BGR was undertaking such a long journey on bus for the first time in his life. Even though he had to change to a mini-bus at Someshwar and an ordinary bus again at Agumbe, he had purchased a direct ticket to Shimoga (called through ticket) that was to be exchanged at both the places. The private bus companies had this special arrangement and one had to make payment for the entire journey only at the starting point.
The bus was passing through small towns of the South Kanara district including Manipal, Hiriyadka, Perdoor and Hebri. BGR suddenly became conscious that he was alone. It was for the first time that he was travelling without the company of his elders. He knew he had become independent and had to take all decisions on his own hereafter. He would start earning his salary and had to manage his finances once the appointment was made at the bank. A new vista was opening in the life of the 18-year old young man. In those days there were no dream jobs. For most of the young men the job was only a dream! The bank job was indeed a coveted one. Was he lucky?
After leaving Hebri behind, the bus passed through a road that was covered by virgin forest on both sides. BGR could also see the beautiful Seetha River flowing on the left side of the road. He saw the immense beauty of nature which was simply marvelous. As the bus was approaching Someshwar, the tall Western Ghats appeared on one side. BGR got down at the place and got ready to get into the mini-bus. But he found a large crowd of passengers and total chaos prevailing. Just then he saw a mini-bus arriving from Agumbe. It had a maximum capacity of carrying 18-20 passengers. The whole crowd simply rushed towards the bus. But they had to first exchange their tickets with the agent and there was no queue! It was just pandemonium and only might appeared to be right!
BGR could not take the risk of joining the mob in view of the trunk he was carrying, that too with the money. He waited for the next bus to arrive. Fortunately the next bus arrived after some time and he managed to get in. But he was asked to keep his trunk on the bus top! Somehow he managed to place it on the top and got back.
The bus started its journey and soon it reached the point from where the famous U-turns of the Agumbe Ghat started. The driver was a master who could negotiate the curves with ease. At the end of each U-turn BGR found the temperature falling proportionately! The climate was slowly changing from the humid and hot South Kanara weather to the pleasant Malnad weather! While BGR was appreciating the comfort of the ideal weather he suddenly remembered that his trunk was on the bus top! He realised that the trunk must have been moving here and there as the bus was taking steep turns! As the trunk was made of hard steel, there was no possibility of damage. However, BGR could only hope that it would not fall down from the top and slip into the steep Western Ghats!
Soon the bus reached Agumbe, the Chirapunji of the South. Agumbe was a junction for people traveling to and from Sringeri, Koppa, Kalasa, Thirthahalli, Shimoga and South Kanara. The passengers arriving from South Kanara on mini-busses had to change to ordinary busses while those travelling to the coastal places had to get into the mini-busses. BGR found a large crowd of passengers at the bus stand. There was a well known temple of GopalaKrishna in the town. Many families from Malnad used to conduct marriage and Upanayanam ceremonies at the temple (My eldest sister’s marriage was held here in 1954). The Sunset view from Agumbe was very famous. One could see the beautiful view of the sun disappearing in the deep Arabian Sea in the evening from a vantage point on the Ghat.
By the seventies busses started plying directly to Bangalore from Udupi and Mangalore via Shiradi Ghat. Busses from Kundapura started plying via Hulikal Ghat. Also larger mini-busses from South Kanara started running directly from Mangalore/Udupi/Kundapura to Shimoga through Agumbe. The coastal highway from Mangalore to Mumbai made people travel directly to Mumbai. The traffic via Agumbe declined. The necessity to change the busses at Someshwar and Agumbe was no more there. Agumbe lost its importance and turned into a sleepy village.
The sleepy village turned into the famous Malgudi town of R K Narayan in the year 1986. It was late Shankar Nag, the well known Kannada actor and director, who shot the entire TV serial Malgudi Days here. The town got lot of hype in those days and almost gained back its glory. But post Malgudi Days the town went back to sleep once again! It even lost the Chirapunji of the South status to Hulikal, adding insult to the injury! The only consolation was – the very existence of its counterpart Someshwar in South Kanara was totally forgotten!
BGR took his breakfast at the bus stand hotel and got into the Shimoga bus. Soon the bus arrived at Thirthahalli, also called the Parashurama Kshetra. Legend has it that the sage Parashurama could wash away the blood stain on his axe in the sacred Tunga River flowing here. He had chopped off the head of his mother Renuka with the axe at the instance of his father, the great sage Jamadagni! The holy River is known to wash away the sins of all those who take a dip here. An annual festival called Yellamavasye Jaatre is held here in the month of December.
The road from Thirthahalli to Shimoga virtually follows the course of the River Tunga. The bus passed through a place called Gajanoor. Here a mini-dam has been built across the river. An 8-km concrete road from here led the bus to Shimoga. The entire route from Thirthahalli to Shimoga was covered with dense typical Malnad forest.
BGR hired a Tonga from the bus stand to reach the famous Brindavan Hotel on the Bal Raj Urs Road by about 1.30 pm. This hotel was the transit point for the travelers from South Kanara district to Bangalore and Mumbai. A special arrangement was available to keep the luggage so that one could go round the city till it was time to depart. After taking his lunch costing four anas (25 paise), BGR went around Nehru Road. He found the culture and the language of Malnad totally different from that of South Kanara. He later left the hotel at 6 pm to reach the railway station 2 kms away. The ticket to Bangalore was available at Rs5 and 4 anas. The train arrived by 7.30 pm.
There was total chaos on the platform as a large crowd of passengers rushed towards the compartments. Most of them were traveling only up to Birur, Arsikere and Tumkur. BGR could not even sit properly. The compartments were unclean and dirty. The smoke from the steam engine added to the misery. The journey through the night turned out to be quite forgettable! There was great relief when the train ultimately arrived at the garden city in the early morning at 6.30 am.
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy
15th March 2012