Sunday, January 25, 2009

Kemmanagundi – Red soil, leeches, dogs and lots of fun

Friday nights always bring out the best in me. Kemmanagundi was one such idea born on a Diwali eve.
The raw material: 2 Cars, 6 guys and 2 days to spare.
The output: Total Fun.

Kemmanagundi is situated about 250 K.M from Bangalore in the Chickmagaloor district.
Route: Bangalore->Tumkur->Arisikere->Kadur->Birur->Lingadahalli->Kemmanagundi.

Thus on Saturday morning (25 October 2008) we found ourselves on the Tumkur road with Anand and Rajeesh at the wheel. The road was terrific and we made good progress, till we reached about 20 K.M from Tiptur where Anand had this bright idea of climbing a hill which was being demolished by a quarry team. “The next time we come over, this hill might not be there at all” was his reasoning. Everyone agreed. After some chit chat with the laborers who were surprised to see us climbing, just for the sake of climbing, we reached the top and were pleasantly surprised to find a temple and associated paraphernalia.

Lunch and beer as is our custom was at a roadside Dhaba which had surprisingly good food. The road between Tumkur and Lingadahalli is an absolute treat to ride on. It is a normal state highway, but with no potholes and near zero traffic. The road from Lingadahalli to Tumkur is really bad, but fortunately it is only 20 Kilometers. We reached by 4:30 P.M which meant that trekking to Hebbe falls, the main point in the itinerary was out of the q.

We booked a four-bed room at Kemmanagundi for just 850 Rupees. This was a steal deal and meant that the trip expenses remained well within limits (If only we had some cheap fuel too!). The Govt. guest house has a well maintained botanical garden but we decided to give it a miss. Instead, we went to a small 10-foot falls about 2 K.M from camp on the way to Z point.

Immediately on starting we saw people returning from the falls. Everyone warned us about leeches on the way. But since we had nothing better to do, we went forward anyways. A scrawny looking dog started following us. It seemed harmless, so we didn’t chase it away (good idea!). The view was amazing and the weather perfect, but we couldn’t care less. Everyone was obsessed with their shoes and the number of leeches that had hitch-hiked on. These little beings pack a fair amount of spook value!

The 10 foot “falls” were rather un-impressive, but unknown to us, the most interesting part of the trip was silently unraveling. I noticed a small forest path ahead of the falls, most probably, the path to z point. We took it and immediately found ourselves at the foot of a very steep climb. The soil was slippery, the climb was tough but somehow we managed to reach the top. From then on, it was an easy path through flowing grass meadows, alongside a cliff overlooking some very beautiful forest area in the valleys beyond.

Even the steep side of the cliff was covered with grass, with a single tree in the distance. A photographer’s paradise! We climbed leisurely to “peak” only to find that the actual peak was about 100 meters ahead. We reached this second peak to find that the “actual” peak was again 100 meters ahead and so it went. Unfortunately, the pinthiris (read sane people) in the group pointed out the lack of light (it was about 6:20 P.M) and forced us to come down.

As is normal in these areas, darkness fell with surprising suddenness and we found ourselves doing a night trek, totally un-prepared. Moral of the story -> The light of a mobile is simply not enough! On the way back we lost our way (Big surprise!). We didn’t panic, but the tension was palpable. The path was slippery and we kept falling. Finally, one genius (also known as author!) in the group found out that walking on the grass was less slippery than the path. That was a good decision, people stopped falling for a change and were just worried of breaking their legs in some pot hole in the grass. Thankfully that didn't happen!

Finally, with some luck we got back on the right path. Enter the drama queen, err sorry dog!.... (thought it was a side kick with no role in the story, huh??) The dog, which was quietly following us till then, with not so much as a woof for miles and miles, suddenly moved to the front and started barking at top volume at something ahead of us in the dark. Fear as they say, is about the unknown, if it had barked at us, we would know what we were facing, we would be scared alright, but in a decent scare-able manner. But it was not barking at us, it was barking at something in the dark just ahead of us.

The phrase “Scared shitless” assumed realistic proportions. Was it an elephant? A tiger/leopard? Or a snake? Theories flew thick and fast, but after about a minute, the dog stopped barking as suddenly as it started. We stayed rooted to the spot for another 10 minutes though. Gathering courage is a slow process...:) Finally, we continued on with the last part which was filled with leeches. This time, nobody was bothered, since you couldn’t see a damn thing anyway. All the effort was on getting back alive, funny, how priorities change so fast! In the mean time, Deepu almost managed to kill himself, when he misjudged and nearly fell into the cliff side. Sadly, that was not to happen!

Back at the room it looked like a war scene right out of Hollywood, once we removed our shoes. Blood everywhere and people leaking it like water! The only solace was the food in the canteen. We ate like crazy and gave some for the faithful dog too. We even named it Tony (a take on Pullachen…:D) (I hope it was not insulted by the insinuation!)

Mokri agreed to set the alarm for the next day when we would be trekking to Hebbe falls about 13 Kilometers from Kemmanagundi. Turns out that the mobile did not go off due to some weekend-alarm-off setting and we wake up 2 hours late. Since nobody wanted to trek all 26 K.M’s on the same day, we hired a jeep which would take us to 5 K.M from the falls and a guide who would take us through the shortcut. This trek was beautiful, we had to cross small brooks everywhere and re-cross them before reaching the foot of the falls.

Hebbe falls is simply majestic at 150 feet. The water is crystal clear and unlike so many waterfalls in south India, there was no plastic or other waste. Best of all, there was nobody at the falls, except us. We had reached the falls at perfect timing. It was early and the crowds had not yet started to come in.

The only problem was that it was horridly cold. The water seemed to have just melted from ice and it pained us to stand in it for any long time. I and Anand swam up to the base of the falls and sat below it. I tried climbing up the rock face of the falls and when about 10 feet up, the force of the water suddenly increased! For a second there, vivid images of my leg in a cast flashed all across Grey matter land. I had some really tense moments before making it safely back to ground (water) 0.

The trek back was tiring since we had to climb back all the way. But finally we made it back safely and started our drive back to Bangalore. This time we did not make any stops till Bangalore and fortunately there was hardly any traffic on the roads. We reached about 1 hour ahead of expectations. One of the better trips, I had had in a long time!


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