… or ‘the road that never was’.
… or ‘how not to go to Hogenakkal falls’
… or ‘it may be a better idea to stop thinking up titles and start writing the post instead’
Early September, very early Sunday morning, mid-monsoon. Three cars, twelve people, three cameras (note : these photographs here are the mixed output of all three cameras). No food. And no maps. And no idea of which direction to take to Hogenakkal falls on the Karnataka – Tamilnadu border. What were we thinking? Obviously that someone else in the group had bothered to do the spade work. And so the twelve of us set off towards Hogenakkal – asked for directions soon after leaving Bangalore, got ourselves misdirected and ended up on the road that never was.
We drove and drove through a long and completely deserted road – so much for asking for further directions – through pot-holed roads, actually lots of craters with a bit of tar in between… Hungry and completely lost was never an experience I had expected to go through, and that in a huge group. When I had to choose an icon on flickr, this photograph, taken through the windshield of the car I was in, seemed the natural choice – a reminder of how road journeys are not always “smooth sailing” – or driving?
At points, it was tempting to turn back – but none of us was really sure of finding our way back to Bangalore either. And then of course, there is that silly obstinate streak in each of us that tells us to go on, even when we know it is best not to. And so, we went on. For more than two hours, not coming across another living soul. All of a sudden, a sign boad on one side of the road – in Tamil, that our thristy and tired eyes read as – Junglee Beer – 0.5 km ahead – oh, for some beer in the heat, never mind the empty stomachs. And then 0.5 km ahead, a tiny shrine painted freshly in red, for Junglee Peer Baba (B and P have the same letter in tamil, and are often used interchangably). That said, we still had no idea where we were, was it Tamilnadu or still Karnataka, despite the Tamil lettering?
Finally, we stumbled back upon civilization – small Tamilnadu town – food! and correct directions! Food turned out to be impossible to find, the town boasting only of a single beer bar and no “hotels” (as restaurants are called in such places) as such. Oh, alright, perhaps, the next town – but how do we get to Hogenakkal? Blanks looks at first, then hurried whispered conversation between locals that soon turned into an argument. Seemingly everyone knew the directions, and every one had a different set of directions to give. Finally one of them came close to our cars and said, Hogenakkal? you are on the wrong route (yes, we know that). Do one thing, turn back and go down this road, you need to hit Bangalore and from there… And so we drove on, till we hit the town (village? community?) of Velli Sandai (meaning either the Friday market or the silver market, the former going by the appearance of the place) – stopped for lunch at the Dhaba Hotel (written in tamil as the Daaba Ottel). Dhaba Hotel, despite its grand name, consisted fully of 4 plastic tables put together with 4 plastic chairs around each. However it was 2 p.m. by then, way past lunch time especially for naive souls who had left at 6 in the morning without even breakfast.
Lunch over, we asked for directions at the ottel and drove on, finally coming across the first signboard for Hogenakkal (48 km to the right) that we saw since we left Bangalore over six hours ago. All of us have photographs of a bunch of mad people standing under the sign board, pointing hysterically towards it. Hogenakkal was finally in sight and it was close to 4 when we reached.
Hogenakkal is not one single huge waterfall but a series of smaller falls, all in full flow, thanks to the rains. The only way to actually get close to the falls is on coracles, small round boats capable of seating upto five people including the boatman. Heavy bargaining later, we seated outselves on these coracles, which turned out to be surprisingly comfortable and sturdy. The boatman took us close to the first of the huge falls, and I am told, in lean season, it is possible to go even further upstream, closer to the others. It is a wonderful feeling, the mist and the water drops against your face. It is not for nothing that the place is called Hogenakkal – meaning “smoking rocks”
And then turning back, we began to move downstream. In this part of the ride, the coracle moves through the calm waters, bounded by giant black granite rocks on either side. There is lots of activity on these waters – vendors on coracles come close to you selling soft drinks and wafers. Kids, as small as 9 or 10, run nimbly to the top in front of your eyes and dive into the waters from the very top at a signal from you, all for a few rupees.
At the very end is a placid stream where it is possible to swim and cool off in peace and isolation; the boat man left us there for an hour, at the end of which we went back to what is “mainland”. At the shore, there is a watch-tower of sorts, close to the first fall, from where it is possible to get a panoramic view of the falls on both sides. We crossed a little bridge and walked towards the other side of the falls, where there is a safe spot for bathing.
There are no good stay and eating options in the village of Hogenakkal itself. Hogenakkal is excellent for a day out from Bangalore, provided you have te right directions before you set out! Much after the trip, found out that Hogenakkal is just over 150km from Bangalore – we took over eight hours to reach there. We have often wondered about the route we took but no one in the group has ever been able to figure that out. Nor has any of us managed to find the right way to get there.