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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Kallchiki Trek, Bavikonda

I was a bit bored to write a travelogue on my recent trek in Kudremukh National park. So, I have decided to turn this experience into a story.  This story is partly true and partly fictional. However, the location and the details of the trek are real and can be relied upon for future reference. 


Homestay Contact - Rajjapa (08263-249333, 9481179008, 9483983324, 8417823542, 9480943770)

Link To Kudremukh Trek From Same Location -Kudremukh Trek  

 The Coffee Blossom  

"Have we reached already?" Vishal asked as the bus came to a stop at around 4:30 AM. He had been awake all night like an owl. That is what a night shift job would do; it was difficult for him to switch his routine. Chirag who was sitting next to him, woke up and looked around before replying. "No, I think we have another stop." The two decided to step down and see where they were. Chirag checked if his friend Chetan who was sleeping in the seat behind them was awake. Finding him sound asleep, the two walked out of the bus. They were at Kottegerah junction, known for its famous Neer dosa stalls (A Mangalore/Malnad special Dosa made of Raw rice and coconut mix batter) all along the main road. On this Haasan- Mangalore route via Mudigere, they were to take a right at this junction to reach Kalasa. The driver and the conductor, along with some passengers were waiting for their dosas. Though the two where not hungry at this early hour of dawn, they enjoyed the way the boy was spreading the batter on to the pan. He was very quick. 

After everyone who had to fill their stomach had done so, the journey continued. The next 22 km drive took more than an hour as the bus passed through a ghat section. Vishal who had been awake all night, felt sleepy. This was around the time he would return home from his work. Feeling uneasy by the swaying bus driving on the winding roads, Chirag felt nauseatic and could not go back to sleep. His mind wandered towards the recent events in his life that had lead him to organise this journey. 

For a long time Chirag had been trying to find a work-life balance. His work had consumed lot of his life and energy and as he grew older and higher in his career, the murky corporate politics was forcing him to become someone he did not intend to be. He believed that there was always a right way of doing things. But most of them choose one of the several wrong ways because its easy. However, he knew that it would definitely lead to a moral conflict in them if they are built on at least some kind of basic value system. He was certain that one day he would bid a happy farewell to his desk job and return to his hometown to lead a much simple and peaceful life; at least so he believed it would be. But when would that day arrive? Is it possible at all to escape the materialistic greed of earning more and owning luxury?  As one had family and as one got older the needs and expenses would only grow. His thoughts came to a pause as the bus conductor called out for the passengers getting off at Kalasa. They had arrived their first destination. Chirag woke Chetan and Vishal up and they got off the bus.

At 6:30 AM, the small town of Kalasa looked still sleepy. 


The homestay that they were to stay in had arranged for a jeep ride from here to the small village of Mullodi. Their driver Manju greeted them with a broad smile and they set off on yet another drive, but this one more interesting than the previous. They took the road from Kalasa to Mangalore and turned left at Samse. The entire place was covered with mist and it looked amazing. As they drove off the main road, the road winded and turned between coffee plantations that were filled with aromatic coffee blossoms. Vishal had always wanted to see a coffee flower. He requested for a quick stop to capture them in a picture.


Hailing from West Bengal, he was familiar with a tea plantation and thus Coffee plantation was exciting for him. This trip was a good escape from his mundane life. Every night when others would be returning home from their work, he would have to leave to work after kissing good bye to his dear daughter. He always explained to people that life in a BPO was not as easy as people from the other domaine would perceive. Working for an American company, dealing with different moods of different customers was not easy, he would say. He strongly believed that after all, an employee needs to be respected. Many of the Indian companies lacked this basic understanding and thus spent more time recruiting, training and retraining people due to high attrition rates.  His honesty had also become a great issue. His manager would constantly remind him to keep his mouth shut and not speak his mind out every time. Honesty, he thought did not work in the Corporate world as everyone was busy pleasing each other. He was fed up of all this, of working in night shifts, of being told how to speak or behave, by the step-motherly treatment by the US Counterparts. These thoughts had been bothering him for a long time now and as soon as Chirag had mentioned about this trek, he wanted to be a part of it to escape the city life. After all, he had not explored South India as much as he should have in these 10 years of his stay in Bangalore.

The last 2 kms of road remained unpaved. Chirag remembered his previous visit to the homestay two years ago when the entire stretch from Samse to the Mullodi house was unpaved. He had then trekked Kudremukh peak in the rainy season. He had absolutely loved the location of this house that stood on a small hill surrounded by mountains of the Kudremukh National Park. 

Rajjapa Gowda, their host greeted them and walked them to the newly built room. He had been renovating the house slowly. "Still a lot of work is pending." He said referring to his ongoing construction in the first floor. The homestay was more designed for the trekkers who flood in starting June and do not stop coming until the end of the year to conquer the Kudremukh peak. From the 1st of January to the 1st of May, the trek to the peak was prohibited due to chances of forest fire. An easy alternate was this trek that they had planned to do - Kallchiki.

Rajjapa had lived in this village all his life. There were about 50 houses in the village and everyone were related to each other. Some other houses too accommodated the trekkers. He lived there with his wife and two daughters. Many other relatives always came over during holidays. His sister and her children were there too. Chirag had clicked some pictures of Rajjapa’s younger daughter and his nephew during his previous visit. He had brought the prints of those to give it to them. They were delighted to see them. 

After freshening up, the trio assembled in front of the house for breakfast - Pundi (Steamed Rice-Coconut mix balls), chutney and Sambhaar. It was then that they met the other guests at the homestay.  A young couple from Mumbai had arrived the previous evening. Lucky, a Delhiite was studying film making and Raashi, a Kashmiri pundit was studying Fashion designing in the same college. They made a cute pair.  There were two more men from Mysore. 

Ganesh and his uncle Damodhar were visiting the place for the second time. They kept mentioning about this incident that had happened during their previous visit that apparently, they believe had made them famous. One of their teammates had broken his leg during the climb and had to be taken back to the house. He was given Whisky to subside the pain, until the ride to town was arranged. For some reason, they expected Rajjapa to recollect all this and remember them. But Rajjapa’s memory failed him and he simply heard the story like he was for the first time. The two still continued to claim their celebrity status based on this incident that they failed to understand, was only memorable to them for purely personal reasons. 

Vishal was very excited about everything he was seeing and was expressive about it. Since he did not speak the local language, he obviously got noticed easily. Ganesh began to pull his leg and made fun of him. "Why is he dressing up like he is off to see some sexy girl at the peak?" "Where did you bring him from?" "We have named him as Makeup master." He commented sarcastically to Chirag. Chirag clearly disliking their behaviour smiled and walked away from them. Disgusted by their derogatory comments on his friend, he narrated the incidents to Chetan. "How can they judge people whom they have just met?" Chetan asked. They concluded that some people are simply like that. 

Two guides were arranged. An old man named Krishnayya accompanied the five men and a young boy named Prakash accompanied the couple who chose to start a bit late. Puliogre was packed for everyone. The trail to the base of the hill was along the approach road. It was a pleasant walk between the farms. All three men were excited about the trek. Vishal, by nature was the most expressive one and became fascinated by the coffee flowers, surrounding hills and the farms. Rajjapa’s dog accompanied the trekkers. When Chirag asked Krishnayya, the name of the dog, he thought for a moment and said - Kaalla; as if he had just christened the dog right there. Kaalla panted along the way but he always waited for everyone and guided them in the right direction. 



Along the way, Ganesh and Damodhar began to discuss Vishal’s age.  "He must be 23." Ganesh said. Damodhar, who always had a different opinion disagreed and guessed it to be 25. "Come let us ask him.", they said and checked with Vishal. "You are right." said Vishal to Damodhar and that made him even more proud of himself. Vishal looked at his friends and they shared a smile. They were all in their mid or late thirties but none of them really looked that old. 

About 3kms down the trail, Ganesh struggled to climb. Damodhar clarified to the others that he otherwise had great stamina but last night they were drunk and he had puked during the drive. They arrived at Kalasa at around 4 AM and then rested till dawn to take the jeep ride to the homestay. The others listened but showed no interest in continuing the discussion. They preferred silence and enjoyed the views. Kudremukh peak looked amazing from the mountain opposite to it; that they were in. 


At the signboard of Shola heights, a home stay, they all rested and waited for Prakash and the couple to join. 


During their wait, Krishnayya informed them that Shola heights was an expensive homestay run by foreigners. They had bought a land there and settled. Many foreign tourists, he said, stayed there. Chirag and Chetan were surprised how foreigners where allowed to buy land in India. They wondered which country they belonged to but Krishnayya had no clue. He told them that they could visit the place and ask for a visiting card and look around. 



Lucky, Raashi and Prakash arrived. After a short break, the entire group continued their climb. On the way, guide Prakash plucked some Nerale Hannu (Indian blackberry) and distributed them to the group. They also passed by the homestay Shola Heights. Looking at a SUV parked outside the house, Prakash said - "Foreign Sukumara has probably come here today." Chirag and Chetan looked at each other and laughed. So it was a NRI who had returned from perhaps some gulf country to setup a farm there and not really a foreigner. 

Prakash talked about his days in the forest department. He would walk alone in the forest and look for tiger paws or marks. He had to record them. He said that the pay was unimpressive and moreover in case they spotted a tiger, they had to answer a lot of questions by the authority. "What would you do, if you saw a tiger?" asked Chirag, out of curiosity. "Nothing, we should avoid its path. If it sees a prey, then it only walks in that direction until it catches it. We have to avoid its path." Though the answer was not very satisfying, Chirag refrained from further interrogation. He instead asked if they had enough safety against an encounter. To which, Prakash shook his head and told, "No, Nothing." 

Just when they reached a hilly area, a local warned them about a python that, two days ago had swallowed a goat. Considering that the python had had a good meal and would now rest for days, they continued on the track. However, they were a bit scared and became alert while passing by the bushes. 

Along the way, they passed by a small forest area. In rainy season the place would have been filled with hundreds of leeches. By a small stream, they rested. Kaalla sat on the flowing water to avoid the summer heat. 



Lucky shot some videos of the sun rays breaking through the gaps between the leaves. Tired, Raashi preferred to relax for a while. When Lucky decided to lit a cigarette, Damodhar stopped him and said that he would be tired climbing if he smoked. He suggested that Lucky wait until they reached the top. Lucky was annoyed and said he always smoked while he climbed and he was okay with it. He did not stop though. Prakash and Krishnayya turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the whole thing. Trekkers were not allowed to smoke, specially in this weather when there exists a threat of forest fire. But they often failed to voice their opinion in front of the rich and confident looking city people whom they consider to be superior. 

After some rest, the group continued to the peak. The rocky peak of Kallchikki was very impressive. 



At the summit, they rested for sometime. The sun was directly above their head and it was terribly hot but pleasant breeze made it bearable. Everyone spoke to each other about where they were from and what they did and about the treks that they had been on. Damodhar as always wanted to end every topic with his comment which kind of annoyed the others. After sitting there for a while they decided to head back to the forest and have lunch. Taking a last glimpse at the view, they began their descent. 




On their way back, Prakash and Krishnnaya wanted to check out a new farm. Chirag and Chetan followed them while the others had already moved ahead. The coffee farm looked impressive with orange trees in between the coffee plants. The two guides looked around with admiration. Prakash quickly climbed a Nerale hannu tree and plucked more berries for the group. 


Back in the forest, by the stream, they had their packed lunch. Vishal complained that the puliogre had just one ground nut in it. Preparing Puliogre without excessive groundnuts is almost like a crime. They also fed Kaalla who was terribly hungry. 

The walk back was easy but the scorching sun made it a bit tiring for them. On the way, the guides caught a small calf and chased the cow and its calf to the owner's house. While they did that, they asked the others to go check out the Shola Heights homestay. While the group entered, the lady of the house directed them back to the main road without even asking why they were there. "This is not the route, please go around." she said. Hearing that everyone went out without asking for the visiting card. Thus, foreign Sukumara’s wife had chased away some probable customers. 

Back at the homestay, the men relaxed in the sit out. They slept for a while and in the evening they were served some tasty onion pakodas (Fried snacks) and tea. Ganesh and Damodhar had left back to Mysore by then. 

The three men and the young couple headed to Somavati waterfall that was located very close to the house. 


The water was cold but rejuvenating. As the water fell on their head, it seemed to cleanse them off their worries. Their headache too disappeared. Watching the sun go down, they sat there talking. Lucky talked about his college and his first documentary project. They discussed cinema, their favourite directors and inspirations. Chirag thought about his own GenX people who had no option but to listen to their parents and become Engineers. The Millennials on the other hand, he thought were different. Many seemed to be more experimental and free from societal and parental pressures. "After all, they had more exposure to the world then us due to internet and connectivity.", He thought. 

They headed back to the house and sat in the verandah. There was a power shutdown and the entire place blacked out. In the forest, hundreds of glowworms lit up. They seemed to follow a pattern while glowing. On a clear sky, far away from the city lights, thousands of stars glittered. It was a mystical sight with stars in the sky, glowworms in the forest; all sparkling. Rajjapa occasionally stopped by talk to them. He mentioned about the yearly tiger survey that invites many volunteers and how now a days they had cameras fit in the forest that tracks Tiger movements. He also mentioned about how irresponsible some groups would be who litter in the forest and smoke or drink while they trek. He often finds it difficult to tell them upfront about avoiding such behaviours. The men requested him to put up a sign board with a list of Do’s and Dont’s. 

Rajjapa talked about how he had educated his eldest daughter on his own till her fifth grade. She was now studying in a college in Udupi and he wished to continue her education. Living in a village, they had to send their children far away for education. 

Lucky asked the three guys if they wanted to smoke. He had rolled it himself. The men who where already in a relaxed state of mind, declined the offer. The couple shared a joint while they all sat under the night sky discussing current affairs and Indian cuisine. After dinner, everyone retired to bed. 

Next morning, a mourning sound woke up Chirag and Chetan. They suspected that to be of some kid struggling to sleep due to a nightmare. But the sound continued for a long time. At Dawn, they woke up and walked around the house. Driver Manju had stayed over at Rajjapa’s house. He brought them some much needed tea. Mist had covered the entire valley creating a magical sight.




The couple had to leave early to catch a bus to Mangalore. They had booked a bus to Mumbai from there. While settling the bill they figured out that they were short of Rs 1000. They were not informed in advance that the jeep rate would be extra. They had to now go to Kalasa instead of Samse to find an ATM and that would cost them Rs 300 extra. Looking at the confusion, Chirag offered to pay for them, expecting them to too an online transfer to him at a later date. They thanked the men and left. 

After the couple had left, the trio headed towards the waterfall again. After a quick refreshing shower under the waterfall, they slept on the rock; silently observing the beauty of the nature. The birds chirped, the leaves fluttered and there was no sound of vehicles, like in the city. It was peaceful out there. They were completely in that moment thinking of nothing else but what was happening, right then, right there. The moment lasted for a few minutes but it was one of the most satisfying experiences of their trip. 


They walked back to the house, freshened up and took a walk in Rajjapa’s Coffee farm where the honey bees had conquered over the entire farm. The buzz of the bees, hovering over the coffee blossoms created an enchanting music. 





They bid farewell to Rajjapa and drove back to Kalasa in Manju's jeep. A bunch of villagers hopped into their jeep to share the ride. A lady with two kids, a man and another family were all headed in the same direction. They all knew Manju. Manju told them that Rajjapa’s sister had been sick all night and she had not let him leave the bedside so he had to sleep over at their place. She feared that she would not make it and thus had invited some relatives to visit her. She had slept holding Manju’s hand all night. Listening to this story, the lady in the jeep began to weep. She brushed away her tears with a handkerchief and enquired more about Rajjapa’s sister’s health. 

Back in Kalasa, they waited for an hour for the next bus to Kottegerah cross. The lady and her two kids waited patiently as well. When the bus arrived, they all boarded and took off. The lady and the kids bid farewell to the men at a stop before Kottegerah. They had barely spoken anything to each other, yet the humility in which they behaved towards strangers was genuine and touching. Such emotions were rare to be found in cities. 

At Kottegerah junction the trio had some tasty neer dosas before catching another bus to Haasan and then another one back to Bangalore. On their way back they sat together and reflected upon everything that they had experienced. 

Vishal was happy that life was so peaceful in the village. They were happy about the smallest of small things. That morning the kids were so happy playing "Police-Thief" game. Everyone in the village helped one another and there seemed to be less of animosity amongst them. For days he had been thinking of quitting his job and doing something on his own. He had been contemplating about opening a gym in Bangalore and was looking at investment options. This journey in someway had allowed him to think clearly about it. He decided to go back home and request his uncle to lend him some money. He discussed this with the other two and both encouraged him to pursue his plan. 

Chetan who had been mostly silent during the entire trip, had also wanted to escape the busy city life. This trip to the wilderness had strengthen his interest to turn towards spirituality. "We travel far away only to look within." he made a thoughtful comment.

Chirag was touched by how Rajjapa’s family lived a peaceful life with what was available. Of course, they had the desire for the luxury that city life offered and they would always remain curious about it as they would perhaps never experience it. Chirag understood that he had to fulfil all his desires while he was still young. He was not as young as the Millenial couple they had met but he sure was not old enough to retire. He realised that he had to satisfy his desires and interests while he still could and then return to his hometown. Because, that is when he shall remain unaffected by the materialistic world. To create a peaceful future, he had to have a fulfilling present!

During their journey back to the city, they recollected the images of the coffee flower and its fragrance. One would have imagined the coffee flower to smell like coffee; like a flower of a citrus plant would smell citrus. But, the flowers of a coffee plant smelled more like jasmine or even better and then it would turn into a flavour very different. Similarly, these wonderful experiences of life would hence enrich itself into something more scintillating and satisfying and eventually constitute in building a personality. The men had learnt that, what they wanted to become was in their own hands and to explore oneself, one must travel outside his/her comfort zone. Because one travels faraway to find what lies within.


Here is the film on this trek - 

3 comments:

  1. Interesting travelogue story. Thanks for sharing the beautiful photos. I had a chuckle when I read the word "inmate". I think it is used to mention about people who are in prison.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :-) Thanks for the correction. Well, "inmate" could be used to refer to occupants or residents also. However, I have replaced it with an apt word.

      Delete

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