Travel

Atop the upside-down mountain

The mountain looks as if it’s just been hit on the head with a saucepan. It has a bump near its peak which sets it apart from the mountains surrounding it — the British thought the protrusion resembled a cannon’s nose and named it so.

 I am gazing at Cannon’s Nose — or is it gazing at me? — as I have lunch in my glass-walled, high-ceilinged room at Primrose Villas, the boutique retreat nestled in Karnataka’s Mullayyanagiri range, near the town of Chikmagalur, having just arrived after a four-hour drive from Bangalore.

 Most Indians living outside Karnataka, particularly those who belong to my generation or the older, associate Chikmagalur with Indira Gandhi. In 1978, shortly after she had been swept from power by the anti-Emergency wave, she returned to Parliament by winning the Chikmagalur seat in a hotly-contested by-election. That India has long moved on is evident from the world-class road that now connects Bangalore to Chikmagalur; though much of Chikmagalur could still belong to the 1970s because it retains an old-world charm — you cannot miss the Congress party office as soon as you enter the town.

 From Chikmagalur you climb up the Mullayyanagiri range and after a 30-minute drive through coffee plantations, arrive at the newly-opened Primrose Villas, run by Ravi Ramu, the founder of KPMG India, and his wife Sumitra. The property sits on the slope of a mountain called Rudragiri and overlooks nearly 700 acres of plantations owned by Sumitra’s family for 122 years — and is in turn overlooked by Cannon’s Nose.

 I feel like a king as I eat my lunch — chef Nur Salim obviously kept my surname in mind when he prepared the alu posto and begun bhaja — because the merging of the outdoor with the indoor, thanks to the glass walls, gives me the impression of being the master of everything that my eyes can see. The room itself could belong to a royal household: the furniture is antique and their arrangement aesthetic. What’s more, I have nothing to do for the next two days, other than watch the scenery around me (I have been advised not to draw the curtains) and being fed well. Oh yes, there’s a trek planned for the next morning.

 On our way from Bangalore, the hotel driver — a good-natured young man called Raghu — had told me a story about the mountain I am staying at:  After Laxmana was revived with the help of the medicinal herb for which Hanuman had plucked an entire mountain from the Himalayas and brought it down south, Rama ordered Hanuman to put the mountain back in its place. Hanuman, for some reason, decided not to take the trouble and instead flung it out of sight, and the mountain landed upside down on the spot where I am now.  “Which is why,” the driver had explained, “We get water from the top of the mountain, and not from under the ground — because it fell upside down.”

 I am not sure about the Ramayana connection, but evidence that this mountain range dates back to anywhere between 50 and 100 million years sits right outside my villa, on the manicured lawn, in the form of volcanic rocks. The rocks had been found buried when the property was being constructed and could not be moved even by the most powerful of cranes.

 I nap after lunch but wake up just in time to watch the sun descend and then disappear behind a mountain on the horizon. Soon Cannon’s Nose melts into darkness, but as compensation I have the moon and countless stars shining overhead.

 I wake up to the sight of Cannon’s Nose and step out to the verandah where the butler, while serving me tea, reminds me that I must soon get ready for the trek. The butler is a young man called Raghavendra, always smiling: I first met him barely 15 hours ago but it feels like I have known him forever. I am sure he feels the same because last night, he was quite firm that I have my dinner before the food got cold, and now he is firm that I get ready for the trek before it gets too hot. Polite but persuasive.

 I finally emerge from my room at nine and Raghavendra hands me a trekking stick before handing me over to my guides: Umesh, a local villager, and Swami, the estate’s maintenance supervisor. “Do you see the saffron flag up there?” Swami points at the peak of Rudragiri. “We shall aim to get there.” The climb begins.

 Let me tell you one thing: if you are someone who takes pride in your performance on the treadmill, be prepared to swallow much of that pride once you start climbing a mountain in the company of locals for whom trekking is another name for a stroll in the garden. I hear strange sounds emanating from my chest as I climb, and I want to return to the villa and have a hearty breakfast while gazing at Cannon’s Nose. But I am too ashamed to let my guides know that a man seemingly fit can be so unfit to call off the trek even before it could begin.

 And so I climb on. But I decide not to be brave. I pause every 10 minutes and have a chat with Umesh and Swami, pretending as if I have stopped only so that I could get to know more about the place. Each time I halt, the two men, out of genuine concern, ask me, “Sir, you need some water? Sir, you need some juice? Sir, you like to have a sandwich?” I turn them down.

 Their concern gets on my nerves after a while and I tell myself, “Look, it is their job to care for you. Just prove it to them that you are fit enough and that you need neither the water nor the sandwiches — just breathe right.” Magically, the climb becomes agreeable thereafter. So much so that once the summit finally comes into sight after an arduous climb, I feel disappointed: I want to climb higher.

 Once at the summit, I accept a bottle of water from Swami and pose for a picture with Umesh’s gun: the gun is not meant to kill but only make a dreadful noise in case a wild animal attacked us.

 Back in the dining hall of Primrose Villas, I help myself to a breakfast comprising four idlis and a masala omelette served with several pieces of bread. I deserved the breakfast. My next destination is Mullayyanagiri — the highest peak in Karnataka, only a few kilometres away from Primrose: I want to reach its summit and return to the resort before lunch.

 Raghu, the driver, has already told me about the Shiva temple that adorns the peak of Mullayyanagiri and I am glad that he is going to drive me right to the top so that I could keep my appointment with the lord, even though it was made at short notice.

But Raghu stops the car near Sitalayyanagiri, another mountaintop that also boasts of an old Shiva temple, and from there, points to the stone stairs that lead to the peak of Mullayyanagiri.

“There are 300 steps in all,” he tells me gleefully, “I shall wait here for you.” Barely two hours ago, I had worked my way up to the summit of Rudragiri, and now I have to climb the steps to Mullayyanagiri.  Once again, my chest begins to make strange sounds, but very soon I feel like the fittest man on earth.

 That evening I have drinks and dinner with Ravi Ramu on the verandah of my room — the food being supplied fresh from a barbeque table laid out for my benefit. Soon Ravi and I chat like old friends, and he tells me, among other things, what sets Primrose Villas apart from other resorts. “The fact that we bring the outdoors inside your room, that’s our USP,” he says. “If we didn’t do that, we would lose the essence of this setting.”

 As someone who has lived abroad for a number of years and has stayed in some of the best hotels across the globe, he wanted to capitalise on his experiences. “We have kept out what we did not like in other hotels over the years,” he says, “For example, why do you need to have breakfast before 10 a.m. even when you are on a holiday — why can’t you have breakfast at, say, noon? At Primrose, we let you be, do as you please.”

 It’s well past midnight when I say goodbye to Ravi. The stars are out in full strength. I ask Raghavendra to wake me up at six so that I could climb Rudragiri one more time.

 It is past nine when I wake up, and I find that Umesh has been waiting for me with his gun since six in the morning. I set out on the trek once again, and even though my body refuses to cooperate, I want to experience the sense of achievement all over again. Raghavendra accompanies us, and he tells me that I am the first guest to attempt a trek for a second successive day; his remark dissolves my fatigue into the crisp mountain air.

 On the way back I want to ask him how many calories I might have burned, but stop myself from doing so because he wouldn’t know the answer and also because it is such a stupid urban question. In the mountains, burning calories is a way of life.

 ( The writer was a guest of Primrose Villas, which is a four-hour drive from Bangalore. The temples of Belur and Halebid are a 40-minute drive away from the property. The Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, Hebbe Falls and the hilltops of Kudremukh are all within close proximity. The picturesque 18-hole Chikmagalur Golf Club is 15 minutes away. For enquiries and reservations contact pp@primrosevillas.com).

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 7:25:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/travel/atop-the-upsidedown-mountain/article6941339.ece

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