This is why Trekking to Skandagiri is a bad idea. | Bike Rides Bangalore

Monday, February 4, 2019

This is why Trekking to Skandagiri is a bad idea.

Place: Skandagiri Hills a.k.a Kalavara Betta.

Distance: 65 km from Bangalore
Type: Trek
Ideal for: Friends
Trek Difficulty:  Moderate to Difficult
Trek Length: 4 kilometer on way

Trek Duration: 2 hours to ascend
Best time to visit: To watch sunrise
Best season to visit: Throughout the year

I never write a negative post about any place, but this time I couldn't control myself from expressing my experience of my trek to Skandagir on 14th Jan 2019.




Best of the beast: Up above the cloud so high.

A little bit of History: I had visit Skandagiri back in 2011 with my college friends, apparently, it was my first trek and an experience of a lifetime. Skandagiri trek got banned by the Chikballapur forest department after numerous missing events and mishaps. Recently in 2016 July, the Karnataka Eco-Tourism Board took a good decision to allow guided trek at Skandagiri and  6 other hills around Bangalore. The treks which used to be free of cost now started costing 450 per head. Trekkers were unhappy and not everyone could afford it (especially for students). The govt then reduced the price to 250. Still Rs. 250 per head seems to a be huge amount compared to other major treks in western ghats.

Eco trail website is a joke: A photo of Skandagiri posted on Instagram triggered me to go for this trek. I checked the Eco Trails website to book the tickets. There were no slots for the coming weekend. Moreover, there were no slots available for the next three months. It was suspicious to see slots booked for three months including weekdays, at first it looked like a bug in the website. I decided to take a chance and try getting the tickets offline at the forest office itself.

Monday Morning: Skandagiri was known for the night trek but now the trek is permitted only after 4 am. I woke up at 1.30 in the night, I called Akshay who was supposed to be my pillion rider for the day, he bailed out at the last moment. So it was just me, Shreyas (colleague) and his friend.

Bone freezing Ride: We started from our respective homes at 1.50 in the night and assembled at Hebbal flyover. After a short intro and a hot cup of tea, we resumed our ride. The road was empty and there was no traffic except cabs going to the airport. It was bone-freezing cold, I mean it. It was so cold that I couldn't ride above 40 kmph even after wearing three layers of clothes and a jacket. The temperature further dropped down after Devanahalli. After reaching Chikballapur we relied on the Google Maps which showed accurate location. 

Skandagiri Base: We reached Lord Shiva Temple which is the starting point of the trek at 3.45 in the morning.  There were already a lot of bikes and cars parked at this place. We didn't have a clue about the forest office and where to buy the tickets. I inquired one of the group to check if they managed to get the trek permission. A girl from the group said we can book for future dates online and we are good to go. Even her group had done the same thing. Looking at her confidence it was clear that she was a knowledgable person but I didn't want to take the risk. We moved to the forest office where we were supposed to get the offline permission.


The shiva temple marks the starting of the trek


The forest department and the helpful numbers
There was none at the Forest office: There was supposed to be a forest officer or guide to help the trekkers but there were none. There were many people waiting for the forest officers to come and give us the permit.
 After waiting for 20 minutes we finally called a number given on the board. He told he will send the person, he also confirmed I can book for other dates if slots are not available. That explained why all the slots for the next three months were full.

The Dilemma: I booked for future dates and waited for 15 more minutes but still, no one from the forest department turns up. The time was running and it was crucial for us to start the trek by now otherwise we would be missing the sunrise. Most of the groups were in the same dilemma but since we had confirmation from the forest officer and had the permission with us, we started trekking.

The worst part of the trek: After we trekked for almost 20 min we could hear a man shouting loudly and asking us to come down. I realized it was the forest guard and he must be calling us as we didn't inform him. We had two options, one is to ignore him and continue trekking and other is to return, inform him and start trekking. I didn't want to take any risk as it's a highly sensitive trek. We descended, the guard said we need to write down our names in the ledger.

We showed him the booking ID but he told we need to register our names in the ledger. We tried to convince him as the time was running but he didn't seem to get convinced. Meanwhile, he allowed another group of 10 people who also had done the future booking. I was a little angry at the discrimination. We came back to the forest office but there was no other person from the forest office except this man. The trek was supposed to 4 am but it was already 5 am and no one had any clue if we will get the permit or not. The forest department wasn't doing their duty properly.

The conversation with the forest guard went like this,
Me: Tell me where to register? We need to start the trek, it's already 5 am.
Gaurd: Have you done the booking online?
Me: Yes (and showed him the booking details.)
Guard: Is the trek date is today?
Me: No. I already told you it's a future booking.
Guard: Then come on that day only.
Me: I called xxx (forest officer) and after confirming from him only I booked.
Guard: Then wait till he comes.
Me: When will he come?
Guard: I don't know.

The clock was ticking and 30+ people including us were waiting for someone from the forest department to come and give us the permit. We called the same number written on the board again but the number was not reachable this time. Meanwhile, one of the group got angry and started quarreling with the guard. The guard was not listening to anyone and he was simply telling us to wait for the forest officer but there was no sign of anyone coming. It was 5.30, it wouldn't make any sense to trek now, we wanted to drop the idea and go to Nandi hills but we had booked tickets online :( Few groups dropped the plan and went to Nandi hills and few others got angry and started trekking without caring for the guard.

WTF Moment: At 5.45 the guard opens the door of the office, gives us the ledger and asks us to enter the details. Wtf is this I asked. If he had the ledger with him why he didn't give us before? If he could allow us to trek now then why he didn't allow us before an hour? I got super pissed off and shouted at him for wasting our time. How can he think we can start now and witness the sunrise? I realized the plan to Skandagiri was a bad idea but we had no other choice but to trek now.

Is it worth trekking now? We checked the sunrise time, it was 6.40 am. If we can manage to trek within an hour we could see the sunrise. It will take 2+ hours to trek at a normal pace and the trek is moderate. We took the risk to scale the stretch as quickly as possible to not miss the iconic sunrise.


Trekking in the dark is a thrilling experience

The fast trek: It was still dark, the torch helped us to lead our way. The path is pretty clear and there were few arrow marks for navigation (but very difficult to identify). We trekked nonstop for the next 30 minutes and covered almost half the distance. It was exhausting and we were running out of breath. But there was no time to take rest. We had to keep our pace to catch up with the time. The trek would have been so much fun and easy if we had started at 4 am. We cursed the guard throughout the way. My friends stopped to catch the breath while I continued trekked alone to not compromise the Sunrise. The inclination was steep and it was difficult to climb each step without taking a break. The trek which was supposed to be thrilling and fun became a punishment due to lack of organization from the forest department.



The place got lit as we trekked

Chasing the rising sun

A perfect vantage point to watch the sunrise

The mesmerizing sunrise
Mesmerizing Sunrise: I looked at the time, it was 6.40. The place was already lit up with the morning sun yet the sun was hiding behind the horizon. The peak was another 15 minutes away so I stopped and found a vantage point to witness the sunrise. Within 5 minutes the sun rose from the clouds. It was a sight to behold. I resumed my trek to reach the peak. It took me one hour and 200% effort to reach the peak.

The golden rays of sun lit up the whole space

Sun rising above the cloud
My friends were behind so I just sat down enjoying the magnanimous sight of the sun rising above beds of clouds, a sight so rare and equally refreshing. Without blinking my eyes I kept on watching the sun play hide and seek with the clouds. It was a sight to behold.

The place was covered with the clouds


It was a sight to behold to witness such view
I was sitting alone and waiting for my friends who were probably taking a lot of pics on the way. One thought kept on bugging me in my head - Is this the trek worth taking so much trouble? The view could be speechless but the trouble was real. I understand whatever the forest department does it is for the safety of trekkers like us. I do respect the rules and regulations of the forest dept but it's equal responsibility of forest dept to execute the treks in an organized way.



Everything at the place looked so much photogenic, even me :P
We spent another hour taking photos and enjoying the view. Apart from the beautiful sunrise, the ruined remains of Tipu Sultan's fortress grabbed my attention. We started descending at 10 am. The descend felt difficult than the ascent.


I loved these pillars which make it beautiful point for photography


like this one


Who is scared of heights?

Not me for sure :P
We reached the forest office at 11 am. Apart from the forest guard we met in there morning, there were other two forest officers. They took an apology letter from the people who didn't take the permit. I talked with them and asked why there are so many fewer slots for the trekking (only 40 per day) while the demand is so huge (around 500 - 1000 on a weekend). The officer expressed similar concern and said even they are contacting higher authorities to increase the slots. We had coconut water and started riding back to Bangalore.


Inside the temple atop

This nandi statue grabbed my attention 
Look who we have here



Well said

Going up an optional, getting down is mandatory. 
We took a breakfast stop at Nandi Upachar. While riding back I saw police with the speed at more than 4 places. Luckily I was riding under 70 kmph so I didn't get pulled over. I reached my room at 1 in the afternoon and I straight went to sleep.

Conclusion: I agree the thrill of trekking in the dark and mesmerizing sunrise of Skandagiri is must experience but taking this much of trouble isn't really worth it. I hope the forest department will increase the slots and execute the guided trek better in the future.

This is my first-time experience with Eco trails guided trek. Let me know how was your experience in the comment section below.

2 comments:

Smitha N said...

The sunrise of Skandagiri is spectacular and more talked than Nandi hills. But the trouble you went through makes it an unpleasant experience. Hoping to see more organised treks from government in future. Kudos to the honest and useful writeup.

sagar said...

Yes. Hopefully the facilities increase and we get more organized treks at lower cost in future.