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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kodachadri Trek

Kodachadri- Kodachadri is a mountain peak (altitude - 1343 m above sea level) in the Western Ghats middle of the Mookambika National Park.

Accommodation – We stayed at Bhatra house (Temple Priest’s House). The hall can accommodate a group of 20 and there are several small rooms too. But one needs to abide to the rules such as – No drinks or smoking; Wash the plates after food. But the experience of staying with this family itself was worth the visit. An Inspection bungalow is only other alternative; one of our colleagues had booked a room there and the toilets and bathroom came much of a help for us.

Contact - Parmeshwara Bhat (Bhatrra Mane) - 08185-295934
Rajendra (Guest House to be booked at PWD, Hosanagar) - 08185-290368, 9242892299/9480205657

How to get there – From Bangalore, drive to Shivamoga; Shivamoga to Nagara and a deviation at Nagara towards Kollur; At Sampe katte turn left to reach the base camp. A shop at base camp can provide you tea and breakfast. We had to park the vehicle there; only jeeps ride up the mountain till Bhatra house which is 10Km from base camp. There is also another route through Nagodi forest check post, but it is a longer route.

I would like to recollect some of the special moments in the trip rather than giving detailed account. Let the pictures speak the rest.

Moment -1
Two days before our scheduled journey (29-March) it was raining badly at Kodachadri. Bhatru told that we may not be able to stay it his place if it rained so. Off season rainfall had shattered our plan. But most of us came to a decision that we would go to the mountain in spite of the condition. Thankfully the rain stopped two days before our visit.



Moment -2

The hike itself was amazing. Even though we had to follow a jeep track, we did take off route trails. Due to the rainfall, the mountain was very green and beautiful. We had rice roti for breakfast. A colleague’s friend who lives in Sagara was nice enough to pack food for all of us from his home.




Moment -3

Midway between, I stopped for my friends to catch up. I sat alone midst the mountains watching the clouds flow from the valley and spread across. It was a beautiful sight. I penned down few thoughts in my journal.




Moment-4

The food at Bhatra house was amazing; Rice, Sāmbhar and Thambuli (A dish made of butter milk and herbs). The jeep drivers play cards in the veranda. The women were busy cooking; the men had stories to share with visitors. It was interesting to notice that the jeep drivers and newspaper was the only means of communication with outer world for the Bhatra family.




Moment -5

My dialogue with Bhatru was interesting. In his talk he told how important it was for tourists to not just come to a place for its scenic beauty but also to experience the culture, the people, their tradition and their life style. I thoroughly enjoyed that talk.

Moment-6
The summit is 2 km hike from the Bhatra house. There is a Sarvagnya peeta (Shnakaracharya Peeta) on the peak. Shankaracharya spent 12 years of his life here and he installed the first temple here and later in Kollur. On the way I met a villager who walks about 10 Km daily to sell butter milk and snacks near the peak. I was touched by his story. Questions began to rise in me – How much would he earn? Is it worth all this pain? …I preferred not to answer my questions.


Moment -7

At the peak, I met two old men from Kasargod. We discussed about their travel and Yakshagana. They recalled the older times when the drum beat of yakshagana would attract a huge crowd as the sunset and would keep them entertained all night. They forced me to go to Chitramulla which was 1km down the mountain, claiming it was a beautiful sight from there. Some of my friends did not wish to hike. He told me- Tomorrow after you go back and people ask you whether you had visited Chitramulla, you would feel bad to reply no. I had made up my mind instantly after listening to that and for the visit , it turned out to be the best part of the entire trip.




Moment -8

Chitramulla is a steep hike down the summit on the other side. A cave where Shankaracharya meditated overlooks the Ambha vann. A natural spring falls beside the cave year round and is considered sacred. The water was very sweet and I kept going back to drink. I met two swamis’ here; a man and woman from Kerala. My broken Malayalam and a translator among the visitors helped me understand the conversation. I thoroughly enjoyed every single word that the two swamis’ spoke to me. The man had walked all the way from Shabarimale (Kerala). He said they would spend few months here. Biscuits or just water was their food. He showed me the bottle of water and said – One can spend days with just this. Kollur temple is viewable from here on a clear day. When asked, if he would visit the temple during festival, he said – It is too crowded there, but from here it is just Goddess and me. I was touched by their simplicity and niceness. I found them to be so peaceful and happy. On their face, as they spoke was a smile that I had never seen before on anyone. I wondered if it is possible to maintain a balance between the two worlds that looked so apart yet so united.

Moment -9
The view from summit was amazing. The clouds had spread everywhere and we looked down at them. As the time for sunset arrived, the clouds cleared and unwrapped a orange sun as it melted its way into the grayness.





Moment -10




Next morning we left early to watch the sunrise at a near by hill. After having breakfast there, the group decided to hike down. Five of us stopped back for a while and watched the nature blend together. Several nice thoughts emerged out in me which I recorded in my journal then and there. We did not speak at all but heard the birds chirp; trees swing slightly with the breeze; clouds flow into valleys like a water fall at still. It was an amazing moment. I wondered if nature speaks only when man is silent. Today I wonder what each one of us were thinking at that same instant? After that 5minutes of silence, we walked back. But on the top of Koadchadri hill, just after sunrise, there was a moment which summarized the entire trip into a meaningful purpose.




(Thanks to my friends for these wonderful glimpses they have captured.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sagara - An Emotional Journey -3

My walk through the farm and forest was knowledgeable. After return, I chatted with yajamana who explained to me how the areca nuts are processed. We climbed up the roof where beetles are dried and then they are boiled. The colored water that remains is used as a natural colour in handlooms.

In my conversation with Yajamana I found out that they initially were from a place called Sigandoor. A dam project drew them away from their land. Sigandoor is now an island submerged in the dam backwaters. He explained how difficult it was for him, then a twelve year old to witness such a transition. They had to move to a new land, make new relationships and gain trusts of the new neighbors. The initial years of setting up the farm were very difficult, he said. When he noticed my interest in visiting the place, he came forward to show me the place that afternoon.

The youngest member of the house, 5 year old Arvaind is fun. He lit up the environment with his funny talks. He warned us not to eat the mangoe seeds otherwise it would grow as trees inside us and then a doctor would have to operate. He had an alternate idea to remove it by tying clothe soaked in paste of turmeric and kumkum. :-)


On this day, there was pooja at their house. I followed them to view the rituals. A small temple is built by the family where the pooja is performed daily.


A special meal was served that day, few guests came. Among them was an old man, I would call him Ajja. Ajja stared at me, but he did not speak. Initially I thought he was rude, he had a tough face that never smiled. I felt him observe my friendly conversation with Yajamana, but he did not speak a word. On the other hand, yajamana was very attached to me already and would keep me involved in every conversation.

After food, we drove to Sigandoor. Aravind and Yajamna accompanied. On the way we stopped at “Charaka” . Here, only natural colours from different seeds and leaves are used for cotton clothings. The management explained to us the entire process in a very nice manner. A worker immediately identified my kurta as one produced there.




The drive to Holebagilu is beautiful. From here we had to take a launch (Barge) to cross the backwaters. The view was mesmerizing and in me filled a sadness of this evening which would turn into a day in Bangalore soon. I became silent and my emotions of happiness and sadness mixed with one another to form an undistinguishable expression.

There was some issue with the launch, so the maintenance people were on work. The launch was delayed hence we could not spend time in sigandoor. We just crossed the backwaters and then returned immediately as the launch made its last trip back.

The villagers here were given a choice between a launch and a bridge, the villagers choose the launch and now are in great trouble due to that. If one needs to cross over, they have to wait for specific timings of the launch.




Yajamana pointed to me, the place where his house once had been. He was very keen on showing me around his birth place. He was also fascinated to know from me that his hometown had been featured on the internet. The scenic beauty of the place can be best expressed through these pictures.

We returned back home and had dinner. It was then that Ajja, spoke to me. He started off asking me about Bangalore. Then after dinner, I had only 15 minutes to get ready, but the 5 minutes that he spoke was more than a day’s conversation. All of a sudden, Ajja said – “I have lived 30 years of my life in Chennai. I have all my friends there. I visit them even now. I may have moved here, but I still contact them, I would be less human if I ignore relationships. Yes, eventually they all will learn to live without us, but still one can never ignore the moments.” I silently nodded unable to make out the intention. Then he asked me to visit Tamilnadu and temples there. He suggested me some places in that brief time.

I thanked the women for their amazing hospitality which made me feel so much at home. I thanked the brothers. Yajamana asked me to call me after I reached Bangalore and he gave me his phone number. He asked me to keep in touch. I could see his eyes turn moist. The entire family came out and bade farewell.

With a heavy heart I drove back. Thanked Ravi and his wife too on the way and promised to return again to spend more time at the school, which I could not do this time. In a day, I felt like a part of this family, their happiness, their rituals, their problems and it was all possible due to their hospitality, their niceness.

On my way back to Bangalore, I was submerged in thoughts and emotions. A day had changed my life, in looking at relationships.

I called Yajamana from Bangalore and he said thus – “Ajey, I have no children, and I have liked the way you behave and speak. This house needs youngsters like you to keep visiting. Never forget to call us and drop by.”

In the next few hours in my thoughts, Ajja’s words slowly began to dissolve and break into more meaning full understandings.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sagara - An Emotional Journey -2

We drove to Ravi’s ancestral home, which was off the main road; in a place so interior where the darkness prevails and adds beauty to the night, what I mean is there are no artificial lights to interrupt the silence of darkness.

I was introduced to the joint family living in the house and I soon began to observe the life in such a place where men sit in the main hall to discuss politics and hobbies with their mouth full of areca nut and beetle leafs; women happily chat in the kitchen while cooking.

In this house now live, 3 of 6 brothers with their family. The eldest of the brothers, has no kids; the second brother has a son of almost my age; the third brother has a son of around 5 years, who grows up in the house as everyone’s dear. The people seemed to me so united and peaceful in their own world and occasionally they got a glimpse of the rest of world through newspaper, visitors and travels to relatives in cities.

The second brother and his son both sing in Yakshagana’s and from what it seemed to me, the boy was passionate about the art form. Since we arrived, he discussed only Yakshagana with my father and even enquired if I had interest in the art form. I said I loved to watch it but was not part of it in any other way. He probably was disappointed and did not speak to me after that. His father is a well known Yakshagana Bagvath and also trains a girl’s yakshagana troupe.

My father asked the father-son duo to sing few verses and they immediately got the Harmonium to start. After the father, the son sang. Father kept correcting his son, asked him not to scream, but to understand the literature involved, before singing, which he thought, is very important in singing. The son ignored the advice and kept singing in higher pitch. By then one of the ladies called us for dinner.

The food was amazing. The village atmosphere can never be complete without such a wonderful meal. Rice, sambhar, saar, a brinjal dry dish, chatni and mangoe rasam. One of the brothers kept asking me to try the mangoe rasam which he said would provide me a good sleep.
After food, I helped out the second brother with his newly gifted cell phone. He was too enthusiastic about knowing the features.

According to the plan, we had to go to more places the next day, but looking at this atmosphere, I did not feel like continuing with decided, so we instead decided to stay in the house and spend time there.

I had the best sleep, it was pitch dark and I needed no fan, it was cool and the tiled roof aided to maintain it.


Next morning, I got up to view a silent, serene atmosphere; the women had already become busy in the kitchen. It appeared to me that they had standard routine and established roles even in the kitchen that went on day after day, with perfect harmony.

I took a short tour around the house, to click some pictures. I was surprised to view what the curtain of darkness had unfolded into. I was standing in midst a forest, part of which comprised of a house, temple and areca nut farm.


After delicious idli and fresh and natural jaggrey paste for breakfast, I was asked by the eldest brother (I would refer to him as Yajmana (Head) now one) to be taken to the farm. The third brother took me on a tour of the farm. We discussed about the falling price of arecanuts and vanilla. I did not know until then that vanilla plantations were such a pain. Every single flower had to be pollinated manually and the price has fallen considerably, which makes the entire process even more worthless. Even the unseasonal rainfall this year has turned threat to areca nut flowers.




Pollination of vanilla

They also have acquired some forest from Government to protect it. A small pond at a height acts as water supply to the farm. A small stream too, flows in between the farm. He showed me few herbs that are used for masala.

Areca nuts are boiled in the furnace. The roof above is where they are dried.

We discussed also on the labor issues in the place now, many youngsters have moved to bigger cities or to better jobs and hence, it is very difficult to find labors to work in such big farms.

In my conversation with the third brother, I realized that the life in villages was not as simple as we thought or as it was few years back. The villages are forcibly diminishing by the globalization and it is inevitable. The neighboring farm was sold away by its owner due to lack of labors. What India needs today is automation and less can it depend on human labor or the conventional ways. Man has to create remedies for the disasters he himself has initiated.

To be continued…..

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sagara - An Emotional Journey -1

My father was the exam supervisor at a School in Hegodu, a small village 6kms near Sagara town. When he described the village and the people there, I wanted to visit the place. One weekend I traveled to Hegodu with my parents.

March-16th
We reached Udupi at around 8:00 Am and from here boarded a bus to Sagara. The bus journey itself was exciting as it made its way from flat fields of Dakshina Kannada to hills of Sagara Taluk. We reached Hegodu at 12:00AM. The bus stopped in front of the School – Hongirana. As I entered the campus, I felt a peaceful studious environment. Octagonal shaped classrooms, building on one side, in midst the greenery.

I was introduced to Mr. Ravi who is one of the founders of school. Ravi took me around the school and explained to me its origin. Through his words I realized that I was speaking to a dreamer, an achiever. Ravi and his wife worked in a reputed school at Shivamoga. But in the present education system, what he disliked was the pressure on kids, the monotonous lifestyle with concentration only on studies. He wanted to give the kids an environment that does not just educate them with the basic knowledge but also develop them as a human being. Ravi and his wife resigned from their job that earned them a hefty salary, to which none of their friends or relatives applauded.

Hongirana


They had to go through a tough time with sanctions, paperwork and establishment of the school. Hongirana has now, after 6 years, turned out to be a reputed residential school. Very poor children are educated free. Since this is a NGO, one can even sponsor for a student’s education. Village kids need to grow in an environment that they can relate to and this is why, they are taught Yoga, Bagvat geeta and also all forms of slowly vanishing art forms – Chukke chitra (Dot painting) and Yakshagana.

After that meaningful talk with Ravi, we had lunch along with the kids. Ravi and his family live here, in a small house by the school, away from their ancestral home.

After lunch, we started on a tour around Sagara. Rajendra, our cab driver is no less than a guide. He speaks a lot. He took us to Ganapathi and Marikamba temple in Sagara town. From here we drove to Keladi, 6 kms from sagara. Here is a temple built by the Nayaks. Three main shrines comprise of Shiva, Parvathi and Veerabdhra. The first two are worshipped by Brahmins and the last by Lingayats. The union of the three under same roof was something worth noticing. While the shrine of Parvathi is wood carved, the other two are stone carved. A villager here explained to us, the history. Two Nayaks were in charge of this land under Vijayanagar Empire, later they became the kings and built these temples about 500 years from now. On the stone carving one can see a figure of Vastu and even Shivaji. It seems Shivaji’s sons were given shelter at this temple, when the muslim rulers came hunting for them.



Temple At Keladi

Vardahalli is a small village famous for Sridhar matt. Sri Sridhar swami came here from the Maharashtra border for tapas. Soon he had followers. To escape visitors he changed his location in different caves on the hill behind the matt, but followers always came looking for him. We climbed up the hill from where the view of Linganmakki dam backwaters is a treat. The matt looked peaceful. A small Durgambha temple at the base was established by Sridhar swami.

From here we stopped at Vardamooola , where Varda river originates. Our next stop was Ikkeri. A magnificent temple built again by the Nayaks of Keladi dynasty. Architecture of the temple is simply amazing; however the idol of Shiva was demolished by Muslim invaders. The rock cut Nandi idol in front of the temple, people say is still growing.






Our next stop was Ninasam, a drama institute set up by the famous KV Subbana. A student took us on a tour. He explained to us that this was the biggest theater in Karnataka. We were taken to makeup rooms, storerooms were clothes and other needful items for drama are stored. All the materials are self made at the institute itself, they are not bought. We walked to the light room, from where the display of light changes with the mood of artists. A group of students were rehearsing a play. After a small talk with the student, we set back to Hongirana.




At Ninasam

We then drove to Ravi’s ancestral home were something unexpected was waiting for me. I did not know then that I would be living one of the most emotional days of my life in coming few hours.

To be continued........

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Break!

When there are plenty of things to write; several moments experienced and no free time, it calls for a break. I am caught between work and my travels, hence a short break for a week. Please be in touch!