If I had to make a list of popular trekking trails in Karanataka, about 10 years back, Narasimha Parvatha / Parvata would surely be there in the list. Infact, once I was in Agumbe for this trek, but was unable to complete it because of the threat of naxals in the area. After that, permission for trekking in this region was not being given for a very long time. Only recently, things started changing and I heard from a few people that the area is open for trekking again.
When Vishwanath organized a Agumbe - Narasimha Parvatha - Kigge trek, I was excited - I had gone with him for the Agastya Mala Trek and was quite comfortable with him taking care of organizing the trek. But, to my disappointment, I could not join. The weekend after that, our 'extended' college gang had planned a trek to Kodachadri, which had to be changed in the last minute. While, we discussed alternative locations, Narasimha Parvatha was a very popular choice. I soon talked to Vishwa and he agreed to organize the trek for our gang.
As usual, we had a few guys dropping out - Prakash, Vishal and Rajesh had to drop out almost last minute, leaving out Pravin, Tiju, Rajeev, Sajid and John. We met up at Majestic the following friday evening - all set to board a Rajahamsa to Agumbe. We met Vishwa there and three more people from his side - Raghavendra sir, his wife Shubha and Anand - joined from Yeswanthpur. I had a tough night as the seat I got did not recline, which also meant that there was not much snoring from my side - good for others!
We were at Agumbe early morning and walked in to a hotel, located right next to the bus stand. I vaguely remembered being at the same hotel during my first visit to Agumbe in September 2004, even though the place looked very different. In spite of the 'facelift', the village still managed to retain some of the rustic charm it had. Known for King Cobras, beautiful sunsets and heavy monsoons, Agumbe is one of the most romantic places near Bangalore. Even though, I have passed through Agumbe a few times since my first visit, I hardly explored around - so it was good to be here now.
I managed to quickly finish my morning tasks at the hotel itself and soon joined others sipping in to hot filter coffee. Vishwa explained that we will go in to a house to get ready, have breakfast and also pick up packed lunch from there. We had a relaxed day ahead of us and the plan was to go around till evening, before heading to Malandur / Mallandur eventually, which is the base camp for our trek. The real trek would start only the next day.
Soon, we headed to 'Dodda Mane' (Big House in Kannada) the house of 'Kasturi Akka', which hosted many visitors to this beautiful village. It is by no means a modern homestay with luxurious rooms, but just had basic amenities. The house is said to be more than 150 years old and smelt of rustic charm with its huge courtyard cum living room in the centre and wooden pillars / doors / windows. As I looked around, I realized that I need to duck under the wooden doors to save my head - which reminded me of the time I spent at my maternal and paternal houses before they underwent 'renovation'. Some part of the popular TV serial 'Malgudi days' was shot here.
Chit chat at Dodda Mane
We sat at the outside verandha and chatted for a while. It was here that we got to know the rest of the team. Raghavendra sir and his wife Shubha were real inspirations and they were in to regular trekking / cycling expeditions. They looked fitter than any of us! Anand had gone for a couple of treks with Vishwa before. They had seen my website before and apparently recognized me, which was good to hear. We shared some of our trekking experiences and it was great to hear that they all had extensive trekking experience.
I was among the last people to take bath and get ready. Soon after that it was time for breakfast and that is when I first met 'Kasturi Akka'. She instantly came across as someone very nice and friendly, yet a little stern. Rajeev warned me even before the breakfast that using the right (eating) hand for serving may invite her wrath - looks like he already got a taste of it :) When I ate, we did make a conversation, in spite of my broken Kannada. She enquired what my mother tongue is and rued that she could not speak it (Malayalam) well - even though she was fluent in a few others.
Meanwhile, Vishwa completed all the formalities required for the trek and the places we were planning to visit today. Naxal presence is suspected in Agumbe even now and due to that it is required for all visitors to report to the local police station and take necessary permissions before venturing in to the forest. Our plan was to go to the top of Onake Abbi falls first. So, Vishwa distributed packed lunch which we all carried in our bags. We could leave most of the luggage there and needed to carry only essentials - which in my case meant, camera, water and packed lunch.
We started by about 9.30 - initially we walked along the road towards Hebri. It was good to catch up with friends after such a long time and we had good conversations going on all the way. It started with puzzles and moved on to fitness, eventually deciding on practicing for marathon together. Needless to say none of these plans actually materialized, but it was still good to plan ;-)
After about 20 mins on Hebri road, we took a foot trail which goes inside the forest. The beginning of the foot trail was marked with an arch and sign boards in Kannada. We moved briskly in this foot trail and reached near the Onake Abbi falls in another half an hours time.
The final stretch was a descend off the foot trail. It had concrete and stone paved steps with iron railings to hold on to, the steps eventually leading in to a stream and an open area with a view of the valley and hills with thick green forest cover. The stream was almost empty and had little water - only when Vishwa told us that we are now standing on top of Onake Abbi falls, I noticed that the stream is actually tumbling down a cliff in to the valley. The falls was hidden from us and was visible only when going close to it.
Ah! I see it now!
We did all our usual circus, went right on top of the falls to take a few pics, before eventually lying down on the rock. It was only about 11 and nobody was in favour of opening up the lunch packs. So, we decided to head back and worry about lunch later. On our way back, buoyed by all the talk we had about fitness and marathon, Rajeev and Tiju was on a race - trying to run all the way up. I tried to follow too and soon found out that it is not that easy to run upstairs :)
The last two to the finishing line
Some time was spent sitting there and debating if we should have lunch here or after getting back. It looked like nobody was hungry and ready to have lunch - so, we eventually decided to carry the packed lunch back to 'Dodda Mane' and eat it there only!
By 12.30 we were back, had food and lazed around for some more time, before eventually packing up and heading to Malandur. This village - adjascent to Agumbe - was our base camp as well as the starting point for the Narasimha Parvatha trek. Our plan was to leave late afternoon and visit Jogi Gundi falls in the evening, before camping at Malandur, where Thimmappa - our guide - would host us.
We took two auto rickshaws and headed out on Sringeri road. Little more than half a km from Agumbe, we turned right on to Barkana road. 3kms in a road with thick vegetation on both sides, Vishwa showed us the foot trail to Jogi Gundi. But, the plan was to go to Thimmappa's house and unload the luggages first, before taking only the required stuff and heading back to Jogi Gundi.
Just before reaching Thimmappa's house - about 3kms from the start of Jogi Gundi trail, we saw a snake crawling away from the road. It was a small one and some of us felt that it may be a rat snake. But, that did not stop us from exaggerating the sighting and start a discussion on how venomous the King Cobra is! After all, Agumbe area is known for the king of snakes.
For now though, we unloaded all our luggage at Thimmappa's house and picked up only the essentials - camera, towel and change of cloths - before heading back to Jogi Gundi in the same auto. A few minutes later, we entered a trail - off Barkana road - amidst greenery. About half a km on this trail, we could hear the sound of water.
Pool at Jogi Gundi
There was hardly any water in the falls, but the place was still beautiful. What we could see now was a large rock face and a beautiful pool of water, with slippery rocks all around. I could see a thin stream coming from behind the rock face. The stream should get fuller during monsoon, with water gushing from the top of the rock face. For now though, we had to be contend with the pool - which looked very inviting!
It was about 4.30 by now and we did not waste much time before slipping in to the pool - the water was a little murky, but quite cool. In a while, we were all swimming around and exploring all corners of the pool. The centre portion felt quite deep and I could not determine how deep it was. But, most of us managed to reach directly below the rock face, either by swimming through or by walking along the shallow region. I could not help wondering how interesting this could be in monsoon.
I am loving it!
Half an hour later, we headed back to Barkana road and walked up towards Malandur. A km ahead was the trail to Barkana view point. I vaguely remembered taking this trail during my first visit to Agumbe in September 2004. It was about 5.20 now and the view point was about 3kms from this point. We felt that it is still possible to visit the view point, if we moved fast.
Keeping a good pace
The trail to Barkana view point was flat and mostly passed by open areas, with occassional tree cover. After about 30 mins of brisk walking, doubts started creeping in. It was quite bright when we started, but the light soon started fading. Neither me or Vishwa was not sure how far the view point was and that added to the doubts. Since it was geting dark and the area had a good snake population, it really did not make much sense to continue!
Little did we realize then that we were only about half km away from the view point. This, I understood only after reaching back in Bangalore and analysing our trail in Google Earth. In any case, it turned out to be a good decision, though - as it was quite dark by the time we reached back Barkana road. I had seen a few trails forking towards right, which should have ideally taken us directly to Thimmappa's house. But then, we were not sure and chose to go all the way back to Barkana road and then walk up another couple of kms to reach Thimmappa's house.
Even though, it was dark, there were occassional solar-powered street lights along the way. It was good to see solar power getting used here. We had chats about the snake we spotted earlier :) - but we managed to reach back without stepping on to any snakes!
At Thimmappa's house we were all served tea and biscuits. Thimmappa had taken a group to Narasimha Parvatha on the previous day and he reached home only a few hours after us. By then, we all had settled down, most of us had a bath and thinking about food. Vishwa and Thimmappa arranged to buy eggs and noodles for the next day. Vishwa also started the efforts for dinner - rice, dal, pickle and curd rice - which was soon ready. Once dinner was done, we spread out the sleeping bags / sheets in the hall and the light was out quickly.
The hall soon turned out to be the venue of a snoring competition and reportedly mine was the loudest :) Needless to say, I was totally oblivious of this and had a reasonably sound sleep. But, I woke up very early in the morning and spent rest of the time listening to the snoring competition :). I eventually got up long before the day break and with Rajeev for company, we took a walk around the fields behind Thimmappa's house.
Soon, it was breakfast time - noodles, to which I prefferred rice and dal from the previous day. We also packed up lunch in the boxes that each of us had got. I was carrying a smaller box, but the rest of the guys offered to share the spaces in their lunch boxes ;-)
Leaving Thimmappa's house The trek begins!
By 8.30, we were all on Barkana road and taking the trail going towards Barkana falls. This trail was further upstream (towards east), going around the Barkana valley, which hosts the Barkana falls to the south and the Barkana view point to the north. Our first target would be the Barkana falls itself, before heading up further towards Narasimha Parvatha. I had taken part of this trail during an earlier visit to Agumbe, but we failed to reach the waterfalls that time. But, this time, I could hardly recognize the trail - thankfully, Thimmappa was leading us this time and finding the trail was not a problem at all.
The forest became thicker as we moved ahead and we spotted a few droppings as well - presumably of a wild predator, which looked relatively fresh! The trail was more or less flat going slightly up and down a few times. As the distance to cover for the day was high, we moved briskly, except for one stop near a small stream. By 10.30, the trail took us in to a stream which plunges in to a valley - just ahead of this point - to form the Barkana falls.
The stream did not have much water and it looked like the water falls would be rather tame. But, to confirm the theory, we did not have much of a view of the falls as we were stationed right above it :) I could not spot any points nearby as well, which could give us a good view of the falls. Barkana view point made a lot of sense now as that would be the only way to get a good view.
Gang atop the pride rock :) The view with the audience!
The view of the valley looked magnificient though, with majestic hills right opposite to us. The Barkana view point should be towards our far right, but I could not identify the precise location. There was a rock at the edge of the falls and we all took turns to get ourselves photographed, standing on this rock, against the green covered hills in the background.
Cooling his heels Wish we were here in monsoon
This was also the time to open up the lunch boxes - though a little early for lunch, the non-availability of any streams going up made this a convenient point for lunch. We also had to fill up all the water bottles for the rest of the journey.
Stretch from Barkana to Narasimha Parvatha
That was a tough stretch!
We resumed the trek by about 12 and found the trail ahead quite steep. Compared to the relatively flat trail that we followed till now, this was quite a challenging climb. The trail passed through thick vegetation and had most of us panting for breath pretty soon. Yet, we managed to maintain a good pace and except for a short break to catch the breath, almost went non-stop. In about an hours time, we emerged out of the canopy and entered the grass land, with magnifienct views of the hills.
Almost there! Dont we look like ants?
About 20 mins later we passed through another small stretch of shola forest, after which we could get a good view of a section of Narasimha Parvatha. We were now at an adjascent hill and the trail would go around this hill before taking a connecting ridge to the northern slopes of Narasimha Parvatha. Half way up on this slope, as we gained a lot of altitude, the views to our north became even better. We could now see the Malandur village far away, as well as the hills hosting the Barkana view point. We could not help taking one more short break and enjoying the view.
Taking a look backwards
The peak had a very flat area at the top and it looked as if we were very close to the top. But, a group of boulders which we saw from below was at the other side of the hill. In another 15 mins, we were pretty much at the highest point of the peak. We stopped for another small break and also took out some of the snacks here as the lunch was long digested and water reserves were running low.
Reporting from the top of Narasimha Parvatha Enjoying the view
On resuming, we had to cross another small stretch of shola and the trail was flat after that. It took us another 15 mins or so, before reaching the group of boulders overlooking the Agumbe valley. It was now time to take the cameras out and take the group pictures!
It was pretty hot by now and Vishwa promised to make butter milk for all of us. He was carrying a can of curd and I remembered him doing this before as well - the mere thought of butter milk in this heat was quite exciting! The problem was the lack of water - if we use up all our water for the butter milk, we may not have any more water for the rest of the day. So, we eventually agreed to do it as we go down and find some water source.
We started back by about 3.15 and took a trail along the eastern slopes of Narasimha Parvatha. The descend was a bit steep to begin with and we quickly lost about 100m in altitude. Vishwa was ahead of us and got in to an abandoned shed to prepare the butter milk - hoping that we will find some water later - and who would complain now :)
After the shed, we moved around the peak towards north, before descending down again towards east. Soon, we did reach a water source - a small pond with stagnant water. With the amount of algae and dirt covering the pond, it hardly looked drinkable. But, we were desperate enough to sample it, but the water tasted sour and had to spit out. Thimmappa told that there is no water available from now on, until we reach Kigge and we had to preserve whatever little we had. I was still carrying a bottle and kept it in case of any emergency.
We continued descending along the grass lands for a while. Sajid and I were trailing behind with the rest of the team moving briskly. I had trouble with my shoes, while Sajid was having knee trouble. Seeing us struggling to keep up with the rest of the group, Vishwa decided to stay with us. Soon, we had tree cover and the rest of the trek was just about keeping it slow and stteady. We did not rush much, but kept the same pace and avoided taking any long breaks.
By about 5, we emerged out of the tree cover to get a good view of the Kigge town, especially that of a large pond and the temple nearby. We had used up even the emergency water supply by this time and was hoping that we could soon find some water. The trail eventually joined a jeep track and just ahead of that there was a house and people sitting in the courtyard sorting a large pile of arecanuts.
They were nice to give us drinking water and was amazed at how fast we gulped it down! We rested a bit there, before thanking them and continuing further down. A little ahead of the house, there were more signs of civilization and in another 5 mins we were near a relatively large pond - rectangular with about 100m on one side, the one we saw from the top. Once we crossed the pond, the jeep track joined a tarmac road - coming from Sirimane falls. A few more minutes on this road, we were by the side of the Kigge temple. The rest of the guys were waiting at the temple entrance and the bus to Sringeri was expected to arrive in about 30 mins time. The trek was finished and the first thing I did was to remove the shoes and switch to a slipper - what a relief it was!
The bus ride back to Sringeri was eventful as well, with the bus stopping half way for a wash! The passengers were instructed to close the windows while the bus was cleaned up! It was dark by the time the bus eventually reached Sringeri, where we had to walk down the last mile as the driver did not feel like taking the bus to the main town :) Not sure, if this is the usual stop or, today was indeed a special case!
We said good bye to Thimmappa here and looking for a room to freshen up. Vishwa, Raghavendra, Shubha and Anand went to a different lodge and we agreed to meet up again at the bus stand, in time for the return bus. Rajeev also wanted to visit the temple and was the first to freshen up, while the rest of us took time to get ready, before hunting for a place to dine.
Soon, we were aboard the Rajahamsa bus taking us back to Bangalore. It was the end of another memorable journey - and the gang was soon making plans to do two treks every year. Dont know if we will manage to do it consistently, but I was glad that we all managed to do this one - more so, as Narasimha Parvatha was a long standing item in my ToDo list!
Text and Photographs by Sandeep:-