"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity"
― John Muir, Our National Parks
Once again it was time for me to return to India and the trip would be incomplete without a trek. While the Himalayan treks need more planning and lot of time, the western ghat treks are best suited for weekends. I started pestering Hari with messages and possible trek sites. He came back with Bandaje, where Sandesh had been before. We decided on the place and date as the weekend of 4 th February 2017. He shared the information in the groups and we restricted the number to be 12 keeping in view the logistics of travel and tenting. After people agreeing and couple of last minutes dropouts, we got two Gurus added making the number 12 again. Hariprasad, Sujith, Pramod K, Pramod R, Chinmay, Gururaj MJ, Gururaj (BEL), Guru, Yatish, Vinayak, Vishal and I did the trek.
Hari had spoken to Mr Narayana Gowda, who is the sole contact person for Bandaje treks and lives at the base camp. He also circulated a list of things to carry. Vishal had a 4 capacity tent and Sujith hired three 3 capacity tents from Pedals and Wheels Malleswaram. We had planned to Leave Bangalore at 10 pm on Friday, but Yatish was driving back from Chennai and got delayed. Everyone was waiting, Sujith wrote a poem and we ended up leaving the last pickup point (Gurguntepalya) at 1am.
For those who are unfamiliar, Bandaje is a village near Dharmasthala/Ujire and the hills are behind the village between Dakshina Kannada and Chikmagalur districts. There is Bandaje Arbi (falls) that is formed by Netravati river, close to the peak.
The Force traveler was good except for a shaking back door. The first driver Chetan had an emergency and had to hand over to Krishna, who drove well, but there was slight confusion about the route and we ended up traveling via Shiradi Ghat instead of Charmadi Ghat. We reached Narayana Gowda's house Bandaje village at 7 am. Mr Gowda has large house with a farm there and seemed be having many trekkers as guests. We freshened up quickly, had idlis, sambar and chatni for breakfast. We were given packed pulav for lunch and chapatis and kurma for dinner and breakfast the next day. We discussed with Gowda about the possibilities and he said the forest department wants us to return to the base camp rather than getting down via the opposite site to reach Durgadahalli. We did convince him that we wanted to do it that way. The charge for freshening up and food was Rs 400 per person. He also collected the fees on behalf of the Forest Dept. There was an offer for taking a guide along, but we refused thinking that the trail was easy. Now I realize that taking a guide along is better as it saves lot of time and energy.
We started our trek at 8.15 am, but went in the wrong direction. We found a guy working at a farm after walking some distance who offered to help and came with us till the correct forest entry point. It was already 9 am when we got the right start. The trail was steep all along. The initial phase was through the Shola forest with tall trees and the later phase was through sunny grasslands. The forest had lot of dry leaves fallen as it is the fall season. There was couple of streams to cross and many spots where we stopped for photographs. The first view of Arbi falls was around 12.30 pm, but at quite a distance. Pramod R, Gururaj (colony, after the break at the river he seemed to have got great energy) and Vishal paced up and reached the camping site by ~1.30 pm, while rest of us caught up about 20 minutes later. The last stretch was quite steep and draining. The first thing we did was to have the lunch of packed pulav while sitting on the rocks in the river. With raitha, the pulav did taste good. We then looked for a place to tent close to the river. The place we chose was a bit inclined, and later we realized that there were better places. Many other groups also had started tenting and there were groups who just had brought mats and slept under starlit sky. A big group of NCC cadets from Alva's college had come with utensils and groceries and cooked next to the river. We started pitching our tents around 4pm. I feel there were at least 100 trekkers around that day. We placed the luggage in the tents and proceeded to view the falls. The access to the falls was from top of the falls and the view, while breathtaking, was also chilling. It was amazing to see the great depths to which the water was falling. We took some pictures and videos. Arbi in Tulu is falls. The height is about 200 feet. Unfortunately, the front view of the falls is from a distance. From there, we moved to a smaller falls behind, and had refreshing bath in the chilled water. We came back and witnessed beautiful sunset on the hills at 6.10 pm.
It started getting dark soon. We were preparing for the campfire and Chinmay led the team to a form good campfire. Guru, who had enjoyed lighting the campfire in the earlier trek, was not well. We realized that we had not carried disposable cups and plate and had to manage with cups made out of water bottles. The night was nice. The highlight was the karaoke brought by Sujith in his mobile that made our singing more professional. After a spirited session, we had the chapattis with pickle that Vinayak Pai had brought. The kurma provided by Mr Gowda had gone bad through the day. We retired around 10 pm. The tents were warm, but the uneven floor made it a bit difficult in spite of having sleeping bags.
We were up early the next morning. Sunrise was obstructed by a big hill nearby. We could see the sun around 7.15 am. We had quick breakfast by sharing the remaining chapatis with pickles and started for Ballalarayanadurga at 8 am. Once again, it was time to get lost. In spite of checking GPS (there was on and off signal at the campsite) we were going in the wrong direction. After walking some distance, fortunately Guru spotted a trekker climbing the hill far away across the river. Though we could not hear him, it was a good clue. I then saw a guy close by and asked for way. We crossed the river, and started climbing the hill. It was once again steep climb. The view of the hills around was really nice. One looked like a bear, other like a monkey and so on. We reached the fort around 12 pm. It is in ruins, but there are long walls built on the ridge of the hills that look like the Great Wall of China. We spent about half an hour at the fort, tasted some wild cherry tomatoes and started our descent to Durgada halli. The descent was cool amidst the forest. There were many arrows to show way. In about 1 hour, we reached the road that leads to Durgadahhali and waited there for our vehicle. Yatish went to get the vehicle. Around 2 pm, we started back. On the way, at Kottige hara, we had sumptuous, tasty lunch at "Red Chilli". The owner Mr Rajashekhar Shetty was very hospitable.
On the way back, we played Dumb Charade in the vehicle and had lots of fun. With one stop for tea on the way, the return journey was pleasant. I got down on the ring road at Laggere and reached home by 10 pm.
Bandaje was different compared to our earlier treks, and was nice. I feel we were under prepared, and were overconfident. Still it was a wonderful experience, providing us the proximity to Mother Nature which we long for. Thanks to Hari for the planning and all the friends for a wonderful company.