Aug 23, 2009
After savouring the beauty of nature during monsoon in the Konkan, I was looking forward to explore the Western Ghats and Malnadu during this season. I got the opportunity to fulfil my dream when my neighbour and childhood friend, Fr. Valerian Castelino, serving in the Diocese of Chikmagalur invited my wife Benny and myself to visit him during the first week of August.
We boarded the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) bus at Udupi, the only service from Udupi to Chikmagalur that started its journey at 1 PM. The route of the bus was through Karkala, Moodbidre, Belthangady, and Ujire to Charmadi Ghat before venturing into Malnadu.
While passing through Moodbidre, which is famous for Jain monuments such as the Thousand Pillared Basadi, I could see and take pictures of one or two Jain temples. As the bus proceeded from Belthangady to Ujire the gigantic rock which has the remains of Tipu Sultan’s Jamalabadu Fort (Gadai Rock) could be seen from a distance and I was lucky to have one clear picture of it.
As the bus began its ascent of the Western Ghats through the Charmadi road, my dream of viewing the natural beauty of the valleys and mountain peaks surrounded with monsoon clouds was shattered as the rains forced us to close the windows of the bus. However, the thick wild plants, the colourful little flowers grown on the moss attached to the rocks and little waterfalls throughout the journey upwards for duration of nearly one and a half hour made my day.
On reaching top of the Western Ghats, the bus approached Kottigehar, the first small township in the Chikmagalur district. I could experience the gradual change of weather from humid to pleasantly cool atmosphere and the sun high up in the sky even though the time was around 5PM.
Located in the south-western part of Karnataka, Chikmagalur is a Malnadu district. It is largely forested hilly region of heavy rainfall. This scenic coffee town takes its name from the word ‘Chikka-magala-ooru’ which in Kannada means 'younger daughter's town'.
According to a legend, the district was given as a dowry to the younger daughter of Rukmangada, a prominent local chieftain. Another part of the town that was given to elder daughter has been known as Hiremagalur.
It is believed that Chikmagalur was the place of origin of the Hoysalas, who ruled in the south for more than two centuries. Later, this region came under the control of Hyder Ali and his son, Tipu Sultan. After the final defeat and death of Tipu Sultan in 1799, the entire area was taken over by the British.
From Kottigehar to Mudigere i could see vast expanse of Malnadu plains with paddy fields under cultivation inter-spread with banana and areca nut plantations.
As the bus left Mudigere, i could notice the perceptible change in the topographical feature of the region and plantation pattern. On both sides of the road there are huge coffee estates with tall silver oak trees protecting the dwarf coffee plants which were lush green with raw coffee seeds. Many of the silver oak trees are dressed with pepper wines and the roadside fences of the coffee estates are being trimmed. For miles together these estates greet the visitor to Chikmagalur.
The bus reached Chikmagalur bus stand at around 7 PM. My friend, Fr. Valerian was there to welcome us. He took us to St. Joseph’s Cathedral where he is presently stationed and introduced us to Fr. George D’Souza, the Parish Priest, Fr. Agnel Fernandes, Principal of St. Joseph’s Boys High School and Fr. K.A. Mathew, a retired priest. For two days we stayed at the guest room in the Cathedral where we felt quite at home.
Fr. Valerian had made arrangement for a vehicle to go for site seeing on the next day. He too accompanied us. Our first destination was Mullayanagiri which is a part of the Baba Budangiri Hill Ranges. With a height of 1930 meters, it is considered as the tallest peak in Karnataka. There is a small temple on top of the hill and the hillock in the temple compound is the highest point in Karnataka.
The sharply winding rough narrow road, practically without any protective barrier against the valleys made the ascent quite spine chilling. But the view of the valleys and peaks of the mountains covered with mist and thick clouds made us to forget about any impending danger. Practically, at every height there was change of weather. Once it would become bright and we could see the surrounding valleys and mountains, a little later we would be surrounded by thick clouds that would make us to feel that the sky has descended in the valleys and as if we were floating in the sky.
We reached the top of the mountain and had to climb around 500 steps before reaching the Mullayanagiri temple. As we came out of the vehicle it was too cold and there was such a strong gust of wind with clouds that we felt as if we would be swept away by the sheer speed of the wind that was hissing like an angry king Cobra. We did not dare to go up to the temple. But the experience that we had at this point was just out of the world. On the way back half way through we visited the Shitalyyana Matha.
From Mullayanagiri we proceeded to Baba Budangiri which is famous for Guru Dattatreya Baba Budan Swamy Darga. It has been venerated by both the Hindus and the Muslims. There is a laterite cave believed to have been sanctified by the residence of Dattatreya Swami as well as Hazarat Shah Janab Allah Magatabi also known as Baba Budan. In this cave the worship is conducted by a fakir and the annual 'jatra' or 'urs' is attended by both Hindus and Muslims with great devotion.
Baba Budangiri has the distinction of being the birth place of coffee in India. According to historical tradition, Baba Budan smuggled seven seeds of coffee from Mecca while he was on a pilgrimage and sowed these seeds in his garden near a cave in Chandragiri way back in 1670.
From Baba Budangiri we proceeded further up to a distance of around three kilometres to a natural waterfall known as Manikyadhara Falls. This place is also considered to be sacred for both Hindus and Muslims. It is one of the main attractions of Baba Budangiri. A set of stairs lead down to the bottom of the waterfall. It is said that the fall does not get drained during the summer. The spot also provides a splendid view of the surrounding natural beauty, while the mist covered hills and cool breeze add to the splendour of the sight. People believe that bathing in this fall can cure the ailments and both Hindu and Muslim devotees take a bath here since they consider it to be sacred. After the bath, the devotees leave their clothes and wear new ones.
On our return journey, we halted at Gavigal Gandi and climbed a small hillock from where we could have a view of the surrounding area in all directions with all its splendour. The scenery was mesmerizing. Being the monsoon season, the rainy clouds interfered with our viewing and interrupted my efforts to take the pictures of the beautiful valleys, mountain peaks and the habitats lying across. Throughout our sightseeing journey, the common factor was the coffee estates at the bottom of the mountain ranges and by the roadsides.
After lunch, we decided to explore the city in the afternoon. The first major stop was the Mahatma Gandhi Park situated on a small hillock, locally called 'Rathnagiri Bore' located on the northern side of Chikmagalur town. It has become quite a hot spot for the local people and tourists. It gives the most beautiful sight of Mullayanagiri on the back drop with ever-changing natural scenario. The Garden has beautifully designed pathways and lush green lawns on either side with a variety of beautiful flowers and ornamental plants.
On the way to the top, one can see the toy train track, a lotus pond, the amphitheatre and the Nehru Rose Garden with as many as 250 varieties of rose plants. One of the major attractions is the telescopic view the contours of Baba Budangiri hills on one side and the city of Chikmagalur on the other. With a variety of more than 300 species of plants and trees, the Mahatma Gandhi Park is a must to any tourist visiting Chikmagalur. Though one can see the fort-like construction nearby meant to be a prison, it is not yet commissioned and looks like a deserted place.
We visited few other places such as the Infant Jesus Shrine run by the Capuchin Fathers, Holy Cross Hospital and St. Joseph’s Boys High School, with which Fr. Valerian was associated as teacher and later as a Principal for 28 years. By the time we returned to the Cathedral, it was 7 PM.
The town of Chikmagalur offers unending vistas of mountains, streams, and coffee and pepper plantations. A number of rivers, such as Bhadra, Hemavathi, Tunga, Netravathi and Vedavathi, originate in the hills surrounding the town.
There are still more places of tourist interest in the Chikmagalur district that we were unable to visit due to the paucity of time. These places include Kemmana Gundi, Kallathigiri Falls, Mutthodi and Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, Shringeri, etc. Those who are interested in history can visit Beluru in Hassan district which is hardly 23 kilometres from Chikmagalur.
Next day, early morning at 6.30 am we boarded the KSRTC bus back to Udupi. By the time we reached Charmadi Ghats it was quite bright and the view of the deep valleys, rising mountain tops, floating clouds, wet trees and green forests adequately compensated our failure to savour the beauty of nature while we were on our way to Chikmagalur. As we came down to the base of the Western Ghats and began to move further in Konkan, i felt the wonders of nature, be in Konkan or Ghats or in Malnadu. Though i was told that any season other than monsoon would be a good time for having a clear view of the mountain side and Malnadu, I would always prefer to be in the cradle of nature when the life giving rains pour from the skies.