It was nearly two months that S was here, but we were yet to meet up. Both of us were occupied with something or the other and we could never make it. This weekend we were determined to make it happen. I had met S during the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek, where we had shared a tent together. It was an instant connect. Subsequently, she even visited my home in Shillong. S is quite an inspirational woman. She left her high-profile corporate job to follow her dreams and went on to set up her own homestay at Manali. It’s quite a story and guess I should write about it. Meanwhile check out her fabulous homestay, Firdaws. I haven’t been there yet, but the Instagram pictures are drool-worthy!
We decided to do go for a hike together instead of the usual meeting at a café or in our homes. I just suggested Gudibande Fort and that was it. A joined us too. A and I had just been to Hutridurga the previous weekend.
About 100 Km away from Bangalore, Gudibande is a small town located in Chikkaballapur district of Karnataka. It’s very close to Andhra Pradesh border. On a hilltop of this town is located the 17th century fort that was built by Byre Gowda, a local chieftain of the Vijayanagar Empire. An interesting trivia that we learnt from the Internet is that Byre Gowda was a Robinhood of sorts, who was a messiah for the poor but a terror for the wealthy.
It was a pleasant early morning drive as the car sped through the highway. Seated on the front seat of the car, A was relaying all kinds of information about the fort that he was reading up on his phone. Among other things, the Internet also said that the fort was closed due to the pandemic. We were already on our way and this information was conveniently ignored by all of us.
Soon the car took a turn and we found ourselves passing through winding village roads flanked by lush green fields, dotted by tiny boulder-strewn hillocks in the horizon. Large sections of these fields were dominated by tomato plantations. Certain sections had marigold plantations and the carpets of yellows and oranges were a sight a behold!
Soon we arrived at the large Bhairasagara lake. Located just a few kilometers ahead of the Gudibande fort, this lake was part of our itinerary. It being monsoon, the lake was teeming with water. At places, it felt like the water would overflow onto the road at any time. The hillock with the fort stood prominently and distinguishably in the background. After spending a little while by the lake, we decided to proceed towards the fort. The huge expanse of water deserved some dedicated time and we thought we would do that on our way back. Eventually, that never happened as we changed our plans went exploring another fort instead.
Soon we found ourselves at the base of a conical hill, on top of which sits the Gudibande fort. We could see a flight of broad cemented stairs going up, but it was barricaded by a red and white tape that ran across the breadth of the very first stair. A person sitting on a chair under a tree, who appeared like a guard seemed to be monitoring the place. So, the Google Map information was right afterall!
This was not a happy situation after having come all the way. As we wondered what to do, we found a couple of families coming down the stairs. This was our moment, we walked up to the guard-like person and asked if we could go up. He flatly refused. After requesting for a while, he allowed us charging a small sum (read bribe). Yes, we plead guilty!
It was a very easy walk up to the top and we made it in about 45 minutes. Most of the way we climbed through steps, some concrete, some just rocks, some carved out in the boulders. We passed through a couple of ruined doorways and through underpasses created by large boulders that touch on their vertices but widen at the bottom to create narrow passageways.
The weather was perfect with a patchy sky covered in floating clouds and no rain or sun. We met a few people who were going down and wondered if they had bribed the guard-like person too.
On reaching the top we realized that we had the entire ruins to ourselves. There was nobody other than us and that certainly was a privilege. We spent a good hour at the top accompanied by the light breeze and the gorgeous views of the plains below. S and I were meeting after a long time and had a lot to catch up on. We found a comfortable place at the edge of the fort wall overlooking the Bhairasagara lake down below, while A went about exploring the ruins all around.
Besides the ruins, there is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva on top, which is believed to be one of the 108 Jyotirlingas that Lord Rama established in various parts of India. A filled us in with this and other information that he collected from Google while exploring the ruins.
Apparently, the fort edifice comprises of seven gateways though we saw only three. Ruined temples, caves sliced deep into the hillocks, and many secret passages that might have served as escape routes for the soldiers constituted the other highlights. Also, there are/were 19 rock ponds that could have been some form of water harvesting system. Again, we saw only a few. Byre Gowda seems to have been quite a visionary as he ruled this place only for three years and managed to leave behind this impressive legacy.
A was back, not just with his freshly gained Google information, but with a bunch of dry twigs that he collected while exploring the fort. Those twigs will add glamour to his newly designed living room. S and I were in the middle of an exuberant conversation, but we had to pause. It was time to leave.
“Look at all the people here!”, I directed my comment to R as A chuckled away. The place wasn’t crowded but we encountered several groups of people all through the way. Two days back when we were planning this Rwas reluctant to give me the name of the place saying that I would just blog about it and make a less frequented place popular. Well, R had forgotten that there aren’t many hidden places anymore.
Bored with the monotony of being home, I had reached out to two of my friends and we decided to go on a day hike in the outskirts of Bangalore. It’s been raining almost everyday in Bangalore. Keeping that in mind we wanted to go somewhere nearby. R recommended Uttari Betta and that was it.
Uttari Betta, also known as Hutridurga, is a fortified hill about 70 Km. away from Bangalore. Situated at an altitude of 3708 feet above the sea level it overlooks several villages all around. The village located at the immediate foot of the hill is known as Santhepet while It derives its name from Hutri, a village about 3 Km away from the hill. Hutridurga is one of the Nava Durgas (nine fortified hills) that was built by Kempegowda, who founded Bengaluru in the 16th Century. Later Tipu Sultan used this fort as his military bastion against the British.
We left Bangalore early and drove through a scenic stretch of road with Savandurga looking out on us most of the way, sometimes from the right side and sometimes from the end of the road. Though we woke up to a rainy Saturday, the weather had become perfect and remained that way for the rest of the day.
Upon reaching our destination, we were welcomed by an arched gateway that welcomed us to Hutridurga Trek. It appeared like a Karnataka Tourism board. We alighted from the car and pretty soon realized that wasn’t the starting point. A little bit of asking around and we found our way to the actual start point, which was a good 2 Km drive away.
It was a very easy hike to the top. In many places there were steps craved out on the rocky surface, making it even simpler though robbing off its natural appeal altogether. Probably done for the villagers who hike up to the temple situated on top. As we started the walk, I was surprised to see two families with little boys and girls coming down. While it was nice to see adventurous parents, I wondered if I would have done the same. I don’t think I would have quite dared, especially with the pandemic being far from over. The worst part was nobody was masked. And that was true for most of the groups we encountered all along. The only masked people were us.
The total distance of the hike is about 5 Km. up and down. We took our own sweet time to climb up, stopping or sitting wherever we felt like. Ruins of the fort lay scattered all around. We passed through a couple of enchanting stone doorways, some of which had interesting engravings. There were six doorways in all. Most of the times R and A would steer away from the actual path and find their own routes. On one such occasion R got badly stuck in a precarious position from where neither could he climb up nor climb down, making me more than a little nervous. It took him sometime before he could figure a way out.
The views from the top are just as stunning as one would expect. The cloud patterns on the sky on that day made it even more beautiful. Savandurga was standing out and was clearly visible from the top. The temple on top is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
The three of us spent some wonderful time soaking in nature’s splendour while munching on the sandwiches and fruits I had carried for us. It was a good break after a very long time.
Our initial excitement of traveling in the yellow-coloured shared Tata Sumo was now replaced by impatience. It’s been an hour since we boarded and the driver was waiting for 9 more passengers. Having seen these typical yellow Sumos from early childhood, it felt somewhat surreal to be seated in one. Another 30 min passed by and no other passengers arrived. These Sumos pack 12 people in one go and are the primary mode of commute to Shillong for villages located in the outskirts.
I was with my sister and we were off to Mawlyngbna. It was a Saturday and we had made the plan just 2 hours back. We were already late and could wait no longer, so we decided to pay for the rest of the 9 people and asked the driver to start – Rs. 100 per person it was.
At about 75 Km. from Shillong, Mawlyngbna is a scenic village in East Khasi hills, nestled atop a hill overlooking the Bangladesh plains. It shares space on the hill with three other villages – Lawbha, Mawtepiew, and Umtyllun. Locals say Mawlyngbna is a rain-blessed village. Not surprising. It’s just 15 Km. away from Mawsynram, the wettest place on earth. Besides waterfalls and natural springs, this village is home to the endangered unique predaceous pitcher plant (Nepenthes khasiana). Most importantly, Mawlyngbna occupies a coveted place on the geological map because of remarkable fossil imprints.
Pic 2: Pitchers of Pitcher Plant
Pic 3: A Pitcher with the lid closed
We arrived in the village at around 2.00 PM in the afternoon after an amazing drive through lush green bountiful hills which played hide and seek with the clouds that sometimes appeared from nowhere whitewashing everything all around us. There’s a lot for one to do at Mawlyngbna – trekking, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, camping, and so on.
Here’s an account of what we did at Mawlyngbna accompanied by our guide, Chest Pdah.
Trekking to Waterfall
Um Diengkain and Ar Phalat are the two waterfall treks we did at Mawlyngbna. I have written an elaborate post on the two and will not get into the details once again. You can read it here.
We had started our Mawlyngbna trip with Um Diengkain waterfall, where my sister had a slip and hurt her arm. It didn’t seem to be too bad at that time but eventually it limited our experiences to a very large extent as we had to curtail our original plan.
Walking up to Bangladesh Viewpoint
It was around 4.30 PM when we were back from Um Diengkain. It was too late to trek Ar Phalat, so we settled down for some sha dood (milk tea) and jingbum (snacks) at a Kong Shop in the village square. Thereafter, we took off on a village stroll. A large field where young boys were practicing football, a bunch of playful children laughing and giggling just outside a village home, a few cows and goats here and there, a local bus loaded with people going to the next village – some things that I recall now.
Somewhere up in the hill we noticed a place that looked like a viewpoint. We called up Chest and asked him to take us to the viewpoint as we weren’t able to figure out the route. Chest was himself unsure and took us up the hill through sections of leech-infested grasses that were as tall as us. Finally, we landed on a moss-covered pathway that led upto the viewpoint. Surprising that the viewpoint was built but not used even though it had fantastic views of the village and Bangladesh plains.
Trekking at Split Rock that Didn’t Happen
We spent a lot of time sitting at the roundish and flattish comfortable rocks around Umseiniong River on way to Ar Phalat waterfall. My sister’s arm pain had worsened the night before and we decided to take it easy. The situation also led to my cousin sister and brother-in-law (BIL) coming over to Mawlyngbna all the way from Shillong to pick us up. As we waited for them, there was no better way to spend time than at the quietude of Umseiniong River with nature as our only companion. However, after about an hour we realized that we had some more time before they arrived. My sister started feeling better too – the Khasi traditional massage oil had done its trick.
We decided to go and visit a place called Split Rock, which was located at Mawsiangjroi, a few kilometers away from the village. And, off we went hiring a local taxi.
Split Rock turned out to be unique and extraordinary. It’s a huge rock split into two from top to bottom. So, two flat rocks sat parallel to each other separated by about 2 meters. The two rocks are as high as a 4-storied building. One can trek through the narrow passage between the two rocks that leads to a very narrow cave.
We maneuvered our way through rocks and boulders towards the narrow passage and landed at a place where we had to climb down a ladder. The ladder was slippery due to the rains that had been happening during that week. Climbing down didn’t seem like a great idea and we decided to give it a miss.
Pic 12: Precariously passing through huge boulders towards the base of the Split Rock
Pic 13: The ladder that takes one down to the base of the Split Rock
Besides Split Rock this place had a viewpoint known as Thalaw viewpoint. It’s a picturesque viewpoint with greens of all shades, clouds floating down, and the Thalaw village perched somewhere in the hills amidst the greenery.
Umakhakoi is located somewhere near Split Rock. However, BIL and cousin sister had arrived at the village by then. We went back to the village and came back to Split Rock and Umakhakoi with them. The multiple bowl-shaped holes at Umakhakoi fascinated us much more than the lake itself. An unending stretch with numerous water-filled holes greeted us as soon as we entered the area.
Google says this type of geological features are called ‘Potholes’. The formation of these are associated with the flowing of water over an uneven surface of limestone for prolonged periods. As the water percolates inside tapered sections, the centrifugal force of water leads to the formation of these natural sink-holes. Kayaking and Canoeing are common activities at Umakhakoi. However, we indulged in none.
And, here’s an account of what we missed at Mawlyngbna and why we need to go again.
Ka Iew Luri-Lura
We missed the most significant aspect of Mawlyngbna – the fossils embedded in the boulders, remnants of a time when the entire area was under sea. The fossil trek through jungles, streams, and waterfall leads to a place called Ka Iew Luri-Lura. This place has rock impressions that resemble animal footprints. Khasi folklore has that these footprints are from a time when animals could talk and they would come to this place to trade with each other and with fellow human beings.
Mawlyngbna has fascinating lime stone caves where stalactites and stalagmites abound. However, the caves can be visited only during winters.
Other activities at Mawlyngbna includes ziplining, snorkeling, and angling. One can also indulge in midnight football matches under full moon, which takes place in the village sometimes. Then there are amazing river treks for the Adrenalin Junkies. One can also experience the local culture, depending on the time of visit. The community holds local dances and displays their handicrafts at a certain time of the year.
An interesting thing that I got to know was that the liquid inside some of the pitcher plants is edible, one needs to select young pitchers and those whose mouths are closed by the flap.
[If there is paradise on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here!]
Long walks through colourful flower-embroidered meadows punctuated by gorgeous alpine lakes; frequent hopping through boulders small and large; sporadic companionship of sheep and goat along with shepherds, and quite often migrating shepherd families; obtaining permits at the Army Camps; and all through being in a dream-like state of disbelieve spellbound by this heaven on Earth!
That’s how I would describe Kashmir Great Lake (KGL) in a nutshell.
Besides, it was quite thrilling to imagine being so close to Pakistan!
I have already written two posts on this trek – one on the lakes and another on the meadows. This one is a day-wise description. Here’s the links to the other two:
Day 1: Sindh River and Thajiwas Glacier at Shitkadi
Situated just a few kilometres ahead of Sonamarg, we arrived at Shitkadi after a drive of about 4 hrs from Srinagar. Shitkadi was our basecamp. The Sindh River and Thajiwas glacier amidst the lush green surroundings served as the perfect trailer to the gorgeous beauty that we could expect to unfold in the days to follow.
Day 2: Bhoj Trees on Way to Nichnai
Technically we started the trek on this day as we walked towards Nichnai, our first campsite. The initial few hours consisted of an arduous climb as we huffed and puffed towards a place called Tabletop. Being breathless is normal as we had just started walking and our bodies was just getting used to it. At Tabletop, we rested at a Dhaba run by a Kashmiri couple. The omelettes, tea, bread, biscuits, and munchies gave us the much needed energy to continue with our walk.
Through a lovely dense forest of Maple trees, we soon landed on a carpet of green lined with Bhoj Trees or Silver Birch. The bark of these trees were used by Rishi/Munis in ancient India for writing and that ensued excited chit-chatter in the group. I couldn’t resist the urge to carry back a tiny portion of the whitish brown bark to show folks back home.
We proceeded and walked precariously through a section of rocky terrain with Nichani Nalla gushing by as if in great hurry to join Sindh River. The rocky terrain gets abruptly replaced by a green meadow and after crossing that we reached Nichnai. It started pouring the moment we landed at Nichnai. Thanking our lucky stars, we rushed into our tents and remained there for the next one hour as the rains continued to splash.
Day -3: Vishansar – The First Lake
This was a very special day as we encountered the first lake of the trek – Vishansar. We started by crossing a nalla (stream) by hopping through stones and then walked through a beautiful lavender meadow towards Nichnai Pass or Vishnusar Berry. At an altitude of 13,500 ft., Nichnai pass remains surrounded by jagged tall mountain peaks and the climb to it is not an easy one.
After a well-deserved rest, we descended from the pass through a tricky rocky terrain and landed onto stretches of grass with red flowers springing on our path. Thereafter, we encountered two more nallas, a big waterfall splashing down the mountain cliff, an utterly green meadow devoid of flowers and a certain stretch of heaven-touching barren tall mountains looking down upon us. It was the fag end of monsoon, so we didn’t see much snow, though snowfall would start off soon.
Just before arriving at the campsite, we crossed a rather wide nalla by hopping over stones. The campsite is situated on the base of a small hill, on the other side of which lies Vishansar Lake – my favourite lake of the trek.
Day 4: Colourful Meadows Make for a Pretty Day
This was the longest and prettiest day as we moved towards Gadsar Pass, the highest point of this trek at an altitude of 13,800 ft. We started off with a gradual ascent leaving behind Vishansar and went right up to Kishansar, which is the second lake of the trek.
After Kishansar the trail became very steep, challenging us both mentally and physically. The narrow muddy strip that we climbed for almost 2 hours to reach Gadsar Pass was very strenuous. Thankfully it was a sunny day, I can only imagine the scenario on a rainy day. The magnificent view of the twin lakes of Vishansar and Kishansar greeted us at the Pass, which instantaneously dissolved all pain of the arduous climb.
An equally steep descent through loose mud and scree followed. My descending demons started raising their ugly heads but this time I had made up my mind to tackle them head on. And I surprised myself by actually descending without any help and quite fast with a little bit of downhill running too!
We found ourselves at the meadows even before we knew it and in we were for a visual treat of red, blue, purple, and yellow, meadows. Every turn threw up a different colour and these multi-coloured meadows just continued one after the other for 2-3 hours. A fellow trekmate rightly commented – “I can imagine little girls walking ahead of us with baskets of colourful flowers sprinkling them on our path.”
The meadows slowly give way as we crossed yet another nalla and landed at Gadsar Lake – another pristine and gorgeously elegant lake. I ranked it as my second favourite though many in our group thought Gadsar was the best lake. After spending a good amount of time at Gadsar, we continued our walk once again through the colourful meadows towards our campsite.
We arrived at the campsite just after crossing an Army campsite – the first one in the series of three along the trail.
Day 5: A Glimpse of Nanga Parbat
It was an adventurous start to the day when we had to take off our shoes and wade through knee deep ice cold waters of a gushing stream. This was followed by a very steep ascent. We were off from the normal route as the snow bridge that is used to cross the stream had broken. Nothing alarming as that’s not an unusual thing for this time of the year.
On this day, we walked through a never-ending lush green meadow that went on and on. There weren’t many flowers on this one but it was lined by variegated barren undulating mountains on one side and sheep grazing in huge numbers almost everywhere. Sheep and shepherd are common all along the trail but this one was special because the huge stretch of green meadow was literally dotted by these grazing fluffs of white balls.
Somewhere on the way, we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Nanga Parbat even though the sky was not all that clear. Nanga Parbat is the ninth highest mountain in the world located in Pakistan, the visibility of which depends on the weather.
At the end of the meadow, we climbed a hill to report to Satsar Army Camp. After the Army Camp, we walked along with huge flocks of sheep and goat, maneuvering large boulders and reached Satsar Lakes. We were able to see three of the seven Satsars, one at each turn of the winding mountain trail.
That night the sky broke down into heavy showers that continued way into the morning nearly messing up our plan for the day but before that it rewarded us with a magical view of the Milkyway.
Day 6: A Risky Boulder Hopping
We almost thought we would have to stay back at Satsar campsite. It was 8.00 AM and the rains showed no respite. Heavy rains are no fun in the mountains especially when it continues incessantly. Around 9.15 AM, the Rain Gods showed some mercy and the showers lightened till it ceased altogether. We packed up and started moving around 10 AM, which was a good two hour delay from our planned time.
The highlight of this day was hopping through a boulder section that constituted large boulders, some of which had good enough gaps in between. This tricky boulder section lasted for a little over an hour and was an Adrenalin rush for everyone in my team but not me. The boulders were wet due to overnight rains and that didn’t make life any easier for us. My legs wavered and I was very scared. I literally clung on to our guide for the entire section and somehow made it through.
Boulder hopping is common in KGL trek but this one was risky. In fact, on 3 days of the trek we had a horse accompany us, which was the designated ambulance for any uncalled for situations of twisted ankles or fractured legs.
Beyond the boulder section, we maneuvered mild and steep ascends and arrived at Zajibal pass. Once again, we were swept off our feet by the glorious views of the twin lakes of Nandkhol and Gangabal against the backdrop of Harmukh Peak.
The descent from Zajibal Pass was very steep and stony demanding a lot of caution and focus. One misstep could result in serious injuries. As we descended, Nandkhol and Gangabal appeared closer and closer, but they were still far away. It took us another 2-3 hours to arrive at Gangabal first and Nandkhol after that.
Day 7: Descending Through Slippery Muddy Trails
This was supposed to be a rest day, however as a team we decided to not take the rest day and instead carry on towards Naranag. This was the last day of our KGL Trek.
Through steep and gradual ascends and descends, and passing though meadows, we arrived at the final Army Checkpost. Thereafter, we walked through a well-marked trail passing through traces of civilization, and arrived at the point where the final descent begins. This descent was literally back-breaking and a killer on the knees.
We had just started descending when the weather that was by our side all along decided to turn against us and it started raining quite heavily. No complaints as it was the last day and we didn’t have to bother about wet socks and muddy shoes. However, the difficulty we now encountered going down the muddy trail, is just anybody’s guess! The thick Pine forest all along could not do much to protect us from the rains. The descent seemed to take forever as we had to tread slowly and cautiously.
Drenched and tired with jittery knees we finally arrived at Naranag, which is a tiny little town separated from the forest by Wangath River, a tributary of Sindh River. With the trek coming to an end, we celebrated with a quick lunch, and drove off to Srinagar.
Note: Once again these are unedited pictures clicked through iPhone-6. For exclusive pictures of the lakes and meadows, look up the links provided at the beginning of this post.
My Very Personal Opinion on KGL
The KGL trek entails very long walks, it isn’t difficult but the long days of endless walks through meadows, boulders, and moraines does test your mental strength and perseverance. The breathtaking landscape keeps you engaged and does a great job of diverting your attention all through.
However, there exists predictability in the exquisitely beautiful surroundings that you encounter each day and this may sometimes lead to monotony. I felt this was the flipside of KGL, which is unlike all the other Himalayan treks I have done so far. This became more pronounced for me as I had been to Rupin Pass just three months back where there were surprises at every turn.
Take this as no discouragement though as I am quite certain there is no match for the awe-inspiring rustic vistas of KGL. And if you are a nature-lover like me, this trek is an absolute must do.
The Army Camps
Gadsar – This was a small Army Camp in the form of a hut, housing a handful of Army Men. Our National Flag fluttered proudly at one end. We had to provide our original identity proofs and the detail of everyone crossing the camp were checked and recorded. This also included questions on where we were traveling from, what job we did, etc.
Satsar – This camp was small also but was larger than Gadsar. It is situated on top of a hill, and quite a climb it was. When we arrived, a large crowd of migrating shepherds with their families were also waiting to cross over. Some groups were moving with their horses, there were about 40- 50 horses. Then there were others with their flock of sheep and goats and these were huge groups probably in hundreds. We learnt that the horsemen have to wait longer as each and every horse is checked thoroughly before being allowed to pass. It’s easier with sheep and goat as only their owners need to pass the security checks. It’s the common man who always ends up paying the price.
Before Naranag – This camp was larger and much closer to civilization. There wasn’t any detailed interrogation here. We just had to provide our identity proofs, no interrogations.