Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Kumara Parvatha Trek. Day II

Continued from here

Stepping on a rock on an inclined climb I lost my balance and fell backwards. The jerk I caused scared the person sleeping next to me in the tent. I thanked my stars it was just a dream, which also reminded me to pray to the sky for the day ahead of me. It was 5 in the a.m and it was time to hit the terrain again. Three quarters of an hour later we dropped our luggage at the Forest Office and headed to the mountains. The initial 2km is relatively flat grass lands compared to the remaining 5, which is if anything, steep. As soon as we started the ascent I realized why Srikanth and Sandeep were here for the third time. It’s not the ego of not scaling the peak that brought them back nor is it an attempt to prove their physical prowess. It was just the beauty of nature in its full glory that pulls them back to this place again and again.

Focusing all my energy and attention on the climb I had forgotten to admire the surroundings. The clear blue skies, the golden sun waiting to make an appearance, the heavenly white cloud beds, the carpet of greenery and the dark shades of the mountain ranges in the distance all painted their pictures on the canvas of nature. Kukke Subramanya may have a temple some 7kms “downtown”. But he surely resides somewhere right here – among his creation. I could feel His presence in everything around me. With the Sun still not out, we made full use of the pleasant weather by walking as much as we could without taking a break. About a couple of hours later we reached tiny water stream with cold freshwater. The forest officers (possibly) have cleared some area here for the campers to pitch their tent and spend the night. Another option to camp here is the Kallu Mantapa just a few meters from here.

After drinking water and refilling our bottles here we continued our ascent. Another couple of hours of slow ascent mixed with photography sessions we reach the peak of Sesha Parvatha. A quick calculation revealed we do not have enough time to summit Kumara Parvatha which stands at 1712mts. Though its about 1.5 kms from the peak of Sesha Parvatha, we did not venture to forward, since we wanted to avoid travelling in the dark from Bhattare Mane. Our ego was taking another beating that we were unable to reach the peak. But in the war between ego and KP, KP wins. We decided to take the fight to another day. We nevertheless went a little further from Sesha Parvatha to bottle some water in the stream there.

The descent is always comparatively easier and quicker. We reached Bhattare Mane by 3 in the afternoon, and I had my biggest meal in quite some time. Just as we were ready to leave by 4, the skies opened up and let through a deluge of rain. In a fix as to whether it is safe to leave now in the slippery and dark forests, we consulted Bhatta. His advice was clear, if it stops raining now, you can leave as long as you have a torch and walk back slowly and carefully. Since 3 out of 5 wanted to go back to Bangalore, the other two thankfully obliged and we were on our way back.

Never did anyone of us imagine that this return journey from Bhattare Mane to Kukke would be the biggest adventure in our lives. We had travelled half way through before the sun set and we brought out our torches. After it was a slow and painful walk back. Add to that the fatigue, the slippery rocks, heavy backpack, leaches and pitch black forests – a truly memorable experience that one of us will ever forget. By the time we touched ground, I was so tired that I was delusional. I promised myself I will never come back to KP but I knew I was lying to myself. I’m ready to go through all this pain and more to relive the moments we spent in the ranges up there. But most of all I cherish the company who made this trek less arduous by keeping me in high spirits and sharing my load when I was struggling. So, will I make another attempt to summit KP. Heck yeah!
Must-Do: Travel light – just water bottles, food and camera.
Must-Don’t: Littering. Start late from Bhattare Mane to Kukke, unless you want in on an adventure.

My Rating: 9/10

Route1: Kukke -> Bhattare Mane -> Sesha Parvatha -> Kumara Parvatha.
Route2: Somwarpet -> Kumaraparvatha -> Sesha Parvata -> Bhattara Mane -> Kukke

Kumara Parvatha Trek. Day I.

Sesha Parvatha
Ego is a very nasty thing. One cannot imagine the things it can make us do and the heights it will make us scale – literally. Barely some 7kms into the trek and I was in no mood (or should I say no shape) to continue with Mission KP. But looking at 8 year old Anoushka, a couple of 10 year olds and a few middle-aged women had me hanging my head in shame and spurred me ahead. And boy did that help… almost. We huffed, we puffed. We screamed out in pain and we drenched in our sweat. We were sacrificed to a thousand leaches and exposed to the rugged nature. But in the end it was the proverbial, so near yet so far.

But rewind a little and I find that the picture was not all that grim. At least that’s what I imagined. For someone who travels a lot, walks a lot and hits the gym oh-so-frequently, I never had a doubt that Mission KP would be any trouble at all. But in the end I’ve narrowed down the “struggle” to not having hit the gym for the last 2 months following a bout of viral fever and having lost 3 kilos in the process. That defense should hold fort in any court of law. Shouldn’t it?

Bhattara Mane

Lessons learnt from this failed attempt:

- Travel as light as possible. And when you are satisfied, empty a few more contents.

- DSLRs are as much a liability as they are an asset in such treks.

- Stay in a good shape consistently.

- Leach socks are a must.

 Though I was a frequent traveler, this was my first real Trek. It has always been a dream to go on an all-encompassing walk in nature’s lap. It took me all of half a second to say yes to our organizer and frequent travel companion, Srikanth when he put up the idea. Srikanth and Sandeep, a veteran of 2 failed attempts (for their own set of reasons) to summit KP were determined to complete the mission this time round. The first-timers in Kishor and I were renegaded to back. But another first-timer in Somashekar showed surprising agility throughout the trek.


An overnight bus from Bangalore dropped us at the foot steps of Kukke Subramanya temple. After the morning ablutions and a satisfying breakfast at the highly-recommended Neo Mysore CafĂ©, we shouldered our bags and walked in the direction of the forest trail. Our first pit-stop was the renowned Bhattare Mane (House of the Bhats). The almost 7km trek from Kukke to Bhattare Mane winds through a dense leach-infested forest. Let me dedicate a few lines to leaches, since I won’t be talking about them later. The leaches are your constant companion in the 13 km trek to KP. If the land is marshy and wet with the slightest hint of shade, then you can be sure of finding them there. Do not stop (for more than 10 seconds) to take leaches out. Keep walking as much as you can. You might also want to try leach socks. Expect to be bitten at least 20-30 times by their blood craving creatures. Also watch out for the vampire leaches – the ones that fall from the trees and go for the neck.

As if the steep climb and the leaches were a deterrent by themselves, the rocky terrain adds to your woes. In retrospect, the rocky terrain serves dual purposes – to give you a good grip while traversing and stop soil-erosion during the rains. There’s absolutely no possibility to lose your way as long as you stick to the beaten track. The final 2km stretch to Bhattare Mane is, thankfully, through grass lands. Bhattare Mane is oasis in this rugged terrain. This is place where you get to eat, drink, rest and sleep – all for a nominal fee. Bhatta has a consort of transporters who make at least 3-4 trips a day to Subramanya town carrying heavy loads. It’s a highly commendable job these people do. The food is prepared at Bhattare Mane and served hot, three times a day. A satisfying meal of Rice, Sambhar, Majige, side-dish and Pickle come at a miserly Rs 60. The man of the house is a humble, witty, quirky and wise man who fluently speaks Kannada and Malayalam.

Sunset as seen from Viewpoint

After a sumptuous meal we lay in the hot Sun to soothe our aching bodies. A quick power nap later, we were raring to go again. We unloaded a few stuff at Bhattare Mane and walked in the direction of the Forest Officer’s check post. But looking at the cloud formation, the Forest Officer advised us against going to the peak. He suggested us to camp near the check post and start early in the morning. The nice man he was he offered us to stay in the guest house and also asked us to leave our excessive baggage with him and carry only water bottles the next day.

We decided to heed to the Forest Officer and since we had a tent with us that could house 3 people along with the luggage, 2 of them decided to stay in the guest house while the rest chose the tent. It could not have been a better place to set the tent than the viewpoint. The panoramic view from the viewpoint is worth all the trouble we took to get here. On all four sides we were surrounded by hill ranges as far as the eye can see and beyond. The sunset was a bit of a let-down what with all the clouds wrapping the sun in its arms. The rest of the evening was spent relaxing on the benches and monkeying around taking pictures and conversing with other trekking groups. After dark set-in we collected wood from the forest and started a campfire. We cooked MTR’s ready-to-eat rice items for dinner and retreated to our tents/guesthouses for a good nights sleep. Tomorrow we summit KP, if only the sun and the terrain cooperate. I also wish my le..g….s……

Getting-there: Overnight buses and trains available from Bangalore and Mysore. It is around 280kms from Bangalore.

Must-Do: Travel light. Carry sleeping bags, tent (if you want to sleep in natures’ lap), lots of water, ready-to-eats, leach protection socks, first aid kit, raincoat.
Must-Don’t: Littering, smoking, alcohol consumption, wear shoes inside Bhatta’s house.

Best Time to Visit: October to January.

My Rating: 7/10

Watch out for the concluding part of this trek here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chottanikkara Bhagavathy Temple, Ernakulam

Kerala is truly Gods Own Country, not only for its heavenly beaches or serene backwaters or misty mountains or magical monsoons but also for the existence of many renowned temples dotted across the state. One such temple of prominence is the Chottanikkara Bhagavathy Temple in Ernakulam District.

The Divine Mother known as Rajarajeshwari a.k.a Adiparasakthi a.k.a Chottanikkara Devi is worshipped in three forms – Saraswathy in the morning, Lakshmi at noon and Durga in the evening. The pedestal also includes the idol of Mahavishnu and hence the deity is called Ammenarayana, Devinarayana, Lakshminarayana, Bhadrenarayana. It is believed that if you visit this temple for 12 consecutive days, then you will get a lifetime of blessings.

The doors of the sanctum sanctorum open at 4 in the morning. It is believed that Sree Mookambika Saraswathy is also present in the temple in the morning. That is why the Mookambika Temple in Kollur opens after the Goddess Saraswathy returns to Kollur late in the morning.

To the east is a temple called Kizukkavu. The idol here is facing west. People suffering from mental illness visit this temple in a bid to cure the illness.

Getting-there: 22kms from Ernakulam.

My Rating: 5/10

Sri Krishna Temple, Guruvayoor

The Sri Krishna (or more fondly, Sree Guruvayoorappan) Temple in Guruvayoor is probably the most important temple to Malayalis in Kerala - perhaps more important than Sabrimala. But that’s not a debate I want to venture into. This temple has a lot of perceived and factual history attached to it – history that goes back to 5000 years.

According to folklore, Lord Krishna knew that after his time on earth, Dwaraka will be submerged under the sea. He however wanted his Vishnu idol to be worshipped by others. Hence he instructed Deva Guru and Vayu Deva to take his Vishnu idol to someplace safe and allow devotees to worship it, before Dwaraka is submerged. Deva Guru and Vayu Deva on their part found the ideal resting place for the Vishnu idol. Unfortunately, there was a Shiva idol already in that place. Deva Guru however prayed to Lord Shiva, who obliged to move his own idol to a different location – now known as Mammiyur, a kilometer away from this temple. The temple town thus got its name from Deva Guru and Vayu Deva.

But it has not been so smooth sailing for the temple. It was time and again plundered by different rulers and fire mishaps. In 1716 AD The Dutch had plundered and set fire to this shrine. In 1766 AD Haider Ali captured Calicut. But the temple was spared after a huge ransom was paid to the ruler. In 1789 his son Tipu Sultan set fire to the temple. But before he could do that the main idol was hidden underground and the procession idol shifted to Ambalapuzha. During the time of the British, the idols were reinstalled and the temple started to prosper. In 1970 a fire broke out in the temple, causing quite some damage.

The temple unfortunately is under the control of very Orthodox Brahmins. It was only in 1930 that untouchables were allowed into the temple. But non-Hindus, to this date are not allowed into the temple. The most glaring irony is that, despite the temple opening its doors with the melodious voice of KJ Yesudas’ devotional renderings, he has been denied entry into the temple on multiple occasions for being a Christian. It’s a sad state of affairs, this partisan treatment of devotees by the temple authorities.

This temple is also the most-sought-after location to get married. The number of weddings happening here in a day during peak seasons is mind-boggling. The crowds are so huge in numbers that there were occasions when grooms and brides were mistakenly exchanged.

Getting-there: Guruvayoor is about 30kms from Thrissur Railway Station. From Thrissur you can either go by road or rail.

Must-Do: There’s very strict dress codes for men and women. Men must wear mundus (white or saffron only). Pants and shorts not allowed. Men must be bare-chested. Women must wear saris, salwars and chudidhars only. Until recently only saris were allowed.
Must-Don’t: Consume Alcohol. Strictly no-alcohol area.

Caution: Maddening crowds during festivals and marriage seasons.
My Rating: 6/10

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangapatnam.

The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is situated in the heart of Srirangapatnam about 35kms from Mysore and about 130kms from Bangalore. Srirangapatnam is perhaps more famous for being Tipu Sultan’s capital. In fact a lot of historic places related to Tipu Sultan are at a stone throwing distance away from this temple. Even though Srirangapatnam is more famous for being Tipu’s capital, it is in fact the temple that gave its name to the city. All Tipu-related monuments will be covered in a different blog at a different time.

For the time being I’ll stick to the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, which is located in the first island formed by River Kaveri. It’s a popular fact in this part of the world that Kaveri makes three islands in its course and in each of these islands there is a Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple. They are collectively called the three Rangas - the Adi (First) Ranga at Srirangapatnam, the Madhya (Middle) Ranga at Shivanasamudram and the Anthya (Final) Ranga at Srirangam. This temple is also among the famous Pancharanga Kshetrams (Srirangapatnam, Srirangam, Kumbakonam, Trichy and Mayiladuthurai).

Sri Ranganathaswamy temple was initially built by Gangas in the 9th Century as later taken care by Hoysalas and Vijaynagaras. But mostly the temple has a distinctive Gangas and Vijaynagaras style of architecture. The idol of Lord Vishnu here is in a reclining position. Being a temple with historical and religious significance, you can expect a decent crowd on weekends.

Getting-there: Bangalore -> Srirangapatnam. Take a right turn on Mysore Road at Srirangapatnam and follow the crowd.

Must-Do: Arrive early to beat the crowd.
Must-Don’t: Vandalism and Littering.

My Rating: 5/10

Chennakesava Temple, Somanathapura.

Every travel has a purpose. As did this one. The purpose being pushing the throttle on a 350 CC brand new you-guessed-it Royal Enfield. Well no, I was not the lucky soul pulling the clutch and shifting the gears. I was still stuck with my Yamaha FZ 16. The only time I use the word “stuck” is when I’m comparing with RE.

Seeking Somanathapura for testing this beast of a machine (by Indian standards) was a no-brainer. 130kms of flat-as-a-runway glistening asphalt is a biker’s definition of “paradise on earth”, unless of course you are talking about “The Himalayan Odyssey Challenge”.

The annoying potholed roads of Bangalore first gave way to the less-than-decent Kanakapura Road and finally to what we have been waiting for – Mysore Road. A wise man once said, “It’s not the destination but the journey that matters”. This holds true for Mysore Road. It’s an entirely different world the moment you get on it. In the third gear, the Yamaha and the Bullet kept abreast with each other at about 50kmph. And in the fourth gear, the Bullet throttles ahead with a new found gusto. While Yamaha revs up to about 65kmph, the Bullet touches about 75kmph. And finally in the fifth gear when the FZ is going steady at 80kmph the bullet leaves everything behind to touch 100kmph without breaking a sweat.

Somanathapura is a quiet town in Mandya district, 35kms from Mysore city and approximately 130kms from Bangalore city. The main and only attraction of this village is the famous Chennakesava Temple. This temple completes the famous trio of Hoysala temples along with Halebidu and Belur. It was built in the year 1268 by a Commander Somanatha in the Hoysala kingdom. A large stone with Kannada inscriptions tells the tale of this village.

Chennakesava temple here is less magnificent compared to its more illustrious cousins in Halebidu and Belur. But it adheres to the blueprint of all Hoysala temples with the star-shaped structure, the richly adorned ceilings, depiction of ancient folklore in exterior walls and the finely polished pillars which is the mainstay of every Hoysala temple ever built. The three sanctum sanctorums each house Lord Kesava, Janardhana and Venugopala. Unfortunately, the main idol of Lord Kesava, which is usually very well adorned, is missing.

Anybody who loves the Hoysala style of architecture or who appreciates the artistic brilliance of our forefathers will love spending time here admiring the artistry.

Getting-there: Bangalore -> Srirangapatnam on Mysore Road. About 3kms before Srirangapatnam, take a left deviation. Ask for directions from the locals from here.

Must-Do: Take a closer look at every stone, for they tell a story of their own.

Must-Don’t: Vandalism and Littering.

My Rating: 6/10