Monday, October 22, 2012

Authors, Poets & Woodcrawling - Part 3: Kasturi Akka & Doddamane

Link to previous post is here 

We dropped by on Kasturi Akka, the matriarch of Doddmane. She has soaked in all the adulation that comes out of being a gracious host to a variety of back packing individuals. I say 'back packing' because Doddamane is for the back packer. If you are looking for the comforts of a three star hotel (forget five star) you will be better off looking for accommodation in Udupi (55 kms) or Sringeri (25 kms) depending on which direction you come from.

It is also the centerpiece of the TV Serial "Malgudi Days", directed by Late Shankar Nag, based on a collection of short stories by R.K Narayan, in the same name.

It s evident that Doddmane has seen better times. In it's heydays there were some 45 people living together under it's roof. Even in it's current state it was impressively big. The front door opens into a central courtyard open on top.

The kitchen and dining area was opposite the front door and the rear portion had the well and bathrooms.

There are cots all along the corridors with clothes hangers above them. I guess, if you were not very particular about having a room to yourself it is a good option. The natural ventilation of the courtyard will make sleeping a wonderful experience.

In any case, I think it is THE better option because the bedrooms on the ground floor (where the doors were open) seemed a little cramped. Unless you need place to store lots of gear the corridors should do fine.

Kasturi Akka is a gentle but firm lady. She is strict about timings (5AM to 10PM) and your habits (no smoking or drinking on premises). Meal timings are slightly flexible but supper order closes by 8PM. No fancy menu but simple local fare.

As a matter of fact we had a demo of how 'strict' she can be as we were talking to her. One of her guests who was on his way for a trek came to inform about his dinner order. He wanted chapatis with vegetable curry and 'white rice'. Kasturi Akka very firmly told him, chapatis would not be a problem but 'white rice' would, because "None of us like 'white rice', we prefer 'red rice' because it is more tasty". The conversation ended there. There is no arguing with the head of the house especially when it is told with a smile that says, "take it or leave it" !

You can stay in Doddamane or just eat there. You'll have to inform or request in advance. That she'll even pack food if you are going on a trek is what I read in one blog but another says "No take aways"! To contact her just call 08181233075

We were served a glass of butter milk and given an orange (home grown) each. The butter milk was heavenly, so was the sight of the food two other visitors were eating! I have no doubt in my mind that whatever she served would be fine if you liked home cooked vegetarian food.

Kasturi Akka's daughter was at home since it was a Sunday. Usually her job takes her to Manipal, a journey of 3 hours daily (two-ways), so she is around to help only on weekends & holidays. On the other days Kasturi Akka manages with the help of another lady.

I'm in my elements when I take pictures in the wild or outdoors and when my subject is not human but I am more than a little squeamish about taking pictures in someone else's house especially a complete strangers so I took very little pictures inside the house. If you want to see more click this link to another blog on Doddamane

We weren't sure if we should pay for the butter milk and oranges and when we offered to, she refused saying, "If you came to your Ajji's house would you pay?" To her we were house guests on that day, not a paying guest. She promised she'd take money when we came as a tourist. If you plan a visit to Doddmane, remember that there are no fixed charges. Kasturi Akka will take anything you give without even counting, in complete good faith. What you pay is based on your judgement of your experience at Doddamane. I'm sure if your tastes are simple you'll not be disappointed!

We bid goodbye to Kasturi Akka promising to return. ARRS and Agumbe deserved more than a couple of days and Doddamane is the best base station in Agumbe.

The next post on Kuppalli will come up shortly. The delay is due the translation of Kuvempu's poem, "Mane Mane Muddumane"

Authors, Poets & Woodcrawling - Part 2: Agumbe & the elusive Hamadrayd

Link to previous post is here

6th October, 2012

As I had mentioned in my last post I was in Udupi to be a part of the Alumini Meet hosted by my college. The meet was scheduled to for 6.30 PM on Saturday but since we had taken a night train from Palakkad we were deposited in Mangalore station at 4.30 AM. Fortunately, the taxi agency had sent the car to pick us up and we were in Udupi by 6.30 AM.

We had 12 hours at our disposal so I had planned to utilize the day to make a trip to Agumbe. The road passes through Someshwara WLS and the drive itself is beautiful.

Agumbe, for those unfamiliar with the name, is nothing more than a little junction with a few houses and government buildings clustered around. It's claim to fame is that it is the 'rainiest' place in all of South India and second only to Cherrapunji. It was identified as the perfect habitat for the Hamadryad or the King Cobra by Romulus Whittaker and the main purpose of my visit was to drop in at the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS), established by him in 2005 for research on the King Cobra and the ecology of the rainforest in which it lived.

I lived in Manipal between January of 1985 and June of 1996 and had traveled up the Agumbe Ghats or more than one occasion, mainly as a part of the team conducting cataract screening camps in rural Karnataka. Agumbe was just a village on the route because there was nothing much there to stop over for. The only place, in those days. to get decent food was in Thirthahalli, 30 kilometers away.As a student and later as faculty the beauty of nature in and around Udupi and Shimoga bypassed me. Perhaps, the beaches and parties were to blame!

As I researched Agumbe I realized that 12 hours was too short to explore this pristine area but since I had made up my mind I decided I'd use this opportunity to recce the area before planning a longer trip. One of my friends put me through to someone in Karkala who informed me that the smallest trek around Agumbe would need half a day. It was disappointing. My search for the Hamadryad would have to wait. Besides, it seemed that the rain God's aren't partial to anyone. The failure of the monsoon had its effect in Agumbe too. The reputation as the second most 'rainiest' place in India sounded hollow as we reached Sunset Point at the top of the ghat road.

 The bonnet macaques were also busy grooming themselves in the warm sun occasionally reaching out for the tidbits thrown by passing tourist.

One of them seemed pretty upset with a hoarding that was blocking it's route up the hill and it was going about systematically tearing it up. I guess the simian's action was justified since the eyesore was put on the road side where there is hardly any space for parking.


There was not a rain cloud in sight and the place was crowded with day trippers. It was supposed to be a bandh in Karnataka to protest against the Supreme Court's decision on release of Cauvery waters to Tamilnadu but the people in this part of the world were seemingly unaffected.

The view was great but it was not time for sunset so we drove on towards Agumbe.

No rains meant more crowds & less chances for an encounter with leeches and king cobras. We decided to push on to Kuppalli and do the ARRS on our return leg. (So the rest of this narrative is actually the part of our drive on the way back from Kuppalli.)

The Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS), is not on the road side and there is no board or sign post to show you the way. Once you reach Agumbe, from Udupi, the road that goes straight ahead from the junction is to Sringeri.

The road to Thirthahalli and Shimoga turns left and goes past the bus station on your right.

 A 100 meters down the road is a group of houses with a board of the local chicken center hanging on the fence. Turn left onto the mud track between the houses and follow your instinct! If you happen to cross a church or a bridge after Agumbe on the main road, you have most likely shot past the track to ARRS (like us!). Make a U-turn and keep your eyes peeled for that little board  with the picture of a chicken!

The ARRS lies at the very end of the track. The forest department has started fencing off the jungle now so I guess you'll have a fence to guide you in the not too distant future. The issue is that as the track proceeds it becomes narrower, barely sufficient for a car to pass. Even if a motorcycle comes opposite to you you'll probably have to back up. A better option would be to park your vehicle just before the narrow stretch and walk down the last 100 meters or so.

The ARRS is an old farmhouse, renovated to be used as a research center. The researchers usually stay onsite with a few permanent staff. We were hoping to meet Gowri Shankar but we were a little too late. He was away, apparently doing a PhD somewhere. I was told that the King Cobra project was for a period of 5 years and the Karnataka forest department (KFD) had not renewed the permit for the team to enter & research in the surrounding jungles. The current researcher was doing something on the snake headed fish but he was still waiting for his forest entry permit! KFD also has been grappling with a naxalite problem which is probably why they are wary of give new permits now.

The elusive Hamadryad would continue to remain elusive till our next visit. I walked down the track for a little distance hoping to see some movement in the undergrowth but the only thing that caught my eye were a pair of amorous bugs!

As we drove back towards the village my wife spotted three hornbills on a tree. I wasn't prepared for birds. I had come with a head filled with images of reptiles, amphibians and bugs so the camera I had packed was not meant for birding. Even if I could switch lenses the reach of a 150mm would have been inadequate from our position. Besides, birds aren't going to be waiting for you to do that. I just jumped out of the car and scampered back to the tree. Unfortunately, it wasn't going to be my day. The birds were off looking for better prospects on some other tree. From one grainy shot (due to the inbuilt 2x Digital Teleconvertor) it looked like juveniles of the Malabar or Lesser Pied Hornbill.

Back at the village we dropped by at Doddamane, made famous by R.K Narayan's  creation Swami. The TV serial "Malgudi Days" was shot in the 150 year old house and it is the only option for home stay in Agumbe. I have posted a separate blog for Doddamane because I think the BIG HOUSE deserves it.The inspection bugalow is apparently the other alternative but I didn't even bother to ask. I have a phobia about getting booted out of Goverment property at odd hours because some "babu" turned up!! Another option is the ARRS provided there are no volunteers of ongoing research staying.

We didn't stop at Sunset Point it was more crowded than the morning and cloudy too. Besides, we had a party to attend in Manipal......

(Please note: All the words highlighted in YELLOW above, open links related to that word)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Authors, Poets & Woodcrawling - Part 1

Let me place on record here that I'm not a very literary person. Once I outgrew the fantasy world of Enid Blyton (no J.K Rowling then!), I took to swinging through the trees with Tarzan of the Apes, courtesy Edgar Rice Burroughs, or'ghooming' in the jungle and tracking a man eater with Kenneth Anderson. On the rare occasions I stepped out of the jungles and returned to civilization it was to pick up a gun against Germany in the company of Alistair McLeans war heros. Sherlock Holmes did drop in occasionally but the great outdoors always had me riveted.

College days saw me devouring Robert Ludlum, Jefferey Archer and the like. Back then I could squeeze in the time to finish a fair sized book in about a week and the local library served up interesting fare to whet my appetite.

Things have changed since I plunged into my profession. Time is premium, and my tastes have changed too. Nowadays I pick up classics from literature but Amitav Ghosh has had the favour of my attention recently. "Hungry Tide" was finished in a flourish since Sunderbans is a place on my list of "things to do before I die"! The only problem is that I've been wading through a "Sea of Poppies" for a few months now; not because the book is uninteresting but because I am hard pressed for time!

You might be wondering why the Woodcrawler is rambling about literature. There is a sound reason. I have been a resident, first a student and then a teacher in the famous university township of Manipal in Udupi District of Karnataka (formerly South Canara). Two of Karnataka's literary personalities trace their origins to Udupi and the neighbouring districts of Shimoga. Late K.Shivarama Karanth is from Kota in Udupi district  and late Kuvempu (K.V Puttappa) was from Kuppalli in Shimoga. While the former was an author and social activist with a genuine concern for the environment, the latter was a poet, author and educationist.

K Shivarama Karanth

Kuvempu (K.V Puttappa)

The point of interest for me was both of them have illustrious sons.

Ullas Karanth
Poorachandra Tejaswi

Ullas Karanth, the son of Shivarama Karanth, is a tiger conservationist and one of the main influences in my interest in wildlife. I have never met him but I own many books authored by him on tiger conservation. (Now you have an idea why my mail ID is tigertracker!).

Late Poornachandra Tejaswi was the son following the footsteps of his father, writing in Kannada and also doing many other things. Of the many interests of his, I share a couple, photography and bird watching.

I had an occasion to interact with him in his house in Mudigere since he is 'related' through my wife! It was just the time I was transitioning from film to digital photography. He reminded me of the bird man of India Dr.Salim Ali.

This meeting was many years ago but it was about to change my view of photography on it's head. I was one of those skeptics who swore by film but when I saw what a 5 MP digital camera could achieve, I reluctantly decided it was time to switch. Not only did my outlook on digital photography change but I started looking at birds differently. Till then only large mammals were visible to my myopic eyes. When I saw birds through the eye of someone who really loved them I started noticing these prettiest of God's creatures.

The Woodcrawler had matured. A jungle was not only about tigers, leopards, elephants & gaur. There were little creatures too that caught my eye. If it caught my eye, it had to be recorded and I needed to change my gear. Gradually, over a decade, I graduated from a prosumer 5MP 10x digital camera to a DSLR with a range of lenses that reached from 9mm to 600mm. It has left a big hole in my pocket but I've never regretted it.

In late July I got a call from my Alma mater. They wanted me as a speaker in the conference they were conducting. I couldn't refuse so I had to find something to do when I was there.

Agumbe beckoned, so did Kuppalli; the birthplace of  Kuvempu and Poornachandra Tejaswi. A plan was born..........
................................................................................. watch this space for more

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Man on a Bicycle

Woodcrawling has taken a backseat and academics is keeping me busy. Agumbe was a damp squib, or should I saw 'dry' squib? There was no rain in the second most rainiest place in India. Can you believe that?
I'll keep you updated, my faithful follower, over the weekend.

Meanwhile enjoy this little tale about a Man on a Mission