Many treks lead to ancient forts in the Western Ghats of Karnataka, but the one to the Kannur Fort is undoubtedly among the finest. This walk is the epitome of everything Shimoga promises for the city dweller who longs for nature: thick jungles teeming with wildlife, cataracts at every turn, lush green mountaintops and picture-perfect villages. For a trek that begins on an unassuming jeep track, the journey’s an amazingly scenic one — I couldn’t stop taking pictures as every turn introduced vistas that seemed better than the previous one. A hard day’s work translated into a perfect night at the campsite of Shaale Mane.
Perched on a little hill, I drank in the excellent views of the surrounding villages and paddy fields, watching the glow disappear beyond the high hills. There’s plenty of adventure too. At Dabbe Falls, I had to negotiate a steep descent to catch a glimpse of the thin, silvery thread of the waterfall falling down to the other side of the valley. You also get the chance to meet interesting people on the trail. I met Neel Kumar, for instance, a local lad with a fund of stories, who regaled me with tales of tigers and gaurs as I took a dip in the stream running through his paddy fields.
On Day Two I met the ‘doctor’, an enthusiastic 80-yearold man who has a farm on the edge of the forest. Make sure you have time to have a chat with him. He showed me around his beautiful farm filled with black peppers, arecanut, banana plants and a curious ‘vicks’ plant that he had got from Nepal. The trek, though, is not all a bed of roses. The section through the Govardhanagiri forest on the way to the fort is steep and tiring, but the occasional peacock will keep your enthusiasm high. The route also passes through sholas with leeches. So I suggest you bring a little cloth pouch with a concoction of rock salt, tobacco and lime to get rid of them.
On the last day I hurried towards Gerusoppa, past dark shola trees. The murmur of a distant stream kept me company as I traversed endless forests. But then when I finally sighted the houses of Gerusoppa, heralding the end of this marvellous walk, I told myself that I should have gone much slower. This trek needs complete self-sufficiency. Carry your tent and enough food for three days. You could use the Shaale Mane school verandah to curl up inside your sleeping bag, but it can get cold at nights. Since you will be crossing the Sharavathy Wildlife Sanctuary, you need permission from the Deputy Conservator of Forests, Wildlife Division, DC Office Compound, Balraj Urs Road, Shimoga-577201. Tel: +91-8182-222983
TIME 5 HOURS
As soon as you reach Hosagadde, you’ll see a small shop on the opposite side of the road. Pick up toffees or sweets from here to help you on your way and also — if it’s the rainy season — huge plastic covers to protect yourself from the rains. The path begins just next to this shop and forks 10m later. You must keep to the left. This track is as big as a jeep road and heads north-west. After 20 mins, cross a small bridge over a stream and continue on the track for an hour or so until you hit a temporary bridge. Here, the path divides. Keep to the right, heading north.
After 100m, you will cross a wooden bridge. From here onwards, the path turns into a foot track that heads north, along a wooden fence and descends into a stream. Just before you hit the stream, take a left. The foot track continues along the left side of the stream and gets quite narrow, passing through bamboo thickets. Climb over a wooden gate, and continue along the paddy fields, crossing the stream and following the path past a house, heading towards the north-west. Cross a temporary bridge, walking on the right border of the paddy fields to reach a typical Malnad house. Take the path heading west past this house. Cross the stream and walk 10m, to where the path divides. Take the foot track heading west, which will turn into a jeep track. After 100m, you hit a permanent bridge, where you will see nice little waterfalls. Follow the jeep track, heading north. The first house you get to is a certain Dabbe Gowdru’s house. Ask permission before you enter his premises.
Dabbe Falls can be seen from the edge of his fields overlooking the other side of the valley, but you have to descend sufficiently to get a glimpse of the waterfalls. Spend some leisure time there and then retrace your steps back to the pucca bridge. As you cross the bridge, take the foot track that ascends south-west to join a jeep track. Half a kilometre later, cross a stream and keep going straight (be sure not to take a right after the stream). Just after a house, the track forks. Take the left. This jeep track ascends northwards. You’ll come across two houses; take the path going down and to the west, opposite them. Go down the path, cross a dam and the fields on the left side to arrive at a hut, and a path which continues behind it, ascending steeply. Follow this path to reach Shaale Mane, the village school. You can pitch your camp on the premises or sleep in the verandah. There is also water available from the tap on the premises.
KANNUR KOTE (St. Angelo Fort)
This 16th century forgotten fort in the dense jungles of the Sharavathy Valley is at the centre of many obscure tales. The last ruler over this part was the famous ‘Pepper Queen’ Chennabhairavadevi, one of the many Keladis of Kannur. The Keladi kings were Jains and many of the locals here still follow the sect. The reason for the Kannur Fort being in ruins is the subject of many interesting stories. One tale says that an unknown epidemic caused people to flee this once busy and flourishing fort. Another speaks of how neighbouring rulers were jealous of the immense wealth the queen gained from trading black peppers with Portuguese colonists. This jealousy fuelled a battle and lead to the downfall of the empire. Either way, the fort now stands in utter ruins, slowly being swallowed by the jungle. A small exploration can spring a lot of pleasant surprises. Beautiful sculptures, tunnels, gateways and strong fort walls still remain, standing their ground against the forest.
SHAALE MANE-DOCTOR MANE
TIME 6 HOURS
Take the jeep track in front of the school heading south. After a short while the track forks; take a left. Where the jeep track ends at a house, take the footpath heading south-west, following the electric poles. Enter the fields through a small wooden gate on your left, and cross to the right side of the fields to get to a check dam. Cross the dam and continue south-west on the path, following the electric poles. Once the path descends, you can see the road. Skirt the fields to reach the road. Take a right to head towards Kannur. The road is a pleasant 5-km walk, with hardly any vehicles and wonderful sights of the countryside. It ends at a permanent bridge. Note that the stream beneath is your last water source for the day and it’s a great place for a dip too.
A jeep track continues north, with a forest signboard saying: ‘Kannur Fort 8 km’. The track is well defined from this point on and leads through some unbelievable forests. However, the first kilometre can be really taxing, so carry at least two bottles of water. Go past the unmanned forest gate and the couple of houses on the left (you could easily miss these as they nestle within thick foliage). The Kannur Fort is just 1 km away. However, watch out for the spot when the track divides. A small wooden signpost hammered on a tree in the middle of the fork directs you to the track on your right. This track ascends south-west and leads you to the fort, which is just 100m away. Keep in mind the small, curiouslooking broken stone arch on your left just before you hit the fork. A path right opposite this monument takes you to Gerusoppa, your third day’s trek
The first sight of the fort is a huge stone wall on your right with a little arched doorway leading inside. Once you enter, a flight of stairs leads you further inside. Spend a few hours exploring the fort, and then go back to the fork, take the other route and head downwards. You will skirt around a jungle lake and cross a log bridge. The first house you see on your right (11/2 km from the fort) is the old doctor’s house. He is kind enough to let trekkers stay in his verandah (which can accommodate up to six people), but doesn’t provide food. The doctor prefers that his guests are well behaved and keep their noise levels to a minimum. Leave early and take lots of water with you. This part of the trek can be quite tiring but the route is very beautiful, and you have good chances of sighting wild animals
TIME 5 HOURS
Retrace your steps back to the curious-looking piece of monument. The route opposite descends northwards. After about 11/2 hrs, the path leads you out of the forest and divides into three, which can be confusing. Take the path in the centre going north-west (not quite as defined as the other two), which heads uphill a little while. After 200m, you will cross a wooden gate. Head to the left of the house. The path leads down into a stream. Crossing this stream to get to the other side can be quite difficult, but not dangerous. The track continues, skirts on the left of some fields, and meets another path. Take a right and ascend northwest on a fairly well-defined jeep track. The hike is initially tiring, but you will pass a couple of streams that are perfect for a refreshing dip and you can recover here. The path finally ends on the banks of River Sharavathy. You can hop a boat to get across the river to the town of Gerusoppa, from where you can catch a bus to Sagara.
By Vivek M
About the author: Vivek M divides time between being a doctor and planning the next trek in the Western Ghats, something he has been doing for the past six years. He dreams of doing serious Photo-journalism sometime in the future.