Very few experiences commandeer the human spirit like walking through a forest during rains. Every nook and corner is teaming with life, colors, sounds, fragrance and an intangible verve. It is about four years I have relocated to Bangalore and have never had an opportunity to visit Chikmagalur. An idyllic town at the foothills of Mullayanagiri range, I fell instantly in love.
Thirty three of us, my work family, boarded the bus from Bangalore and traveled overnight to reach Chikmagalur really early in the morning. When you have a group that is high on life, connected with each other and looking forward to have some good-old clean fun you are almost always on the trip of your life.
We had multiple pit stops en-route including one very early in the morning at about 4:30 A.M. It was at a Tea stall. Many from the group had tea and Mangalore Buns. I had it for the first time and boy was it delicious. The mild sweet yet understated taste of the bun, in hindsight, kind of captures the essence of Chikmagalur for me. More on this as your read on.
Reached ahead of time to “Chandramukuta” in the forest of Chikmagalur
We reached our Chikmagalur homestay property “Chandramukuta – Whispering Woods” really early. By about Five Thirty in the morning. The bus could only go until a certain point from there on it was a walk for about seven hundred meters to the property. It was drizzling and there was a pickup truck waiting for us to load our luggage — nice gesture by the resort staff.
We were given early check-in into some of the rooms and were asked to wait for a couple of hours before we got all the rooms. The rooms were spacious and well maintained. The fact that most of the boys (I actually mean men) were staying in a dorm-like arrangement gave us a hostel feel. Sharing closets and washrooms always brings back memories.
Our Sports hours and sumptuous breakfast
A beautiful drizzling morning in Chikmagalur with really nothing to do. Most of us assembled in the courtyard and started to play some or other sports. Cricket or Badminton or even both simultaneously — for learning the secret behind that art and science you need to join our motley bunch in one of our next outings.
At about 8:30 a.m., it was breakfast time. The food was superb, the flavors were local and well balanced. The Poha was pure-play ‘comfort-food’ league, Idlis super soft and Sambhar flavorful. The breakfast spread resulted in high hopes from the lunch menu.
Heading out to Rudragiri and Bande Kallu Gudda
Two Mahindra Bolero pick-up trucks arrived. Roughly fifteen-odd people perched on the back of each truck and started our drive to Rudragiri Hills. What an experience it was! Lush green forest and coffee plantation coming to life in the light drizzle. Everywhere you could see a carpet of green, birds chirping, frogs croaking, insects buzzing and above all our gang matching the sounds of nature with our own sonic patterns.
We reached the Rudragiri hill top and walked a bit to find ourselves a view point. Clouds formed animated and ever changing patterns and floated like a dream in front of us. Then in moments of sudden clarity dissipated and left us with a majestic and clear view of the valley. Much like life–mostly approximate, hazy and hidden and then in rare moments stark, naked and abundantly clear.
Deepti, Robert and I spent a few minutes looking out into the valley and exchanging our views on life. Almost a zen-like moment. I have always felt mountains are like a disease, once you are infected they never loosen their grip on you, the ailment grows stronger and every time you are in mountainous lap they dissolve your daily life’s bindings and ignite a deep calling to stay over and stay back forever.
The rain drenched trek up
Next in line was the trek up to Bande Kallu Gudda. We climbed back on the trucks and drove through some really steep and narrow passes through the woods. Some of us decided to be on foot after the mid-point whereas others decided to continue all the way to the foothills in the truck.
Slowly the forest got thicker, the foliage heavier and the path narrower. Leeches, Spiders, Snakes–all were fair game. We have to be really cautious when it rains in the jungle. Everyone was chit-chatting on their way up, helping each other, laughing out loud and having fun. I am sure a ton of stories were shared among the thirty-three of us. As a writer, I always want to be the fly-on-the proverbial wall in all such story sessions.
We reached the base of the famous Monolith rock and realized that trekking up to the peak is not going to be child’s play. Some of our troupe members were already up there. It had started to rain considerably, the rock face was bald with no foliage or bramble for grip. Some people decided to stay at the foothill. I tried to climb up. My chunky trek shoes could not create any grip on the slippery slope. A few meters up and towards the valley, my feet jammed and I started to slip. Like champions, Saravana and Deepak came to help me out. They pulled me through the tricky stretch. For someone like me who is afraid of heights and is always on the lookout to climb mountains, these rescue drills are life lines.
On reaching the top, I could not see anything. We were fully engulfed in clouds with limited visibility. The wind was blowing hard and it was raining incessantly. After staying there, getting drenched and soaking it all in — literally and philosophically, we decided to descend.
It was around 1:30 p.m. and we trekked back to the trucks and started our journey back to the home-stay. Mid-way, the trucks stopped at a sister property of the home-stay. Here they were selling home-made wines and chocolates. Some of the team members purchased wines. I heard the coffee wine was really nice although a bit on the sweeter side.
On reaching the homestay, we had lunch. And boy, the lunch did not disappoint. We were hungry as hell and the vegetarian speciality was JackFruit Curry. I heard from the fellow team members that the non-vegetarian fare was also top class.
A full stomach solves a lot of problems in life. Time for some afternoon siesta.
Getting ready for bonfire and evening party…
After an hour or two of sleep, most people made their way out to the sit out areas. Some of us indulged in ghost stories. I shared my eerie experience from Hotel Savoy, Mussoorie. Kaveri shared a really scary one from her own home. Before we could go one more round with more scary tales, Abhilash came calling. Party time!
It was a nice semi-open bar sit out, with bonfire. Slowly the party started to get going. Familiar songs made the rounds, with most of the shy people waiting for the evening to get warmed up before they joined the dance floor. It was a nice evening of dance, drinks and and dazzling dimensions. We cheered for Deepa and Ankit who put the entire trip together!
The evening winded down with some chit-chats within smaller groups and off we went to sleep — thrilled, tired and thankful.
Next morning, the ritual of checking out and group photograph
We had our breakfast, loaded our bags into the pick-up truck and lined up for our group photograph. Always a special moment. We had some funny moments with people closing their eyes or a dog coming into the frame just when the camera timer went off. But we did get a great group photo done. Lifelong memories.
An amazing tour of the Chennakeshava Temple, Belur (Hassan)
Built in 1117 A.D. The architecture of the Chennakeshava temple is best described as sculptural poetry aided by divine precision that brought to life the celestial in the mundane. I cannot describe the intricacy and the wholesomeness of the murals. I was amazed at the level of planning, collaboration and expertise that would have gone into making this masterpiece.
One only hopes to be touched by such excellence and that even if you could carry through one percent of this magnificence in your life, you know you have achieved your heart’s fill.
The levitating stone pillar
Right in the middle of the temple courtyard is a levitating stone pillar. It is an Archeological Society of India site. The mystery is that you could pass a piece of paper or cloth underneath the pillar right through to the other side. Somehow the pillar weighing many tons does not rest on solid ground. Ancient technology at work it seems. If anyone knows better, I would love to have a conversation. My curiosity is brimming with hope as well as cynicism.
Hitting a musical high note with EkTara
After walking out of the temple, I heard some music. On walking closer, I realized it was Kaveri trying to bargain with a street vendor selling EkTara. After some haggling, we purchased four EkTaras (Indian stringed instrument). You wonder about the rich cultural heritage our country enjoyed during ancient times. We had loads of fun trying to get some music out our new toys. If not music, at least we had playfulness.
Encounter with Krishnappa, the Great puzzle man of Belur
Deepak was in conversation with an old man. Just outside the temple, Krishnappa sits in quiet abandon and relative anonymity. He is the great puzzle man of Belur, whose wire puzzles are world famous. Selling at ten rupees a piece, these are absolute buys.
In his late sixties, the humble yet genius of a puzzle man, twists metal strings into complex and intricate shapes. On probing he shares that he learnt this art about forty years ago from an old man in Mumbai. Krishnappa has been at it since the last four decades in the streets of Belur. He has invented a hundred variations of these puzzles, if he invented one more he would get into the Guinness Book of World Records.
Binging on Raw mango and Jamun
It was almost 3:00 p.m. and we were famished. It was time to board the bus. But then, it was also time to relish some fruit bonanza. Our group had purchased hoards of raw mangoes with chili powder and Jamun (Java Plums) with salt. Like little kids we all kept eating one after the other, licking our fingers to relish the salty aftertaste. Our tongue had stories to tell. We just could not have enough of these natural treats. The inner child burst out in exuberance as these tastes took us back to our childhood days.
Followed by a late lunch by about 4:30 p.m. we headed back to Bangalore. With a simple and moving promise that I will be back to Chikmagalur soon.
On my next trip to Chikmagalur, I plan to cover the following:
Special thanks to Ab-Solute Focus and Roneeta Banik for sharing some of their photographs