Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Donigal Hike

It'd been a long, long time, since I'd gone on a trek. That's one thing, I miss a lot after moving out of IIT. Bangalore, is located on a plateau, with no mountain ranges close by. At least, not as close, as the Sahyadris were, to the campus. Trekking enthu dies hard, though.

Amol Patil, a close friend and a trek enthusiast, who recently moved to Bangalore, had a similar itch. He took enthu (read: had a lot of time on hands), and found out places nearby, which are interesting. We intended to leave on Saturday evening, and return by Sunday evening. There are lots of options available for a full weekend trek/hike, but comparatively, very few to cover within 24hrs. After a long search, we finalized on Donigal!

In days gone by, there was a meter gauge railway track between Hassan and Mangalore. Sometime, in 1987-1988, the track was closed down, for conversion to broad gauge track. The work is still going on. The trail from Donigal to Yedakumeri, a couple of stations on the way, is very interesting. A lot of bridges, tunnels, with magnificient scenery, and plenty variety in birds on the way, makes it a hiker's heaven.

The figures, that might be useful for those, intending to take up the hike:
Total time: 22hrs Bangalore-Donigal-Bangalore
Expenses per head: 400-450 including travel and food
Must haves: good torches, good shoes and camera!

On the first of February, 2003, we set out for the hike. Had a quick dinner with Amol at Gongura's at Koramangala, and reached the KSRTC bus stand at around 10pm. We had to look for buses that were going towards Mangalore. We had looked up the KSRTC website in the evening, and knew that the last bus was scheduled to leave at 2315hrs. Donigal is about half way to Mangalore. There are quite a number of `kinds' of buses: Luxury, Deluxe, Super Deluxe, Ultra Deluxe and what not. I'm sure as these people get more and more techie, there would be soon Mega Deluxe, and Giga Deluxe ;) It's possible to get seats in any of these, without prior reservations. We got tickets for Donigal in a `Deluxe' bus for about Rs. 150 each.

The bus started on it's way at around 11pm, and reached Donigal at around 3:30am. The road leading to Donigal railway station is on the right, about 10kms after Sakleshpur. We asked the driver for the way to Donigal railway station, at which, he pointed us to some `kaccha' road disappearing into the darkness. Later we realized we should have also asked him, how far is it. The path, the driver pointed us, was a jeep trail, leading into a dense jungle. We started walking. There wasn't much moon light. It was quite dark and there wasn't much of anything around, apart from bushes, bushes, trees and bushes. We, walking a couple meters apart were not able to see each other! We were having second thoughts whether, we should be attempting to hike down a jungle in an totally unknown area, at 3:30am in the morning, without any moonlight or any other source of light. Thankfully, we had a torch, but with weak batteries. As the jungle become denser and denser, we did not want to use the torch, which we thought would attract attention of animals and/or of people, who are upto no good. Besides, we'd to save the batteries for the tunnels. Probably, it was a bad idea for just two of us, hiking a jungle in the dead of the night. Nevertheless, we walked on, using the torch, as little as possible. Once or twice, we heard a twig snap, and we would pause, trying to listen to sounds, hardly daring to breath.

Once, we paused after hearing some noise. We were shocked to see two bright green spots staring at us from a distance of about 6-7 meter. Blinking intermittently. No point shouting; there was nobody to hear us. More than ever, we thought we should've been a bigger group. For a few minutes, we stood quiet; no torch; no whispers. The only reason we didn't think of running was probably because the gap separating the two spots was less than two inches, giving us a clue of the maximum size of the creature. Finally, we just ignored it and started walking again. It was some experience!

We walked for close to 3-4 kms, before we concluded that the driver didn't show us the right way. During that short hike, we had passed under a railway bridge, which had raised our spirits, but the jeep trail was going nowhere. It was close to 4:45am, when we decided to go back to the highway, hike back, a few kms, where we'd seen a tea stall, and ask the person there, about Donigal railway station. It would have been a long way back, but we had no other bright ideas. So, we did that. Came back to the spot where the driver had left us on the main highway and walked a few kms along the road towards Sakleshpur.

We reached the tea stall at around 6am, had tea and biscuits and queried the owner about the way to Donigal railway station. For a moment, I was pretty sure, that we'd gone the right way, from the tea stall owner's description of the way. But the owner added that the railway station is hardly any distance from the highway. ``Just around the corner!''. It reminded me of those trekking days in IIT, when the locals had no sense of distance or time. ``Just some distance away'', or ``2 min walking distance'' etc. Oh well! Hopefully, the railway station was indeed close to the highway, and we just missed it. Probably, by the time we get back to the point where the bus had dropped us, there might be people around, whom we could ask. We reached back to that point at around 7:15am. A young chap was standing at what seemed to be a bus stop. We asked him about the railway station. He pointed us to another `kaccha' road, which was a little distance away from the path, which the driver showed us. Ah! So that's the way. We went up, that road. In a distance, we saw a yellow walled, thatched roof structure, that looked like a railway station!

We moved in closer, and found it wasn't the railway station, but there was a railway line, close to it. Who cares for the station; we just wanted to start the hike. We asked a few guys, who were in that house, as to how far is Yedakumeri. By their reactions, I would have easily staked a million dollars, that they didn't have a clue. One of them, after a lot of oh-hums, finally put the distance to 8.5kms. Fine enough. The travelogue, which we had come across, had put the distance to 18kms. Well, we'll see. The time we started the trek, it was 7:30am, and we had walked in excess of 10kms already.

As the travelogue had said, the first 5-6 kms were not much fun. We were walking down a track, which cut through a small hillock. The hillock was dry and barren, with not much growing on it. Soon, we
came across a patch, which had very tall trees on our right. The patch was infested with so many birds of different kinds (well, don't expect us to name those exotic birds; both of us happen to be bird watchers of the other kind!!). It was like an `open air theatre', where we, sitting on tracks as if it was the stage and the semicircular green hillock around it with these birds; except that we were the audience listening to the birds! We missed our camera for the first time.

Around 8:30am, we came across the first bridge on the way. And man! was it exciting? You bet! The bridge was quite high and, at least, I was feeling quite dizzy, looking down. According to the travelogue, we had come across, the bridge was the highest in the series of bridges on the hike, and was around 175ft over the ground. A tip for the people, who are afraid of heights, like me, and want to take on the trail: don't look down :) Focus on the planks on which you would step to get across. An interesting thing Amol noticed about these iron planks placed at right angle to the wooden fish-plates; they'd an embossing on them mentioning the name of the manufacturing company and the year. Most of them were from "Sir H D Lee & Co" from years 1910, 1925 and so on. The oldest one we saw had embossed year 1891 on it! Hail Britishers!

We'd been walking since 3:30am, and were quite out of breath around 9am. We were looking for a stream, to sit by and relax for a minute or two. Soon, we came across a stream, which didn't have very clean water. Nevertheless, we took off our shoes and socks and dipped our feet into the cool water. My soles, were hurting cos of the coarse gravel on the way. I hadn't hiked for quite sometime, and it was evident.

Bridges after bridges, we crossed. Some of them would have thick vegitation while the rest would have smallish streams flowing down. We came across several labourers, toiling away, converting the meter gauge track to broad gauge. Several of them, pausing to stare, at us. On the way, we met people, whom we asked how far is it to Yedakumeri.
The answers varied from 2kms to 20kms. It wasn't helping us much; we stopped asking that, till we were much near the end, and really wanted to know. (And when we didn't ask, people would ask us `time', a popular time-pass, anywhere you go in India!).

The first tunnel! It wasn't very long: somewhere around 100mts, but it was really dark inside. It was good thing, that we'd brought the torch along. It would have been really tough to go across without a torch. The second tunnel was longer. It was 234mts long, if I recall correctly. We were able to hear water running along the walls. It was really, really dark inside. We walked on, and on. Suddenly, we were aware that the `running water' wasn't water at all. It were the bats! Tons, and tons of bats! We weren't sure what to do. My first instinct said run! But Amol remembered having read about those bats, in the travelogue. Apparently, you could even take snaps of the bats in the tunnels. Even then, we covered our faces with our jackets, lest these things, decided to make a go at us. Soon, with the help of the torch we found that it was a good idea, nevertheless, to have the jackets covering our heads. The track was discolored with bat excretions.

Around 11am, we paused near a place, with a magnificient valley view, to have a breather, and have some food. We'd carried some boiled eggs, a loaf of bread, butter, and some fruit juice. After having just about enough grub, we rested a while, and started off again. All the while, we didn't have a clue about the directions, we were heading;
neither could we see any landmarkish thing, that could have been useful to notice how far have we been walking or so. Once in a while we could hear roars of heavy trucks in the valley.

Save a few breaks, we would have been walking for close to 10hrs; we reached Yedakumeri around 1:30pm. Had the driver shown us the correct way, we would have reached Yedakumeri 4hrs earlier -
around 10:30am or so. The railway station was a run down one. Ancient equipment, meant for message passing to subsequent railway stations and signalling trains, and other paraphernalia, lay around strewn, broken and covered with dust and cobwebs. These remains of the bygone era looked pretty interesting. And we missed our camera once

Had another round of food. Amol lay down for a while to sleep. Man, I was exhausted too, but couldn't get myself to sleep. The travelogue mentioned that there was a way down the hill, behind the railway station, to get down to the highway, from where one could get a ride back to Sakleshpur or, better still, to Bangalore. But all I could see behind the railway station, was dense vegetation, and the way down was quite steep. We asked the people working there, about the way to
get to the highway. All the answer we got was, a finger pointing down, the steep way down. With the exhaustion, it would have been really, tough to attempt to go down via the steep side. The travelogue, said in a one liner, that the way down is the way behind the station, which made is sound very easy. Oh hell!

We asked those people, if there was some other way to get down. One helpful chap, hinted that there's this truck, which transports cement and gravel from near the highway back to the mountain top, where the railway work was going on. The truck was already there, and was scheduled to go down at 3pm. Good enough for us. There were still 10mins to 3. I stared at the steep downside, while, Amol, tried building up rapport with the guys there. At 3, we sat in the truck and started off.

The driver, known as Sardar, was a jolly good fellow. Thin but strong, he seemed to be robust in his late fifties. Even in this age he did not
want to live with his young sons working in a suburb of Bombay doing ``idhar-ka-udhar-dhanda'' (black money business). ``Life mein kya karna hai.. jolly karo'', he said, offering us a pack of `Tiger Biscuits'. He was quite surprised to know that we were just two of us, who had come for the hike. Usually, troops of guys come over and have fun. Two guys, coming there, for a sake of long hike, was something new for him. The way down, was really, really quite a ride. Taking that huge truck, through the small paths, over the rocks, and small, narrow bridges, and ups and downs, and what not, was quite something. Truly hilaake-rakh-denewali (shaking) ride it was!! Though he was drunk, he drove quite skillfully.

Finally, reached the highway at 3:45pm. Sardar did not accept any money, even though we pressurized him a lot. He gave us tips to get onto a lift by lorries upto Sakleshpur, from where, we could get a lot of buses going towards Bangalore. Getting a seat in tourist buses run by private operaters was a choice too. We were able to get that, within minutes of getting down the truck. The bus was headed towards Bangalore, and was willing to take us to Bangalore, for just Rs. 120. We sighed in relief, and laid back in our seats, and slept.

It was some day, we had. The only regret about the whole affair was that, we couldn't carry along a camera to treasure those moments. Ah, that's but an excuse to go there, again, soon! ;) (the kinda hints you're left with at the end of a movie, to tell that a sequel is coming!)

Let the blog rolling ...

Hi all junglees ..

The blog is up ! Now post your travel experiences and set it rolling !