Agumbe Diaries: To Malgudi days and back !

“A bus stop, really ??”.  This was my first reaction as soon as I alighted from my Bangalore night-ride, and even as I set foot on this small nondescript looking town’s bus stop. A ticket-counter-cum-restaurant building, an empty ground, and no one in sight ! 7 AM should still be a hectic moment in a bus stop’s busy daily life ! BUSY ?? WHAT ?? You are in Agumbe dude ! Houses are few far and between, and more correctly interspersed in vegetation that is so thick in this region. Get down from the road, walk a few hundred meters inside, and bingo it seems like you are in the middle of a jungle. That is, if you can reach that far in the first place ( courtesy the vegetation and it’s inhabitants ) !

My abode in Agumbe was bang opposite the bus stop, and I would recommend the same to you for your backpacking/photography trip. Devoid of anything that can even remotely be called luxury, this place provides you with only the basic amenities ( read, bed and bath ). That being said, rooms are clean and the owner quite affable. There is a grocery store in the same building, but food has to be sourced from outside. It’s called Mallya residency ( #9448759363 ), and has decent reviews online.

I could find a nice breakfast place a very short ( and  quite peaceful ) walk away, where I was served fresh mangalore buns, neer dose, and some other local delicacies. The owner offered to serve us lunch too, and I could see some other eateries nearby. So, all in all, if you can survive on tasty but basic local food, you won’t fret !

My other trip mates had reached Agumbe last evening, and while I was relaxing in my room, they were already returning back from their awesome sunrise experience at this lovely hill called Kundadri. The award winning pic below should more than corroborate my stand.

Kundadri Hills – View at sunrise – Courtesy my photographer friend Girish Mayachari ( ; )

This was in December. And surprisingly, sadly, and unfortunately as well, it was quite hot during the day. And to reflect on the fact that this place is called the ‘Cherrapunji of the south’. Deforestation in the ghats is taking it’s toll on the entire ecosystem, and for once I was not sure if it rains that much here anymore. I will pray it does again this monsoon.

Agumbe, in any case, is still to be avoided during the monsoons and until the onset of winter, respecting the rains as well as the carpet of leeches that will overwhelm you if you decide to set foot here when it pours. November, December and January should be the best months !

and boy, this is cobra country as well, so stay sufficiently alarmed !

Continuing further, I had another opportunity for breakfast when my friends got back from their early morning bliss. This time, it was in a place well nestled in the ghats; a short and easy drive from the bus stand. Owned by the same guy who runs Mallya residency, you can also book this place in advance for your stay, what with tents, bonfire and yummy food in the midst of all that greenery. For now, however, it was a hearty breakfast of the local fare.

After sauntering about a little after our ‘mini-breakfast-meal’ and looking for macro photo opportunities, we decided to head towards the ‘Onake Abbi’ falls; a not-so-short walk from the bus stand. It’s a easy few hundred meters to the main gate of the ghat precincts through which we had to tread another 3-5 kms further inside.

On the way, however, there was a delight awaiting us. That century old house made famous by the TV soap ‘Malgudi Days’ where the latter was shot; it still stands bang on the main road, just as you start on your walk towards the falls. It’s called Dodda Mane ( pronounced ‘Maanay’, and literally, a big house ) and well, if you want to experience a day or night with the most authentic of the local vegetarian experiences, book your place here. Famous for food as well as for the hospitality alike, this place is being run by the same family over generations. A must-do for all of those who have grown up on, and retained some memory of those ‘Malgudi days’ days !

Our motley group in front of the Dodda Mane !

Now, well, as for our walk inside the ghat precincts, its a bit of a short trek but with a green carpet all around you, and if you can spot and stop for some of it’s inhabitants, it can become an interesting walk for sure. My first ( and next ) snake sighting in the wild was thanks to this short trek.

Say Hello to the sleeping beauty – The Malabar Pit Viper !

What I saw after the walk was not very encouraging ( it’s the head of the waterfall, but nevertheless with awesome views of the ghats yonder ), partly because it was December already and there was not much water to ‘fall’. You would do well to note that most of these falls in Agumbe are seasonal at best, and it all depends on how kind the rain gods have been. It was good, though, to sit around with your legs in the stream and watch the crystal clear and cold water flow between your legs. All in all, a nice place to relax and click some beautiful macro shots if you can find some. Be careful, however, to not go too close to the fall head.

The head of the waterfall as I saw it – more water means more fun ! Btw this was shot using a zoom lens and I was not really standing so close to the fall-head.
I looked around a lot for macro subjects, but not keenly enough I believe .. I could only spot this beautiful orange insect flying around for some time. And when it did decide to settle down for a bit, it wasn’t anywhere close to me. I had to content myself with this one ‘cropped’ shot. The greenery around was overwhelming though !
My consolation prize :D, It did try to give me enough opportunities for a good shot by posing still for quite some time !
on our way back – Beddome’s keelback – baby !
and when the setting sun’s rays fell so nicely on this damsel fly !

The sun was still hot even as we got back on the road after the trek back from the falls. We still managed to click some decent shots ( above ). We made our dash for a quick lunch, followed by another short drive to the sunset point nearby.

The sun was already down quite much …
… but we managed to click some nevertheless !

After claiming few beautiful shots there and enjoying the view as much as we could, we came back to our ‘tents’ inside the jungle and called it a night. Not before the usual customary celebrations which included a barbecue ( you have to order for the same in advance ).

Next morning woke us up with bird calls and sightings inside the camp. We made the most of our remaining time by enjoying nature as much as we could, and then a hearty breakfast later, said our good-byes. We were to now head back to Bangalore, but not before visiting another photo-op, this time a fort whose significance and grandeur is now lost on the scales of time.

Once ruled by the mighty Nayakas of Keladi, the kavaledurga fort can be accessed only by a short and a bit of a strenuous trek up the hills. The stone stairs of yore still remain to guide you though, and it will be a good 15 to 20 minutes of climb from when you enter the first gate, till the 3rd gate which leads you inside the fort precincts. I think our photography and exploration slowed us down by an hour before we could cross all fortifications and reach the 3rd gate.

The trek starts amidst awesome green fields – photographers getting busy already !
The 2nd gate at a distance – zoom in please !
On the way to the 3rd gate !

As soon as you enter this last gate, the view is absolutely beautiful. Pillared verandahs welcome you on both sides; a fine temple with it’s majestic lamp-posts ( I guess ) on your left, and a small temple atop the hill on the right. It takes an hour at least to explore these environs ( for the photographically inclined ), which includes climbing on that hill as well. I was getting down from the hill and was about to think that this is all we have here, when I saw my group heading further and calling out for me. There was more to explore !

This is what I just talked about !
The temple on top ….
… and the one below !

We moved ahead in the ‘jungled-out’ fort and came across what looked like a collection of interconnected rooms, the construction of which suggested that it was a palatial building of sorts. It was indeed, but with not a single roof on top. It was mostly the pillars, walls, and some architecture from back those days. I remember seeing pillared verandahs, remains of courtyards, a bath room ( I was told ), and even remnants of a stove, all in stone ! The bath area seemed especially impressive, with a huge tank and which opened on to the jungle yonder ( at least it looks like that now. I am sure the queen would not have bathed in the open like that ! ).

The palace building that once was !

After feasting our eyes to such delights of history, we trekked further ahead for about another 10 minutes. This time it got steeper, and once again we passed at least one gateway before reaching the summit of the hill, admiring few bird species on the way who sped away as soon as they spotted this now rare human intrusion on their turf.

The trek uphill !

The top of the hill affords a splendid view of the vista down below, including the Tunga river ( or it’s tributary perhaps ). The sun was blazing from the top, but we still managed to click some shots of the beautiful landscape unfolding in front of us.

My eyes on you – The vista yonder !

There’s some walking to be done to explore all of the hill summit ( and it’s few remaining buildings ), after which, we decided to walk down. My estimate suggests we would have spent at least 3 to 4 hours inside the fort, but yeah, the views were well worth it. And of course, photography takes it’s own sweet time.

The view of the temples and the 3rd gate, from the summit – one final shot before I left !

After savoring the walk back to our parking place ( wherein I got left behind and lost my way for sometime ), and having a packet-full of majjige ( spiced buttermilk ), we were now really on our way back to Bangalore, satisfied with the weekend, the drive, the food, the clicks, and of course the endless chatter !

City life was to resume soon, before we would meet again and so would begin another weekend adventure !







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