The downpour from last night had cleansed the forest. It seemed to be revelling in the change of season, in the smell of rich soil and vegetation.
– Gana Kedlaya, Kaushik Bajibab
The article was published in the Nat Geo Traveller India on June 9, 2015
This time when we decided to head to Coorg, we wanted to try everything new. We have been exploring this beautiful landscape for over 14 years now. After scaling the highest peak in Coorg, the seasoned and wise Tadiandamol in 2003, we pursued several other ranges, including Galibeedu, Kakkabe and the Brahmagiri. Of course, our most favourite haunt remains remote coffee estates and farms bordering forests; the rich wildlife in these pockets is simply stunning.
So, we started on a new course – abandoning the usual route via Mysore, we headed east from Channarayapatna, a town before Hassan city. If you haven’t visited Hassan before, you should give it a day or two. Named after the goddess Hasanamba, Hassan is a quintessential old town, laden with yesteryear charm and heritage. It takes you back to the 11th century, the relics of the Hoysala dynasty still looming large at Halebidu. Stop by the Jain pilgrimage destination of Shravanabelagola, with its the monolithic marvel, the millennium-old statue of Gomateshwara.
As we drove to hilly Virajpet, which opens out to the Pushpagiri range, smooth roads glowed under the jagged lightning flashing across the sky. It poured buckets as we cruised along, dodging countless frogs on the highway.
The second-highest peak in Coorg, the stunning green Pushpagiri hosts a thriving population of wildlife and rich flora. A 10km trek through the vibrant forest will take you to the peak.
We were exploring a hillock located 15-17km from Madikeri town, which offers a fine view of Pushpagiri. The trail starts abruptly; one minute you’re walking along someone’s private garden and in the next, you’re on a steep climb and onto muddy passageways until the forest finds you, surrounding you with drenched old trees for company. This particular forest is less frequented by tourists and hence, almost litter-free, singing her tunes sans human voices – which was a blessing.
The forest is undemanding and easy. From here, you can trek all the way up to the mighty Kumara Parvatha. Of course, with the rainskeeping time , we were constantly tiptoeing around leeches. The path was littered with elephant dung; pachyderms usually frequent the area in the evenings. The sightings aren’t restricted to large mammals.
Crickets and grasshoppers somersaulted about us, buoyant and jovial. It looked like prime mating season for grasshoppers. We spotted several courting pairs; smaller in size, the male dies shortly after mating and the female after laying the eggs.
Just half an hour into the trek, we walked into a tiny clearing with an incredible view of the surrounding hills. The steep bend suddenly curves and opens out to a plateau. From our alcove, we saw low-hanging clouds clinging to closely stacked hills. Colossal uplands lay waiting – cloaked in white, seeming to exhale gusts of clouds and mist.
We quickened our pace in anticipation. Once we hit the fag end of the trail, we found ourselves ringed by valleys of undulating, rich shola forests. We sat on the ridge and almost hungrily took in the sights, the sounds, the smells of this spectacular vista, allowing it to cool the perspiration off our backs and faces. A small stroll takes you to the peak’s crown – a good place to sack out for a bit if the sun calls in proxy. If not, just walking along the ridge is great fun.
Small shrubs carpet this patch of open forest, with tiny yellow flowers locally called gowri hoovu (Gloriosa superba) andummat flowers breaking the monotony. Snails, spiders and dragonflies adorn the landscape. Snakes are plentiful, particularly the vine snake and the Malabar rock pit viper. We spotted several bicoloured frogs, three juvenile caecilians and a dead golden stag beetle – they almost grow up to 3.5 inches.
When the bright blue sky began to toy with shades of dark grey, we reluctantly walked away, feeling a little heady, consumed by the pleasant smell of damp earth.
Orientation: The trek starts 15-17 kms from Madikeri, a hill station in Coorg, Karnataka.
Seasons: Coorg is quite beautiful during the monsoons. If you don’t mind the leeches, there will be plenty of critter life, reptiles and frogs to witness on treks during the monsoons. The landscape is stunning too. You can wear leech socks, available in adventure stores. Locals use lime or salt, which works perfectly fine too.
Getting there: There are no direct rail connections to Coorg. The nearest stations are at Sakleshpur and Subramanya Road. It is best to drive down as it makes travelling within Coorg easier too. Hiring jeeps is quite expensive. The drive is around 125km from Channarayapatna to Madikeri town. The nearest eatery and petrol pump is at Madikeri town, so fuel up. There is no entry fee or parking charge to access the trek, and there are no toilets nearby.
Do the trek: Make an early start, preferably around 8a.m. It’s best to take a local guide along as people might lose their way. There is no start point as such, the guides know the way to the hill. Soma Shekar from Eco Habitat organises jeeps and guides for the trek; call him on 0-98858127245.
Explore: Also close to Madikeri are the Abbey Falls, Dubare Elephant Camp, and a trek up Kotebe