It was another uneventful evening at ‘Anadhi’resturant, some three by five coffee was lying on the table and the conversation was very routine. The usual crowd was there -Prasad popularly known as ‘Gudda”, Question Babu who is no more with us, G Srinivas to all Bangaloreans he is known as Kappanna, Erkatu Chandu who is also no more – we were generally relaxing after a tiring day at the college. A little later Sunder, VK Ramu, Ramaswamy and Seeni joined us and of course not to forget dear Santhanam. The conversation suddenly took a turn and Sunder was telling us about his class trip to Hogenakkal falls. 45 of them were leaving the next morning by bus to the falls.
One thing led to another and suddenly the tone and tenor of the conversation changed and the whole atmosphere was electric. I heard some one saying “how dare you say we cannot come to Hogenakkal falls” “if you don’t want to take us, we shall come on our own” some body said “its ok yar we will go some other time” how will you come, too far, too late and so on. The whole argument made no sense and stopped as abruptly as it had started and not before Gudda making a very bold and imaginative statement on behalf of all the non Hogenakkal goers “It’s a matter of honor,we will meet all of you chaps in Hogenakkal tomorrow morning; we will leave now on cycles”. The statement sounded like Mahatma telling his followers – let’s go to Dandi.It was alright for Mr MKG to make a statement of this nature – he had Birla house to support, hordes of Congress workers and in fact the whole nation was behind him. We had very little.
We had a lot to do – firstly find out the route to Hogenakkal, commandeer a cycle, gather some cash and finally concoct a story to be told to the parents. It was indeed a very tall order for a bunch of fifteen year olds, with Gudda and Babu standing tall at sixteen and a half. Within two hours, at about 8 PM in October 1964 –Gudda, Babu, Kappanna, Chandu and self were ready with our cycles for the great adventure. Even to this day I do not know how we all decided to embark on this misguided escapade - bordering on foolishness and utmost stupidity. May be it was sheer recklessness, sudden surge of adrenalin or youthful exuberance.
Just a bit about Hogenakkal. At Hogenakkal, the Kaveri, now a large river drops and creates numerous waterfalls as the water cuts through the rocky terrain. In places the water falls as much as 20 meters and sounds like continual thunder. Soon after the falls the river takes a Southerly course and enters the Mettur reservoir. When the water falls on the rocks it appears as if hoge (smoke in Kannada) is emanating from the top of the kallu ( meaning rock ) because of the force of the water, hence Hogenakkal (smoking rocks). It is located in the Dharmapuri district of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, about 130 KM from Bangalore
It was a journey in total darkness with our cycle headlamps making absolutely no impact on the road ahead.Gudda being a good singer kept us distracted from the task of endless peddling through his melodious voice. Babu regaled us with his many anecdotes and the task ahead looked a little easier. We constantly sought directions from the locals in the village shops which happened to be open at that point of time. Tea was another strength giver and morale booster. The places which have remained in my memory are Hosur, Palakodu, Dharmapuri and Pennaguram before reaching Hogenakkal.While we were making slow but steady progress, we saw Kappanna flash his torch on a mile stone and immediately switch it off. This suspicious and odd behavior attracted all our attention and we made him light the mile stone once again only to learn that the name of the village was ‘Karpalli’ – what an extraordinary coincidence. Remember having the mother of all breakfast at Pennaguram and very easily making the last 15 KM downhill through the winding roads to the falls. We reached the TB at around 11 AM and the college bus had already reached.
We had averaged almost 10 KM per hour for 13 hours, which was a remarkable feat by any standard. There was no wild cheering, garland or the media to welcome us. The whole afternoon was spent under the waterfall in the bathing area. The water fall beautifully massages the body and all the fatigue of cycling was removed. It was time for the bus to depart and our dear friend Chandu decided to call it quits. After some deliberation Sunder decided to come back with us on the cycle. The rest of the day was spent amidst the various water falls and a ride in the coracle. Sun set in the forest is fascinating to watch, the sun suddenly disappears and the entire forest is covered in a blanket of darkness. With it comes the eerie silence of the forest and the nocturnal calls of various animals and birds.
After a peaceful and refreshing eight hours of sleep we started our journey back to Bangalore. The uphill 15 KM to Pennaguram was literally back breaking, that’s when we realized that we would have to climb from almost sea level to Bangalore at 3000 ft.Not a very encouraging thought. After a really hefty breakfast at Pennaguram we headed towards Dharmapuri.It was about this time we realised that the collective wealth could at best get us one round of very basic lunch and thereafter be officially declared pauper, bankcrupt, khaput.In the finance meeting that ensued after lunch, the newly joined member of the group Sunder cast some very serious doubts regarding the fiscal management exercised by Gudda.This led to a ‘cycle out’ similar to ‘walk out’ by Gudda, who decided to proceed on his own to Bangalore.
Almost exhausted and dying of thirst and hunger, in the middle of the afternoon we sighted an ‘Alemane’ - a Kannada term for a unit or home where jaggery is made. When we narrated our plight to the people in the Alemane, they took pity and instantly offered us Kabbina halu - sugarcane juice and thick jaggery juice. It was the most refreshing and energy boosting drink we could have had in that situation. Sufficiently charged with sugar in our blood we embarked on the second leg of our journey. Unlike the night trip the group got fragmented and separated by large distances between each rider. We could not keep an eye on each other and at one point Babu collapsed with exhaustion. The journey became even slower and requiring much more effort making it uphill.
By about 5 PM we reached a village shop, having no will or energy left to proceed ahead. The only good news was that Gudda had also stopped in the same village and had left a message that he would be waiting for us at Hosur.In this village we found a good Samaritan in the form of a jawan from MEG.He instantly took charge of the situation and invited us to the function at the village well wherein the local deities were being worshiped in order to bring rain. At the end we were served ‘Mudee’ – Raggi balls and saru- dal. When he learnt that we were all NCC cadets, his desire to help us went up another notch. He took us to his house and offered us freshly prepared Uppit and coffee. In the end he collected money from all the villagers and gave us 1Rs and 72 P in change for the journey ahead and for Gudda. In those days the amount was a princely sum, especially coming from a famished village badly in need of rains.
The spontaneous act of generosity on the part of the jawan is one thing none of us will ever forget. Sometimes I wonder if we were to come across someone in a similar situation in the city would we be forthcoming and unhesitatingly embrace fellow beings and shower them with milk of human kindness – my sincere answer is NO. The city has made us very selfish and we shiver to stare at adversity. We look at all strangers with suspicion and reaching out to the needy is the last thing on our minds. Life in the city is in an unnatural state of perpetual ‘fast forward’ leaving us with little or no time to sit back and see how others are faring.
Having thanked one and all profusely we commenced our journey to Hosur. By about 8 PM we reached Hosur and delighted to find Gudda sitting in the open verandah of a house. All bickering and misunderstandings were forgotten by the time we finished one round of hugging and greetings. Gudda had put to use his spare time to good use. He had approached a gentleman and had obtained his permission to spend the night in their open verandah. In the mean time he had befriended the children of the gentleman and told them his story, which was mainly about his hunger and desire to eat. Once again the act of kindness was in the fore. The lady of the house served us a very hearty but simple meal of rice and sambar.We spent the night with grand visions of Bangalore, home, hot bath, lunch and finally the much needed sleep on soft beds.
Early next morning, 1Rs and 72 P in change provided all of us with good breakfast and strength to undertake the last leg of our journey. We reached Wilson Garden Bangalore around 11AM where we were treated to bread and badam milk by Bheem Rao a classmate of ours.
By 1 PM I reached home. An audacious adventure came to a safe end after almost 65 hours of exicitement, anger, hope, frustration, camaraderie, achievement and a host of other emotions. After a hot bath followed by beet root sambar, rice and papad I went to sleep for many many hours still dreaming of Hogenakkal.
Sunder, Gudda and self have retired from the navy and settled down in Bangalore. We meet frequently and fondly remember the daring trip which all of us undertook to Hogenakkal.Looking back, we are truly amazed at the tenacity and determination exhibited by all of us.
The trip certainly qualifies as ‘Extreme Adventure’