india travels: day trip to savandurga.

preparing to scale the monolith. savandurga, india. may 2015.
preparing to scale the monolith. savandurga, india. may 2015.

although i wasn’t able to manage an escape to the hills over the long weekend at the beginning of may, i did get to fulfill one of my other recent goals: a return visit to savandurga and the chance to climb on some rocks. in case you were wondering, savandurga is one of the largest monoliths in all of asia, and climbing to the top means fresh air, pretty views, and a proper workout.

shonali leads her youngest troops. savandurga, india. may 2015.
shonali leads her youngest troops. savandurga, india. may 2015.

my only other visit to savandurga was in february 2010, and i have been wanting to get back there since i returned to bangalore earlier this year. it is close enough to the city to get there and back in a day with lots of time spent enjoying the fresh air and some lovely views of the city and, on a clear day, the ghats.

a view of the scrub on the way to the top. savandurga, india. may 2015.
a view of the scrub on the way to the top. savandurga, india. may 2015.

luckily for me, shonali’s company into the wild [itw], organized a day trip to the monolith one sunday earlier this month. sanjeev, shonali’s itw partner, is a field biologist who has been exploring savandurga and its surrounding scrub for years, keeping track of the different types of wildlife in the area and tracking their movements. as part of the education track for itw, they offered a visit for others to get a glimpse into the things sanjeev has been seeing and to learn about the wildlife local to the area.

another view from the ascent, because it never gets old. savandurga, india. may 2015.
another view from the ascent, because it never gets old. savandurga, india. may 2015.

our day began early. bettina and i left my place around 4.30, rendezvoused with the others in chamarajpet, and set out from there around 5.15. one of the biggest draws to savandurga is getting to see the sun rise as you ascend, but on this trip the sun was already over the horizon by the time we arrived. it made the ascent much warmer, but in a way it was good since we had four kids in our tour group and the light made it easier for them to find their way.

surveying their kingdom. savandurga, india. may 2015.
surveying their kingdom. savandurga, india. may 2015.
the three musketeers. savandurga, india. may 2015.
the three musketeers. savandurga, india. may 2015.

we took our time getting to the top, stopping along the way for sanjeev to point out elephant dung, nests, and other finds that he patiently explained to our group. we played some ice breaker games, and we had a delicious breakfast about one-third of the way up.

waiting for the others and enjoying the view. savandurga, india. may 2015.
waiting for the others and enjoying the view. savandurga, india. may 2015.
with my third-born on our way up the monolith. savandurga, india. may 2015.
with my third-born on our way up the monolith. savandurga, india. may 2015.

the last climb was pretty grueling, between the heat and the steepness of the rock, but it was totally worth it when we reached the top. about halfway up nilah said, “the higher we go, the nicer the views!” pretty wise wisdom from a four-year-old, and her words were proved true when we got to the top and had the entire surrounding area laid out before us. luckily there is an old structure at the top, so we were able to drop our stuff, enjoy the shade, and use it as our “campsite” of sorts while we explored the area on top.

tree at the top, because we all know i love pictures of trees. savandurga, india. may 2015.
tree at the top, because we all know i love pictures of trees. savandurga, india. may 2015.

after a bit of a rest, sanjeev took the girls – and interested adults – to search for and collect scat. once they had filled a few ziploc bags, they came back and listened intently as sanjeev sorted out the collections and patiently explained how to tell which animal it was from, how long it had been there, and what it had last eaten. it was educational for us all, and the kids especially loved it.

bettina explores the top of the monolith. savandurga, india. may 2015.
bettina explores the top of the monolith. savandurga, india. may 2015.

after lunch, sanjeev walked us through setting up camera traps to see which animals move through at which times, and then he walked us around to figure out where we should set one up to see the maximum amount of animals without too much outside interference. this was definitely my favourite part of the workshop, and i can’t wait to see what photos emerge from the trap we set up.

through the woods we go. savandurga, india. may 2015.
through the woods we go. savandurga, india. may 2015.

once we finished that we began our descent. except for a steep part at the very top and a boulder that was tricky to get around, the descent was fairly easy. we regrouped at the bottom for some coconut water – so delicious and refreshing – before getting into our vehicles and dispersing.

this girl spots a tree, and the next thing you know she's in the middle of it. savandurga, india. may 2015.
this girl spots a tree, and the next thing you know she’s in the middle of it. savandurga, india. may 2015.

there were a few snags, including a scary fall by one of the kids as well as some dehydration brought on by the heat and lack of shade, but otherwise it was a great day. it was fun to spend the day with old and new friends, and i had such a feeling of accomplishment as i was falling asleep on sunday night.

learning about camera traps, because they're cool. savandurga, india. may 2015.
learning about camera traps, because they’re cool. savandurga, india. may 2015.

things to know:

getting there: savandurga is roughly 50-60km from mg road, depending on the route you take. the best way to get there is to go via magadi road; it’s slightly longer than going via mysore road, but the roads are much better, and you’ll reach faster.

when to go: the rocks obviously get slippery when they are wet, so it’s best avoided during the monsoon. winter and summer are the best times of year to go, and i would suggest november to february, as it won’t be quite as hot as the first weekend in may.

when to climb: i would suggest beginning your ascent around 5.15am. it’s much cooler, and you get to climb as the sun climbs. and if you time it just right, you’ll hit the top just as the sun gets all the way above the horizon.

wear sunscreen: the indian sun can be brutal, and there is very little shade during the climb. you should wear some sunscreen anyway as a protectant, but remember to reapply as the day wears on, especially if you are prone to sunburn.

carry lots of water: once you leave the base of the monolith, there is nowhere to get clean drinking water until you return to the bottom [there is stream water along the way, but there’s no guarantee of where it’s from, how long it’s been there, if it’s contaminated, etc]. there are a few guys who you can pay to buy extra water and carry it to the top for you, but it’s better to plan ahead and take as much as you can carry.

snacks, too: you’ll need your energy, so along with water carry some bananas and oranges, some light sandwiches, maybe some hardboiled eggs, etc. food that will provide protein to fuel your climb, but nothing that will be too heavy and make you tired and sluggish. you’ll be thankful for these as the day wears on.

take your time: some people can literally run to the top in 20 minutes, and others – like me – take a little longer. it’s important to take your time and not rush yourself, because you don’t want to be utterly exhausted when you’re trying to come back down.

a last shot of the view before beginning our descent. savandurga, india. may 2015.
a last shot of the view before beginning our descent. savandurga, india. may 2015.

savandurga is a personal favourite, and i would love to make a trip there every few months whenever i’m in need of some fresh air and a break from the city.

have any of you climbed savandurga? what was your experience?

xx

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