kemmannugundi trek : the story

(suresh's version is here)

There was no direct KSRTC bus from Bangalore to Kemmannugundi. We met at platform 4 of the KSRTC bus stand in Majestic and waited for the bus to Tarikere. After a struggle 3 of us got into the 11pm bus, but there were not enough seats for all of us and we didn't want to stand, so we got off the bus after another struggle. We managed to get into the 12 pm bus and grab seats. We reached Tarikere by 5 (?). The bus fare per head was Rs 80.

The bus dropped us off at a circle where there is this statue of the Mahathma. After a while of resting we had an early breakfast of idlis and dosas with coffee/tea at this circle at about 6. There was this guy who was selling hot idlis, dosas and pulao along with coffee and tea. The seven of us ran the bill up to Rs 56.

It was time to look for transportation to Kemmannugundi. The bus that would usually leave at 6:30 was running some other route that day. We got a lorry to carry us up to Kemmannugundi. Suresh, Avinash, Sajid and Srini enjoyed the ride on the open back of the truck while Amith. Shyam and I were happily bouncing up and down inside the drivers cabin. The road was quite dusty and bumpy. I kept trying to take pictures of the guys outside and Suresh kept trying to block the camera. Somewhere near Kalhattipura at the foot of the hill, the boy with the lorry asked us whether one of us would pay for all or each would pay for himself, and told us that the fare was Rs 120. Up the hill there were what I thought were close brushes with oncoming trucks, on the narrow roads and sharp hairpin bends, with our man making hard turns at the last moments. We were on the hill side for the most part, and the other lorry was on the cliff side.

We got off the lorry in front of Giri hotel and after a snap started up the hill on the road in front of the hotel. A group of guys in sleeveless t-shirts passed us. We had tender coconuts at a place midway to the special officers residence. We paid an entry fee of Rs 2 each at the gate, where I snapped this white flower on the roadside. Near this Special Officers Residence there was a bus-stop where a tourist bus with a lot of young boys and girls stood. Down the road there were pay-and-use toilets which we made abundant use of, at Rs 2 per head. They were pretty clean but stinking. There were jokes about core dumps and incremental dumping. There was some space to the other side of the narrow road, opposite the entrance to these toilets, where we were able to spread out our stuff. Avinash and Amith unpacked their SLR cameras while Sajid took out his binoculars and shared it with Srini to watch the girls near the bus.

We had some of the many oranges that Avinash, Amith and Shyam had packed and went back down the road beyond Giri hotel. There was a little confusion about where exactly we had to get off the road, and an old woman at the hotel told us that it was near the second milestone from the hotel. Our trek started there, at about 9am.

We went downhill, crossed a small stream, went uphill, reached the road, downhill again and caught a few buffaloes by surprise. They weren't exactly wild ones but they looked bigger and stronger than the ones we get to see in Bangalore. After considering posing for our cameras they decided to get frightened and ran away. Then we walked on a lot of burnt grass and black stones and someone explained that the forest department people burn down some part of the forest every year to prevent forest fires from breaking out. I don't remember which way we went after that. At one downhill stretch of the dry mud road, Amith slipped and fell backwards. His Canon EOS Rebel camera with its zoom lens extended with its cap removed, made physical contact with the road. It collected a lot of dust and got bent. Amith and Avinash held some instant mourning and Amith packed the injured device back into his pack.

At about 11:50 we took a semi-steep shortcut off the road and got to a shady place where we unloaded. Avinash took his Nikon FM-10 camera off from around his neck with his left hand, and before he had it steady, took off his bag with his right hand. I guess he lost his balance, the camera touched the ground a little hard. Shyam distributed some chocolates and we took about 15 minutes rest, catching some sleep. We walked uphill to meet the road, then walked down the road, and through a gate which said 'Doopadgiri estate'. This was a nice place, with some good looking flowers on the roadside. The road led to a residence, where an old lady told us that we had to go all the way back and take a different route to reach Hebbe falls. So we walked back the road again to a place where the road split, took the left side which ran somewhat uphill.

I don't remember how the route went till we got something like within 3-4 kms of Hebbe falls. There were these women workers from the coffee plantations who were having lunch on the left side of the road, acting shy before my camera, but not too shy to ask us for our ground mats which they would use for having lunch on and return to us on our way back. They got only a flash of my camera and a flash of my teeth. There was a split in the road and a sign saying 'hebbe falls', pointing to the road to the right. We passed a house on the left side, with a board advertising refreshments, where an old woman asked us whether we would like some juice. We confirmed our direction and went down the road, and at one corner we saw to our right the flat plot of land where would camp that night. We turned left and went a short way down the road to see the sleeveless guys trying to coax one of their team mates to climb up the steep shortcut saying 'Bharath you can do it, come on'. Shyam went down the path without much ado, Amith and I were somewhat less forthcoming. I went down last.

Every few minutes the sound of water would get so much louder that we thought it wouldn't be farther than a 10 minutes walk. We went downhill, crossed a couple of streams, went uphill again. This time the path was very narrow, just wide enough for a couple of humans of my size. On the way up we crossed the team from the bus that was coming down. Shyam ran off up the hill while Amith and I sat down for some rest, water and an orange. We resumed after 5 minutes and by that time Avinash and Srini had already caught up with me. We went down a steep downhill series of stone steps to finally reach the falls.

It looked pretty, but not huge. Friendly enough and not at all dangerous. I got into swimming trunks and went into the water. Srini had already swam a couple of trips across the hole at the foot of the falls. I only sat on a rock ledge, waist-deep in the water. I couldn't bring myself to get into the cold water. Kicking my feet in the cool water was pleasurable enough. Avinash and Suresh got in the water and we splashed each other a bit. Amith and Shyam would not get in the water, happy sitting on a rock far outside. Sajid was quick in getting out a cigarette and started to smoke away.

After some 15-20 minutes of playing in the water we got back up to a flat spot where we had unloaded all our stuff, and had our lunch of buns, oranges, dates and groundnuts. I slept off for about half an hour, but it seemed like much more. When I woke up, there was a couple at the foot of the falls. The guy was swimming in his t-shirt and jeans!

At about 3:45 Shyam hurried us to get up and start going back. We packed in a few minutes and started walking back on an easier path that went down along with the stream. The guy with the watched girl was talking to Srini. Apparently he was from Infosys, I overheard him saying he would also like to do 'things like these' meaning treks etc.

Srini and I walked ahead while the rest rested. We did not take the sleeveless shortcut uphill.

Srini and I reached the camp site first, at 4:45. I thought this was some achievement since I thought I was feeling quite tired but perhaps thats why I went so fast because I wanted to rest. After the whole team reached, we spread out our mats and spent some time sleeping. Shyam, Srini and Suresh went down in search of water and couldn't find a way to get down to the stream, so they got back with firewood. They brought some water from near the juice-vendors house. We were too lazy to get enough water to wash the plates after dinner. Jeep number 36 went up the road, carrying the two couples.

Suresh cooked rice and I helped by breaking the firewood into small pieces. Avinash mashed up the Puliyogare paste and helped Suresh mix it while Srini supplied salt for the dish. Amith made the papads on the embers. Shyam and the others made a campfire at the road-side corner of the plot. We ate the puliyogare with papad and some stick-like chips that Suresh had carried. We were interrupted in our dinner by a group of locals who wanted to know whether we would be camping there overnight, would we prefer some other better accommodation etc. One old man who looked uniformed and sounded very drunk, asked us who gave us the order (permission?) to stay overnight in that place. The other people prompted us by asking "you'll go away after eating, wont you?" , we said yes and they took him away.

After dinner we were in a hurry to get into bed. Shyam got us out of bed to show some respect to it. We were in bed by 8pm. I had fears of someone stealing my Woodland shoes in the night. I had my bag safely under my head, but without shoes how would I walk back ? Of course there was that jeep but ... I covered myself completely with my blanket for fear of mosquitoes and other multi-legged invaders. I recognized the Orion constellation in the sky right in front. I realized that I was sleeping directly under a branch high above and if I were to wake up late I might find bird droppings on my face - which was another reason to cover my face with my blanket. I woke up many times in the night, but by the time I woke up at 6:30am I had already dreamt of being at home and talking about some routine subject which I don't remember now.

Srini and I stayed while the others went down to the water. It was a 5 minute walk through coffee plantations. I carried an empty plastic container that had come with Ariel soap powder, to carry water. We had core dumps in the wild, washed our faces feet and dinner plates, brushed our teeth, took snaps and walked back. I was wondering whether we took too long, Srini said breakfast would be ready by the time we got back, I hoped it wouldn't be gone by that time.

However Suresh had only started the fire when we got there. Maggi was ready in a few minutes. I took up my plastic plate from the ground where Srini had left it and shook it to get the remaining water off, it broke in my hand. The long smaller piece was good as a spoon to eat the noodles with. We had some more papads to go with the Maggi. It was a tasty breakfast.

When we packed all our stuff along with all the plastic bags in a bigger plastic bag and and left the camp site it was 10am (?). We walked up to the juice-vendors house and rested for a while, washing the maggi-ridden plates and filling up water in the bottles. The woman again asked us whether we would like some juice, perhaps she didn't see that we were actually making some then and there. Two servings from my plastic mug to each of us and the remaining was bottled for later.

We walked back through the residence of the owners of the estate in which Hebbe falls is located (oh - I forgot to include the part where we came through it the previous day). Sprinklers were on and the place stank of fertilizers. After a lot of walking we came to the bare region apparently behind the Doopadgiri estate residence. I caught up with Srini and the two of us walked in a direction which we thought was a short cut, while Amith, Avinash and Suresh kept to the motorable road. Our route was steep uphill and by the time we reached the shade of a thin tree I was quite exhausted. The on-track team was consulting Jeep number 36. Sajid and Shyam were following us. I sat in the shade and counted 5 lines of hills - one behind the other - beyond which I could not see any more because of the haze.

Shyam and Srini took off uphill while I waited for Sajid to get up, but they came back down again telling us we should continue down the road, which was what we would have done anyway. Some local guy confirmed the route, we walked through some shrubbery and some 15 minutes later got somewhere near the place where we had met the buffaloes. After that it was another 15 minutes to get back to Giri hotel.

We got back to the pay-and-use toilets and unloaded by the side of the road. Some 10 minutes later the remaining threesome showed up. We rested there watching the people and cars for some time before a bus came up and stopped at the bus stop at about 2:30?. Srini went down to enquire and came running back saying the bus would leave immediately to Tarikere. We packed, got Shyam and Suresh out of the toilets and were in the bus - all in a couple of minutes. Bumpy ride again, but this time we also had a lot of company. Suresh bought some glass bangles from a woman who sat beside him. Some guy asked me what my mat was made of, I said 'foam'. How much was the bus fare ?

We got off at the same Mahathma statue and went to his left into the railway station, Amith bought the tickets and we were on the train in a some 10 minutes. That was about 3:30 ? We had to stand in the train upto Birur. At Birur the train would add some carriages from somewhere else to Bangalore, so we got off, had some idlis and stuff, and went over to the place where that other train would arrive. We got into the last carriage, the train left at around 4:30 ? and at Kadur or Arsikere enough people got off to let us all have seats.

We reached Bangalore City station by 10 pm. Suresh and I went to the office and I rode my bike back home.