samse - kuduremukha - samse trek
the story

The 'global recession' or 'economic slowdown' is attributed the cause for HP's year-end shutdowns. During this one-week long forced leave, most of our colleagues travel either home or away from home. It was during last year's (2001) shutdown that my cousin invited me for a trek - almost my first one - to Bandipur.

During this year's shutdown, my cousin Kashyapa was busy in his new job, and I had no plans. Shyam planned to take the post-christmas half of the week off and so we planned somewhat late to go for a trek to Kuduremukha. Preeti and Kiran were willing to join us. Apparently, there is a luxury bus service from Bangalore to Kuduremukha town, but at that time there were only 2 seats left on that bus for the night of 25th (its a night journey). So Shyam booked tickets for a luxury bus to Mangalore. We left Bangalore Kempegowda bus station at about 10pm and got off near the PVS(?) building at Mangalore at about 5 am. We walked for about 20 minutes to Dongarageri and into a small alley with a board saying 'Sri Kashi Sadana', which led to Avinash's parental home.

There was a warm welcome for us at that hour, with breakfast ready and almost all of the family members up, including Anagha. We freshened up, had idli-chutney-sambar and rested for a while. Avinash's younger brother, Aravind, dropped us to the private bus stand in the Mahindra jeep. We caught the 7:45 bus to Kalasa. I now wonder which was more fun - the jeep ride or the bus ride, but the jeep ride was too short to compare. The Kalasa bus was just another bus like our old BTS buses, so not at all advisable to sleep in. Preeti tried to sleep as she sat and suffered pains in her neck. The bus stopped for some 15 minutes at Bajagoli. I went out and got a dose packed for myself, not thinking of the others. We got off at Balegal/Samse at 11:15pm.

There is one small shop on the main road at Samse and the shopkeeper issues the 'forest entry' tickets to people entering Kuduremukha forest from Samse, at Rs 15 per ticket. The person buying the tickets has to record his residential address in a register here. Exactly opposite this shop, a mud road goes down about 100 feet to a small stream. We took off our shoes to cross this stream, 'freshened up' again and started the trek at 12:15. The mud road suddenly rises up to a slope as steep as the stairs at the Indian Express building and later levels off for quite a distance, winding along the sides of hills with their coffee plantations and trees that look rather big to city slickers like me. The road runs in for 2-3 kilometers as a jeep track, houses on both sides, a couple of streams running down the hill side, a lot of birds making numerous different noises in the tall trees that keep us in the shade almost all the way. All this luxury ends soon and we come out into the open, walk along the well-defined tracks, Shyam choosing carefully at each fork in the track.

It took about 2 hours to reach the place where the forest department 'watcher' Ramesh was posted. He checked our tickets, took down our addresses and confirmed that camping on the peak was not allowed by the forest department rules. We would have to halt that night in one of the abandoned houses near the base of the hill, maintained by one Shankar, whom we may pay about Rs 10 per head in appreciation of his service. Another 2 hours brought us close enough to the peak for snaps. We met a returning team, mostly middle-aged and older men. The 'camp' site was not far from here.

At the first of the three such houses, we dumped our luggage. Shyam and I went further ahead to check out the other two houses. We found a second house that seemed to be closer to the water than the first one. We also spotted a few pea-fowl some 100 feet away. Shyam plucked 3 giant limes from a tree beside the house and gave me 2 to carry (before I forget, later all three ended up in my bag and my mother had made a nice sauce - gojju - out of these, which I ate after returning from the Narasimha Parvatha trek). Still further ahead is the famous house of the immortalized Lobo, which we found was not to our liking. The first house allowed access to the house itself, the stream, and some firewood lying inside and outside.

This was the time to test my new solid fuel stove (Rs 105 only, and Rs 5 per cake of solid fuel that is supposed to burn for 15 minutes). We successfully made high-calorie coffee (just add too much sugar) and energized ourselves with it. While later we baked Shyam's Annapoorna chapathis and cooked rice, Kiran quite skilfully got a campfire going. I mixed up a bit too much of puliyogare paste onto the rice. It was not too bad, considering we had Shyam's papads (burnt on this stove) and Preeti's pickles (3 varieties, home made) to go with it, but Kiran could not finish it because it was too hot. We spent some time around the campfire, trying to keep it going, but it was not going very good. We all slept inside the house, with the door well secured. My new sleeping bag (Rs 720, 'water-proof', heavier than anyone else's) was quite warm but Shyam woke me up at least once to show me the rats attacking our food. I could neither see the rats nor hear them but he could not sleep because of the noise they made.

The next morning Shyam woke us up at about 6. We had coffee and made chapathis for breakfast (or did we?). It was about 9:30am by the time we started off towards the peak, after dumping our bags in a room and securing the main door of the house. We had to walk past Lobo's house for about 10 minutes to reach the start of the climb. It is a very steep ascent - would make room for another reception desk in Indian Express ground floor. Its a wonder how anyone could climb this with backpacks towards the end of the first day of continuous trekking. After a while the track starts winding around the hillside and we walk across somewhat-steep slopes. These tracks were made for horses, by the British, Shyam kept telling us. There are shortcuts that go straight up the slopes, I can dare taking these I guess, in absence of a backpack.

At one point where the path has a bend to the left, going around the hill, Shyam remembered the time when, during one of his previosu trek, they had to sleep there on the slope and wake up to see the first rays of the rising sun. Kiran went ahead and we had walk about twenty five steps from here, when Shyam stopped us and signalled silence. He was looking towards the right where about fifty feet away, a lone gaur was having its lunch. Preeti had a look at it and sat back to take rest. The rest of us got clicking, Kiran with his SLR, Shyam with his point-and-shoot, me with my digital camera plus binoculars. The beast did take a look at us and turned away, so all we could watch was its rear for the next ten minutes before it moved away.

It was already 12:15. Shyam was very surprised to have sighted a gaur at that hour and was somewhat wary of running into more of the kind further up the path. Preeti was already getting tired every 10 minutes and the last bus to Mangalore was at 4:15. So we turned around and walked back. We could see a gang of seven people or so, about a mile away. Getting down was quite tricky. I had put my orange and my specs in my shirt pocket and when I fell I nearly lost both of them. Once I gathered speed and almost ran into Preeti but caught a small tree just in time. On the way down we met the gang of seven including Kiran's friends who met us in the cottage that morning. Further downhill we met two guys from Bangalore and Mysore (?) - they were actually three, the third guy being sick and so walking slow and far behind. We told almost all of them about the gaur and to be careful about it.

When we got to the cottage I was still thinking of making Maggi, but nobody else was up for it. After we got our bags out and locked the door, Shyam took out buns and distributed them along with dry dates. We started walking back to Samse at about 1:00. Kiran expected the first part of the return to be hard, and since I was not confident enough about my own memory, I kept expecting it to get tough. It didnt get that tough at all. I tried to keep track of time by counting my steps - we did something like 1,200 in 15 minutes. Later I kept losing count so gave up.

Closer to Samse we went on to some track which did not look quite the same as the one we came on. However it did take us in front of the same house with a loud-mouthed dog. Further ahead, down below to the left, in the courtyard of a house, the activity of threshing paddy or some such produce was going on. Four or five buffaloes were tied together one beside the other to a harness, the harness in turn tied at one end to a vertical pole in the center of the paddy spread out on the ground. The men were driving the buffaloes round and round, getting the paddy threshed by their feet. It was quite a sight, Kiran took a photo of it. The subjects were only too ready, they even asked for the prints to be delivered.

At a culvert further ahead we stopped for some water. A jeep came in the opposite direction and stopped near us. People got out and started making preparations to cut and carry a log from a tree that seemed to have fallen down just the previous day. We resumed walking in a few minutes, Shyam urged us on and after a while hurried off towards Samse. We had to take off our shoes to cross the stream and after the crossing Shyam spent some time cleaning the dirt off his feet. It was 4:10 when we reached the shop at Samse and had tender coconut. We managed to get our shoes on just in time to get into the bus.

The bus ride was again a challenge in keeping ourselves from falling asleep and keeping our heads from falling off our necks. The bus went back the same way it came, of course, through Bajagoli in front of the temple with a lotus pond around it, passing the conveyor line that brings the iron ore from Kuduremukha to Mangalore (or so Shyam says), passing in front of the Nitte college (University?) and before it the spooky 'White House' - both of which Shyam had juicy stories to tell us about. We got off at Mangalore (where?) at about 8:30 and took two autos back to Kashi Sadana.

Once at Avinash's place, Shyam wasted no time deciding whether or not to take a bath. I was initially undecided but when I saw the hot water in the 'hande' I made up my mind. A sumptuous dinner was served and all of us except Shyam enjoyed it - he would have only rice and rasam. There was even a scoop of Ideal's ice cream for dessert. We spent some time with Anagha, both before and after the family had their dinner. Aravind once again gracefully extended his services and dropped us to the bus station.

The trip back to Bangalore was mostly eventless except that at times I almost got thrown off the seat when the bus turned somewhat suddenly. We were at the Bangalore bus station by about 6 in the morning.