On Independence Day, we went hiking with two other families (the bus stop crowd) at a place called Ranganatha Swamy Hill. It lies in a largely deserted stretch of hill country just south of Bangalore called the South Bangalore taluk. This is the mythical “nature” that we had been seeking almost since we arrived in India.
One problem that we as hiking junkies and nature lovers have encountered here is that India simply has no hiking culture. This means that when you ask around about the good places to go, people express bewilderment at the very idea of walking in the jungle for fun and then direct you either to the Lal Bagh or Nandi Hills. The former will be a gentle stroll between camera flashes and the latter will involve dodging monkeys and touts in a trash laden tourist trap. Neither was what we were looking for. We eventually found it by scouring the vicinity of Bangalore in Google Earth, looking at maps, asking people and simply beating search engines to death. We had a shortlist of places to try and after reading a blog post trip report for Ranganatha Swamy Hill, decided to give it a try.
The trailhead was in a village called Konavaradoddi, a few kilometers off of the Bangalore-Kanakapura road. Konavaradoddi is very far off the main road and getting there was an adventure in itself. We stopped in a village market on the way so that Daniela could buy bananas. I went digging in the console for a Karnataka state roadmap. When I looked up, I found myself surrounded by curious onlookers and beggars. I’ve been pestered by beggars before. One only needs to stop for a nanosecond or two at a traffic light in Bangalore for that to happen, but the crowd of curious onlookers was more extreme than anything I’ve seen before.
Finally, we got everything taken care of and were on our way again. A few more miles down a twisty, one lane road led us to Konavaradoddi and the trailhead. Konavaradoddi is remote. In fact, there were no motor vehicles in the village; only cows, goats and barefoot villagers. We must have been a strange sight. As a group, we were made up of a motley collection of Tamils and foreigners of various nationalities. I got the feeling that they did not see outsiders very often and foreigners were even more of a novelty. We parked and started gathering up our packs to head down the trail.
The local children gathered around our cars and started asking for chocolate. We did not have any (we did bring some as part of lunch, but not enough for every kid in the village), but perhaps in the future, we’ll bring some along for local kids. We finished gathering up our packs and started off down the trail, with half of the village children in tow, still asking for sweets. I stopped to adjust my trekking poles and they all gathered around me to watch. Daniela saw this and took the camera out to photograph the scene. As soon as she did, they stopped gawking at me and posed for the camera.
As we walked up the valley to the base of Ranganatha Swamy Hill, we passed through coconut groves and farmland where life has hardly changed in millennia. It was the epitome of rural idyll, thirty miles and a world away from downtown Bangalore.
Three of the kids persevered and after a half kilometer or so, Daniela dug out an Oreo for each. They declared that they would be our guides to the top and wanted to be paid in bananas. Along the way to the base of the hill, we also picked up a couple of cows in our procession.
Finally, we started up the hill and left our multiple species of “guides” behind. To be continued.