An unusual trip
It was an unusual trip. There was absolutely no planning – we did not know where we were going, we had no hotel reservations and we did not know the region. Sometimes, it is good to go by your heart. All that we had was a road map, clothes, some cash and a car (which my husband drove). I was anxious because I had never even attempted on a trip like this but this came as a pleasant surprise though I have my own reservations about this applying to distant destinations.
I am going to spare history and details for this article. The following is the diary of my 3-day trip.
We left Bangalore about 6.00pm on Thursday and drove on towards Tumkur. On the way, we saw directions to Hassan and decided to drive towards Hassan. The road to Hassan I should say is good. We could drive at 100 kph. On our way, we stopped at a dhabha for food. The area was full of children bursting crackers (as diwali was round the corner). About 25 kms before Hassan, we saw this huge place which had a good decent restaurant, a company owned petrol bunk and rooms available for lodging. We saw that it belonged to Kamat and we were pleasantly surprised. We decided to stay the night there, as it was about 10pm already. We were just complimenting each other about the tremendous progress our country has made when a man who had no intention to let us rooms met us with a long face. Disappointed, we left Kamat and drove towards Hassan. We stayed at Shri Krishna Hotel. The hotel was not bad. At least the room was clean.
The next morning we decided to drive towards Chikmagalur. We thought, we would enjoy the stay in a good hotel that will overlook the coffee plantations. Our drive was good. The road was bumpy but the countryside was a breath of fresh air. With concrete structures everywhere around in Bangalore, this expanse of greenery was refreshing. We stopped at many places on the way just to take in all the serenity. We reached chickmagalur in about an hour and a half. What we were about to see was unexpected. We drove on one of the main roads and it was something we did not expect. There did not seem to be any good hotels to stay. We stopped by and asked where we could possibly stay and what we could probably do there. The man was probably puzzled because he said that there were just two main roads in the town – I G Road and M G Road. Nothing much can be done in the town and we could stay at Taj or Planter’s court. We were aghast. What would we do? We decided to check Planter’s. Taj was beyond our budget. We went to this place and the receptionist pointed out that there was a film shooting going on and so all the rooms were booked. If we so wished we could take a room without a TV and it would cost us 450/- or so. We saw the room. It was just about OK. We wanted to check if there were any other hotels. The receptionist was kind enough to show us a list of places where we could go. All of them were about 45 minutes drive from there.
There is Bhadra Tiger Reserve which interested us. We went to the Forest Officer for permission when he politely told us that we could not go there as it had rained the previous day. Disappointed we left the office and went on to go to the next place in the list - the Baba Budangiri hills which has a shrine of Dattatreya. We drove there. The road was extremely bad and all along we were worried about a tyre puncture. The road wound up around coffee plantations. We almost thought we were reaching nowhere (with no sight of habitation), when we saw a couple of people sitting on a bench. We stopped by to ask for directions and they pointed out to a road. We drove for 6 long kms and then we saw a few shops and an arch. This was supposed to be the shrine of Dattatreya. There were a couple of vans parked. We were assured that there were people coming to see the place!!! We walked through the arch and I was almost reluctant as on both sides of the passage were tombs with red or green cloth over them. There was also a thick fog that made matters worse. We reached a big courtyard that overlooked a lake. The sight was too beautiful to be true. We further went in which looked like Muslim darga and we had no clue what to do. Lot of people were walking in with coconuts and agarbhathi. We went into what looked like a cave. As we almost bent down to get a glimpse of the place, we saw a samadhi bedecked with flowers. One elderly person stood there and offered flowers. Inside was a place that was closed with many lamps lit. Another samadhi of Anusuya was there where we saw many bangles and strips of clothes hanging. A man handed over a strip of cloth and said we could ask for something and put in some money and tie it there. He explained to us that these were the samadhis of the disciples of Sai Baba. Therefore, Hindus and Muslims alike come there to visit. The looks are Muslim but lamps were lit and coconuts were thrown like it is done in temples. The whole thing overwhelmed us and we wondered why people fight if we could live so amicably.
From there, we drove back only to find that there were absolutely no hotels to stay. In the end, we had to settle in a hotel that gave us a TV and also a bed!!!! The room was just about OK.
The next morning, we went to Taj for breakfast because we had already eaten in the best hotel and we thought we could only afford breakfast in Taj. We had a hearty breakfast and soon we were wondering what to do. There was an information desk which helped us with a few things. He gave us a clear picture of what could be done!! We decided to drive to Iyyankere and a good 20 kms from there. We were told it was worth the visit. We drove slowly and we saw a board with an arrow to the left. The road looked scary because it was narrow and had canals on either side. We decided to take the plunge. We drove slowly but what we did not expect was such unexplored beauty. It was so not commercialized and so simple. The people, the fields and the gushing sound of water all made the drive a thing to remember. We reached Iyyankere. This is a big lake surrounded by mountains and with absolutely nobody to spoil it. I was thrilled. Even if I did find a cola bottle or two, it was not dirty. There was no noise except the silence of nature only interrupted by the guzzling sound of water which flowed from the lake to some nearby rocks.
We drove back from Iyyankere and then decided to drive to Hornadu that evening. We started by about 5 in the evening and we were told that it was about 120 kms from there which we hoped to cover in at least 3 hours. We drove and we were just hoping that the roads would be good. What we did not know was the roads were absolutely bad during rains. After a good hour’s drive, it started to drizzle and suddenly from nowhere it started to rain. It rained so bad that I thought the windscreen would break. Visibility was nearly zero and we could not see beyond 10 feet. The rain was so heavy that the roads could not drain the water at such speed with the result we were driving in a pool of water. We could not stop anywhere as the entire area was forest and we could not see any habitation. An occasional Jeep or car passed by and the entire region was pitch dark. I could think of almost all the Ramsay movies. We decided that in the worst-case scenario we would stop by a village and sleep in the car. About 50 kms before Hornadu, there is place called Balehonnur. I should confess that I had till then never heard of this place. We stopped there and decided to spend the night there no matter what. After about 45 minutes, the rain stopped. We sat down in a coffee shop and were asking the man all the questions. He told us that there was just one hotel there to stay else we had to stay in a Mutt about 3 kms from there else, we had to go to Hornadu. “What about the road” we asked. “The road you came now is a two way. This road is one-way so…” This arrested all our doubts and we decided to spend the night there. We were skeptical even to approach the hotel for a room. But we did not have a choice. The Manager of the hotel (bless him) advised us to go to the Mutt itself, as we were ‘family’!!! We were amazed at the simplicity of people. They spoke from their heart.
We drove to the Mutt. This is the Rambapuri Mutt. We reached the mutt with doubts, apprehensions. We live in city and we only know of fraud and we can only think of how bad and mean people can be. The man at the counter greeted us and said the room would cost us Rs. 75/-. I was almost sure that I had not heard him right. He said he would give the receipt the next day but as deposit we need to pay him 100/- to which we agreed. I thought, 100/- for a room I was sure, the room would be a mess. We entered a huge courtyard and then we walked us to the room. We saw a huge room with two cots, bed, sheets and a clean bath and toilet. I was shocked. I had to pinch myself to believe it. He could easily charge 450/- but they are there to serve and not make money. I was overwhelmed. Just then, we realized we were hungry and we had nothing to eat. We thought we would drive to the village for some fruits. A few minutes later a boy of about 14 yrs, came and asked if we wanted to eat prasad. I was almost certain he wanted some donation (at least that is what we learn after living in the city!). The boy led us to a dining hall where all of them sat on the floor for food. We had rice and sambhar and if we wanted we could have tasted Mudde or ragi/wheat balls. The boy took us around the entire place with so much devotion and in the end did not even wait for baksheesh. The mutt has a school, a marriage hall, a hostel for kids to stay and temples. There is also this dormitory for visitors. I was aghast. The boy we met had indeed received good education there. We met the sear there and took his blessings. We left from there for Hornadu the next morning.
The drive to Hornadu is excellent. The road is very narrow and extremely bad but the sight is breathtaking. Such pure beauty has to be seen to believe. There were streams and falls and absolute greenery. We reached Hornadu after nearly two hours of driving. There is just the temple and some hotels to stay. We had darshan of Annapoorneshwari (the goddess of food). We left to Kudremukh after that. Enroute we saw signs to silent valley resort and thought it would be a good idea to stay there. When we reached the place, we were aghast. The reception looked shabby though the staff was friendly. There were no rooms available for us anyway so, we decided to at visit the restaurant at least. The restaurant looked extremely bad. For 1800/- a night, they can definitely do something about the whole place. The washbasin had no drain and all the water splashed into a tub!! All this made me sick. We managed to eat something and then drove further to Kudremukh. The drive to Kudremukh is again very good as it means driving into the forest. The forest officials give you a ticket and give a time limit to cross the forest and reach the other gate. We took the ticket and drove inside the forest. As we reached the small self-contained town of Kuremukh, we were surprised. There was a guesthouse where we could get a room to stay that evening. So, we went to the forest office and got an extension of the ticket. We were told in the forest that we could go the falls before six in the evening. Later we drove to the Hanumangundi falls. The moment we reached here, we wondered where the falls is as we could hardly see a thing. We thought we were in for a disappointment. But, there are about 340 steps below and as we went down the steps we could slowly hear the sound of the gushing water. Once we reached below, it was one spectacular scene. Here was a place that had no filth and unharmed by human invasion. If only time had permitted, I would have loved to sit there and just gape at the falling water and the thick green trees almost embracing the waterfall.
We took the steps again (this was a real tester as we gasped to the top); we drove to a nature camp. We drove to the camp and on the way we saw deer and we tried to drive as slowly as possible along the beaten track which took almost 2 kms inside the forest. As we reached the end, we knew exactly how much of progress our country has made. There were make shift camps, a kitchen, fireplace and almost everything for people to camp. I would never have believed otherwise that such places exist in our country. We parked the car and walked to a small pond surrounded by greenery so much so that the water looked almost infected with lichens. We waited for sometime just to try our luck and see if any animals would come there to drink water. It was getting dark and also cold, so, we drove back. Kudremukh is a small place. It has its iron ore industry and also the people who work there. The town is small and self-contained. There is a petrol bunk that only caters to company vehicles!! Anyway, we had dinner at the guesthouse, where we could eat what they offered and retired. But at the end of the day, we just knew, we had had a good time.
We drove back to Bangalore the next day. We stopped at many places to take in all the beauty nature has so lavishly bestowed on us. Once we met this man on a cycle who was trying to sell us cardamom. He also explained to us why people are agitating in Kudremukh. The people from all the villages want the KIOCL (Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Ltd.) to stop mining in that region as it is affecting the ecosystem. He explained how after all the blasting, the mountain that was once massive has reduced in height and how therefore the place is not getting enough rains. This in turn has affected the crop. The chemicals are contaminating the river water and infecting people. I could not believe because, he was explaining the whole thing in pure Kannada (which we don’t hear very often in Bangalore) and he looked so simple and he could explain the whole thing with such simplicity. These people here may not have studied much but their values remain unmatched.
On our way we passed by some excellent countryside. We stopped at Belur and had lunch at the KSTDC hotel, Mayuri, which is (for a change) very good and extremely clean!! We went to the temple and sat there for sometime. We then drove to Halebeedu too and visited the temple. End of the day, we saw ourselves in Bangalore – fresh and definitely invigorating. We had met some interesting people and places that are so present but living in the city makes it too difficult to believe. There are people and places so precious that we should strive very hard to keep them.