When I opened my eyes on the morning of 4th of July, we were still in our vehicle parked outside a hotel in Charmadi. When I turned to my right, I saw Lavanya trying to wake up. She was the first person I spoke to when I reached the pick-up point on previous night at Shantala Silk House, Bangalore. Just a moment’s thought of Shantala Silk House brought back the waiting period before departing form Bangalore.
I get butterflies in my stomach before going on any trip. Even now, even after so many trips and treks I have been on with varying comforts. Not that I am scared of going on a trip with total strangers, but it is the excitement of going to a new place every time. So there I was, at around 10:00pm on 3rd July, initiating a conversation with Lavanya for the first time in this group asking about whether a tent is required at the place we are going to or not. She was talking to Prithayan when I interrupted their conversation. Santosh and Sunantha were standing next to us with Vijay, Chakravarthy, Jitendra and Devendra laughing and talking little away from us. Harsha, the organizer of this trek from Bangalore Ascenders, arrived soon after. We were waiting for two others. Pooja joined us very late and the last person didn’t turn up. When Harsha called him up to check where he was, that person casually told that he thought we were to depart on the net day! What the hell! Had he not checked the circular that was mailed to every trek participant in the group? Well, it was Friday night and I guess he was happily high with his friends in some pub giving lame reasons for not joining us even after paying for the trek. Then I got to know that Gopi, a friend of Sunantha and Santosh, would be joining us on the way instead of that lame guy. And then we all started from Bangalore towards Charmadi. We all were tired. We all dozed off except the ones sitting in the front seats as high beam lights from the vehicles coming from the opposite side were keeping them awake. That means our driver had company.
After a short flashback early in the morning, I got down from our vehicle to brush my teeth and freshen up at the hotel. Hotel’s staff were still cleaning its premises and unloading their groceries by the time we were all ready for breakfast.
Since they had not even started cooking yet, we went to another hotel on the highway in search of food to quieten our tummies. After gorging on doses, Mangalore buns and idli-vada-chutney-sambar combo, we waited for our trek guide to arrive. We even got our lunch packed and braced ourselves to wait for our guide.
It so happened that the same day was the last day to submit mandatory documents to get government ration card and our guide had gone to the taluk office with his family to take care of this business. We waited in front a tea stall which had not yet opened up. We sat on the steps leading to the stall as the stray dogs still rolled on the moist ground in early morning sunlight. And we watched them for a long time after formally introducing each other.
We hoped it rained before our guide arrived and stopped before we started our trek, but it started to drizzle when our guide arrived and didn’t last long or convert into a heavy downpour later. A white coloured, almost impoverished stray dog joined us when we started. We thought it would leave once the ascent started, but we had mistaken it. Later I got to know that dog has trekked to the peak of Eri Kallu in Charmadi Ghat more than I have ever trekked all my life till date!
With our socks pulled up and vigilant for leeches, we entered the forest range. With ascent came heaving and “are we there yet” questions. To those who couldn’t keep up with the group, we told them the grassland was just beyond those farthest trees and when they somehow reached there, then further from there. When someone still didn’t want to budge, we told them that the leeches will latch on to them if they stood at the same spot for a long time, which is true; those slimy, squiggly, long, blind, blood sucking bastards who oscillated in their place sensing us and moving as if sexily beckoning us. They even latched on to our canine companion, who was fondly named as Mani by Sunantha. Mani would go with her, Santosh and Gopi leaving rest of us. Sweating profusely in the humid conditions, we reached the first clearing and had lunch there. We didn’t just mindlessly trek till there. We saw a baby pit viper and a very fluffy caterpillar which I can’t categorize.
We rested there for a while looking at the peak of Eri Kallu which was partially hidden behind the clouds in the middle of the day. Lunch was good and we were good to go.
With heavy tummies we started towards the peak of Eri Kallu. Since the distance between the clearing and the peak was not much as per the measuring scale of a trekker and looked clear enough from far. It was only as and when we neared the peak that we realized that there is no single path to reach the summit and the guide was walking way ahead of us as if we would fly ourselves along with him. The rocks embedded beneath the clusters of grass and some being wobbly made it difficult for us to get a proper foothold as the ascent became steeper. Lavanya was heard arguing about the angle of the mountain slope, whether it is 45° or 60°. To me, it didn’t make a difference as we had reached the peak.
There are two sides of the Eri Kallu peak. The first side you reach when you trek is a gigantic boulder which looks like a left mug shot of a grumpy old man.
I got mobile network there and immediately received an image of fog covered hillocks from my friend Raghavendra. In return I sent him an image of fog covered boulder in front of me.
Later we laughed our asses off when we got to know that we were in the neighbouring mountain ranges; he was in Kudremukha and I was in Charmadi. We passed some time there looking around, looking down at the village from where we started our trek, even a dam somewhere far from us with Netravati River flowing through it. Then we saw a low passage at the brink of another boulder. This passage leads to the other side of Eri Kallu peak and you have to almost crawl through this passage.
While we were crawling, it started to rain. We had left our backpacks at the spot where we had had lunch and I had left my camera in my backpack there and had only taken my One Plus One to the peak which is good enough. When it rained, I lost hope on my camera. The other side of the Eri Kallu peak looks like the curved part of a sickle. Though it is fascinating, a single slip of foot will send you tumbling down the slopes to either reach the highway or not. Lavanya, Harsha and Pooja didn’t reach there though. They had peacefully dozed off in a clearing on the way to the peak. After clicking more pictures there, we decided to start downhill so that we could reach the village at the foot of the hill before nightfall.
Unlike much treaded trek trails of Kumara Parvatha or Kodachadri, one cannot find a trail to Eri Kallu at all, neither uphill nor downhill. It is very easy to get lost here. I still wonder what our guide thought about us. He used to get way ahead of us and made it difficult for us to find way up to him. In the process, we got divided into small groups and some of us were perpetually getting lost. While finding way, I stepped on a loose stone, lost balance, fell face forward on a rock and hit my forehead and palm to the sharp edge. Later I found myself pacifying others around me and telling them that I was fine and not feeling dizzy. From there, my backpack was carried by Devendra all the way to the village. We had picked our backpacks on our way down and I found that my camera was safe. The best part of getting lost on the way down was Mani the dog finding the lost members and showing them the way to reunite with others! Truly, Mani was an example of a dog’s loyalty.
By identifying leeches clinging to each other’s legs and flicking them off us often, we some reached a hotel in the village. There we got to know that our resting place for that night, the premises of a temple in the village, has been given for camping of PWD workers who were helping out with the widening of the highway in that mountain range. With some good thinking on spot, Harsha decided to take us to Shree Kshetra Dharmasthala for ever-delicious dinner at the Sri Manjunatha Swamy temple and managed to get two rooms, one for girls and one for boys, in one of the lodges there. We freshened up and dozed off as soon as possible. Our tired bodies provided dreamless blissful sleep.
Next day, we went to Ujire for breakfast and from there our previous day’s guide’s father took us to Ermayi falls.
Eri Kallu’s Ermayi falls, which is two-tiered and about 4 kilometre walk interior from the highway. The water fall forms a small pool in front of it before flowing further. Pool is deep where the water falls and shallow away from that point, so it is convenient to play in water there. When I stepped into water, tiny fingerlings, or maybe those fishes grow only up to that size, started pecking on a dried leech bite on my foot. I was told by my mother years ago that fishes feed on the dead matter on your body when you relax in streams for some time. Prithayan, Pooja, Devendra and Chakravarthy swam to the rock behind the water fall and back, and rest of us swam in the intermediate area of the pool. Just when we were about to leave from there, a group of drunk men reached there and behaved not so nicely. They were already drunk, but had brought a chiller full of beer with them. Lavanya made a point out loud that the local guides should not bring such people to tourist and picnic spots. After that, we walked back to the highway.
When we reached the highway, our van was not at the spot where Harsha had asked the driver to park. We thought he might have parked a little ahead or down the road from there and looked for it, but in vain. Harsha had left his cell phone in the van itself so we couldn’t even call the driver. Then Devendra remembered that he had left one of his two mobiles on the dashboard of the van and called his number, but the driver neither picked the call nor disconnected it. We all had even left our wallets in the van thinking we wouldn’t need money at the Ermayi Waterfalls. After waiting for a long time, Jitendra offered to go looking for the driver and van in Ujire hoping that he might be there having lunch. Harsha had forty rupees on him and he gave all of it to Jitendra and he left to Ujire. While we waited there on the sides of the road, some of us ate relentlessly and some shared stories of their life back in city. After so many attempts at communicating with Jitendra, we finally got to know that he found our driver and van, and was coming back. It turned out that the driver was getting a minor service for the van so that there won’t be any problem for our night journey back to Bangalore. Well, after such a suspense-filled tense time, we moved towards Alekan waterfalls.
You might have passed by Alekan waterfalls while travelling from Charmadi to Kottigehara. This waterfall is in the valley next to the road and gets its name from the Alekan Estate above the road. There is one steep path down to the base of the Alekan waterfall and everybody ventured down to see it from as near as possible, except I and Lavanya as we stayed back by the roadside with our guide of the day, sitting on the high curbs of the road with our legs dangling down to the valley. We, still away from the waterfall could understand when it started raining, but our group near the waterfall couldn’t understand whether it was rain or water droplets splattering from the waterfall! We bought corn cobs from a street vendor and got into our van and rushed to Kottigehara to drop our guide there.
Kottigehara is a junction which connects to Dharmasthala, Belur, Mudigere, Kalasa, Horanadu, Sringeri, Agumbe and Bangalore. Apart from this reason why people actually stop at this junction is to have yummy neeru dose and tenginakaayi chutney (coconut chutney).
We had sumptuous of neeru dose in a hotel and good lemon soda at a random stall. The lady at the shop was telling us about how her toddler son comes to help her only when there are bunch of absolute strangers at the shop so that he can see them at close proximity. Before we could dive into another hotel for more neeru dose, we started towards Bangalore.
We had good dinner at a dhaba on the way to Bangalore. We dozed off after singing random songs and woke up at 3am on Monday in Bangalore. I had told Harsha that I would finish writing about this Charmadi ghat trek to Eri Kallu in 15 days. Reminiscing about the previous two days, I zoomed towards my home in an Ola cab.