Reading this article about the Bangalore-Mangalore railway line got me nostalgic about this wonderful trek I was part of, 4 years back (I can’t believe it’s been 4 years). For the record, it was pretty much my first trek on my own. On my own as in, the previous one was organized by my ex-company and was guided by a pro. This one involved me, Priyank( pratibimbha), Praveen and Murthy. The planning for it took place exactly three days before the trek.
We got tickets 2 days before for the night of Dec 24th 2003 from Bangalore to Sakleshpur. And the catch, it was a red bus, the bread and butter ones for KSRTC. And we got tickets for the last but one row in the bus. Priyank however decided to get a seat in the last row and next to the window as there’d be more space there. 🙂
On the night of the 24th, however, we were in for a big surprise as it turned out that the last couple of seats next to the window were unreserved. As we’d have it, it was occupied by a Telugu construction worker and his wife and his 3 kids. The kids were positioned to sleep below our seat which meant we had to watch where we put our legs to prevent stepping on any of those urchins. But the best was reserved for Priyank. His co-traveler decided that night time while traveling was the best time to educate his wife and explained to her the nuances of good governance, comparing the performance of S.M. Krishna vis-a-vis Chandrababu Naidu. Who came out better, I’d never know as my understanding of Telugu is limited to just one sentence: “akkada choodu pilli” meaning “look there…cat” which was uttered to me by a neighbor when I was a little kid. It’s amazing how some stuff stays with you for a lifetime!!!
The plan was to get down at the “hair-pin” bend, half an hour away from Sakleshpur, and closer to Donigal, and walk down from there till Bheemeshwari estate, entering which we were to find the track and follow it on till Yedakumeri. There, a person named Joseph, who was in charge of the place would guide us to reach the highway where we were to hitch a ride on a KSTRC bus back to Sakleshpur or if lucky, to Bangalore.
It was 3:30 in the morning and pitch dark as were dropped off at the bend. Being in the midst of the Western ghats and being December, it was naturally cold, but we were well equipped for that. After close to half an hour’s walk along the highway, we came to the gates of Bheemeshwari estate and set up camp there. Since we had nothing much to set up camp with, we pretty much squatted there for the next 1.5 hours till the first light of dawn came streaming in. During this time, I took the opportunity to test my camera and check out all its features and also screwed up its settings which meant most of the snaps were grained out.
At close to 6:00 AM we started our trek. Next to Bheemeshwari estate was Mallikarjuna estate or was it Manjunatha estate, am not sure. Inside that, as we walked along in search of the railway track, we were stopped on our tracks by the sounds of dogs barking!! Time for a conference. After loads of deliberations and realizing there was no going back, we decided to arm ourselves with sticks and stones and since there were four of us, we formed a four way lookout, with Priyank leading the way, me and Praveen covering the sides and Murthy looking out behind to prevent any surprises. We came across a set of deserted hutments on both sides of the path, and dogs barking from them. As we approached we were surprised and amused to see a set of skinny dogs backing away and yapping away as they did. Well, so much for all that strategy :).
Close to 6:00 AM we chanced on the track. It was a meter gauge track just a metre wide.
And from that instant, began the trek to Yedakumeri along the railway track. The trek consists of walking along the railway track for close to 20 kms across 17 tunnels and 12 bridges. The longest tunnel was close to 700m from what I remember.
Like all treks this one began with fun and with lots of snaps being shot. We had been warned of bats in the tunnels and Praveen had come prepared with all the items necessary to have a fire and a torch going. We tried it for a couple of tunnels before we ran out of fuel and we were pretty much fire-less for the rest of the journey.
It was a bit difficult walking along the tracks because of the stones and there was always this constant fear of twisting your ankle. After sometime however, the stones reduced, as we entered untended and uninhabited parts of the track. By the time we got to lunch, we kinda realized the reasons why this track might have been abandoned. The Western ghats had been ruthless on them. Trees falling across, landslides caused by mud were just some of the factors.
After lunch it was more focus on reaching the destination and just enjoying the view around with hardly any words spoken amongst us. It was also partly because, till lunch there was some human presence or the other, at least every half hour. After that it became pretty much nil and there was absolute silence except for birds chirping or some creature moving among the bushes. The sort of silence that demands that you respect it, a demand which you accede to humbly.
The bridges started getting longer and the gorges beneath them deeper and deeper. We even noticed that even the tunnels were now getting longer and more bat infested. Armed with just torches, we decided after a couple of tunnels, that the best thing to do was to turn them off and pass as quietly as possible and cover our heads with our jackets. This was not for the bat droppings or anything, more for the bats themselves, which used to get agitated by our presence and made direct attacks on us, brushing and banging into our heads at times. The longest tunnel was the toughest – the maximum number of bats and the highest intensity of attack since we were under attack pretty much from the first 100m onwards. Except Priyank, who got a couple of direct hits, the rest of us escaped pretty much unscathed.
Close to 4 in the evening, we reached our destination Yedakumeri. Yedakumeri is an old abandoned station bang in the middle of nowhere in the ghats with hardly any human inhabitation for miles around that place. There were a lot of trekkers there who had reached around the same time as us. But all of them were continuing on till Bisile and going onto Kukke Subrahmanya from there. So we were pretty much the only group getting off the track at Yedakumeri.
Then, we began looking out for our guide – Joesph. After half an hour and no trace of him, we suddenly realized it was the 25th of December that day!! And hence, a person named Joseph might have gone on to a more inhabited area. Having left with no choice we looked for the elusive path ourselves. After 15 minutes of searching, we found a path going perpendicular to the track and down. Yes, Down!! This was almost a vertical climb down from where we were. After half an hour of brisk climbing down, since slowing down would mean resisting your weight, we reached a stream. The stream gathers special importance here, as we had read in a couple of blogs that we had to pass a stream to get to the highway. Well, so we knew we had reached a stream. On continuing on to the other side, me and Murthy, who were further up came across a fork. it wasn’t so much as a fork as a path leading away to the left. We decided to continue along the path and not take the left bend, and Priyank and Praveen just followed.
It was a walk that lasted a couple of hours. Under dying light we trekked and trekked. There was a constant sound of traffic encouraging and egging us on. After sometime the traffic grew louder and then there was a clearing. It had to be the highway! With a whoop of joy I ran towards it and then stopped dead in my tracks.
There was a railway track lying in front of me with a long bridge following on in less than 10 feet to my right.
On the left was a tunnel some 200m away from where I stood and the track was covered in overgrowth. There was no doubt here.
We were back “on track” in the middle of nowhere and it was dark!!!
Well, we had three options now, retract our steps and take the left fork which we had passed, but it was already dark and finding your way from the fork in the dark was not a safe option, or continue along the track, but we had no idea which direction, or call it a day and sleep where we were and then decide the next day. We chose the third option. With the bridge close by, we decided to camp close to the bridge on loose soil there. Setting up camp pretty much meant resting our bodies in that place. The reasoning (from Priyank), was that animals do not come close to bridges and also a lack of trust in grass with its myriad small creatures.
After having a pretty early dinner we retired at close to 6:30 PM as we were pretty much tired. Having had a long trek it wasn’t difficult to find sleep even in the mud.
There were many interesting issues to be addressed here. Come morning, we’d have to think of the different options we had, like the path to take – whether to head back down and take the left fork or take the track and return to Donigal or close to it, where the last scene of construction activity to change the track to broad gauge was happening and head to the highway from there, but then we didn’t know which direction to head to. Also, pretty critically, we had packed for one day, including food. So effectively we were almost at the end of supplies.
Close to midnight, I woke up. It wasn’t because of any sound or anything; it was a normal wake up from a normal sleep. There was no noise except for the 3 of them breathing, not even the sound of insects. I opened my eyes and couldn’t dare to close them. It was, well, midnight, the midnight of a new moon day or Amavasya and there was no moon. Being in the middle of nowhere, there was no source of artificial light of any form. And being December there was nary a cloud in the sky. All of this added up to an amazing sky full of stars, the kind you just cannot see when living in the city. There are certain sights you need to experience, which no cameras can capture, which no words can explain. This was one such. A sight that’ll stay with me for the rest of my lifetime I guess. I looked around, and in the star light, believe me, you need to be in such a situation to actually see by star light, I saw Praveen sleeping on my right and Murthy on my left. I woke up Praveen just to get him to see the spectacle. In that little noise, Murthy woke up too. The three of us lay there silent, just gazing out at the sky with not a word spoken amongst us. Murthy was the first to react. “Let’s start a fire” he said. Before we could react, he was up, scouting for anything that could burn. After a couple of minutes search he came up with twigs most of them wet with the winter dew. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to start a fire, we gave up.
Priyank, was still sleeping by the way. The rest of us 3, somehow could not get back to the sleep mode. And then Priyank started talking. None of us could make out anything except a couple of words about some review meeting. Praveen, as curious as ever, wanted to know what, and despite my repeated warnings that he was probably mumbling something in his sleep, he proceeded to wake him up. Priyank, being pretty tired, it took a couple of minutes to wake him up and once up was faced with a question “Yeno helthidya??”, well the obvious “What were you saying”, from Praveen. Definitely not the question you wanna face after being woken up in the middle of the night after a long day’s trek and well Praveen got a bit of a lashing and Praveen, being Praveen, all 3 of us, except Priyank who had no idea what was happening, were well, literally rolling in the mud laughing. The rest of the night passed eventless.
At the first signs of daylight, we unanimously agreed to take the track back to the place where the construction work was last seen, closer to Donigal and from there detour to the highway, and avoid any further misadventures. I set out to explore the tunnel and decide the direction to take. We had counted 17 tunnels till Yedakumeri, and the reverse side said something like 20 or 21 and the tunnel number here said 19 or 20 and knowing that we were not too far from Yedakumeri, I guessed that we were probably further up from there and should hence take the tunnel route and not the bridge one. The plan was to walk for a half hour and if we could not find Yedakumeri, we were to take the fork path downhill. Yedakumeri appeared in 20 minutes thankfully and phase 2 of our trek – Yedakumeri to Donigal began.
Well, have to make a digression here as there is something that needs mention here. When planning for the trip it was decided that, I would be getting lunch, Priyank fruits and Praveen snacks like chocolates and cakes. Murthy being the odd one out, since all was covered, came up with the idea of getting cucumbers. What we didn’t expect to see in the bus stand where we met up to begin the journey was a set of 5-6 cucumbers in his bag. Initially we planned to sell some of them, and during the trek we sometimes got the idea of giving them away to the workers working on the track since we didn’t seem to be consuming them. Somehow, for some God-known reason we never ended up doing that and when we began the next day morning, we were left with 4 cucumbers which were pretty much all we had edible with us!!
The trek this time proceeded faster with very minimal breaks except for breakfast or when really tired. Close to 11, in 5 hours, we had reached the point where the construction was going on. Asking for directions we were pointed to a detour which would lead us to the highway. Just before heading we freshened up in a stream under the tracks where we left them, and then began the last part of our trek through the village in the afternoon sun. It was a tiring trek in the sun as it was pretty uphill and as we walked a village appeared and it got denser, but there was no sign of the highway. With no intention of losing our way and having to trek back, we pretty much asked every soul, young and old, directions to the highway and kept getting waved on and on. Eventually the highway appeared and that was the first sign and sight of asphalt since we left our temporary camp in front of Bheemeshwari estate and Praveen’s celebration of it kinda resembled Brian Lara’s when he went past the 365 of Sobers.
It was close to 1 PM when we reached the highway. After a quick brunch of idlis and buns at a muslim restaurant, we decided to try our luck with buses. At the bus stop, making casual conversation with the locals, we told them about our getting lost and spending the night there. They were amazed and told us that the place was a usual haunt for wild elephants. Well, guess we were fortunate enough not to run into any on our path!
Soon we got a bus going to Bangalore. The driver had parked the vehicle bang in the middle of the highway as the conductor had some stuff to take care of in the post office across the street. So it was pretty easy picking for us and the rest of the journey home was eventless and we reached Bangalore at 8:00 in the evening. There was absolutely no network since Sakleshpur and my cell was out of battery the next day. Any information to home had to be given from a public phone when the bus stopped at Hassan for a 15 minute break.
All in all, it was an amazing experience and we still look back at it with fond memories and it is testimony to our wonderful friendship and camaraderie that through all the losing our way, spending the night in the mud stuff, not a single one of us cribbed or blamed anyone for anything. Even the next day pretty much everyone was joking around and laughing. And I believe there was one cucumber that still remained at the end of the whole trip 🙂