The old-time trekking enthusiasts on Chaarana were not responding positively to any suggestions I made for a 2-day trek. Some complained that the rains were not yet over, others were simply too busy. So my cousin Kashyapa and I had to be satisfied with picnics at nearby places like Bilikal Rangaswamy Betta, Deverayanadurga, Savanadurga and Mekedaatu. Also, responding to an advertisement in Deccan Herald, I had joined 'The Trekkers' for a picnic at Siddharabetta.
A couple of weeks or so after the trip to Siddharabetta, I got a mail from Sathyanarayana of 'The Trekkers', about a planned trek to Brahmagiri. Radheshyam and Preeti were ready to join me, so when I reached my office in Indian Express building the second time that friday at about 9:20 pm, Shyam was already waiting for me at the reception and Preeti, having finished her dinner, was also set to go, carrying what she felt was the heaviest load among the three of us, in the red rucksack (bought in Nepal) that she had borrowed from Avinash. The walk from there to the intersection of MG Road and Kasturba Road - where we were supposed to wait for the tempo traveller - proved to be quite a trek for Preeti. At the rendezvous point we met a little boy Akshay and his father Balaram who was carrying a very modest load. A while later Jayesh and [whats her name] joined us in the wait, which lasted upto about 10:30.
Sathyanarayana had pasted a sheet of paper with 'The Trekkers' printed on it in a big font. His son-in-law and the cook were the other passengers in the tempo traveller when it arrived there. It was already late, so we all got in and the TT moved on to some place in Rajajinagar where Sharath was to be picked up. The next stop was a small tea shop by the roadside where all of us except Preeti, Akshay and Balaram got down for tea at about 12:30am. I got talking to the driver - he told me that he had already been driving for 15 hours straight.
I was seated right behind the driver, who had to keep his window at least half open all the time, so I had to face a lot of cold wind that hit me through the window. Even with a push-back seat I found it almost impossible to sleep. A monkey cap did help but a cotton full-cuffed shirt over a T-shirt was not enough to keep my body warm enough. We reached the gate of Nagarahole forest by about 2am and had to wait there for 4 hours since no vehicles are allowed inside between 6pm and 6am. Sharath, Akshay and Balaram got down along with Sathyanarayana and Srinivas. I could hear Akshay and his father talking about stars and recognising the constellations etc. The driver caught up with some sleep in the bus as did the five of us.
The gates opened by 6am, by which time I guess a few of us even had had the opportunity to finish some early morning chores thanks to the guards near the gate. A few kilometers into the forest, we came across a Gaur grazing by the side of the road. Jayanna stopped the vehicle a respectful distance away, but Sharath got down and walked up along the other side of the road till he was right across the road from the animal, which on its part carried on grazing gracefully with no inkling of a hostile response that most of us were expecting. After Sharath had satisfied himself by clicking his camera, he got back and the vehicle moved on. Now Jayanna stopped right beside the bull, so that I could almost get him right outside the window with my camera, which I did try to do and succeeded though not too well, thanks to the low light of the early morning and my camera's decision to allow a long exposure just as the beast turned away, perhaps irritated by the earlier flashes from my camera which I had now turned off.
We moved on, almost everyone much more alert than before, Sharath in the front seat and Akshay standing between him and the driver. Jayanna turned out to be quite good at spotting animals even as he drove, I guess the four hours of sleep did him some good. We saw a few peacocks, a rabbit (hare?), a fox and lots of deer, almost all spotted by him.
We stopped in Kutta town for some tea, some also brushed their teeth at a tap on the roadside before tea. Jayesh, the senior-looking guy from IBM, started talking to me about how HP failed to acquire Rational at $25m and now IBM got it for $2m (perhaps it was billions), I only mumbled some response to get it finished soon. After about 20 minutes there, we moved on to reach Irpu at about 8am.
At Irpu we took turns attending to our morning duties near the Lakshmanatheertha stream and then had a look inside the Rameshwara temple. Sathyanarayana got the cook to prepare some breakfast, which surprised Shyam and me as there was a hotel right opposite the temple where we could have had a ready-made breakfast. It was about 11am by the time we finished breakfast and finally started the trek.
Two forest guards Nagesh and Krishnappa accompanied us, one armed with a double-barrelled gun and the other carrying a wireless handset. The climb started immediately and about 20 minutes later Preeti was wondering whether she should have come at all. The path was flanked by bamboo trees and littered with elephant dung, though both were sparse. After about an hour's climb or less, our route levelled off, only because now it was winding around the hillside instead of going right up the hill. There was enough shade to keep the climb comfortably cool. Shyam would occasionally find a cinnamon sapling, tear a leaf from it and mouth a bit of its stem, to keep himself from getting thirsty, or so he said. Preeti and I tried it, I did not feel anything special but I guess Preeti did. There were many 3-foot-wide skid marks running downhill (I guess it could not have been uphill) across the track which the forest guards explained to us as made by elephants which prefer to take the fast route to the water. The track occasionally went downhill, crossed a stream and went uphill again. There were also numerous smaller streams running across or under the track (thanks to small culverts) and at almost every such place we stopped for a couple of minutes to get a drink, fill a bottle or wash our faces. The bigger stream Lakshmanatheertha deserved a longer halt and provided some photo opportunities.
I guess that was the 'shola forest' part of our walk. Another hour or so later we were out of that, walking almost on the mostly grassy top of hills, crossing from one hill to another, now thoroughly exposed to the sun. Shyam and Sharath had walked away with Nagesh and the others were a bit farther behind. When wesaw Shyam and Sharath minus baggage perched atop a metal watch tower, Preeti and I thought we may be close to the campsite where we were to halt that night. It was only 1:45pm.
The Narimale forest 'guest house' is a very nice, well-equipped and neatly maintained place, though not very big. Someone told me that it was built by the British - it even looked that way, with a fireplace in the living room and each of the two bedrooms, which had rather big and clean attached bathrooms that opened to the outside also. After unloading our backpacks at the camp, we went down to the stream to get a lot of water in plastic pots for upto the next morning - of course there are no taps in the guest house. Solar cells on the roof help light up the inside and are the only source of electricity, so the electric light has to be used sparingly. The forest department charges a fee of Rs 50 per night for one of the rooms in the guest house. The kitchen which was built as a separate structure had been demolished by an elephant attack from behind the guest house where the hill rises up in a modest gradient to about a distance of 150 feet. An asbestos shelter served as a (makeshift?) kitchen and our cook, who had reached there at about 1pm, was halfway preparing lunch by the time we got there.
After lunch we walked up to Narimale peak, the highest in that range according to the guards. It is less than 2km away from the camp and offers a nice panoramic view of the surroundings. The hills are mostly grassy and only the shola forests in the small valleys between two hills have some thick, dark green vegetation of taller trees. It was a cool evening with a nice breeze blowing, so we enjoyed the place for about half an hour before someone gave a return call. On the way down Preeti and I had a few falls thanks to the holes in the ground and the dry slippery grass. When we got back to the camp it was time for another visit to the stream for a refreshing sprinkle as well as to refill the supply.
The wait for dinner was accompanied by discussions about the infamous case of the three judges, experiences with Balaji the Nature Admire guy, the IT industry scene, the possibility of shifting of residence being the reason for a long queue of black ants moving from one hole in the ground to another and other such deeply philosophical topics, thanks mostly due to Sharath, Jayesh and Shyam. It was a moonlit night, I remember that. Before dinner was fully ready, the three of us - Preeti, Shyam and me - went to the kitchen and had the cook help us to a couple of glasses each of ganji with a pinch of salt. Dinner had chapathis and bisi-bele-bhath (?) in it. The antique table in the living room served as a dining table and dinner was had amidst extended discussions of the kind mentioned above.
Of the two bedrooms on either side of the living room, one was to be occupied by the guards and the other was what we were paying for. Nine of us managed to stretch ourselves in there while Shyam and Sharath slept in the verandah, hoping to see a tiger or an elephant in the night. I guess they were blessed with the sight of a wild fowl sometime that night. The next morning I got up at about 6:30 and went for a walk uphill behind the guest house. It was quite sunny and windy. I returned after going for about half a kilometre and we had breakfast. Sharath and Balaram, along with Akshay, went exploring the opposite side, right in front of the guest house and Sathyanarayana took the rest of us in the same direction as my previous walk, only further up. Shyam too was missing, I guess he was at the stream taking a bath. We spent about 15 minutes at one of the peaks there and while returning, saw Shyam waving to us from behind. The three of us went eastwards and saw two boards, one "To Brahmagiri range" and the other "To Munikal caves". The former path ran into a small shola and upon following it we saw the marks of gaur's hooves. We came back and wanted to see where Munikal caves were, but gave up when we could not get any idea of distance after half a kilometre of walking. We came back and told people about the boards and it was the guards made noises indicating that they agreed with us. After a couple of group photos we started walking back to Irpu.
When we got to the watch tower, Sharath and Balaram suggested a small detour towards a waterfall. That was again Lakshmanatheertha and the way to the waterfall was a bit wet and tricky. We had a refreshing face-wash, refilled our bottles and the three of us walked uphill along the stream to find a less tricky way back to our trail. Further up the trail we had the usual stops at streams. It looked like the three of us were way ahead of the rest all along the way back till we spotted Jayesh whom we overtook anyway. Nagesh had told us that we had to turn right at a fork to get to Irpu falls, which was the next stop in the itinerary, so we got there, took off our shoes and washed our feet, watched other tourists there have their bit of loud fun, decided against bathing there, took a couple of snaps with the falls in the background and got back to the starting point.
After we had a couple of cool drinks at the shop in front of the temple, we went around the temple to see what was cooking. The cook was cutting up tomatoes for lunch, Preeti offered to help him and I in turn offered to try my hand at it. Neither of us proved fast enough for the cook - after he was done setting up the rice to boil, he took the remaining tomatoes from us and cut them up himself. We were among the first to serve ourselves, after a small incident of the cloth covering the pot catching fire. We left Irpu at about 1pm and stopped at Maddur some time around 6pm. Our last stop was at the Institute of Engineers at about 9:30 pm (?).