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17 March, 2006

Pushpagiri Kumara Parvata trek: A trail in the rainforests

This story 'A trail in the Rainforests', was published in Sunday Herald, Deccan Herald, January 26, 2003)

Rainforests of Pushpagiri wildlife sanctuary and hills of Kodagu (Coorg) District as seen from Girigadde below Kumara Parvata peak in Western Ghats

With over 35 % of its total geographical area under evergreen forest cover, Kodagu or Coorg is counted among the greenest districts in India. The forests here are comparatively safe from the ‘developmental’ projects that have ripped most forests of other Western Ghats districts. Much of these rainforest-clothed ghats, sprinkled with an array of waterfalls, are still pristine eternally inviting nature lovers and trekkers to get mesmerised by them. Among the many challenging forest peaks to scale here are Pushpagiri and Kumaraparvat, at the district’s northern edge near its tri-junction with Hassan and Dakshina Kannada districts. At the entrance of the narrow metalled road that leads from Beedehalli to Heggademane temple, is a check post of Somavarpet wildlife range, Madikeri wildlife sub-division. The personnel here strictly implement the Wildlife Protection Act and accordingly firearms, alcohol, crackers, inflammable substances and other articles that might endanger wildlife and their habitat, are prohibited.



After a refreshing bath at the nearby A board depicting Pushpagiri wildlife sanctuary in Kodagu (Coorg) District along the trek to Kumara Parvata peak from BeedihalliMallahalli falls, myself and my club mate Guru Prasad- the twin member trekking party crossed two tributaries of Kumaradhara and some dense evergreen forests for three hours to reach Heggademane. About 40 families live in this hamlet amidst patches of shola rainforests and rolling grasslands. It amazed us that people here carry out their daily activities with minimum basic amenities. We didn’t even dare to imagine their plight during those 4 months when the monsoons vent their ire. A kilometre from the hamlet is the temple- a climb of about 45 minutes. Moving ahead of the temple, we began to see many hill ranges around us. The Pushpagiri outcrop though, overwhelmed the rest. Trekking through large swathes of rolling grasslands and Shola forests behind the temple for about half an hour, we reached Lingadahole, a perennial stream that arises out of hills of Pushpagiri wildlife sanctuary and downstream joins the turbulent Kumaradhara. Though the narrow wooden hanging bridge over this stream was in ruins, the absence of strong currents helped us to cross it. Lingadahole is the start of a very huge stretch of dense evergreen forests, where trees rise more than 150 feet and the dense canopy sucks in every ray of sunlight even before they reach ground. The forest was so dense that there were no views of the landscapes around. Dwarfed by the towering trees we manoeuvred the steep path, carpeted by a thick layer of leaves. Our excitement at being in this forest was occasionally blotched by the fear of the unknown- the presence of elephants which abound this sanctuary in good numbers, the thought of getting lost or being stranded in a thunder storm…

But our determination to continue the trek was steadfast come what may. On occasions where we could find a view or two, we could only sight the towering Pushpagiri peak. Half an hour from Lingadahole, we came across a salt lick besides the trekking path and some distance ahead we photographed some beautiful fluorescent orange mushrooms on the forest floor. Continuing upFlourescent mushroom on the forest floor of Pushpagiri wildlife sanctuary in Kodagu (Coorg) District along the trek to Kumara Parvata peak from Beedihalli the steep terrain for another half an hour, we reached Kudre Doddi, which is the only shelter between Heggademane temple on the east and Giri Gadde on the western slopes of Pushpagiri. For the next one and half hour we climbed on extreme steep terrain without finding a single clearing in the canopy, until we reached a small rocky area. While tall trees blocked our view towards east, towards south we could see the now nearer Pushpagiri peak, which we were supposed to climb. To the west we could glance over a densely wooded valley for a couple of kilometres, before the hill ranges blocked our view. But towards north densely forested deep valleys and steeply falling hills, made an excellent view. We resumed the trek after 15 minutes. Half an hour later, we again reached a rocky out crop. A few metres before the rocks a small board was hung on a tree, at a point where the path divided in to two. On the board, the arrow to south showed the way to Pushpagiri peak and the one towards west directed to Giri gadde. Since this was our maiden trek along this route, we had absolutely no idea as to where we were supposed to halt in the night. But our plan was to find some flat rocky surface, set up a small controlled campfire and spend the night under stars. Since we found a rocky area, at the shoulder of the Pushpagiri peak, we decided to climb and sleep on it than trek to Giri gadde whose distance we didn’t knew. Rays from the fading sun did not permeate through the tall trees around forcing us to use our torches to inch up the steep rocks ahead. It was about 7:00 PM by the time we reached an area devoid of trees on the huge rock, which we felt ideal enough to sleep. In the fading light we could see the outlines of a group of ten trekkers standing atop a lower peak adjacent to that of ours. We gestured each other before our ghostly figures melted in darkness. A few scattered lights dotted the landscapes towards Bisle in the north and to the west towards Subramanya. As we collected firewood, the frequently embracing clouds overhead give rise to ear splitting thunders. Since we were at a height of more than five thousand feet, we were almost touching the clouds. The time gap between lightning and thunder formation was the minimum we had seen in our entire lives and this phenomenon shook our spines. The drizzle got heavier by every passing minute and doused our campfire signalling the beginning of a long, troublesome and sleepless night. We attempted to sleep the night out below the dwarf bushes in one part of the rock but rainwater soon drenched us, and worse still: leeches began to crawl on our faces. Confused, at 8:30 PM, we decided to climb down to Kudre Doddi. Not knowing what the dark night held out to us, we treaded cautiously in this forest where the likes of King Cobras and Tigers rule the night. Crawling down the rocks we navigated back, our hearts missing a few beats when we lost the way a couple of times in our fading torch light. When we finally reached Kudre Doddi at about 10:00 in the night amidst the drizzle, leeches had turned our bodies particularly legs, wet with blood. Extremely fortunate to find some half dry firewood we managed to light a small fire on the cement base. The cold forced us a couple of times during night to rekindle the fire. Around dawn the cold turned bitter and unprepared to face it, we struggled to sleep.

Melodious songs of Malabar whistling thrushes finally interrupted our half sleep at sunrise. We thanked our stars that we escaped the dangerously unpredictable pre-monsoon thunderstorm, which often turns treks in the Western Ghats into nightmares.The extra ordinary bird activity and a fresh day breathed new life into our spirits as we started the trek afresh at 6:15 AM. We walked back the same path that we had trekked the previous evening. But we still had a major problem of no drinking water being with us. We walked up to the junction where the signboard directed the path to Giri Gadde and Pushpagiri. This area incidentally had the maximum number of leeches. Unable to beat the high humidity and heat we were forced to lick dewdrops on the fallen leaves. Walking for about 20 minutes from the signpost, we came across a rocky open space where a small spring was flowing. Overjoyed at this discovery we consumed our packed breakfast near it. As we started again, the flapping of wings of an unidentified hornbill overhead momentarily drew our attention. Trekking amidst the tall trees for about 10 minutes, the forest suddenly begun to fade, leading us into grasslands. It was over 20 hours since we entered the forest and this transformation in landscape was dramatic indeed. Although the grass was not as green as it is during the monsoons, it still was refreshing. As we trekked along the Rainforests of Pushpagiri wildlife sanctuary and forested hills of Hassan and Dakshina Kannada as seen from Girigadde below Kumara Parvata peak in Western GhatsWestern Ghats ridge for about a hundred yards, the early morning clouds cleared off, paving way for very enchanting scenery. To the immediate east were Kumar Parvat-Pushpagiri ranges. Towards north we could slowly begin to see the forests of Bisle and beyond and to the west we could see some portions of the Kukke Subramanya temple township and its environs. To our south we could now see the spectacularly beautiful contagious forest stretch of the western slopes of Pushpagiri sanctuary, part of Sampaje forests, Talacauvery Wildlife sanctuary and to the far south-east probably the Tadiyandamol hill ranges. Each peak seemed to elbow the other to rise higher and as far as our eyes could reach out there was an astonishing mosaic of greenery. As it usually happens in these parts of Western Ghats, grasslands covered the peaks while the valleys were done so by sholas, a variety of stunted rainforests unique to Western Rainforests of Pushpagiri wildlife sanctuary as seen from Girigadde below Kumara Parvata peak in Western GhatsGhats. The tree height increased as the altitude descended, and huge trees covered every inch of ground towards the mountain bases. We went on a photographing spree, capturing the breath taking sceneries. Particularly the drops of Pushpagiri range with their lush green rainforest clothed valleys were enthralling; repeatedly igniting our will to gaze at them. At 9:00 AM we began descending down west. Photographing landscapes all along the way, it took us about 45 minutes to reach ‘Kallu Mantapa’, a small rocky pillar shelter. Resting for a few minutes, we again began the descent to Giri gadde. Located three-fourths between Kukke Subramanya and Kumar Parvat, it is the sole shelter for trekkers between these two places. Although the path from top seemed to be very easy with just the grasslands to cross to reach Giri gadde, the ground conditions were an entirely different scene. It took us about 2 hours to overcome the extremely rocky ground- the resultant fatigue and beautiful landscapes, to reach it. At a point before Giri gadde, we could see many patches of forests, which were extremely dense and theRainforests of Pushpagiri wildlife sanctuary in Western Ghats trees were of towering height. It seemed to be a picture out of Amazon forests. Giri gadde is a small settlement of a couple of families and is the site of a wireless station of Pushpagiri wildlife sanctuary. The families of Mr. Bhatru and one of his younger brothers have been living here literally in the midst of nowhere, for more than a decade. He and his family have converted a piece of rocky grassland within the sanctuary boundary into a small plantation of arecanut, banana and coconut. His claims that they had good crops regularly seemed true. Mr. Bhatru’s house is the most famous landmark between Kukke Subramanya and Kumar Parvat. Every trekker who treks along this route visits this house. While some sneak in to have food, others snooze away from the shuddering cold at night. We were dumbfounded to see this family survive such hostile climatic conditions- very humid and hot in summer, battering monsoons and freezing winters. The nearest medical help or for that matter the nearest house is a harsh decent of about 3,500 feet: a walk of 3 hours during the best of times.

We started down for Kukke at 2:15 PM and trekked for about half an hour through lush grasslands, before dense rainforest canopy enclosed overhead again. We walked on without getting a single patch of clearing in this dense and obviously humid forest. Ever since entering the forest we came across red ants everywhere along the leaf littered floor. It was already 4:30 and we still were getting down, resting for a minute at places clear of ants. The trees grew taller as we went down and at a point they assumed gigantic proportions. But there was an irritating aspect of this descent- the absence of any place to view the surrounding landscape. Due to the lack of an altimeter, it was not possible for us to measure the height at which we were and to guess the distance to Kukke, considering the fact that Kukke is nearer sea level. The strenuous trek carrying all our wildlifing and photographing gear was extracting every calorie of our bodies. Every inch of us was crying for rest, our calf muscles particularly cramping every other minute. We wondered how Mr. Bhatru and his kith could descend this height and get back to their house near the shoulder of Kumar Parvat peak within half a day. It was finally about 5:30 in the evening when we could hear the sounds of human settlements. Minutes later, we emerged from the forest and read the hoardings put up by Range Forest Officers of Pushpagiri Wildlife and Kukke Subramanya territorial ranges, prohibiting trekkers from entering the forest without permission. Washing our faces in one The rainforests of Pushpagiri wildlife sanctuary in Western Ghats forming the backdrop to the temple at Kukke Subramanyaof the many clear springs flowing out of the forest; we headed to Kukke Sri Subramanya temple. Before boarding the bus to Bangalore we turned back for a moment. The view of Kukke Sri Subramanya temple at the base of towering Pushpagiri-Kumar Parvat ranges, hugged by rolling grasslands and dark rainforests, was a sight to behold. The satisfaction of having ascended these ranges and trekking through some of India’s wildest forests made us forget all the pain, danger and difficulties that we overcame to achieve it.

Season:
The forests are closed for public during summer to prevent forest fires. Pouring rains make the trek hazardous during monsoons. October to early February and late April to late May are good periods for this trek.

Approach:
There are two approaches to Pushpagiri and Kumaraparvat peaks. While the eastern entrance is from Beedehalli via Heggademane temple, the western one is from Kukke Subramanya via Giri gadde. The access from Beedehalli- a small hamlet at the northeastern entrance of Pushpagiri Wildlife sanctuary is supposed to be less tough as it is at a higher elevation than Kukke Subramanya, which is nearer sea level. Kukke Subramanya is 22 km from Gundia, which lies on the Bangalore – Mangalore National Highway. Somvarpete can be approached from Madikeri (30 km) or from Mysore via K.R.Nagar and Ramanathpur

Where to stay (Can be done only legally with the permission of the local forest officials):
1. Between Heggedemane and Kumar Parvat: Kudre Doddi, a small shed with thatched roof and a cement base built by the wildlife wing officials for patrolling forest personnel to rest.
2. Between Kukke Subramanya and Kumar Parvat:
a. The small flat ground behind Kallu Mantapa is a good ground for trekkers to pitch tents during non-monsoons.
b. Bhatru’s house at Giri gadde: There are a many sites to pitch tents and camp during non-monsoons.

Food:
Depending on the number of days you want to trek you should carry processed food. At Giri Gadde Mr. Bhatru provides delicious food on request at a reasonable price, but there is no other place in the trek where food is available. Also take along salt and extra water.

Permission:
This trek route traverses through three different forest ranges all falling in different administrative circles with their offices far away from each other. Hence it is strictly advised to get written permission from the concerned officers before commencing the trek.

1. To trek in Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary:
PCCF (Wildlife) & Chief Wildlife Warden
Aranya Bhavan,
Malleswaram 18th Cross,
Bangalore 5600 03

2. To trek in Subramanya Range forest:
Deputy Conservator of Forests
Mangalore Territorial Division, Mangalore 5750 01,
Dakshina Kannada District