It is a bright morning at the crescent-shaped Kudle beach (one of the five beaches of Gokarna town) as we head out to see the rocks of Yana. Nestled among rolling hills and surrounded by a thick forest in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, stand the black limestone monoliths of Yana village. A relatively unknown spot until a few years ago, Yana shot to fame after being portrayed as a picnic spot in the Kannada movie, Nammoora Mandara Hoove.
Since Kudle is accessible by a short hike down from a plateau overlooking the sea, we ascend the laterite track to reach a semi-metal road that connects to the main town and take the rest of the journey in a vehicle. Our car zips down this smooth stretch of NH 17, and as we climb further north, the vegetation grows thick and the temperature drops a little. The traffic thins as we take a detour off the national highway to join a state highway, passing through small towns. As we take a sharp turn on the final stretch to Yana, a large rat snake crosses the road. We are elated. Naturalists swear by the vast biodiversity of this region and leopards are known to be slinking around the forests.
A large board with a picture of a king cobra welcomes us. We clamber out of the vehicle and take a small but well-beaten path into the forest. We walk slowly, eager to spot reptiles, taking in the silence that is only punctuated by bird call and the stream gurgling by. About 3km away, we finally reach a small temple and the rocky sentinels of Yana. Two jagged peaks, as imposing as they appear in the photos, pierce the bright blue sky. For a few minutes, we forget the hike and simply stand and stare up in amazement.
Mohini Shikara, the shorter of the two at 90m, is to our left. We cross a bridge and continue past it to the cave temple at the base of Bhairaveshwara Shikara, the taller peak at 120m. As with all wonders of nature, Yana finds a mention in mythology, which the temple’s head priest is only too happy to narrate. It’s a dramatic tale that makes great fodder for Karnataka’s dance-drama form, Yakshagana.
After earning a boon from Shiva to turn anyone he touches into ash, the demon Bhasmasura tries to touch the head of Shiva, who pleads to Vishnu to intervene. Vishnu appears to Bhasmasura in the form of the alluring Mohini, charming him so completely that the demon proposes to her. Mohini agrees but on one condition – he will have to match her steps as she dances. The demon immediately agrees, and as the dance progresses, he forgets his boon. Mohini touches her head and Bhasmasura follows suit. “The explosion was so intense that it turned the stones this dark,” the smiling priest tells us.
We pay our respects to the naturally formed lingam deep inside the cavernous sanctum sanctorum, and proceed to circumambulate the rock. A few steps lead us to the top, where gigantic honeycombs cluster above. The path passes through the centre of Bhairaveshwara; we have left the other picnickers and devotees behind. It is just us here, and strangely, the silence isn’t eerie, it is welcome. We spot bat guano around, and as we look up at the sky, the sheer enormity of the massif makes us speechless. We make our way through a narrow gorge, over soft sand and jagged rock, barefoot. We walk slowly, revelling in the silence.
The steep sides of the rock allows in only a diffused light, though it’s not claustrophobic. The path opens out into the forest and as we help each other down the steep and muddy incline, we hear an Asian paradise flycatcher call out.
The twin monoliths disappear behind the thick canopy as we make our way out. We pick up discarded mineral bottles and plastic litter on the trail, to deposit at the waste bin at the gate. We finally spot a pair of Asian paradise flycatchers. A monitor lizard scurries into the bushes and butterflies dance above the stream. The leopard has eluded us, but the two monoliths of Yana and its wild residents have made this beaten path memorable.
Orientation Yana is a village in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. It lies about 480km from Bengaluru, 240km from Mangalore and 182km from Dharwad.
Getting There It’s best to hire a vehicle or drive down yourself, as it gives you the option of visiting Yana and the nearby Vibhuti Falls and Mirjan Fort. The nearest airports are at Bengaluru and Mangalore. The nearest railhead is at Kumta or Gokarna Road. Local buses run between Kumta and Yana but not at frequent intervals.
Season The best time to go is just after the monsoons.
The Hike The route is well-marked, so there is no need for a guide. Ensure that you are well-covered, especially in the monsoons as there will be leeches. Watch out for snakes and other reptiles on the path. It is a half-day excursion, best done in the first half. About 6-7 hours will ensure a comfortable visit. Note: It is a verdant forest and must be treated like one, so be sure not to litter the trail. Wear full-length trousers and shirts, especially during the rains, when leeches are present. It is a religious spot after all, so dress conservatively but most importantly, don’t disturb the local flora and fauna.
Trip Planner The 3km-long trek begins from Sundholle via Anegundi, while the 0.5km route is closer to Sirsi. There are no entry fees but there might be a nominal parking charge. There are basic functional toilets at the entrance.
Road Trip Essentials Petrol pumps are available between Gokarna and Yana and Kumta. Very few eateries are found on NH 17 and virtually none on the state highway, so pack food for the hike. Ensure you have a spare tyre, as finding help on the inner roads might be difficult.
Rushikesh Kulkarni runs Breakfree Journeys, a travel outfit based in Mumbai. Currently scouting for unique travel experiences across India, his interests include backpacking, urban ecology and community development.