By Shobha Rao Smilemaker
Shivamogga, Sep 23: Like most people I had never heard of this quaint village called Agumbe, until the mid-1980s, when the shooting of the cute Doordarshan serial called Malgudi Days, took place here.
After admiring the lush greenery on our drive through the Someshwar forest reserve we reached Agumbe and searched for 'Doddamane' a 150-year-old ancestral home, where most of those television episodes were shot.
The old style wooden pillars, the heavy wooden doors, the richly carved woodwork, the stone flooring of the entrance used to be a bustling place of interaction among the villagers, but is now hidden behind tarpaulin sheets as a protection against the heavy rains.
I was lucky to meet the 80+ year old daughter of the house, who happened to be visiting her 95+ relative. In these times of Covid, outsiders are not allowed in, yet she somehow took a liking to me and happily showed me around.
The two storeys home with an open courtyard was supported initially with wooden pillars and now had to be reinforced with additional metal columns. Year after year, this home has to face the fury of the heavy monsoon rains, considering that Agumbe receives the highest level of rainfall in South India.
As we walked around the inner courtyard and the upper floor dormitory style long bedroom she shared memories of past glories of visits by film stars or royal personalities to Doddamane. Yet the harsh reality is that at present, it becomes very difficult to manage the day-to-day maintenance aspects of such a big house with most of the young generations in the family seeking opportunities elsewhere.
The homestay facilities of Doddamane was stopped after Covid times, yet it used to be very unique. Her relative Kasturi Ajji would offer home cooked food and shelter facilities with no fixed charges. My son who stayed here decades ago could never forget the genuine hospitality in such a traditional ambience where guests could pay any amount of their choice when leaving.
You can drive from one end of Agumbe village to the other in just four minutes flat admiring the simplicity and old world charm which is still retained in spite of the onslaught of modernization.
The sunset viewpoint is the sole tourist attraction which gives a panoramic view of the lush green protected forests of the valley and the sun setting over the distant Arabian Sea. A modern hotel with decent boarding and lodging facilities pays tribute to Shankar Nag, the director of Malgudi Days who brought Agumbe village into the limelight.
Most of the beautiful trekking routes and waterfall spots around, see limited tourist inflow now due to the heavy rainy season and also the Covid restrictions.
We did manage to drive up to the top of the Kundadri hill to visit an ancient Jain temple, which derives its name because Acharya Kundakunda is supposed to have meditated here in the interior caves. Sometimes the local priest shows this meditation spot to the public to experience the tranquillity of the place.
The rocky hill itself looks majestic from afar, complete with two naturally formed ponds on one side of the temple. Sculptures of serene Jain Thirthankars are found around the temple. A stone carved with ancient manuscript was the first thing that caught my attention, I wondered what piece of history was captured in this writing.
The view of the lush green forests and the valley was breathtaking, and worth the short climb up to this place. Due to its remote location, the temple was vandalized by miscreants in search of treasure and now this heritage property is filled with ugly looking, garishly painted, walls and barricades all over the hill.
I really wonder how the Archaeology or the concerned department gave permission to ruin the external look of this ancient temple with such bright paints and random fences across the hill.
The internet still has pictures of the simple Jain temple on the hill without the barricades and I could imagine how serene that would be.
As we slowly drove down the 14 hairpin bends of the hill, back to modern reality, I kept smiling thinking of the simplicity of Agumbe and Kundadri.
Shobha Rao Smilemaker has a vision of living in a world where people use their ability to find and make smiles in any situation. She is a lawyer by qualification, a soft skills trainer by passion, a motivational speaker, a freelance journalist, a bestselling author, an avid traveler and founder of 'Smilemakers Trainings'. She can be contacted at www.shobhasmilemaker.com.