Unlike previous trips, this one was different. It had all the similar characteristics of earlier Coorg escapades – absolutely unexpected, slightly unnerving and exceptionally blissful, but, with an added twist of adventure – the 51 hour furious marathon rain!
I had never experienced such intense rains in my life, not even in Coorg.
On a lazy Tuesday afternoon in June 2011, Satish called my mobile. He had spoken to Bennett Achaiah, our friend in Coorg, who had invited Satish to spend few days at his place. Satish asked if I was interested in the trip and gladly, I agreed. Bennet, his dad Roy and mom Tharu are excellent hosts. They grow coffee, cardamom and pepper at Parakatageri – a remote, serene and scenic little village in South Coorg. Satish and I were in high spirits. It’s not every day that you get to spend holidays in Coorg with such wonderful people amid picturesque landscapes. After a short discussion, we decided to start early next morning.
On a sweaty summer dawn, the notorious street dogs of Bangalore were in deep slumber, the paper boys were cycling with soft huffs and the infamous Call Centre cabs were busy racing imaginary traffic on empty roads. As we crossed Kengeri, Bangalore was still waking up to unravel yet another traffic clogged noisy day. We stopped at Kamat Upachar to savour steaming hot Idlys served with freshly grind Chatni and mildly spiced Sambar. Situated after Channapattana on Mysore highway, this drive-in vegetarian restaurant has huge parking space, maintains clean environs and serves delicious food.
By 11am near Hunsur the fiery summer Sun started to recede behind slightly overcast clouds. This was a welcome relief from blazing highway hues and it uplifted our mood. Crossing Hunsur, we bought mangoes from farmers who setup roadside stalls and trade seasonal fruits to travellers. On a dull backdrop of parched terrain, the vivid display of green, yellow and red shades of succulent fruits were alluring.
At Panchavalli the grey skies turned pitch-dark and suddenly, it started to drizzle. In this region close to Coorg, sporadic summer rains weren’t unusual. Here we stopped to buy few gulps of intoxicants, water and soda for the road. The man across the counter cheerfully volunteered to blend our swigs and in minutes, handed us carefully filled bottles.
Happily, we set out towards the distant hills.
Gradually, the drizzle turned in to torrential rain and in astonishing swiftness, coldness replaced the summer heats. Satish was driving and as a rule, he abstained from tasting the golden liquid. But sitting next to him in the car, I shamelessly started to guzzle mouthfuls. In this hurried chilly weather, I desperately wanted the stimulant.
This was the beginning of an intense rain experience which, astonishingly, was to end in the same place, Panchavalli, during our return journey. And that was still 51 hours away.
Before long, we entered Coorg district and went past Aane Chowkur elephant camp and tribal settlement inside Nagarahole forest. Slowly the heavy downpour subsided into drizzle and continued to pelt against our windscreen. Coldness prevailed in the air and as we approached Thithimathi, it got worse. The winding roads tucked in-between thick foliage offered splendid views of rain soaked coffee estates. Even under the fading daylight, the tall Silver Oak trees with their distinctive ash shade limbs gleamed amid dark green layers of coffee plants. Gripping to lofty Silver Oaks, leafy pepper creepers soared high into the skies and water dripped from soggy moss clinging to giant trees. The empty roads offered pleasant drive and misty clouds surrounding the tranquil hilly terrain rejuvenated our travel weary mind. The atmosphere was soothing and mile-by-mile, the coldness was mounting.
Right in the middle of such magnificent settings, Satish stopped his car. The chill was unbearable and he wanted his share of stimulant. Gladly, I passed on the bottle!
We stocked more golden liquids at T.Settigere and by lunch, we reached Bennett’s house. All the while, rains never stopped. Every time we visit his place, it brings out the same surprise emotion in us – blissful astonishment. Nestled on the foothills of Brahmagiri mountain range, Roy’s estate is sheltered with unruffled tranquillity that’s hard to describe. Giant trees loom over neatly maintained estate floor, every coffee harvest produces rich beans and all along the valley, cardamom and pepper grow in abundance. Rich aroma of vanilla drifts in the air and slim areca nut trees sway in the wind. Scattered across the land, orange, mango, guava and sweet lemon trees produce array of fruits. The rich soils help pineapples grow in plenty, passion-fruit creepers rise over vast foliage and bright anthurium flowers adorn the backyard. A highly pungent Bird’s Eye Chili grows next to juicy citrus lemon tree and all along the porch lined with terracotta pots, bright flowers bloom in colourful vibrancy. A mountain stream provides continues water for domestic use and built over the hilly ridge, the house offers splendid views of a large paddy field.
The coffee estate sits on the fringes of the forest and in this secluded place, the mobile signals are scarce. On such a rainy day, the whole vicinity was hushed and nothing could be heard except the rhythmic patter of raindrops. By late afternoon the power was cut. By early evening, thanks to the downpour, even the landline was out-of-order. Suddenly, we were disconnected from the outer world. The experience was intense. Sitting on the porch with a mug of steaming hot coffee, we felt divine.
As the night followed, the rains increased and by 10pm, a Jeep approached the solitary house. In such stormy nights, a visitor meant a carrier of bad news. And indeed, it was. A distant relative had passed away in Bangalore and Roy and Tharu had to start early next morning to attend the last rites. Exchanging hurried good nights, we tucked into the comforts of warm sheets. Long into the night, we could hear the downpour and early next morning, we got up to the familiar sound. Braving the same drizzle, Roy and Tharu had left for Bangalore at 3.30am and they were planning to come back the same day. It seemed difficult, but they managed.
Satish, Bennet and I had a long soggy day. Negotiating uprooted trees, fallen power lines and over flowing roads, we visited famed Mruthyunjaya temple in Badagarakeri, a distance of 20 kilometres. Accompanied by the deluge, we performed rituals that were supposed to grant us long life. Outside, a small crowd was trying hard to push out a Government bus that was stuck in the slush. Nearby, the temple kitchen was getting ready to serve customary lunch for the devotees. By 2pm we were back at home. With a bottle of stimulant, we sat on the porch to try and entice our rain soaked souls. In the paddy fields, few estate workers were fishing with bare hands and surprisingly, they were gathering a good catch. The overflowing streams had flooded the fields with plenty of fish.
Rest of the day was spent watching rain Gods fly across the valley in thick sheets of powerful watery gale. By nightfall, Roy and Tharu came back with their own experiences of uprooted trees, broken power lines and water clogged roads.
Next day, Satish and I left Parakatageri at 10am and around mid noon, the rains started to recede. As we reached Panchavalli, a long gust withered the last droplets, thus ending our 51 hour marathon rain experience.