There are several ways to enjoy the rains. With the recent pandemic induced work from home situation, a lot of us have been hearing and watching raindrops from the comforts of our home. But you know what’s a better way to enjoy the monsoon? It is by hitting the road, and watching nature wear the greenest of green. By listening to the sound of water in spontaneous brooks. By feeling the mist rising from deep valleys and watching it merge with the sky. By playing your favourite tune as you drive through the winding roads of the Western Ghats.
I did just that in middle of August 2021. In this blog I describe our Malenadu trip, the places where we stayed, and the things we saw. My itinerary is always designed to accommodate long stops in scenic places. This includes unexpected breaks at beautiful places not on the tourist map.
DAY 1: LEAVING BANGALORE WITH A STOP OVER AT HASSAN
It is always a good idea to head out of Bangalore on a weekday. And depending on how much you enjoy getting stuck in traffic, it might also be a good idea to reach Bangalore on a weekday. Hence, a Friday departure and Monday arrival makes sense. On this trip, we left Bangalore on Thursday evening itself. This required an extra night of hotel stay, but it was totally worth it because it gave us more time to do things leisurely.
So, we were at the first toll both on the route to Hassan by 5 pm on a Thursday, and reached our hotel by 9 pm. The empty highway was a luxury which the weekend doesn’t offer. In Hassan, Hotel Phalguni is an excellent place to stay. Here is a pro-tip: Call and book your stay there, to avail a 24 hour check-out option. Their rooms are excellent and the attached restaurant serves tasty veg food.
A 9 pm arrival meant that we did not have any plans of visiting places in Hassan. But there are a lot of things to do here, given the abundance of Hoysala temples in the district, and proximity to the Western Ghats. Here are a few photos from older trips.
Beautiful stone carved Nandi statue at Halebid
DAY 2: PHOTOGRAPHY AT CHARMADI GHATS AND KALASA
Hassan district might be famous for its Hoysala temples, but for nature lovers, the Western Ghats is the best place to visit, especially between August and February. We checked out of the hotel early in the morning, and drove through Belur, Kottigehara and Mudigere, to reach the Charmadi View Point by 9 am. We made two stops in between. At Kottigehara, there are vast paddy fields which look absolutely stunning from the sky. Monsoon is when the farmers start sowing crop, and a drive to the paddy growing areas of Karnataka can be a visual treat as this trip would teach us. A good half an hour was spent taking aerial shots of the place. My drone saw action after a long time, and I couldn’t have found a better place to warm up my skills.
Breakfast was at a small, clean cafe called Ibbani, just outside Mudigere. Big hotels with proper restrooms aren’t many on this route. If you stop there, certainly have the Malnad style Akki Roti and Neeru dosa. They are served steaming hot, and you needn’t feel embarrassed about losing count of how many plates you ate.
So, with breakfast and the first leg of drone flying done, our next halt was at Charmadi. There are no designated tourist spots on the ghat section of the highway, but there are places from where the views of the valley are great. There are also several seasonal waterfalls which excite travellers and truck drivers alike. And because of this, these spots can get crowded and dirty – a negative side effect of humans presence in nature. We stopped at at a few of these places, parking right on the Charmadi highway. It was misty, but not raining. The weather gods were being kind to us!
After misty Charmadi, we drove back to Mudigere and took the sharp turn which leads to Kalasa. Our halt for the second night of the trip was this small town, home to the Kalaseshwara Temple. We had booked rooms at Hotel Suprabha which happened to be a little away from the main town. The hotel has a veg restaurant which serves the usual South Indian fare. After resting for a bit, we headed out to the Kalasa hanging bridge, which is a short distance behind the temple. Interestingly, the bridge did not appear to connect to anywhere important. Here again, a drone capture of the river Bhadra and the bridge made my day.
DAY 3: SHRINGERI TEMPLE AND THIRTHAHALLI.
There is nothing much to do at Kalasa. You can go spend some time by the water if you like. The next morning, the view outside the hotel looked picture perfect. So, I quickly launched my drone to get some aerial photos of the low clouds hugging the green mountains.
We checked out after breakfast and left for Sringeri. The drive was long, but the route was extremely scenic, keeping both the driver and passengers engaged. We were criss-crossing the river Bhadra, which makes the region a fertile place for plantations of many varieties. Every shade of green was around us, and the weather was also pleasant.
The plan was to visit the temple at Sringeri to see the beautiful Sri Vidyashankara temple. Being a Saturday, we were expecting to see a lot of tourists, but that was not the case. We entered the temple complex and were greeted by two majestic elephants who were blessing pilgrims in exchange for some small change 🙂
The river Tunga flows beside the temple and one can easily spend hours watching the big fish in the water. Sringeri is popular for the Sri Sharadamba temple and Sringeri Sharada Peetham. After making a customary visit to the Sri Sharadamba temple, we had lunch at a newly opened hotel called Sharada Comforts.This is a new property away from the hustle and bustle of the temple area. After a decent veg meal, we drove onwards to Thirthahalli. It was past 4 pm when we checked into Hotel Kamath at Thirthahalli. Our destination for the evening was a hill, famous for a Jain Temple at the peak.
Kundadri Hill is less than hour from Thirthahalli. We were stopped by the forest guard at the base of the hill who said it was too late to drive up. But after a little bit of negotiation, he let us through. The hill road is very narrow and steep, requiring some skill behind the wheel. It was completely foggy when we reached the peak, which mean we only got glimpses of the famed views. The region surrounding the hill has vast paddy fields which I imagine would have looked fabulous on a clear day.
If we had reached Thirthahalli earlier, we could have driven to Agumbe as well. However, given that it was the monsoon, Agumbe Sunset View Point was not part of our plan. Another place near Thirthahalli worth visiting is the Kavaledurga fort. That would require half a day though, which we did not have.
DAY 4: CHAMPAKA SARASI AND SHIMOGA
We had an off-beat place in mind for the fourth day of our trip. Places like this are known only to a few people, mostly locals, until they go viral on social media. This can be a bad thing, because Indians do a terrible job of keep places clean.
Champaka Sarasi is a tank built in the 17th century. This place is about 2 hours from Thirthahalli and half an hour by walk from the main road. A small vehicle can easily drive on the muddy path leading to the pond, but we did not want to risk it driving on the soft mud. We parked on the highway and walked, which took more time than we had planned for. But for the return trip we managed to hire an auto rickshaw to the main road. A bunch of kids had come to the pond to bathe. One of the older boys came in an auto rickshaw, and was happy to drop us to the main road for a small fee of Rs 50/- 🙂
Champaka Sarasi lived up to the hype. The tank was full, and the colour of the water blended nicely with the surroundings. Two intricately carved elephants stand at the entrance of the pond. A Shiva temple in the centre of the emerald coloured waters can be approached via a small pathway nested on stone pillars. We were lucky to get some time to ourselves because after a brief spell of rain, a couple brought a few photographers for a pre-wedding shoot.
With the morning photography session successfully done, our next destination was Shimoga. We checked out from Thirthahalli and drove away from the Western Ghats to Shimoga. A planned stop at Gajanur Dam turned out to be a disappointment, though the route along the river was very scenic with tall trees providing a green canopy to the highway. The dam itself is inaccessible to public, but there is a spot just off the highway from where one can see the dam gates. This spot happened to be popular with the locals who had come to party that Sunday, so we were quick to scoot. It was around 4 pm when we checked into our Shimoga hotel, Green View Clarks Inn. After discussing how to spend the evening, we went to see the confluence of the Tunga and Bhadra rivers at Kudli Sangama.
Kudli is about 45 minutes from Shimoga on the route connecting the city to Chitradurga. The road is not in great shape and traffic is generally heavy. Kudli Sangama is an important pilgrim spot. The Rameshvara temple built in the Hoysala style of architecture is a prominent structure there, but it was closed that evening. The place also has a few other temples and a Mutta. For us, Kudli Sangama was just a place to cross off in our itinerary.
The real fun was when we approached the paddy fields on our drive back to Shimoga. The sun was setting and the sky turned fiery. This unexpected stop was spent capturing the changing colours in the sky as evening set in. This was, in fact, the first proper sunset we had seen on the trip! With this, the day ended as good as it started.
DAY 5: SAKREBYLE ELEPHANT CAMP AND DRIVE BACK TO BANGALORE
It was the last day of the trip, but we weren’t in a hurry to reach Bangalore. We decided to visit Sakrebyle despite the conflicting reports online, about the place being open to visitors. Sakrebyle is an elephant camp which houses animals in captivity. The place was indeed open and had quite a few visitors when we got there by 9 am.
Sakrebyle Elephant Camp is managed by the Karnataka Forest Department. When we got there in the morning, these gentle giants were being led to the backwaters of the Gajnur Dam for a bath. Each elephant had a mahout who spent a good amount of time washing and scrubbing his elephant. It was obvious that the elephants thoroughly enjoyed this routine. Later, they were lead to the stable, where they were fed.
Watching a wild animal in captivity isn’t pleasant. However, the elephants here are well taken care of. At the cost of heavy chains, they lead a relatively safer life than in the wild. The elephants here come from all over Karnataka and are are trained, or nurtured to health in case of sickness. Given their size and temperamental behaviour, this is no easy task. Visitors can watch the animals from a safe distance. Due to Covid, interaction with these giant creatures is not allowed. The camp has ample space for car parking, and the entry is ticketed.
The road trip officially ended at Sakrebyle Elephant camp. We got back to Shimoga and checked out from the hotel to drive back to Bangalore. But en route, we made an unexpected stop at a beautiful Hoysala temple, which we found on Google Maps.
Discovering the marvellous and well maintained Amrutheshwara Temple, built in 12th century AD by a Hoysala commander, was a perfect end to our trip. Amrutheshwara Temple is on par with the Belur and Halebeedu in terms of beauty. I enjoyed taking my final aerial shots here.