A trek to the third highest peak in Karnataka – Kudremukh

kudermukh-grassland
Photos: Shabeer Ahammed K K
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Kudremukh is spread like a green carpet in the lap of the Western Ghats. Kudremukh is the 3rd highest peak in Karnataka. It is an enchanting landscape with evergreen forests, small and large waterfalls, rivulets and meadows. It is a trekkers' paradise.

It has been a long wait for the days marked in red in the calendar. The dreams on trekking at Kudremukh blossomed into reality when I got the break I needed quite unexpectedly.

Land of the youngest daughter

ludermukh-daisies

'Chikmagalur' means 'The land of the youngest daughter'. Rukmangada, the king of Sakrepatana is said to have given this place as dowry for his youngest daughter. It is a beautiful landscape with forests, farm lands and extensive mountain ranges. The tallest three peaks of Karnatataka are in the Chikmagalur district. Chikmagalur is also a land of coffee. There is a myth behind how coffee came to Chikamagalur.

Long, long time ago, an Indian Sufi saint named Baba Budan went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. He happened to stay in the famous Yemeni port city of Mocha on the way. He liked the black coloured drink someone had offered to him. He decided to introduce that energizing drink to his homeland. In those times, only the fried Coffee seeds were allowed to be carried abroad from Yemen. So, he hid seven raw coffee seeds in his beard and brought them to India. The plants thus grown in his backyard became the first coffee plantation in India. The usual station Baba Budan used for praying was at Budangiri near Chikamagalur. Today coffee is a big industry here. Karnataka is a leader in coffee production in India.

The base camp of the Kudremukh peak is at Kalasa. Coffee plants start appearing on either side of the road as soon as one starts from Mudigere. Meadows take over the landscape from big trees and plants as we progress towards the destination. The iron-rich soil here is not conducive for the growth of big trees. Only the grasses grow here.

The land of iron

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References to the iron ore mines of Kudremukh are there even in the epic 'Ramayana.' Sugreeva, in search of Seetha mentions to his monkey-army about the 'Ayomukh' ranges forming part of the Kudremukh. 'Ayomukh' means rich in iron ore. History has it that the geologist named Sampat Ayyankar, looking for the iron ore deposits mentioned in 'Ramayana,' chanced upon the sight of the shoes of the horses in his team getting stuck on the rock formations by the river Bhadra and thus discovering the mines.

The soil of Kudremukh also has the history of 40 years of iron ore mining. The village on the mines, along with about 5000 employees of KIOCL iron ore mining company which at that time was making Rs 800 crore profit, had to shut shop and descend to the plains on environmental concerns. Today, only trekkers coming to see the scenery go up the Kudre heights.

I woke up hearing the announcement "kallasaadalli illibekku" from the bus's conductor. We had reached Kalasa. Kalasa is known as the temple-city of Chikamagalur. I contacted Raje Gowda, the owner of the home-stay at Mullodi on phone after disembarking at Kalasa. He promised to send a jeep in half an hour. In that half an hour, I visited the Kalaseshwara temple which is also known as the Kashi of the South. Legends say that it was here that Lord Shiva gave Sage Agasthya the permission to witness the Shiva-Parvathy wedding. Located in the valley of the river Bhadra, the temple is dedicated to Kalaseshwara.

Mullodi

kudermukh-temple

My stay was arranged at Mullodi. The preferred way is to stay at Mullodi overnight and start trekking early next morning. Mullodi is a small village with less than forty families. Balegal, between Kudremukh and Kalasa is the nearest town to Mullodi. Only jeeps can access the 6 kilometre stretch from Balegal to Mullodi. The only route available is a mud road with treacherous pits and potholes. The required permit for traveling to Mullodi was taken from the forest office at Balegal.

Usually, only 50 permits are issued per day. The best way is to obtain the permit the previous day of the intended journey. For the permit to be granted, hiring a licensed guide is mandatory. One could individually hire a guide or be a part of other guided tour groups. The guides normally charge Rs 500/-. I wished the forest officer 'good night' after paying him Rs 600 for the trekking and showing the required identity documents.

Raje Gowda's home-stay is the most popular place to stay in Mullodi. It gets a lot easier as he arranges the jeep service etc for transportation from the confluences. The room had minimum facilities including a camp fire. By the time we arrived, the dinner with 'Neer-Dosai' and 'Sambar' was ready. The taste of the dinner, though vegetarian, deserves special mention. The 'Sambar' here is hotter and is of a deeper shade than what we are used to.

Kottaresh, my companion fell asleep after the heavy meals. I went for a walk. A waterfall nearby could be heard. Upon asking Raje Gowda if we could visit the waterfall, he said he would take us there after the trek. The waterfall is named Somavathi. Special devotional offerings are made here on full-moon Mondays. It is believed that your wishes will be fulfilled if you earnestly pray, taking a dip in the waters here.

Wrapped in winter mist

kudermukh-waterfalls

Kudremukh is in deep slumber. On top of the mountain which is also named Samseparvata, there is said to be a church. The British used to go uphill to the church on horseback to attend the Sunday mass. Kudremukh, literally meaning 'face of a horse' gets its name from this connection to the horses and also because the mountain looks like the face of a horse. Raje Gowda has stories to tell. But the eyes were not willing. The chill breeze and the lullaby of the waterfall fell heavy on the eyelids.

Even after the daybreak, the mist did not go away. It looked as though the Sun and the mist had not come fully awake. The grandchildren of Raje Gowda were preparing to play cricket in the courtyard. A dog also joined them. The bowler was a hitherto unknown man. An exchange of smiles and a quick introduction followed. Krishna Gowda was our guide from the forest office. I took a quick shower and readied the backpack for trekking by which time Raje Gowda was ready with the lunch packets. It was 'Puliyogare' (tamarind rice), a local favourite.

The climb begins

kudermukh-trek-river

It was 7 am. The surroundings were still coming awake. Dew drops dripped from the leaves. We started walking the mud-path behind the homestay. Through ups and downs, the distance on the Kudremukh trekking route is considerable. At normal speed, one can complete the climbing in about 5 hours. There are many narrow walkways branching into the forest. There is a forest check point ahead. The trekking permit details and the number of plastic bottles etc carried were entered in the records there. We continued walking after receiving the guidance from the forest office.

The climb was steep. Yellow flowers had blossomed all around. We followed the guide into the forest through the deserted paths. We inhaled the pristine charm of the thick forest into our system. Rare orchids and other flowers captivated the eyes. Our guide waited for us by the side of a brook coming down the hills. We refilled our water bottles there and rested awhile.

The climb continued. We passed by numerous streams and waterfalls and came across a single tree. It was called 'Ondimara' locally. Beyond this tree, the paths became easier.

Green carpeted meadows, clouds descending from the skies in gentle breeze and small forest paths and rivulets make up a spellbinding view of the nature at its best.

Kudremukh was declared a national park in 1987. It is also the second largest wildlife sanctuary in the Western Ghats. If in luck, deer and mountain goats could be spotted grazing.

The last lap of the walk was quite taxing. The path wound around and climbed steeply. Slight drizzle here and there brought some relief. Covering our ears with mufflers etc against the cold breeze, we continued walking.

We reached the pinnacle by 1 pm. The panoramic view of the Kudremukh national park filled the eyes and senses. The picture perfect landscape stretched around us. The breeze and the mist combined and gave it a surreal feel.

Kudremukh is in Chikmagalur district. The literal meaning of the word is 'the land of the youngest daughter.' It is the place which was given as dowry by king Rukmangada.

The soil of Kudremukh also has a history of 40 years of iron ore mining by company named KIOCL.

It is said that Kudremukh got its name from the horse-riding antics of the British and also from the look of the mountain that is shaped like a horse's face.

Trek details

Difficulty level: Moderate

Walkway: Grass

Trek time: 24 hours

Base camp: Mullodi

Peak height: 6207 ft

Trek distance: 15 km/ 8-9 hours

Nearest town: Kalasa

Best time to visit: Winters and rainy season

Nearby tourist stops

Elaneer Falls

Kalasekshara Temple

Horanadu Annapurneswari Temple

Kurinjal Peak

Hanumangundi Falls

Important contact numbers

Homestay at Mullodi- Mr Raje Gowda (9481179008)

Rooms with minimum facilities and vegetarian food are available.

Jeep

Ashok: 9480943770

Trekking guide

Krishna Gowda: 9482262732

Satish: 9481074530

Stay at Balegal

Bella Homestay: 8263249393

Malanad cafe and lodge

Stay at Kalasa

Thotadur Yathri Nivas: 9448007017

Ticket booking

Karnataka State Transport Buses (www.ksrtsc.in)

Sugama Travels (www.sugamatourists.com)

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