Sunday, June 1, 2014

Trek - Bandaje Arbi Falls

Backpacking through the hinterlands is such an amazing to-do thing.  The people you meet, culture you experience, team bonding that develops - in all its a vibrant experience.  Had been a pretty long time, i had ventured out on a hard core travel stuff.  Mind craving, up came the plan for a two day trek to Bandaje Arbi Falls located in the state of Karnataka.   I had done this trek earlier in the winter 3 years back, now was opportunity to do it in the beginning of the monsoon.

Team: L To R -- Prasanna, Harish, Subbu, Muni, Arun, Muthu

Work started with reading of latest blogs to understand current conditions.  Few new developments had come in, to what i had last time.  Permission from KA Forest department was to carry out the trek was a must.  We got in touch with the concerned official and he obliged.  

This trek mandates the support of a guide as day one is through a thick Shola forest where at times there are no routes due to the overgrowth of vegetation.  We checked with couple of the known guides in the area and were not getting a favorable response.  Sanjay who was suggested by the Forest guard had agreed but with a rider that he would accompany only for a day and would leave us at the Arby falls.  With no better option left, we had to agree to this as day 2 were full of grass lands and navigation is not that difficult.  All set, now it was a six member team that would take up the two day conquest of the W Ghats.

Plan was to start the trek from the Dharmasthala side and exit via the Hornadu side.  Tickets were booked in KSRTC accordingly from Bangalore.

Details of the Trek:
  • Trek to Bandaje Arbi Falls
  • Camp over night atop Arbi Falls
  • Trek from Arbi Falls to Ballalarayana Durga and reach Sunkasale

Day 0:

Five of us started off from Chennai (Muni based at Blr)  in my Figgy and plan was to reach Muni’s house in time to catch the bus to Dharmasthala by 10:20 PM at Bangalore.  Tight schedule and location of Muni’s house at Blr forced us to take the Chittor-Kolar route which is a two lane filled with purest of Morons on the road.  Meanwhile Muni had collected the tents from BMC and we reached just in time to board the bus at Majestic. 

Chennai to Bangalore by Figgy

Day 1:

We reached Dharmasthala via Hassan – Sakleshpur an hour late than the scheduled time by 6:30.  Finishing off our morning chores, we hired a Jeep to Bandaje with a pit stop at Ujjire.  Finished our b’fast with Mangalore buns and packed some for the lunch. 

At Dharmasthala bus station

At Ujjire

 Jeep guy dropped us at the estate house of Narayana Gowda which is the start point of the trek.  Raj – the forest guide arrived once we informed him and we finished the formalities with a request letter and paid the trek fee.  Sanjay who was to be our guide arrived and informed us of the leeches which he felt might trouble us.  We got some snuff powder and applied it on to the socks and shoes.  Little did we realize at that time that no power on earth is going to save us from leech bites that day.

Note: Narayana Gowda who used to help trekkers by providing guides is no more.  His son Kishore can be contacted for hiring of guides.

Narayana Gowdar Mane, Starting point of the trek
Sanjay - Guide

All set and with do and dont's dished out by the Forest Guard, we started the trek slowly through the plantations by 9:50.  Plantations slowly gave way to thick shola forest, rains had just receded two days back and humidity level inside the forest was extremely high.  Profuse sweating took toll on us making us take small breaks and the ascend was becoming tougher.  Now started the encounter with the 2 inch predator which kept us on our toes till late noon.

Crossing Streams

Last of habitaion

There we need to go!

Decked up for the ascent

Every face spells out the state! 

Gasping stops

Any point in time four to five leaches were climbing on to us and if we stopped any where, it became tens of them attacking in all directions.  We stopped couple of seconds here and there pulling them down, still everyone was bitten badly.  Reached the stream crossing by 12 Noon,   we put down all luggage and checked every bit of us to pull out the leeches.  Snuff powder was snuffed away by leaches of Bandaje and they were happily doing their duty deep inside our shoes. 

Red terror caused by predator
Being the last big water body before the falls, we had our lunch here and filled our bottles.  Atmosphere was very serene with crystal clear water which was flowing down from the Arbi falls.  Hour spent relaxing, we moved further and ascend became even tougher.  Leech menace continued and ensured that we run, literally run for our lives. 

At about 15:00 we reached the edge of the forest, where starts the grass lands and the respite of a leech-less land.  Beauty of the place just hits you the moment you step out of the forest as you can see endless grasslands interspersed with Shola forests.  We took some rest before we proceeded on to the final leg of the day.  

Six - O- people

Mid way into the grasslands, we came across a small pool of water flowing down the ridge, it was a spring.  Filling our bottles, we proceeded further.  Spring water is the purest form of water you can ever have.

Spring water

30 mins into the trek, we could spot the Arbi falls dropping 200 ft down the cliff.  Sanjay our guide wanted to return to his village and we bid adieu to him thanking for all help.

Arbi Falls
Steady trek for another hour lead to us to a peak.  Other side of the peak lies a valley through which gushes the waters, thundering  down to become the Arbi falls.  The approach to this valley is bit scary with a 200ft gorge having a descent of 70 degrees.  Any small slip could cost us dear.  With great caution we reached the water body and crossed over to the camping site by 17:00. 

We were the only souls this time in the camping area and we chose two tenting spots next to each other.  Light was fading and took us an hour to pitch both the tents in place and also lit the camp fire.

Everyone was exhausted to the core and Muni had just spotted a Bison family on the next hill.  Guys could hardly eat and we just wanted to get into the tents and call it a day.  Scary noises of insects and birds kept few awake in the night. 

Tent ready !!

Night spent, we got up early by 5:30.  Gushing waters of the stream and rays from the rising sun made the atmosphere very relaxing.  We had good time taking a dip in the ice cold waters of the stream.  It was real fun listening the next day the horrific thoughts the guys had - fear  of a lone elephant tramping us down, heavy thunder showers hitting us and what not.  Guys even had leeches biting them in their dreams.  What made matters worse was the fact that, we were the only ones camping that day in the middle of the forest and were exposed to danger from unexpected quarters without any support.

Water gushing down to form the Arbi falls

Winding up the tent and packing our bags, filling the water bottles we left for the next destination - Ballalarayana Durga by 9:30.  Guide, the day prior had given us basic directions to the fort.  Following his directions we crossed two mountains only to find no sight of the fort.  For couple of minutes, feeling of being lost crept into everyone.  Some close inspection of the trail and sense of direction I could figure out that we are on the right path and followed a trail leading us to other side of the next hill.  Hurray, I could spot the Fort at a distance some 4-5 hills down.  Having done the trek earlier, I could make out the fort from a distance. 

Making matters worse now was the fact that clouds were all over us and visibility dropped to 20 feet.  Relying on the trail we kept progressing on the terrain, day 2 of this trek is kind of manageable as steep ascents are small patches.  

Clouds playing hide n seek

Visibility - where !

Fort at a distance

Path goes on and on

Bison family 

30 mins down the trail, I spotted a bison group on the next hill.  Sound of my footsteps had captured their attention and the group was staring at me.  Rest of the group was as at a distance and it was me and Muthu facing the beasts.  We decided to run away from that place before the bisons even decide to charge and to our astonishment, they ran helter skelter into the forest.  Relieved, we continued our journey only to see another group of animals which looked like the bison on the hill next to the fort.  We had exhausted all water we had, making matters worse was the fact that, next source of water was 4 hours away. 

Ballalarayana Durga

We reached the fort by 12:30 and to our surprise found a samaritan Lokappa who resides in the fort rearing cattle.  Those animal we had seen on the next hill were indeed his cows and he had 100 of them.  He provided us with much needed water and shared stories of leopard taking away his cattle and of the visitors to his place elephants, bears and bisons.  We had a pretty nice chat and he was asking us of our trip and whereabouts.  The fort ramifications were running on the next two hills and it was pretty curious a thing of why such a fort in the first place was built in the midst of a dense forest.

Lokappa and his humble house

Fortification running across the hill

About the fort:

 The Ballalarayana Durga fort was constructed by the wife of Veera Ballala-l who was the king of the Hoysala Empire in the 12th century. The Hoysalas were known to be patrons of art and architecture and built several temples and a few forts during their rule. The Ballalarayana fort was built in the Karnata Dravida style of architecture, the architectural style that was popular in the Hoysala Empire during their rule. Situated atop a hill that is 1509 metres high, the fort overlooks the town of Sunkasaale. The fort has lost its glory and stands as a distant reminder of its beautiful past.  

We asked Lokappa for further directions as clouds around the fort were giving us zero visibility of the valley below.  With clouds clearing now and then, he pointed us to the mud road in the plains and the Battar mane where we can have some rest and food.  As things were not so promising, we requested him to accompany us till a distance down the hill.  The fort is the final point atop the hill and next part of the trek involves rapid descent down the hill partly through grass lands and thick foliage.  He accompanied us for next one hour till a point where we could help ourselves.  We thanked this angel of the day and proceeded down the hill till we reached the jeep track and then the thar road.  

Border line, summit reached
By about 15:00 we reached the house of Battar, we were dead hungry by the time.  Muni the only Kannda speaker conveyed our condition to the wife of Battar.  Battar was away and the old lady proved the next angel of the day.  Not only did she allow us take rest in their property, she served us with a preparation by name “Halasina Hannina Kadubu”.  Basically a mixture of jack fruit and rice, grind-ed and steam cooked – a South Canara delicacy.  Kadubu tasted divine and jack fruit was from the trees in the very same property.  The old lady felt very bad that she could not serve us with proper food and asked us to relax for some time.  We got the directions for Sunkasale from her and proceeded on to catch an auto.  

Halasina Hannina Kadubu

We were there couple of hour ago..
Reaching Sunkasale in another 30mins, we had some quick bite at a small hotel there and caught the bus to Horanadu.  Next on the agenda was the visit to the Annaporneswari temple at Horanadu.  30kms journey winding through the thick forest and coffee plantations lead us to Horanadu, situated on the banks of river Bhadra.  Temple authorities have built a very good choultry next to the temple where we booked ourselves a room to freshen up.  The rooms were so clean and with running water.  Karnataka temples stand apart in providing good facilities to the devotees which I often find lacking in TN. 

Annapoorneshwari temple at Horanadu.
 (Courtesy:Temple Portal)
Being a working day, temple was sparsely crowded, we had a nice darshan and proceeded to the Annadana hall.  More than Annadana, it is considered the prasada of goddess Annapoorana.  Finishing the Annadana, we packed our bags for the bus to Bangalore at 21:15.

Bus dropped us of at Bangalore at 5 AM and we proceeded on to Muni’s house.  Took some rest and had a great B’fast at Muni’s place and we bid adieu to his family and left for our destinations. 

 It was only three of us returning to Chennai we took the relaxed Krishnagiri route to back home.

Few Pointers:

  • Dharmasthala is 300kms from Bangalore.  KSRTC has services of all classes on this sector.
  • Driving down would not make sense as trek ends on the other side of the ghats.  If driver is doing the job, he can be asked to be at Sunkasale the next day evening.
  • Dharmasthala to Bandaje village is about 20kms.  B’fast and food parcel can be taken at Ujjire which is the last place with basic facilities.  Jeep guys charge anywhere between 600 to 700 INR for this leg
  • KA Forest permission is mandatory.  Prior phone permission helps.  Charges 75 + 200 INR per head
  • Guide for one day Rs 950 till Arbi falls
  • Time to Trek: 4-6 hrs from Gowdara mane to Bandajje Falls. 2-3 hrs from Bandajje Falls to Fort. 1-1.5 hr down to Durgadahalli
  • Distance: 8-9 kms from Gowdara mane to Bandajje Falls. 4 - 4.5 kms from Bandajje Falls to Fort. 3 kms down to Durgadahalli. Total ~15-17 kms
  • Autos are available from Durgahalli to Sunkasale, distance of about 10kms.  If energy levels permit, can be done on foot.
  • Sunkasale to Horanadu buses every 20 mins, distance of 30kms
  • Horanadu is 319kms from Bangalore.  KSRTC has SKS and Rajahamsa services plying on this route.
  • Horanadu has a huge temple choultry with clean rooms with running water.  120 INR per day room rent
  • Horanadu is part of Chickmagalur district famous for coffee plantations. Coffee can be purchased from shops here.
  • Contact Details for the trek:
    • Forest Officer: 99013 46952
    • Guide - Sanjay: 97408 83257
    • Kishore Gowda(Landlord Bandaje) : 99019 39829