The route: http://goo.gl/maps/1ieES
I have always been fascinated by plantations in general. I had earlier driven from Bengaluru to Ooty and visited the hills with my brother, and always wanted to do mountain driving. I have a car, which is luxurious, stylish, powerful as well as sensitive.
One of those days, couple of years down the line, I somehow wanted to go visit arecanut plantations. I never planned where I am going to drive to, but I had the general idea that Karnataka has a lot of arecanut, and it would be worthwhile to drive around. Generally, I did a google search and found that Malnad had a lot of arecanut (but at that point of time, I didn’t know the extent of arecanut in Sirsi district, otherwise I would have gone there!). I also found that there are some pockets of arecanut in Chitradurga, Shimoga, Thirthahalli and then Agumbe, so I decided to drive around.
I first visited Chitradurga. I knew that if I just went there and ask the landlords that I want to see an arecanut plantation, many would have suspicious eyes (and so did they), so I had a theory. In real, one of my friends was doing a research, so I told these guys that I wanted to collect some statistics about arecanut. But this guy was not convinced. He asked me, ‘Where is your friend doing the research?’. I said, ‘In Tamilnadu’. He said ‘Oh, we have a big research institute down here in Davengere. Why should we give data for a Tamilnadu institute?’. I was laughing within myself, but kept quiet. He then conceded and sent four guys with me in my car to show me around. Off I went with a piece of paper, asked some questions about the growth, the no. of years it takes, the yield, the type, etc. At that point of time, I was really interested. And the guy started explaining enthusiastically, so it went well. After an hour or so, I decided it’s time to call it off and came back to the office. Now the owner was still suspicious. He might have thought that I am a land grabber, so he started asking pointed questions. I said I will let him know later about my details, and just left abruptly. That was fun! Phew!
Then I started driving towards Shimoga. In this stretch, I found a lot of small farmers with 5 to 6 acres of arecanut plantations. Generally I was driving along the country side at around a speed of 70 kmph. I stopped and had Chai at some towns. It was around noon, but the weather was pleasant, and monsoon was about to start – clouds and chilly winds. I was kind of tired, and I found this farmer doing work alone in his plantation, so I decided to stop and say hello to him. He was an elder person – somewhere in his 70s, and was driving his tractor in the field. The arecanut plantations were right next to the field. I just parked my car, and went along the field. Huge difference between the landlord of Chitradurga, and this simple farmer of Shimoga. He welcomed me with a friendly smile (in fact he grinned, he was so happy to see someone stop by and have a look at his plantation!), and asked me where I am from. I said I am from Bangalore, and asked him how many acres he has. He said 7 acres, and also said he is managing all these by himself. I was just looking around in general but didn’t ask further questions. Then I said goodbye to him and started driving again.
When I reached the outskirts of Thirthahalli, it was pouring like hell. I had located a homestay near Thirthahalli, which was located in the center of arecanut plantations, so I called them from Thirthahalli and said I am coming just for a visit. He came in his van and guided my car towards his homestay. When I reached his homestay, he and his wife greeted me warmly and showed me around his place. The house was built with Malnad architecture. I told him the reason why I came. We had a general discussion about his homestay, his visitor traffic, maintenance woes, etc. They served me hot tea with love. By the time I left, monsoon rain was in torrents, and I had to have my wiper at full speed, but still I insisted on driving, rather than staying back, because I loved the rain! I started driving in the general direction towards Agumbe.
When I reached the outskirts of Agumbe, I found a narrow ghat road that was full of arecanut, and so I started driving in that road. At one point, there came an intersection which had a road to Sringeri. I was tempted for a moment if I should drive to Sringeri, but then I reminded myself of the goal, and consoled myself that there will be another time. After all, Sringeri is not far off, and always accessible . So, I decided to come back to the main road of Agumbe.
It was around 5:45 PM and it was getting dark. I went to a hotel, had some refreshments and hot tea, and then I wanted to make a call, but lo, there was no signal in my mobile phone, as it was a high mountain area. The hotel owner helped me with his mobile, which had CellOne, and the signal was good. After a couple of calls, I decided that its dangerous to go down to Mangalore in the dark, and so stayed back in a hotel near Agumbe bus station. The stay was okay.
In the late morning next day, I started driving down to Mangalore. I loved the hair-pin bends, drove through Udupi, and reached Mangalore around 4:00 PM. I went to an office which maintains the register of all the arecanut plantations in Karnataka and had a discussion with an officer. They told me that if I go to Sirsi, I would be lost in Arecanut, so I made a mental note to visit Sirsi next time. Stayed in Mangalore that night, started driving to Bangalore next day morning, and reached Bangalore around 4:00 PM.
Overall, it was a fun trip. My escapades continued and I did some more arecanut digging in Mettupalayam and Salem hills in Tamilnadu. More on this later!
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