[Trip undertaken in Oct 2012]
We had just come back from a delightful Hampi trip, that first weekend of October and our feet were itching to go explore Karnataka some more. A couple of debates on possible destinations included Valparai, Ooty and its southern sisters Coonoor, Kotagiri, even Kodaikanal (we did go on a trip to Ooty later) among others.
I thought the heat in Hampi had been exhausting and was looking forward to someplace cooler and more refreshing. Chikmagalur had always been at the back of my mind, if for nothing else, because I found the name endearingly funny ever since I was a kid. One image of Ayyanekere lake later, it was clear to me what our destination would be. Anil, my flatmate insisted on fitting in Belur, Halebidu and Shravanabelagola in the itinerary as well. I was strictly against the idea of fitting in too many places on a single trip, but little was I to know how wrong my opinion would prove to be – another endorsement of the fact that, in travel as in life, saying yes and being opening minded never fails to unravel newer, enriching experiences.
We booked a non-ac Qualis for the 5 of us. The plan was to ride through the night on Friday and reach Chikmagalur by early morning. Check in to a hotel; get some sleep, or whatever was left of it, freshen up and get out to take in Bababudangiri Hills, Mullayanagiri and some other sights including possibly, a coffee estate as well as Ayyanakere lake. Belur, halebeedu and Shravanabelagola would have to wait for the next day.
We started off on Friday night, around midnight. Chikmagalur is around 250 km from Bangalore and we’d hoped to check in by 5 am in to our hotel.
Ordinarily, I can never sleep in a vehicle and come out all grumpy after a long ride in which everyone else has snored away to their heart’s content. However that day, the driver, sleepy himself, played some songs all night long that served as the inspiration behind this blog post.
The sun was stirring up the dark blue sky and splashing on it a beautiful dash of orange and vermillion just as we rode past the ‘Welcome to Chikmagalur’ sign. It was a good 6 o’Clock by the time we checked into a very reasonably priced hotel – S K Regency. Thankfully though, all of us were able to catch a power nap as soon as we hit the bed. Up by 8, we freshened up and asked the hotel manager for directions to our places of interest. We had a quick south Indian breakfast and picked up some fruits from the market since you cannot find any eateries once you go up the hills. A few moments later, we had left the small town of Chikmagalur behind and were on our way up the Western Ghats through roads surrounded by coffee plantations, thick vegetation and overhanging trees on both sides.
Our first stop for the day was Kalhatti falls. Cool water falls cascade just in front of a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva here. You can carefully climb up the rocks (slippery, and you’ll have to leave your footwear behind) and ding your feet in the cool water. It can get a little crowded here, with a lot of the tourists or pilgrims choosing to soak themselves in the waterfalls in front of the temple. With the usual beer bottles, broken pieces of glass and wrappers jutting out from corners of the slipper and rocky stream bed, you’d be well advised to exercise caution here.
We left Kemmangundi around the afternoon and the driver insisted that we go to Bababudangiri hills. The roads in October were in very poor condition even though it had been quite some time since it last rained. We got jostled around in the back of the Qualis on our way to BB hills but boy, was the wait worth it.
Afternoon had turned in to evening by the time we left BB hills behind and the driver said that Mullyanagiri would turn out to be too far a distance for that evening. We had no choice, so we stopped at a place where he recommended a small trek that was worth exploring.
There were numerous small waterfalls and chutes all though the trek and after freshening up a bit, we climbed up the hill.
Surprisingly, there was a small settlement with numerous snack shops on the hill and a shop owner told us that we could take a jeep from there to some place where there was a temple (I cannot recollect the name). With those jeeps running only every hour or so, we figured we didn’t have enough time, so we settled for some hot mirchi pakoda and tea while enjoying the soft evening light before making our way back down the hill.
Unfortunately, we had done little to no research on waterfalls in the vicinity and later discovered we’d left Hebbe falls far behind in Kemmangundi. The driver had no clue how to get there, but he took us to a waterfall called ‘Jarra falls’.
It is a small trek downhill from the road towards Jarra falls and we saw quite a few people coming back up since sunlight was fast fading. By the time we reached Jarra falls, we were the only people left there and it was getting too difficult to photograph the falls in the dim light. 2 of us meanwhile decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up and decided to take an impromptu bath in the falls. Their shivering figures indicated the water was very cold and a while later, we decided to get back to our waiting driver.
On the way back, the sun had almost set and 3 of us wanted to take a short cut to cover the remaining distance faster. Since it wasn’t that difficult or long a path, I saw no point and the remaining 2 of us decided to go back via the familiar path. When we reached our vehicle, there was no sign of the other 3 and after a good 10 minutes, I was beginning to get worried as it was completely dark now (There hadn’t been any cellphone signal reception since the time we entered the Ghats). However, they ambled along after a few minutes and sheepishly told us they got ‘lost’ on the short cut. A good laugh later, we headed on our way back to Chikmagalur town for dinner.
A quick dinner later, we were back in our hotel rooms and caught a movie, but I was too tired to resist any more sleep. As in Hampi, I slept like a child that night.
[Continued in Part II here]