Cut to September 2014...
This was a trip that adventure movies are made of. September is a time which is not considered best for wildlife – the usual birding season starts from November and the Tiger season had already ended in June. During the monsoons, one is not left with too many options. Coorg is a region blessed with many picturesque waterfalls, so I decided to take a shot at them during a weekend break and managed to convince two friends to tag along with me.
I am an early riser and for such weekend trips, I like to get out of the city before Sunrise so as to avoid the traffic. But in this case, had one friend for whom getting up at 9 am was an achievement. So after a lot of negotiations, we finally kicked off at 10 am from Bangalore, which is afternoon by my standards. Our vehicle for the trip was a 12-year-old Santro of a friend which I was to drive. It somehow had 4 wheels in place and places to sit, no power steering, no stereo. My friend realized the last one when we were leaving an electronic city and almost ventured into a nice road for Mysore. As per him he cannot survive a road trip without a car stereo and needs his daily doses of Mika and Honey Singhs (wish he had some more Singhs, Sugar Singhs, Butter Singhs or any Singh who could shout real loud in Punjabi). So we took a U-turn and fitted a permanent stereo on this temporary car. Finally hit the nice road at about 11 am and somehow managed to reach around Mysore by 2 pm after surviving sound attacks by Sugar and Butter Singhs.
Our first falls for the trip was Chunchankette falls, some 60kms out of Mysore. Thankfully I was the only in charge of deciding route and spots, the friend was happy with his Punjabi song dose, and the third one was happy as long as wheels moved. Reaching this falls was no less than an expedition, thanks to Sygic GPS app on my phone. The app should at least realize that the people using it are not supermen, who can fly a car over a paddy field, or row it in water. This meant a lot of U-turns and diversions. For a good 10kms it threw us to a 2-meter wide village mud road but finally after all these attempts to murder, the app took mercy on us and led us to the destination. While the other friends were busy in chitchat I brought out my waterfall shooting kit, which comprised of a tripod, ND10 filter and a wide angle lens with the camera. The equipment was enough for normal tourists to pass curious looks at me, and some mistaking me for some film magazine photographer. Why would a Filmfare publish waterfalls photos when it has pictures of hot actresses to flaunt.
Moving on, we wrapped up our respective jobs and made a move before Sunset. The destination for the day was Madikeri, which is the capital of Coorg. As evil forces grow stronger in dark, so we decided to discard the GPS app for good and relied on route directions from local people. The rest of the journey was uneventful and we settled down in a comfortable homestay at Madikeri for the night. Peculiarity again prevailed over sanity and the friend made us venture restaurant to restaurant to find good Mushroom roast for dinner. Coorg is supposedly famous for Mushroom preparations and he was not able to locate the restaurant where he has a great Mushroom meal last time. Sometimes I wonder why do vegetarians make all this fuss about food, a Mushroom is after all a Mushroom. It cannot become a Mutton or a Fish howsoever it is prepared. Finally ended up tasting 3 different preparations of Mushroom in an old restaurant hoping it brings us some good luck for the next day.
Next day morning the first destination was Abbey falls, on the outskirts of Madikeri town. We reached early morning by 7 am and were the only ones there. Was wondering if I am the only early riser in the world, and all tourists take it easy. The falls were a sight to behold and more so without those Bhelpuri, Panipuri vendors and the noisy public around it.
While returning got a gastropod species called Indrella Ampula which I hear is quite common in the Coorg region.
Indrella Ampula – Land snail encountered on way to Abbi Falls
The next destination for the day was Malalli falls, some 60kms away. Till 5kms before the falls the road was quite good, but after that it was some serious offroading. It was a mud road leading to the falls, with 2 feet deep craters at some places where only a road roller could safely pass. Most people were parking cars at last tar road and walking down the mud road. Being lazy has its own benefits, we decided to make the car struggle against the road than walk ourselves, for we also did not know how far the road goes till the falls. During the off-roading had to make the car plunge by 2-feet couple of times, with either the front wheels or rear wheels hanging in the air at some point in time, the two friends had to push the car on those occasions. Since we were going down it was easy, but it was a nightmare to get the car up on that road while returning, will keep that for later. We finally reached the last point where the car could go, there is a thin line between being lazy and committing suicide, we thought this was that line and got down from the car. It was about 45 mins walk to the falls, which was down the hills. Hands down, this was one of the best waterfalls I have seen and since it is not so popular, there were only couple of other people apart from us at the falls base. I would let pictures do rest of the talking.
Walking up the hill on return was an arduous task and made us realize the importance of gyms in our lives. Once we reached the car, the car too realized the importance of horsepower in its engine. The meager 1000cc Santro Engine could not pull up at couple of places in the mud roads where a little push had made it go down while going. The tyres burned rubber while revving at one place and were almost looking like F1 car tyres. Thankfully a group of 6 boys was passing by who helped in pushing the car up. We passed via Madikeri and headed to our last destination of the day, Chelavara falls.
It had the least meat for photography but was good for us to take a dip at end of a tiring day. End? Wait, I still had to drive another 250kms to reach home at Bangalore, and it was already 5 pm. One friend could not drive, and the third one was a girl, I would have rather walked to Bangalore in 2 months than sit in a girl driven car So I was the only one left to drive. It was to be a smooth 5-hour drive on decent roads. By 7.30 pm we entered Nagarhole forest checkpoint and were to drive inside the forest area for about 30kms before exiting the forest. After about 10kms into the forest, a thud sound came and the car stopped, it was from our tyre, it had burst! They say when troubles come, they come in groups, I realized we did not had a tyre spanner so we could not have changed tyres ourselves. There was a sound of tuskers from not so far away and we were in the middle of a Jungle that boasts itself of housing Tigers, Leopards and Tuskers. Were we on the menu of any of those that night, we were wondering. The frequency of vehicles passing was one every 10 mins. After about 3-4 attempts, one gentleman with Scorpio stopped for us. His driver helped out with the spanner and his driver changed the wheel for us. We were rescued. Yes, we were rescued and alive! After that, it was a routine drive but had to struggle with sleep while driving. At about 1 am in the night our sojourn ended.