“We were told Ombattu Gudda didn’t exist. 28 kms and two days later, we live to tell the tale that it does.”
“A piece of advice to future visitors to Ombattu Gudda: Don’t go to this place without a map and a compass if you want to return to civilization on Monday. Get map# 48 P/9/NW from Survey of India office in Bangalore. For happy hippies, this is paradise. You don’t need to work hard to get lost.”
This is what you learn if you search for information on ‘Ombattu Gudda trek’ on independent trekkers’ blogs. Other blogs say ‘Villagers say Ombattu Gudda does not exist’ or many travelogues that end something like, ‘We finally failed to reach Ombattu Gudda’ or ‘We were chased by wild elephants and bears’.
These stories about Ombattu udda excited me and five of my techie friends to plan for a weekend trek to Ombattu Gudda. Armed with a GPS (Global Positioning System) device, a hand drawn map and our rations for the two-day trek we set off in conquest of Ombattu Gudda.
Ombattu Gudda in Kannada means nine hills. It is a hill range and the peak measures 971 metres above sea level. Located amidst the dense forests of the Western Ghats, it borders Hassan and Chikmagalur districts. It is named for the nine prominent humps on top, almost in a straight line.
The hill range is known for it’s wildlife, especially elephants and bears. The traditional entry point to this trek is Gundya town and the exit point is Hoskere village near Mudigere. The trek lived up to its reputation of being a tough and exhausting one.
An over-night bus journey from Bangalore got us to Sakleshpur in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
We, rather brilliantly, got off the bus at the Sakleshpur bus stand and not at the town where cabs to Gundya are available. This meant a two km trek back with our rucksacks along the highway —on a freezing morning. On reaching town, we stuffed ourselves into a Maruti Omni heading towards Gundya.
The road from Sakleshpur to Gundya — the infamous Shirdi Ghat highway — might as well be on the moon, if only for the craters! And the car we were in, hit a huge stone slab head-on but continued for two hours to Gundya. After a tea break around 6:15 am, we began our trek. The initial phase of the trek was easy with a clearly laid out path through the forest cutting across many small streams. Elephant dung dotted the entire path. We kept a lookout for the herd all set to sprint in the opposite direction. The path runs close to Kabbinale river.
The river bank called us to stop for some breakfast and rest. We did! Crossing the river was an adventure in itself. Pants folded, shoes catapulted to the opposite bank, we stumbled on slippery rocks to the other side. After few hours of trekking, the path got narrower and the forest grew denser. Worse, we were running out of water. So remember this when you head out. Only in the beginning of this route will you have plenty of water supply. The moment you cross the Kabbinale river, all that is left is the water you carry.
To make matters worse, our GPS device failed, thanks to the thick canopy of trees. We finally realised that we were lost! After long discussions, we decided to continue the trek to the summit. So we went ahead making our way through bamboo massacre sites, the work of wild elephants. Every now and then, fresh elephant dung got us on our toes, as did the venomous viper that hissed past us. We pushed ourselves on.
On reaching a small clearing, we stopped for a quick lunch and some rest. We pondered over the map cluelessly and got some help from the GPS occassionally. Soon, we reached a point with a 70 degree climb ahead of us. We made our way through slippery rocks and stones. Overhanging vines tripped us and thorny bushes scratched us, It was exhausting, but we continued to cramble up.
We had to make it to the grasslands on Ombattu Gudda before sunset as spending a night in the thicket would have been very dangerous. We took regular breaks to rest our bodies, which were on verge of dehydration due to limited water supply. After hours of climbing uphill, we finally saw the grasslands of Ombattu Gudda. We had trekked nearly 15 kms in a single day.
We had a pleasant surprise awaiting us. No, there was no resort with soft beds, water and hot food. But our cell phones worked! So we called up home to let our families know we were alive. We spent the night on the grasslands just below the peak.
After an early dinner, we lined up our sleeping bags and slept under a clear, starry night sky. We identified a couple of constellations and said a prayer to keep us safe from wild animals and then, we were fast asleep.
The next morning, we trekked over the nine humps for three kilometres, and made it to the peak of Ombattu Gudda. It was a moment of accomplishment for the six of us. We had joined the exclusive club of successful Ombattu Gudda trekkers.
Then we headed down. Making our way through 400 metres of thicket till we saw the jeep tracks. Ah! Signs of civilisation! Five kilometres along the jeep track took us to the heart of Lakshmi Saraswati Estate.