Monday, July 11, 2016

Into The Western Ghats : Trip to Agumbe and Sringeri Hills


Happy Monday everyone. Hope you have an amazing week ahead. This post is about the trip exploring the Western Ghats a year back. We experienced the heaviest rainfall, lived in a homely guesthouse in a small village right in the middle of the jungle, visited some awesome waterfalls, soaked in some magnificent views from the cliff and had traditional food. Also, I DO NOT have good photos from the trip because it was raining heavily, the camera lens collected moisture and we couldn't shoot.

So let's begin...

When I was studying in Mangalore, somewhere in the third week of July, we had a Saturday off. So a friend and I headed into the Western Ghats. We packed our mini backpacks and boarded the bus to Udupi from Statebank Busstand in Mangalore. We hoped to catch the 6.30 bus, but ended up taking the 7.00 a.m. bus.


Wonder if you guys are aware of all the beautiful places in the Western Ghats. The magnificent Western Ghats of India start from the Gujarat-Maharashtra border and end at the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border forming numerous hill stations along it's path. Since it is parallel to the Western coast of India, it leaves a narrow belt which is the Western Coast of India housing many picturesque beaches.

Western Ghats are one of the eight biological hotspots in the world. So you can imagine the number of endangered species of plants and animals found in this region. The numerous hills and valleys also have little villages nestled among them, where people cultivate crops and live in small mud houses made of titled roofs.

I had heard about Agumbe and wanted to explore the place. When I tried to google, I hardly found any information about the place. So it was best to visit and understand the place. Agumbe is a scenic village in the Malnad region of Shimoga district of Karnataka. The village lies on a plateau between tall mountain ranges and records the highest rainfall in South India. It is nicknamed 'Chirapunjee of the South'.


Udupi to Agumbe

Getting to Agumbe is a bit tricky. It is best to go on a road trip, on bikes, in a group, We were just two of us and we had a little adventure getting there and staying there, and this post is about that. Before that let me tell you alternative modes of getting to Agumbe. Either hire a cab from Udupi, if you are going for just a day. If you intend to stay, take a bus from Udupi to Agumbe and get off at the village right in the middle of the jungle and hitchhike with other travelers. Or walk.

It is quite a bit to get to Agumbe from Udupi. It is a steep uphill drive through the ghats lined with deep valleys that look like death traps. One mistake on the drivers part and God alone can save you from falling off into the jungle on either side of the narrow road. You cross some really picturesque scenes along the way to Agumbe.


AGUMBE GHAT

Location: Thirthahalli taluk, Shimoga district, Karnataka

After a good hours uphill journey on winding roads through the dense rain forests, we were dropped in the middle of nowhere saying we have reached Agumbe. There was a tiny checkpost on one side and a lake on the other. We couldn't see a house or any vehicles any where nearby. We inquired with the person at the checkpost about how far DoddaMane was from where we were. He told us it was inside the village and we were still in the forest. So it would be around 2 km walk.

A couple of bikers passed by. As we were deciding whether to hitchhike or walk all the way, we heard ducks quacking. So we went ahead to the lake and were greeted by pretty ducks around. It was so foggy, we couldn't see ahead of a few meters. We could see a ittle bit of the lake and the forests ahead.


We got back on the road and started walking. It was so humid, it felt like it's raining. We were wondering why we can't feel any water droplets though. It took us a while to realise it wasn't raining and it was just moisture in the air. It was so cold. We weren't prepared for this and it saddened us. We expected something more pleasant, but as it is rightly said, every experience is valuable.

After walking for a good 20 minutes, we experienced our first lash of the Agumbe rains. And that's when I realised what is it like to be in a place recording the highest rainfall. It wasn't like a normal rain shower we had back home in Goa or in Mangalore. It rains heavily in Goa, so I believed it's be something similar. But no, these rains were of an altogether different level. It was freezing. The water didn't fall in droplets, but heavy showers. You didn't need to be under a waterfall, but standing beneath the rain was enough. Now I knew why they say July is the wettest month in Agumbe.


Agumbe

We somehow managed to reach the village and stopped at a little cafe. We settled down and tried to talk to the waiter in Hindi. He gave a blank look. That is when it dawned up on us that people here didn't know Hindi. We had a similar experience at the checkpost previously and had just brushed it off. But now we were sure that we needed to know atleast basic Kannada to survive in this place. But whatever, we were there and we had to explore the place and go back safe.


For the time being, we were starving and we needed something to eat. We stared blankly at each others face wondering what the waiter is trying to say. meanwhile the owner of the little cafe walked up to us and slowly recited the menu. We didn't make out most of it, but I understood poori and pulav, so we asked him to get that. The food was delicious, hot and fresh even though it was pouring outside.



Dodda Mane: A unique Guesthouse

Once we were done, we walked for another 20 minutes until we finally located the guesthouse we were supposed to live at. DoddaMane - translated into Grandmom's House! We were greeted by an elderly woman in English. She wasn't very fluent, but spoke pretty well. We understood it, and that's all that matters. She guided us to our rooms and invited us for breakfast. We told her we already had something a while back and she was disappointed so we went in to the dining hall and sipped on some herbal drink she gave us. To be honest, it tasted horrible, but we still managed to drink it just to make her happy.


Once we were done drinking, I asked my friend in Konakni what she wants to do next. And the kind lady promptly responded in Konkani, "are you girls from Goa?" We nodded and she started talking to us in Konkani, telling us how her ancestors once lived in Goa and were forced to flee the state while the Portuguese missionaries forcefully converted them to Christianity. They belong to a Hindu family and still have their roots in Goa and visit every year during festivals.


This explained why she lived in such a big house in a village right in the middle of the forest. They left Goa decades back, and settled in the forests and called it home. Over the years, it got converted into a little village called Agumbe, and since the last couple of years she said, they had visitors - mainly college students and nature enthusiasts. The village has around 100 families living, which sums up to a population of approx. 500 inhabitants.


I asked her about the guesthouse and she said it isn't a guesthouse. She told us her heart is as big as her house and there are so many vacant rooms that she provides them to visitors so they have a pleasant stay in Agumbe. There aren't any hotels or guesthouses in Agumbe. So students and photographers have no place to spend the night at, and it is risky to go back in the night, so she lends them a room. Also she doesn't have a tariff. One can pay her whatever they wish to, she doesn't quote an amount. She says, if you liked my service pay whatever you please so that I can keep this huge house in a good condition and lend it to visitors in the future too. And it is absolutely okay if you don't pay as well.


We took a look around the house. It looked like a typical Goan Brahmin house I remember having visited during the excursion in the historic village of Chandor in South Goa two years back. Dark alleys, wobbly wooden doors, titled roofs, earthen and copper vessels, water drums, long verandah, large grilled windows and low doors. We had our meals at Dodda Mane too. We were served scrumptious Konkani vegetarian food in a traditional style on a banana leaf.


Waterfalls in Agumbe

Then began our journey exploring the waterfalls. There are several waterfalls that originate in the Agumbe ghats and provide water to the surrounding regions throughout the year. Jogigundi Falls, Barkana Falls, Shri mane Falls, Onake Abbi Falls are some noticeable falls in the hilly terrain. You need to trek a bit through the dense forests to reach the picturesque waterfalls. Accompanied by heavy downpour and floods, it is quite a task.

Trekking through the rain forest
 

Sunset Point

Well we missed the sunset, but the sunset point is a 15 minutes walk from the village of Agumbe. It is the highest peaks of the Western Ghats giving you a magnificent sunset over Arabian Sea.


KUNDADRI HILL and JAIN TEMPLE

Location: Theerthahalli Taluq of Shimoga district in Karnataka

Next on our list was the Jain Temple in Kundadri Hill. Rising 3,200 feet above sea level, in the Theerthahalli Taluq of Shimoga district lies a monolithic rock formation with a Jain Temple at the top of the hill. Covered in lush green forests, this hill is a holy pilgrimage place for Jains and also a fine spot to do a bit of trekking and climbing, for adventure enthusiasts. The summit offers a panoramic view of the surrounding regions, with streams flowing at the foothills into the dense jungle.

The Jain temple built during the 17th century is a beautiful spot. It is surrounded by a pond with blue water. Yes, the water is literally blue. The hill is apparantly named after a Jain monk Kundakundacharya who is said to have performed severe penance here. All details are mentioned on the hoardings in the temples. This is a pilgrim place and had quite a few visitors when we went. There is a trek you can take up through the forest, but we took a cab and reached there via road. This is a place worth visiting.






SHRINGERI HILLS, WATERFALL and TEMPLE

Location: Taluka headquarters of Chikkamagaluru district in Karnataka

Since we had two days at hand to explore the surrounding places, we also headed to Shringeri Hills. It is located in the nearby district of Chikmaglur. With an elevation of 2204 ft, this hill town is a home to historic temples and picturesque falls. You can completely soak in the beauty of the Western Ghats from this place.

We hired a cab from Agumbe and enjoyed the view as the cab cruised through narrow roads amidst lush green forests and heavy rains. We visited the popular Shringeri Falls and Hindu Temples while we were there. The place has a rich historic and cultural value and is on immense importance to the Hindus since it is believed that it relates to a story from Ramayana. We gorged on some street food before we headed back to Agumbe.




If you wish to explore the place and need more details, comment below and I shall be happy to help. Also if you think I have missed out on some things which you want added to the post, I shall do that. Hope you enjoyed my travel diary. Stay tuned for more. I am traveling a bit this week. So follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Zomato and Snapchat @flexcia_dsouza to join my journey.


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