Thursday, July 25, 2013

Our Trek to Mahendragiri Peak, Odisha.

I must say that Trek to Mahendragiri peak has always been on top of my list ever since i had to opt out myself from the middle of trek, 2 years ago bowing to those tough testing conditions. Yes it was a tough Trek and I was completely beaten by that hot and humid climate. I was simply waiting for right time and right group to accomplish my long awaited desire of conquering Mahendragiri.

I had chosen peak monsoon for this trek and decided to do it by end of July. Had discussed with Arif, Dinesh, Vamshi and Sridhar on few occasions about this and they too joined me. I planned it for 3 days to spend more time amongst those lush green hills, valleys and water streams. Had done reservations for all of us and eagerly waiting for the day of journey. Let me give a brief about Mahendragiri Peak.

About Mahendragiri:

Mahendragiri is a mountain peak in the Parlakimidi subdivision of Gajapati district, Orissa, India. It is situated amongst the Eastern Ghats at an elevation of 1,501 meters (4,925 ft).It is associated with mythological stories from the Ramayana as Mahendra Parvata (mountain). It is a 'Kula Parvata' along with Malaya, Sahyadri, Parijatra, Shuktiman, Vindhya and Malyavaan. In the Puranas and Mahabharata that Parashurama practiced penance for a long time on the Mahendra Mountain. Legend says that it is the place where lord Parashurama is staying eternally. We can see temples built by Pandavas. Main festival here is Shivaratri, the worship of Shiva as Lord Gokarneswar.
Temples of Mahendragiri
Kunti Temple ........................... Yudhishtar Temple ................ Bheema Temple ....................  Daru Brahma
The Mahendragiri is a place of great scenic beauty. The place is surrounded on three sides by hills and thick growth of wild trees. The view of the surrounding area from the top of the hill is enchanting. The range of hills on the north-west and south succeed one another like huge waves and the passage of clouds from peak to peak produces an ever-changing scene. The clear waters of the sacred Mahendratanaya, the blue sea at a distance and the mountain with its majestic beauty make Mahendragiri a trekker's dream come true. Its 26 km. from the sea and lies exposed to the sea-breeze. The river Mahendratanaya flows down the mountain in the east through Mandasa and joins the Bay of Bengal at Barua which was once an important ancient port.

Routes that can be taken:
We can reach the peak either from Kainpur via parlakemidi (Orissa) or from Singupuram via Mandasa (Orissa).

Kainpur - Burukhata Route: From Palasa there are many buses to parlakemidi from where you can reach Kainpur and to Burukhata, the base village from where the ghat road starts which takes you straight to the yudhishtar temple and Ashram. It will be 8KM on Tar Road from Kainpur to Burukhata and 4KM uphill from Burukhata to Kunti Temple. Or even hire an auto till Burukhata.

Mandasa - Singupuram Route: Only 3 buses runs every day to Singupuram from Palasa or one can reach Mandasa and take an auto till Singupuram which will be the starting point of trek. From Singupuram the trek will be of 23 KMs. One can start through fields passing through couple of streams and get onto mud road leading to GANGABADA village passing through villages and valleys between hills. There is small residential school at Gangabada. From Gangabada the route is a trail along the hill edges. One can easily find the path ahead or ask the villagers for directions till a point on top of a hill where there will be abandoned huts. From the abandoned huts we need to gain altitude making our way through thick grassy slopes till we come across a trail again, and this will lead straight to Kunti Temple.


On The day of Journey:
It was 25th July ’13 and I am all set for the Trek. Took prints of the route maps and terrain maps for reference. Saved an Offline Map of Mandasa -Mahendragiri Peak-Kainpur on my Mobile and left for Office along with my Rucksack at 7 AM. We have to catch Falaknuma Express at 4PM from secunderabad and I left office little early to be at station by 0345PM. Meanwhile Arif and Sridhar are waiting for us at station. Vamshi has got some important work on that weekend and had to drop out. I called up dinesh and he said he is stuck in heavy traffic and said chances are less to be there on time. The train started and I rushed to the door to see if dinesh is anywhere near the platform. Oh No... He missed train. My mind was thinking fast about alternatives for him to catch any other train and join us at Vijayawada. I was calling him but he isn’t picking up. And there he comes … through the next compartment walking with a smile. And yeah we four of US are now on our Way to Mahendragiri…

We were awake till 10 with random discussions of previous and upcoming treks. Checked if the food we are carrying would be enough or not and I just briefed our plans for the next 3 days. Had food and dozed off for the night.

Welcome to Palasa.
We woke up by 0530 and got freshen up. Uncle besides us said that train is running late by 30 mins and I was thinking if we can catch the direct bus to Singupuram village or not. We got down at Palasa Station and walked straight to the bus stand to enquire about bus. Got to know that Singupuram bus is at 8AM. And meanwhile we had Hot Semiya Upma and Vada for breakfast, Bought Enough Water and some biscuits and back to Bus Station. The Redbus is ON time. We jumped into the bus and it took us more than an hour to reach Singupuram.

Trek from Singupuram


From Singupuram
My destination lies far Beyond those hills
We got off at Singupuram and quickly changed to our trek shoe, packed the rucksack well and distributed food & water bottles. With couple of quick enquiries we started OFF the Trek. For a moment I felt lucky to have such an awesome weather. We passed through the fields and mud paths. As I have been half way last time, I was observing the route to make sure we are heading in right direction. And there we are at the water stream.
Water Stream on the way to Mahendragiri
Sridhar, Arif and Dinesh at the stream

A tiny friend on the way to mahendragiri
A tiny friend on our way

We had a good 10 minutes break and had some nice clicks too. Our trek continued and after a while started feeling my rucksack heavy. We reached school very early than we expected and had a break of 20 mins here. Meanwhile I just went to the school master and asked him for directions which could be helpful for us. He simply said that the path all the way leads to Mahendragiri. But it’s not as simple as he said. We had to pass through lots of forks, shortcuts and small villages too.
Gangabada school on the way to mahendragiri
Gangabada School 

Arif at Gangabada school
Exhausted Arif making best use of break
We started off soon from school as we need to reach ashram by evening. It’s a trail running along the ridges connecting the remote villages. It’s not motorable and one has to go on foot. There are lots of short cuts which go straight to the next level of the path avoiding the loops. And it seems only these were being used by villagers because of which the actual trail has vanished at most of the places. We moved on at a good pace looking around saying hi to the villagers who come across and confirming if we are in right direction. I must say we are not rushing and in fact we slowed down a little just trying to feel the forest and its sounds. And here starts the fashion parade of butterflies. I have never seen these many varieties of butterflies till date. They are everywhere and the smallest one I have seen will be probably of half the size of a shirt button. Never knew these many colors of butterflies exist. It was simply a visual treat.


On the way to Mahendragiri


Wrong TURN:
We walked for an hour and passed a village with hardly 4 or 5 huts by the side of the stream. Here we come, a ‘Y’ fork. I and Sridhar were much ahead and we decided to take a path going left simply because it looks more used path and the right side path seems like going into jungle, so we marked the direction to left side for Arif and dinesh and moved ahead. After climbing for some time we met a villager who told us that this path leads to another village and we should have taken the right side path for Mahendragiri. By the time we are coming back Arif and dinesh already climbed half the way. We thanked the villager for the direction and quickly got down. We took the path going to the right and found a small stream. We crossed the stream and decided to have our lunch there. Had some snacks and roti and rested there for half an hour. All of us just sat silent for quite a good time relaxing and lost in nature.

Goat with bamboo bells
We started from there splashing the cool stream water on our face which gave much freshness to our tired souls. From here on the trail looks less used or even never used as it’s all the covered up with bushes, plants and grass. In No time we reached an altitude from where it is a magnificent view of the hills and villages that we crossed. We had captured some panoramic shots here and moved ahead. On the way there was a herd of goat with handmade Bells around their neck made of bamboo. They look even beautiful like ornaments. I must admire the craft skills of the tribes. The villager there told that the hill next to us is Mahendragiri and it was 0430PM by then. Seeing the destination within an hour of distance I thought to go very slow and let them move ahead of me. I walked as if I was in a garden at very slow pace enjoying the cool breeze that’s often hitting on me. Enjoying 360 degrees view with every few steps now and then and often finding myself alone behind. From here on it’s a steep climb uphill with 360 degrees view of forest and hills around me.  We stopped at one point and spent half an hour there clicking pics and amazed at such beautiful place.
Relaxing time enroute mahendragiri
Silent and lost
 All we can see around us is Green, Green and Green. I felt like settling there for rest of my life or at least for that night. But ensuring ourselves to witness even more beautiful things we climbed further.

Abandoned HUTS:
As soon as we climbed to the top from where the peak is just 30 minutes away (our assumption), we saw couple of huts. We thought the ashram should be somewhere nearby these huts. Tried to find any path that leads us to peak. But the path we are on is taking us to the other end. With few attempts to trace path to the ashram we decided to camp there for the night as the light has already started getting low. Here the clouds were often passing through us because of which, often the visibility is gone and we could see only till few feet distance from where we stand. We came back to the hut, cleaned it up quickly, spread the tarp and dumped our rucksacks inside.
In search of route to mahendragiri
In search of Mahendragiri
Now we have a task to do. The roof of the hut is half gone and if it rains in the night we would have been in trouble. I proposed to cover the complete roof with the second tarpaulin sheet to which the rest of the three said NO. As they are very sure that it won’t withstand the wind and will fly off. But I have a plan in my mind. I insisted strongly on what I said and after some serious talks to convince me they finally gave up and agreed to go with my plan.


Abandoned huts enroute Mahendragiri
Our Shelter
Making Of Roof:
I asked everyone to takeoff their shoe laces for tying the tarpaulin sheet at the corners and at some points. Soon we started working on it. We had spread the sheet on roof and tied it tight with the shoe laces we got. It took some time to do it in the dark and I started gathering heavy wooden logs and big stones to keep on the roof as weights to withstand the heavy winds which have already started by now. It’s done and we settled down inside hut. Quickly finished off dinner with whatever biscuits and snacks we had. By now it started raining as expected with heavy winds.

Rainy Night Camp:
We decided to take turns for sentry duty. Sridhar and Arif told that they will be awake till 2 o’clock and dinesh and me has to be awake from then onwards. The temperature has gone down by now and we slowly sneaked into our sleeping bags to keep ourselves warm. We started discussing some interesting and burning topics and after sometime Dinesh and I have dozed off while Arif and Sridhar carried on with discussions. I was kind of half slept and could hear couple of words from their chit chat now and then and of course the roaring sounds of winds too.
Abandoned huts enroute Mahendragiri
Glad ... the roof survived, SO do we :)

I might have slept hardly for an hour before it started raining heavily and the wind was so furious that that no one can stand still when it passes by. By now I understood that we cannot sleep anymore. The wind is hitting hard at us that the hut is trembling often in such a way that at one point I thought, the hut might get uprooted if it goes on like this till morning. We sat at one side of the hut as it raining into hut from one side through the porous walls made of sticks and mud. With in no time the wooden logs and stones put on the roof started slipping down and the tarpaulin sheet is flying like parachute tied with ropes. Every time they fall Sridhar use to go outside and rearrange them and come back. This continued quite often every 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile we started chit chatting at the same time guessing how many logs has fallen, which side... etc, when ever strong wind has blown. Sometimes I use to assist Sridhar in rearranging logs and collecting few more. Time was 2 ‘o clock in the mid night and from now on it’s my turn of sentry duty. I too did arranged logs for couple of times before a solution strike in my mind. I took off the laces from dinesh’s shoe and tied the wood logs with them and put on the roof so that they are hanging on the both sides of ‘ ^ ‘ shaped roof. Made four more sets of logs like this with little small rope I had in my bag from last trek and setup well on the roof. Problem solved and thanks to my brain. The Idea did work well. We spent the rest of the night half slept and half awake hoping rain to stop soon and for an early sunrise.

Misty Morning :
enroute Mahendragiri
 I woke up around 6AM and came out of the hut. It’s all covered with mist or I would rather say that we were in clouds. I could see things only till 10ft distance. I spent some time out there looking at the passing clouds. It’s amazing to see when the cloud passes away the mist clears off and everything goes visible and again in no time it becomes misty when another cloud pass by. It’s a wonderful experience to witness such thing in the middle of forest, on top of a hill far away from home land. I didn’t wake up others as no one had slept well last night. Meanwhile I was waiting for some more sunlight to hit us and the mist to get clear so that we can check out the way to reach the peak. By 8 ‘o clock everyone was awake and ready for the day.

Mission - Path Finding:
We had our own assumption that the hill we are on, itself is Mahendragiri and we have to find way to reach peak. Every one of us has our own theory running in our minds. We left dinesh and Arif at hut and Sridhar and me left for exploring the route. We followed a trail running through the bushes to the other side of the hill. At the other end a water stream was flowing cutting through the ridge of hill and we saw few more huts on the way too. We crossed the stream only to know that there is nothing except deep valley on the other side. Explored few more trails which are ending into thick bushes. All the while I was cursing myself for not carrying camera. From one point I can see water falling down straight deep into the middle of hills along the rock face which is almost 90 degrees vertical. It is an awesome sight to see. After few more tries we came back to the hut. I did second attempt with Arif and went along the other side. We climbed to a point from where the peak of that hill is visible and considering with few other observations I came to conclusion that we are not on Mahendragiri peak and came back to hut in despair. We decided to quickly get back to Singupuram and try other route. Meanwhile I was thinking if I could call Mohit Kharb who has already been to Mahendragiri couple of times and ask for directions but thought to myself there would be no mobile coverage there. Few minutes passed away and Dinesh told me that mobile is working and I can call Mohit. I wasted no time and quickly dialed to Mohit. When I said to Mohit that we are at huts, he said that we are on right path and asked to gain altitude across the bushes where we can find another trail that leads to ashram. I clicked the pics at our location and sent it to Mohit on facebook to which he promptly replied “GO UP”.

Reaching Ashram:
We quickly had some food, packed up everything and started climbing up making way through the bushes and small trails leading somewhere uphill. Bingo….. We came across a trail that Mohit mentioned. According to him from here on it will hardly take an hour to reach ashram and so we followed the path. It was a straight path few with gaining elevation often. At one point we found another trail which is going right into the woods. Sridhar and me left our luggage there with Arif and dinesh and went inside to check out where it’s leading. After walking few meters inside it was plain grasslands spread in vast area. Sridhar told me to tie the cloth to a tree to trace back our path easily. We passed through the grass few more minutes and at one point Sridhar hung his cap to another tree and went ahead further. It was all grass around and the sky was clear now with no trees around us. I moved ahead further and when I saw to my left its my turn to jump in Joy. There we go; I can see a temple structure and a flag above the hill far away from us. It was a magnificent view of the temple from where I stood. Now that I have seen it right in front of me it’s time for me give up all the worries in my mind to accommodate it with more joy. Now I am in a hurry to finish the task. 
yudhishtar temple at mahendragiri
The Green patch of grass behind the temple is from where i saw the temple
We got back to Arif and Dinesh, told them what we had seen and started again on the trail we were already on. We walked straight with no diversions for more than 30 minutes. We reached a point where another trail was cutting through ours. But we went straight in the direction of the temple which I have seen from grassland. With in no time we were there at the Kunti temple and ashram. A person named Suresh welcomed us meanwhile babaji who stays there, also came to us and welcomed us. We jumped in joy as we reached our destination.


Ashram at mahendragiri
Ashram
We spoke to babaji and Suresh for some time and told about ourselves. Also told that we are friends of Mohit and Arun who has already been to Mahendragiri. He recalled them and names of few others too who has come earlier with them. It’s around 1 pm in the afternoon but the climate is like as if it was early morning because of the clouds that were often passing by us. The place is very pristine and quiet. I wish I could stay here for long time. We asked babaji about the time it will take to visit all the other temples on top for which he replied that it will take 2-3 hours to cover. Babaji offered us lunch for which we told that we will have food that we are left with us and leave for the temples. Babaji prepared hot Tea for us and told that he will also come with us as. He said that he was feeling like visiting the other temples from past two days and now he has got a reason in our form.

Visiting temples of Mahendragiri:


Babaji at Parashuram statue on Mahendragiri
Babaji at Parasuram Statue
We started for the temples accompanied by Babaji and Suresh. Babaji was staying there from many years and Suresh who lives in berhampur often visits ashram and spend some days there. It was again a hike for couple of hours to visit them all. We went to yudishtar temple first which will on one side of the hill. This is the temple that I have seen from the grass lands and the flag is at the parasuram statue near the temple. I have clicked some pics of the grassland from here and of the temple too. Inside temple there is Sivalingam. Babaji told us it is believed that these temples were built by pandavas for worshipping lord shiva and people use to call them after their names. The temple where Kunti worshipped has been called as Kunti temple. Similar is the story with yudishtar, Bheema temples and pandava caves as well. It’s also believed that Lord Parasuram has lived on Mahendragiri. There is a statue of lord parasuram. We moved ahead and after climbing some steps we came across a temple which is cracked. This is Bheema temple. 
Yudhishtar Temple at Mahendragiri
Yudhishtar Temple

An interesting thing about this is that during shivaratri people use to pass through the crack and go for visiting other temples. This is not an easy task to pass through it. Bheema temple is in clouds and from here we can see the beautiful valley behind the hill. All the time I was behind the group either clicking pics or lost in the beauty of surroundings. The way is all the way with boulders and we were passing them with ease. Though it was mid afternoon, regardless the part of the day sometimes it is sunny, sometimes as misty as it can where hardly anything is visible within few feet distance from where we stand and sometimes it drizzles gently. Am completely bowled out by the way nature is showing us the transformations of climate. Never seen anything happening like this in such as short duration.
Bheema temple at Mahendragiri
Bheema Temple
Daru Brahma is the top point and on the way suresh showed us meeting place of pandavas and the rocks they use to sit on. Arjuna cave where Arjuna is believed to do tapasya. A structure of shiva linga with a serpant Hood attracted me a lot in that mist.


Cloud 9 At Mahendragiri
Am on CLOUD 9


At Mahendragiri
Shivalangam under Serpant hood
Dinesh, Soorya, Arif and Sridhar at Mahendragiri

Daru brahma at Mahendragiri
Daru Brahma
We reached DaruBrahma and did pradakshina around it. Babaji said that It is believed that the wood for making of puri jagannath was from this place. We spent some time there. Babaji started back for ashram and asked us to follow him. I wanted to spend some more time there. I asked suresh to stay back with us. Dinesh and I sat there for almost half an hour in peace. We started down to ashram with Suresh through a short cut. On the way back Suresh showed us a place from where the stream Mahendratanaya is originating. Water was oozing from under a rock layer which is transformed into a stream and is flowing down the hills. One can see lots and lots of snails all over the way back to ashram. By the time we went to ashram, babaji has made hot tea for us and offered us some maramaralu or borugulu. Tea was spicy with lot of black pepper which is quiet good for that cold climate.

There is a beauty about Mahendragiri. On a day with clear skies, you can see the shoreline of bay of bengal and kalinga Dal reservoir far away from us yet within  our eyesight which makes an awesome view.

Stay at Ashram:
We were given a huge hut enough to fit in 20 members. We kept our entire luggage inside. A stream flows besides ashram. We decided to have a dip in the stream. Water was freezing cold. It was very refreshing. We had finished our bath and were doing time pass roaming here and there. Babaji asked us if we would like to have rice or roti for dinner. We opted for roti and told that we too wanted to take part in cooking food.


Ashram at mahendragiri
Babajis room and huts for guests
We quickly made few calls as mobile coverage is there. Once everyone is done with their calls and work we went to help babaji in preparing dinner. All of us contributed in making of roti while major part was done by babaji and Suresh. All the while we were having chit chat with Suresh and babaji. Our dinner is roti with dal and we had tummy full of rotis. After dinner we called Mohit and told him that we reached ashram. Babaji also spoke to Mohit.
Ashram at Mahendragiri
Small Nandi between huts
Suresh gave us mattresses and blankets and we arranged our sleeping places. The hut was quiet warm compared to freezing cold outside. Before going to sleep I was asked about the plan of tomorrow as they do every time, to which is simply said lets decide tomorrow. I am no more in a position to strain my brain. We slipped into our sleeping bags and dozed off in no time as we were tired of the day long trek. Soon the room started echoing with the snoring sounds.

The Day Back to Hyderabad:
Group pic at Kunti temple on Mahendragiri
Group pic at Kunti Temple
Having a good sound (snoring) sleep last night in the cozy hut we woke up at 7 ‘o clock. As we have plenty of time we decided not to hurry. We got freshen up and went to visit Kunti temple besides ashram. We had hot Upma in breakfast prepared by babaji and one more round of black pepper Tea. Arif and me got busy for quiet sometime capturing pics of the place. We had a group picture at Kunti temple along with Suresh and babaji. None of us wanted to leave the place so soon, but we have train to catch at 6 PM from Palasa. And we have no idea how much time it would take from Kainpur route. We have to walk till Kainpur to get any transportation to Palasa or Parlakemidi.

We thanked babaji and suresh for their great hospitality and started off by 10 ‘o clock. Babaji and Suresh accompanied us till yudishtar temple for see off. We said Good Bye to Mahendragiri promising ourselves that we will come back soon.
Group at Kunti temple on Mahendragiri
Arif posing at Kunti Temple
Babaji and suresh on Mahendragiri
See Off by Babaji and Suresh
The way down is a jeep trail ghat road. We started very leisurely. This is a kutcha road with regular hair pin bends. Except the road it’s all lush green everywhere. On the way back we have seen many varieties of trees and birds and of course butterflies are the main attraction in Mahendragiri. We have seen water streams often running besides our trail. We found a small waterfall at one hair pin bend. Here we took break for about 15 minutes and I went under the falls and posed for a pic. Arif clicked some nice pictures here. One more interesting thing we noticed is that there are lots and lots of curry leaf plants all the way and at some places the air is filled with the aroma of curry leaves.
Waterfalls at Mahendragiri
Small WaterFalls on the way down
We reached Burukhata by afternoon and started walking towards Kainpur. We can see bikes and Lorries now and then but no sign of any autos or public transport. After walking for a kilometer we are on a tar road and by now the sun is at its peak. We started feeling heat and were sweating a lot due to humid weather.
Village below Mahendragiri
It took us long to reach Kainpur than expected. We reached Kainpur by 03:30 PM. We missed bus to parlakemidi by 10 minutes and the next bus will be in the evening. When enquired about other ways to go to Palasa, a shop keeper suggested us to take an auto till Goppili and from there another auto to Palasa. Arif and I went in search of an auto. We walked till the other end of the village only to find not even a single auto. We went to a shop and asked him where we can get any transport to Goppili. He told us to try our luck and asked us to check if his friend is at home with auto in the next lane near a temple. Another guy showed us way to his house and we are lucky to have him at home. The auto looks new which didn’t even ran 1000 KMs. Soon enough we are in the auto.
Few more friends of Mahendragiri
Sridhar - 3kms before Kainpur
Sridhar 3KM before Kainpur
Picked up dinesh and Sridhar on the way and started for Goppili. It took nearly an hour to reach Goppili. The initial 30 minutes is like descending down the ghat road. There is a diversion on the way which goes to Gandahati waterfalls. We took another auto from Goppili to Palasa and reached station in Time. Falaknuma express is on time and we got into it with loads of wonderful memories and lots of landscapes captured by our eyes forever. Here comes a HAPPY ENDING… what more a trekker would ask for, than these 3 days well spent in Mahendragiri. A perfect Crazy… Adventurous… FUN….


Picture Courtesy : http://www.telegraphindia.com/