Driving down Donigal

It is six long years since the last time I traversed these winding roads. The descent from Donigal has begun. Donigal, the place just below Tipu's Manjarabad fort, which appears to have been recently renovated. A fort from which Tippu could oversee all routes and troops that could approach from coastal Mangalore. Manjarabad fort is one of the many such billets fortified on hill tops by Tippu to contain the invading Firangi. His sworn enemies, the British to be precise.

Donigal is just five kilometres out of Sakleshpur also known as Sakala-Aishwaryapuram, to many in the days bygone also known as the poor man's Ooty. Even today this land of 'all-wealth' Aishwarya boasts to be in the forefront as the major cardamom trading centre for the country, apart from being in the heart of the coffee growing belt of Malenad that stretches from Bababudan Giris near Chickmagalur to Madikeri in Coorg. And Sakleshpur assumed further prominence being the neighbourhood of Hole-Narsipur when from one of its villages Haradanhalli Doddegowda Devegowda became Prime Minister of India.

This land of Sakleshpur beckons me now and again because of old associations, the umbilical cord which proves difficult to sever, and a childhood spent in the coffee estates my father owned within its precincts. It is also here just behind the Town Hall on the drive way up to the town's travellers' bungalow, that a small building of the Bharat Scouts and Guides has been dedicated to the memory of my father for services rendered to the local community during his forty long years of association with this coffee, cardamom, spices and honey town.

As we drive along down the descent from Donigal, broken by only one small hump of Doddathappalay near Heggadde, colourful Bougainvillaea in crimson and red and other hues of orange and yellow, greet you. To break the monotony of green that fills the expanse of mountain on one side of the road and valley on the other. Each bend along the meandering road replete with cherished memories of an episode here or an incident there. What as children we experienced, may be changing of a bad tyre, tending to a broken down engine, replacing over-heated radiator water. A stop over to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the environs, or may be just a halt to relieve the over bloated pressure in the bladder by the wayside.

The descent levels as we near the streams on either side of the approach to Maranahalli Police out post at the junction of the road leading to Cadumane - the then one and only tea estate in our parts. In a land where OG was never seen earlier, I am surprised to see three Shaktimans chug-chugging up the incline with jawans in camouflaged battle order. Must be one of those periodical 'exercises' of the Army Command. A legend on the road side sign post informs us that we are 840 metres above sea level. And at this point the hair-pin bends start. I recall these were the bends that made us strain our heads out of the bus windows to bring up all and more from our insides and vomit our guts out. In them days we could never travel without a lemon to chew on - in an effort to somehow contain the dizzy nausea.

The forest on my left has cleared, and the milestone reads 60 Kms to Uppinangadi. I see the hills where once the growth was heavy, now quite denuded. Again a strange matter. The western ghats were never known to be denuded in any of its parts -- especially not in the heavy 'ghati' road sections as people wont to put it. We have now arrived at the view-point for tourist travellers put up on a bend at a vantage point looking down into the valley and the mountain range across. The legend here put up by the Karnataka Forest Department reads that it is the Kemp-hole State Forest in Sakleshpur range of Hassan division.

A string of trucks and other vehicles are seen struggling up the climb. There is a road block caused by an accident. That reminds me when we were children, each accident in these parts created a sensation and the story got repeated with changes, adding more sensation with each repetition. And we would stop our vehicles to get off and peer down the edge craning our necks to see the fallen vehicle hundreds of feet below in the gorge. Steep gorges and precipices hugged the roadside along all these ghat roads.

We cross Shiradi-ghat, the border between Manjarabad Taluk of Hassan district and the South Kanara district (Dakshina Kannada). Heavy rain is lashing across the windshield, and dirty brown rivulets of rain water are flowing on either side of the road. The abyss below on our left displays the rock laden part of the river. Everything is so misty, the visibility is hardly of few yards; despite the headlines blazing.

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Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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