Flat trail? Yea right!
We’re supposed to be walking on an easy flat trail leading to the falls. But that claim has as much truth to it as saying the earth is flat! We completely loved the experience of slogging to get to the falls and the propensity to torture ourselves until we got there. Why you ask? Now that would require for me retell the story and you would be required to sit through it. If you are not the kinds who care about the journey and only destination matters then scroll down to the bottom of this post and see the glory that we witnessed. ;)
This was day 2 of the trek and the previous day was a walk in clouds. One of those days where you can say views to efforts ratio was off the charts! It was a nice and easy trek and today was supposed to be no different. Considering the picnic mood that we were already in, no one cared to eat or sleep properly. With such a laid-back demeanor we start the trek to Arishinagundi not knowing the rollercoaster ride we were about to embark upon. So that’s the prelude.
Arishinagundi - A Wonderwork
Now coming to facts, Arishinagundi falls is one the spectacular falls of Western Ghats hidden deep inside the jungles of Mookambika Wildlife Sanctuary near Kollur. Set amidst luxuriant greenery and wilderness, the falls are a sight to the sore eye. Few places are left here, where you can be so close yet so far, to civilization that is. A few kilometers of walk will take you into the heart of the jungle where sunrays find it hard to get through and the track seems to be either never-ending or disappearing into oblivion.
The usual and saner approach would be to reach Santosh Hotel at Vollur and take a guide from here to the falls. This hotel is on the way to Kodachadri peak and while returning back, one could go to the falls which is a 2 hour steep descent through the thicket. Then after visiting the falls, you could climb up from the other side to reach a jeep track which meets the road head to Kollur, 2 kms before Kollur to be precise. Since everyone does this, coming down on a jeep track wouldn’t make you realize the fact that the track is not flat and instead it goes down steadily. This would mean the track goes up steadily should you start the trek from this side.
But you’d think who would do the trek in the reverse way. Who would try to make their lives miserable by taking the tougher route when there is an easy way down? You’d be wrong to think none, enter us, the people. Of course it was not a conscious decision and it so happened that we could not get a guide at Santosh Hotel and hence we came all the way to Mookambika Wildlife Sanctuary gate and started the trek from here.
It was 1.30 PM. Spirits were soaring high and most of the team wanted to enjoy a nice bath under the swelling cascade. We were told the route is flat with little gradient. Equipped with no more than cameras and a change of clothes, all of us set towards the falls on the jeep track. We were also told that after 3kms or so, we would spot a 90 degree diversion to Arishinagundi falls. Reality bites and we find ourselves tired out and climbing up. But we still proceed, it is strange how mind can take you to great heights or bring you down to unfathomable depths, like we would know in a while.
The slogging begins
After a kilometer or so we spotted a diversion already but no signboard was visible We contemplated for long if this is the diversion to the falls but since no expert help was available, we decided to go ahead on the jeep track. It is hot and humid and we are tired and hungry. The track was consistently going higher showing no signs of respite. Few of them turned back here while the rest of us proceeded further. As we went ahead, something strange was happening. We could see no signs of streams and the deafening roar of waterfalls was fast disappearing. If Doppler’s effect has any truth to it, it was safe to assume that we were moving away from the waterfalls. Soon enough we reached a small clearing from where we could spot the falls on the other mountain range opposite to the one we were treading upon. The track which now reduced to a small pathway was like the road to perdition. It did not seem to be taking us to heaven; instead it looked very much ready to have us on our way to eternal damnation. Dark and abandoned appearance it bore without a semblance to a pathway that was used in recent times. Further leading us to believe we were on the wrong track. While the rest of us decided to go back to the diversion, Karthik and Karthik following their intuition, decided to go ahead till they find the waterfall.
One wrong turn..
Something was telling me to go ahead but I ignored the call and walked 2kms back to the earlier diversion. Only to find out we were actually on the right path to Arishinagundi! A quick reality check said we were all too hungry and tired and so not prepared for a tough trek but the mind was not ready to accept defeat yet. While many turned back from here, it took a lot of courage for four people to take one decision – to go back on the same trail to find the waterfall again. Once your mind is set, it takes little effort to get past the hurdles overlooking the obstacles. Like I said before, the route looks completely abandoned and forests have a way of making one feel claustrophobic. We literally dragged ourselves up the slopes. It was 2.45 PM when we decided we’d try again. Three of us were actually living the saying one step at a time while Apoorva raced ahead. No water, no food and no sleep were showing its effect – I was feeling giddy and I desperately needed water which none of us had. But I kept saying to myself “Mind over body, Neelima. If you can’t, nobody can" and it seemed to work so far. But that was not enough. We needed some sign to know we’re on the right track, signs that were none. Amidst all this, a packet of glucose restored our life force to an extent. It was already 4, the trail still trailing high, light fading soon and still no signs of the bloody board saying this way to Arishinagundi. Just when we were contemplating return, the board made its appearance. Oh the sweet rush of adrenaline I cannot explain. We whizzed past through the forest now with such a rigor, we reached the falls in the next 15 minutes. Once you spot the board, the trail goes down into the forest towards the falls.
I was so glad to spot the other three guys near the falls. Once the initial euphoria passed, I stopped to take in the beauty of the falls. It was stunning, the setting, the force and the effort. We spent quite sometime reveling in the lap of wilderness and the realization of actually having made it to the falls. We had a long journey ahead of us, back to the road head. With invigorated mind and body, the return journey wasn’t much of an effort. Yes, we did encounter leeches, snakes and darkness but nothing could erase neither the fury of the falls nor the state of euphoria. We made it back to the road head by 6.30PM and were welcomed to a warm applause from the team.
The Satisfaction.. :)
The trek to Arishinagundi and back would be close to 16kms (8 + 8) and the route as such does not have a heavy gradient. Then you might wonder what made the trek so tough for fit trekkers that we were. Circumstances! Without lunch and a drop of water, and the most important thing – without a ready mind it can sure turn into a challenging task at hand. Having trekked for more than two years now, a tough trek is usually not a problem and the body handles it well. But for the first time in months, the mind had come into picture. I had to constantly try and motivate myself to take each step forward. Body had given up long back but the mind continued to push forward – a true mind over body experience it was! Loved the challenge and loved the group – Laksh, Satish, Apoorva, Karthik, Karthik and yours truly. Arishinagundi will always be a special memory.
Look at the falls and tell me, was it worth it?
Option 1 - 2 kms before Kollur, while coming from Nittur, you’d find a Mookambika Wildlife Sanctuary gate to your left. There is a stream running here and a bridge crossing over. You could start the trek here like we did and walk on the jeep track, a long walk.
Option 2 – 11 kms before Kollur, while coming from Nittur, you could get down at Karakatte gate, you’d find a jeep track to your left heading into forest. 4-5 kms walk along this route will lead you to Santosh hotel near volur, take a guide trek down to the falls and come back to Mookambika WLS gate through the jeep track.
Difficulty – It is fairly difficult with tricky section of descent from Santosh Hotel or from the jeep track to the falls. The jeep track would easily be 7-8 km walk and you wouldn’t find much water until you reach the falls itself. 2-3 hours of trek from either side would be my best guess.
Best Season – Post monsoon as the water will still be full and the leeches might not be in their best form.