February 24, 2017
One of the best ways to enjoy nature and her pristine beauty is by trekking through the woods and jungles exploring the lush green vegetation and marvelling the beauty and varied hues of the flora and fauna. There is also the bonus in the form of the quietude of the forest and the enchanting beauty of the surrounding hills that stand majestically inviting adventurists to its doorsteps.
Mangaluru unit of Youth Hostels Association of India in association with YHAI India and Karnataka State Unit had organised a four day state level trekking in Western Ghat range from January 26 to 30th 2017, as part of its silver jubilee year. The destinations were Ethina Bjuja, Amedi Kallu and Kallubare – some of the favourite yet challenging trekking hotspots in Dakshina Kannada which come under the Shishila region about 35 kms from Dharmasthala.
Painstaking efforts were made by the organizers to make this a memorable and enjoyable event and the 75 plus trekkers from different parts of Karnataka had a fun-filled but challenging trekking adventure. These 75 plus members were joined by about 30 members of Mangaluru Unit of YHAI to make it a 100 plus contingent. Out of this nearly 15 members of Mangaluru unit worked as volunteers at the base camp to cater to the needs of the trekkers coming from other parts of Karnataka sacrificing their personal interests.
Preparation had begun months in advance that included pilot trek visiting the area to check out details and scouting for a place for base camp. But then challenges spring up from nowhere and the death of the head of the family where YHAI unit had plans to set up the base camp turned everything topsy-turvy. Providentially it happened at the nick of time before the actual preparation had begun and that was really a blessing in disguise. The team then approached Doddanna Gowda of Denudi near Holegundi, a few kms from Shishila, who gladly obliged permitting us through his arecanut farm. The base camp was set up about 500 meters from the main road passing through the areca farm but not before crossing a 100 feet broad stream with knee length water. For most trekkers getting into the stream was fun, though inconvenient.
Preparations were in full swing as tents wee brought from YHAI Madikeri. The first task of the team was to set up temporary toilets at the base camp and that was done a week in advance. After many trips to the area to oversee details a team of 15 dedicated members of YHAI Mangaluru unit left to Holegundi to pitch the tents on 24th early morning. Pitching 22 tents and setting up a makeshift kitchen with all requirements was no easy job and that too when all these had to be carried from almost 500 meters to the base camp and crossing through the stream. A diesel generator was kept in the areca farm and Shankar an avid trekker from Bengaluru carried out the wiring and lighting arrangement working untiringly all through the day. Chennappa our regular guide in this area along with three other locals helped our members in pitching the tent. But it was no easy task pitching so many tents in that scorching sun. Fortunately, 24th January was a cloudy day and that made the job easier for the volunteers and by night most of the tents were ready. The biggest task was to move the wet grinder to the base camp through the stream and I must say hats off to our dedicated team of volunteers who could accomplish any challenge as a team.
Base camp – Idyllic Location
Another team of volunteers/trekkers including me joined them the next morning and by noon the base camp was ready for trekkers. Preparations were in full swing for evening snacks, dinner and water was brimful in all drums and buckets. By 4 pm trekkers began to arrive and after registration they were directed into the respective tents. They were greeted by tea/coffee and snacks courtesy, two fabulous cooks who were hired for the purpose. They dished out tasty snacks, meals, sweets, tea, coffee and energy drinks getting up as early as 2 am to give us bed tea by 4.30 am and breakfast and lunch pack by 5.30 am. It is not just the cooks but the dedicated volunteers also worked in tandem to keep everything ready by 5.30 am. Some volunteers even worked as night watchmen keeping an eye on the surroundings and also to attend to the needs of trekkers especially during odd hours. The beauty of this kind trekking expedition is the camaraderie exhibited by the volunteers in rising to the occasion keeping aside their personal interests. Many of them preferred to stay back in the base camp to oversee the arrangements though some of them are hardcore trekkers. These volunteers are not ordinary people but are top officers working for reputed organisations, nationalised banks and PSU’s and professionals.
Soon after a sumptuous dinner all the trekkers were briefed about the trek and about the next day’s schedule. Introduction was done through a unique game where trekkers got opportunity to get introduced to one another and by 10.30 all were in their tents though some preferred to sleep in the open counting the stars in the sky. Noises from some of the tents was like those of of a low flying chopper, a drone or even a fighter plane.
All the three days the wakeup call was at 4.30 am followed by bed coffee and then by 5.30 am breakfast and packed lunch was provided. By 6.15 and 6.30 am the trekkers had to leave the base camp and this was the routine followed all the three days.
Delightful Ettina Bhuja
The first day’s trek was to Ettina Bhuja, which is generally considered as moderate to tough and the distance is said to be anything between 8 to 10 kms. But the trail was as good as walking 20 kms as the gradient was steep. We walked about a km and half from base camp to reach Holegundi where we had to cross the stream to enter into dense forest. There were three guides who accompanied us - one in the front, in the middle and at the end. There were volunteers to guide the trekkers in this mission of completing a challenging trail. Luckily most part of the trek on the first day was through dense foliage sheltering us from the harsh rays of the sun. Since it wasn’t a well defined trek slipping and sliding on the uneven path filled with dry leaves was common. The 2 to 4 kg back pack with 2 litres of water, packed lunch, fruits and other items added to the challenge. With no water source in-between we had to carry enough water to sustain us during our to and fro journey. We reached the peak by 11 and others joined us subsequently and enjoyed panoramic view of the beauty of South Kanara with a 360 degree view. We could see the Bhyrapura temple from atop and hence the name Bhyrapura Ghat.
By 12.30 pm we had our lunch and were getting ready to slide down the peak. Suddenly at around 3.30 pm when we were just about 4 kms from our base camp the overcast sky surprised us with a heavy downpour. As most of us were not prepared for rains during this time we just continued marching, making it a rain walk. The challenge, however, was to hold ourselves firmly as the trail had become slippery following the heavy downpour. Dr Amritha Shetty, who was one among the doctor twisted her leg and had a painful journey to the base camp. Of course there were many wounded soldiers who developed blisters on their toes and heels and some had developed cramps having walked a total of about 20 kms. Rain stopped after 45 minutes and by then first batch had reached the stream reached the base to be greeted by good amount of energy drink followed by hot pakoras and tea/coffee. Tired and muddied trekkers headed towards the stream for a refreshing bath.
Conquering the Tough One
By 9 pm dinner was served followed by another briefing about trekking to Amedhi Kallu. Amedhi Kallu is much more challenging as it is considered as one of the toughest trekking destinations. Unlike Ettina Bhuja this trail was through plain hills facing the scorching heat of the sun and the gradient is quite steep. It was our good fortune that cool breeze made it easier to trek this difficult terrain and we reached atop by 11.45 and some joined us subsequently. But once on top all the hurts, aches, tiredness and discomfort was forgotten when we got a 360 degree view of the green vegetation in various shades and hues making up for all the discomfort. Trekkers were rewarded for their efforts with the cool breeze that comforted us atop even as the eyes feasted on the surrounding beauty. A kind of quiet stillness enveloped us at the top and the excitement of having conquered one of the toughest destinations added to our cup of joy.
We ate our lunch, fruits, snacks and juice to regroup our energy as some of us were famished, , clicked pictures in every possible pose and by 1.30 pm were ready for the return journey which was even more tougher as it put strain on the thighs and calf muscles. But having conquered the peak we were automatically reenergised and kept a steady pace so that we don’t lag behind. By 5.30 pm the first batch was back in the base camp. After tea and snack we once again soothed our aching muscles and tired bodies. Though there were lot of wounded soldiers at the end of the day with shoe bites, torn shoes or fingers and toes with blisters, they did not give up.
Third day’s trek was to Kallubare, a walk towards a group of hills l amidst thick forest. The steep gradient in the thick forest was made a little easier by the plants on the trail as we could catch them to climb the gradient. Since it was the last day and many had booked their bus tickets and some had even planned to return the same evening, the return time to the base camp was fixed at 2.30 pm. Though it was not a tough trek it wasn’t easy either. Once we crossed the thick forest we could see all the peaks, Jenu Kallu, Deepada Kallu, Ettina Bhuja, Amedhi Kallu, Shingani Betta, Jamalabad Fort and other top peaks. As it was getting late our guide Channappa decided to return on the same trail instead of the originally planned which was disappointing to some of us. When we were half way through the sad news of the death of the father of one of the trekkers of YHAI Mangaluru reached us and he along with one of the guides and friend returned to the base camp and rushed back home.
Others completed the trek and reached the base camp on time and as we were told to empty our tents before going for the trek by keeping our belongings in a few, some of the tents were un-pitched by the time we returned. Those who wanted to leave by 4 pm had a quick bath in the stream and after a hot cup of tea and pakoras/onion baje’s bid goodbye to the fellow trekkers. Some left after dinner.
By night most of the tents were empty and except for a few trekkers only volunteers were left to stay back on 29th night. Some volunteers who could not participate in the trek joined the volunteers on 29th night to give a helping hand to repack. Everything from tents, groceries to the grinder. They made it a fun event so that none feels the tiredness associated with that kind of work they did.
The body/joint pain remained for another week for many but the memories of the beautiful and joyful trekking experience will be embedded in our memories for a long time to come. Guides Chennapa, Ananda, Shankar and Anand were part of the good memories in the theatre of our minds.