If you are looking for a relatively easy and off-beat trek in the outskirts of Bangalore, Handi Gundi is a great choice. Handi Gundi betta (hill) is located in Ramanagara, about 70 km from Bangalore, and the trek can be completed in two hours. In the hope of beating the mid-May summer heat, we aimed to reach the location before the break of dawn. After navigating through a scenic village route, we arrived at an empty land close to the hill. We parked our cars under the shade of coconut trees as the first light began to appear across the sky, and accompanied by the call of the peacocks, we set off to find the trek trail.

After crossing a farm, we found ourselves entering a patch of bamboo thickets. Perhaps there is a better route to the trek trail, but unaware of its exact location, we meandered through the silent bamboo growth, crouching low to avoid pointy branches from taking an eye out.

At the base of the hill

Once at the base of the hill, we shouldered our bags and began to ascend. The first 200 meters of the climb is the only difficult part of the trek as the surface is rocky and moderately steep. We had to ensure we had a good grip on the rocks as we trudged up. After reaching the first clearing, we stopped to catch our breath and watched the sun rise over the rural landscape of Ramanagara, with its ploughed farmlands, forested land and ponds glistening under the sun’s rays.

The first clearing. This view bears a resemblance to another hill in the Western Ghats – Ettina Bhuja, which means “ox’s hump”. Handi Gundi is also called mini Ettina Bhuja.

Sunrise over the Ramanagara hills

The second half of the climb is mostly through a muddy section with large boulders, making it an obstacle course. The sparse vegetation and cacti gave way to stunted trees and thick bushes. With the sun coming out, the bird calls grew louder and we spotted a peacock take flight and glide seamlessly from one rock to the next. As we were the first visitors on the hill that morning, rock agamas scuttled away from our paths to find better hiding places and cicadas leapt from tree to tree, making a constant clicking sound.

A cicada beautifully camouflaged in its habitat

Very soon we were at the top of the hill and were awed by the beautiful vistas. The peak gives a stunning 360° view of the surrounding hills including the Ramadevarabetta Vulture Sanctuary.

A bird’s-eye view of Handi Gundi betta

The overcast skies made it the perfect place to be; the clouds protecting us from the morning glare of the sun. After a quick breakfast of fruits – we are quite hungry by this time – we lay down on our backs, bodies cushioned by dry grass, and watched Brahminy Kites and Black Kites circling the skies.

A Black Kite looking for prey

A little ahead of the peak is a ledge that reminded me of the story I read online about Handi Gundi. As per online sources, a drove of pigs climbed up the hill while grazing and fell off the edge. Handi means “pig” in Kannada. We remained cautious and stayed away from the edges of the hill lest we follow the fate of the pigs.

The sides of the hills are dangerous drops. One needs to be careful and stay away from the edges

Our descent was slow and steady, especially at tricky parts where the trial was slippery. The slow progress also meant we could observe the surroundings better. We came across many antlion pits and were fascinated by the simple but effective technique used by the insects to trap their prey. We watched patiently as an ant, unaware of the danger ahead, began to explore the edges of the funnel-shaped slope only to suddenly find itself in a mini landslide as the antlion pulled the ant to its doom.

Antlion pits

As we neared the base of the hill and the bamboo thickets, we grew immediately silent on hearing the leaves rustle and flapping of wings. To our surprise, we were in close proximity to an Oriental Honey Buzzard, with its distinctive long neck and a small head resembling that of a pigeon.

Oriental Honey Buzzard

We were able to spot several birds in this area, including Green Bee-eaters, Paddyfield Pipits, Purple Sunbirds, Asian Koels, Coppersmith Barbets, and a White-throated Kingfisher.

A Paddyfield Pipit perched on a rock

In furtherance of our resolution to trek and hike sustainably, we collected a bag full of garbage from the hill. Bangloreans are fortunate to have so many easily accessible hills to find refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is only right to treat our green spaces with respect and keep them clean. We ended our trek successfully, grateful to the hill for a beautiful morning.