Thursday, March 24, 2016

Muthodi Forest and Mulliyangiri

We were discussing on where to go for a trek, but the hot summer made us think twice about the location. Should we get burnt in the hot mountains was the question? Finally we decided that we will head to Harsha's uncle's coffee estate attached to Muthodi Forest range spend some time around and  then try trekking the Mulliyangiri Peak. The highest peak of Karnataka at around 6398ft. Even though I had been trekking for some time, I had never trekked Mulliyangiri because since there is a road connectivity to the peak, I believed the place would be badly littered. I was not wrong. Usually I avoid going to such places, but this time we thought since its just 2-3kms trek we can finish it off at least from the list of places to be visited.

Initially around 8 people wanted to join us but at the end only 3 of decided to explore. Good that we continued with the trend of once planned never back off irrespective of the numbers. Since we were only 3, we decided to drive in Diwi's car. We started around 5am from Bangalore and reached Chickmagalur around 9am. We straight away went to Forest office located very near to the bus stand, as it is mandatory to take permission from the RFO before trekking here. To our bad luck it was a holiday and we could only find some employees doing some pending work on a holiday, on our request to them they gave us the contact number of the RFO. I called up the RFO and told we had come from Bangalore and we wanted permission to trek, to which the RFO told he would come to office in 30min and asked us to wait.

After almost an hour of waiting finally the RFO came to office even on a holiday, it was a pleasant surprise at the first place. I had to mention it was pleasant meeting RFO Abdul Azeez not because we got permission to trek, but his pep talk on what to do and what not in the forest. He mentioned that usually they don't give permission in summer because many times people smoke or light fire to the dry grass which burns off the entire mountain ranges. We were lucky to get permission, probably he felt we were sensible enough. 

After getting permission we headed straight to Harsha's uncles place and had a nice brunch. We parked our car and took their jeep to head towards the estate. We reached the Muthodi forest check post around 3pm and waited around 1 hour to go for a safari. At around 4 we went for a safari, since it was summer I was expecting some good sighting near the water holes, but my bad luck with the predators continues. Nothing interesting other than few sambars and peacock. It was nice to see a 300 year old Teak tree in the middle of the forest.

After the safari we headed towards the coffee estate which around 7-8kms from the forest check post and is attached to the forest. We reached around 6.30pm but due to some repair issues there was no power for the entire night. We met couple of other friends who owned the estate and together we all prepared the dinner and had a wonderful dinner. We retired to bed early as we had plans of trekking early next day.

We started from the estate around 6am promising to visit again in the monsoons and explore more. The drive from the estate to the starting point of the trek "Sarpa haadi" was spectacular. Beautiful forest, coffee estates, mountain ranges and the early golden light. It was a beautiful drive. We reached the start point around 9am after showing the permission letter to the forest officer a couple of miles before the starting point. Even he was surprised to see the letter and mentioned the same thing that mostly no one gets permission in this season.But slowly I started gaining confidence and I was walking consistently with smaller steps without trying much.

To be frank I thought this trek to be  simplest one because distance wise it was just around 2-3kms, but probably due to summer heat and the steepness it did take a troll. Probably lack of activity for quite some time has reduced our fitness. Finally we reached the peak after around 90min of trek. There is a small temple on the peak and lots of visitors come to the temple by road. As expected the entire area was completely littered with plastics. The place is beautiful but I guess needs lot of cleaning. This has been the biggest problem in India, there are many wonderful places but the day you provide connectivity to such places by road to promote tourism it gets spoilt big time.

We were already late since we wanted to reach Bangalore by evening, hence we didn't trek back rather we took a lift to the starting point. We heard there are couple of beautiful waterfalls inside the private coffee estates but we decided to explore it next time around since we were getting late. We reached Chickmagalur and got freshened up and started heading back to Bangalore. Over all a wonderful weekend with a nice trek, safari, drive on the mountains and some quality time with the nature. 
This trek would be wonderful if attempted after monsoons. This trek can be extended from Mullaiyan giri to Bababudan giri, we could see the trail probably some other time.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Akshayanagar Lake

I moved to Akshaya nagar around 2 years back in Dec 2013. There was a lake in Akshaya nagar, but there was no water in it, so when I first saw the lake, it was kind of a dead lake with lots of weeds and construction derbies all around the lake. Right from day one I was very much fascinated with the lake, I kept thinking something needs to be done and I can't let it die like other lakes in Bangalore. One day I dropped a mail to Bangalore lake development authority saying that there is a beautiful lake in the area and I would like to work on that, but would like to have some inputs from them. This was the turning point the reply I got was that there was already a team in Akshayanagar who are working on restoring of the lake. I tired to meet these people who turned out to be residents of Akshayanagar and from whom I got to meet few very very passionate people who were very concerned at the rapid growth of the area without a good plan. Its through them that I got to know about the history of the lake that in 2009 one side of the lake bund was strengthened, most of the sewage was blocked, fenced and entire lake was cleaned up at huge cost running in lakhs. But over a period of few years it was again same story. So when I first saw the lake it was empty, weeds all around, construction derbies every where. 

A week before 2014 Gandhi Jayanti, quite a few residents decided to clean a patch of the lake. So myself along with my cousin Anirudh and Archana we decided to adopt a small island and clean it up. We decided to plant few plants and maintain the same. But around same time the prime minister Narendra Modi called for Swach Bharath campaign and on the Gandhi Jayanti of 2014 around 100 people turned up for cleaning up of the lake. It was a one day affair they worked for 3-4 hours on that particular day, cleaned up as much as possible and left. But I was very much encouraged by the turn out on that particular day which got almost half of the lake cleaned up. But with in a short time it was again back to the same sorry state. Also the number of apartments in the area was increasing at a very rapid pace with all construction derbies landing either inside or in and around the lake.
We were cleaning on weekends and when we go back after a week it would look same like the week before.Slowly we also started loosing hope and our activism was dying a natural death with lack of interest and participation. Around the same time I also got very busy with many other personal work and lost focus for quite a few months. 

Its surprising how nature connects the dots, it was sometime in 2015 july/aug, I was watching the lake and was thinking something needs to be done, can't let go such a vast piece of land. Finally I decided from next week I will again work on the island which we had cleared almost a year back and start a small garden. To my surprise when I got up that weekend I saw 3 more people in the lake it was our Ramesh Sir, Pavan Sanganal and Prashanth. I went to the lake and said it so nice to see them as I was thinking on working on our island as well. My self and Anirudh decided to work on the island and the other 3 people decided to work on a patch of land next to ours.

I believe that day was a very good day, from that day on every thing we touched just turned gold. After few weeks of cleaning we were no were and finally we decided to buy a weed cutting machine to speed up the things. Until now which was like weekend workout on fields to stay in good health all of a sudden turned out to be passion once the weed cutting machine came up. When we started seeing the changes, ideas started flowing on how and what all things could be done.

The sound of the weed cutting machine on a early weekend morning at 6:30 am started acting as an alarm, many people who were walking on roads were curious to know what was happening inside the lake. Quite a few thought probably BBMP/Government is doing something. Quite a few asked which department we work for and quite a few asked how much was BBMP/Government was paying us. 

Slowly many people residing in and around the lake felt good about the activity and lots of progress being done over a period of a month or two. Many people started joining us and started participating every weekend. In four months time we cleaned up the entire lake of around 700+ meters by clearing of all debris, blocking of sewage entry to the lake, cutting of all the weeds. The labour of every volunteer was completely free, only thing which was needed was petrol and maintenance of the machine and few more tools for cleaning. We pooled around 100 Rs/month from every interested individual. Over a period of 4 months we spent around 5800 Rs to clean up the entire lake bund, not many could actually believe that we only spent such a small amount.

Yet we had problems with 2 things, no one was willing to enter the lake and either during the day time when we were in office or during night, people use to come and dump derbies or garbage in the vicinity there by spoiling all the hard work done. Finally the moment came when the association was celebrating its 10th anniversary and had invited both MLA and corporater of the area. Our team decided with Ramesh sir, and in a short notice on the day of the function I prepared a 10 slide ppt about how the lake was and what we have done in 4 months time. Ramesh sir decided to present  it. This was the stage we were looking for, we presented the happenings to all the residents of Akshayanagar with photographic evidence on how we changed it.

Many were curious how such a small team can do this, quite a few were surprised when they heard about the money that was spent. We started getting more and more visitors both to the lake as well as more and more people started connecting and showing interest on the FB page. Slowly many people who were old and couldn't help us with work at least wanted to help us with funds. 

As volunteer list grew, we had 100 eyes monitoring the lake from getting littered, funds started flowing for different ideas that were being proposed like having benches, boards and many more. Things started moving in a professional manner. What started as a hobby for few, started turning as passion for many and list was just growing. Today when I went to lake in the evening I could see around 150+ people walking, many might not even know who did this but we as a team are very proud that we managed something which was not easy at all. This project has given a lot of confidence among the residents of the area to take up lot of other progressive developmental activities quite a few of which are already happening. 

I always believed both  good and bad work are infectious, you do something bad others will follow and you do something good others will follow as well. Now after 6 months I don't see any body throwing anything in and around our lake. That should explain on what we have done. Many a times we get to hear Government has not done this or that, but I always say if I am living in an area why should I depend on others, If we start doing things ourselves I am sure government will not have any other option but to join us for a good cause. This is how we got a small bridge done inside the lake from our MLA :-). 

When I look back I can proudly say it would never have had happened without the support of all the lovely people I have met in the process. As a team we are phenomenal and we can be proud of what we have done.

We have created a facebook page which has all the details about our activity with photos.