Sunday, October 19, 2008

Carrots thole maduthuva jagah (Where they wash carrots) ...

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Yes, there is such a place! and err, no, the answer is not 'The Kitchen'. Well, there may be many such places, but one among them is a small village called 'Narsapura' on Kolar road about 60 km from Bangalore. This is a small place where there are lot of carrot fields around. After the harvest, the newly plucked carrots are very muddy. Caked with peels of mud, they have to be washed clean before shipping them to the markets; and here they do that in a big lake, lumping them together in large coracle shaped baskets made of some kind of roots, stems? and ceremoniously washing them in groups. And this is some ritual that can hold a lot to enthuse a bunch of shutterbugs. Red carrots with green leaves in brown colored coracles being washed in a coffee colored lake!

But 'Narsapura' was not anything like our destination when four of us, Me, Bejoy, Lijo and Bobbinson started from Bangalore on a Sunday morning in a no fixed plans, neither unfixed too, trip. Three of them are admittedly more 'mature'? and advanced shutterbugs than me! I like driving in the morning, getting up at 5 O'clock and driving through outer ring road. The roads dark and empty, yellow street lights blinking here and there, with the mandolin of U Srinivas on the background, it makes you feel so so refreshed.

The four of us met up at the cable stayed bridge in K R Puram. Thought we would get some nice snaps of the sunrise, but it was hopelessly cloudy and on top of it the sun made a mocking laugh at us from behind a gray veiled sky. But one let down is nothing, we decided to drive along the highway with no particular destination in mind. We stopped for tea on a roadside shop and Bob mentioned about the place where they wash carrots. Apparently some of his friends had once visited the place while they were coming back from some trip and got some nice snaps out of it. So we tentatively declared it as one destination for our trip. But he had no idea where it was or how to get there and 7.30 on a Sunday morning is not really a good time to wake a 'close' friend and ask him such questions as to where do they wash carrots on Kolar road!

So we kept on drifting through the highway.

Lake  placid ...

We passed this vast water body on our way, I don't quite remember the name of the lake. It may look good in photos, but the lake seemed extremely polluted :-(

Next idea came up - that we could visit vineyards near Hoskote. We stopped near a bridge where we could see something like a vineyard? The wide grass fields near the bridge were really beautiful and fresh in the dewy morning. We got down to the alleged vineyard and discovered that it is Kovakka, or tindori or gentleman's toes (as opposed to lady's fingers!) We saw lot of snails there, lots and lots of them, so much so that if you put your feet down carelessly you'll tread on one and crush it! The owner of the field, whom we met there, explained to us that there were three different species of snails found there. He knew a Kannada, at times a bit too fast and rustic for me to catch on, but communication in such circumstances is a joy! Sometimes its nice to see the curse of Babel tower backfiring on God's plans to only instill confusion among his herd ... :-D

Life gets thorny at times ...

Leaving the 'vineyard' behind we moved on. Stopped at some brick making places lined with green fields, and in fact found one or two real vineyards. But the vines were barren, there were no grapes and both of them were closed and barricaded with no one in sight so we didn't enter.

By this time it was morning enough to wake up the friend, and he told us that the place's name was Narsapura. We asked for Narsapura in the next teashop by the roadside and got directions. Its some distance before Kolar, after a petrol pump, past a Kamat Upachar you have to divert from the highway to the left and after about 2km on that road you'll hit Narsapura.

Three ballerinas ..

Then we stopped for breakfast and during that another suggestion came up. There was supposed to be a Shiva temple near Kolar with a thousand shiva lingas. But no one knew what it was called. We asked the friendly waiter at the hotel but he knew nothing of shiva lingas, not even one, leave a thousand. But he was kind hearted enough to ask someone else and came back to tell us that it is called 'Kodi Lingeshwara Temple' and is past Kolar some 17 km further. Ok, so 'Kodi Lingeshwara Temple' was fixed as the ultimate destination after visiting which we'll head back to Bangalore.

As soon as you take the left to Narsapura, the scenery changes, and you can't help feeling that you are traveling on a country side road with occasional big banyan trees along the side of the road and some plush green open land to the left and cool clear wind on your face. We hit a coffee colored lake soon, probably it was so muddy from washing of so so many carrots! :-D Couldn't find anyone washing carrots though, but we stopped by the lake bund. The place held a thriving ecosystem, and is doubtlessly dotted with some kind of powerful aphrodisiac. Every insect, or rather pairs or insects - butterflies, beetles, dragonflies - that we found there were either courting or had progressed way past that phase!

Sooo sorry to've bug'd you now ...

There was an old man, angling in a small pond there. Poor fellow, somebody had tricked him saying there were fish to be caught in that tiny pond! We asked him where they washed carrots there :-D. He gave some directions, and all the while we were running behind the courting creatures he was sitting patiently with his hook and line. He finally gave up just before we decided we got enough of the shameless foreplay and thereafter, in public display.

So we reached Narsapura 'town' and asked someone 'Where they washed carrots there'. He came with us and lead us to the side of the lake in one of the in-roads. We could see the huge coracle shaped baskets that they use to wash the carrots. But there was no one washing carrots right now, instead two women were washing their herd of goats in the lake! Do goats like to be washed? I'm rather inclined to say no, one of the little ones was shivering like anything after he swam back up.

Carrots didn't seem to be coming, and after waiting for sometime we decided we'd rather head for our second destination 'Kodi Lingeshwara Temple' and check on the way back for carrots being washed. On our way out, a bunch of local women led us to a small temple on the side of the lake and near the fields. They said it was 'Ohm Shakthi Matha'. Ohm shakthi matha resided inside a small pond embodied in a strange looking idol, starkly different from the rest of the temple. We got three bottle gourds as the blessings of 'Ohm Shakthi Matha' and one red rose. May shakthi matha preside over these green fields and people in unbroken piece and harmony.

Back to Malgudi ...

Back on the Kolar highway, Kolar was some 20-25 km further ahead. Bob and Lijo in a bike ahead of us slowed down and broke off from the road and stopped at the foot of the medium sized no man's hill by the side of the road. There was a curious shaped rock at the top of the hill, a Totem which looked like three rocks on top of each other. Me and Bejoy were initially reluctant to get down, Bob and Lijo went and called us from inside saying its an awesome place. Running the risk of them calling to trick us also into walking up and finding only some hopeless rocks, we got down and walked through the trail a bit. The place was indeed imposing, and tempting to be explored further. Especially the Totem rock, like a carrot held in front of a donkey, urging it to move ahead but always seeming distant. We had to get back to Bangalore before evening and getting to 'Kodi Lingeshwara' looked very less likely if we decided to climb this Totem rock!

Totem rock ...


हसीने जनम लेत हैं, की दीवानों को
तडपा सके बार बार;
पर्बतें उभर आते हैं, मुज़ाफीरोम को
फुसला सके हर ऐक बार!

So foot by foot, meter by meter, we ended up going deep and up in to the bushes that raise to the Totem rock. The way we were going up there seemed to be no trail, so we hastily and very wrongly concluded that we would be the first non-goats to summit this peak! Lijo gave up the climb after sometime, as it was getting difficult with lots of thorny bushes and the absense of anything like a trail. It was my longtime wish to climb up something like this, an unknown, unnamed, unclaimed hill, one among many that you see by the side of the road, and it felt so good!

We did reach the top, a rock that we christened 'The Phantom Rock', but it was not the Totem rock. Totem rock was somewhere to the right further. Here there signs of a some one having tried to build a rocky enclosure, maybe a temple? so surely we were not the first non-goats atop these majestic rocks! We tried to reach a Totem rock, and finally managed to reach the bottom of it. It was sheer single rock about 100 ft high, the front side with two deep groves developed by erosion giving it the look of a Totem of three big rocks. The view from there was breathtaking, we could see our car and bike far below, and the road winding like a black serpent through the green lands. On the top of the hill, there is a tiny tiny water body, one with its own biodiversity. Strange little green water plants, tadpoles, water beetles? and tiny frogs - Life endures. We christened two more rocks - 'The Dog Face' and the 'Elephant's Back'. May they bear the foot prints of the great explorers till ages to come!

We spent about an hour there basking in the heights, and on the other side of the hill we met some kids and grazing goats. They were coming through a trail, which actually extended to this side and went down the hill. We descended down the trail and it was much easier than making your own road. Poor Lijo was waiting all this while down below for us to come back! We turned back towards Bangalore, had lunch at Kamat Upachar, and took a bypass in Narsapura and couldn't check for carrots being washed!

Le'me tell you that story ...

But on the way back, by the side of the highway we saw this family - a grandfather, grandmother, sons, their wives and children and a large bunch of err, not carrots, but radishes! And they were indeed washing these radishes in the near by coffee colored pond! We stopped by, bought a bunch of radishes, watched them wash radishes, took snaps, showed them the snaps to their great amusement and smiles - 'what in the world are you 'nuts' gaining by photographing radish being washed?', bid adieu and continued our journey back to Bangalore.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Thadiyandamol - of the mist, and sun ...

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August gone, September ticking away and October tapping at the doors, monsoon's grip over southern India progressively loosens and the western ghats become far less a place that'll force you for involuntary blood donation. The leaches mostly retreated to deeper and damper parts of the forest, its the time to go trekking!

When registering for the trek to Thadiyandamol by Bangalore Mountaineering Club, I was expecting a small group like the ones I've been on with BMC. But the number of email ids in the To: list of the participants confirmation mail ran to 30-35 and I thought, mm .. lots of people, and then comes the final mail listing 47, wow! this by far is the largest group that I have trekked with!

Thadiyandamol is the highest peak in Coorg or the Madikeri district standing at 1750 Mts(5729 ft). But compared to many other peaks in the ghats its not that tall and the trek is more or less easy to only slightly moderate . No beginner should have much difficulty in summiting this one. Its about 250 Km from Bangalore, the nearest town being Virajpet on the way to Madikeri. On the base of the mountain lies the Kakkabe village which is connected to Virajpet and Madikeri.

Our group left the sleepy roads of Bangalore at about 11.30 in the night on 26th September. I was a bit tired and wanted to catch some sleep to recharge myself for the trek next day. The bus kept on tossing me at will in my seat, but owing to the great gifts of evolution through countless night-bus trips, I think I rather slept well.

Our bus pulled up at Virajpet at about 5.45 in the morning. After some futile attempts by the BMC reps Sathish, Apun and Janak to find some accommodation for the big gang, by 6.30 or so we got in to one small lodge. I think we must have taken up probably all the rooms in there! .. :-)

After freshening up a bunch of us got out and found this 'Sabarigiri' tea shop outside. Boy! do I love the taste of a 'Kerala' chaya after a long time! I might be biased, but the malayali 'adicha' chaya is the best milked tea on the planet :-) and then well, brewing tea is one of the complex processes that can send even the most modern supercomputers of 'Heart of Gold - the ship with the incredible improbability drive' to go into loops .. :-D

Breakfast of idlis done, we again boarded the bus. Sathish announced the plan - we were going to a waterfall close by first - Chelavara falls - and trek the peak in the afternoon. This is a small waterfall amidst coffee plantations some 17km from Virajpet. The weather was very bright and sunny with a cool breeze blowing. The bus wound through the laid back roads of the country side. Coorg is a nice region with lots of greenery and large coffee plantations lined with green bush hedges. After about an hour or so, our bus stopped on a village road. We were to walk some 3kms from there to reach the falls. You could also hire local jeeps from here that would take you to the falls. These areas are sparsely populated and on either side of this road you mostly find plantations.

All the coffee, cardamom and other spices and herbs growing in here give a heady scent to the cool air. You have to give it a moment or two, stop, and let the air fill you, breeze past you, and as it swirls around you slowly you can sense the exotic tingling of the aroma in the air. On the same lines, a point to ponder; You watch the scenery, listen to the voices, and ... err .. listen to the smell?? or smell the smell? na, that doesn't sound very good, take in the smell maybe .. :-) Why doesn't smell have that many words for experiencing the sensation? As it is not such a vital skill or a much developed one with human beings? :-/

Though it was said to be 3 km, the walk seemed quite a long one. We met very few people on the road and maybe a couple of jeeps coming back from the falls with tourists. The road sides were lined with loads of small flowers, wild and colorful ones; cheerful and fresh from the showers not so long ago. We passed a small school were children were singing some morning anthem and soon could glimpse the waterfall at some distance. Seems this waterfall is known as Emepaare locally, meaning something like 'the tortoise rock' in the kodava dialect. The water gushes down a large rock supposedly shaped like a tortoise. It is a small climb from the normal road, both the bottom and the tops of the waterfall are accessible by small trails.

Get down in the trail that goes to the bottom, scramble a bit at one or two narrow stretches, and as you emerge on to a rock ledge, you're suddenly treated to the sight of this delightful, miniature yet majestic looking waterfall. The rock ledge extends almost till the bottom of the falls. Though a bit slippery you can stand there and look up and see the water cascading down. For the size of her, she was generating a lot of spray, constantly clouding my specs with the mist. The water was very cool, I could extend my tongue and taste the spray, a lil salty and green. You could sit there any length of time, listening to the roar of the water around you and basking in the cool spray, till the group leader Apun announces we have a peak to scale and have to start back.

Now the sun was straight up and shining brightly and it was hot. While walking back, we began collecting plastic waste littered on the road. Even from this not so largely popular spot, we collected something like 5-6 bags of plastic waste. As 'Calvin' says, sadly our descendants have no way of refusing to inherit the earth after we make it a mess. :-(

It was about 1 O'clock in the afternoon when we reached the junction where our bus was parked and from there we proceeded to Kakkabe village at the base of Thadiyandamol. Theres an old palace here called Nalaknad palace. 'Nalku Naadu Aramane' in the local language meaning palace of four villages. This was built by the Kodagu kings as a hunting lodge which they later used as a shelter when the British army invaded Kodagu. It is now looked after by department of Archeology and is maintained quite well. We had lunch here, of heat and eat MTR curries, bread, jam, pickles and chapathis. The peak is about 8 kms of walk from here, and there is one place at about 3-3.5 kms up with a building and surroundings that you can use as a base camp. You can do a one day trek to this peak, climbing in the morning and coming back in the evening, but it also means you'll miss the two best times of the day to be at the peak, i.e when the sun sets and when it rises. Its much better to plan for an overnight stay. We were carrying tents and food for the big gang of us for the overnight camping plan. Initially the plan was to distribute the load and carry it all the way up ourselves, but luckily we could arrange a jeep to take the heavy stuff to as far as the jeep could go, which is about 4-4.5 kms up. About 5km up, at the bottom of the actual peak, there's a patch of flat land and a stream flowing. Our plan was to camp up there. So it meant we have to carry the load ourselves only for about a kilometer. We started the hike at around 3.00 O'clock in the afternoon.

The initial part is a rather steep incline through a narrow but tarred road that goes up through a plantation. This road is actually motorable. Hitting a steep incline at the very start itself works great to take your breath out! :-) The tar road ends after about 2kms and we started walking up a mud road. After some more distance one reaches a fork on the road, with a small board there indicating that we have to go left and the peak is about 4.8 kilometers from here. This point offers a good view of the sprawling valley and Coorg below. Soon we came across the base camp building, anyway we were not planning to camp there. We kept on walking an suddenly emerged on to the side of the hill. Till now we were winding up a hill which was actually hiding the real peak from our sight. I think it is not possible to see the real peak from the bottom, i.e the Nalaknad palace place. It was actually a large range of mountains that lay in front of us. There was an isolated steep peak to the right, but the highest point was further to the left on a slightly less steeper and broader peak.

We met the parked jeep and divided up the tents, sleeping bags and food stuff among us and moved forward. At around 5 in the evening we reached the camping site. The stream could be heard towards the left of the camping site and there is a big rock here from the top of which you can get a good view of the surroundings. The topmost peak is about 1-1/2 hours from here and the trail gets steeper and more difficult to maneuver. We unpacked the tents and set them up. About 20 of us set out to climb the peak before sunset, the rest stayed back at the campsite.

Initially we thought we will go to the steep single peak to the right, but soon we realized that the trail doesn't go to that one actually. In fact there's no trail to this peak, which also means not many people go here. Continuing on the trail we could see another high point to the left but that was a decoy. The trail disappeared behind that rock, emerged out and started rising again. The mountainside was laden with green, covered with lots of grass, and sprinkled with bright colored small flowers. Indeed this is a good time to trek here. After sometime the trail entered into a thick forest. The large trees and the overhanging vegetation completely cut the sun out and it was like moving through a dark cave of foliage. Emerging out of the forest after some time we could see a protruding edge up above and were happy to find the peak so within reach. But it turned out that this also was a deception when we reached there. The trail went around this edge and was rising sharply. From there it looked like it will take much more time to reach the peak. It was around 5.45 pm now and I surely wanted to reach the peak before sunset, probably to take place at 6.15 or so. But alas, my legs were not concurring! The going got very slow, and each couple of steps warranted a break. I could see our tents from here, looking like a bunch of large bright colored flowers amidst the greenery below. I could see the real peak now, up and above, and couple of us were already there. It's 10 more minutes to six now. On the principle of tangible targets I decided that I will reach the peak before six!

So I took a short breathing break, gathered all the energy and started, stopping no sooner than about fifteen steps! Four minutes were over now! and maybe about 200 meters more, did it get more steeper just now?! Strange that human emotions have no bearing on physical laws; the seconds hand of my watch adamantly kept on walking past the marks around the dial in a monotonic ritual! Step by step I covered the incline and was on a rather plane streak now till the top, 4 minutes remaining. I ran, or tottered .. :-) and reached there with about two minutes to spare, Hoorah!!

I gulped some water and stood there for couple of minutes. The sun was to the right in a big cloud of mist. I could see the valley to my left and at a great distance below the small colored dots which were our tents. Five to six of us were here at the peak and the rest of the gang were seemingly much behind. It was getting cold and the wind constantly howled in my ears. I walked down the other side of the peak a bit and sat on a rock almost on the edge of a ridge overlooking the great valley below. Chances of catching the setting sun looked less as it was already behind thick white clouds. The valley below lay calm and serene, but it was also a battleground where an intense combat was going on. The armies of white mist wanted to conquer the valley and settle there for the night, but the soldiers of the green canopy were resisting the bid with all their might. From the vast fleet of white clouds behind the mountain, many a platoon of mist dived in to the valley, fought valiantly over the green canopy before disintegrating and dissolving into thin air. And this went on, again and again, the mist could not get its hold on the valley, it seemed they were fighting a loosing battle. But soon things changed with the arrival of stronger winds to the aid of the armies of the mist. The wind lifted up mammoth arms of mist from behind the mountain and threw it in to the valley, and not just from one side, but from three sides. And slowly, very slowly the green valley disappeared and great white sheets of mist settled in the valley to spend the night.

It was getting dark now and cold, and we had to reach back to the tents. Armed with torches we started back at around 6.30. Trekking down was made slow by the lack of light and loose rocks here and there. We reached the camping site by 7.30 or so, and thanks to Apun and others who stayed back, there was already a bonfire and hot soup brewing in a cauldron.

It was clear night, not even a single cloud in the sky and it was moonless, which was almost at the end of its waning phase at this time. And when you lay on top of the huge rock the sky hung above you like a giant dark bowl. And stars, thousands and thousands and thousands of them. You could make anything you wanted from these stars, like John Nash in 'A Beautiful Mind'; An umbrella, ice-cream cone, a dolphin, crocodile, steam engine, rocket ship, and more and more. And there was the 'Akasha ganga', very clearly visible, which is the huge dense clouds of stars in the spiral arms of our very own galaxy, the milky way. It appears as a soft white milky stretch across a clear night sky like this, which I have never seen so clearly before in my life.

On the whole the gang received very few leach bites, thanks to the hot weather. But the temperature had dropped quite a bit now in the night and I was shivering. We soon had dinner and retired to our tents. Our tent was not resting on completely flat land and that made sleeping a bit difficult. Also in the sleeping bag it takes quite an effort to shift your position while sleeping! And on top of it, in the middle of the dark and cold and windy night something happened. I wanted to move my stiffened left leg a bit and while I was working it up, I heard a distinct snap. I held myself for a while and moved the leg again, and another snap; and the front side of the tent started swooping to the ground!! Me and Tarun crawled out of the tent, and to our dismay found that two of the poles in the links that ran diagonally through the tent roof were broken in the middle! There was nothing much we could do in that shivering darkness and we quietly went back inside the tent and just hoped that it doesn't collapse completely. By morning the tent was almost like a blanket on top of us, but we did weather the night!

Bunch of people who didn't come for sunset yesterday got up early and ventured to the peak to see sunrise. I decided to watch sunrise from the big rock rather than straining myself again up the peak. But from here the sunrise was hidden by the very hill that hid the peak from us when we were at the bottom, but nevertheless the crimson skies of the morning was a feast for the eyes. After the sun came up, few of us dared the elements and took bath in the stream nearby. If you withstand the stunning sting of the cold water the first time it hits you, the bath recharges you like anything. Its amazing how as the sun comes up the cold of the night gives way to searing heat.

After breakfast we began our descent, which proved to be rather easy. We hit the base in about 1-1/2 hours. We left Nalaknad by around 11 in the morning, bidding good bye to the cool coffee plantations and silver oaks. We had lunch at Madikeri and visited the Namdroling monastery, The golden temple at Kushalnagar, which is the on the way to Bangalore from Madikeri.

It was my third or fourth visit to the temple. But this time around, prayers were going on in the temple hall. The prayers of Tibetan budhist monks is a very enchanting experience, with lots of exotic musical instruments, drums and trumpets and mystic chants. Its bad that people only want to take snaps on their mobile phones posing in front of the Buddha when the prayer is going on than listening to it and maybe trying to feel the presence of 'Buddha'. And maybe for this, I felt less moved here than my experiences in some of the monasteries in the Himalayas.

We left there at about 5.00 in the evening. The bus headed to Bangalore and I tried to catch up on some badly needed sleep. After dark, the bus soon turned into a throbbing 'mehfil' with quite a gang forming in the rear contributing to the cacophonix, which included me and which drained half of my voice by the time we reached back in Bangalore close to 10 O'clock in the night.

And thanks to Prakruthi, for the delightful surprise of a home cooked dinner at the end of a tiring day.

The woods were lovely, dark and deep; I went miles through them and now should sleep.


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