Inside the woodlands of Wodeyars
I suppose in the name of conservation and conservation education, encounters
with nature too have become a sport, and an activity to be undertaken. I don’t
think I am any less culpable than those others. With these thoughts I still
managed to get a sound sleep inside the silent environs, gearing up for the
morning ride up to Gopalswamy betta.
Betta is a hill in Kannada and atop the
hill is the Gopalaswamy temple. What we got to see were the spellbinding views
of the Blue Mountains covered in the mists, “That side is Ooty, pointed out
Pradeep” while motioning us to move down the hill on the other side, and that
was where we saw the best view in the whole trip. A nice forest with a few open
grasslands on the hilly slopes, a herd of elephants with their babies grazing on
the left while a herd of Bisons grazing on the right. “Why are the hilltops
without any trees?” I asked. “Due to the heavy winds, no trees grow on the top
of the mountains. They like to eat the fresh grass
after the rainfall, because it is tasty and sweet” Pradeep said pointing to the elephants. “Do they come up here? Yes, they come up to the temple very often”.
As we walked up, I found a plastic water bottle lying around. It was a no
plastic zone. When I was about to pick it up, Pradeep said there was no need,
“There is a forest cleaning party, they will come and clean it up’, and when we
saw some broken beer bottles he said, “The guests of ministers and politicians
and big people, come here, and make party. It is they who throw most of this
stuff”. A forest department’s bungalow was under construction next to the
temple, to accommodate guests. Wonder what will happen to this place after that?
A more depressing thought crossed my mind, “What if any of the animals gets a
glass in its feet as it saunters up to the hill top in search of food?” No
answer to that one I guess. We moved on from Gopalswami betta. After driving
through a kaccha road inside a dense natural forest which was not too far from
the Lodge, (I wonder if within a couple of kilometers forests change from a
semi-deciduous to deciduous or even evergreen forest) we
returned to our multiple choice breakfast, enjoying the time while we can
From Bandipur we packed off to Bhagamandala, after passing through Mysore and
the Coorg District. Mysore, a nice little city, it was quiet, well laid out, and
very beautiful. May be not for long – the madness that took over Bangalore, then
Hyderabad, which is now spreading its tentacles has begun here too. “At first
there were just 600000 people here, today there are 1.2 million. Ever since the
software industry has been set up, lots of people from the north are coming
here, and with the crowd, constructions have increased and so have the
temperatures”, lamented the shopkeeper outside Jaganmohan Palace. “Well, Mysore
is much better compared with Bangalore, or Hyderabad”, I tried to console him.
“Can’t say how long this city can sustain its originality”, replied that man. As
we reached the outskirts of the city, “progress” was in sight – there was huge
traffic jam, due to road widening. As we got out off the bottleneck, we sighted
huge, trees lying uprooted on either side
of the road. The trees must have been at least 50-60 years old. “They have been cut down for making a four lane highway”, Marisami our cab driver (Yes, I could not overcome the desire for comfortable travel by cab, instead of changing four buses to travel
250 kilometers to Bhagamandala) told me, on enquiry. What if a human being was killed before his lifetime, that is a crime, but about killing a tree that still has a long life before it?
Bhagamandala is on the other side of Coorg district. I chose the place since I
could not get a place at Mercara, the main centre of Coorg. Many people
dissuaded me from going to Bhagamandala, saying there is nothing there, except
for TalaCauvery, the birth place of Cauvery River. I was hesitant at first. But
since anyway, I had decided and wanted to see the Coorg region, went ahead.
Coorg itself was as a friend had described nothing more than coffee plantations
and home stays. A place full of many resorts, it had its own charm. But after
knowing that the coffee plantations stood on once dense tropical rain forests;
which had a diversity of plant and animal species; now replaced by one species
of animal, the homo sapiens and three major plant species – pepper, cardamom and
Coffee…a legacy of the British Rule. I will not be able to drink my cup of
coffee without a sense of guilt. “An average plantation is about 100 to 200
acres,” remarked Mariswami. “A small estate will be
about 20-30 acres”, Mariswami continued. “So these guys must be making pots of money!” I remarked. “No, now the rate of one quintal of coffee has fallen to just 1070 rupees” he replied. Must be because of competition coming from other third world countries’
exports, I said. ‘Yes, the market is really down’.
Ultimately all that natural forest, lost to make way for business, which has
finally stopped being profitable either. But I suppose better to have a
plantation than concrete blocks.
Mercara is as bad as a overgrown unplanned tourist hill station can be, which
reminded me of another famed hill station, Munnar; which too is overgrown and
stuffy; where the other favourite beverage, “tea” has replaced the rare Shola
Forests in Kerala’s Idukki district.
Bhagamandala was a surprise and I was glad to have come there. It is a small
village like town surrounded by hills with thick rain forest and just one small
six room hotel owned by the Govt. of Karnataka. Yet the hotel looks out of place
in all the serenity. Nobody stays at Bhagamandala except at weekends, and that
too to go up to the TalaCauvery 8kms away. But the day time brings in hordes of
“pilgrim tourists” who bring with them quite a bit of plastic and also carry
with them lot of plastic along with packed food.
For now, Bhagamandala is still saved. But I am not sure how long it will
remain this way. The local mini temple is already being expanded in size. Soon,
the place may become highly important as a pilgrim centre and noisy “pious”
praying pilgrims will soon enough come to stay in Bhagamandala. New hotels will
come up and soon the place may teem with people making money out of the “holy”
business. That would ring the death knell to the place.
But for now, I have my peace, watching the rain splash on the forested hills,
giant rainbows peeking out of the cleared mists as the skies turn pink and
purple in the evening hours. TalaCauvery was just a stream jutting out of a cave
at the bottom of the Brahmagiri Hill, around which a pond was constructed, later
a temple arose with a couple of deities. Still quiet a serene and beautiful
place. But not anymore in future, bulldozers are chugging away and broken
granite litters the area, as the “temple is being renovated” with “just” rupees
Ten crores. The pilgrim tourists, zip from Bhagamandala to TalaCauvery screaming
aloud cat calls. There was a board with a Langoor painted on it, something in
Kannada which must have denoted the presence of Langoors in these forests. “Well
here are the Langoors” my thirteen year old niece said, as she watched the
screaming fellows inside the jeeps.
The walk up from TalaCauvery to the top of Brahmagiri Hill was again
exhilarating as if we were walking up the clouds, the mist enveloping us, making
visibility quite low.
Though I had wanted to stay back in the serene place, we were prevented from
such a venture by the ‘Langoors’ who had climbed the hill and were now screaming
at the top of their voices. The descent was again memorable as we got off the
auto rickshaw a few kilometers before Bhagamandala and walked down to the hotel
in the light showers.
“I could just stay here forever, just bring some books and stay around”,
remarked my niece, who was not too willing to leave when it was time to go. It
felt the same for me too. “If nothing else, I could come here for the water”,
said my eleven year old nephew. True enough, even the water from the bathroom
taps tasted like mineral water. Guess that is what we missed out, in our rush
towards “progress” and “comforts”, finally, wanting to escape to places like
these after all the suffering in stuffy environs; hankering for achievement; the
only thing we seem to wish for is some peace and quiet, fresh air and water!
On our second day at Bhagmandala, a strange thing happened. We waited outside
a little shop for our turn to call up home. Suddenly, my nephew, shouted, “Hey,
look there is a snake there!” When we looked up, there was snake waiting under
the tile roof, just above the shopkeepers’ head. The shopkeeper looked unfazed.
“It is just waiting to eat the rat. It will go off, once it gets the rat”, he
smiled. Very close to where the snake was, a rat was hanging with his life in
its tail. That was not all. A cat was waiting on the roof top, on the outside.
“What a situation, the rat can neither come out, nor stay in”, remarked my
niece. We waited a while for our turn to make a call, only in vain. After a
short walk in the village, we went back to the shop. “Did the snake get the
rat?” “Yes, it did and see it is gone”, replied the shop guy.
(photograph of cut tree on Coorg –Mysore Road.)
-( To be continued)