Go for gold

Sacramento is the city that changed many a people’s fortune. Marianne Furtado de Nazareth is awed by the golden past of the place Looking at my gold bangles, earrings and rings which are so evocative of any Indian woman, my American friends in Berkeley suggested a day’s visit to Sacramento, the bustling capital of California, where from 1849 to 1856 the first claim of 'Gold' lured thousands of gold diggers with visions of panning their fortune! "Come on!" said Tom, "let’s get you a vial of pure gold nuggets to take home to India!" Definitely an exciting lure for me, with my decidedly 'jackdawish' tendency towards gold! Sacramento is rich in history, still maintaining the flavour of the Gold Rush days, and yet it is a progressive city, boasting of the sixth largest economy in the world. Sacramento is located in North Central California at the confluence of Sacramento and American rivers. The city of Sacramento was named by John Sutter after the Sacramento River on the banks of which the city was erected. John Sutter, a Swiss immigrant, first obtained a land grant from the Mexican Government and opened a trading post which was known as Sutter’s Fort. As he grew more prosperous his need for lumber increased and so he set up a sawmill. The mill was almost complete when he came across something glimmering in the tail race of the river. GOLD! The nugget he had found was indeed Gold! Little did John Sutter know that this tiny nugget of gold would change life completely at Sutter's Fort and ultimately alter the course of history. His entire empire was crushed by the subsequent Gold Rush and he died a sad man and a pauper. The news of the gold find spread faster than lightning and the movement west began, signalling the start of the famous "Gold Rush". This "Gold Rush" brought thousands of prospectors to the area, heralding the beginning of the end for Sutter’s Mill. To his great chagrin his work-force abandoned him to find their own fortunes and numerous businesses were erected along the river.Tent cities sprang up and these cities grew into thriving towns. Within a few years the population mushroomed from 26,000 to 2,65,000. Initially miners panned for gold using frying pans and the like. It was really hard work, but some got lucky and got rich. Later partnerships were formed and more sophisticated equipment was used to dig for the precious metal. Then rock crushers powered by horses were used to replace manual labour. Finally a significant improvement in mining came with the invention of steam-powered dredgers. Today this area, I was told, is known as Old Sacramento. The Fort we visited was a re-construction of the original and displays a chapter of history and a multitude of relics from the "Gold Rush" era. Of course, I left the fort decidedly happier clutching my 5 dollar vial of genuine gold slivers which were very ingeniously slipped into a liquid which made the tiny fragments of gold look like large, outsized nuggets! Who cared, I had genuine California gold to take home to Bangalore with me! Old Sacramento is an area restored to catch the feeling and style of the most important and colourful period in California history. We enjoyed walking on the wooden boardwalks and cobbled streets and relaxed eating Prawn Chowder in one of the restaurants. The entire area has been rebuilt to represent the waterfront of the 1850's era. There are a multitude of shops and restaurants along the waterfront and it is steeped in the history, charm and excitement of the Gold Rush days. One can see that Sacramento thrived during the Gold Rush time: buildings, museums and rail road depot are illustrative of a glorious era. Plus the streets were lined with antique gas lights and horse-drawn buggies regaled visitors like us, especially families with children, with clip-clop rides up and down the main cobbled thoroughfare. Towards the end of the street was a full-sized statue which immediately caught our attention, commemorating the Pony Express Mail Service which began in Sacramento on April 4, 1860. The life-like black statue depicts a rider on his horse, representing an exciting and romantic era. At the base of the statue is a stone plaque which gives details of the service - "This statue commemorates the glory of the Pony Express, which started here at 2.45 am, when Hamilton galloped into a blinding rainstorm on the first lap..." I read with interest. Apparently there were a total of 121 riders and 500 ponies during the 18 month period of its existence. They carried 3,500 pieces of mail and as the plaque proudly states - With the loss of but one pouch, this venture, founded by Russell, Majors and Waddell, ended California's isolation from the rest of the Union". It was a 1,960 mile run to St Joseph, Missouri with 119 relay stops in between. It required a full 10 days to complete the Sacramento-St Joseph circuit. Sadly, it became obsolete when the first Western Union telegraph was established in the fall of 1861. Looking up at the striking statue, one could almost see sweat on the flanks of the horse and determination on the face of the young rider, with his pouches of mail attached to the saddle! Sacramento today is a wonderful contrast of the past and the present. The historical intrigue of the "Gold Rush" era, the advent of rail-roads, and the Pony Express terminus are paralleled by the modern, urban city, with all the lights, activity and glamour of the 20th century. For me, Sacramento was a marvelous blend of two different worlds - the historical and the contemporary. A trail in the rainforests Ameen Ahmed finds the experience of trekking in the pristine forests of Western Ghats exhilarating Much of the rainforest-clothed Western Ghats are still pristine, eternally mesmerising nature lovers and trekkers. Among the many challenging forest peaks to scale here are Pushpagiri (1,712 m) and Kumaraparvat (1,399 m). At the entrance of the narrow metalled road that leads from Beedehalli to Heggademane temple is a checkpost of Somvarpet wildlife range, Madikeri wildlife sub-division. After a refreshing bath at the nearby Mallahalli Falls, me and my friend crossed two tributaries of Kumaradhara and some dense evergreen forests for three hours to reach Heggademane. About 40 families live in this hamlet amidst patches of shola rainforests and rolling grasslands. It amazed us that people here carry out their daily activities with minimum basic amenities. A kilometre from the hamlet is the temple. Moving ahead of the temple, we began to see many hill ranges around us. The Pushpagiri outcrop though, overwhelmed the rest. Trekking through large swathes of rolling grasslands and Shola forests behind the temple for about half an hour, we reached Lingadahole, a perennial stream that arises out of the hills of Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary and joins the turbulent Kumaradhara. Though the narrow wooden hanging bridge over this stream was in ruins, the absence of strong currents helped us to cross it. Lingadahole is the start of a very huge stretch of dense evergreen forests, where trees rise more than 150 feet. Dwarfed by the towering trees we manoeuvred the steep path. Our excitement at being in this forest was occasionally blotched by the fear of the unknown. Continuing up the steep terrain for another half an hour, we reached Kudredoddi, the only shelter between Heggademane temple and Girigadde. About two hours later, we reached a point where the path divided into two - one led to the Pushpagiri peak and the other to Girigadde. We decided on the Pushpagiri peak. Rays from the fading Sun did not permeate through the tall trees around, forcing us to use our torches to inch up the steep rocks ahead. It was about 7 pm by the time we reached a spot that seemed ideal enough to sleep. Since we were at a height of about 5,000 ft, we were almost touching the clouds. As we collected firewood, the clouds overhead treated us with ear splitting thunders, sending shivers down our spines. The drizzle got heavier by the minute and doused our campfire, signalling the beginning of a long, troublesome and sleepless night. Worse still, leeches began to crawl on our faces. Confused, at 8.30 pm, we decided to climb down to Kudredoddi. We trod cautiously in the forest where the likes of king cobras and tigers rule the night. When we finally reached Kudredoddi at about 10 pm, leeches had turned our bodies wet with blood. We thanked our stars that we escaped the dangerously unpredictable pre-monsoon thunderstorm, which often turns treks in the Western Ghats into nightmares. Next morning, we walked back the same path that we had trekked the previous evening. But we still had a major problem - there was no drinking water. We were forced to lick dewdrops on fallen leaves. Walking for about 20 minutes from the signpost, we came across a small spring. Overjoyed, we had our breakfast and resumed our trek. The forest suddenly begun to fade, leading us into grasslands. As we trekked along the Western Ghats ridge for about 100 yards, the early morning clouds cleared off, paving way for an enchanting scenery. To the immediate east were Kumar Parvat-Pushpagiri ranges. Towards north we could slowly begin to see the forests of Bisle and beyond and to the west we could see some portions of the Kukke Subramanya temple township and its environs. To our south we could now see the spectacularly beautiful forest stretch of the western slopes of Pushpagiri Sanctuary, part of Sampaje forests, Talacauvery Wildlife Sanctuary and to the far south-east, probably the Tadiyandamol hill ranges. Each peak seemed to elbow the other to rise higher and as far as our eyes could reach there was an astonishing mosaic of greenery. At 9 am we began descending down west. It took us about 45 minutes to reach Kallu Mantapa, a small rocky pillar shelter. Resting for a few minutes, we again began the descent to Girigadde. Although the path from the top seemed to be very easy with just grasslands to cross, the ground conditions were different. It took us about 2 hours to overcome the extremely rocky ground. Girigadde is a small settlement where the families of Mr Bhatru and one of his younger brothers have been living here literally in the midst of nowhere. Mr Bhatru's house is the most famous landmark between Kukke Subramanya and Kumaraparvat. Every trekker who treks along this route visits this house. We were dumbfounded to see this family survive hostile climactic conditions - hot summers, battering monsoons and freezing winters. We began our trek down to Kukke at 2.15 pm and trekked for about half an hour through lush grasslands before the dense rainforest canopy enclosed us again. The most irritating aspect to this descent was the inability to view the surrounding landscape. The strenuous trek with our wildlifing and photographing gear was extracting every calorie of our bodies. It was finally around 5:30 pm that we sensed human settlements and, minutes later, we emerged out of the forest. Washing our faces in one of the many clear springs flowing out of the forest, we headed to Kukke Sri Subramanya Temple. Before boarding the bus back to Bangalore we turned back for a moment. The view of the temple at the base of the towering Pushpagiri-Kumaraparvat ranges, hugged by rolling grasslands and dark rainforests, was a sight to behold. The satisfaction of having ascended these ranges and trekked through some of India's wildest forests made us forget all the pain, danger and difficulties that we had recently overcome. SEASON: The forests are closed for public during summer to prevent forest fires. Pouring rains make the trek hazardous during monsoons. October to early February and late April to late May are ideal. APPROACH: There are two approaches to Pushpagiri and Kumaraparvat peaks. While the eastern entrance is from Beedehalli via Heggademane temple, the western one is from Kukke Subramanya via Girigadde. The access from Beedehalli is supposed to be easier. Kukke Subramanya is 22 kms from Gundia, on the Bangalore-Mangalore National Highway. Somvarpet can be approached either from Madikeri or Mysore. WHERE TO STAY: 1. Between Heggademane and Kumaraparvat: Kudredoddi, a small shed with thatched roof and a cement base built by the wildlife wing officials for patrolling forest personnel to rest. 2. Between Kukke Subramanya and Kumar Parvat: a. The small flat ground behind Kallu Mantapa is a good ground for trekkers to pitch tents. b. Mr Bhatru's house at Girigadde. There are many sites to camp during non-monsoons, but this has to be done only under the supervision of local forest officials. FOOD: Carrying processed food is a must. At Girigadde Mr Bhatru provides delicious food on request at a reasonable price. Also, take along salt and extra water. PERMISSION: This trek traverses through three different forest ranges, all coming under different administrative circles. Hence it is strictly advised to get written permission from the officers concerned before commencing the trek. To trek in Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary: Chief Wildlife Warden, Aranya Bhavan, Malleswaram 18th Cross, Bangalore - 3; To trek in Subramanya Range forest: Deputy Conservator of Forests, Mangalore Territorial Division, Mangalore 575 001. ˙