Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Konquering Kumara Parvatha - 23,24 Jan 2016

While the previous visit was memorable and disappointing for different reasons, not being able to reach the finishing line rankled the most. And what better way to finally do it than the wonderful company of BTC.

With Republic Day falling on a Tuesday this year, Friday evening rush was worse than normal weekends. Fortunately, with traveling distance less than 300 KM, schedule was flexible. We gathered at the usual spot (Shanthala Silk house near Majestic) along with another group going for Tadiandamol - greeting old timers and chit-chatting on treks, sleeping bags and mats. From our 12 member group, I already knew organizers Channa and Hiren, fellow trekkers Naresh, Prakash, Sathesh, Aditya. Ananya, Jackson, Mukunda, Sushma and Poornima became familiar by end of trek :)

Around 11 PM, we started our journey. A quick round of introduction followed the fuel stop and then we tried our best to catch some sleep despite our crazy speeding driver. At one of the regular stops around 4 AM, some of us had tea/coffee and some had dosas! Around 5 AM, 1-2 KM from Kukke Subramanya, we stopped by the Kumaradhara river to freshen up. The place had restroom facilities, changing rooms, sort of mini-dam to make about 100m of bathing space, large parking lot, sellers and public announcement system! Lots of people were having bath and using the amenities, presumably to visit the temple at Kukke later.

After reaching Kukke Subramanya, we first went to temple. Plenty of devotees were already in queue. After darshan time (6:30 AM), we moved at a steady pace. Once outside, we had breakfast - idli-vadas, Mangalore buns, neer dosas - topped up with tea/coffee.


It was then time for trekking. We left extra baggage in the TT, packed our bags to carry sleeping bags, mats and tents. On the way, we filled our water bottles at the hotel, brought milk and other items as may be needed later. After a minor wrong turn, we were on our way to starting point (also noted that a trekking gears rent shop had been put up) which took us 30 minutes to reach.

Before venturing into forest, Channa and Hiren re-iterated BTC policies and we introduced ourselves again. And of course, we clicked photos :P The steep forest trail is the toughest part of this trek. Like within 10 minutes we were taking a break :P We sweat profusely, which takes a bit to get used to. Though this time it wasn't as much as my previous attempt in Sep 2012, when apart from sweating I felt as if I had 105 degrees of fever.



So, we would climb for 10 minutes or so, those in front waiting for everybody to catch up, catch our breadth and continue. Rinse. Repeat. Little trekking nuggets thrown in here and there. And when opportunity presents for bit of fun - like clinging onto tree trunks with legs and/or arms, we made sure our photos were snapped. 


 

Uprooted trees, twisted trunks, spider nests on the ground wrapping leaves and smaller plants, fungus on trees, other trekkers - all contrasts in otherwise monotonic climb. There is also a waterfall somewhere in the middle (which we didn't visit) if one is attentive enough to hear it or notice a small path deviating. Took us about 100 minutes from start of forest to winding paths outside. And that is impressive I would say, though admittedly our early start was very helpful. Unlike those we met the next day, climbing up in sweltering conditions.



Outside the forest clearing, while waiting for others to catch, we observed some fist sized, quick and super cute birds chirping. There wasn't any hurry and we were beginning to find it increasingly difficult to climb, but somehow we kept at it - the rationale being to finish the ordeal asap. We even pushed each other like - lets finish this upward curve, it is flatter afterwards, when it was just more climbing the other side :D

Around 10:40 AM, about two-and-a-half-hours of trekking later, we stopped for a long break under the shade of a tree. Aditya took out first of his Rasna (remember the brand?) packet to mix with water and everybody had a sip. Just a tiny weeny bit of breeze now and then was soothing. Little did we know the grass around this spot would be ashes when we came back the next day.


Just before 11:30 AM, we reached Battarmane (run by an elderly guy, providing shelter and more importantly food), passing smaller hills around us and glimpse of tall ranges ahead. Too many trekkers were already feasting and resting. We settled down amidst trees, maintained by the old guy in front of his huts. It was a bit early for lunch, but we were hungry enough that a short while later, we were having sambhar rice (few lucky ones got left over upma from breakfast) with pickle and buttermilk to go with. Aditya again had snacks to share.


 
Post lunch, everybody spread out to rest. Some laid down on mother earth, some on sleeping mat and some on mats padded with sleeping bags and bed sheet tied across trees for shade :P A few just leaned against not so comfortable trees for chit-chat. By trees I mean tall and narrow pines and bananas. Cattle roamed about eating grass and leaves, cats in search of left-overs and petting while monkeys jumped about above us.



Two hours later, reluctantly in the heat, we packed to trek the short distance (10 minute hike, even shorter if one takes the path amidst those pine trees) to forest office. We knew and expected, but it was still a disappointment to be denied permission to trek to peak or even Kallumantappa and camp for the night. That is a standing decision since the forest fire last December and we saw for ourselves the devastating effects the next day.

Space in front of forest officer's place looked like flattened and cleared (except for grass of course) for trekkers to camp. And sections naturally separated as well. Some were already occupied. We got a good patch more than enough for our 5 tents with three previously used camp fire spaces. As it was pretty hot, we only marked our region by spreading tent base. Our bags were in shade at the officer's place. 

 
A short distance behind the forest office, there is a view point with benches to boot. And another view point is located 10-15 minute climb on the trail ahead. We discussed a bit about visiting that, but didn't materialize. Majority of the afternoon was spent lazying around, chit-chatting and sleeping. Plenty of guava trees around but no ripe fruit. Some climbed to next hill, some just visited the small pond nearby.
Around 4 PM, boredom finally gave way to few rounds of Uno, which we played despite the overhead merciless Sun. We modified the end game and even made up interesting game play with the two void purple cards. Past 5 PM, we tried to see if we could camp near the view point instead. While there was space for a few tents (which others utilized in the end), we decided to stay put.

So, we put up our tents and then went to view point as light started to fade. Lots and lots of trekkers and plenty still coming. Clouds spoiled sunset but we did take plenty of pictures. The view was good all around as well. We trudged back soon to prepare for camp fire. Everybody participated by collecting dry sticks from all around the area and in the end we had more then enough.
The forest officer went rounds to see people were careful with camp fires and gave suggestions as well. We even got a large cooking vessel which made things much easier for us. Thanks all the cooks for tasty coffee followed by soup (and those who got the materials). By then, it was 20 minutes past 7 PM and we decided to continue with dinner preparation - Hiren had brought Theplas, Naresh had two packs of half-cooked rotis (and importantly pickle jars) and others had got ready-to-eat MTR packs, cup noodles and even ready-to-mix poha. The most interesting of it all was the natural tava to heat the rotis! One of the most memorable dinner fest for sure.

The nearly full moon got a chance to shine now and then. We got music going - thanks to Sushma's bluetooth loudspeaker (Channa had a great time pranking others by getting hold of channel just before the new guy could connect). Aditya and Sushma led the way for dancing. Around 9:30 PM, the officer made another round asking people to put out camp fire and shut shop by 10 PM. Since we had plans for pre-dawn trekking the next day, we were already winding up.

Compared to Bengaluru, the weather wasn't cold. Some even slept outside tent on sleeping mat while some left the tent front open so as to not feel stuffy inside. We got much better sleep than the TT journey but most were woken up around 2 AM - of all reasons, for cattle grazing nearby! The fellows sleeping outside tent took to shooing them off.

Around 4 AM, we woke up, freshened up, packed our bags, mats and tents. We took only absolutely necessary stuff for trekking - two liters of water, stuff for breakfast and snacks, leaving rest of the items in forest officer's room. Some groups had left even earlier than us, still starting at 5:15 AM in the morning felt really early


 
It took us about 15 minutes to reach the next view point. With the moon shining bright and straight forward trail, the relatively gentle climb to start with served as excellent warm-up for our stiff legs. It also helped that we were carrying much lighter baggage. Now and then we would stop for everybody to gather, sip a mouthful of water and take snaps.

As it was nearing dawn, Channa asked Naresh to lead fast trekkers to appropriate hill for sunrise. In effect, most of us just climbed at our natural pace. Hearing stream to our right meant we were nearing Kallumantappa which we reached by 6:30 AM. It was still dark enough to require flash for clicking pics. Naresh and few others were ahead climbing, while we thought Channa was behind and taking it easy until he caught us. Little did we know he had skipped this route, taken a shorter path, and was waiting for us when we finally rounded the hill!



This little section was steeper as well as footing was risky on tiny stones. The blackness from forest fire was all there to see as well - but life goes on and there were new green shoots rising from ashes. Looking back, we could see the path we had trekked and as far as the forest office and nearby view point. Thinking on it felt surreal to have covered so much distance in the early hours of morning.

By 7 AM, huffing and puffing from the climb, we saw what our fast trekkers were upto - climbing an even more steeper path to hill top, with an awesome view of golden sun rays gracing the misty sea of clouds. 



After a prolonged break and photoshoot with beautiful nature, we set our sight on scaling Sesha Parvatha (Kumara Parvatha isn't visible anyway from this side :P). A sign board helpfully pointed the way with estimated distance of 2 KM to KP peak - not sure on what criteria was it measured, but it took us about 2 hours, including breakfast halt time.

Around 8 AM, with Sun blazing in all its glory directly in front of us, we flagged Sesha Parvatha. We met a few trekkers on their way down and a few about to finish their breakfast on their way up. We first gobbled up two bread packs with jam. Then Channa and Poornima surprised us all with bunch of home made lightly stuffed chappathis - the pickle jars came in handy again. Two khakra packets went in next. Finally oranges - doubled as thirst quencher as well its outer skin for washing hands!


Half an hour past 8, we were onto the final stretch. I was thrilled that my resolve of more than 3 years was about to be fulfilled. The trail first led into forest - but much easier as it was bit of downhill and flat track. Stones strewn around were mossy. 20 minutes later we were out of the forest and immediately accosted with sheer rock face to climb. Daring trekkers took that path (with advantage of able to fill water from thin stream flowing), while cautious ones simply used the much easier path on the left side.



It turned into much longer break of 25 minutes. But then again, like yesterday, our average pace was pretty good and plenty of time left in the day. The remaining gentler climb took us about 15 minutes and much to everybody's relief we were finally at the peak, more than 4 hours since we started.


We took few snaps and then went exploring the peak ahead - a spot to relax in the shade. After some time, we went to explore the other side, having a good view point of hills beyond. Overhead might be sunny, but what lay ahead was sea of misty clouds and hills below surfacing only now and then. Simply breadth taking view and few minutes of serenity.


Back at the peak with rocks arranged (and a small temple), we spent some more time shooting pics. And at 20 minutes past 10 AM, we started our long trek back in the heat and tiring body. This time around more daredevils took the steep sheer rock face - and put it to good use, drinking as much water as possible and filling as many bottles as possible.



In about 40 minutes we reached Sesha Parvatha again. Our group had become more fragmented than while climbing up as everybody was probably tested to their limits on this monster of a difficult trek. Naturally, everybody stopped by the one good spot with trees to provide shade - about 10 minute hike after Sesha. Rasna, Electral, Dates, Chikkis and Biscuits to recharge ourselves. And back to climbing down in the heat and not so easy trail.


The section near Kallumantappa proved tricky again. The sandy trail with small stones littered were prone to slip and so we had make do with small grass holds. At the stream below, we filled our bottles and then took another long break in shade. The remaining oranges were finished off as well.

 
At last, around 1 PM, we reached the forest office - total 8 hours of round trip, phew! While resting and packing our bags again, we got the news about the latest forest fire (apparently due to negligence) - the officer was sweating profusely, like he had taken a bath.

For lunch, we went to Battarmane, taking the short-cut this time. Same menu as previous day. 15 minutes to 3 PM, we started our final stretch back to base, our bag heavy again with two filled water bottles. At least with plenty of time left in the day, we could take it easy.


 
But we somehow took a deviation and ended up rounding an extra hill. Thankfully we realized it soon and could take corrective course. But all wasn't well when we joined the proper trail again - blazing fire across, with the forest officer and his associate trying their best to calm a beast on their own. We said yes to their request to help. No fire extinguishers or even water. Cut down branches were used to beat on the fire directly and (I guess) by denying oxygen, it gets put out. Of course that depends on how fierce the fire was in particular patch and how effectively we could work. We managed to help a little bit in the grand scheme. One section caught fire again after we had moved on and it proved much more difficult to put out the second time around. With such a enormous task, the risk and our tiredness, we had to stop soon and convey our regrets. Am proud that we did our bit for the cause. Though I wish I could forget the crackling of fire as it swept the hills.

 
Our bags felt disturbingly hot when we picked them again. And there were lots of trekkers climbing up at this time! Most of them were huffing and puffing and many were really interested in knowing how long the ordeal was left to reach Battarmane or Forest office.

About half an hour later, I finally took out my Electral pack, mixed it in 3/4th of water bottle, had few sips and shared around. It tastes so good when you are dead tired and need to replenish. Then as we neared the forest stretch, we saw burnt out grass near the very tree we had rested under the previous day and loud cackling of fire further close to forest. I definitely got real scared.


The final stretch through forest proper took us about 70 minutes. It was mindless step after step, ever closer to base. Sathesh and I kept up steady conversation to pass time. With about 20 minutes to go, I played olden goldies songs on my phone - why didn't it strike earlier? It was so good to hear after all the trekking over two days. Once outside, we rested and snacked while Channa called up TT driver to pick us here (a welcome respite to end our 12 hour marathon trek)


We stopped by that Kumaradhara spot again. Most of us had a refreshing dip. And then asked the driver to go to Dharmasthala for temple visit and dinner. I like this aspect of BTC very much - the little things that so much enhances the experience. It is not just some mountain climbing and back to Bengaluru. By end of weekend, it is not just another peak flagged, but another set of friends made, another memorable event to be fondly reminisced in future including interesting tid-bits.

On the way, we stopped for a break - some had tender coconut, some coffee while some preferred to sleep :P At Dharmasthala, we went straight to join the queue to visit temple. Some joined the food queue. Not sure of exactly how long it took, but it was around an hour when we came out - and from elaborate system in place, it can be guessed that at special occasions, it might be several hours longer. And immediately afterwards, we joined the dinner queue - another hour of standing and waiting that some joked it was mini trail. The food was piping hot and tasty, topped up with a sweet.

Once outside (it was after 10 PM by then), we passed time so as to plan leaving by 11 PM and reach Bengaluru after 4 AM . We had feedback session here as well. When we started back, murphy's law came back with a vengeance at us - punctured tyre, which took more than an hour to fix due to lack of appropriate spanner and jammed bolts. We were finally on our way back past midnight and reached around 7 AM in the morning :D

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