A Small Hike and a Soothing Afternoon

It was the month of February. The pandemic was already in the air, just that we didn’t know much about it.  The world at large wasn’t much affected till then. I received a call from a friend who informed that he had taken a sabbatical and planned to go to his hometown in Kalimpong. And, that he wanted to spend some time travelling in the North East. Back then neither he nor I had any idea that God had other plans and his sabbatical would not serve its due purpose. Before leaving Bangalore, he wished to go for a day hike somewhere in the outskirts of the city.

Achalu Betta

The following weekend, we were on our way towards Achalu Betta. Another friend had joined in and so it was the three of us. Achalu Betta, also known as Muneshwarana Betta, is a small hillock located in a sleepy village known as Achalu (‘Betta’ is a Kannada word meaning Hill). Just about 57 Km from Bangalore, this village has a temple that’s situated on the hilltop. The temple is dedicated to Lord Muneshwara, a form of Lord Shiva.

Pic 1: A ‘Nandi‘ idol at the hilltop overlooks the village.

Once we reached the village, it took us a little while to figure out the way up the hill. We could see a portion of the temple and a set of stairs going up but we had no intention of taking the stairs. There were not many people around to ask for help and not knowing the local language was another handicap. After a little deliberation, we did manage to find a trail that would take us up. A little more than an hour and we were up after a steady climb of about 3Km. The sun was shining bright making it a little tiring but the lovely panoramic view of the surroundings terrain more than made up for it. Also, there was nobody other than the three of us. It couldn’t have been better.

Pic 2: A villager with his bullock cart going towards the cultivation field located closeby.

Muthathi

After a quick lunch somewhere in a roadside eatery, we went towards Muthathi, a settlement located about 100 Km. from Bangalore.  Muthathi is situated on the banks of River Cauvery and remains surrounded by a dense forest, which is part of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. As the car speeded towards the sanctuary, the surroundings gave way to a fresh and verdant green. Tall trees of various kinds lined up both sides of the road against a backdrop of low lying green hills. Needless to say that it was an enthralling drive with dense jungle on both sides of a neat and well-paved straight road.

But the peace and tranquility of this stretch didn’t last very long. Soon we reached the riverfront only to encounter a chaotic situation. Hordes of people were all over the place cooking, eating, and merry making. They looked like people from the nearby areas. Though there were families and children, the crowd didn’t feel very decent. Feeling awkward and out of place, we left the place. We got to know only later that it was a festival day for the local people.

Pic 3: The calm and serene River Cauvery, though the water level was low at that time.
Pic 4: Another picture of the soothing river water.

A little ahead, we found a quiet place by the river. Excited, we parked the car and headed out to the river. Locating a nice spot, we opened our shoes, dipped out feet into the cool and soothing river water. In less than 10 min, a forest guard appeared from nowhere asking us to leave immediately. Apparently people are allowed only in the picnic spot that we had just left behind. Our attempts to convince him went in vain and we had to leave.

Pic 5: My friend goes scouting for a place deep enough to swim.
Pic 6: The afternoon was hot but the water was cool and this place had fishes swimming all over.

Further ahead we located a place that looked like a government guest house. Eager to spend more time in the river, my friend promptly went in to seek permission. He was told prior booking was mandatory. However, a little bit of convincing worked in this case and they allowed us to spend time beside the river though it was chargeable.

Once again, it was just the three of us. We had the soft flowing Cauvery just to ourselves. We spent a leisurely afternoon. While I chose a flat rock and sat there dipping my feet, both my friends swam around in the water. The afternoon slipped by as tiny fishes nibbled at my toes and soles. Evening descended sooner than we thought and it was time to leave for Bangalore.

Pic 7: The three musketeers in one frame!

Three Friends, A Lake, & A Monolith

“Hey, I’ve been here before!” I exclaimed excitedly as my friend slowed down the car and then pulled over. The still blue pool of water glistened in the afternoon sun like a piece of jewel in the crown of the surrounding greenery. It looked just the same as I had seen it 8 years ago – nestled right there down below amidst the green hills.

It was a Saturday when I was out on a long drive in the honour of my cousin, S, who was visiting me all the way from Shillong. The car belonged to a childhood friend, G, who also lives in Bangalore now. Our long drives together date back to Shillong during our college days when we would do the same in G’s Maruti 800. Yes, this drive was an attempt of recreating memories of the past.

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Pic 1: Manchanabele Lake as I had seen it 8 years back. Savandurga hill is seen in the background.

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Pic 2: Manchanabele Lake as I saw it today in 2020

It was a little before noon when we started from Bangalore and had no specific place in mind. While on the way, we decided to go to Savandurga, which is considered among the largest monolith hills in Asia. Driving in the outskirts of Bangalore is sheer pleasure. Well tarred roads in most places, intermingling green hills and valleys, sporadically dotted with rugged barren rocky hills, lush forests, and quaint hamlets.

The pool of water that we found on the way was Manchanabele Dam, which is a reservoir built across River Arkavati. Also spelt as Arkavathy or Arkavathi, it is a tributary of River Cauvery. About 40 km. away from Bangalore city, it is a man-made dam built mainly for the purpose of irrigation. After clicking a few pictures, we decided to proceed towards our destination and come back before sunset. A few meters ahead, we found fresh fish being fried and sold in makeshift shops. We helped ourselves on my cousin’s insistence and then proceeded to Savandurga, which was about 14 Km away.

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Pic 3: At the lake 8 years ago. This plank is no longer there and the lake looks a lot different today.

The sun was at its peak and it was well into afternoon when we reached Savandurga. Any other day we would have climbed up the hill but we were late and weren’t prepared in terms of clothing and shoes. We spent some time in and around the hill exploring the temple at the base of the hill and the surrounding grassland. Thereafter, we set off to catch sunset at the dam.

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Pic 4: A part of the monolith hill, Savandurga, behind the remains of a temple

Driving an additional 9 Km after taking two wrong turns, we arrived at the dam just before sunset. As we were about to turn the car onto the narrow muddy road going towards the lake, a guard appeared from nowhere saying public entry into the lake is prohibited. My argument of having been here a couple of times before fell on deaf ears. After a while he said he would let us go in if we pay Rs. 200.00. After haggling for a bit, we paid the amount. G asked for a for a receipt, which he obviously refused. So, it was a bribe – we are guilty.

G carefully maneuvered the car downhill through the broken and muddy road littered with small and big stones. Near the lake we met a family who had also paid bribe to the guard. We shared our apprehensions of doing something illegitimate. The ban apparently was implemented two years back after a series of drowning incidents when people attempted swimming in the water.

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Pic 5: The gorgeous sunset at the lake.

Soon the colour of the sky started changing with rich hues of reds blending with oranges and crimsons. Our guilt and apprehensions were completely forgotten as our collective focus was unknowingly directed towards the yellow ball of fire that appeared to change scenes every second. Within a few moments the show got over. We bid goodbye to our momentary acquaintances and retraced our path to the car. As we drove back, S and G sang medleys of popular Bengali Tagore songs (Rabindra Sangeet) all through the way making for a soothing end to a beautiful day.

An April Afternoon by the Beach

Thankfulness to a helpful stranger!

“Aap ko toh tourist guide hona chaiye!” (You should rather be a tourist guide!), my sister joked with Praveen, the auto driver we met a few moments ago. Acting on Praveen’s advice was the best thing we did that afternoon.

It was the month of April, last year. We had arrived at Mangalore around noon after visiting Bekal Fort in Kerala. Our train to Bangalore wasn’t until 9 PM. We had the entire afternoon and evening in Mangalore without any specific plans. Mangalore being a coastal city we knew we would be spending the afternoon at a beach. We had some financial limitations and wanted to restrain our expenses for the day. The waiter at the insignificant roadside eatery, where we had a delicious lunch of Pomfret fish curry and rice, recommended we go to Panambur Beach. We were, however, interested in Surathkal Beach as it was recommended by a friend but on enquiry got to know it was a little away from the city. Tad hesitantly, we settled for Panambur as it was accessible by bus and hence would cost less.

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Pic 1: Footprints only to be washed away by the waves-fleeting impermanence of all things in life!

We landed at Panambur only to realize this was not the place where we would like to spend the rest of the day. It was crazily crowded even with the blazing Sun in the hot coastal afternoon. The sand was burning, and the place looked like a fair – joyrides for children, camel and horse rides, hawkers selling ice-creams, and what not. We immediately decided to spend whatever money it takes and go to Surathkal Beach instead. Walking through the heated sand out of the beach was an ordeal in itself and then there were no autos waiting by the roadside.

After a while Praveen arrived and was ready to take us to Surathkal for an amount that seemed a little high but at that moment we were in no mood to haggle. Wasting no time, we hopped in. Praveen started his auto and just took a turn towards our destination when I poured out my frustration about Panambur beach. I also told him that we have a train from Mangalore at night and would need to go back. Praveen recommended we go to Tannirbhavi beach instead as it would be easier to go back to the city from there.

Tannirbhavi turned out to be just like our kind of a place. The beach wasn’t much crowded and lacked the hustle and bustle of Panambur. The eateries and a few joyrides were restricted to just one small section of the beach a little away from the sea. The sand was clean, pristine and much cooler. The best part was the tall pine trees all along the beach that not only made it scenic but also provided refuge from the hot afternoon sun.

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Pic 2: The pleasant and scenic Tannirbhavi Beach

Set on the shores of the mighty Arabian Sea, Tannirbhavi beach was just perfect for nature lovers like us – peaceful, serene, and tranquil. It may not appeal much to those who love beach activities as it had none. We spent the rest of the afternoon wading knee deep into the water, walking leisurely on the sparkling sand through the length of the beach, listening to the waves lazily crashing on the beach, observing the golden coloured crabs hurriedly make their way and disappear into the sand, watching the playful sea birds flying around in definite patterns, and when the Sun felt hot resting under the shades of Pine.

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Pic 3: Boats parked on one side of the beach

As the afternoon was slowly giving way to evening, a cluster of clouds came along floating into the sky and the setting Sun played hide and seek with us. The result was, we did not have the perfect sunset but that didn’t matter instead we watched a young man practicing his surfing skills in the tides.

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Pic 4: Not an ideal sunset but it didn’t matter. Do you spot the surfer practicing his skills?

Praveen had mentioned a certain tree park nearby which he said was a must visit. He also told us about a temple in Mangalore. We were so lost in quietude at the scenic beach that we totally forgot about the tree park and remembered only when we were leaving the beach. We decided to give it a miss. On the other side of the beach runs Phalguni River, where one can take a ferry ride and cross over to Mangalore City. It’s the cheapest way to go to the city from the beach – something we wouldn’t have known had it not been for Praveen.

On reaching the other side of the river we visited the temple that Praveen had mentioned before heading to the Railway Station. The temple was beautiful and it was a good way to end our day at Mangalore.

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Pic 5: Ferry ride over Phalguni River

Isn’t it fascinating to meet random people like Praveen while travelling! To me, they are God-send. Praveen was an auto driver, who went out of his way to help and guide random strangers in his city. It wasn’t a part of his duty. Rather he could have misguided and taken advantage of us in the lure of making some quick buck from ill-informed tourists. Instead he gave us a glimpse of Mangalore in the 20 minutes that we spent with him and invited us personally to come again for a longer period. He even created an itinerary for us to spend the rest of the day in the best possible way. Such delightful rendezvous add so much colour to travel memories.

Ever since, our memories of Mangalore is associated with Praveen and we can never forget the beautiful afternoon at Tannirbhavi Beach. I will go back to Mangalore as I haven’t explored the city at all and whenever I do so, I will reach out for Praveen.