Cutlets in the land of kadambuttu

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: Madikeri has changed. Like most other places on this planet. The usual lament, do you yawn? Maybe. But I couldn’t help ruminate a bit.

Recalling the past as I had seen it since a decade-and-a-half. Not to speak of what I had heard from old-timers who either lived in Kodagu in the halcyon days of old or those, like my father-in-law, who originally belong to that once mystifying abode in the hills.

On our way back to Mysore from Udupi, T S Satyan and I chose to halt for the night in Madikeri as the long journey up the Sampaje Ghat through to Mysore on roads that necessarily do not qualify as stretches of well-mixed asphalt laid by qualified civil engineers who sincerely adhere to the engineering manual and their conscience in that order, would have been terribly arduous to my octogenarian friend with arthritic knees!

As my Bolero roared up the hill and reached the General Thimmiah Circle, my wrist watch showed 8 pm.

Our quest to find decent accommodation for the night began. Hotel after hotel said ‘no rooms please.’ It was exasperating to be left in the lurch, as it were. And a wee bit frustrating as well. Time ticked along and I kept making frantic phone calls to virtually every single piece of shack that remotely resembled an accommodation for the night!

We had a lot to do, Satyan and me.

Discuss the trip that had taken us to some truly fascinating places in Malnad, of which the 260-year-old mansion in verdant, remote Kasaravalli belonging to Ramaswamy to whom the celebrated film director Girish Kasaravalli is a cousin, was simply unforgettable.

Mull over the wondrous exotica that was the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village in Manipal where centuries old traditional structures from the Mudhol Palace Durbar Hall to the Deccani Nawab Mahal to the Kunjur Chowkimane have been painstakingly restored and preserved, and where Satyan shot some truly exquisite pictures bent over his camera, his knees creaking with arthritis and his once sharp eyes straining to focus.

We also had to finalise our impending trip to Melkote where the grand rocks of remote ancientness and the remarkably imposing visage of the lap top sporting Sanskrit professor Lakshmi Tatachar awaited Satyan’s camera.

And more reasonably, we had to do true justice to the bottle of Black Dog that beckoned from the back seat of the Bolero, where it lay in luxurious abandon, its precious contents creating tiny ripples inside the handsome bottle as it swayed a bit through the circuitousness of the winding roads in the hills!

Finally, god smiled on us and we found a shelter, the smart Crystal Court Hotel. I must confess, mostly due to my felicity with the Kodava language which presumably impressed the receptionist, who took the bold decision to allot us a room which had already been booked but apparently forgotten by someone who hadn’t showed up at the appointed hour.

Today’s Madikeri is swamped by tens of hundreds of ‘tourists’. Cars bearing registration plates of places ranging from Bangalore to Calicut to even Mumbai roar around.

There is a never ending cackle from groups of men and women, boys and girls, in a range of garish clothing from jeans to short tops to fancy hats and goggles everywhere. Music systems blare out mostly indecipherable Hindi pop music in the bars. Shops are mostly festooned with packets and packets of ‘Lays’ chips in colours, green, red and orange.

‘Home stays’ are many. Far from homely and mostly cash driven only! But they still seem to come. The techies with their funny accents and fancy cars. North Indian couples, with the woman invariably wearing the most garish of jewelry amidst swathes of deep red henna. Raucous Hindi being spoken on the cell phones which don’t seem to leave them even on their ‘holiday’.

Ordering Dosa in English accents in the land of pandhi kari! Coke instead of coffee! Cutlets in place of Kadambuttu!

In the earlier days, the forests of Kodagu were magnificent and vast, the foliage was dense, and the air was crisp and pure. Lush, eye-soothing greenery pervaded whole areas right into the horizon. Small rivulets in the hills and the valleys shimmered like silver strings in the sunlight as they cascaded down the slopes; the trees bent low, heavy with their bounty of mouth-watering fruits; and a million flowers bloomed in such fantastic hues all around that they made the heart cry out in sheer ecstasy.

Somewhere in the long distance, atop a hillock with an ambling road going up the slope, a house with a slanting, tiled roof, spewed wisps of white smoke from a chimney that joined the cotton-soft clouds, stitching fleeting patterns of art.

Wild rabbits pranced around in joyous celebration and multi-coloured birds streaked across the cobalt sky leaving behind vivid trails. Kodagu was indeed paradise.

Satyan remarked that Madikeri, in the good old days, was known as the Scotland of the East.

I could barely muffle a giggle.