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Exploration Trek - Bandajje Arbi & Ballarayanadurga fort

Dense forest, sparkling fresh water, billion twinkly stars....cool breeze and soothing moonlight... This was more than a perfect weekend trek I could ask for. I wanted to visit Bandajje Arbi with a small group of not more than 6 people. Unsure if I would get a good response I dropped a mail to my fellow BTC organizers and voilà Team Bandajje was formed . . . Hiren, Ritu, Abhishek, Ashwin, Kumar and I geared up for an adventurous weekend.

We boarded our KSRTC bus, heading to Dharmasthala on Friday night at 10:00 PM. We reached Dharmasthala 5ish in the morn and headed to look for a room to freshen up. There wasn't much luck there as the place was crowded with pilgrims. With no further delay we used the public washrooms to freshen up. We had our breakfast in a hotel nearby and hired a jeep to reach Narayana Gowda's house in Ujire. This place was the start point of the Bandajje trek. We got our lunch packed from a hotel enroute and reached Narayana Gowda's house at around 8.30 AM. Our guide was supposed to meet us here but he wasn't there. I called him to tell that we had reached and he asked us to walk further ahead and he would meet us enroute. Apparently there was another group of 28 college-going students who started trekking without a guide and the trekkers hadn't taken permission to trek the hill. They had lost their way and Sanjay, our guide, and Raju, from forest department, had to rush to catch them before it was late. We met the guide enroute and noticed that the group of students were already there and this put me off a bit . . . we weren't expecting this crowd in Bandajje. We got the permission from the forest officer and started off our trek by 9:00 AM.
The initial stretch of the trek is through a village and then we enter the thick Shola forest. All the way through, it is a gradual ascend and is steep at a few places. We weren't lucky to spot any animals. However, we came across various species of spiders and a variety of mushrooms😁. It was a continuous uphill climb on the muddy trail, having to go over and under huge fallen trees and cross large and small streams. All the way up we were accompanied by leeches and at some places red ants (trust me, these are worse than leeches!). Exhausted and hungry we reached the end of the forest and entered the open grassland. It took us a good 3 hours to cover the forest stretch. This is the spot where mother nature gives us a glimpse of the magnificent falls! No matter how exhausted you are, this will give you a boost to reach the falls to enjoy the beauty up close. Considering the baggage that we were carrying, we were happy with the pace at which we progressed. We decided to take a break for lunch before continuing the trek.
We resumed our trek a little after 12:45 PM with Ashwin and Abhi well ahead of us, followed by Hiren and lastly Kumar, Ritu and myself. Till now we enjoyed the coolness of the forest but here in grassland, we had to face the wrath of the sun! It is a good 4+ km to the falls from here. The inclination could easily be anywhere from 40 to 50 degrees. There was no shade to be seen except for a couple of small trees in the entire stretch. The heat drained us of our energy. With very little water in stock, we had to use it well. The stretch seemed longer than expected and the lush green grass was actually poking and scratching us. An hour into the climb, we took a short break under the shade of a tree. The heat was indeed taking a toll on all of us. Hiren wanted to complete the rest of the trek without break. Kumar, Ritu, and I were left in the end.

Just when we exhausted all our water it was like a miracle to find a source of water! We were more than happy and felt blessed. It was a small stream flowing downhill. Guess who showed up in the stream? A brown scorpion! We refilled our bottles and washed our faces with the cool water. Aaaah...no water, no life! :)

We climbed up, down and around the hills until we made it!!! It was 3.30 PM when we finally reached the spot. There was a small but steep stretch that needed to be crossed to reach the stream. By this time, Abhi and Ashwin were walking back looking for us. They helped us get down this steep stretch. I freak out when it comes to climbing down because of the fear of falling at every step. Abhi instructed at each step to take support of the roots and trees and I was more than glad to complete this stretch. The rocks at the stream are extremely slippery and one has to be extra cautious while crossing the stream. A slip here might cause a good 200 ft drop down the water falls. Our super strong guys helped us ladies to cross the stream.
Sitting there beside the stream and listening to the water was serene and relaxing. The other trek group was also there and the group members had their tents pitched already. We decided to have ours away from the crowd. The guys found a place about 500 m away from the stream. It was an uphill climb to our campsite. While the guys were pitching tents, Ritu and I decided to take a dip. The water was ice cold and my feet went numb in no time. But it only took few minutes to adjust to the cold. We sat under the baby waterfall and got a good massage for our aching backs. We enjoyed nature's water spa with the evening sunrays  providing us little warmth. A perfect rewarding evening one could ask for! Just when we thought of staying in the water for a little longer, the sun disappeared. This happened at the wink of an eye. Kumar who was sitting on the rock beside the stream rushed closer to the falls to catch the sunset, but it was long gone. This was the quickest sunset I have ever seen. The cold set in immediately and it was wise to get out of water and dry before getting ourselves frozen.
 Now comes time to bring up the tents! I had requested Hiren not to pitch the girl's tent. I have always wanted to pitch my own tent and camp😍😊. So with due instructions from the expert Hiren and help from Kumar, Ritu and I pitched our tent. We had to collect wood for campfire before it got too dark. We were lucky as Kumar found ample dry wood very close to our camp place. Now came the challenge of getting the campfire started. With the amount of wind and with no camphor, it was a challenge to get the fire started. I have the habit of carrying coconut oil during treks and suggested that we try using it. It did help! With a lot of effort from Kumar, the campfire was finally alive although it lasted only to heat a bowl of water. The soup that we tried to prepare was a major failure. Khara bath, kesari bath, chapathi, bread, milk, and chocos were our dinner and all were gobbled up in no time. With our tummy loaded, we decided to retire for the day as we were all exhausted after the long day. I had a sound sleep for a few hours. The night was cold and windy and our tent covers were happily dancing with the wind, disturbing our sleep. We got to know later that Abhi had a tough time trying to hush the flapping of the tents.
It was around 4 in the morning when Kumar called out outside our tent asking for water. When I was going back to sleep after giving him water heard him mention the stars and all my sleep was gone. I immediately stepped out of the tent into the cold. It was totally worth the shiver caused by cold! The sky was brilliantly lit with a billion gazillion stars😍❤. Kumar and I sat there watching the sky and he gave me astronomy gyaan. Abhi was now out with his camera, trying out all possible settings to capture the starry sky. Abhi pointed out a hill nearby and suggested that we go there to view the sunrise. Kumar and I agreed and the three of us started walking toward the hill. After around a kilometer of walk, we realized that it was a long way to reach the hill. Also, there was no way to see the sunrise even if we reached that place. There was another hill that would block our view. Kumar and I returned to our camp place, while Abhi was happily clicking pictures. He claimed to have seen a wild cat but couldn't capture it.

Back at campsite Ritu, Hiren, and Ashwin were still snoozing in their tents. The sky got lighter and the sun was up at far east. We got to see the beautiful orange-red hues from where we stood. The rest of them finally stepped out of the tent. All of us freshened up and had our breakfast. The menu was milk, kellogs, rotis, cucumber and buns. We removed our tents and picked any plastic or garbage lying in our campsite.

With the place all cleared, we started off our day's trek by 8am; this time, without a guide. We refilled our bottles with water from a stream nearby. Ashwin has his track application on and lead us from here. I was holding Ritu's compass, pretending to know which way to go. With much confidence, I told we need to move forward in north-west direction. The rest of them knew I was faking it😁. Now this is another thing I was always wanted to do. Read maps and use compass to find ways. I did something close to it though😋. In fact, we headed north-west and there was a clear trail to follow. Though the sun was up, the constant breeze kept us cool. Today's trek was completely in grasslands, with a number of hills to cross. After yesterdays trek, this was much easier.
After an hour's walk we came to a place that gave us a beautiful view of the Western Ghats. We spent a good amount of time clicking pictures. It was just the six of us and we had this entire place for ourselves to enjoy! There was no one else to be seen. It was more of a jolly walk on a green carpet. The Ballarayanadurga fort can be seen at the distance at a few points of the trail. At a certain point, we put down our bags and decided to go off route to check out the views. It was breathtaking indeed! The experience cannot be written and described in words. One has to be there to get the feel😇. Capturing the views in our cameras we were back on track to reach the fort. What we assumed to be wild gaurs at a nearby hill turned out to be domestic cattle. The final climb to fort was a steep one as we decided to take a short cut. This entire stretch from Bandajje to the fort does not take more than 2 hrs to cover.

We reached the place a little after 11:30 AM. There was a family at the fort who were to walk to a view point nearby. Once they left, it was just us again in the fort. The walls of the fort run a long way in more than four directions. Each of these walls ends up in a watch tower. The center of the fort is more of a place for cattle now, with a small shelter in the middle and the whole ground covered with cow dung. Yes you get the strong aroma of it, too! We put our bags in the shade and chose a place overlooking the Western Ghats. We opened up some snacks, relished the cucumbers and fruits, and spent a good amount of time talking. We later sat outside the fort in the shade beside the wall. Though it was sunny, I started feeling cold sitting in the shade so I decided to bask in the sun. Again, we had little water left and this is when the last cucumber came to the rescue. One cucumber and the six of us attacked it! Kumar had to literally chase and catch Abhi to get his share.
From the fort we had to climb down all the way to reach Durgadahalli. We started descend by 1:00 PM. We met with the forest department folks of Sunkasale en-route. They checked the permission slips and told that they were inspecting the place. Further down, we entered a jungle and were back into the shade. There was a small stream in this stretch where we filled our bottles. We came across traffic even here! Only this time it was cattle and not vehicles. We let the three little cows pass us and continued our way. As we were in no hurry to reach the base, we stopped at another spot to rest and enjoy the nature. We munched on some snacks and relaxed. Treks, birthdays, sun signs, moon signs, food, go pros....well our chit chats included these and lot more. The last 2-km stretch has stone steps laid till the base.
Once at the base, you are back to civilization. We hit the tar road; a huge family was there on a visit. The next 3 km or so of our trek was on the tar road. This time, we were accompanied by a local guy who apparently was drunk and did not know how to stop talking. It was 4 in the evening when we reached a shop in the village. We had walked a good 3.5 km on road, which was half way till the Durgadahalli bus stop. While we were at the shop, the guide who had camped with the other group reached the place in auto. We heard from him that their group started trek only by 12 PM from Bandajje. We took a rick from here to reach the bus stop. A bus to Horanadu was expected at 5:30 PM. We had hot tea from a shop near the bus stop. The other group reached the stop in a mini tempo. The minute the bus reached; there was a rush to get in. The other group realized that they were getting into wrong bus. They were to go to kottigehara and not horanadu. The six of us got into a bus and started our journey ahead. It took an hour and a half to reach destination.

We walked towards the Annapurneshwari temple and took bath in the common bathrooms provided by the temple. This place is clean and very well maintained. We then left our bags in the luggage room to head to the annadhana. However the crowd seemed too big and we couldn't have finished dinner by 8:30 PM. Our bus was scheduled at 8:30 PM, so we had dinner at a nearby hotel, collected our bags, and got into our bus. I made a mistake while booking the return bus. I chose the last bus leaving from Horanadu but didn't check what kind of bus. This was a regular red ksrtc bus where your legs just wont fit if you are tall. Hiren had a very tough time figuring out where to put his legs😜. There was no way we could get any sleep. The six of us were sitting in two three seaters. Abhi, Ashwin and Kumar were behind us. The three of them dozed away so soon but ended up hitting their heads many times in their sleep.😓 Hiren and I tried to kill time chatting and watching the trek photos from his GoPro. Considering the number of stops this bus made, we still reached majestic well ahead of time. It was 5:30 AM and we were the last ones to get off the bus. With loads of memories of the wild adventurous weekend, we headed back home. It was yet another Monday and we were back to civilization and the Bangalore traffic!

Written By      : Monisha
Organized By  : Monisha
Date of event : 24th October, 2015
Place               : Bandaje Arbi
Pictures          : BTC FB Page

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