Saturday, October 31, 2009

Green Route Trek

One of the most famous trekking trails in Karnataka is the Green Route trek a.k.a Sakleshpur Railway Track trek. Nestled in the western ghats and offering stupendous views of Mother Nature this trail is considered as a “Must be present" in a trekker’s resume. Plans to do this trek on a number of occasions in the past had all ended up in disappointments and frustrations.

On 23rd night when our group of 6 gathered at the KSRTC bus stand, for reasons unknown to me at that time, a certain amount of anxiety welled up inside me. My mind raced back to the preceding few days. Information had been gathered from the ever present Google. When doubts arose as to whether we should do the trek from Donigal to Yedakumeri or should we go till Shiribagilu it was my long time trekking friend Aravind who came to our rescue. I consider him a walking encyclopedia and his suggestion that we do it till Shiribagilu as the stretch from Yedakumeri to Shiribagilu is more scenic was promptly accepted. Ready to eats, noodles, chapattis, pickles, bread, butter, jam, dry fruits and a few other things had been carefully planned for and bought. It seemed everything was in place. Little did I realize I had made a mistake.

We informed the conductor of our intention to get off at Donigal and settled down in our seats for a good night’s sleep ahead of the grueling walk the following day. As luck would have it the window glass was from a place other than heaven. At every bump and every ditch it creaked and opened up just that little bit. The blast of cold wind forcing itself through the opening dashed all of a peaceful sleep. Trying to close the window every few minutes meant that within a short time my right hand was feeling like it had been run over by a bulldozer. Add to it the cold wind and I was merrily cursing the KSRTC bus and the passengers who must have manhandled it for it to be in such a situation.

Thankfully at around 4.00 am the conductor informed us that Donigal had arrived. After the harrowing journey a cup of hot coffee energized me up a bit and off we went in search of the Donigal railway station which was 5 kms away. Based on the directions we had gathered from the blogs we took a right turn only to end up near a cluster of houses. While we were wondering what to do a gentleman from one of the houses woke up and told us that the railway station was further down. We finally managed to find the Donigal railway station just after the milestone marked 234 km.

While my friends rested I, as is my habit, took off for a walk and was rewarded with some … well… just beautiful sights.

Resting for some time and then freshening up we were getting ready for breakfast when another group of noisy youngsters appeared. They certainly did not look like trekkers and I was left wondering what they were doing. After breakfast we went to a shop on the main road from where we had taken a right turn for a cup of tea. The group of youngsters had left by the time we came back.

The long awaited Green Route Trek finally began and it was at the marking of 49/400.

Pretty soon we were at the first bridge. Some of the earlier bloggers had written about how scary it is to cross these bridges. However the metal plates that had been put in place once the train services began ensured that there were no such issues. The green cover that greeted us all around was only a trailer of what we were to experience as the trek progressed.

The sign painted on the inside of the first tunnel had me in a bind for a few seconds. It said Tunnel No. 1-2, Length – 240 M. It was soon resolved as the second tunnel appeared right after the first one. Inside the tunnel it was pitch dark and thankfully every one of us had a torch. The shorter tunnels that we had to go through later on did not require a torch. Those which were straight also had a fair amount of sunlight. It was the long curvy ones which required a torch.

The mountain ranges draped in green presented a breathtaking view at almost every step. Butterflies flitting around gleefully kept me on my toes. Their colors and shapes made me gasp in awe with alarming regularity. Vying for attention were the dragonflies of different colors. As if to maintain equilibrium of movement water gently flowed down from the mountains creating micro mini waterfalls all along the way. Sipping water from these was a welcome relief as the Sun had climbed high and was beating down mercilessly.

Along the way we saw the group of youngsters returning. On being asked they said they wanted to go to Kukke Subramanya and someone had told them that they can walk along the track to reach there. Thinking it would be fun they had started trekking along the track only to realize later that they would have to walk about 50 kms to reach Kukke Subramanya. They returned to Donigal.

Our group had split into two; the 20s group and the 30s group. Quite naturally the 20 something group was walking faster than the 35+ yr olds group. The younger group had just crossed a bridge and we were right at the beginning of it. Mesmerized and lost in the beauty of the surroundings I was readying my camera for taking photos when my heart froze. A train was speeding it’s way along the track and the three of us ran for our lives. Mukund was followed by Ina with me bringing up the rear of the pack. Mukund’s torch fell out of his pocket and founds it’s way to the river flowing below the bridge. Just as we neared the bay I realized Mukund was running straight ahead and I called out to him to get onto the bay. My heart sank further when I realized that his foot got stuck in-between the rails just as he turned towards the bay. Luckily he was able to extricate his foot and join us on the bay. We watched the train pass by with our hearts racing million miles a second. Anger surfaced and our minds cursed the driver for not honking.

Pretty soon we were at the next station where we decided to have our lunch. Out came chapattis, pickles and jam. It was the dry fruits we had eaten or the frightening experience on the bridge I will never know; but nobody seemed to be too hungry. We rested for a few minutes after our lunch and then it was back to the tracks.

What had conveniently been ignored till now suddenly assumed monstrous proportions and began to systematically chip away at my walking speed. The hunter shoes I was wearing were just not good enough to withstand the onslaught of the sharp edges of the stones on the tracks. At every step the agony laden screams of muscles in the soles of my feet grew louder. It was only the soul soothing sights around that kept me going.

The sight of Yedakumeri station at the 67 Km marking gave me the much needed relief. Offloading the luggage we all sat around reminiscing about the days events. Subbu and Kiran promptly fell asleep on the platform while Dhimoy, Ina and Mukund leaned against the wall and pillars giving some much needed rest to their feet.

The goods train that had given us a scare was standing at the station. There were discussions going on and we overheard that the engine had developed some trouble. Dhimoy who was at the head of our pack later told me that a driver another oncoming train had given a tongue lashing to the driver of the goods train for his tendency to not use the horn. This callousness of the driver could have not only cost us our lives but also caused an accident with the other train.

As darkness descended upon us the task of readying the ready to eats for dinner was taken upon by Dhimoy. Subbu and Kiran tried their might to help but finally we had to take the help of one person who was working in the railway station. When the ready to eats were finally ready to be consumed the Andhra pulav and bisi bele bath tasted realllyyyy good. Our tummies satisfied we retired for the night.

We had covered 18 kms plus the 5 kms to the railway station on day 1. With another 18 kms (plus 5 more kms to the main road from the railway tracks) to be covered we planned for an early start on day 2. At 6.30 am everybody was up and ready for the arduous walk. As we started walking Aravind’s words that the second half of the trek is the more picturesque rang through my mind as our feet were subjected to an assault by the stones.

We passed some workers walking their way towards their work spots. As the Sun began to climb it was once again a treat time with butterflies flitting around us merrily. It is frustrating not to have been able to capture most if not all the different butterflies we came across.

The small streams along the way tried to lure us towards them but we decided to pass up because of the inaccessibility. One such stream had an old rickety wooden bridge. Standing and watching this old wooden bridge I wondered what it would be like to cross it.

A sudden burst of colors near one of the trees caught my attention and as I stood to observe a few birds gave an amazing display of their flying skills. The shimmering bright chestnut color on the heads and back coupled with green back against the early morning sunlight was a truly beautiful sight. It was the chestnut-headed bee-eater.

A little while later we reached an almost abandoned station called Arebetta. It was time for breakfast. We all managed to get a fire going to boil water for our cup noodles. Once the noodles were ready we dug into the cups. Not wasting too much time we set off for the last phase of our trek.

Mukund had a problem with his shoes too. The soles of his shoes were coming off but he bravely soldiered on. I have to say it was no mean feat walking with those shoes on the railway track. There were some long tunnels along the way and walking inside these became a problem. The stones were piled up pretty high and it made the task of walking that much more difficult.

To add to the birds and the butterflies we came across quite a few ball millipedes and a snail.

According to the information we had gathered the Shiribagilu station was to be at the marking 84/500. The 20s group must have already reached I thought trying to muster every ounce of energy to push myself to reach the station. Even the other two of the 30s group had left me far behind. Walking alone, every step made me aware of a new muscle or spot in my feet which I never thought existed. Crossing a tunnel I noticed that the marking was 84/800 but there was no railway station in sight.

The exit route is at 85/500 said the information we had gathered. I pacified myself that at the most I will have to walk another 700 meters. Finally when the station arrived my relief was overtaken by the look on Dhimoy’s face. On enquiry he revealed that he had had an ugly spat with the station master. Thankfully it had been resolved without any bloodshed.

As we prepared ourselves for our next walk through the jungle to reach the highway an elderly person informed us that the exit route was no more; courtesy fallen trees during the monsoons. Before our hearts stalled, he added that there was another exit route just ahead.

Taking the route he showed us we tried to move as quickly as possible. My feet however were not too cooperative. There were a couple of streams along the way which had to be crossed. In trying to avoid stepping into the water I slipped and my shoes got wet. The rest of the walk had to be done with water squishing out of my shoes. There was this particular gap which we had to cross along the way. I was the last one to cross. Just as I hauled myself up something slithered past my hands. As I stood to see what it was I gasped and let out an expletive. Everyone asked what happened and I pointed out to a snake very well camouflaged and lying still.

The winding path finally took us to the highway and we waited for a bus to reach Kukke Subramanya. Within a few minutes we were on our way. On reaching we first headed towards a hotel for a hot cup of coffee. We still had a couple of hours before our bus to Bangalore would begin it’s journey. We strolled around for a bit before having our dinner. Settling down in the bus we first checked if the window pane could be closed. Thankfully it could be and when the bus started I drifted off to sleep bringing an end to the famous Green route trek.

To see all the photos Click Here

After getting down either at Donigal (near to Manzarabad fort) or near to the railway track, look for the milestone marked 234. There is a tea shop and opposite to it is a mud path going up. Take that and you will see a bridge and a mud path going to the right. Take the right which leads to Donigal railway station. The marking on the milestone at the Donigal railway station is 49/400. After that:
Km 52 – bridge (50 mts) --> Km 55 – bridge
--> Km 58 – Tunnel No. 5 (254 mts) --> Km 60 – Tunnel No. 6 (383 mts) --> Km 61 – bridge (200 mts), immediately after Tunnel (575 mts) --> Km 62 bridge (150 mts) --> Km 64 – Tunnel (410 mts) --> Km 67 – Yedakumeri station --> Km 72 – Tunnel (366 mts) --> Km 75 – Arebetta station --> Tunnel 25 (553 mts) --> Km 80 - Tunnel (488 mts) --> Just before Km 85 – long bridge --> Just after Km 85 – Shiribagilu station --> Cross the tunnel just after the station, look for a mud path to the right just before the point where the railway tracks diverge --> this path (about 5-6 kms) through the forest leads to Anila village à Buses to Kukke Subramanya (15 Kms) can be boarded here.