could even take the night bus. We had decided to return to Bangalore by night to catch some good sleep.
From Kalasa to Bangalore, Prem and I had a non-stop, seven hour long debate and discussion on several topics. We shared several thoughts; some converging, some diverging but overall presenting a very healthy dialogue on current issues. A continuous discussion between us surprised everyone else as otherwise, Prem is mostly silent. Our talk made the long journey go by without tiredness or notice. We reached Bangalore at around 10:30 PM. I would not fail to mention that this team is extremely adventurous and very accommodating which is what made this trek so enjoyable.
Like every other travel that I have been on, I felt moved by this experience and like in every such experience, there has been a change in my personality. Kudremukh would always remain one of my favourite treks for, it is a trek in true nature, at least in Karnataka.