It had been quite a long time since I indulged in some trekking activity. Even though I love to trek a lot and have trekked many places in Karnataka and Maharashtra before, over the last 3-4 years there were hardly any treks that I had participated in. The long weekend during Christmas presented an opportunity for a quick short trekking and camping getaway.
Unlike most of my previous trips where I preferred hanging out with a small group, I felt this trip would be a wonderful experience if planned with a large group of friends. The counting in of friends started mid November and as can be expected, was not freezed till the time we actually set out on the trip. We initially planned to trek at Kumaraparvatha, considered one of the toughest treks in South India. We were about 15 people at the time of planning the trip. The first part of the trip was to arrange for logistics which included camping tents, sleeping bags, medicine kits, food etc. We booked our Camping Tents and Sleeping bags with SLRS, one of the many camping gear renting centers in Bangalore. We opted to choose for a combo deal which included a 4 People tent, 4 sleeping bags, 1 torch, 1 backpack and 1 lantern @ just 430 Rs/day. They arranged for our booking without much hassles. We also arranged for 18 seater Tempo Traveler which we thought would be convenient for the 15 of us and all the camping luggage.
With all our enthusiasm and eagerness at its peak we welcomed the day of the trip. As the morning wore on, we had to drastically change our plans. Just to be sure, I called the forest officer number at Kumaraparvatha to confirm if we can camp there and that’s when we got to know camping had been banned beyond the forest gates since early November. This presented to us a tough headache as we now how to find other place where camping was allowed. We shortlisted few options which included Kudremukh, Tadiandamol and a couple of others in Coorg district. I personally had trekked Tadiandamol when I was a kid during the school summer vacations. I still remember the trek very distinctly (even though I was then in the 5th grade) for multiple reasons – the first being experience of being bit by leeches, the second and more frightening one of having a small snake slide across on my slippers as I was heading back to camp. I also remembered very well that there was no permission required to trek Tadiandamol as there was no forest jurisdiction in the mountain range there.
We finally decided to trek at Tadiandamol by late afternoon. As the night started kicking in, we had another major surprise. The Tempo Traveler that we had arranged was unavailable as it had still had not reached back to Bangalore from an other trip!! We somehow managed to arrange a 12 seater instead and were thinking of arranging another Toyota Innova when a couple of guys opted out from the trip at the last minute. We were thus left with 13 people to travel in a 12 seater Tempo Traveler. We decided to adjust a bit instead of arranging another vehicle in the last minute and more over it was more fun if the whole group stayed together. Quickly purchasing the remaining groceries, food, oil, medicines, utensils etc., we were all set to finally start on our trip. In the last minute, just before we left, one more friend informed that he was interested in coming and he would come by his car without affecting any of our plans. So thus, 14 of us finally set out for the long awaited trek to Tadiandamol late night on the 24th December.
Reaching the Tadiandamol Trek Base Camp
Having departed from Bangalore late night, we picked up our camping gear on the way and a pit-stop later for some tea, we reached Ramanagara– the Silk city of Karnataka by around 2 in the night. My friend who was driving the car told that he was feeling bit sleepy. Since I loved driving anyways, I and 4 others switched over to the car for the rest of the journey. We reached the border town of Virajpet around 6.30 in the morning. From here on, the road was completely covered with fog with nearly zero visibility and our driving speed was down to 20 – 25 kmph. With the less visibility, we missed a couple of deviations and had to drive back a fairly long distance. We reached the trek base which is identified by the famous Nalknad Palace. Here, we separated into two groups with one group heading to freshen up while the other headed to arrange for breakfast and lunch. There were no restaurants nearby the palace and one has to go back to Virajpet – Talakaveri Road to find some place to eat. Luckily we met a couple of guys staying nearby and asked them to arrange some food for 14 of us. After some hesitation, they agreed. The guys told us that the homestay where we could dine was on the trek path itself so we could start our climb right away. We decided to leave our vehicle behind and along with all the necessary equipment, started our trek by around 10 AM. The first 3 km of the trek is along a narrow tar road which though not too steep, appeared to be quite a bit of stiff climb considering the luggage we were carrying. After reaching the homestay we settled down for some heavy breakfast.
At the homestay, the people informed us that camping at the top of the peak is not allowed and we will have to come back for accommodation during the night. They also showed as board stating that the camping is banned. However, we were able to quickly make out that the guys were trying to fool us in order to earn some money for the board they showed was a handwritten one and had no signs of it being put up by government officials. They further went on tell that the officials inspect the peak in the evening to ensure nobody camps there. This further confirmed to us that they were indeed fooling around for two reasons. Firstly, it would be near impossible for the officials to trek down after darkness and secondly but more importantly there is no protected area along the trek path which meant there would be no officials in the first place 😉 Nevertheless, we asked them to arrange for our lunch which we intended to pack and have at the top of the peak. We also told them that we will comeback in case they don’t allow camping.
With our lunch packed our troupe of 14 members set out to start the actual trek. I say it as actual trek because from here the real fun starts and since the path until then was on a proper road. We started the 5 km trek from the homestay around 1:30 PM hoping to reach the peak by around 4 PM in time for having our packed lunch and also with sufficient light to setup our tents as well as witness the beautiful sunset.
The first 2-3 km of the trek was quite easy and was along a flat path which intervened with light forest cover and glimpses of the surrounding peaks. Thankfully, there was no rain which meant that we need not be bothered by leech bites and snakes which generally are found in abundance in this area. Along the path we spotted fresh droppings of elephants and realized that the place could be a home to many of them. At about 2.30 we reached a big rock which is a quite popular place along the trail for it provided an ideal place to camp. However, we intended to camp only at the top despite knowing that the place doesn’t allow more than 4-5 tents to be put up. We just hoped we would reach the peak before any other camping group. After some photo-shoot here and resting for some while to refresh ourselves, we continued our journey.
The trek from the big rock to the peak is very tedious and is time consuming. The path is broken with short but dense forest cover occasionally and the entire path is a steep ascend. From the big rock, the Tadiandamole peak is visible along with the other surrounding peaks. We took almost an hour to cover about 1.5 – 2 km distance and almost all of us were completely exhausted. Some of the members insisted we stay at that very place, camp there and climb to the summit in the morning. Having covered 80% of the distance, some of us urged them to cover the remaining 20% too. Another half km ascend and our energy levels were completely down. While it may appear to many that 4-5 km is not too exhaustive, doing the trek with camping gear, tents, food, 3-4 liters of water per person will put the ascend difficulty into better perspective. Thankfully, one of the members had got some walnut and dates which have the capability to provide instant energy. A few munches made us revitalized and determined enough to complete the remaining climb.
As we neared the peak, I had a round of severe cramps in my legs and had to take rest. The sudden bout of cramps were unanticipated and left me motionless for few mins. While I rested with 3-4 guys to give me company, the rest carried on. After 10 mins, feeling better, the climb resumed. We reached the peak in the next 15 mins or so and immediately were spellbound with an amazing view on offer. The wind was quite strong so we decided to setup our tents first and then have our lunch. We felt with more delay, it would get more difficult to setup the tent due to windy conditions.
We had our lunch around 4.30 after setting up 2 tents. Each tent can accommodate 4 adults. The peak allowed setting up maximum of 5-6 such tents. We were fortunate enough to reach the peak in time. Post lunch, we again split into two groups – one group went to collect wood for the campfire during the night while the others setup the remaining two tents. After all was done, we went towards the cliff to see the beautiful sunset. The sunset was indeed beautiful and a memorable sight to behold. As the sun set and darkness fell upon, we headed to the tents to spend some time gossiping and chit-chatting.
An unforgettable scary night!
As the darkness fell upon, we were presently in awe with the moon rising in the eastern skies. That’s when we realized that it was a full moon day and the place should be quite well lit with moonlight.
The time was around 8 when about 7-8 members hit the beds, tired from the climb. Me and rest of the friends were not eager to sleep so soon. The wind meanwhile had picked up quite strong and it was quite cold at the top. We set up the campfire with the wood we had collected. The campfire was set with difficulty and had to kept on only for a short duration 🙁 The wind was too strong and the fire sparks were flying all around the tents which we feared would catch fire. As we doused off the campfire, the chillness of the windy net set in and we starting to feel hungry as well. We had brought Maggi packets with us for the dinner. However, setting up the fire was a problem. We luckily found an ideal spot few meters away and prepared probably the most tasty and yummy maggi ever. The place, the time, the hunger pangs, the chillness in air all combined made the maggi dinner feel like a royal feast. We had our dinner thus and hit the beds around 11 PM.
Not long after we went to sleep in our sleeping bags within the tent, we were woken up with frantic calls outside. We soon realized that one of the tents had given away to strong gusty winds and had to be re-setup. This was to be of tremendous difficulty in the conditions. I and my 2 other friends in the tent meanwhile were scared to leave our tent as we felt the only way the tent would remain in place is by our added body weight inside it. While we remained inside few other courageous friends assisted in setting up the broken tent. The night continued to be very scary and our tent roof on many occasions touched our face. Such was the strength of the winds outside! The time passed very slowly with every minute seeming like an hour. We could hardly sleep in such conditions. By 5.30 AM we were all outside almost chilled to the bones by the cold wind. All the four tents were flat on the ground and we realized the tent fasteners had broken away as well! We were just thankful that none of the tents had blown away and that all of us were safe even though scared. For the night, apart from our group there was only 1 more group and their tent was lying flat as well. It really had been one scary night to experience and one never to forget!
We have probably never awaited sunrise before as we were on that day! The sunrise was around 6:30 and was indicated with a golden color skyline. Surprisingly, after the sunrise, the winds grew stronger for some time and we were all covered in clouds. The visibility was only for few feet. Groups of people started coming in. They probably had started trekking early in the morning possibly around 5 AM. With the absence of any luggage combined with chillness in the air probably helped them make the climb in 2 hours flat.
A quick descend
After taking loads of snaps in the early morning and cleaning the area to ensure there was no scrap, plastic or paper material lying around, we started to descend the hill at around 8.00 AM. The descend was a fast one and had just one stop in between near the big rock. Here at the big rock, we saw few more camp baggage placed. The early morning visitors had probably camped there for the night. It was quite sad to see plastic bottles and paper plates lying everywhere. One must realize to enjoy nature, it is equally important to protect it and help in keeping it clean. We left a message taped to one of the bags asking the people to clean up the garbage and then we continued our journey back. We reached the homestay around 9:30 AM and had a heavy breakfast again. I must say that though the homestay guys tried to fool us about the camping at the peak, the food served by them was awesome! All the meals we had there delicious and sufficient in quantity. Since many of the guys had skipped dinner the previous night, they were quite hungry by now as was also evident by them finishing off the sumptuous quantity of the breakfast served. Post breakfast we continued our way back to the palace where our vehicles were parked.
The journey back
After quickly changing into a new set of clothes we were decided where to head next. Considering the time was around 12, we had 3 options in mind. Either visit the nearby Chelavara waterfalls; visit Talakaveri – the birthplace of Karnataka’s most disputed River Kaveri or return back to Bangalore directly. One of our friend in the group had to travel to his native early morning next day. So we decided to head back directly to Bangalore and stop near Maddur to have some evening snacks. Since we had a heavy breakfast, none of us needed a halt again for lunch. I had a good sleep on the initial drive back while rest of the folks watched a movie to entertain themselves. After some snacks and tea at Maddur Tiffany’s, we reached the outskirts of Bangalore by around 6 and proceeded to return the tents and other camping equipment we had purchased on rent. We ended up paying 2000 INR extra for damaging the equipment. The damage was was unavoidable in the gutsy winds of the night. So without frowning much, we paid the amount and headed back to our homes bringing to end a memorable and unforgettable trek. We eagerly await for the next opportunity to trek some other place in Karnataka.