Monday, February 11, 2008

Travel - A pilgrimage... Part 2 (Belgaum-Agumbe)

Left Belgaum at the decent morning hour of 0740hrs, after a hearty breakfast of huge idlis downed by some aromatic filter coffee, at the in-house restaurant of Hotel Ramdev. Tanked up just before getting on NH4 to be on our way to Agumbe. The weather was very pleasant befitting a chilly January morning and the drive comfortable right up to Harihar where we had to turn off the highway towards Shimoga. From the turnoff, the road was reduced to a two-lane tarmac with a few potholes thrown in as bumpy surprises. The traffic volume was low and mostly that of tractors and trucks.
Reached Shimoga at 1330hrs having covered a distance of 314kms in six hours. Saw a decent looking restaurant and parked for lunch. The menu mentioned ‘Palak Rice’ along with ‘Dahi Rice’. I love Dahi Rice but had never heard of Palak Rice so decided to try it out so called for one of each. Both were delicious and they also served a couple of glasses of hot ‘Rasam’, which was slurpicious. All this for a mere Rs.70/-. Feeling contented we set out again on the two laner onwards towards Agumbe via Teerthahalli. The bamboo forest all along kept the weather nice and pleasant. Unfortunately, the greenery had faded. It was lovely when we had passed through it in August last year. The rains had painted the forest bright green. However, even now, it was pleasant enough to keep the paths through the forest cool and refreshing. We passed through Teerthahalli at 1530hrs having covered a distance of 63kms in an hour and twenty minutes from Shimoga. The market place at Teerthahalli was very crowded. Seemed it was a ‘market day’ and the whole village and neighbouring villagers was out there to trade their goods. It was only later, in Agumbe that we learnt that the ‘Teerthahalli Jatra (fair) had just started and would last for a couple of days. We maneuvered through the crowds and got back on to the road to Agumbe, which was just 33kms away. The 45minutes drive to Agumbe brought back memories of our fears as we had passed through the place last year. We were repeatedly told not to stop anywhere on the Agumbe ghat, especially if yours is the lone vehicle on the road. We were also advised to look for other vehicles and travel along with them like a convoy. All this as, apparently, there was a huge amount of Naxalite activity in the area and the Naxals would stop vehicles and rob/harm random vehicles passing through. We had zipped through and counted our blessings for the safe passage then. And we had done it to avoid the terrible condition of national highway17 between Mangalore and Mumbai, which actually is a beautiful coastal route to travel on. But we had suffered enough on the way to Mangalore and were in no mood to get our body aching and the car damaged. We had preferred to take our chances with the feared Naxals! While web surfing, chanced upon a blog that spoke very highly about Agumbe and its surroundings and there were quite a few references by people who had visited and stayed there. That got me thinking ‘why not’ and zeroed in on the accommodation offered at the ‘Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS)’ an NGO established by the famous Romulus Whittaker who also runs a snake/crocodile research centre in Chennai. Checked out the location of ARRS on Google earth and thought no further. It was in a small clearing in the forest, away from the main road. The ARRS is managed wonderfully by a young man Mr.Gowrishankar, ably assisted by Mr.Prashant who lives in the Agumbe village. For accommodation, one has to get in touch with Mr.Gowrishankar, who insisted that since they do not want noisy vacationers frequenting the place, would like to have nature lovers as guests. Having convinced him of my bonafides, managed to get a couple of nights booked in this heavenly place.
Drove into ARRS at 1615hrs and as I shut off the engine there was total silence. Just some birds chirping, that’s it. Gowrishankar was there to receive us and he showed us to our cottage. The exterior of the cottage was done very tastefully and looked very pretty. The interior was very basic – a couple of cots, chairs and a very clean bathroom. Very airy and filled with natural light. The ARRS was powered by solar energy so no television. Our cell phones also died due no network coverage. The only phone connection was BSNL cdma that existed in the ARRS main cottage. It was the lifeline for people in and around Agumbe who had a snake encroaching on their premises. On receiving an SOS, he would rush in his jeep to ‘rescue’ the snake and release it in the forest on the ARRS premises. Around 1730hrs Gowrishankar had to go to the village and offered to take us to the house made famous in the ‘Malgudi Days’ television serial.
We met Kasturi akka – the owner of the property – who offered us some wonderful ‘Masala Kurmura (puffed rice)’ and ‘Kashaya (hot herbal brew)’. Spent the evening chatting with her and learnt that she rents out rooms on the upper floor of the now famous ‘Malgudi Days cottage’ Dinner at ARRS was at 2030hrs and we would all have it together in the beautiful dining area. Over dinner, Gowrishankar explained why snakes thrived in Agumbe.
A) In South Kanara, the snake is revered and the King Cobra has temples devoted to it. B) Agumbe has the second highest rainfall after Cheerapunji hence the climate is perfect for the King Cobra to proliferate. Next morning, after a hearty breakfast of eggs on toast, at around 1030hrs we set out to visit Parshwanath Chaityalaya on Kundadri hill. It is located 18kms away and 320metres above Agumbe which itself is 600metres above sea level. Kundadri hill is in fact a single gigantic monolithic rock formation with various outgrowths.
This place is also a Jain pilgrimage centre.
Kundadri, named after the Jain monk Kundakundacharya who is said to have practiced severe penance here, throngs with Jain Pilgrims during Makar Sankranti.
The single lane road that climbs up is steep and has a dozen hairpin bends. An awesome drive. There is a small parking lot on top from where you climb up a dozen steps to reach the temple - a Vrushabha Teerthankara Jain basadi said to have been built in the 17th century.
The views from the top are breathtaking. After spending a few minutes of absorbing the beauty, we head back. Next on the agenda was the ‘Sunset Point’. We were advised to be there by 1700hrs, to ensure ringside seats of the spectacle. The sunset per se is not spectacular but the view of the valley at dusk and the festive atmosphere is.
Made use of the multi photo ops offered and traced our way back to ARRS for an early dinner. After a restful night, we were treated to some wonderfully delicious ‘Neer Dosas’ for breakfast. Departed from Agumbe towards Sringeri, Hornadu and Vittal with hopes of returning, maybe during the monsoons to commune some more with nature at its best. Finally may I add that all the locals whom I spoke to averred that the Naxals do not attack anybody at random but only those whom they perceive as enemies of the common man. It was their fervent hope that Agumbe grows as a tourist destination boosting their economy.

6 comments:

  1. Beautiful....Like I said earlier - It was as though I was travelling along with you guys. The mention of "Neer Dosa" made my mouth water.

    Everything is so beautifully described. Agumbe looks to be a lovely place. Will surely visit it soon.

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  2. So well written...Heard Augumbe is heaven on earth....you just described heaven!

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  3. Very nice. Thanks for sharing details of such lesser known destinations in India.

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  4. lovely... would love to visit. Thanks for the new destination one not oft travelled.

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  5. Good description. We plan to visit Agumbe & sringeri & hornadu. Can somebody let me know the directions and the condition of the road? re[;y to me at sghaveri@yahoo.com

    - Shankar

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  6. ups sorry delete plz [url=http://duhum.com].[/url]

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