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There & Back Again



“Are you a hill girl or a beach girl”, my friend asked me. I briefly considered, comparing my vacation in Goa to Bhutan. I am definitely a hill girl! Aside from a bothersome sun allergy and a tiresome shellfish allergy, beaches just don’t seem to – talk to me.

I had coaxed my friends into this trip to Chikmaglur, a rushed plan interspersed with liberal amounts of emotional blackmail. Until Thursday, when my chief local tour guide informed me about the leeches to be found in abundance in the area, I gracefully told them to go ahead without me. After quite a few hours of entertainment at my expense, all parties realized I was seriously terrified of these blood-sucking monsters and assured me that there wouldn’t be any inside the house.  To calm my hysteria I was also helpfully informed that they were smaller than the ones ‘up-north’, that the ‘little fellows fell off on their own once they were done’ and how a cigarette burn or some salt will cut short their feast. Chikmaglur is called the coffee-land of Karnataka, situated at about 3,500 m oops, ft above sea-level, it is still relatively undiscovered and rumored to be an idyllic weekend getaway. Trip back on, I packed a few things and jumped into bed at 9.30 pm on Friday.

I woke up at 4 am on Saturday, slightly out of order as I hadn’t slept very well. At 4.30 I was picked up, I tricked my extremely hung-over friend out of the front seat (“you can’t sleep if you sit in the front”) and we made our way to Yashwantpura, to meet up with the others. There were 2 cars, 8 of us in a diverse group. After an impatient wait, a shiny black Lancer and a silver Swift with a tricky bumper finally set out at 6 am towards NH 75. 

I have travelled alone, and though I enjoy this too, I really know how much good company contributes to the fun of a journey. My friend at the wheel is quite a Delhi-ite (though he vehemently denies it). He speaks in rapid Hindi, despite being well versed in very St.Columbus & Stephenian English. His jokes are quite sexually loaded and offensive to women, but he is a gentleman and I think he mostly cracks them to provoke me. While he talks about bringing Russian women on the trip and visiting Amsterdam, the music system plays a CD of ‘soulful’ (yawn) songs from Dev Anand movies. The other 2 are silent and on their i-pods or asleep, at intervals. 

We soon leave Bengaluru behind. Once on the highway, it’s green everywhere the eye reaches, broken only by tiny rocky hills or very large boulders. We joke about our love interests and interested lovers. We compare the view to the Western Ghats in Maharashtra. Palm trees and coconut groves line the road, paddy fields stretch till they meet the blue sky. We talk of Shimla, Nainital, Hrishikesh and Kashmir. The landscape now looks like the easel of an extremely skilled artist. The clouds are grey and a persistent sun peeps through them, so the dark tropical forests shine with a florescent glow. 

For the morning cup of coffee or tea, we stop at a little place along the highway and are soon on our way. The tour leader cum guide cum driver of the Lancer assures us that we can buy batteries for my camera and breakfast at a town called Hassan. By this time my very ‘non- north Indian’ friend is tired of driving at the tour guide’s set safe speed and decides to take matters into his own hands. Or feet. We speed off (don’t ask me how fast, my mom will be reading this) and leave the other car behind. He honks in rapid succession at 2 wheeler guys and curses cars with ‘L’ pasted on them. He slows down to almost standstill if he spots village kids playing miles away. The landscape gets more and more mesmerizing and the conversation flags as we are both lost in our thoughts. We keep going until we receive a phone call saying we had overshot a turn and must go back. So we get a replay as we drive back about 15km. 

We were all starving as we had whizzed past Hassan, and we polished off the left-over Eid Biryani TT had got us. The tour guide’s friend who rented us the place met us at Bellur to escort us to the coffee estate we were to stay at.

Disaster seemed to strike as soon as we entered the driveway. We were greeted by dogs of various sizes and breeds. I’m quite uncomfortable around strange canines so I hurried on my way into the house, willfully avoiding eye contact and dutifully ‘not letting them sense my fear’. I heard a sudden growl and scream behind me, and by the time I gathered some courage and went back out, the entire company was silent except for the soft sobbing of TT’s wife, who had been bitten. Everyone was worried and slightly low, the hospital was an hour away and I felt really guilty as I was charmed by the quaint yet swanky décor of the house. I tried to cheer her up by showing her the stunning view from the ledge-like balcony on the first floor, but she was in too much pain. It was really a bummer, and she and her husband had to spend the morning getting a precautionary shot for her. The rest of us settled down on the Veranda to wait; for them and lunch. 

A girl about my own age told us that her grandfather had built the house, and how they had recently redone it, while maintaining the structure. She brought us some lovely homemade wine, and I made my peace with the other VERY friendly Daschands that kept trying to sniff me in awkward places and climb on my back and a Pug that went up on it’s 2 front legs to pee. They were quite put off by the ‘Namaste sir’ my scared friend from the capital greeted them with, so they left him to his own devices thereafter. 

At about 2.30 we finally sat down to lunch. I was hungry enough to roast the Pug over the fire. Luckily the hosts had a nicer menu for us. I loaded my plate with fluffly white idiappams and chicken stew, an angry-looking spicy chicken curry, ghee rice and little button idlis. It was all traditional Chikmaglurean food I was told between morsels. I ate my fill, and then had 2 more helpings, vowing each time that it was my last. Then they brought out the desert. It was the best fruit salad I’d had, so I accepted the fact that I was a little pig, and kept eating.

After lunch, almost everyone was too tired or overstuffed to do anything but sleep, so we cancelled our plan to visit the nearby peak Betta. I took my ipod up to the ledge and sat there for a few hours, lost in my thoughts but thinking of nothing. I was joined a few hours later by a few others, when we had a lively debate about whether jumping off the ledge would kill us or only break our leg/legs. We walked down to the plantation, stomping our feet to keep off the imaginary leeches. I was knowledgably shown the ‘drying yard’ by my friend, who explained that it was SO vast because the ‘royal family’ who lived there probably had many clothes to dry. When it finally struck me that it was for drying coffee, not royal garments we laughed uncontrollably as we ran back to the house to escape the sudden downpour. 

We warmed ourselves by the fireplace, sprawled unceremoniously on antique sofas and sipped on the richest coffee I’d had in a long time. 

Coffee and conversation apart, I waited for the drinking to start. I’ve recently decided that I wasn’t doing fair damage to the whiskey- partial bar at home, so I’ve started trying to ‘develop the taste’ for it. Also need a break from Old Monk induced tummy upsets. Since I was still on wobbly ground when it came to whiskey, I curbed my natural tendency to drink too fast. I didn’t like the taste of Imperial Blue at all, but I’m on a health kick and determined to start liking the taste, so as to ‘qualify’ a swipe at the single malt back home, so I insisted on drinking it with soda. The result was that I watched as everyone got drunk, and make hilarious errors in the drinking games we played by the bonfire, while I stayed sober as a stick. It’s not as much fun as I imagined it would be. I drank loads of water to avoid the promised hangover brought on by cheap alcohol, so I spent a great deal of time going back and forth from the loo, missing chunks of the game and coming back to a new rule in King’s. 

I set up some music as we munched kebabs and threw the bones to the eager dogs. Dinner was some more chicken gravy, Biryani and some veg stuff that I avoided. A few people went off to bed until only 7 of us remained. 

The 3 hosts were telling us a story of how they ‘levitated’ a 140 kg friend (this fact was repeated numerous times to drive home the point), to a height of about 7 feet, with only their index and middle fingers for support. We guests challenged them to show us this, and I volunteered to be the 4th ‘levitator’. We began by shifting the party inside and choosing a scapegoat volunteer to be lifted. The first step itself proved to be difficult, it involved 30 seconds of absolute silence and concentration, but nobody could explain this to the Pug who kept falling asleep and snoring, making everyone burst into laughter. On the 4th attempt we managed to get through this with a straight face, we rubbed our hands and placed them over the head of our very nervous friend. Some more energy transmission later, we took our position and failed miserably to move him even an inch. On the 3rd attempt, we lifted my amazed friend to shoulder height, while the 2 observers tried to maintain their look of skeptical disbelief.  

Sunday morning, I had 3 final cups of that lovely coffee, had a hot shower and lovely breakfast of ‘Kesarbhat’ or ghee soaked kesar flavoured Shira , Upma and pineapple pudding and packed up. A photo session cut short by the demise of the batteries and a few goodbyes later, we were on our way. The other car went to visit Medigeri as we headed straight to Namma Bengaluru, stopping only to ask for directions (“Kannada gothilla… Bangalore righta? Lefta? OK! ) Torrential rain slowed us down but we labored on, and made it to NICE road in about 4 ½ hours. I was ‘nangepair’ as I’d mucked up my shoes terribly when I tried to find a ‘secluded spot off the highway’ to relive the tortured bladder. Rangashankara was just around the corner from where I’d been dropped off; a tuna sandwich, akki roti and chicken masala later, I found myself exhausted but rejuvenated, back in my bed at 9.30.

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