Honestly, you don’t know what to expect when you decide to go to a place like Chikmangalur. Hills? Countryside? Temples?… When the wisp guided me to this place, I was completely clueless. Although I have lived my entire life in the same state, Chikmangalur was just a distant memory of my childhood when our family had gone there once.
We were a group of friends who decided last minute to drive down around 280 kms in my Nano CX. It was a long road from Bangalore to Chikmangalur but the journey was short. Only about 4 to 5 hours. There are multiple places where you can stop for the famous south Indian meal or the famous Indian “Chai” and “samosa”.
Upon arrival at the Devigiri Homestay (who graciously took our last-minute booking for their tent) we were shown our accommodation for the next 3 days. It was a huge canvas tent with 6 beds inside. Each bed had their respective pillow and blanket. We were a group of 4 and hence 2 of us took the opportunity to grab hold of 2 beds for ourselves. The tent came with an attached bathroom towards the back.
What actually caught my attention was the seating area in front of our tent. It was under a canopy of trees. There were stone benches around a medium sized stone table. The wind was always cool and there was always a light breeze blowing. It was the perfect spot to sit , relax and enjoy some good music or read a book. A little further away from this serene abode was an open ground with a few cement bricks to sit on and enjoy a beautiful bonfire while gazing at the stars.
We had reached Devigiri homestay at around 2:30pm in the afternoon and were exhausted, thus on the first day we remained confined to the area around the property.
The homestay offers many types of accommodation. They have rooms, cottages, tree houses and tents. All of which is covered by a huge canopy of trees and creepers. The property itself is nestled at the foothills of the Baba Budangiri range.
In the evening, you can either opt to have dinner at the homestay or you may choose to go down to the town of Chikmangalur where there are a lot of places that offer some good local food. We decided to have dinner at Devigiri where they served us a hearty meal consisting of vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian dishes.
Upon waking up the next day, we were greeted by little caterpillars that would descend from the branches above via a thin silky thread, like little ninjas on a secret mission to munch on crunchy leaves. They were all around us. The canopy, the little spots of sunlight peeking through the leaves and these little ninja caterpillars gave off a very fairytale like feeling.
After a light breakfast of “shaogey”, the local cuisine, we followed the wisp to Mullayanagiri hills. It is the second highest hill in Chikmangalur and is the most frequently visited after the highest hill in Karnataka “the Kudremukh”. The peak of Mullayanagiri is very steep and is constantly covered with a thick layer of fog. At the peak, there is a temple that devotees walk barefoot, to reach, as an offering to the gods.
It took a lot of effort but the Nano CX somehow made it up there. We looked around the temple which had depictions of various deities of the South Indian culture. The temple was built in dedication to “Mullapa Swamy” who is said to have meditated in the caves not very far away from the peak of this magnanimous range.
We then climbed down about 500mts to eat some amazing, hot bhaajis. They come in different varieties. The most popular bhaajis are made of a huge chilli pepper coated with gram flour and spices, then deep fried till crispy and golden. It’s often had with tea and chutney. You can also dig in to the ever-popular onion bhaaji, made using onions covered with a similar set of ingredients. No matter which type of bhaaji you choose, never forget to eat it piping hot and always pair it with some nice tangy, delicious chutney.
We also undertook a short trek up an adjacent hill to the temple hill. This hill was completely isolated and had no trace of another human being. We did see a cute and cheerful dog, who was more than happy to accompany us to the side of the hill. We walked down this hill about 100mts to an area that was densely covered in fog and had gushing winds up the hillside. Our little companion however chose to leave us here at this point, to go back up the hill to meet other friendlies who would pet and pamper him. The fog was so thick that we couldn’t even see 10mts ahead of us. Never-the-less we sat there for hours lost in our own thoughts. We were also greeted by a beautiful little bird with a long-forked tail, who wanted nothing more but to glide against the strong winds. To the bird, it was like we weren’t even there as it swished and cut through the wind, playing around. Silence prevailed.
We finally took the decision to return to camp.
Best decision ever!!! When we got back, the skies were dark and a few stars peaked at us. The owner of the homestay was nice enough to provide us with a bonfire in the open ground near our tent. Once the fire was lit, one of us (a star gazer) looked up and saw an entire wing of our galaxy!!! The wisp had timed it just right. We could see a HUGE number of stars running across the sky. Not apart as we normally would see them, but all clumped up running across a thick line in the sky. Words cannot describe how amazing it felt. What are we but only a spec in the universe? That night We slept really late but it was one of the most relaxed and careless slumbers I had had in a long time.
You may decide to skip a couple of hills while at Chikmagalur (especially if you are staying for a very short period of time), but you must definitely not miss the Baba Budangiri peak. We even gave up our plan of visiting the highest peak in Karnataka only because Baba Budangiri was heavily recommended. I would second that recommendation any day.
On the way to the peak, we came across a fork in the road. The road to the right of the fork led to the peak of the hill but the left led to an ashram. We took the road to the right and once again found ourselves at a steep ascent on the hill.
The road is very narrow hence I would recommend you trek the way up after parking your vehicle near the ashram. We took our vehicle anyway. The view was spectacular. Nothing, but hills and hills covered in grass, a few trees lined the edges of cliffs of this beautiful countryside grassland. Along with a view of the beautiful countryside, you will also be forced to view the magnificent cattle carelessly grazing or chewing their cud while sitting on the vast array of open grasslands. We were given disapproving stares by them as we invaded their privacy.
On the way to the top you must not miss the “ghost lake”. A term I had coined for the lake as it is way up on the mountain near the main road yet completely hidden due to the amount of ghostly fog that covers the place. It is very easy to miss, but it shouldn’t be. It’s a beautiful sight with a tree covered in various religious objects like threads and sheets. The tree is on a little platform that descends into the lake. Now for the lake, you can definitely see the fog floating on the surface of the water however you will only be able to see the entire lake in the afternoon when the fog lifts for a couple of hours. It’s an awesome stop for photographers.
One must also, not miss the ruins of an old British style bungalow that would have looked very grand during its prime. Today it stands amidst the open lands, its walls black and crumbling and no roof above it. The bungalow still has a very superior and classy air to it. Even now you can clearly define the various rooms in the grand house. The entire property overlooks the valley. Today it is inhabited by many cows and bulls who seek solace and comfort around it. The house is, however, empty and if you are excepted by the ones that guard its entrance (the ever judgemental cows) then you may take a peek at the moss-covered walls that may also be quite a treat for aspiring photographers.
When we finally got to the top, there was a viewpoint constructed by the government. But that’s not what you should look for. A little ahead of the public view point there is a cliff that overlooks the entire valley and other hills. This is what you should be after. The view looks mind blowing and extraordinary. We spent close to 8 hours just basking in the cold winds and the view. One really gets all the peace and silence to think about a lot of things. I had my first life changing revelation at this very point. It holds a very dear place in my heart.
However, you must exercise caution and be careful not to spend too much time at the peak, because as dusk sets in and the skies grow dark the fog thickens even more. We had to face this while descending. The fog was so thick that you can only see a few meters ahead of the car despite the fog lights. Plus due to the road being so narrow, upcoming vehicles could be very dangerous. The wisp and the driver however guided us to safety without any major setbacks.
Finally, we bid adieu to Chikmangalur, promising to return to visit Kudremukh.
A lot of memories and experiences cradled in each one of our thoughts.