Let me begin by saying that the Ombattu GuDDa trip, as of today, has been the craziest trip I have ever undertaken.
Make no mistake about it - I have done wierd things - from sneaking into forest areas without permissions to almost being marooned on a sinking island - but this surely does take the cake. Brace yourself for a storyline which sounds realllllll filmy!!
The Background -
The credit (or the blame??) for the Three Intrepid Travellers (that is Sirish, Sriram and yours truly) heading to Ombattu GuDDa rests solely on Mithun and PC - who were there a week earlier and enticed us with their story. Armed with a photocopy of a geological survey map of that area, a coarse hand-drawn map by PC and his GPS - we set off to conquer Ombattu GuDDa.
I would ask you to do a Google search for OmbattuGuDDa and go through some of the results you get - It's really worth it!! There are blogs which quote "There is no place called Ombattu GuDDa" ....... "The villagers assured us that Ombattu GuDDa does not exist" ... and so on. It was actually these blogs which got the three of us excited enough to go in search of this place! ;-)
An yeah, inspite of all you read - OmbattuGuDDa does exist. And the Geological survey map printed by the Government of India says the same!
So we got off a KSRTC bus at 6 am, scurried off in the direction we were adviced to and within ten minutes of walking - we find ourselves in thick forest! Hardly ten minutes walking from civilization - we find stacks of elephant dung dotting our path! Yeah ... big deal ... which trekker worth his salt has not seen elephant dung in the forests of Karnataka! :-D
About half an hour of walking into the forest, we gingerly stopped to grab a bite - breakfast, it was supposed to be. As we played around with the leeches trying to latch on to our feet and tried to stuff chapathis into ourselves - we heard a growl. Sriram didn't ... and he continued to munch. But Sirish froze - listening intently. From where we were standing, the sound had come from directly ahead. A couple of minutes later, we heard a growl again - this time from our right!! Whatever was moving, was definitely very close!! It had travelled 90 degrees around us in a couple of minutes. After the second growl - none of us were in the mood for breakfast! Who would want to be breakfast to a big feline anyway!!
As we hastily packed up and hurried along came the next shocker - pug marks! Not a cat this time - but this was unmistakable bear pug marks! And for any doubters - we had this bear digging for shoots for the next one kilometer!! Imagine walking along a path marked with bear diggings every couple of feet!! That the three of us were worried (if not scared!) cannot be explained better than by the fact that none of us took pictures of the diggings!! :-O
The trail, as such, had been good so far - wide, no splits, no confusion - and we managed to get lost! How we did this is still beyond me!! I remember the trail getting broken near a bamboo grove where elephants had wrecked havoc, and when we came out of the bamboo massacre, we were in the thickets. Thats when we got a taste of this wilderness. Every step took half a minute - overhanging vines that trip you, hundreds of throny vines that eat into your flesh, bushes that block your path in every direction - it was nightmarish!
When it became apparent to us that we could not get back to the trail by ourselves, we turned towards the GPS. As we tuned into the nearest trail mark that PC had stored, we found it to be just 800m away. Armed with my compass for directions and the GPS telling us to head West, we had an epic battle through the thicket to get back on trail - bruised but not defeated!
By lunchtime, we had trekked around 10kms into the forest and relaxed at this stream. The events of the morning were all forgotten! :-)
As we continued the trek after lunch, we found ourselves on a narrow upward trail. Much of the morning walk had been on flat ground and we presumed that we would now start the climb to the peak. Halfway up the hill, Sirish, who was leading the other two, turned back and starts sprinting! I look ahead to find a biggg elephant headed towards us on this narrow trail!! And guess what I did? I turned back and started sprinting too!! Not to be left behind, Sriram followed suit, although he had no clue what we were running away from!
Five minutes of sprinting and I had enough. I convinced the duo that we could not possibly run all the way back to the city and we would need to get 'around' the elephant. Logical. And thats what we did. As we took a detour and were climbing up - this time Sriram froze in his tracks! Yep, yep, yep. It was another elephant there!! Now that we were buddies with the wild, we decided not to run (also because the first elephant would be face to face with us if we started running!!). After waiting for around fifteen minutes, we could no longer see the elephant. Sirish refused to climb towards the direction the elephant was sighted and suggested we go around this one too!!
And climb we did ... and soon we were on the top of the hill. But to our dismay, this was not Ombattu GuDDa. The GPS told us that we were close - but the map told us that we were on an adjacent hill with a deep valley in between!! The time was 1700 hrs - we decided to camp in the jungle that night and (hopefully) get back to civilization the next day!!
We were back to the foot of the hill - at the stream - where we decided to pitch our tent. All that Sirish could think of was that there would be animals headed out there to quench their thirst!! And so, when we got into the tent - Sirish stacked it up with loads of stones - our Arsenal!!! :-D And Sriram had to sleep on top of these!!!
Day Two - We HAD to get back to civilization. But there was no way that we would turn around - we had a map and a GPS! So we did a detailed study and decide to travel along the stream by which we had camped for a km or so and then start climbing up towards Ombattu GuDDa.
Scampering over rocks, taking diversions around small waterfalls, and getting scared at potential waterholes - we continued on for a km or so. By now the GPS was our only source of survival! And it seemed struck showing us the direction at NE. Climbing in that direction, we were always traversing the slope!! Imagine a 50 degree incline packed with thicket - vines, thorns and what not - and we trying to traverse along the slope!! It seemed an episode of "LOST" - or a course on survival training!!
Thirst, hunger, fatigue, exhaustion and a lot of anxiety got to Sirish - he started struggling. But staying alive is a good motivator - we got moving again!! After around a couple of hours of this struggle - we seemed to get closer to the grasslands at the top of Ombattu GuDDa - not before another sighting of an elephant..... and this torotoise!!
When we reached the 'grasslands' at the top of the mountain, we knew for sure (and the GPS confirmed it) that we were now safe. That relief hardly lasted - the searing noon sun was beating upon us - and we had one bottle of water to last us the entire day!! We would walk for five minutes, find a small shrub and try to put our heads under its shade!! We agreed in unision - "Nothing was worth this pain". And I maintain it to this day (The blog being written ten months or so later than the actual trek) - I trek for pleasure. The cool breeze, mindblowing landscapes, nature at its best - Thats what I trek for. I am no masochist who enjoys self inflicted pain. This trek was now bordering torture.
Struggling ....... we finally reached the top. Who cares? We definitely did not. It was horribly hot, humid and we were exhausted. The thought that we went through all this pain to get to this state was not a pleasant one. We had to climb to the top because the descent was over the other face. That was not so bad - except for the last part.
We could see a jeep track on the other side - just 400 m away. We were on a grassland. But between the two was 400m of thick .... and I mean THICK forest. There was one narrow trail. I led the other two into the forest - we could literally 'smell' elephants!! It seemed that at any moment, we could have an elephant - if not two - run into us! IT WAS SCARY!! Two minutes of frenzied walking and I took a wrong turn - ended up in a cul de sac which culminated in a heap of elephant shit!! I turned around and asked Sirish to lead the way. "I am not going in front. I am scared"!! We looked at Sriram - "I ain't going either"!! I took one heavy breath and pushed ahead.
Another few minutes later, when we reached the jeep track, the relief was palpable - We were alive. We losing way again in the Lakshmi-Saraswati Estate, the workers at Saraswati estate confirming that the last patch housed 3-4 elephants, running back to try and catch the last bus to Sakleshpur - failing - but managing to hitch a ride with Swamy Khoday (of Khoday beveriges fame) are all little details of the trek which are still afresh.
What Sirish had to say at the end of it was - "From now on, I am just going to Jungle Lodges - paying and putting my feet up to relax. My trekking days are over!". And for the record - that period lasted for a couple of months before Tarsh organized a trek in which a lot of ladies signed up!! :-)