Straight from the horse's mouth

Straight from the horse's mouth

The scenic hills, green meadows, lush foliage and diverse fauna of Kudremukh are the perfect antidotes to your stressed urban lifestyle, writes Hazel Colaco.

Silhouetted against the horizon like the jutting jaw of a recalcitrant horse, the Kudremukh peak in Chikkamagaluru district looms large in the mid Western Ghats range of South India, beckoning the beholder. A landmark, visible both from the plains and the leeward side of the mountain, it has stood towering for centuries, almost touching the skies. Kudre in Kannada means horse and Mukh means face. The peak had always fascinated me and when my nephew arranged a trek to the base of this awesome edifice, I was ecstatic.

Of course, we had to obtain prior permissions from the Forest Department as the area was a part of the Kudremukh National Park and we had to be accompanied by a licensed guide. And as no camping was allowed for the night in the notified area, the trek was scheduled from dawn to dusk.

We could either stay at a guest house in the Kudremukh township area or in Kalasa or Samse, the nearest villages and proceed to Balegal on the national highway and climb the road to Mullodi early in the morning or simply camp at a homestay in Mullodi, the starting point of the trek.

At 7.30 am, we, a party of seven escorted by the nimble-footed Manjunath
as the guide, embarked on an eight km walk, armed only with our walking boots, staffs, cameras and a packet of lunch and water. 

The mountain air was refreshingly nippy and with the roar of magnificent Somavathi Falls in the backdrop, we began ascending on the hilly terrain. The paths were strewn with pebbles and as we trudged along this rough trail, the path  suddenly narrowed into a track and we chanced upon the first stream, which we had to cross stepping on its slippery mossy rocks with care. Of course, one also had to be wary of leeches crawling stealthily up our legs and sucking our blood.

Dazzling beauty
We walked past the shrubby overgrowth under the canopy of trees and crossed our second stream reminding us of Alfred Tennyson’s poem about the babbling brooks. The path opened up and we were making our way through the tall mountain grass on the sunny slopes of the verdant hills. We were lucky enough to spot a herd of spotted deer gliding through the open space to reach the green cover of shrubs and disappear into oblivion. 

The sun was dazzling overhead and the verdant beauty of the mountains spread like a tapestry in rich hues of green. On this sprawling stretch in the open, there is a lone tree offering shade from the scorching sun with a rustic stone bench, where we rested for a while. The tree is aptly named Onti Mara or Lone Tree. As we resumed our trek, we were taken aback at the sight of a bison, gazing at us and almost blocking our path. Our guide hushed us into silence and after what seemed like ages, it majestically moved away into the forest. This open trail further led to a dense overgrowth of trees with a patch of clearing in between and it was like playing hide and seek with the sun. Several wild flowers danced in the sunshine peeking out of the green grass. There were daisies and wild orchids, adding colour to the otherwise green carpet.

An open meadow greeted us and as we crossed the green field, we approached a dilapidated bungalow christened locally as Lobo’s house. The Lobo family had settled here long ago and were the caretakers of the Jesuit Chapel built in the valley just below the peak. We plucked fresh guavas from what must have been his garden and munched away happily. As we crossed his sprawling bungalow and cowsheds, we arrived at a path that opened up to the rolling green vistas of the trek.

Kudremukh peak is a good three km away from here. Here the path meanders through the forest and goes around the hill, till a climb straight up to a rocky ridge. 

After a stiff two-hour climb straight up to the ridge, we were puffing and panting, wondering if the path went all the way to the top. Our legs ached and our stomach growled, but we continued trudging relentlessly. It took us about 30 minutes to reach the peak from the ridge. Heaving ourselves up in that final lap, we almost felt like Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay conquering the Mount Everest. From the staggering height of the peak, we experienced a 270 degree panoramic view of the lush greenery spread all around us.

Gusty winds blew us off our feet. We ate our cold lunch to fuel our stomachs. My sons and their friends had the energy to go further down the valley and explore the ruins of the Jesuit Chapel built in the 18th century. It is rumoured that the Italian Jesuit Provincial in South India was literally carried up here in a palanquin every summer, as there was no other approach. The Chapel was supposed to be beautiful with stained glass windows and frescoes, but stands in ruins today.

It was time to say goodbye to the mountains in their raw splendour and retrace our steps if we wanted to be back by dusk.  The path downhill was steep and treacherous. Any loose rubble would bring us sliding down the hill.

Exhausted but strangely rejuvenated and refreshed, we returned home with a sense of accomplishment. The memories of this trek will remain etched in our hearts forever.
The pleasant climate in Kudremukh makes it a perfect destination at any time of the year except during the monsoons. The mountain range is located about 340 km away from Bengaluru.

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