This Weekend, Go On a 21st-Century Treasure Hunt in Your City

Go geocaching. All you need is your smart phone.  
Geocaching
Geocaching is 21st-century treasure hunting, with GPS-enabled phones and geographical coordinates. Photo: Official Windows Magazine/Contributor/Future/Getty Images (man)

The thrill of finding your first geocache is a bit like walking through a wall at King’s Cross Station in London, and emerging on the magical Platform 9¾. It opens up a whole new dimension that didn’t exist until that moment. When I first pluck out a magnetic thumbnail-sized nano cache after searching in the same place for what seems like hours, I am amazed that it had managed to elude me all this time. It looks like a metallic nut and has a rolled-up log sheet inside that I fill up. I should have found it a lot sooner, considering I have been to Lalbagh, a 240-acre park in south Bengaluru, more than a thousand times since I was a child. But that’s the beauty of geocaching—it forces you to look at familiar neighbourhoods and landscapes with fresh eyes. The sweeping arc of a tree branch. That signboard you never noticed. The sculpture that became a blind spot. The art deco bungalow with a shady garden. That view of the city you’d forgotten.

But for all my newbie enthusiasm, it turns out I am about 16 years late to the geocaching party; the first geocache was planted in 2000. A friend introduced me to it a few months ago, around the time when Pokemon Go was all the rage. He claimed Geocaching was a better game. I just had to get outside and explore using a combination of geographical coordinates, hints, and my phone’s GPS to track down “caches” listed on the Geocaching website and mobile app.

Caches are physical containers of varying types and sizes. They can be magnetic containers, pillboxes, film containers, military ammo cans, and often, Tupperware boxes (TTOT—The Tupperware is Out There! is a common exclamation among cachers). They are hidden all over the world—in cities, parks and wooded areas, around monuments, atop mountains, inside caves—just about anywhere. At a minimum, caches contain a log sheet. Often with a pencil for recording your find. Larger caches can contain small gifts for the finder or even disposable cameras to document your find.

My first geocaching experience was in Mysuru, and I was hooked from that moment on. It involved walking up hills, scrambling through thickets, fighting off bugs, and peering behind rocks, while trying to appear nonchalant to “muggles,” who in geocaching parlance are unsuspecting people oblivious to “caching.” When I posted about it on Facebook and Instagram, I realized most people were in fact muggles, despite 2.9 million caches and an even higher number of active cachers worldwide.

Caches

Geocaches come in various sizes and shapes. The smallest can be the size of a fingernail while big ones can have gifts for the finder, or entertaining displays like that of a music band. Photos: Idaho Statesman/Contributor/Tribune News Service/Getty Images (hand), Tirca83/Getty Images (jar), Dennis Drenner/Getty Images (notebook), Ullstein Bild/Contributor/Getty Images (woman)

A site search tells me that Paris has over 2,500 caches, London close to 2,000, New York over a thousand. To my disappointment, I find that India has less than 250 caches in all. And Bengaluru, my backyard, has just under ten with three of those on the city’s outskirts. On the bright side, all of them are in interesting locations: in a leafy park, opposite my favourite outdoor café, a stone’s throw from a great bar in the CBD where I often meet friends. There’s even one inside the city’s urban forest, that I have never visited.

And so, hoping to add some spark to my flagging romance with the city of my birth, I try my hand at caching in Bengaluru over a weekend, with mixed results. I find four caches, earning me smileys on the app, and I am forced to post DNF (Did Not Find) on the remaining three. If you live in Bengaluru or are passing through the city, here’s a primer to the city’s best geocaching spots. In the spirit of the game, I’m not giving away any spoilers to the cache locations, which I’ve listed here by their names in the app.

Garden City Parks Cache #1 – Red Garden (Lalbagh)

This fantastic Multi-Cache involves solving clues provided at three listed locations to arrive at the final coordinates. Finding this cache turned out to be a great way to explore the 256-year-old botanical garden, commissioned by Hyder Ali in 1760 and finished by his son Tipu Sultan. Lalbagh houses over 1,800 species of plants and trees, has shaded paths, formal gardens, a glass house, a bandstand, a nursery, and a lake that attracts migratory birds. The puzzle formed by the three clues is easy enough to solve, even for those not very mathematically inclined. The real challenge is being discreet and steering clear of muggles when you finally arrive at Ground Zero or the geocache location. If a non-player discovers the cache, it might get stolen or damaged. I was almost convinced this cache was lost, and finding it was my eureka moment. As Lalbagh is popular with morning and evening walkers, it’s best to hunt for this cache during the afternoon lull, preferably on weekdays. If you do solve this, like me, treat yourself to masala dosa and coffee at MTR, the iconic restaurant located across the road from Lalbagh’s main gate.

Peninsular Gneiss

One of two Peninsular Gneiss caches, this is a veritable delight for nature lovers and geology nerds. Although it isn’t a physical cache, it will put you right on top of a three-billion-year-old rock formation and a historic watchtower in old Bengaluru, not far from Lalbagh (where the larger Peninsular Gneiss is located). This is an EarthCache, described by the Geocaching website as “a special place that people can visit to learn about a unique geoscience feature of our Earth.” To log this cache, finders have to send answers to a set of questions to the owner of the cache. Peninsular Gneiss is within easy walking distance of Gandhi Bazaar, a quaint old part of south Bengaluru. Celebrate your EarthCache with a snack at Vidyarthi Bhavan.

Geocaching in Bangalore

While geocaching, players peel back layers of the city, looking beyond everyday sights at places like M.G. Road Promenade (right) and Lalbagh (left) in Bengaluru. The trick is not to arouse suspicion among muggles (non-players) even as you walk around babbling into your phone. Photos: Hema Ramaprasad (promenade), Brian D Cruickshank/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images (park)

DNA

By far, the most challenging of the caches in Bengaluru, this Mystery Cache is a hard one to crack. It took me enormous amounts of internet research and head scratching to solve a colour-coded puzzle and get the final coordinates (and I must confess that a spoiler picture had given me some indication). But if you do crack this without visual clues, this is an exhilarating find. Reward yourself with a pint of beer at one of the several nearby watering holes. Attempt this one during off-peak hours to avoid attention from muggles, and maybe the traffic cops!

The Turahalli Forest Cache

Venturing deep into Turahalli Forest, a few kilometres off Kanakapura Road, is an astonishing experience—even for someone who has grown up in the city. It doesn’t look like much at first; when I walked in through a grove of eucalyptus trees adjoining a building called Forest View, I was sceptical about leaving my car and worried about encountering dodgy loiterers. But once inside, apart from a couple of morning walkers, there wasn’t a soul in sight. Enveloped by the forest I really appreciated the efforts of citizen groups who’d fought to protect this patch of prime real estate. The forest has lovely trails and hillocks, making it ideal for cyclists, runners, and rock climbers. The hike up to the final coordinates of this cache was easy and the views from the top rewarding. Unfortunately, the cache, last logged a few months ago, appeared to be missing. But I was still thrilled by the discovery of this salubrious spot in my city. Best to attempt this cache with company as the forest can be isolated at times.

The Cache of Krishna Rao Park

M.N. Krishna Rao Park, located in Basavanagudi, a genteel neighbourhood in the southern part of the city, is a beautiful remnant of old Bengaluru. The heritage park is named after M.N. Krishna Rao, the former acting dewan of the princely state of Mysore in the 1940s. The park has beautiful raintrees with massive canopies, and is popular with morning walkers and yoga enthusiasts. The Traditional Cache (the original type of geocache, fairly straightforward) hidden here is disappointing, as the final coordinates lead to the edge of the park, which is strewn with garbage. After scrambling for a while, I gave up because of the litter, and headed across the street to Rogue Elephant Café for a pick-me-up iced tea. Located in the garden of a rambling heritage house, the café’s antique furniture and charming ambience will lift your spirits, whether you find the cache or not.

Koramangala Shopping

This is perhaps the easiest cache to find in Bengaluru, and is logged often. Though the location is not much to speak of, it does put you in the vicinity of restaurants, and good shopping and entertainment options.

Appeared in the December 2016 issue as “Cache Me if You Can”.

Geocaching 101

Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game, played using a GPS-enabled device, a smartphone or tablet. It can be played through the website geocaching.com, or via the app available for both Android and iOS.

The game’s aim is to find caches hidden in spots around the world, using GPS coordinates and clues provided in the cache description. To play, create an account, log in, and look up the geocaches closest to you using the search function.

There are over 2.9 million hidden caches all over the world, scattered over 180 countries. India has about 250 caches in Bengaluru, Mumbai, NCR, Goa, Jaipur, and even assorted locations in Ladakh.

Caches are physical containers of varying types and sizes, ranging from micro (the size of a film canister) to
large (a box with a 20 litre capacity), and even non-traditional sizes like the nano (fingernail sized).

Cache descriptions include helpful hints, photos, and meters to indicate overall difficulty, terrain, and size of the cache. There’s a log of previous finds—often a great place to look for clues.

Locations are indicated using actual geographical coordinates (latitude and longitude) listed in DMS format (degrees, minutes, seconds).

After finding the cache, players record their details in a log sheet. If the cache contains a small gift—trinkets, comics, collectibles, memorabilia, action figures, etc—the finder is expected to replace it with something similar in size and value.

There are many types of geocaches. The simplest are known as Traditional Caches. Others, like Mystery or Puzzle Caches have difficult clues, EarthCaches lead to interesting geological features, Multi-Caches are split up, and Event Caches may take you to an event.

Geocaching can be played solo or with multiple players, though in my experience a pair works best. It’s fun, safe, and discreet.

Look up Geocacher’s Creed (www.geocreed.info) to understand the ethos of the community. Check out the glossary (www.geocaching.com/about/glossary.aspx) to familiarise yourself with jargon.

The Geocaching community is very active and the Groundspeak Forum (forums.groundspeak.com) is a great place to get help on solving difficult caches.

  • Hema Ramaprasad is a writer, hobby photographer, slow traveller, vegetarian, breakfast enthusiast, and a lover of all things beautiful and hand-made. She lives in Mysore and tweets as @writeclcktravel. She creates content for a living and travels for the joy of it.

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