Let me start with an apology to all those who have conquered these mythical hills long long ago and kept it as one of the most well kept secrets in Western Ghats. Also, lemme pray for all those who were lost here, including people I knew. I don’t want non-serious trekkers coming to this place and making it another garbage area and I am trying not to put so much information (I don’t have much either) here, to help non-serious trekkers or kill the suspense, thrill and challenges involved in this trekking trail. For a long time, Ombattu Gudde had been a secret of only hard core trekkers and by now, the place has accounted for a few trekkers getting lost and even some lives! While praying for no more mishaps in this area, I also hope that the mystery of these hills remain as it is. In recent times, with a slew of blogs available in the internet, the maps from Survey of India and equipments like GPS and compasses, more people have conquered this place. Of course, even more are getting lost in those jungles!
The Chennai Trekking Club planned to head to Ombattu Gudde in May! Ombattu Gudde / Ombattu Gudda is @ an altitude of 971m in the Kabinale reserved forest range accessible from Hosakere (near Mudigere) as well as from Gundya. The usual trek trail is to start from Gundya check post (in NH48 / Mangaluru / Mangalore highway), head towards a waterfalls, climb up Ombattu Gudde, get down @ Hosakere and take a bus to Mudigere. We too planned to do the same over a weekend … but the only difference with the normal groups heading to Ombattu Gudde was the team size. Peter had an ambitious team size of 31 people! Big crowd for even a small trek around Bengaluru (Bangalore) and a nightmare to manage @ a place as treacherous as Ombattu Gudde!
As planned, on the Friday afternoon after having lunch Chennai Trekkers team assembled at the metro station @ Tidel park to take a local train to Central where a couple of other trekkers were assembled. At Tidel park metro station all the sleeping mats were distributed and all the new ppl got introduced to each other. Here comes the train and the members get in with their curious questionnaire to each other about what are they going to encounter in the trek. At Central couple of members took lunch and others spotted their cabins and seats and there comes a whistle. Yes we all started for the voyage. With lots of fun in the train each person got close to others sharing jokes and discussions on topics. Time just passed in fun eating drinking sleeping. All reached and assembled at Bengaluru railway station where the Bangalore counterparts of the trekking club were already present waiting with truck load of cartoons, filled with water bottles!
Before 10 we had full house, with 18 people from Chennai and 3 people from Tuticorin landing @ the railway station. All the people, were happy to see each other, few for the first times after they realized they have had long e-mailing conversations with couple of them but encountering them for the first time and others have been previous trek mates. Divya had a surprise in store wearing a beautiful white saree and we all wearing our trekking outfits were left wondering if shez joining the trek or heading for a fashion show in Bengaluru 😉 We took turns to shift the luggage (some heavy cartons containing water bottles) to the back side of the station, where our private bus waited.
Since, most of the people from Chennai had missed their dinner, we stopped at a dhaba on the Mangaluru road. At the dhaba, a few people were reported to have fainted after seeing a lady with open hair and wearing a white saree. I wud also have fainted, had I not recognized that the ghost which scared the people was actually Divya! The rest of the night was peaceful on the bus except for someone who was snoring big time behind me. We reached Sakleshpur by around 4 in the morning and fortunately was able to take the Shiradi ghats (in spite of the road repair which was going on) to reach Gundya check post by day break. After a small break for changing, distributing the supplies, packing the bags and snaps, we took the jeep track towards Ombattu Gudde @ abt 6.30.
The jeep track initially was amidst houses; but, as we progressed, it narrowed down and became a small footpath. There were some signs of moisture and good greenery even @ this peak summer; the path had a good ‘junglee’ feel about it. We had our first share of confusion when the road was crossed by a dried up stream leading to another path to the right, which we soon found to join back the main path 🙂 With the rising humidity, we started sweating profusely and its not a nice feeling when sweat impedes the vision and drops into the mouth. It was a welcome break, in little more than an hour from the main road, when we found ourselves near the first stream, which was beginning to dry in the summer. All gladly washed their faces and hair in the cool waters to brace ourself for a tough trek ahead. It is here that we first spotted leeches, generating interest, especially in those who haven’t seen them yet!
Next break was another hour away, in an open land, from where we could catch a glimpse of the mountains (not Ombattu Gudde, I guess). The sunlight had begun to seep thru’ the forest and it was getting hotter. Hence, the third leg took a little more time than the first two. The number of obstacles, fallen trees, branches growing into the path, leaches, frogs, flies, unknown forest insects with varied shapes n sizes started increasing in numbers, giving us a feel of what a true dense forest must be.
By about 9.30 we were near a big stream, where we planned to get fresh and take our breakfast – chappathis and jam. The stream was a li’l stagnant on one side, but had clear water on the other side. Peter jumped into the water straight away, followed by the rest of the gang and started making merry in water. Mahalingam, the youngest dynamite in our group, seemed the most ecstatic in water, splashing water on the other swimmers. Couple of photographic enthusiasts at once started showing their talents with varied photos of the action. Soon, Peter reminded us that the major part of the trek is only going to start now and we need to move fast to make it to the grass lands before the light fades. We ended up spending an hour in water, before starting to move again. It is from here that the real trek started. Peter, Arul, Ramki and Shyam, the leaders of the group had plans made too.
The idea was to let Arul lead the group, closely followed by Peter, then Ramki. Shyam was to bring the rear up. We had a walkie-talkie set as well to make sure there is enough communication between front and rear. The instructions from the walkie-talkie (from Peter) was to continue along the river and we did just that. But after a few minutes of making our way through the bushes and rocks, unable to spot others, doubt crept in. A little ahead, we spotted some more people including Ramki, but soon realized that they were as lost as us! In between, somebody told that two guys started walking up the hill (and away from the river) and one of us volunteered to go and hunt for them. It was all chaos, till we spotted Peter and the rest of the gang waiting for us. We all looked at each other, as if to say: “Welcome to Ombattu Gudde – the paradise for people who wants to get lost!”
Peter’s verdict after this initial goofup (which took about an hour to rectify) was straight-forward. We should move in a group! From here on Shyam took up the sweeper responsibilities to heart and Arul was excellent as the path finder! We were walking along the river now and it went on for a couple of hours. The path criss-crossed the river every now and then and we kept following the stream, with Peter and Arul rechecking positions on GPS and map every now and then to make sure that we are on the right track. One bad thing that happened during all this was one of the walkie-talkie falling in water and becoming useless. This made things a little more difficult since moving in a group was a must now.
The going was tough with slippery rocks and time running out. It was also important to make sure that everybody kept together. Shyam kept saying “Move People … Move it …” and made sure that the people behind kept up with the front runners. Experienced trekkers started realizing the need to use their experience to help the novice trekkers to move on those tough and slippery rocks. While, we were chugging along, the water in the stream was crystal clear, all along. Any time u r thirsty just sit down and drink water … wow!!! Btw … all water bottles were emptied to reduce the weight and we were carrying only empty bottles. Why carry artificial mineral water when we are walking next to a crystal clear water stream?
After walking for about 3 hrs along the river, we finally reached a waterfall @ about 2’O clock. It was time for a break. Lunch boxes (bread and jam) were opened up and some people headed to the waterfall to get soaked. As usual, the photographers spent a while with their cameras, but, ultimately headed to the waterfall. In another hour we climbed up by the side of the falls and headed up. The trail got steeper from here on and the rocks were slippery. This ensured that we took more time to head towards our camping point. The final climb which was supposed to take us to the grass lands never seemed to come. According to one of the blogs, this was abt 2km vertical climb and a very tough one. Obviously, this wud have been even tougher one to do once its dark … and that meant we had to hurry. We crossed one stream after the other and climbed one slippery rock after the other and it was getting darker and darker.
Arul had been going ahead every now and then and coming back with the news of “Therez a path ahead” and Shyam kept pushing people with his trademark “Move people … Move it …” The desperation levels of some reached the levels of saying “Whoever says move … I hate them all!”, “I am not moving an inch now!”, “I hate that guy Arul … can’t we camp somewhere here???” … etc etc. I am not saying who said all these … c’mon … u guys can guess!!! At abt 6, with darkness already looming large, I suggested camping near the falls and Peter supported me. I was actually waiting for that scary 2km vertical climb and didn’t want to do that in the dark. But, Arul already moved ahead and we decided to follow him. Time for trekking in the dark along a 70 degree (and possibly vertical later) ascend! Frustration had crept in by now and even Shyam started shouting “Is there any space to camp up there?”
Finally, by the time it was pitch dark, one of the front trekkers came back with the news that there indeed is camping space @ the top. This, surely elicited responses like “Liars … I can’t walk in this night!”. People from the top kept assuring that the grassland is nearby and people @ the rear kept throwing tantrums! In between, Arul himself came down and assured that the ‘promised land’ is just about 10mins! People showed us lights and kept pulling up the entire group. One of the trekkers found amidst of a vertical climb holding just a branch of the tree and his leg on a small rock which started losing up which was a danger for the ppl hanging the trees behind him, it was a tough situation and a few ppl above were asked to came down and helped to pull him up safely, and asking others to take different path as the rocks were too slippery and dangerous at times.
Finally, after numerous falls, slipping and even crying, by abt 8’O clock everybody was up and sure enough … there was ‘promised land’ at the top … lush green and bright even in the night, with a view of the sky and the far away hills! Lying down all exhausted @ the ‘promised land’. Thank god, the 2km vertical climb never came – it shud either be an exaggeration or a wrong way. I felt that, since we did the trek during summer, climbing along the water falls was possible and we could avoid that 2km vertical climb. Thnx to Arul, the path finder, and Peter for taking us through the best route possible. In hindsight, getting up here after a climb in the dark was the best thing we did. It not only made things doable for the next day, but also saved us from the dangers of camping near a water source in summer, with wild animals roaming around.
Also, the last water source was just behind us and it was always possible to go down and fill the water bottles needed for the following day and cooking. Later, Shyam also located a climb up to another hill, which might have been the 2km vertical climb, straight up from the water falls. Some ppl quickly started cutting grass around the fire area, collected water, setup the campfire and prepared the cup noodles and soup. We gobbled up the dinner, spread the tent, sleeping bags and soon crashed into a good sleep. Our unofficial bar keepers ensured we had a bar operational. A couple of hours later there was pin drop silence as everyone was dead tired. Any qualms of whether we would be able to sleep on hard ground was soon vanquished as it hardly took a couple of minutes to fall asleep. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
There were some initial worries of wild animals and lying in the open, but I doubt if that affected anybody’s sleep 🙂 Next day, we were all ready by 7, with few of us already gone down to fill up the water bottles. There are no water sources in the hills from now on and it was important to carry enough water. When I looked around, there were peaks all around us, but the map says Ombattu Gudde is towards North-east. Arul, as before was leading the group, with the rest of the gang following. We started off towards the North – East direction, but slowly started drifting southwards as we kept going down through the bushes. Peter, smelt a ‘bug’ and rushed to the front, suggesting not to lose the attitude we gained. To correct the ‘bug’, everybody headed back to the base camp and after more discussion, headed a little west of north, descended a little and then started climbing up again. In about 20 mins time we were near another grassland with clearer views. Looked like, this is where the notorious 2km vertical climb landed!
Our camping site, as per Peter’s GPS equipment was @ a height of about 560m and we had to reach a height of 971m @ Ombattu Gudde. Hence, it was quite important not to lose altitude. Our path, even now was among the bushes, occasionally with a view of the surroundings. But, as soon as we reached the next grassland, @ about 8.30, it all changed. There were some beautiful views on offer all around us. Lush greenery till the horizon, punctuated with dark green areas of thick shola forests, covering mountain ranges on all four sides. We had one more steep climb ahead of us, again to the North-East direction, which took us to even more heights with gentle breeze. Now, the views were good and all the tiredness of a hard trek was beginning to pay! We opened up our remaining food packets (bread, chappathi, jam, ketchup) and had it for breakfast.
At 9.30 we started climbing again and proceeded steadily to the next hill in another half an hour. Here, we spotted a few insects flying in the sky with nice singing zzzeee, in no time we realized that there was a swarm of tens of thousands of honey bees above in sky moving towards us. That scene took breath away from all of us for a while. All were advised to lie down without making any noise and motion else it could be really dangerous. Soon we found that the swarm was a past tense without even touching any of us, a rule of nature is if you don’t disturb nature it won’t disturb you. We were almost in celebration mode with only abt 200m ascend left and tiredness already gave way to excitement of finally making it to the Ombattu Gudde. Before 11, we could see the jeep track heading to Hosakere far to our left when we reached the hill just before Ombattu Gudde. From here, the jeep track may be accessed to our left (North-west direction) and Ombattu Gudde to our right (eastwards). We had a short break, left our luggages there and headed to our final frontier. In spite of a tiring day behind us and an option of staying back and waiting for the rest of the gang, only 3 people stayed back.
From here to Ombattu Gudde peak was straight forward. Couple of ups and downs, enjoying the views around and taking snaps. Ombattu Gudde is definitely not the tallest peak around. There were even more majestic peaks all around us, separated by deep valleys and thats one more reason why the surroundings looked so beautiful! At abt 11.30, we were at the top of Ombattu Gudde. It was time for photo sessions. Speaking abt dedication, one thing that Peter used to motivate people specially the girl trekkers was an offer to dedicate a paragraph for them in the blog! And rightly so … coz of the way they braved thru this in spite of extreme difficulties, refusing to even give away their bags. Kudos to u all! Of course … the whole group (most of us hardly knowing each other before this event) was always ready to offer a helping hand whenever they can. Without this help and co-operation and the leadership skills of a few experienced real trekkers, a big group like this, may be for the first time, couldn’t have made it to Ombattu Gudde. Kudos to the Chennai Trekking club and the spirit of trekking!
To celebrate the occasion, one of the trekking club t-shirts (Vivek was brutally stripped of his t-shirt) was hoisted at the peak as a flag. Hope it stays there till our next visit! After all the photo sessions and celebrations, it was time to go back. People from Chennai had their tickets booked in a bus starting @ 11pm from Bengaluru and it was looking increasingly difficult to catch it. So, we were back to the luggage point @ abt 20 mins and along the trail towards the jeep track in another half an hour time (by abt 12.30). There was a trail, along the bushes all the way till the Lakshmi estate premises, where we can hit the jeep track heading to Hosakere. It was back to civilization with a few workers around this area. The jeep track would lead to Hosakere where the bus was waiting for us. Though, Hosakere is abt 13kms from this point, it was a little lesser to the tar road and we braced ourselves for a walk along the sunny jeep track @ mid noon to get back home!
This was probably the toughest part of the trek, with an ascend in the beginning and hot sun @ its zenith. To make the matter worse, most of us were hungry and even short of water. At 1’O clock we stopped for another munch and finished of whatever was remaining as lunch and then continued the walk. The jeep track actually goes higher than Ombattu Gudde @ 1065m, when it winds around a hill and offered good views around us. Once the ascend was over and some tree-cover was available, giving us shade, things became easier. Time was running out now and catching the 11pm bus looked even more difficult for people from Chennai. Peter already started discussing alternate plans like booking tickets in another bus or taking a train early morning. After walking like 10kms we saw some live huts and it was the laxmi estates where we all paused to wash our faces and take some rest.
Some of the guys, went ahead to catch the bus and get it back to as far as they can. The tarred road was about 3kms from this point and we kept meeting people telling us that it is ‘just ahead’. We had to cross a gate in between, where a person (carrying a gun) told us that the bus is waiting a ‘furlong’ away. Finally, by about 4.30 we were at the tarred road, where the bus was waiting for us, thnx to Prem, John, Sabith … etc who walked another 4kms, till Hosakere, in this hot sun to get the bus here! It was time to go home now after an exciting trek. We started back @ 5pm and people from Chennai didn’t have much hope of making it to Bengaluru by 11, in time for their bus leaving to Chennai.
At 6.30 we were at Sakleshpur for a lunch cum snacks cum dinner and then headed to Bengaluru by 7, to reach there by 12. At a restaurant at Station the chennai team had their first nice dinner and discussing about the trek. A swaraj mazda (tempo traveller) was arranged for people to get to Chennai, which came only @ abt 3:30 and we had a tough time and a sleepless night and touched the scorching heat of Chennai at around 1030 hrs , bruised battered and dead tired……………. but smiling. After the exciting experience @ Ombattu Gudde this all seemed pretty acceptable! Kudos once again to Chennai Trekkering club, for pulling off something as wonderful as this without any mishaps. Not everyday wud u spot a group of 31 at the top of Ombattu Gudde!
Existing trekkers: Peter, Johh, Maha, Sandeep, Shyam, Sandeep U, Vivek,
Amal, Arul, Srikanth, Nayantara, Divya, Anala, Patil, Chandrashekar, Aditya,
New trekkers: Preetha, Ruddi, Ravikanth, Simon, Sarath, Sabith, Sanothsh,
Subendran, Maharajan, Vinod, Karthikeyan,
Parts of story copied from Sandeep Unnimadhavan’s blog with his permission. Parts contributed by Prem Joseph. Merged by Aditya.
GPS log and detailed info on how to plan this trek is available upon request to serious trekkers only,