23rd February 2013, 0300 hrs: I am sitting on top of a deserted peak, surrounded by the darkness. Few blinking lights below the bed of clouds are all I can see.
I am hungry, thirsty and dog-tired, just waiting out here in cold for the first ray of the rising sun to reach earth.
A few burned calories before…
Skandagiri, also known as Kalavara Durga/ Kandavarahalli Betta is an ancient mountain fortress and a beautiful hill, situated next to Nandi Hills. Located around 15Km from Devanhalli, 5 km from the Chikballapur town. The peak altitude reaches ~1400 m above mean sea level. Skandagiri is trekkers paradise, ideal for night trek, camping, campfire. Weather here is almost pleasant throughout the year. Famous for night trek, awesome breathtaking views, cloud cover and an awesome trek. The fact that the aam janta isn’t aware of Skandagiri or atleast nothing to do over there makes the place super clean (comparatively :)).
Bangalore -> Devanahalli (Airport road + Bangalore-Hyderabad Highway NH7) ->Take left towards Nandi Betta, ~3 km after Devanahalli bus stand -> Take Right on T-junction (left for Nandi hills)
- Do a quick weather check before you plan. Skandagiri is mostly covered with shrubs, so expect less of tree cover for shade.
- Pack some snacks, 2 ltr water should do fine.
- High power torch, even on a full moon day, as you go up the cloud cover and fog decreases the visibility drastically.
- Jacket/ warm clothes… low temperature and high wind could result in negative wind chill.
- Wear proper shoes.
- Starting by 0230 – 0300 hrs should be good enough, unless one is interested in shooting star-trail.
- Collect dry wood/ twig on the way up in case one is in the mood for a campfire, ensure safety.
Traffic dodging ride:
Day before the trip, I sent out the invitations to the regular gang (Google forms in dhamki style :D) for Kaurava Kunda night trek. Credits to the dhamkis, 4 scared humans (Srinivas, Sandy, Devil, Mani) showed up at a moment’s notice :). Next day, as per plan we all started from home by 2000 hrs. Spent the next 90 minutes dodging through traffic and the well known “Potholes” of Bangalore. By 2130 hrs we were at Devanahalli. Stopped by a veg restaurant for dinner… ordered masala dosas n chapatti. Had low expectations, but was surprised to such awesome dosas floating in the bowl of oil. Spent the next 5 minutes extracting oil with a tissue paper oil rig. Chapatti was good though, no panga whatsoever. Done with the dinner, bought some chocolates, biscuits, mixture, cool drinks, water bottle and new batteries for torch and headed for the trek.
Although the official plan was to cover Kaurava Kunda, I wanted to give Skandagiri another try. By 2200 hrs were at the base of Skandagiri, parked our bikes near the Shiva temple. A guy over there charged us Rs. 50/ bike to take care of them.Skandagiri trek starts from the Papagani Mutt. There are two routes from here, one towards the left of Papagani Mutt (usually taken by the guides) and the second towards the right (switch to terrain layer in Google maps to see it).
By 2215 we started the trek, followed the Google map trail. Took a break after 15 mins of walk. The sky was clear, no cloud, no fog and sufficient moonlight.
We kept collecting dry twigs/ wood on the way up. There is small cave on the way up, took a break to enjoy the view and feel the heavy cold breeze.
Rested there for 10 minutes and headed up. By this time clouds started to emerge. As expected and previously proved, I was at the last, slowest and the most fit among the group (well, organizers need to be fit and slow, it inspires others :P).
Clouds started to appear, wind increased, temperature and visibility dropped, shrub density increased, in all we were getting screwed (atleast me). Kept walking+climbing+crawling for the next 20 minutes till the surrounding area cleared. Took a 10 minutes break there. It was a much easier trek from there, thanks to reduced shrub density. By 0100 we were at the top, took another 10 minutes to find a spot to camp.
There are Temple ruins at the top, good enough to camp for the night. Me and Srinivas headed in search of fire wood while others cleaned up the place to camp. We brought back enough wood, enough to fuel two campfire the whole night , hand sanitizer as a catalyst we made fire.
I had plans to capture a 3 hour long star-trail at the top, then charge the camera battery using the emergency battery. But forgot to pack the cable and the backup phone. Saved the battery for a few night shots and sunrise, leaving me with the part of sketching out another plan to Skandagiri with spare batteries hopefully :).
By 0400 everyone except me dozed off. Went out to alone to do what I came for, take a few night shots. Setup my tripod 100 m ahead of the campsite, hooked a heavy rock to it to keep it stable and with the camera mounted I was in business :D.
Time to head down before Skandagiri turns into an open pan 🙂
By 1000 we were at the base, took the Chikballapur city route back to home. With quick breakfast and refueling there we were off to home.
Skandagiri never stopped to amaze me, and probably most of the trekkers out there. Undoubtedly Skandagiri still remain my favourite trek, I wish I could do this again someday.