Thursday, 26 September 2019

Bengaluru to Tada - Drive and trek to Tada falls

Tada forest - A contiguous forest that is part of the Nagalapuram reserved forest range, lies to the east of Nagalapuram town. It is well known for two waterfalls namely, Tada waterfall and Ubbalamadugu waterfall.

The two waterfalls lie adjacent to each other. 'Ubbalamadugu water fall' is a canyon shaped pool, that captivates and stuns travellers and trekkers alike, as it is inside a gorge canyon which curves toward the left, giving the illusion that it is a feeder or side stream leading to a large body of water. It leads to a waterfall, that gushes at a high rate of speed onto a pile of rocks. One can get a nice hydrotherapy session here for free.

It can be accessed by those who can swim well, or non swimmers with the requisite safety gear. The pool is around 10 feet deep, and yes, you can see the bottom of this gorgeous, emerald green, pool from the surface as you listlessly float on the surface drowning out all your worries and problems.

Getting There

Nagalapuram is 250 Kms from Bengaluru. One can take the Bangalore-Tirupati highway (NH69) to get there. The roads are decent, has less number of toll gates, and the traffic clears up once you pass pullur cross. The drive would take approximately 6 to 7 hours, if you start late in the evening like we did. We started at around 6 in the evening. The road till Pullur cross is heavy with Tirupati bound traffic and cargo, but after this point, it is a dream come true for long drive lovers. You would most likely at this part of the journey by around midnight (if you've stopped for dinner and other refreshments on the way) and then immediately cross Chittoor town. From this spot onwards, there is absolutely

Be wary though, as there are lots of marked, and unmarked speed breakers on this stretch. Some of them are unscientific while the others have cautions. However, I found 90% of them to be marked by reflective barricades on either side of the road, so keep an eye out for that. If you notice that you are approaching some barricades, then it is safe to assume that there would be speed breakers 50 meters ahead of them. Some speed breakers are placed right where the barricades are, giving you very little time to hit the brakes.

Also, the chance of fueling or grabbing some small bites on this stretch is extremely negligible, not only because of the untimely hour, but also because the stretch is filled with nothing but mango fields, forests, some factories, along with small settlements wedged in between that don't have the kind of facilities that bigger towns and villages do. There were 2-3 petrol bunks on this stretch that were open even in the wee hours of the night. Chittoor town would be your last bet to grab some food, if you didn't already.

Break points, good food, coffee on the way...

This being the same road connecting Bangalore to Kolar, is flush with ample number of eateries, cafes and petrol bunks, and leaves you totally spoiled for choice. One of the most prominent of these is Highway Star Kolar and Nandi Upachar restaurant.

Nandi Upachar
This is the most frequented restaurant on the highway and sees a massive crowd on weekends as it is quite close to the tollgate after Hoskote. We use this restaurant mainly during our cycle rides to Kolar CCD. We did stop here for coffee and snacks this time.

Highway Star Kolar is a big commercial complex which sits on a sizeable chunk of land, and houses quite a few amenities like Food Court, Coffee Shop, Ice Cream Parlour, a pizza joint, a fine dine restaurant, an open seating area with petting zoo, children's play area, restrooms and showers, a chocolate shop, mini-mart, along with well manicured lawns and fountains that lend a very soothing aura to the place. The walkway is wide enough to accommodate the massive crowd that the place sees on weekends and holidays. Outside the facility, but within the premises, a petrol bunk and car wash facility lie next to each other. There is ample amount of parking for cars and bikes alike. You could even cycle here and find plenty of safe space to keep your cycle as it is a gated establishment. We finished our dinner here at 'Maiyas', fueled up, and left for Nagalapuram.


It was around 1AM when we finally reached Nagalapuram town (Update: you reach much earlier now as road-widening work at Palamaner is complete), owing to all the road widening and  upgradation work that was happening at the Palamaner-Chittoor section of the highway. We checked into our lodge, and hit the sack immediately, as we had to be up 7 the next morning.


The first day of the trek is here. Wake up lazy bones!

We woke up to piping hot idlis and the ear-drum shattering noise of air horns from local buses that ply between AP, Chennai and Tirupati. After paying our host, we packed some yummy murrukus and mixture from the bakery opposite to the lodge, and then left for Tada. The road to Tada is single lane with vehicles plying in both directions albeit with moderate amount of traffic. Paddy and sugarcane fields alternate between villages, forests and barren land as we zipped by. To our left, we were flanked by the majestic and towering peaks of Nagalapuram reserved forest and the ridge lines makes one want to just stop and admire them. The moment you get on this road you are engulfed by the fragrant aroma of the forest and its plants. The very same herbal smell that you get when you visit a park in the city.

Birds chirping, sun shining, plenty of moisture in the air with dollops of light breeze, were more than enough to make us turn off the AC and roll down our windows. Even though the breeze was warm, the smells and sounds were too irresistible, to be shutting oneself inside a tin can. At this point, we were seriously wishing we had come here by bikes, rather than by car, as any ardent biker would fall head over heels with this road, and its picturesque surroundings.

S.S Puram highway - The entire range can be seen as you drive through. However it was quite cloudy that morning.

view from the terrace of the lodge

Tada is 50 kilometers from Nagalapuram, and the winding, twisty, road to it is an absolute delight to drive on. We got to Tada within an hour and a half, and it was 10.30 by the time we were done with ticketing formalities and car parking.

Ticket and parking fees collection point

check-dam pool

route after the check dam pool

The weather was a mix of warm and humid. We felt hot only on sections of the trail that were exposed to the sun. With most part of the trek coming under the canopy of the shady stream, we never got a chance to feel the sun on our heads. Bangalore weather lovers, take note.

Ubbalamadugu falls

Depending on one's speed and stamina, it takes around one hour to get to Ubbalamadugu falls, the one with the gorge pool. The route to this pool is 50% trail and 50% stream bouldering baring a few tricky sections where one has to get up on all fours.

Ubbalamadugu falls (only pool pictured)

Tada falls

There waterfall was pretty non-existent as we had gone in summer, and the flow of the water from the top of the falls was miniscule. The flow was reduced to just a tricle on the rock face owing to peak summer season and the scorching heat that Andhra Pradesh sees at this time of the year. We were mightily satisfied on reaching this point though as no one else had made it here, and it was just the two of us. After checking a few blogs on the net, I noticed that we had climbed up the main fall to get to the fall zone. I wonder what route trekkers must be taking to get here post monsoon. The route was exceptionally risky and difficult to negotiate, as the texture of the rock was very smooth with moss covering the entire surface at some points. We had no other option but to take off our shoes and continue the ascent as it was getting dangerously risky. However, once we got to the top, the effort and risk was totally worth it and we were feeling on top of the world on having made it this far. It was eerily quiet and solitudinous, as we had left all the picnickers at the last waterfall behind during our ascent.

The treacherous route to the falls - it flows here in monsoon

Right side of the waterfall

This is right where it falls from in the monsoon

Left side of the waterfall

After spending quite a bit of time here, admiring the massive rock face, and absorbing the silence, we decided to start our return trek back to the parking lot. You follow the same route back that brought you here.

We reached the parking lot well before closing time at around 4, and decided to head for Nagala East to Camp. Since Nagala East is not very far, we were there well before nightfall and were busy setting up our campsite (basically nothing but a tarpaulin sheet and sleeping bag). We parked the car at the last settlement, spread out our tarp and sleeping bags and slept under the stars.

Car parking + camping area for the night

In the distance, you can see the elephant shaped hill that one has to cross while entering the forest after crossing the dam.

Day 2

In the morning we woke up at 6, finished our ablutions, and opted to skip breakfast and have it at the first pool in order to allot maximum time for enjoyment. We asked the cook at the village where we had had dinner last night, not to make breakfast for us, and that we would require only lunch. We then began our hike to the dam.

We got to 'Magic pool', a pool named for its location and size, and the fact that it just pops out of nowhere. It is a small pool that is in the shape of a circle. We spent 2 hours here, basking in the sun, getting fish pedicures, swimming , diving and jumping off various points from the rock column.

Return journey

After we were done frolicking around in the water and trekking back to the village, it was around 12.30 and the Andhra sun was beating down hard on us. We had a delicious lunch of tomato rice at the home hotel. In complete contrast to the climate inside the forest, it was an oven baker outside on the tractor trail, and even more hotter in the town. We bid farewell to Nagala and started for Bangalore by one in the afternoon. The jagged rock mountains were gleaning in the afternoon sun on the way back, and it was difficult to not stop the car to get out and take a few snaps.

captivating peaks getting baked in the sun

Parched fields and sun baked peaks

On the road

We reached Bangalore comfortably at around 9 in the night, after stopping for dinner at Highway Star Kolar again.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Of sunny peaks and frigid pools - Nagala Central peak

Another month, another trek, same Nagala, same me, different group. 'Nagala Hills' as marked on Google maps, is a discontinuous range of mountains along the Eastern coast of India. Situated on the border of TamilNadu and Andhra Pradesh, it is abutted by the Tada and Nagari hill ranges. Don't let its small size on Google maps fool you; its been 7 years and I still have loads of hidden gems to discover inside this paradise.

This time our plan was to explore the hills and ridges below the highest peak of Nagala, the central peak.

It was Friday and I had arrived at the base to sleep over for the night and receive the others next morning. It was a place that consisted a temple, another building that was meant to be a shop but used as a house, parking space, and a stream flowing adjacent to it. It was a starry night, the weather was salubrious and perfect for camping without the need for a campfire. So it was just me on the terrace with my sleeping bag, the whole universe on display above, the howling of the wind, and hooting of the owls. Being surrounded by forest on all sides, and enveloped in its ambience, the only thing that kept disturbing my primeval reverie every 20 minutes or so, were aeroplanes that kept whizzing by overhead, and we have Nagala's proximity to Tirupati airport to thank for that.

I stargazed so much that my eyes started closing automatically, and I didn't know when I actually dozed off. I was awakened by the loud noise of my phone's ringtone; quite startling I must say in a tranquil environment. I picked up the call, and at the same time heard the sound of an approaching car on the trail below. The group had arrived. After cutting the call, I checked the phone to see that it was just 5 in the morning, well before their ETA.  Since they were also terribly sleepy after driving all night and I having slept for just half the night, without any introductions we swiftly went about arranging the tarpaulin sheet on the roof along with the other sleeping bags.

Room at the billion star hotel

Day 1

We woke up to the clatter of pots and pans in the bedroom-cum-kitchen downstairs where breakfast was being prepared. I unzipped my sleeping bag, went down and got to know that the food was ready. Harsha and I quickly started packing up the stuff and told the others to complete their morning ablutions quickly as we wanted an early start. It was still chilly and sitting beside a woodfired stove, eating hot idlis in the breeze was pure nirvana.

Despite all our efforts to get an early start, it was 8.30 by the time we distributed all the food items, packed our bags and started for the dam.

Route to the dam

Quite a late start
It took us around 5 hours to get to the peak, just in time for lunch from this viewpoint:

Hows that for a lunch point !
The dam can be seen in the distance
With lunch wrapped up in 20 minutes along with a few photo sessions, we careened on the rocky, bushy, trail-less terrain towards the water point where we had left our bags as we had to return via the same route.

 Water point and baggage counter ;-)
Good enough, after a days climb
Being a strong, fit group, none of us were tired, and we did a bit of exploring before we caught up with the original trail that led back to the main stream in the valley. By the time we got down, it was dusk with just a tiny bit of light remaining owing to the presence of the canopy and we still had around 40 minutes of trekking to do in order to reach our intended campsite. One of our guys had a tough time descending due to certain issues with his right knee but once back on the stream, he was fine, albeit much slower than before. Due to this, Harsha and I decided that it would be prudent to proceed as a single group rather than separately, as it was getting dark and there were quite a few diversions coming up en route our campsite. With darkness already having set in, the torches came out, and so did the evening snacks and without any further delay we started for the sliding pool campsite.

View from the sliding pool campsite
We comfortably reached the campsite at around 8 and immediately got on with preparing hot soup and noodles. It had gotten chill by now, but I was still snug in my sleeveless dry-fit tee. The sky was starlit like the night before and the mountains provided a perfect backdrop for the moon and stars on display. Planes kept whizzing by as usual, with engine noise piercing the exceedingly quiet surroundings of the jungle. Since airplane lights are identical to stars, they looked other-worldly while leisurely floating above among the constellations.

It became savagely cold later in the night. Barring Harsha and me, everyone had 10 degree sleeping bags in which they were snug and warm. Even Harsha had a jacket on his tee, over which he draped the top layer of his sleeping bag. So in the end, it was just me who shivered all through the night 😁



Day 2

We woke up to melodious birdsong and the faint tune of the sliding pool waterfall in the distance. It was barely 50 meters away from the campsite and it served as our water point the previous night too. We were absolutely ecstatic as the first thing on our agenda for the day was two hours of frolicking around in both the magic and sliding pools. 😀

Some photos from our exploits at magic pool:

Thats me !

We decided to first start our recreation at sliding pool since it was above magic pool. So in we went one by one. I was the first one to go as only then others would get some motivaton to take the plunge. The slide into the pool wasnt very long but nonetheless, its always reassuring to see someone try it first before you yourself go for it, thats what one of the participants said. So in I went as the first one, and then brimming with joy as I got out of the water beckoning them to give it a go. They started rolling in one after another and we even took second and third rounds as the adrenaline rush kicked in.

With around 3 rounds done for most of us, we decided that it was time to get into magic pool. With another hour to go for breakfast, we had as much fun as we could here, as one could dive from even 20 ft high; this pool was known for its high diving boards (or should I say rocks). After 30 minutes of diving and swimming with the others, I left for the campsite to prepare breakfast, which was again Maggi with a variety of other ready to eat stuff like bread, Chapathis (Indian bread), Khakra (Dry Chapathis), mixture, chikkis, and other snacks and savories.

We still had loads of energy in us even though we trekked hard on day 1, due to a nights blissful sleep and so decided to visit dead end pool , splash around, have lunch there and only then exit Nagala. So after packing all the tarpaulin sheets, cooking utensils, and other miscellaneous stuff, we were on the descent back to the main stream. While descending we decided to click some pics at the cave below our campsite and monkey around for a bit:

Since the dead end pool wasn't that far away we there in a flash and immediately started swimming and diving.

Dead-end pool
The 'dead-end pool' was vivid and glowing with color as the monsoons had filled it up just a few months back. The water was warm and mellow with the sun sparkling in its reflection. Schools of fishes lazily floated by, oblivious to all the mayhem that abounded on land. Strikingly clear emerald green water blended with the turquoise blue sky above to take you back to an era long lost to the ravages of modern civilization. The pace of life here was hundred times minus the fast paced insanity of our "get shit done" world. Now I can't wait to go back!

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Nagari - Feb 2018

It was the most magnificent gorge I had ever seen, and I hadn't even trekked in a long time; artistically carved by the stream, enough space for water to flow right through the middle; deep, dark with cool breeze blowing through. It looked more like it was conjured up by a wizards spell rather than formed by tectonic shifts. We were more than half a day into the second day of our trek and were exiting the forest through a dry stream running in a stratigraphic ridge valley. Downstream boulder running is pure nirvana as one is totally concentrated and fixated on the rocks. Use only 99% concentration on this route and run the risk of injuring yourself. Concentrate on it a 100% percent and experience an unmatched trekkers high.

photo of our exit route in the plains below
Photo from the plains of the peak above (in the first pic)
Resting in the breezy gorge
Texture of the rock

Group picture in the gorge
The boulders here were as big as houses, SUV's, and everything in between. One has to get on all fours to get through them. This is where carrying a light and compact backpack comes like a mighty savior in a fiery battleground. Boulder running requires an insane amount of concentration if it is to be enjoyed. Sleep deprivation is not an option here; neither is being abstracted. A song here, a thought about your mid-week dinner plans there, and you will very well miss your next step and fall right into the space between two massive boulders, or if you're lucky, plunge into the water.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

New year at Kolukkumalai - 2018

Pristine, timeless, ancient, mysterious, unaffected. These were some of the words that came to my mind while I took in the sights, seated on the very edge of a huge boulder that jutted out of the hill we were currently on. Satish and I blissfully observed our fellow teammates leisurely but steadily make their way up the trail to join us for a short break after trekking non-stop since the lunch point. This wasn't an endurance trek after all.

To be on this piece of rock deep inside a UNESCO world heritage site and reserved forest was nothing short of incredible. Our guide, Mr. Velu, was a joyful, happy-go-lucky person who was always ready to help and assist us whenever the need arose. We had started the trek pretty late in the day; well actually, incredibly late. This was due to the relaxed and easy going attitude of our van driver coupled with multiple breaks taken on the highway overnight. It was an hour past noon by the time we had gotten all the food packets, tents, and other miscellaneous items distributed and had begun our ascent from the base.

Information board at the base
Marking at the start of the trail head
After the rest of the team got to the viewpoint, took pictures, and adequately rested themselves, we decided that it was time to start moving as dusk was fast approaching; the forest gets dark lickety-split owing to the cover of thick, green canopy overhead. To further slow down our progress, we were getting into dense vegetation from open grassland as the night progressed, rather than away from it. We managed to arrive at an undesignated campsite judiciously just after nightfall; a locked, dilapidated hut that stood on a flat muddy square that had a hosepipe in the backyard. For the uninitiated, in the mountains water doesn't have any classification. It was a picturesque campsite, but an easy water point for wild animals too, our guide remarked jokingly.

The square patch where we pitched our tents with the hut behind

 enchanting views at the campsite

The hill we hiked up on day 1
We enjoyed a few rounds of primarily memory games, joked around for a while, pitched our tents, and then settled to feast on piping hot Chapatis served with sambar and pickles. The temperature had dropped drastically since we'd settled down at this campsite and the delectable fusion of shivering cold bodies and smoking hot food was absolute nirvana. Fireflies flit around aimlessly and cast a magical spell on the campsite that was straight out of a fairytale. Somewhere around midnight, the cloudy sky cleared up, and Lo and behold! The observable universe enveloped by the dark silhouette of the mountains was on high definition display; and if this doesn't excite the primal regions of your brain, I don't know what will! I thanked all my stars for taking the decision to sleep outside and bear witness to this scintillating show. Not so much after what was about to unfold within the next hour.

It was close to 2 in the morning. Velu sir, Sanath, and I were the only ones who opted to take a room at the billion star hotel rather than in the cramped up tents devoid of any squiggle room. My proclivity towards the billion star bed originates at the very beginning of my outdoor days and has remained the same regardless of the weather. Unable to sleep due to the biting cold along with being terribly underdressed for the occasion, I was abstracted from my surroundings when all of a sudden I hear a hoarse call emanating from the foliage a few meters away. The sound was loud enough to frighten me (coz I probably was the only one awake? ), and it kept coming repeatedly from the same direction. I was frozen solid for the first 3 calls after which I picked up the courage to wake up Velu sir and ask him what animal it belonged to. He woke up with a start, listened to the call once, very nonchalantly told me it was that of a deer and went back to sleep in an instant. Well, I guess that's how good you get at it once you've got 17 years' worth of wilderness experience behind you.

Lining up for breakfast

The following day we woke up to arresting views of the mountain range in front of us, a part of which had the distinction of hosting the worlds highest organic tea estate. Velu sir and I narrated the experience with the deer to those who were too passed out to notice. They listened to our story with great intent. We were running late and so, briskly went about dismantling the tents and packing our bags after a mini yoga (courtesy, Yogini Manisha) and photo session. Besides, we wanted to allow as much time possible to bathe in one of the freshwater pools that we were to hit on the trail today.

How big do they get?
Pointy peaks with airplane contrails
The picturesque excursion on day 2

En route to the lunch point
Lunch/bathing/rest point
We got to the pool just in time for lunch; or a nap; or a refreshing swim, whatever ones idea of being rejuvenated meant, you get the idea. As per Raj's accurate description earlier in the day, this point consisted of 3 consecutive pools, each cascading into the next in a step fashion. Our time was spent taking photos, swimming, and napping while lunch was being readied.

Our trek for the second part of the day was classified as difficult, and it very well was, as we had to trek untiringly to Kolukkumalai peak and onwards to the tea estate, where we planned to camp for the night. However, due to certain issues with the trail, we couldn't make it to our desired campsite, and it was almost midnight now with many of us desperately needing a break. So, we decided to settle down at a water point few kilometers before the peak and celebrate the new year there. We rang in the new year with cake cutting accompanied by song and dance.

cutting the cake with a machete, trekker style
It was half-past one in the morning and the team was deciding to go ahead to the peak to camp there. Ahmed and I were completely worn out for different reasons and decided to opt out of this section of the trek and hike down to the start point the next day. So we picked up a tent from the group, bid them adieu, and assembled it a few meters ahead of the water point (lest a thirsty wild animal came along). A hundred thoughts and couple of fantasies later, I woke up to the first sunrise of 2018. REM sleep has been out of the agenda of my brain for quite a few treks now. It was arrestingly quiet at the campsite, us being the only two souls out here, and being one with the tune of the forest is absolutely magical.

Captivating views during our descent
Arecanut plantation
Ahmed and I got back to the parking spot by noon, located our van, and started for Bodimettu in Kerala where we had to pick our team up. We had an ample amount of time to sleep once we got there, and were rejuvenated once we rejoined the others later in the evening. The ride back to Bangalore was uneventful, except for the fact that our driver was dreadfully slow at it, again!! We all got off at our respective drop-off points and bid goodbye to each other, contented to have made new friends and memories for life.