My guidebook from Maps & More informed of hiking opportunities at Beltangadi. The general plan was to dump my backpack at a hotel for the night and do some hiking here. When I reached Beltangadi, I asked around. Hiking is not common knowledge for the common man. No one knew anything about hiking around this town, although I could see forests and hills all around.
Where common knowledge is lacking, the aspiring hiker must do adequate research. He must have a specific destination in mind such as a named peak or a known path. It will be useless to enquire about hikes and walks in general. It will be vainly optimistic to expect signed routes and way markers. Hiking has not reached that sort of popularity in India. Meanwhile, it remains more adventurous.
A change of plan was in order. Near Beltangadi is Jamalabad Fort. It was one of Tipu Sultan’s forts. He built it in 1794 and named it after his mother. I waited 45 minutes for the bus to Jamalabad and I was there within 10 minutes.
Jamalabad is under the shadow of an enormous rocky outcrop. Previously known as Narasimhadurgi, it towers above everything else around it. We can see it from a long way. From the drop off point, the start of the hike is about 2 km away. There is a notice board that places the hill at 1700 feet. It also clearly mentions that this is within forest boundaries and a special permit is needed. I didn’t have any and there was no one around to ask or give one.
It took me about 75 minutes to the top. The climb is steep and unrelenting. Part of the way, steps are laid out from rocks. In other parts, steps are carved out of the rock in situ. All along the way, the views to the east are far reaching. It’s only at the top you get to see the other side of the hill. Towards the top, the rocky steps wind and curve around steep rock faces, hugging tightly as if they themselves might fall off and plummet to certain death.
After weeks of idleness, a hike like this was tough on the legs. By the time I was back at the starting point, I had severe cramps in both my legs. I knew that I was going to be out of hiking action for at least a week. The real problem was that I had to do the hike with my backpack, loaded with stuff for a weeklong trip to these parts of Karnataka.
When I returned, the local forest ranger was waiting. His shift begins at 9 am while I had started my walk half an hour earlier. I duly paid Rs. 40 for the permit that’s required to enter forest boundaries. He also warned me of the dangers of walking alone. He quoted a recent incident when a foreign tourist was attacked by villagers for no greater reason that the greed of money. As the ranger described very beautifully in Kannada, the tourist’s “life hung by a slim thread and he was saved not a little too soon”.
Nonetheless, I had not been alone on today’s hike, at least on the way down. I met lots of school kids from Puttur. I also met college students from Vivekananda College in Puttur. It is good to see many people taking time to enjoy the outdoors. It’s quality time with nature, with friends and a nice way to get fit.
The top of the hill contain sparse remains of the fort and a modern transmission tower. There is a rusted canon on the way up. Except to the east, there are forests in every other direction. Taller peaks stood to the north under a brilliant sunshine. East of the hill are some villages, farms, coconut groves and a river that flows by. The scene from the top is a mix of green forest cover and patches of brown grass and black rock. It’s an easy hike to the top and a few hours spent in this manner will certainly make your day.
I took a bus from Dharmasthala to Beltangadi where I waited long for the connection to Jamalabad.
The forest ranger at the entrance of the walk sells drinks and water. I had breakfast (idli, vada, sambar) at a hotel in Beltangadi.