SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: A long lost friend came calling the other day. “This is a ghost from your past,” he smiled as I opened my apartment’s door.
We sized each other up consciously. He had put on so much weight since the last time I saw him that he could well have been one of those toy figurines that you blow air into for children to play with.
He gazed at me as if he was he was transfixed. And then he gave me a hug that almost rearranged my ribs.
A day later we were on our way to sylvan Chikamagalur, en route to the forests of Bhadra.
The British spirit of enterprise and initiative brought coffee estates to the beautiful hill district of Chikamagalur. And god’s very same qualities made the forests of Bhadra, we can safely conclude, much before he made the British.
And if He were to walk into an advertising agency (accredited!) and hand down a brief to the copywriter to describe Bhadra, the poor guy could lose his job. As a result of the agency losing a major account.
For god, I’m sure, wouldn’t be completely satisfied with adjectives like luxurious, splendid, striking, grand, fascinating, mesmerizing…because Bhadra is all this and much more.
The drive to Bhadra from Chikamagalur through the Baba Budan ranges should surely rank as one of the most spectacular ones in the country, to reach a national park.
Six kilometres from Chikamagalur, on the Tarikere road, you reach the Kymara junction. Turn left, go past coffee estates and begin to climb the Baba Budangiri mountain. Soon, you’ll reach a point called Kavikalgundi. Take the narrow road that swings to the left there.
Breathtaking views present themselves before you as the entire mountain range uncovers itself.
Rolling meadows in varying shades of emerald, jade and olive; gurgling streams; huge trees, weather-beaten and lichen covered with their trunks turned a dark ebony; the sounds of an invisible waterfall somewhere inside the craggy folds; a profusion of greenery as far as the eye can see; the light, a mellow grey; and solitude that beckons you to reflect.
Chiselled pathways meander across; white smoke swirls from a chimney of a sloped roofed house high up in the mountains and joins the clouds above, creating soft balls of cotton that seem to waft as if fanned by an unseen hand. Fresh air caresses your face as you look out of the car window.
It’s truly another world.
The road snakes past the tiny settlement of Kolgame in the mountains; there is coffee everywhere; in the Halsinkan, Ashirwad and Jagarkan estates; teak plantations that were the handiwork of the British stand proudly in tiny Jagara village driving past which, you’ll touch Muthodi. You are now in the immediate vicinity of Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary having travelled 23 kms from Chikamagalur town.
The moist-dry deciduous forests of Bhadra and their tall bamboos are encircled by the grand, mist-covered Chandra Drona mountain ranges in the form of a horseshoe, with the trees and the other vegetation, including the sholas, growing on the slopes, the slants, the crags and the valleys.
Numerous streams and rivulets snake through the undergrowth, keeping the whole area moist and wet for most part of the year. And the view from any of the lofty reaches of the mountain range, of the vast expanse of forests that rise and fall in the depths below, can surely leave you in a state of stupefaction.
“If the bamboo swings to the voice of the wind and the tiger wanders with gaiety, then it must be Jagara Valley”, goes an ancient saying in Kannada. The valley takes its name from Jagara, a village situated close to the sanctuary. Once known as the Jagara Valley Game Reserve, Bhadra plays host to almost the entire spectrum of wild life found in the tropics.
At a most unique vantage point, within the game reserve, is a guesthouse called Shigekan. If you cover the 3 km distance to Shigekan, up a winding forest track, from the Honnala- Muthodi road, you’d surely come across not only innumerable birds, but also perhaps, the pugmarks of a tiger or a panther.
And once you reach the guesthouse, the sight will take your breath away for its sheer awesomeness. Unfolded before you will be the deep and magical Jagara Valley surrounded by miles and miles of absolute greenery with the horseshoe shaped mountains in the distance forming a dramatic backdrop.
The silence is overpowering with the muffled sound of the wind being the only accompaniment to your soul. There is a quietude about the place that allows you to listen to your own heart beat. The trees wave, weave and swing to the wind and as night falls, the sky is a translucent canopy of celestial celebration. The stars shine forth, seemingly in their millions, and life around, attains a metaphysical dimension.
In a place like this, I could go on to live blissfully for 150 years.
And later, if I ever knocked on your door, go on, say it, the ghost is back!