Wednesday, January 25, 2006

a piece of paradise

Haven't posted anything for quite a while now, i *knew* this would happen!
(suitably annoyed with myself.)

Jan has been a lovely month(so far), and the extra layer of icing was provided by my recent trip to Devbagh. Tucked away in Karwar, in the Uttara Kannada region, this little island is an idyllic microcosm of a simpler and closer-to-nature world...
But I'm jumping the gun.

It all started one lazy Friday afternoon at work (yess! Another good reason for enjoying Jan is that I finally *do* have lazy aft.s , though it's going to be a short-lived season of rest. But Feb's not quite here, so one shan't worry about that just yet!) We had two mid-week holidays coming up the following week, and this time round, we decided to get away from the city for a while. Suman and I were both interested in Devbagh - it seemed just the right sort of place to go to, to recuperate from the onslaught of all that toil in the preceding months. Called up Jungle Lodges and blocked a booking.

Come Monday, we went over to the Jungle Lodges office and finalized the booking. We fell in love with the brochure itself, the place looked so pretty, and the accomodation (a Swiss-style tented cottage), delightful! Tuesday, we shot off to the closest BDA complex to book our train tickets to Hubli.

Wednesday dawned bright and nice (not that I woke up at dawn or anything. That was just figuratively speaking!) , and we went about packing and getting things ready. We met at MG Road, shopped for sunblock and other beach-stuff, ate a quick salad and garlic bread, and
zoomed off to the station. (Again, I use the word "zoom" just to express our collective feeling of chirpiness. One can't exactly zoom about in B'lore anymore, can one?)
Reached the station well in time, and went off to Platform 10 (oh I'm so tempted to say Platform Nine and Three Quarters ;o). ) and climbed aboard the Jodhpur Express.

The journey was pleasant and uneventful, and we slept fairly well, to wake up all excited as we reached Hubli Station in the wee hours of dawn. It's a small and not-so-bustling station, and since the sun hadn't risen yet, we decided to linger and have some station waali chai.

When it got a little light, we wended our way out, and after a few judicious enquiries about buses to Karwar, we got into a rick and made our way to the Old City Bus Station.
We were looking forward to the four-hour road journey through the Western Ghats, so we wanted one of those Super Deluxe buses with comfortable seats to enjoy the ride better.
However, here's where things went slightly awry: apparently there were no buses of the afore-mentioned kind, and after dithering about for over an hour, (and missing a few normal buses in between), we clambered into a rather rickety (or so it seemed to us, though it wasn't that bad really) regular KSRTC express bus bound for Karwar. Just about managed to grab a seat (and before that, stock up on some essential junk to munch along the way) and then we were off!

Driving (or rather, being driven :-p)through the Western Ghats is one experience I never tire of, I love it everytime... whether it's the Pune-Lonavla-Mumbai route, or much further south through the verdant stretches of the Nilgiris, Kodai... and this time round was no exception. NH-67 is an excellent route, and we were soon in high spirits again.

The bus had these small halts at places along the way, picturesque little villages with fields dotted with neatly thatched haystacks (I think I have a thing for haystacks, no idea why!)suddenly popping up along the backdrop of dense greenery and lofty mountains... if we'd had our own transport, I know we'd have stopped to explore some of those... On the other hand, it was good that the bus kept to schedule so well, as we were just as eager to reach Devbagh in time for lunch.

Another memorable part of the journey was when we reached the outskirts of Karwar district, just out of the Ghats, when we saw the first glimmer of the ocean; it was a sight to behold. To cut a long story (journey actually) short, we reached the Karwar depot just around noon I think, and here too, as in Hubli, the people were extremely kind and helpful as we asked the way (and the correct auto-fare) to the Jungle Lodges office.

The auto-rickshaw ride was through NH-17 (the highway that connects Karwar to Goa), and we saw the Rabindranath Tagore beach on the way, and a Naval base as well.
The sun was well up now, and we tottered into the office of Jungle Lodges, where we checked in, and were made to wait for a vehicle to take us to the boat that would ferry us across to the island. And oh, what a wait it turned out to be!
What was supposed to be a 10 minute wait turned out rather interminable, and the two of us were famished and awfully hot and getting annoyed about the delay. But it doesn't do to hurry things along in a sleepy little seaside town, methinks, so we couldn't really do much except fret and fume and curse a bit.
The Jungle Lodges folks finally managed to get hold of a rickshaw to take us to the jetty, and so, after a delay of about 50 excrutiating minutes, we set off.

When we got on to the boat, it still wasn't all smooth sailing, however. The boatmen said they'd been instructed to wait for another four people who were due to arrive at Devbagh. Since our tempers were already hovering above the danger-mark, we yelled at them and said we'd already done enough waiting, and ordered them to take off right then, which they did.
We were a little mollified then, but just after a few minutes of chugging along, the boat did a volte-face and turned right back to the jetty! We were really annoyed about it, but they just apologized and picked up the four people who were waiting there, by then.
After a little more fuming and fretting, Suman and I decided we couldn't do anything about it anyways, and decided to just focus on what was coming ahead.

I think it's a tribute to the place that famished and grumpy as we were, setting foot on the island, it just floored us completely as we beheld it.
A long walk through the sandy path set amidst swaying casuarinas, picturesque cottages and log huts, hammocks, and oh! la mer!! Glimmering in the sunlight through the expanse of trees , the sound of waves breaking sur la plage, it had this come-hither look.... and boy, were we dying to!

It was like stepping into a beachside version of a Wodehouse-ian setting. I think Bertram Wooster would have approved...

To get back to our story, we got to our own cottage, and were duly handed the key, and we stepped in. It was a pretty little joint, set in the middle of those afore-mentioned trees, it was what the brochure described as a "Swiss style tented cottage". A nice roomy bedroom, and a changing room, and a bathroom that completely satisfied us finicky souls. A hammock just outside, and a convenient porch to gaze out on the sea while partaking of a morning cuppa...

After having gotten ready, we walked down the long path, over to the central twin reception-and-dining area. This was again a simple and rustic structure - twin domes with a wooden bridge connecting the two. The other guests were already in the middle of lunch when we walked in. Made a beeline to the buffet, loaded our plates, and chose a table.
The food was absolutely brilliant. It was so simple and appealing and wholesome, everything was done just right. I could wax eloquent about each dish that was there, but I shall refrain from doing so, since I'll feel that sharp longing everytime I read it :-p.
Now I know how B. Wooster felt about Anatole's cooking!

After we stuffed ourselves a bit, we looked around at the other guests. The crowd was a good mix of Indian and non-Indian junta (the latter outnumbered the former though). Everyone was looking completely contented and well-rested and happy.

When we finally decided we'd done ample justice to the food, we looked around the estate a bit, since it was still too hot to head beachwards. Looked in at the reception to find out about different activities. They have a range of water-sports there, depending on the tide and the weather of course. Para-sailing, snorkelling, banana boat rides, dolphin-spotting, kayaking, the works. We were far too tired to do anything that active that day, so we decided to just chill at the beach in the evening.
After relaxing at the cottage, and lazing around in the hammocks, we walked to the woods again and watched the sea from the vantage point of one of those convenient little rustic benches that dotted the woods just adjoining the beach. It was lovely to just sit there and listen to the sound of waves, and the birds and the sound of the wind whistling in the trees. When the sun dimmed a bit, we finally walked over to the beach. It was a pristine sandy beach, with seashells and crabs, and the waves were gentle and soothing.
It was Suman's first really intimate acquaintance with a sandy beach, so she was absolutely delighted.
I don't think I have it in me to adequately describe in words the splendour of the sea during sunset (or indeed, during any hour of the day or night, for it is always magnificent), much has been written about it by people far better at descriptions of that sort.
It was hard enough to capture it all on camera... I sometimes think it's presumptuous of us to try to capture indescribable beauty of that sort on any medium, so I shall not even try to go the verbal route.

Before we knew it, it was nightfall. The Jungle Lodges staff was busy laying out paraphernalia for the much-awaited-by-the-two-of-us-constantly-famished-souls barbeque on the beach.
And as we waited and strolled around, some of the guests started a round of volleyball, which Suman joined in, with gusto. (While I had an eye on the game and another at the moon stealing up over the trees.)
We also tried our hand at the barbeque, I can still picture dem sizzling taters, sigh!
We piled up our plates (as usual), and made our way to the chairs around the bonfire.
It was all very delightful, idle small talk with some of the other guests, digging into those perfectly done potatoes and salad and drinks, with the waves roaring in the background. It was high tide by now, and the sea now had this awe-inspiring power... huge frothy silvery waves breaking against the shore under the pale light of the moon.
Sigh! I knew I couldn't write a good-enough description there! (But I'm not going to edit any of this :-p )
After all the eating and watching the bonfire, Suman and I walked a goodish bit on the beach again. It was lovely, and besides, we wanted to work up enough of an appetite for dinner :-)
We managed to do just that, and after a dinner (which was worthy of a lyrical ode) we headed back to the cottage.

A day well-spent, and now it was time to sleep soon. We'd left word that we wanted our morning tea at 6:30, so we could do a nature walk just after.
After a bit of drowsy conversation, we drifted into deep slumber, wondering what the morrow would bring.

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