Woods are lovely, dark and deep...

TRAVELOGUE

Woods are lovely, dark and deep...

In MM Hills: The huge rock formation, called Nagamale at MM Hills.

Though the long stretches of densely grown jungles and evergreen forests are limited to the Western Ghats, a rich spread of dry deciduous forests with bushes and thorny shrubs adorn the Eastern Ghats which also has many tall peaks, rocky patches and a network of streams and rivulets.

A prominent place of religious importance in this chain of mountains is the Male Mahadeshwara Hills with a temple of the same name. However, the hill ranges, dense pockets of jungles, the rock caverns were all under the domain of notorious bandit Veerappan.

Many naturalists and adventurers have for years wondered if they would ever get an opportunity to trek and explore these hills and forests. Now that the story of the poacher is over, these unspoilt locales beckon adventurers. 

Mystery Trails
But the jungles are so dense here that the forest department has identified and designated distinct trekking trails popularly known as Mystery Trails. A large group comprising 18 of us chose the trek from MM Hills to Palar on the border with Tamil Nadu. This trek is said to be a tough one and requires two days to complete with a night halt at Nagamale.  As the entry formalities and payment of fees to the forest department had to be done before going ahead with the trek, we reached MM Hills by evening. 

Climb to Nagamale
After paying obeisance at the temple of Mahadeshwara and a simple South Indian breakfast, it took half an hour or so to get the trekking permit, the guide and assistants to accompany.

The initial stretch of the trek passes along the metalled road for a couple of kms. The trail passes through the sparse jungles initially as the tiny villages fade out behind us. The narrow stony path leads further into the hills until a bend where beside a prominent rock, a steep path to the left takes over. The elevated topography opens wide and you get to enjoy panoramic vistas of the ranges of hills blanketed by thick growth of deciduous bushes. Like an oasis in the arid terrain, a small green transparent pool springs up on the trail.

Anegundikere
This, we were told is called Anegundikere, and elephants and other wildlife come here after dark to quench their thirst. The trail going southwards descends  gradually till the village of Indiganatham is reached. This is a small settlement with a few houses. A petty shop sells snacks and tea, and is a good halfway stop for the tired trekkers. Resuming the walk, we reached Nagamale by late afternoon. 

As we ate lunch in the shade of a tree,  we wondered at the unique rock formation of Nagamale hill right in front of us. As the forest guide explained, long ago the huge rock at the hill top broke away into two with the rounded piece like a Shivalinga and the other shaped like a serpent seemingly  guarding the linga. Scrambling up the steep trail barefoot (wearing footwear  up the hill is forbidden ) we got a closer view of the serpent rock and the Linga at the base of which was the shrine of Mahadeshwara. The panoramic views from here are fantastic with the Cauvery river  far below in the east and the village of Gopinatham tucked away in the jungle. 

Down to Palar
The second day’s trek was a down hill walk all the way for 10 kms to the river Cauvery at Palar. The route once again sneaked through some densely wooded patches. Though we kept trudging silently in the hope of sighting wildlife, the crowing of a jungle fowl in the bushes was all that we could hear apart from the incessant calls of birds. On the way to the village of Parasalnatham a cave on the rocky hill, often used as a hideout by the forest brigand, looked abandoned.

As the well made road appeared the trek culminated at Palar with wide river entering Tamil Nadu. The tiring trek was a good excuse to dip into the cool waters before packing off to the city.  

Factfile
Getting there: MM Hills is 210 kms  and 130 kms from Bangalore and Mysore respectively. Getting there: Palar to Bangalore  via MM Hills is 270kms & Mysore is 160 kms. Food and camping: Arranged through forest dept. at nominal rates.
Contact: Dy.Conservator of forests, Kollegal division. Phone: 08224-252027

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