Dusshera holidays and most of the kids friends having left on vacations meant we needed to entertain them. And the usual mall/amusement part/restaurant routine did not appeal at all. So a location was zeroed in on, reservations were made at a resort-in-a-coffee-estate, and off we went. For some weird reason, I decided to chance the Tumkur road (‘should be ok early in the morning’) and regretted it all the way upto Kunigal, where the alternative Magadi-Kunigal drive would’ve met the NH-48. There’s construction work all the way upto Nelamanga, bad surface, awful traffic, and dust. And early in the morning is ideally when you want to feel the fresh air through open windows. A little ahead you cross some windmills on your left – in fact the road goes all around them and you get a 270 view of the hillock with these huge white beauties atop them.
The road after Kunigal is mostly in decent shape, and traffic got a little lighter too. The weather was very nice, and the sun did not feel warm at all. We stopped on the roadside for a quick breakfast – stuff we’d carried from home to save time – and were soon at Hassan. Hassan itself is dusty, with broken roads, and traffic. Its a major agri-trading town and that shows in the businesses you see around there. We did a quick refill at an ATM and got out of there as quick as traffic would permit. The Hassan-Belur stretch is an absolute beauty – both in terms of the rolling tarmac (painted shoulders and all!) as well as the scenic countryside you pass through. Another set of windmills on the right, a couple of very pretty lakes, the huge reservoir of the Belur dam, and great weather kept us company. The road became a little iffier after Belur, but the view from the window got better and better as we got to Chikmaglur. It started drizzling a bit as well. Chikmaglur has gotten a lot more crowded since our last trip there nearly seven years ago. One ways and quite a lot of traffic meant some time spent crossing the town. Once past, it became apparent why this region os called the Scotland of India. Coffee, tall trees, rolling gren hillsides and gentle rain. To get to Hunkal woods, we had to keep going straight past the Kymara junction – where I’d earlier taken a left towards Kemmanagundi – for about 20 kms. The traffic dropped as we drove on the curvy roads around the cloud covered hills.
At Hospet village, we saw a smart looking board saying “Hunkal Woods 3.2kms” pointing left (There were signs at every possible fork – nicely done). The road was narrow, broken and went right through pretty coffee territory. After about a kilometre or so all there was an uneven dirt track and carefully kept the tyres on the higher parts of the road to avoid bottom scraping. The woods got thicker, and the rain much heavier as we gained elevation rapidly and reached the property.
The service at Hunkal Woods was warm, effective yet unintrusive. Nizam, the main man there, suggested lunch, some rest and a trek to a waterfall at 4pm. The food was basic, tasy and very nicely served at the open dining area. So off we went on the trek through coffee, some bush, waterfalls. There were some steeper sections, and a couple of leeches to spice up the trip 🙂
That trek was cut short (though we did reach the waterfall) due to failing light and Shubha having slipped and bent a finger a little hard – so we returned and promised to go on a longer one the next morning. Just before we got back, Nizam took us on a slight detour to a coffee drying yard where the guy running the place passionately explained the pulping, cleaning and drying process, the difference between Arabica and Robusta, and let us know that their coffee had won a prize announced by “Ely, of Australia”! We got rid of the leeches (salt really works!) as well as the kids’ squeamishness, had a bath, and were wondering if we should have another round of coffee (its on the house, unlimited) when the lady who runs the kitchen there herself brought very welcome mirchi bhajjis with a gentle knock on the door. The bonfire was a little tough to get going, given the wet ground below, but it was worth the effort. Dinner was another nice affair though the kids were beginning to get sleepy and we retired early.
We got up at 5:45 am – no alarm – and thats one of the best parts of a being in a place like this. The kids got up a little later, and after some coffee and milk, we got ready and set out for the morning trip. This was a longer trek, and Nizam carried our breakfast. Upto the grassline was mostly coffee plantation dirt roads – wide and easy – though we did cross some creeks, bush and other assorted obstacles. One stretch was a little steep along the sides of a hill – but they grow coffee everywhere! Soon we had walked to the grassline. Courtesy the acclimatization the previous evening – and Nizam’s assurance that the juice from the bitter-lime fruit he’d plucked as we started would keep leeches at bay – the kids were feeling much braver. I was anyhow wearing gumboots, and Shuhba seemed to not care. The views of the rocks – which seemed to be covered with soft grass – kept egging us on to go further and further. We stopped near the edge of the plantation (place that used to be wooded till a few years ago – ‘Tiger Woods’ ?) for yummy Rava Idlis and very fresh coconut chutney.
We soon reached the top of a grassy hill a little below Hunkal Hill, and started our descent towards the last evening’s waterfall below. Once we got to the road, Nizam and the kids took a ride in a passing truck to the estate, and we walked down to a hot lunch before we packed up and headed out.
We drove back to Hassan, and from there towards Madikeri via Arkalgud, Sanivarasanthe, and Somwarapet. There’s a huge dam and hydro-project at Gorur that I knew about only when we came across it 🙂 The road was iffy upto Sanivarasanthe, and past that it got more and more amazing every passing kilometer. Tata Coffee has some huge plantations is the area, and the well maintained hedges and tall, old trees in the plantations give the entire stretch a very picture-postcard feel.
Next day we did a quick trip to Dubare to try and “interact with the elephants”, as one of the sites described it. There was a place serving bread and omelette there, and I was almost thankful for the regular breakfast. We took the boat to the other side, did the mandatory elephant ride and walked around to where a wild elephant had been held captive for taming. Felt sad to see man’s efforts to break the spirit of these huge creatures.
Spent another day near Bhagamandala- mostly work involving trying to figure out next steps for getting the house in shape – and we headed back home. An amazing 4 day break, green, fresh air, the kids’ fear of leeches gone forever, Dubare finally seen. (The huge bonus was the fuel efficiency that the old workhorse managed – 15kmpl+!) Gotta do another trip to Hunkal Woods – probably in January when the coffee is dried, and the air’s cold.