Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Freedom of the Road

Recently came across a book that had this rather alluring title,- Repacking Your Bags: Lighten Your Load for the Good Life. Probably it was one of those days when the routine just feels a little too tiresome, and one needs some words of inspiration and motivation. I decided to give this Repacking Your Bags a try and chose the audio book so that the long commute to work could be put to use to listen to it. The book turned out to be quite an interesting one.

This blog entry is not really about the book. It is about something I experienced last weekend that was in line with an idea in the book. The interesting last chapter of the book is titled The Freedom of the Road. Discussing the ever agonizing dilemma that most urban professionals face between security and freedom, the book presents these lines,- "We’re looking for a way to ensure that we don’t end up living someone else’s life. We’re looking for new frontiers, new adventures, new places where—at least for a little while—we can feel free."

With some happy coincidence, I got to experience precisely that during the last weekend. When things get a bit monotonous or tiring, one remedy that works for me is to get behind the wheel and drive all the way to Shiragalale, my village. It works like a balm. There is really a soothing, healing power in these road trips. The roads are in good condition these last few years and passing through the familiar yet seasonally changing environs never fails to bring restfulness and a certain calmness.

A friend accompanied me on the trip last weekend. Though we had hoped to hit the road with the sunrise on Saturday, the cold Bangalore night put paid to that idea and we could start only by 8 o'clock. Our intention in this trip was to not plan things in advance but to work it out as we went along. A good decision it was, in hindsight.

My usual route to my hometown NR Pura is Bangalore-Hassan-Chikmagalur-Balehonnur. Decided to take a detour this time to visit the Kuduremukha National Park enroute. My friend, a nature-lover, was very much game for this.

Duster is such a joy to drive on a long journey. We had breakfast at Bellur and were back on the NH-48 towards Hassan. There are toll booths every few kilometers but the smoothness of the road is worth the toll collected. The highway by-passes Channarayapatna, and before you know it you are entering the land of our former prime minister.

From Hassan to Chikmagalur is also a very good road and you have many long straight stretches. It was while having lunch at The Planter's Court in Chikmagalur that the idea of visiting Kuduremukha came to us. It had been many years since I had visited this place. After calling Shiragalale to inform my mother about the change of plans, we were on our way to Kuduremukha.



As you drive past Chikmagalur, the route to Mudigere is a shady and pleasant drive through coffee plantations. The air is fresh, and the greenery is soothing to the city eyes fatigued by the computer monitors. Duster's run was quite assured in the twisties as well.




We pushed on, farther and farther away from the source of everyday anxieties of a city life, into the lap of nature.  It was late afternoon by the time we passed Mudigere and were on our way towards Kottigehara. It is wooded almost throughout this stretch. At Kottigehara we turned right to enter the road to Kalasa which passes through several plantations. It is shaded almost throughout by the woods and at some places the road is not good. You do have some great views on this route. There is a nice waterfall too.





We stopped at some places to enjoy the view. During the monsoon months, these woods must look a shade greener. Still these sights were such a contrast to the concrete jungle that we live in and we filled them up into our eyes and into the eyes of our cameras for later viewing.



It was around 5.30 in the evening when we reached Kalasa and turned into the road leading to the Kuduremukha National Park. Our plan was to try and look for accommodation in Kuduremukha itself for the overnight stay, and to return to Kalasa if no accommodation was available. It was turning dark very fast as we drove up the hill towards the Kuduremukha town.

The last time I visited this town was  several years ago and then it was a thriving mining town. The Kuduremukha Iron Ore Company Ltd (KIOCL) held sway and the town looked thriving then. In the subsequent years there were protests by the environmentalists that the mining activity was causing a lot of ecological damage. The protests were led by a Bangalore based NGO called Wildlife First. In a historical judgement Supreme Court banned the mining operation and ordered the ban to be carried out by 31st Dec 2005.

Coming back to the trip, - it was turning nearly dark when we reached the town. I was awestruck by the clear transformation of the town into a half deserted, desolate looking one. We came to know, that with a clear decision about the future course of the town still pending, there are only a few families still living here. On checking with someone taking an evening walk with his little daughter, we came to know about the possibility of finding accommodation for the night with the KIOCL guest house.



It appears that the guest house is handed over to some private management and is currently in the process of being refurbished. Our stay was comfortable.

Early next morning we went to the Range Forest Office to check on the possibility of a safari in the park. We were informed that the safari vehicle had not yet arrived and was expected to arrive in a few days. The folks at the office were gracious and organized for us to drive through the trail with a hired vehicle. What a drive it was!

Before the vehicle arrived to carry us on the safari, we drove along the Kalasa-Karkala road passing through the Kuduremukha range. You find some great views on this stretch.





About 9 kms from Kuduremukha is the Bhagavathi Nature Camp where we were scheduled to meet our vehicle for the safari. The trail we took started from the Ganapathi Katte - Singsar road.


It was an exciting drive and soon after we started on the trail, our driver pointed us to some Sambar deers at a distance. We got to see several of them during the drive.


We drove through a narrow trail, quite steep at places, and reached the peak. The driver updated us a bit on the issues plaguing the place. There is always a human interest story behind all the major projects. Development is a necessary, and at times a pitiless phenomenon that puts down people happening to come in its way. How often we hear these stories of displaced people turning disappointed, distraught and finally desperate.

The view from the top is just awesome and makes you forget everything else. It is a surreal feeling to be watching mountains all around you in different shades of green. The stillness, the quiet, the blue sky, and the sheer majesty of the mountains is humbling. The healing therapeutic touch of nature can be felt. We definitely felt refreshed.




We spent some time taking the view in. I have been to the top of some peaks of the Western Ghats in Karnataka before, like Mullayyangiri, Bababudangiri, Hebbe (this lies within my hometown). Still the Kuduremukha peak is special. Is it the recency effect? Not sure.


Soon it was time to get back to earth, and we started descending the mountain. We  reached the Bhagavathi Nature Camp from where we had started and spent some time at the Bhadra river adjacent to the camp. This river is significant to me as it also flows through my hometown and a dam built across this river in the 1950s changed the shape of my village and town forever.



In the late afternoon we started towards NR Pura. It is only a couple of hours from Kuduremukha and the route passes through Balehonnur. The new Balehonnur-NR Pura road, my home stretch, is very good now. In recent years it was done up as part of providing better connectivity to the Rambhapuri Mutt from Shimoga.

We reached Shiragalale by evening. The journey of about 400 kilometers had never seemed long at all. Instead, like always, the driving, the moving, had indeed taken me out of the state of mind I wanted to leave behind. 


 We started back to Bangalore on Monday afternoon.