Ever since my first solo backpacking trip to Gokarna back in December 2016, mandatory December trips have become a ritual for me. I spent a weekend hiking up to Kudremukh peak in 2017. So, when the month turned December in 2018, I was planning for the much-revered trip. But where should I head out? I thought of Pondicherry first. But due to thunderstorms blessing the forecast, I dropped it. Then I remembered about Chikmagalur and the short visit from earlier that year. I instantly decided to go on a backpacking trip to Chikmagalur. The images of the Chandra Drona ranges and the sprawling coffee estates flashed in front of my eyes.
But I was determined to climb up to Mullayanagiri peak this time. Mullayanagiri is the highest peak of Karnataka. So when we went to Chikmagalur earlier that year, we didn’t go to Mullayanagiri because of lack of time. Ever since that failed attempt, I wanted to climb up the peak and sing “Imagine Dragons-on top of the world” at the top of my lungs.
A Deserted Welcome At Chikmagalur
So Chikmagalur is a popular tourist destination in Karnataka as well as a major district. As a result, there are a number of buses from all over Karnataka to Chikmagalur. So, I boarded a bus from the Majestic bus stand at 11:30 PM. I booked a late-night bus on purpose as Chikamagaluru was only 5 hours away. Also, it is a small town, so I didn’t want myself stranded while the town is snoring away in sleep.
I slept off as soon as I boarded the bus and woke after what seemed like an hour of sleep time. Chikmagalur last stop, Chikmagalur last stop, I heard the conductor shout. I was shocked. I woke up and looked at my watch and it was 5 AM. Damn, why do the drivers have to be so punctual? I told myself. Then I laughed it off remembering all the occasions they were late.
I packed my stuff and got down the bus and a gentle cold wave went down my spine. Seconds later, my hands froze. Minutes later, I became a chimney.
I had a hot cup of coffee in the stall and came out of the bus stop. I looked around and couldn’t see many people. The only ones were the ones who just got down the bus. I saw an auto stand by the road. The autos lined up according to their serial numbers. Let’s see how much this discipline would cost me, I said to myself as I approached them.
Inju’s Broken Kannada Attempts
I booked my stay in Zostel which was roughly 8 KMs from the bus stop. I turned around and asked one of the auto guys in a faint voice and broken Kannada.
Me: Anna, Zostel hogtiya.(Brother, will you go to Zostel)
Auto Driver: Haudu
Auto Driver: INR 200
It was a jaw-dropping response. Freaking 200 bucks for 8 Kms? I wasn’t using UBER as much at that time, so that was a ridiculous amount. So I thought I’ll find some other way to reach Zostel. I walked a bit from the bus & auto stand. It has been a long long time since I hitched a ride.
So I thought, now is the time to put that skill to use. But little did my excited brain think about the deserted roads and zero personal vehicular movements. I only saw buses and trucks plying on the roads at that time.
So after walking about 500m, a mini truck carrying milk cans approached me. The driver stopped looking at my thumb pointing up.
“Anna, Zostel hogbeku. Hogtiya?”– I pulled out my broken Kannada again.
“Elli, hostel aa?”, He spoke back
“Illa anna, Zostel. Zostel.”, I suggested.
He said something that I couldn’t understand. But he indicated that he was driving in the same direction. So I thought, as long as I am going in the right direction, it should be fine and jumped in. I pulled out my maps to see where to get off.
After a few minutes, he stopped the vehicle. A nervous sweat drop trickled down my forehead. He said something in Kannada which I didn’t understand. His hand movements suggested he was taking the right turn But I had to go straight. So I got off the bus and was on the road again.
Hitching A Ride On A Bus
I was eagerly waiting for another ride to reach my destination. I was already out of town so I couldn’t find any ride for quite some time. Utter darkness, sounds of crickets and the chilly wind was a surreal experience, something I am experiencing after a long long time.
After standing there for 15 minutes, I figured out that only buses were running. So, I thought, why not hitch a ride on a bus. So, I stood by the dark road, amidst the chirps of crickets and stretched out my hand.
I again tried to explain that I wanted to get down at Zostel. The conductor was clueless about the location. So he suggested I check the map and let him know when we reach there. I paid INR 30 and sat in the seat and in about 10 mins I reached Zostel.
It was still dark when I reached Zostel and the manager wasn’t available. So I crashed in the common area and waited for him. The good thing about zostel is you can use the premises irrespective of you having a booking.
Once the manager was back, I checked in. So most people going to Mullayanagiri peak go via the road. It’s a winding road on the Chandra Drona Range. But only a few know about the trekking trail to Mullayanagiri Peak, called Sarpadhari.
So I had planned to trek to the peak by this route and I thought I’d find someone at Zostel who was also planning the same. So I woke up after a short nap, freshened up and asked a few folks if they were trekking to Mullayanagiri via Sarpadhari. And much to my surprise, not even a single person was planning to do that, everyone preferred to drive up instead.
To Go Solo or Not To Go Solo
All those discussions with travellers pushed me into doubt. Should I go solo and trek up to the highest peak in Karnataka via a trail that I didn’t know. Or follow the beaten path of driving on the road.
So, although I know I could’ve done that all along, it wouldn’t have been the most sensible thing to do. From whatever little information I could gather, it was a risky trail with steep slopes and strong winds. Added to that the water streams were scarce to non-existent nor any vendors selling stuff on the trail. So I dropped the plan of trekking alone.
I went to the Zostel manager and asked where I could rent a bike. That’s when he told me about the Royal Brothers. The bike rental chain I came to fall in love with. So I hitched a ride back to the town and rented a bike to start my trip.
Hirekolale Lake: A stunner At The Foot Of the Hills
First stop was Hirekolale Lake. It was probably 11 AM by the time I reached the lake, navigating through the mild traffic of Chikmagalur. The road after Uppalli had huge tall trees on either side that not just shielded from the scorching heat but also made me froze me. And at one point, there was a small stretch of road that didn’t have trees and made way for a panoramic view of the Mullayanagiri Peak and the entire range, probably all the way up to Baba Budangiri.
A short ride after that, facing a series of cold and hot winds, I arrived at Hirekolale Lake. The place is not so famous with tourists coming to Chikamagaluru, so you’d find it mostly free of people. This is a natural lake and mostly a seasonal one at that since the lake wasn’t this full, the last time I came here. The lake offers another teasing view of Mullayanagiri peak and a possible place for a beautiful beautiful sunset.
The lake also has a bridge, that is too old that it is scary to walk on it now. At the end of the bridge is a small structure which is now locked. It is supposedly a valve room to control the flow through downstream gates.
After a brief stop at the lake, I started the ride to the peak. You can choose to continue on the same road to reach the Mullayanagiri peak.
A Back Breaking Ride To The Top
The initial stretch looked good with an occasional stretch of potholes. But after climbing the first hairpin bend, the road revealed its true colors. The road was so bad that at times I looked back and questioned my own choices (an existential remark ;). I clearly heard my back cursing me for taking this route and not listening to those kids who suggested me not to take it. But I believed maps over the local, know-it-all kids who appeared to have skipped their school class for a swim in the lake. This reminded me of the dark, skiddy stretch in my road trip to Pune last month.
Finally, I had some respite from all the off-roading at the end of this stretch. A well-laid road followed it. There was traffic as the road was narrow but everything is better than that stone-ridden mud path I just rode on. But it was shortlived. The road was under construction, you will be mistaken if you think the construction was only for a small stretch. It continued all the way to Mullayanagiri Peak.
There was heavy excavation going on throughout the stretch, which filled the road with dust. And since the traffic was considerable, every passing vehicle threw a hand full of dust on me. And by the time I reached the peak, my black jeans had a new shade altogether.
I parked my bike and followed the numerous tourists climbing a peak. The peak revealed the entire valley of Chandra Drona mountain ranges. I could spot the tiny Hirekolale lake in the distance.
The False Alarm
While I was exploring the valleys, my eyes landed on another peak. It was certainly taller than the one I was on. If Mullayanagiri is the tallest peak and I was on a peak that wasn’t the tallest in the vicinity then I was not on Mullayanagiri. So, I quickly turned around and rode to Mullayanagiri.
Then another short ride on dust and stone ridden road later I reached the parking lot. I parked my bike and started climbing a staircase.
Every step and turn on the staircase revealed an amazing view of the meadows around. After about 20 minutes I reached the top. A temple sits atop the peak dedicated to Mullappa Swamy. And that’s where the Mullayanagiri peak gets its name. While I was curious to find out more details about the temple and Mullappa Swamy but couldn’t find any inscriptions on the temple. It looked like another open-ended challenge the peak threw at me.
I sat down after paying my respect to the Mulappa Swamy and closed my eyes. The cold floor was so relaxing and the shade provided the much-needed break from the sun sucking the energy out of my body. It made the perfect moment to meditate and I did, A good 20 mins of peace, my highest ever at the highest peak of Karnataka.
Waterfalls Of Chikmagalur
Apart from the peaks and lush green meadows, the Mullayanagiri and Baba Budangiri ranges are home to a number of waterfalls. I had planned to visit the waterfalls on the way to Baba Budangiri. I rode back on the same road and took a left at the diversion. Continued riding under the canopy of the forest.
Honnammana Waterfalls Chikmagalur
First waterfalls on the way were Honnammana Halla Waterfalls. By this time, my black jacket and jeans turned red. And wherever I stopped, people asked me if I had fallen somewhere and if I needed help with first aid or something. I chuckled and said the road needed first aid and this was the side effect. Anyway, the falls wasn’t that prominent. It was neither tall nor significant force looking from a distance. But it certainly had an aura of calmness around it. Climbing those staircases instantly separated the buzz and noise of the road and you.
The next one was Jhari falls. There was a huge line of cars and people waiting to be board jeeps. Jhari falls was an amazing falls that I still regret not going. You can only reach the falls by boarding the jeeps here. They charge about INR 700 per jeep which can carry up to 6 people. I skipped it thinking it would be like the previous falls. But I later learned from other travelers at Zostel that it was much better than what I thought of it.
Baba Budangiri, Chikmagalur
The ghat road to Baba Budangiri was much much better than the one to Mullayanagiri Peak. The road was well laid and the views of beautiful meadows accompanied me throughout the ride to the top.
Baba Budangiri is the second highest peak in Karnataka and is a pilgrimage site for both Muslims and Hindus. Surprising isn’t it? I really enjoyed the ride in this area. The meadows were really beautiful and I just couldn’t get enough of the beauty until I reached the end of the road.
A metal staircase constructed along the cliff and an INR 2 ticket will take you to Manikyadhara Waterfalls.
Another insignificant waterfall in the ride I’d say. However, don’t get me wrong when I say it is quite significant for the people here.
I was curious as to why there was so much prominence given to something that is as simple as a bucket of water falling from a rock. Look at it yourself,
According to the tales people shared, saint Baba Budan along with his 4 disciples came to the site in search of water. After their prayers, they were blessed with water flowing from the mountains in the form of this waterfall. I stayed for the sunset but the roads were slightly risky to drive at night. Added to that I had to hitch a ride back to Zostel. So didn’t wanna stay up late and get stranded again.
With that, I rode back to Zostel, zipping past hairpin bends, accompanied by the continuous views of the yellow-green meadows and the chilly wind. I had to return the bike in Chikmagalur itself but I had dust all over my body and desperately needed a hot shower.
So I went back to Zostel, freshened up and rode back to Chikmagalur town. Had a heavy dinner. Hitched a ride back to Zostel explaining the purpose of my visit to curious uncles(at least 4 of them) who were kind enough to give me a ride. My phone almost died, so I put it to charge in the room and joined the fellow travellers at the Bonfire.
Everyone shared interesting stories, appreciated the calmness, the clear night sky, a solo traveller from Mumbai particularly mentioned how she saw only one star in the night sky back in Mumbai. A few more stories and a late-night walk later, I called it a day!
All in all, it was a short but fun-filled trip. I honed my hitchhiking skills a little and I think the most significant improvement has been in my communication. I lost the hesitation to talk to anyone and I have become more expressive than ever. The cherry on the top being my Fluency in Kannada- Amateur 😀 I am glad I am no longer zero 😉
So, that’s all folks. Hope you enjoyed the ride.
That’s all for today folks. Thank you for sticking through to the end.
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This is post no.38 in the weekly blog post series. You can write to firstname.lastname@example.org for any feedback or collaboration. Alternatively, you can drop me a DM on Instagram.