When I got into the bus last Friday evening, I was headed towards fulfilling a long-standing plan: to climb up the Brahmagiri hills. Brahmagiri peak, located in Coorg district of Karnataka is a part of Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary. The climb goes through leech ridden tropical forests to grasslands and shola(forest high in the hills where grass is the dominant vegetation, and trees are found in small groups where water is available) above the forest line, and offers great vistas of Sanctuary area and the planes below.
We started our hike a little late on the Saturday morning. By the time we had breakfast, took the necessary permits and changed buses to reach Irpu, it was already 10.30am. Fortunately it was not a sunny day, which made the climbing easy. The climb starts from Irpu falls, a well known landmark in Kodagu(Coorg). Leeches waiting on the forest floor gleefully welcomed us into the National Park once we walked past the waterfall. The initial part of the journey offers easy walk via tropical forest and lot of bamboo, and starts getting steeper slowly. We encountered several streams on the way and water is in plenty. Forest floor all the way is littered with colorful dry leaves and green saplings besides the bridle path.
Rich colors of the forest
It was 2 hours of climb before we left the forest below us and hit the grasslands. Some steep climbing for another 30 minutes and we reached our base camp – the Narimale forest camp.
The Narimale camp inside the forest
A Stream that runs next to the camp
Narimale camp is built to shelter forest guards who are on duty to watch against poaching. It serves as an excellent base camp to visit nearby peaks – Narimale peak and Brahmagiri peak. The presence of the camp also reduces the load of the trekkers by not having to carry any camping material.
Tired and hungry that we were after a good climb, we quickly prepared food and hogged on it. After a short rest, we headed for Narimale Peak, which is 1.5km walk from the camp. As we walked through the grasslands, a Sambar emerged from the shola and ran away after seeing us. Some one in the group sited an elephant too. Narimale Peak offered us beautiful vista of the plains below, the sholas and the Brahmagiri peak at a distance. As the sun moved below the horizon, we made a quick retreat to the camp. It started raining as soon as we reached the camp and we were lucky not to get caught in the rain. We prepared an early dinner at the camp and then went to sleep.
Our escort takes a look at the sholas from the Narimale Peak
View from Narimale Peak
The next morning was foggy and the visibility was low. We contemplated over breakfast if it makes sense to climb the Brahmagiri peak in this weather. But since we did not have much else to do, we decided to make it anyway. The walk to Brahmagiri takes you through grassland, and occasionally through small patches of shola. Small white and pink flowers dot the green grassy plains.
The peak to the extreme right is Brahmagiri where we were headed.
After an easy walk for almost two hours, we reached the foot of Brahmagiri Peak. As we looked up to it, the peak was completely covered in fog and we could not see what is up for us. The bridle path to the peak suddenly got steep and we were quickly climbing at 45 degrees. It soon got worse – it must have been around 60 degrees slope or even worse. It would have been a climb of may be 150 meters to the top but the quick ascent got us tired quickly. But once we were up there, the vista was beautiful and worth all the effort. Interestingly, while we climbed up in foggy weather, other side was completely clear and offered us nice view of a valley in Kerala.
At the Brahmagiri Peak. Inscription reads that the Peak is 1600 meters above the sea level and is 9kms from Irpu waterfall.
Walking on the ridges of Brahmagiri Peak
We rested here for a while and walked a bit on the beautiful ridges. A bit of walking and we saw a few Sambars and a ma elephant with its baby. Weather had completely cleared up as we headed back and offered good view of the surroundings and the Brahmagiri peak itself. We also got to see Wild Gaurs on the way back. A few of us discovered thorns of porcupines here and there. Elephant dung was littered wherever we went. A pair of Nilgiri Langur were spotted on a tree at a distance. There was life in every part of the sanctuary.
Nothing goes waste in the forest. Even the dung of the elephant supports some form of life
As we returned to the base camp, we packed up quickly and headed back to Irpu. An hour and a half and a lot of leech bites later, we were back at Irpu Waterfall for a refreshing dip in the water. We came down from here for a session of refueling our stomach and returned to the city by the overnight bus.
Brahmagiri wildlife sanctuary is a restricted area and one has to take permission from Range Forest Officer(RFO) at Srimangala village. Call the RFO a few days in advance and inform your trekking plans so that they can arrange a mandatory escort for you. Getting permits is easy and hassle free.
To reach Srimangala, take a KSRTC bus to Gonikoppal from Bangalore, which is 6 hours journey. Change buses here and travel for another hour to Srimangala. Pay the necessary fees at Srimangala RFO office and get your permits. You can also shop here for groceries you will need for your stay at the top. Irpu falls, where the trek begins is another 30 minutes by bus. There are not many buses from Srimangala to Irpu and you may have to hire a jeep if you can’t get a bus.
ACCOMMODATION NEAR IRPU
You can get no-frills accommodation at the temple near Irpu offers. There are also some home stay kind of resorts near Irpu, one is Ramcad which is pretty close to Irpu. Nearby village Kutta has some places like Pearl Garden, Chilligere Estate and High Falls Holiday
TREKKING IN THE PARK
The Narimale camp, which is in the middle of the forest, is the best place to stay. Camping elsewhere is probably not allowed, but check with the RFO if you want to. Narimale camp is 4.5km from Irpu falls and can be covered in 1.5 to 2.5 hours depending on your fitness. From the camp, you can trek to Narimale Peak, which is about 1.5km, and takes around 1.5hrs to go and come back. Brahmagiri
Peak is 5kms and takes around 2 to 2.5 hours to climb up. Another place to visit is Munekal Caves, which is 3.5kms from the camp. Munekal caves is called as Pakshi Patalam at Kerala side of the sanctuary.