Agumbe, the stop that I had personally insisted on, while planning for this epic south India trip, was also my favorite for the unique experiences that it offered us. Its miniscule size and unnoticed presence amongst travelers is what makes it so appealing. Read on, to know why!
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I heard the name Agumbe for the first time from a close cousin who expressed his desire to visit this place. I happened to check the images on the internet but quickly forgot about it. It was not so much on my priority list of travel for varied reasons but the place did look surreal to me. So now that the place fell on my travel route, and wasn’t out of the way, I decided to give it a shot.
The ‘Did You Know’ fact about Agumbe is that it receives the second highest rainfall in India. Clearly, we were visiting the place at the wrong time of the year. But with hope for some showers and knowing that the forests are never disappointing we included it in our itinerary.
We deboarded our night train from Kochi at Udupi which is the nearest railhead to Agumbe. Though private taxis are available from this city, the best way to set this journey of 55 kilometers is through frequently run private buses.
At about this point another friend Vivek, from Mumbai, joined us for the rest of the excursion and a new wave of excitement bounced at us. Our introduction to each other over breakfast was sufficient to assume that the rest of the trip was going to be even more epic. Four Ruskin Bond fans from four different cities, four writers, and four travelers in spirit; I could see the enlightenment that awaited us in the next four days.
The journey from Udupi to Agumbe was full of anxiety. It was a hot sunny day but the wind was cool. I was wondering about my decision to make it to Agumbe while I was imagining the place in my head. As we crossed Manipal, another town adjacent to Udupi, the landscape started to entice us.
A thicket of eucalyptus, a thirsty forest, a lonely sad road leading to a desolate town was my first sight of Agumbe. At first, it did not appear to be the most scenic spots, the kind that we usually put on our wish list. But as we drew closer, we realized that we had opened up a wild package for ourselves in one of the remotest towns of India.
We were looking forward to our accommodation with great expectations for that was also one of the major attractions of this town. As we were researching about the stay options we came across a rare example of Indian hospitality that comes alive in this settlement. Dodda Mane, an ancient ancestral house was our haven for our time in Agumbe. Literally meaning Big House, it is a 150 years old house preserved in its original form by the members of the family. What is even more fascinating are certain facts that make the history of this house, a must know.
- A few episodes of the popular Indian TV series, Malgudi Days were shot here. Just when you hear this and then look at the walls of the house, and the water that would start dripping from the roof during the monsoons, the imagination runs back to those days when Doordarshan (National TV) used to be the most sought after entertainment channel.
- Kasturi Akka, the main care taker of the house is also the daughter in law of the house. The house originally belonged to her husband, who was the only Mathematics teacher in the village in the 70s era. Unfortunately, he died 30 years ago but she along with the rest of the family fondly takes care of the house and the frequent guests that arrive every now and then. It is a huge family that occupies most of the house and are most of the times dedicated to the variety of tasks at home.
- Kasturi Akka can speak five different languages and confidently communicates with her guests, making them feel at home. She converses in English, Hindi, Marathi, Tamil and Kannada and tells us about her life in Agumbe, especially during the monsoons.
- Now comes the most interesting fact about Dodda Mane. Kasturi Akka lets you stay in her house for no fixed cost. She welcomes everyone with an open heart, serves some mouth watering south Indian dishes on the banana leaf and lets the traveler decide on the amount they are willing to pay. There is no amount that she has pre decided, all you have to do is confirm your arrival few days in advance.
The charm of Agumbe and especially Dodda Mane lies in the fact that it is yet not commercialized and converted itself into money minting business. Its development is raw and connects well with the recent history that we have left behind since the technological revolution. It is in fact ironic as well as funny how this area is almost a no network zone and yet you can access your mails on the Wi-Fi installed in the house. Kasturi Akka was not only our guardian mother during our stay there but was also our guide. We who were ready to spend the next two days doing nothing and only relaxing in that house were now motivated to take a walk in the jungle.
The forest is dense and full of life. It welcomed us to walk on the dry twigs, under the shades of giant logs that held the bestrewed branches. Some of the branches aimed for the sky and never bowed down. As we browsed deeper, our way was occasionally blocked by the spider webs that shone like pearls hanging in the air tied from one limb of a tree to another. Unperturbed and undisturbed, the forest brimmed with living organisms and seemed to be in a fixed state since forever. It appears unchanged and untamed, and yet life goes on in its very soul.
We really wondered if the lustrous intensity of the woods would increase once the rains start to pour, as they were already plush green. They are the ones who are capable of seducing the rains. We decided to take another tour of the jungle the very next day. Agumbe is home to some of the most copious reptiles which are groomed in these rainforest. Cobras and crocodiles are commonly seen during the monsoon season. Providing a natural exposure for herpetology, the rainforest research station is an ideal spot for many students in the middle of the forest. As we took a tour of the jungle, finding our way to the research station, we felt lost many a times. Silence was accompanying us constantly and so we could not control our whistling in the woods. While Nikita wanted to capture all those trees that leaned onto each other, hugging and forming a tunnel, I wanted to stand in those tunnels and pose a bit. After walking for about two miles into the jungle, the trees made way for a tiny setup, an accommodation for the students and a common kitchen. We interacted with the field director for a while who apprised with the highly specialized researches that have been going on for years. As hunger struck, we made our way back to Dodda Mane where Kasturi Akka was waiting for us.
The best way to enjoy Agumbe is to while away the time at this family house, settle yourself on the pavement outside, and enjoy looking at the vehicles pass once in a while. Let the days pass with absolute nothingness, and all you do is sip on your tea and munch on the dry poha. Though it was a random call to visit Agumbe in my HOHO itinerary I was glad to have done it but all I wished for was a little bit of drizzle. The evening gets pretty cold here but the breeze stays in the hair and sluggishly moves out. Though we missed the rainy season, we were lucky to be in the forest on a full moon night. From our guest house, we only had to walk a few meters to be at the tip of the forest. The moon had not risen completely and from there it seemed to be entangled somewhere in the bushes. We sat on the steps for a bit and saw the fireflies resting on the leaves, not one but many of them. They had a spark which was terrific and uncommon.
Life doesn’t seem to be moving at all in Agumbe but we had to get going to reach at our next goal. We boarded our train from Udupi to hop to our next destination in Karnataka. The backwaters were tasted and so were the forests, now it was time to turn to the sea and take a sip of sand and sun and mix them into the memories.