The Kodachadri Hills tower over the tiny pilgrim centre of Kollur, presided over by Sri Mookambika Devi. But there is still no mistaking Kodachadri (1,343m), the highest hill from which the range gets its name. It seems to rise up into the clouds, greyish blue, with wreaths of green decorating it from the bottom to the top. It borders Kundapur in Udupi District. On its western portion, it drops almost perpendicular to the Mookambika Wildlife Sanctuary, home of the endangered lion-tailed macaque. The Sowparnika River flows in the valley beyond the hills and empties into the Arabian Sea near the famous Maravanthe Beach. The river has large stretches of mangrove forests rich in aquatic delicacies like tiger prawns and crabs. Occasionally, fishermen are said to have come across crocodiles in these forests.
DISTANCE 17 KM TIME 5-6 HOURS
From Kollur catch a bus to Kodachadri, getting off 12 km later at Karakatta Gate. If you are coming via Shimoga, then the hills are located 12 km west, down the Theerthalli-Mastikatte Road. Whichever route you take, there’s no mistaking Kodachadri, standing like a monolith. Pass through the concrete arch of the Karakatta Gate and walk on the level jeep track. An hour’s walk over the badly rutted road will bring you to Santosh Hotel on your left. His puttu and channa are very popular with trekkers and if you’re returning the next day, ensure that you order lunch before you proceed. Just behind the tea shop is a gently flowing stream of icy cold water, tumbling fresh from the hills.
Take a dip and then get yourself a cup of tea and food. Thus fortified, walk towards the foothill of Kodachadri (remember you’ll be climbing or getting down the mountain for the better part of the day, so ensure that you carry enough water and snacks). Ten minutes from the tea shop, you’ll see three paths leading upwards. Take the middle one, because it has been hardened by centuries of movement of wild animals, cattle and people. This is the toughest portion of the hike as it is steep for the most part. There are brambles and thorn bushes and shrubs with spiky leaves that can leave nasty cuts. There are also cashew and berry trees crawling with vicious red ants, so watch out.
After 11/2 hrs the hill breaks into level ground on which is located a small temple. Rest a while and then you can resume the hike. The hill is so beautiful and the air so invigorating that one automatically walks slowly, taking in the sights of the green vistas and meadows on the surrounding hills and valleys and the Mookambika Wildlife Sanctuary nestling way below in the valley to the west. The left side of the hill is an almost perpendicular drop of 1,150m. Sometimes, you’ll catch a sparkle of silver from the river thundering through the valley. At other times, if you are lucky, you’ll be able to witness the blue of the Arabian Sea in the distant horizon. In the rainy season and post monsoon, one can see the grace of the Agastya Teertha Waterfall on the left face of the hill.
About 2-3 hrs later, you reach Kodachadri, which has a PWD bungalow, a Shankaracharya Temple, and a couple of small houses with rooms on rent. If they have room, you can stay here or pitch your tents on the grounds around. There’s plenty of water here. It takes about 30-40 mins from here to reach the summit at a leisurely pace. There’s a little temple-like structure here called the Sarvajna Peetha to mark the spot where Shankaracharya is said to have meditated. Trekkers love to reach the top in time for the sunrise or sunset, which are spectacular and make for great photos.
DISTANCE 17 KM TIME 4 HOURS
Walking down the same way is easier and should take 4 hours. The slope towards Kundapur has steep faces and is not advisable unless one has undergone a rock-climbing course. On reaching the bottom, one can catch a bus or truck heading towards Kundapur or Shimoga. From here get onward transportation to head home.
By Allen Mendonca
About the author: Allen Mendonca is a Bangalore based writer, columnist, actor and musician. He served in senior positions in a number of national dailies before deciding to travel to wherever his dreams take him.