I sat there, all alone near the peak of a nameless hill. The sun began to recede slowly, the light began to dim. The beauty of the dusk had once again set upon the Ghats. In the distance, I glanced upon the Arabian sea. I enjoyed every moment up there, the rustle of the shola grass, the screaming wind, the sudden bouts of mist and thought to myself, ‘this is life’.
I sat there, alone, thinking how fortunate I was to experience such a feeling again. It was just three months ago that I had a crazy bicycle crash on tour. I couldn’t walk for a month after and the effects lingered on till about a few days before the trek.
The trek I am talking about was one to Bandajje Arbi falls and Ballarayana Durga fort. It was organized by the Bangalore Ascenders group. This route is located in the Charmadi Ghats area in the Dakshina Kanada district of Karnataka.
I set out from home on the night on Friday night, the 25th of November. Needless to say I had butterflies in my stomach. Majestic bus stand, Bangalore, platform 14 was the spot designated to meet the rest of the travelling party. The group consisted of 12 guys, all rather experienced at such outings. After a hasty round of introductions we were all seated in the bus. We arrived at our destination, a town called Dharmasthala, before the break of dawn. We had to wait for sunrise before we could get ourselves some breakfast and a ride to the base village of our trek, Mundajje. A little after daybreak we hired 2 gypsies and were off.
After navigating some non-existent roads for an hour we finally reached Mundajje. And so here began our trek. We quickly moved through the local fields and into the forest. The lack of moisture in the forest bed made sure the leech menace was minimal. The terrain was undulating till the first stream crossing.
The stream crossing was slightly tricky. The lucky ones only got their feet wet unlike others who happened to drop their belongings. After this point the route got steeper, the sun rose higher and the humidity began to sink in. Progress was slow and frequent breaks became necessary. Every gust of wind was greeted with smiles from the travellers and a cacophony of noises from the drying forest.
After about 4 hours in the forest we finally hit the high altitude grasslands. These grasses called shola grasses are endemic to the south of the Western Ghats. Reaching the grasslands always brings renewed energy to a group on any trek. The wind blows freely here, the weather is cool and one can view the most beautiful vistas in all directions. After the monotony of the forest the grasslands are often a sight for sore eyes.
We were informed by our leader, Girish, that the Bandajje Arbi waterfalls were barely a few kilometres away. Soon the falls became visible in the distance and got the shutterbugs amongst us excited. Our proposed campsite was in the direction of the falls so we continued to head in that direction. Halfway to the falls we decided to stop for lunch. Signs of the presence of wild animals in the area were evident. The ground was littered with elephant and bison dung.
We moved forward and reached the stream that would flow to culminate at the falls. Girish and a few others left to identify a campsite. I just decided to loiter around by the stream and click a few photographs. After an hour or so and a lot of gaffes the camp, …umm more like two flimsy sheets of tarpaulin were set up. It was now time for the restless among us to explore the area.
Johan and Dan decided to ascend to the peak of this hill which looked to be the tallest in the vicinity. I decided to join them, hoping I’d get a few good clicks up top. What I got though was way more than any of us bargained for. The other side of this hill was more of a steep rock face. It provided us a panoramic view of the entire area. In the distance I glanced upon Ballarayana Durga fort, our destination for the next day. The wind here was crazy and refused to let us stand still for more than a few seconds. After a few superman poses we decided to head down. At this point it was about 5pm. I decided to let the two of them carry on and wait half-way up this hill for the sunset in the west. Though the grand sunset I envisioned never occurred the time spent alone on that hillside was simply magical.
View from the hilltop.
As darkness began to set in I started moving towards base-camp. As the entire team began to gather we had only one thing on our mind, dinner. A three course meal in the middle of nowhere is a godsend. We started with soup; some awful MTR precooked rice and rotis and topped it off with canned Gulab Jamun.
The night was rather rough with constant gusts of wind sending shivers through our bodies. The fact that our tarpaulin structure collapsed in the middle of the night did not help our cause of getting some sleep.