Etthina Bhuja – My First Trek along the Western Ghats

Hello, Dear Readers,

I’m back with a long due travel post for this week!

It was not until I found myself savouring tangy spiced corn, roasted on an open flame under an almost full moon, at a roadside tea shop more than a 100 km from home, did I realise that my unlock 1.0 had finally begun. After spending every weekday, weekend and holidays at home for seven long months, paranoid about human contact and fighting nostalgia at the mention of travel, I had finally come out of the cocoon. Ettina Bhuja – My first trek along the Western Ghats happened in the middle of the pandemic.

Terrain Marauders, a good friend’s brainchild, is what inspired me to join the trek group – a group of 11 who started out as strangers and ended up making some beautiful memories together. More about TM at the end.

We started out on Friday night from Bengaluru and reached the homestay at Mudigere in the wee hours of the morning. A completely sanitized Tempo Traveller was arranged and our temperatures were noted before we got in.

Day 1: Pandavara Gudda, Abbi Falls and Devarmane View Point

On reaching Mudigere, while some of us settled in the homestay, others walked into the misty rice fields at the back, watching the rising sun paint the sky an orange-gold. The serenity and splendour of this lesser-known town were already having an effect on us. Needless to say, this is where our photoshoots for the day began.

Sunrise at the rice fields in Mudigere

A piping hot cup of coffee and light fruit breakfast later, we started our mini trek for day 1.

The road leading to Pandavara Gudda at the time of our visit was in a bad shape and as a result, we had a km long walk before reaching the Bettada Bhyreshwara temple at the base of the hill. As the sun was already up, we decided to finish the climb and visit the temple on return.

On reaching the first peak or level one of the hill, the view was dreamy with an abundance of greenery, the cold breeze wafting across our face and taking away the exhaustion. I took a quick break here – more to catch my breath than to catch the view. At this point, we found ourselves surrounded by hills and mountains on all sides – a palette of green and brown under a blanket of mist.

An hour later we finally reached the peak from where the Ettina Bhuja mountain (the main trek for this trip) was clearly visible. It was like catching a glimpse of the movie after the end of the trailer. I was a tad bit nervous, to say the least. To me, the view here was only slightly better than the one at level one, probably because of the scorching heat and lack of breeze. Nonetheless, it made a great spot for group photographs and some posed candids. The descend towards the base was easy and we reached the temple in a short time.

The Bettada Bhyreshwara Temple is believed to be over 600 years old. It sits on top of a hill and overlooks the entire valley giving an impression that God himself is standing guard over the place. A flight of stairs from the temple leads to a small lake amidst the forest.

To someone like me who decided to join the trek with no preparation whatsoever, this trek on day 1 worked as a warm-up for what was awaiting the next day. Although not very steep, the climb to Pandavara Gudda was slightly tiring for beginners like me.

Our second stop for the day was the Abbi Falls also known as Hanbal or Magajahalli Falls. Here, for the first time, I got an opportunity to stand right under the falls and experience the sweet sting of the drumming water on my back. It was an exciting and relaxing experience at the same time. With a depth of not more than 5 feet, it is a safe spot even if you do not know to swim. Post this, we returned to the homestay and had our lunch – a traditional South Indian meal in an open field surrounded by greenery on all sides.

Our next and last stop for the day – Devaramane View Point was an hour’s journey from the homestay. As the sun went down, the fog and the cold wind made a return and we pulled out our jackets and mufflers. The path to the top was slightly rocky and sadly the sunset was not visible due to the fog. Nevertheless, an amazing viewpoint where you can sit for hours, listening to the wind whooshing in your ears and feast your eyes on the lush greenery that extends as far as you can see.

The cherry on the top for the day was camping in the open field surrounded by tall trees on all sides. A bonfire kept us all warm while we danced, sang and savoured crispy onion pakoras. The full moon glowing above us in the cloudless sky set the perfect ambience.

You can watch the Day-1 vlog on the amazing youtube channel – Not in Office

Day 2: Etthina Bhuja

If you understand Kannada, you might have already guessed what the name stands for. At an altitude of 4265 ft, Ettina Bhuja is a mountain shaped like an ox’s shoulder or hump. It sits in the Charmadi range of Western Ghats. and is also called Shishila Gudda Trek by the localities, as it overlooks the Shishila valley when you reach the peak.

We left the homestay at 6:30 AM, hoping to return from the trek by 10:oo AM.  The Tempo Traveller dropped us at the Nanya Bhairaweshwara Temple which happens to be the starting point of the trek.

The climb to Ettina Bhuja can be divided into three sections – Temple to the Forest, Forest to the View Point and finally View Point to the Peak.

While to many the trek is all about waiting to reach the peak and capturing the panoramic view, to me, the best part of the trek was the walk through the forest at the start. With the birds chirping in the background, leaves rustling under my feet and the wind whistling in my ears, the walk through the forest was what set the scene for the trek. I was also fortunate enough to not encounter any leech attacks. Although, many are of the opinion that a trek is incomplete without being bitten by at least one of these nasty little things.

The viewpoint here, especially in the early hours of the morning is a treat to the senses. From here the peak is clearly visible. The wind is stronger than the previous leg and since the terrain is mostly grassland, it flows with all its might. From this point, the trek gets a little tricky. Although the distance from the viewpoint to the peak is less it is steeper and there are places you might need to use both your hands for support as well.

Needless to say, the thrill of reaching the peak along with the amazing view on all sides is what makes the climb worthwhile. All the prominent peaks and viewpoints in the surrounding areas are visible from here.

On our return journey to Bengaluru, we took an unplanned detour to an 1860s French Missionary Church called Shettihalli Rosary Church. The church was almost submerged at the time of our visit. I later learnt that it is also called the submerged or Floating Church for the same reason.

With this our two day trip to Mudigere came to an end. We reached Bengaluru a little past eleven in the night. In short, the trip was the perfect start for my unlock 1.0. Looking forward to many more in 2021.

Click here for the Day-2 vlog by Not in Office

Terrain Marauders

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What I like most about TM apart from the pocket-friendly treks and trips they offer, is the experience they create for you. Having spent little fortunes on many package tours all my life, I know how dull they can be. But with TM, the experience was completely different. From flexible timings, quick stops for roadside food cravings, squeezing in time for additional must-visit places and camping under the moonlit sky, it is not only a paisa-wasool experience but also manages to take you back to your college days where you can relish the present without a care in the world. The organiser here plays a dual role as a guide and a friend.

The stay, food and guide for the local sight-seeing were arranged in collaboration with Rahasya Daari.

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