Sakleshpur Railway Track Trail Exploration

3 DAYS EXPEDITION

18 Sept 2009 to 22 Sept 2009

This is one of the treks I embarked on during my early years of trekking with my college’s Mountaineering Club. First 3 days expedition and it included guys from my batch, junior and also senior years. While the rain was getting heavier in Western Ghats, we had just finished our first internal test and where planning for a long monsoon trek with couple of our seniors, Vivek and Vandana. We discussed upon all the routes they both were aware of, expecting them to guide us, but they thought differently and suggested something new for themselves, a railway track trek from Sakleshpura to Subrahmanya road railway station, which approximately is around 50km. The route was, back then and even today, very well known among the trekkers of south India for – the scenic view of the forest which is lush green during monsoon, cold streams on either side of the railway track, amazing bridges built at crazy heights over the streams, never ending tunnels which can freak you out at times when you are stuck in the middle of it, and finally some of the beautiful & rare specious of birds. All though tracing the entire route could be accomplished in 2 days, which some of my super seniors in college had, we decided to do it for three days to extend the fun 🙂

So the date was fixed and all the R&D’s about the route and camping spots for 2 nights was done. We also decided on the menu for the food, that we were to cook for dinners and breakfasts. Finally we boarded the bus on 18-sept-2009 from majestic.

The group that boarded the bus after some last day dropouts:

  1. Achyut
  2. Ankit (vivek’s friend)
  3. Anoop MK
  4. Anoop KS
  5. Deeptesh
  6. Dheeraj
  7. Joe (junior)
  8. Nithin (suman’s cousin)
  9. Suraj (junior)
  10. Suman
  11. Vandana (senior)
  12. Vivek (senior)

(Suraj who had visited his native place the previous weekend, was to join us from Sakleshpur)

We sat facing each other in the bus till half past 11, chatting, and then later guys slowly started dozing. When we reached Sakleshpur it was around 4:15am. We met Suraj here who had a story to tell us. Poor guy had dropped his mobile phone in the toilet basin and it was gone for good. He explained us as to how the entire story had unfolded and we all had a good laugh seeing the funny side of it.  From there further half an hour of journey we reached this bridge in Donigal, start point of the trek. We had informed the bus driver prior that we wanted to get down there, for it’s not the usual place where people would get down in forest. Below the bridge we saw the railway track and at that point we never realised how much of these tracks we were to see for next 3 days.

Day 1

It was around 5:50AM by the time we got down the bridge. We changed to our shorts and began the walk on the track.

Monsoon treks have always excited me for the entire thrill and the adventure it offers. The curiosity of exploring a new route, overwhelming view of the forest, chances of spotting a specious of bird for the first time, the landscape, cold streams, beautiful falls, slight drizzle and heavy rain, all of these thoughts can get me high easily, though I try not to be expressive.

As we carefully walked on the track trying to step only on the concrete block, the view opened up towards our left side, forest as seen through thick fog. Few seconds later the sunrise, though we didn’t get to see the best of it, thanks to the thick fog.

After half a km of walk we came across the first bridge, the beginning of many to follow. All though it was fun walking on the bridge, the thought of a train passing by when crossing the bridge was always in the back of the mind, so we always made sure we crossed them fast. Further we got interested when we spotted a fungoid frog (found largely in Western Ghats), terrestrial snails and the dead bodies of dogs hit by the train (I’am not sharing there pics).

Fungoid Frog

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Around 7:40am the sun was fully out and it started to get a bit hot. We had walked for around 5 km and finally came across a stream for first time. Filled up our water bottles here and had a conversation with this old man who was more than happy to pose for the pic when we asked for. He even advised us to watch out for the police authority in Kadagaravali railway station for it was illegal to trek on the railway track with out there permission which we were guilty of. Fortunately for us when we crossed the station we didn’t find any authority there, though few local men asked us for bribe, so as to not inform the authority about us trekking on railway track.

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We stopped to have breakfast at 8:40am. Bread, fruits and chapattis the menu included. Guys found an old rusted train axle by this place and started showing off their core strength trying to lift it. Just ten minutes’ walk after the breakfast we were greeted by the first tunnel :). Probably not all that lengthy when compared to the one’s that followed, but good enough to see complete, never ending darkness from one side. Torches came out and we walked very vigilantly trying to move one behind the other. On either side of the track were these rain water drainage gutters which I thought was good enough to protect us in case when we heard a train horn. Nevertheless, must warn you that it’s really hard to judge how far the train is by hearing the horn when inside the tunnel and also at the same time it’s hard to hear horn when the train is yet to enter the tunnel, so beware when you ever embark on a railway track trek.

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From left – Anoop Mk, Myself, Achyut, Anoop KS, Joe

The sun by now was beating down and we felt the heat. Meanwhile as more and more bridges and small tunnels followed, guys were trying to keep a count on the number as we passed them. At around 9:00am we heard the horn for the first time, a goods train approaching us from the opposite side. We jumped away from the track and waited for it to pass. And the second time we came across a train, guys all placed coins on the track, something we did in our childhood days, trying to flatten it completely, fun time :).

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Men in work !

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And so we waited with the coins on the track

After having covered 10km approximately, time read 9:30am and the view of the landscape towards our right, the thick, lush green monsoon forest was a treat to our, hikers eyes.

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During college days a wall or rock with boulders always caught our attention, something the active members of our mountaineering club where known for. When we saw one along the track here, we were no different. Dropped the sack and tried our best to trace some routes.

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As we walked along, few more trains passed by, but the rush was felt when we were caught in the middle of the bridge and heard the horn. It’s not a preference to jump into this balcony sort of structure built as rescue points to stand off the track, but myself and Vivek strangled in the middle of the bridge had no other option but to step aside into the small space while the rest ran over and crossed the bridge. Honestly it was very scary for all the noise my ears heard and the vibrations my feet transferred from the metallic surface to my face. Quiet a rush. Felt like eternity for the train continued as if it was never ending. Adventure 🙂

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We were all aware that the first days trek was a lengthy one. Having covered almost 20 Km approx. at 1:00pm, we were now hoping that we reach the first day’s camp spot sooner. And for Vandana it was the worst. She had strained her ankle badly when passing through one of the tunnels. We heard the horn while walking inside the tunnel and immediately jumped into the gutters on either side of the track. After the train passed, we saw Vandana holding on to her ankle in pain. With painkillers and grape band wrapped she managed to walk, only in pain though. From there on the gap between people increased with each walking at their own speed.

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In the tunnel !

In no time the weather changed, getting overcast and a bit cold which I always crave for. It wasn’t long before the rain came down but it didn’t delay our walk towards the camp spot. The trek continued in the rain. I still remember the conversation I had with some of them in the group during this period, memorable :). Finally at 3:20am I reached the place, Yedakumari Station, our camp spot for first day. Achyut, Dheeraj  and Suraj had already reached the station. We sat on the chair there digging into whatever we found in our sacks to eat while the rest of the group arrived one by one. Surprisingly after having walked few kilometres in the rain, some of us realised we had leeches stuck to our leg. Didn’t expect them on this sort of terrain (though it’s nothing compared to the one’s we’ve faced when walking in the forest). We rested for some time and later roamed around the station trying to capture the place. As for the description of this station, it had a very small platform and the electricity was generated in-house using a diesel generator which is switched off after 9:00pm. In front of the station was this huge rock, more than the height of a five storey building. Drinking water can be obtained from a stream that runs down from this rock while there’s a tap connected to stream in the platform which is used for other maintenance purpose.

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We took the permission from the station master to camp there for the night. Though he didn’t have anything to say against us, he was a bit cranky. We heard him blasting people who worked there in crazy slangs as we pitched our tent under the front roof of the station. The rain started coming down after 6:00pm and the place all of a sudden was a no man’s land. Covered with fog, and the rain coming down heavily, the visibility outside faded slowly. Meanwhile we had company when a group of 40-50 people reached the station completely drenched in the rain. They had come for the trek through a private organisation having started at Donigal too and where to return back to Sakleshpur in a goods train the next day morning (Usually no passenger train stops in this station except for few goods train). They made lot of noise.

It always is fun cooking when camping and this time was nothing less. It was Achyut, Dheeraj and Suraj fighting around the stove (yes we had carried our own kerosene stove) and they had done good. By 8:30pm we had cooked sambar and rice, which tasted really good. With full stomach we ended our first day trek of 25km approx.

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Day 2

After a good night sleep (excluding the ones that slept in the tent, who had a story to tell us when we woke up in the morning – not a good one I must say. Those jackass workers there..!) we woke up to an amazing view outside which could be viewed from the place where we slept inside the station which had open walls on either side – to the platform one side and the open landscape the other.

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It was 6:30am when we were awake and the other group was nowhere to be seen. We were told that they took an early morning, first goods train back to Donigal. Never mind, the place was very quiet unlike the previous day night with them around. While it was still cold with thin mist around we dispersed to corners around the station to finish our morning rituals.

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Stick GrassHoppers

Unlike the first day we were well aware that second day’s trek must be around 10-13 km, so took our time hanging around the place clicking photos and conversing with some of the workers there. And later when we realised we were hungry, out came the Magi noodle packs from every ones sack. We cooked our breakfast and filled our stomach full. By the time we cleaned up the little mess we had created while cooking and packed our sacks, ready to leave, it was around 10:00am.

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The second day had many streams and small falls along the trail. We took bath in couple of falls. The weather for the day was a bit over cast. We had some drizzle in the noon but overall it was a pleasant condition to walk. Tunnels, bridges, streams and falls passed by and it was an easy day of trek for us. We had frequent stops by the streams and falls relaxing and later walking at our own pace. Lots of discussions and fun talks with guys sharing their past trekking experience and childhood stories. Lost in the beauty of the place and discussions, we forgot to keep track of count on the number of tunnels and bridges (Facts from another source – 58 tunnels, 109 bridges and about 25 waterfalls). Meanwhile Vandana’s leg was swollen badly from previous day’s injury. Poor girl managed to walk with painkillers and pain relief sprays.

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Finally after a lazy day (compared to our previous day’s trek) we reached the next camps spot Shiribagilu.

Shiribagilu station is also an service station where only the engines which trace the route through the forest as routine tasks to check for landslides or any other problems, twice or thrice a day usually stopped (Landslides are pretty common in this route during monsoons). Compared to Yedakumari this station is situated in an open terrain. We had snacks and relaxed in the station waiting for the station master to arrive. When he did, we approached him to seek permission for camping there for the night. To our surprise he sounded very arrogant and was not prepared to let us stay there. He told us that hiking was not allowed along this route and people done come there to camp. ( Usually people did this trail till yedakumari and returned back the next day to Donigal. Very few embarked on doing the trail all the way till Subrahmanya Road station). Tried our best to convince him, but he continued to talk rudely and asked us to take next service engine that was to arrive there in the evening and get dropped by the highway. Seeing no point in convincing him, we surveyed around the station to see if there was any flat terrain to pitch the tent but no luck. Also it was getting dark.

Ultimately when we considered the option of taking the drop, this person who worked in the station as labour approached us telling we could stay in his room in the colony for the night but will have to pay for it and the station master should not be informed of it. With no second thoughts gave him an “YES”, for we din want to ruin the last day trek by taking the evening train. By now it was 630pm and it had gotten dark except for the light in the station platform. The man asked us to walk ahead from the station in front of the master, so as to give him a notion that we were leaving from there looking for a spot to pitch the tent and then later sneak to the rear side of the station where the workers were allotted rooms to stay in a small colony. So as said, we walked some 300 metres and sat by the entrance of this tunnel very close to the station with our torches ON. Then later after 15-20 mins we walked back and sneaked in to the elderly man’s room. ADVENTURE !! We had fun, real fun 🙂

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The tunnel where we waited before sneaking into the colony

Uncle as we addressed him looked like he was in his late 30’s and was very kind. The house as such had 3 rooms, a small kitchen, a bedroom and a hall. It was roofed with sheet and the floor in cement.  Uncle was kind to us in giving his house while he stayed in the next house with the neighbour for the night. We then settled down, and began to cook dinner. Puliogare was cooked, but only with some drama. After the rice was cooked, we had to mix it up with puliogare powder and hot oil (you all know it :P). So we set the vessel on our kerosene stove and kind of got lost in our discussion. We din even realise that the vessel had gotten really hot, so much so that when we poured the oil into the vessel, the fire lit up. CRAP !! It did catch fire for good. We all moved away and then when it kind of settled down a bit I lifted it and dropped it outside the house. By then, People in the next houses where all out and some even asked us to be careful. We made our apologies and people moved into their houses not wanting to give there station master any hint about it.

After all that was encountered for the evening, we finished our dinner and were greeted by a goodnight sleep.

DAY 3

The Next day morning, we got up at around 7:00am and walked back to the station to see the station master’s reaction. He gave us nothing, and only then it hit us that the whole thing could have been set up and that he might get a share of the money we paid for the room. Anyways, for it was done with, we prepared our breakfast in the station itself. Also had fun trying to climb the pole in the station, which Joe won 🙂

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The past two days we had covered 35km approximately and the last day trek to Subrahmanya Road Railway station was around 15km walk. So we took it easy for the day and began our last day campaign at 10:30am. Beneath one of the bridge, not far from the station we came across an abandoned engine, lying directly across the stream. We got down the bridge through forest, walking along the stream to explore the engine. Even got to spot a snake in the path. Adventure 🙂

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While the entire trek the last two days happened without any black mark, it wasn’t to end the same, not until when we experimented trying to click a photo with an engine approaching us from behind as background. So when an engine was approaching us slowly (one of those that routinely check for landslides and other issues along the track in the ghat section), we gathered together for the pic avoiding the engine driver who was buzzing the horn behind us. While Vandana struggled to pull out the camera from the pouch, it had gotten too late and the engine had approached close. She did manage to click finally but only with me, Achyut and Joe in the frame while the rest dispersed. The worst came next when the Engine driver stopped and got down to blast us to the core. He called us Bastards !! Yes he did, and we people guilty of mistake listened to his cursing without replying to him. He asked us to climb on board the engine, for he wanted to take us to railway police station. He spoke mostly in Hindi and I din’t understand most of it though later guys told me they were bad :P. We all apologised to him later, and thankfully he had some courtesy left to let us go. After he started the engine and passed we all went insane and had a laugh at it. LOL. But still, although the engine was moving very slowly, it still wasn’t a good idea to accomplish what we tried. PLEASE DON’T TRY IT !!

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I’am sure the snap will bring smile to our face on any day 🙂

While our initial plan was to trek all the way till Subrahmanya Road Railway station in Kadaba-Subrahmanya Road which is plotted at around 10km from Kukke Subrahmanya temple, we later decided to go to Dharmasthala and hence ended our trek when we reached 114 highway. We went to Gundya from there, had our late lunch and took a bus to Dharmasthala temple (around 40km).

It was my first time to the place and we spent the evening hanging around the temple. By the time it started raining later in the night, we had boarded the bus to Bangalore to do the overnight journey.

Complete trek route
Complete trek route
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