I read about the nearby Nandi Hills. A steep hiking path, breath taking sunrises, in credible views… Who could resist?
Then it turns out that no one I know has actually been there at sunrise… Or hiked (“why hike- they let you drive right up!”). Perhaps I should have taken note that things wouldn’t go strictly according to plan.
I got up early to drive out past the airport into the country side. The official state website said they open at 6am, sunrise was 6:12am, so no worries. It’s not prudent to hike unknown, steep paths in the dark, so the idea was to drive up and see the sunrise, then hike down (which would also overcome the challenged of having no earthly idea where the trailhead starts at the bottom if the Hill).
When we arrived at the ticket counter about 5:50 am and there was already a modest queue. And it was freezing — whipping wind and really cold. Smarter people came prepared with woolen hats & gloves (admittedly, that was probably overkill, but since temps here are in the low 80s during the day and high 60s/70 at night, it felt freezing by comparison….).
Apparently the ticket takers didn’t realise that watching the sun actually rise was the motivation behind so many of us getting up so early… Because they didn’t bother opening the ticket counter until 6:30ish. It struck me then: the fact that I was so nonplused about the delay means I really am adapting! (Penelope, I was channeling you at the train station in Dijon!)
We got into the ancient fort and stopped to snap some photos of the dawn sky. Then we explored around on foot: the ancient temple, checked out Tipu’s Drop where prisoners condemned to death would be pushed over the sheer rock face 600 meters high (Tipu was the ruler who fought off the British invaders until his dying breath: think king-warrior-freedom fighter). We saw from a distance the guest houses where Gandhi, Nehru & Queen Elizabeth stayed. We explored the gardens, saw the giant tank and checked out Tipu’s summer palace/ hunting lodge (modest & tasteful from the outside; the inside is locked up) and its ancient outdoor alter.
Outside the fort walls at the front door to Tipu’s hunting lodge, was a winding path with stairs heading down the hill — eureka! The hiking path! We confirmed with the ticket taker that was indeed the route. Then there was a lot of discussion: should I hike downhill and have C (my driver and touring companion for the morning) collect me at the bottom? (No good: we still don’t know where the trail ends. Also the safety of hiking alone made this option seem… imprudent.) Do we both hike down and then take an auto rickshaw (aka “autos” here, or “tuk-tuks” elsewhere) or bus back up to the fort? (Nope, no taxis or autos or bus service from the tiny village where the trail ends.) Thus, only one option: we go down hill and then come back up.
Off we go, taking in the crisp early morning air and scenery. We pass the gate to the fort, using the same path Tipu and his subjects used generations before. There was a shady lean-to made of stone about a third of the way down -very thoughtfully placed. We passed a guy talking loudly on his cell — at 7am on a Saturday in the middle of a hiking path in the middle of no where hollering into your cell: really ?!?
Then we come to a modest temple with a Nandi bull, shady & serene, about 2/3 of the way down.
Around there, we ran into 2 older women in saris with parcels balanced on their heads, walking barefoot. C translated their chit chat (in the local language, Kannada) for me: they sell flowers to tourist at the fort, but the don’t feel like walking up all the way now; they decide to turn back and make the trek in the afternoon; there will be few tourist there when they arrive in the afternoon, however, they can sleep up at the fort overnight and be ready for the mad rush of weekend tourists Sunday morning…
Towards the bottom, the trail starts to flatten out and there is a small temple to Hanuman, the monkey god. We ran into a family of 4, kids bounding up the hill ahead of mom & dad as we were descending. We traded notes: it took us about an hour to descend, what there is to see at the top; they told us about a yummy breakfast place in the tiny village below, Silver Oak.
The end of the trail. Finally! We now know where the trail ends. We turned around and started the hike back up, stopping at the Nandi bull temple and its divine, cold shady stone structure for breakfast sandwiches. By now, the “cold” temperatures at the top were not an issue. The sun was fully up and, this low on the hillside, the air was still.
To be honest, the climb back up was at a very… leisurely pace. The sun got stronger as the morning wore on, but the higher we climbed the more cool breezes we got. It was Mother Nature’s way of motivating us. A group of ‘tweens passed us, bounding up with limitless energy. Although I hate to admit to being overtaken on the path, I was (where do those kids get such energy?!?). At least I can report that their parents never caught up to us!
Once back at the top, it felt like we’d accomplished a lot before 10am on. Saturday