Deep inside the Malnad region of Karnataka, in the Chikmagalur district lies a paradise. A paradise where the clouds kiss the lush green meadows, where the music of endless streams accompanies you in the wilderness, where the waterfalls taste as sweet as coconut water. Did that make you picture the beauty in your head? Then you have to head to Kudremukh for your next weekend trip from Bangalore.
Kudremukh, especially the Kudremukh National Park region, apart from being home to a horse-faced peak, beautiful lush green meadows, plenty of endemic flora and fauna, and now-defunct Iron Ore mining company also have the origins of three rivers of Karnataka, namely Tunga, Bhadra, and Netravathi. The hike up to the horse-faced mountain(Kudremukh- Kudre meaning Horse and Mukh meaning face in Kannada) is regarded as one of the most beautiful and breathtaking treks in south India.
With so much beauty packed within the national park, it is no surprise that Kudremukh National park attracts travelers from all of south India. Keeping the sensitive ecosystem in mind the national park authorities allow only 50 people per day to hike up to the Kudremukh peak. So, “Will I make it to the top or not” is a question that lingered in my head when I started from Bangalore.
The Friday-Saturday Conundrum
After deciding to go to Kudremukh, the next question was if I should start on Friday or Saturday. This is an important question to answer because of the 50 people per day limit for the hike. Since most of the travel groups start on Friday evening, I figured Saturday morning would be a good time to start. Spend the Saturday traveling and start the hike on Sunday morning after a good night’s rest in Kudremukh. It’ll make my Monday morning grumpy because of lack of sleep, but hey, you have a better chance of reaching the peak 😀
Even after deciding to start on Saturday morning, it’s always trouble managing the permits on your own, especially if you’re traveling alone. So, a better way was to go with a travel group who would take care of the permits and stay and Plan The Unplanned just has the right itinerary for that.
I packed my bag, set the alarm for 4:30 AM, dozed off, woke up, freshened up, and left for the boarding point. I love the mornings in Bangalore and since the boarding point is close to my home I prefer to walk. Just taking in the cold breeze of the city which during other times is toxic. Walking by the Silk board junction, I thought to myself, even traffic junctions need some time off 😀
Soon everyone boarded and we rested until we stopped for breakfast. After breakfast, the driver was having the time of his life (or is that his normal life?) with the open road as he zipped past the villages on the Mangalore Highway.
With the journey now set in motion and no anticipated breaks before lunch, it was time for ice breakers.
Intro To New People & Food
Personally, for me, the ice-breakers are the real deal. I remember a time when I was an introvert and never used to speak up until someone asked me a question. And ice breakers are those tiny questions that make everyone speak up and share a bit about themselves.
They also help everyone make new friends and soon some games followed. After a 5 hour drive, we reached Kottigehara. Kottigehara is a popular pitstop before you enter Charmadi Ghat to reach Mangalore. But we weren’t going to Mangalore but we did stop at Kottigehara. Why?
To savor the famous and unique Neer Dosa. Neer in Kannada means water. Neer Dosa is a unique Dosa that lacks the fermentation and the batter is like water, much thinner than the usual Dosa batter. After a quick refill of energy, we started the drive again.
The initial stretch of the road after Kottigehara is filled with sprawling coffee estates on both sides of the road. With clouds hovering over mountains in the distance and the lush greenery by the road just amplified that beauty.
I guess someone wasn’t too happy with all our excitement :P. Soon the ghat section started and nausea pushed itself into the scenic beauty xD. The roads marched ahead in a serpentine fashion and the lush greenery on both sides of the road stood as the silent spectator waving at every passerby, reassuring that a paradise awaits us beyond the winding road.
After about an hour of drive through the nauseating ghat road, we reached Kalasa. We quickly had lunch before continuing the drive to the hidden secret of the Kudremukh National park, Elaneeru Falls.
Elaneeru Waterfalls- Kudremukh
We parked the vehicle at the parking space and continued the walk. It felt as if Kudremukh was slowly picking out one beauty after the other and placing it in front of us. If it was the beautiful road earlier, it was this peaceful walk on this muddy path. With betel nut trees on one side, quaint little houses on the other with mountains in the backyard, it seemed like a wonderland.
There were three of us who were walking behind the group capturing as much of the beauty as we could. There were beautiful water streams and I loved clicking them all. The silhouettes of the trees above in the backdrop of bright blue sky were a very very pretty sight. Soon we reached the end of the road which was essentially the entrance to someone’s house.
We looked around, there was no one. But there was a small opening beside the gate and we saw some footmarks. Thinking they were of the folks ahead of us, we followed the footsteps. We traced the footsteps and reached two more houses. Lucky for us, there were people inside. We asked them about the way to the Elaneeru Falls. The man came out of the house and pointed towards a small white line in the middle of trees on a mountain in the distance.
We were shocked beyond measure. That seemed pretty far. Neither of us remembers missing a turn, heck, we don’t remember seeing any turn at all. But apparently we did. So, using all the knowledge of geography we had, we figured that the easiest way to reach the falls was to just “walk towards it”.
Reaching Elaneeru Falls In Style
So we came out of the house, found a betel nut farm. We started walking through it straight towards the waterfalls. At the end of the farm, there was a slope leading into a wide running stream, across the stream was the lower section of the waterfalls. So, first things first, navigate a slippery slope, of wait, did I mention we were wearing slippers because it was supposed to be just a walk in the park?
We slowly walked down the slope, holding any firm support we could find, including each other, and reached the end. Next up was crossing the stream which you would expect to be a cakewalk right? Continue reading and you’ll know.
As we stood at the foot of the lower section of the waterfalls, our guide appeared to yell at us in Kannada. I didn’t understand a word but I have a feeling he meant “where the hell were you guys and how on earth did you guys even reach there”. He made signs to come around and I heard the word “road” somewhere in the middle of that rant. We figured walking back would be too much of a task. Instead, we were up for the challenge of climbing up the waterfall. There were rocks all the way up, how difficult can it be. We said to ourselves.
We marched ahead and placed one foot on the rock and it rubbed past the rock below it. I thought this might be one loose stone and carefully stepped on the next one and even that slipped and then another one slipped followed by another one. Since it was monsoon time, the rocks were covered by algae which made them deadly and slippery.
The Godsend’s Guidance
Looking at our struggle, the guide told us to place our feet at the junctions of the stones where water was flowing. We blindly trusted him and walked as he suggested. After what seemed like a feat straight from Takeshi’s Castle, we reached the top of the lower section of the waterfall.
The guide told us that we had to hike for another 70m to reach the actual waterfalls. By then, the other guys were returning. There was another small water pool formed by a small waterfall beside us. I sat in that waterfall to relax for sometime before starting the steep climb up to reach Elaneeru Falls.
But I had to stop sprinting after literally 5m of distance. It was a steep slippery hike xD. It was monsoons so naturally, it was slippery on top of that the rest of the guys were returning, so it was wet. I carefully placed one foot after the other and made it to the top. It was a beautiful plunge waterfall set deep inside the forest.
I went closer to the waterfall and boy the water tasted so sweet. It was almost as if I was drinking coconut water. I later learned that Elaneeru in Kannada means Coconut water. If you reach the right time i.e at around 3:30 PM, you can see a rainbow form behind the waterfalls on a bright sunny day.
Bella Homestay Kudremukh
We walked back along with other folks and figured out that there was indeed a diversion. We continued walking back to the bus, drove for about 20 minutes, and reached Bella Homestay.
Bella in Kannada means jaggery and like the name the owners of the homestay are very cheerful and sweet. It’s managed by the brothers themselves. It’s a two-storey building with multiple dorm rooms.
By the time we reached, the snacks and tea were ready. We quickly freshened up and gathered in the common area for dinner. Played some games and sang a few songs around the bonfire and called it a day.
But the uninterrupted view of the vast wilderness in front of us which was was brought to life in that pitch darkness by the moonlight caught my eye. I couldn’t resist not pulling out my phone and capturing the beauty. I certainly did a half-ass job but hey I experienced it live and that more than makes up for this.
Exhilarating Drive To The Entrance
I woke up early the next day and walked around. Fog surrounded the homestay and it flew over the trees as if a giant human was blowing it away. We quickly freshened up, packed our lunch, and got into the jeeps. Remember the 50 person limit I spoke about? This is the moment we’ll get to know if we were the chosen ones or not :P. The forest guard check post that also marks the start of the trail enforces the 50 person rule.
We sat in the jeep and this short jeep ride was nothing short of exhilarating. Once you get off the main road, the road gets a little rough. This road passes over a bridge and after a sharp hairpin turn takes you to higher ground. This narrow stretch of the road has silver oaks and betel nut trees acting as the barricades to what appeared like a 20m drop. Slowly you can see the Kudremukh village once the fog clears off.
Soon the view gets taken over by a stunning pattern of multi-colored paddy fields in the valley, and soon the lush green meadows of the Kudremukh national park grab all the attention you have. It’s such a beautiful drive that makes you forget about the decisive moment ahead.
I’ve been to Kudremukh thrice so far and if you drive on this stretch early in the morning, there are good chances of spotting a deer or two ;). What else do you need to light up your morning 😀
Into The Wilderness Of Kudremukh National Park
We finally reached the starting point. One of the best efforts in preserving the ecosystem of Kudremukh national park after banning mining at the KIOCL was making it a strictly no-plastic zone. And fortunately, the forest guards were very strict about it as they check each and every corner of your bag for taking a count of plastic pieces.
Although they take a refundable deposit to return each of the plastic pieces safely, it’s a moral obligation for you to do that. So please don’t litter the forest. Let’s keep the trash to ourselves and our cities.
Since we had arrived in time and completed all formalities before hand, we got cleared for the trek. And we were off into the wilderness. And like ants marching towards a sugary food, we started walking in a straight line towards the equally rewarding Kudremukh Peak.
The hike starts with rough and dusty terrain. It’s neither steep not flat to walk on. But one needs to be careful during monsoons as the water flows in the opposite direction and the chances of slipping are higher. Once you cross the rocky patch, the trail flattens out and the peak presents itself. This is perhaps the only trek where you can see the peak throughout the trail. The trail then fades into a shola forest stretch which also brings along the first of the many freshwater streams to come.
The trail follows a pattern. In between the streams you hike up after crossing the stream, the trail flattens out and then you go down the slope to reach the water stream. This pattern repeated for the next 4 streams. But you know that’s not the best thing either. When you hike up from the stream, the trail takes you outside the shola forest putting you face to face with the lush green meadows.
Ridge Walks On Kudremukh Trek
If you’re lucky enough you can spot spotted-deers grazing over the meadows in the distance. While this enchanting beauty accompanies you outside the shola forest, the variety of chirps, calls, and music of the running water streams inside the forest make the trek even more rewarding. It just feels like you switch between two different worlds when you cross over the forest into the open trail.
The alternating combination of flat-open trail, chirps, calls, streams & wide-open meadows continues for about 1.5 hours. At the end of the 1.5 hours hike, you will cross the one last stretch of the shola forest before climbing up the meadows.
Soon after you come out of that last stretch, you’ll be presented with the first steep climb of the hike. I think the 1.5 hours of hiking up and down the slopes is like a practice test for this climb 😛
This part of the stretch was so steep that even I found myself gasping for air in the middle of the climb. I’m sure you may have heard of the quotation,
The best view comes after the hardest climb
and I think, for the reasons you’ll read ahead, Kudremukh trek is a live example of that.
The trail flattened out after the steep climb. The ridge walk starts from here and boy this is one hell of an action-packed stretch of the trail. On each and every one of my three-time hike on this trail, especially in this stretch, I have either chased the wind, saw the romance of clouds and meadows, saw mountains that turned into chimneys puffing out white clouds and at times the clouds chasing each other right before your eyes. It’s such a beautiful trail that makes you realize how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things.
The Halfway Point- Ontimara, Kudremukh Trek
After roughly about two hours of hike, you reach the halfway mark, Ontimara. Onti-Mara means Solitary Tree in Kannada. The halfway point is marked by a solitary tree and a beautiful view of the valley and meadows.
Standing there, I couldn’t take my eyes of the meadows in front of me. It’s just so magical that every inch of that meadows is painted in a different shade of green. After resting here for a bit, clicking a lot of photos and regrouping, we continued the walk. This certainly was the most rewarding experience n the entire trek or was I too early to judge ;). You’ll know soon.
The trail gradually became challenging from then on. The views of the valley from the halfway point- Ontimara kept getting better and better as I moved ahead. About 40 mins of a walk after the halfway point-Ontimara, crossing over multiple streams and hiking in and out of shola forests, the second challenging climb awaited us.
Most Beautiful View Ever In Kudremukh Trek
The streams are perfectly clean and I filled up my half-empty bottle. I turned around to take a look at the ground I covered so far. But that thought faded away after I looked at the meadows and clouds.
After mustering enough strength, I climbed up the second steep climb. And after this hard climb, an even better view of the meadows welcomed me. This is perhaps the most beautiful view I have ever seen in my life.
The time I spent there, sitting on the rock, counting the shades of green was totally worth it. The peak appeared much closer now but we didn’t realize there were multiple steep climbs ahead of us. The climb from the viewpoint was rather the steepest of all climbs on the trek so far.
We slowly climbed up, one step after another, taking those occasional breaks to relieve the muscles from cramping up, and to make things worse, there were multiple diversions along the way. But with a single-minded focus to figure out the shortest way possible, we continued the climb.
But like all things in life, we’re bound to goof up but not every time does life offer you such a beautiful gift when you goof up. I took a wrong trail and ended up slightly off the main trail. This was a blessing in disguise as I spotted this beautiful plunge waterfall.
Once you finish this climb, a ridge walk awaits you again. But the best thing about this trail is that it gives you a panoramic view of the entire Kudremukh national park including the trail we walked all along.
The Summit Climb Of Kudremukh Trek
After crossing one small stream (not recommended to fill water here except in monsoons), the final climb awaited me. I kept repeating to myself, one step at a time, and slowly climbed up to reach the summit.
I was lucky to get a clear view from the peak only one of the three times. Most of the time clouds cover up the view from the peak but are totally breathtaking when it clears up. The breeze took away the tiredness from the body as we sat down for having packed lunch.
Tomato rice, pickle, the puffy white clouds hovering over the forest. Accompanied by the lush green meadows, what better view can you ask for a lunch date. So we started the descent at around 1 PM after having lunch and hiked down the same path. We completed the trek by 5 PM after a short stop at a natural spa on the way back ;).
On the way back to Bangalore, I sat by the window and the past two days flashed in front of me. The unique Neer Dosa, The winding ghat section, the misadventures to reach Elaneeru falls, the sweet water of the falls itself, the lush green meadows, and their romance with the clouds, it was definitely much more rewarding than what I had asked for.
I’ll be back soon with another blog post.
Until then, be in touch.
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