Thursday, October 1, 2009

COFFEE COUNTRY CHIKMAGALUR: with Belur and Halebeedu thrown in for good measure!-II

If the previous day was thrilling the next was enthralling as we first explored the coffee estate in which we were staying more thoroughly with the help of our kind and charming host, later we visited the twin temple towns of Belur and Halebeedu (ahem, notice the spelling, felt a thrill similar to when I started calling Panaji ‘Panjim’ after a visit to Goa, feels so local and authentic) known for the intricately carved Hoysala masterpieces. We were up bright and early and we proceeded to take a round of the coffee estate guided by our host. We were enlightened about the intricacies of coffee growing. We learnt that little coffee saplings need 7years to grow into a full fledged berry sprouting plant and that they need a lot of looking after in those 7 years. We learnt that since the women do the plucking of the berries, the coffee plant is pruned to a height of about 4ft something. We learnt about the different varieties of coffee ( in fact we had also seen a ‘tree coffee’ tree think bark and all on the first day inside the sanctuary area), about the shade trees and how many of the trees growing near the coffee plants were the result of the seeds brought in by birds and dropped there by accident. Finally our excursion came to a hurried end when the mite discovered a leech among the leaves, we beat a hasty retreat to the amusement of our host- these are the hazards of life in the lap of nature, said he laughingly. In fact our host’s younger daughter is a brave heart and she follows her father around in the plantation, even when she sees a snake she waits till the creature is gone before continuing her trudge after her father!! The mite was quite unmoved by the leech and could not figure out what the commotion was about!! Another hearty breakfast later (our last at Nature Craft) we were kindly dropped by our host at the Chikmagalur bus terminus were we deposited our luggage and set off to Belur on a bus bound to Bangalore!

It takes about half an hour to reach Belur from there. On both sides of the road are the beautiful paddy and wheat fields stretching far in a gradual slant and on the horizon were the hills that we had just left. The ChennaKesava temple is walking distance from the Belur bus terminous. We took a guide to show us through the many carved wonders on the temple . The figures are minute in their details and show cases the culture, dress, beliefs of those times. I was mortified to learn that some of the figures were destroyed/stolen by local vandals! The Hoysaleshwara temple at Halebeedu was hit upon by Afghan conquerors and as was the norm of those times they attacked the place which had the most wealth and mutilated some figures and destroyed the high steeples which shows supremacy to assert their own, however how can one explain the desecration of images at such a beautiful place by the people of the same region? Chenna Keshava means beautiful Vishnu and it is the representation of the deity when he assumed the form of a woman to kill gajasur. The most overwhelming of course is the ‘social’ sculptures which shows women beautifying themselves, dancing, playing instruments and hunting. The images swam before our eyes long after we left the premises.

We had a marvelous meal at a local restaurant and headed off to Halebeedu in an autorickshaw. Halebeedu is 15kms away from Belur and it takes half an hour to get there. A picture of the Hoysaleshwara temple here was in my Class X text book amongst the pictures of other monuments that we had to identify for our ICSE exam. I had nursed a desire to visit these temples since that time. Somehow in the pictures in the text gave an impression of lofty heights, however the temple is of modest height, their spiraling steeples demolished by conquerors, replaced by cement mounds, but on the inside the ceilings are preserved in their grand artistry. This shiva temple is not much frequented by devotees who worship here these days however its surroundings are more beautiful than the Belur shrine with a beautiful lake in the background. From the shops lining the outside of the Belur temple we bought some stone souvenirs, including a statue of the founder of the Hoysala dynasty fighting a lion which incidentally, is the Hoysala emblem. In Halebeedu we bought tiny brass statuettes of shiva etc. These were quite skillfully done.

We had taken a little more time than expected in Halebeedu and henceforward our misadventure started as we missed the last bus to Kemmannagundi at the Chikmagalur terminus ( the last bus to the hills leaves at 5:30pm). We were approached by a jeep driver who promised to drop us at the horticultural dept guest house( where we had done a telephonic booking) by 7:30pm. We knew that the road up the hill to Kemmannagundi was bad but we certainly did not envisage such a bumpy ride and on top of that, it started raining. The jeep driver was an old shriveled fellow who had to stop from time to time to wipe his windshield, as he did not have wipers and I suspect he was blinded by the headlights of the vehicles coming from the other side! It was a day of rides in dilapidated vehicles as the auto we took from Belur to Halebeedu was also a rickety thing which managed only a 10kmph speed when it had to climb a slope on the road! We jingled and jangled in the jeep for what seemed like a lifetime. By the end of our journey all our intestines were tangled the Brat was howling the mite was whimpering, it was 9:30 at night and we discovered that the horticultural dept was very disorganized with guest houses scattered all over the place and only one office which we could not locate in the darkness and the rain. The shriveled driver tried his best to help and finally the Mr had to contact a high official to get the caretaker to open a room for us. The office authority, a lady called Divya extended no help and kept her phone switched off even after she knew that we had children with us and were in grave trouble. The extent of the inefficiency of a government enterprise was apparent when we learnt that we cannot get food in the guest house which we were allotted, there is only one canteen adjascent to the raj Bhavan at the very summit of the hill a kilometer’s walk from our guest house, which we could not go to in pitch darkness and incessant rains. My little babies had had some chocolates and chips on the way up, they were so frightened and cold that the Brat refused to eat anything and the mite had a few biscuits and we finally passed out each cuddling a baby. There was no point in getting up early the next day as there was thick fog all around and we would not have been able to see any sun rise. The surroundings were beautiful, and if the horticultural department had not been so ill organized we would have had a jolly good time even after all this.

We set off in search of the elusive canteen, for breakfast. There were some shacks by the road and the Mr and I had some bread omelets and coffee, before we could get to the canteen there was a barricade and a sentry asked for a toll tax to cross over to the canteen side….something snapped inside us at that point and we simply refused to pay up to enter the canteen….I mean what is the idea, who was making the rules here?? Only one canteen and we have to pay up to cross a barricade to eat!! Why?? Rules are made for the convenience of the people but our government makes them to deprive the common folk of their sanity!!! There has to be a change in the rule book of the horticultural department at Kemmannagudi. They seem to be trying their level best to prevent tourists from coming here…the roads are a mess there is a less than efficient bus service, the jeeps charge astronomical sums to go anywhere…the guest houses do not have their own canteens the whole business is sickening, you do not notice the beauty of the place because you are so bogged down by the hindrances. We gave up the idea of going to the Hebby falls as it remained foggy and rainy and we would have to trek through leech infested territory for the last 1 and a half kms till the falls. We feed our kids some idli and vada and milk at the canteen and walked for some distance down the forest track. We found a group of people collecting leeches in the middle of the road while their car stood by. The mite and I did not have socks on and the mite was in his sandles so I was on the look out for leeches for his sake, and sure enough I saw one trying to enter his sandle!! I managed to dig it out, the mite was surprised to see my animation!! He became quite the leech expert, he discovered another leech in our bathroom later in the day! I found out that you cannot simply stamp on a leech and kill it like you can a cockroach our ant. The harder you stamp the more quickly it will wriggle about! Finally I got it into the Indian style toilet and flushed it down!! We also discovered that there is no way of getting out of Kemmannagundi if you chance to miss the 10 o’clock bus, you will have to wait for the last bus at 4. We waited for a lift at the cross roads tea stall for ages before we took the help of the high official who had got a room for us on the previous night. This official arranged for a jeep for us and we got dropped at Ballavada from where we got the 2:30 Birur bus (we had to catch our train at Birur station). The jeep ride cost us 300Rs! The bus ride 30!
We reached Birur station at 5 we were under the impression that our train was leaving at 5:50, suddenly we discovered to our horror that that was the timing of the booking we had made for the previous day, later we had decided to extend our stay by one day and the timing for our train as a result of our fresh booking was 9:50pm. We would have to wait for a good 5 hours at Birur! Now Birur is a junction station when we reached the refreshment counter was functional when we reached we had idli vada and lemon rice and coffee. Suddenly at about 7pm everything shuts down at Birur and this is the greatest wonder- NOT EVEN TEA is available at Birur station after 6:30!! Now from my earliest childhood railway stations, at any time of the night, had to have the mandatory tea vendor saying “chai garam” in different tones…this was the first time I have seen a station without tea…wonder of wonders!!
Our train arrived at 10:45pm and we reached Bangalore at 3:45 am. We reached home and crashed out…dreaming of misty mountains and mighty temples….what treasures we have found in every nook and cranny of this wondrous country.

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