Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hospital House!

The mite had been down with fever for a while now and the Brat has joined him since the day before yesterday. So it is a tiresome routine of checking temperature, administering medicine, sleepless nights and a general feeling of misery all around. The Mr has also been out of sorts for a while, popping tablets all the time! I have to be ok otherwise who will take care off all these sufferers? We have a trip to Delhi coming up in less than two weeks time and diwali just two days away and I cannot even think of going for gift, cracker or candle shopping with a house full of unwell people. I think we are set to spend a quiet Diwali at home with soup and sandwich for dinner!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

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

This time folks, I think we outdid ourselves. We took on a bit too much and it got rough at the end but I am happy to say that we experienced some wonderful things in the hills and plains near Chikmagalur. In the process we were treated to some cheap thrills that proved quite expensive and we saw some sights which will be with us for the rest of our lives…we also learnt what true Indian hospitality really means when Mr Ansar and his family welcomed us into their home.
The trip started with a hiccup we left in the wee hours of Sunday amidst rain and general turmoil. Thereafter scarcely a quarter of our journey was over when the train stopped due to a derailment of a goods train somewhere ahead on the same line. We had to think fast, we had made bookings at a homestay from that day itself and we wanted to reach as soon as possible. Therefore we got off at Tumkur where the train had stopped. The Mr is an expert in these sort of adventures, after weighing several pros and cons we hopped into a taxi and off we went. At the end of the day we lost 2 hours and 2k but we reached ‘Nature Craft’ at lunch time. Now, there are many words of praise for this homestay /coffee estate on the internet, still I cannot but add my own words too. After a rough and disrupted journey it felt as if we had entered a place akin to heaven! A little peaceful haven amidst wilderness…a tranquil wonderland. Our hosts were the most gracious and considerate.
In fact, most often we would be offered what we want even before asking for it. I might be sitting outside the door of our room watching the cock chase the hen around and just wishing I had a cup of coffee in my hand and viola up comes Ansar saying…”would you like a cup of coffee?”…The most entertaining was the capers of a great dane and 3 mixed breed pups who frisked about all over the estate. The mite was mortally scared of them but they provided a lot of joy for me as I was reminded of my carefree days when we were not forbidden to touch little pups in our colony….sigh. I have instilled such terror in the hearts of my kids (due to the stray dog menace in Bangalore) that they are deprived of the simple pleasure of petting these adorable pups.

On the first day we set off to explore the surroundings of the plantation in which we were staying. We were accompanied by our host and his 2 cute little daughters. The road was flanked by coffee estates and paddy fields with the myriad greens soothing our eyes. There was a tiny lake nearby and to my surprise, there tucked away amongst the fronds there was one of the entrances to the Bhadra wildlife sanctuary which boasts of tigers among other animals! We walked some distance into the sanctuary (the Mr knew about the sanctuary but he had left it out of our itinerary this time). We ambled back to ‘Nature Craft’. The place is named ‘Nature Craft’ after Ansar and his father’s pet project of creating riveting woodcraft which unfortunately they have given up now for the lack of proper skilled labour. Nature craft is a small estate, however a lot of honest labour goes into the maintanence of a plantation of even this size as was revealed later by our host and I can vouch for it that coffee growers deserve every penny of what they earn.
We returned from our brief sojourn to a delicious biriyani dinner cooked by Mr ansar’s mother (her culinary skills have been praised by other visitors too). By the end of the day, it was difficult to imagine that we had started it in Bangalore rain lashing at us as we boarded to taxi for the station! By the way, you should NEVER go to Chigmagalur by train as there are several Volvo buses of the highly advanced kind from Bangalore which can easily take you there, as we were told by our hosts.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, we set off for i Mullaiyanagiri and Babu Budana giri hills. The former is the highest peak in Karnataka and to tell you the truth, we were impressed! It compared very well with the Himalayan foothills, we have not seen any South Indian hills that can match the height of the north Indian hill stations but this was something else. The wind was so full of force that nothing but grasses could grow on the mountainside. We were astounded to find some cows calmly grazing in the howling wind near the hill top temple!! Of course had proof of their presence because of their droppings on the stairs leading up to the shiva temple at the top.

The next stop was Babu Budanagiri. The cave dargah there was closed for renovation, however the atmosphere at the place was calm and serene and a constant stream of people were arriving there to pay obeisance. It seems that there was some sort of communal strife at the spot, following which part of the cave collapsed, (divine vengeance, no doubt, when will people stop fighting in God’s name, I wonder). Legend has it that one tunnel from these sacred cave leads to Mullaiyanagiri and another to Mecca. In fact, a person even tried to set of on the Mecca route to check the facts but came back quite blind/ insane. Whatever it is, these stories lend a strange mystery and fascination for the place! Higher up from the cave is the Manikya Dhara falls the surroundings of which provide a breathtaking view of the hills all around. The falls of course pose a problem, some strange theory does the round here that one can wash away one’s sins by bathing here and throwing away one’s old clothes by throwing them down the mountain face!! Thus the entire mountain face below the falls and even, I believe the tops of the trees in the plantations below becomes full of discarded old clothes (and incumbent sins??). No one is willing to see reason here and it is a pity to see the pristine surroundings so littered. While returning we saw another waterfall that gushed forth with great speed. We also stopped at a small lake near Manikyadhara and watched the mist descending on the lake. Incidentally we also walked through swirling clouds at Mullaiyanagiri and watched the mists come in at Manikyadhara too. We returned to Nature craft after buying some coffee at the Chikmagalur market.

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.