It would not be an exaggeration if I say that this was one of our most anticipated trips. Dandeli and Goa are destinations which can awaken the spirits of even the most indolent and you can imagine what it can do for 6 active men like us (Bennish aka Benda/Ben, Mark aka Marky, Mahesh Aka Mackey, Deepak Aka Deepsie, Nagendra aka Nagu and me aka Sunda/Josie). I do not think many can blame us for planning to be lost in the right “spirits’.
We started the Journey from the Infant Jesus church after a small prayer for protection on the 10th of Feb, 2010. We took the Tumkur-Chitradurga-Davangere-Shiggaon-Tadas-Kalghatgi-Haliyal-Dandeli route, which looked like the best route to reach Dandeli according to Google maps and also for the fact that we were traveling in NH4 most of the way and about 80 Kms of state highway. We picked up a couple of Bacardi’s from the St. Marks road and it took about an hour for us to start our first drink session in the innova itself, which finished just before dinner in a Dhaba near Haveri.
The travel on the NH was mostly comfortable apart from the fact the never ending constructions were still in progress at some stretches making sure one could never fully admire the roads. Things changed as soon as we left the NH, the first surprise was that there was no sign board or lighting before the diversion to the narrow road leading to Tadas from the NH, infact we did not even realize there was a road there until Mahesh who was tracking the route using his GPS enabled mobile phone, told us that we had missed the way. The road from Tadas to Kalghatgi was bad with atleast 5 kms stretch just having nothing called tar, it was a mud road with the usual potholes. But none of us, even in our wildest imagination were prepared for the condition of the road, from Kalghtagi to Haliyal, in some of the stretches there was hardly anything you could call road, it was really shocking to know that it was supposed to be a State Highway. One thing we all agreed was usefulness of a GPS enabled phone, if it were not for that, we would have been stranded till morning in the middle of what seemed nowhere, with literally no sign boards to guide us. I am sure the next phone I buy will be GPS enabled, thanks to the condition of state highways in Karnataka. My sincere advice to anyone who is planning to visit Dandeli is to take the Bangalore - Hubli - Haliyal route.
We reached Dandeli at about 1:30 AM, my cousin Ben had arranged for a homestay package including river rafting, unfortunately the contact person Manju, who had called us couple of times on the way to confirm the time we reach there, was not reachable from last 2 hours, our concern was doubled when we came to know that his mobile was switched off. We had no choice but to take a 4 bed room in the hotel opposite the bus stand for 1000 rupees, the room was quite bad and unclean, worst was as soon we got onto the bed we felt like there was something itching (a very slight but definite sensation of irritation), we were all a little uncomfortable but the beauty of the group was that no one really complained. Then for our luck we got a call from Manju asking us where we were, it was an experience to see the expression on Ben’s face when he was talking to Manju, there was noticeable attempt to contain the blunt anger, which turned to relief at the hope of escaping from the horrible room. Ben was confused for a minute and said he will callback to confirm if we are going to Manju’s place, we all unanimously agreed to go there even before the question was completed. There was room for more drama as Ben tried to call Manju and his phone was not reachable. It was big relief when Manju called and confirmed that he will come to pick us up, we got out of the room, collected 800 from the hotel owner after giving him 200 for the very short, unpleasant stay we had there.
We reached the home stay at 3 AM. The home stay was in the private guest house, surrounded by nature and the rooms were quite good and comfortable. At the rate of 1800 per person for the stay, breakfast and lunch, a guided morning trek and river rafting it was very economical (It would cost 2500 rupees if dinner and the Safari were included).
We decide to skip the morning Safari as it was impossible to getup at 5:30 AM after sleeping at 3:30 AM, we got up by 8:00 and went for small guided trek through wilderness to see a small temple and a Cross erected in the hills by the locals.
The trek was good with our young guide taking us through the small narrow footpath, surrounded by wilderness wrapped in the soft mist, taking us to the Cross which gave us beautiful view of the hills and the plains below.
We left for the much anticipated rafting in a jeep, after a delicious breakfast, enjoying the beautiful view of the Supra Dam and the reservoir on the way.
The rafting was done in the Kali river, basically having class 2 and 3 rapids, for a 9 kilometres stretch from a place close to Ganeshgudi to another place about a kilometer from the Dandeli town. There was just another family of father, mother and a teenage daughter, who was staying next to our guest house, for rafting as it was a weekday. Soon the rafts arrived and the two guides Sunil and Muhammed, split us into two teams of the 4 each (Ben, Nagu, Father & Daughter in one and Macky, Marky, Deepsie and me in the other), made us wear the life jackets and helmets according to our sizes. In the boat we got instructions on how to row front and back, how to kneel down with the oars etc. The when we were in the middle of the river, the guide Sunil asked us to jump down to the river to get confident with our life jackets.Deepak was first to go with Me and Mahesh following him, Mark refused as he had done rafting before. I know to swim a little and found it very comfortable with the life jackets on. We soon got into the rafts and started our experience, and what an experience it was, I was sitting in the front with Deepak and as we approached the first rapid we felt a little anxious as we could not see the river below from a distance, we rowed to the rapid and got down to the floor of the raft, looking out with sheer joy as we went through the rapid, the power of the water making the raft move randomly down, with the water gushing at us simultaneously, creating a unmatchable bliss which has to be experienced to be believed. There are 8-9 rapids on the 9 km stretch the first rapid being the best, the cruise down the river is a great experience, the river, with crystal clear water flowing around the trees, creating marvelous scenery blending with the surrounding wilderness, and the occasional sightings of attractive and rare birds like the long tailed hornbill providing the icing on the cake.
There are other stretches in the river where you can swim, and we all decided to jump down again. Mark jumped down last and with one look at his face I knew he was not comfortable, he was struggling and I instinctively held on to his life jacket and repeatedly told him to calm down. It was a matter of few seconds before he realized that he could easily float with the life jacket on, but those few seconds were enough to make me comprehend the power of a man (who thought he was drowning), making me realize that he could easily pull me down with him if not for the life jackets. The experience, I feel did come in handy for me to help a friend in another situation, which I will explain a little later.
One of the best part of the rafting is ‘Surfing’ which can be described as an attempt to go up a rapid in vain, making the water gush at you pushing the raft down, and experience 3-4 splash of water, throwing you and the raft of balance and hitting you with force of about 15-20 buckets of water thrown together each time. The words fail me to detail the absolute joy we felt, the marvelous sensation embedded in our minds, instilling us to try it again. We did surfing 4-5 times before we were totally exhausted. It was almost 2:30 by the time we reached back to the guest house; we freshened up and sat out to have a round of MHB, which Manju got for us before having delicious buffet meal with Chicken dry and Chicken curry along with other excellent veg dishes. The food here is excellent and got better votes from Mark (The food expert from our gang, whose quality of single minded focus on food is something to be admired), who also have stayed and experienced the cuisine in the Jungle Lodges.
For the benefit of the people who plan to visit Dandeli, it is about 480 kms from Bangalore and will take about 10 hours. The river rafting has to booked in advance and you need atleast 2 days to see and experience the things here. Apart from rafting which will easily take 4-5 hours, you have the jungle safari of about 3-4 hours, the forest trek/nature walk and interesting places like the Syntheri/Cyntheri Rocks, Kavala Caves which will take 3-4 hours. There are places like the Jungle Lodges, Bison river resort and few other resorts here to stay which will arrange all the activities for you. The cost of staying in these resorts along with the activities would come around 3500 a day per person. The guest house/home stay is a little cheaper at about 3500 for two days (2500 for one day as it includes river rafting and 1000 odd for the second day) compromising a little on the luxury aspects. Manju is in charge of the Guest house and also provides sleeping tents and can be contacted at 9900671757 or 9449175001.