A Bad Start
We reached Sakleshpura at around 3:00 am. Kamath made one attempt to get some sleep at the bus-shelter but a grasshopper that took shelter in his pants foiled his plans. The 5:15 bus from Sakleshpur dropped us at least 4 km before the trail. From this point, we split into two groups and hitched rides to the start of the trail. We were dropped off 2 km apart and with no mobile coverage, it was 7:30 when we finally traced each other and started the hike from Donigal station.
The First Bridge
The first bridge arrived soon. It was the scariest sight. In the pictures these bridges look all right. If a train can go across these why can't we? Well, there is no protection on the sides. The gap between the sleepers is wider than you think and the sight of water gushing a hundred feet below isn't pretty. I couldn't estimate if the gap between the sleepers was wide enough for me to slip through. One of the rare occasions when a beer belly can be useful. There are metal sheets laid along the centre of the track for people to walk across, but often they aren't secured to the sleepers properly and most of them look like they are from the beginning of the iron age. On the sides of the bridge there is a continuous girder below the sleepers and the gaps, but walking along that is not a good idea since a slip sideways and you'll be up in the clouds twiddling strings on a harp. The bridge must've been a 100 ft tall. We thought reasoning might dispel some fears. A height of 20 ft or 200 ft is really the same. A fall from either will send you back to your maker in quick time. A 200 ft bridge would afford you a little more time to come up with a good wisecrack for your last words. But then, there won't be anyone around you to record it and etch it on your tombstone. So heights beyond a certain limit don't really matter. Another comforting logic was that the backpacks would hold on even if we slipped into the gaps. Kamath and Ramu crossed first followed by Mohan and I. Kamath and Ramu had the pleasure of watching Mohan patting his thighs and prodding himself at each step.
More Bridges and Tunnels
As we moved along there were more bridges and tunnels. After the first few bridges we got the knack of crossing them. One should never look below through the gaps. On long ones, one should avoid looking up to see how much more there is to go. At one bridge there was sand on the sleepers. At another there was a trolley right in the middle and we had to walk around it along the edge of the bridge. The scariest one however was a very tall and long one with some sleepers missing. We had to carefully get down to the girder on the side where the sleepers were missing and get back on to the sleepers. After doing this part I thought I'd conquered all fear and even took my camera out while standing on the bridge. But as I focused on the stream below, I got the shivers. I quickly snapped a few shots without looking into the viewfinder and carried on. The tunnels were not scary at all. The longest one was about half a kilometre long. They are totally dark and the long ones are full of bats. The bats didn't bother us much but they do raise a stink.
We reached Yedukumeri at 1:30 pm, covering 18 km in 6 hours. After a quick lunch, we started off at 2:00 pm to the highway. Two guys at the station said we could go with them. Apparently there was a truck going to the highway soon. We were soon busy planning the rest of the day in Mangalore. After we followed them on the track and crossed two scary bridges, we asked them where the truck was. Just 5 km away they said and we'd have to cross a few bridges and tunnels to get there.
The Long Trek to Gundya
The 18 km trek to Yedukumeri had exhausted us and after assuming that the trek was over, we weren't prepared to cross bridges again. This stretch was a nightmare. We had to find our way through tall elephant grass and bridges were more numerous, rickety and some had creaking, rotten sleepers. The guys leading us were very fast and it was hard to keep up with them. After a while we were crossing bridges fast without worrying too much. The stretch also had some flooded tunnels and we had to take a few detours. The guys leading us surprisingly didn't need torches in the dark tunnels. Mohan and the guys also spotted a snake along the way. Luckily it was in a clearing and was spotted easily. At 4:30 pm we reached a site about 7 km from Yedukumeri where gauge conversion was on. Mohan had counted 50 bridges in all (from Donigal).
When we finally reached the work site at Gundya, we lost sight of the two guys and the truck left without us. All our hopes of going down to Mangalore for a well deserved rest were dashed. At the camp we were told that there were two options to reach Gundya. A decent road that the lorries took was 10 km long. There was a 3 km shortcut trail through dense woods that was very steep. This trail also had a stream towards the end that would be neck deep in water when dam upstream opened its gates. We were too tired to walk any further and we were told that elephants roam the jungles along both routes. We thought we'd take shelter in one of the tunnels for the night. We didn't have any bed sheets or warm clothing for the night. Luckily for us, the railway contractor, one Mr. Ankaiah Naidu was a benevolent man. He arranged a good dinner for us and put us up in a thatched hut with very comfortable beds. Workers told us that he does this often for stranded trekkers. May his tribe increase! We slept well that night.
The Highway, Finally
The next morning, we thanked Mr. Naidu and took ride on one of his tipper lorries that was going down to Gundya. It was a bumpy ride along the newly cut out road though the forest. After about 5 km, a tree that had fallen blocked the path. Attempts to pull the trunk out of the way using the truck failed. Luckily a jeep had come from the other direction. Both vehicles turned back after exchanging passengers. We reached Gundya at 11:00 am and finally got bus that got us to Bangalore by 5:30 pm.
An enjoyable hike, but I wouldn't recommend this to anyone with a fear of heights. I don't think I'll walk across railway bridges again.
A conversation between Mr. Naidu and another man that Ramu overheard:
"Where are these guys from?"
"Did they come here all the way to walk on the tracks??"
"Yeah. They like the scenery here."
"Oh. When the tracks are ready they can just take the train and avoid the walk."