I woke up all sweaty in a cheap lodge room by the dusty Virajpet Road in Madikeri. Half-hungover and so late that the friends from the night before had already left the city and probably the state.
The fan was broken, and it was terribly hot and humid inside the room. After struggling for a bit I made it for the bathroom and threw whatever water was left in the buckets over my head, which countered the heat for about half a second.
I packed my stuff and stepped outside in time to catch the local bus that goes to Somwarpet. The plan was to reach Honnamana Kere, a place I had been told about by a man on the streets of Bengaluru. “If you go now, it will be really green. And empty, no tourists! All for you!”
The road was very bumpy, and the seats of the empty bus were just metal planks. Somwarpet was yet another dusty, very dusty town that serves as a hub for the many little villages spread through the green valleys of Kodagu/Coorg.
From there, I decided to hire a rickshaw after bargaining a bit, and sailed trough the jungle on the way to the lake (the “Kere” in Hommana Kere means “lake”). Once there, the driver told me the trip had taken longer than he expected, and the journey back would be twice as much.
Although I knew there was absolutely no other means of transportation to get me back to Somwarpet, I told him to piss off. It just meant I had to put more hours aside and leave earlier to reach Somwarpet in time and hope to find a bus back to Madikeri.
The lake and the hills
There I was, completely alone in an impossibly beautiful place on Earth.
The lake is surrounded by grasslands and a line of trees that separates it from the five or six houses of the village. The southern side of the lake is where a temple lies. Two peaks stand out from the mountains surrounding the valley, and it seemed obvious that I would climb one.
It took me a while to find another human so that I could ask for directions. I looked at the old man and did my best to correctly pronounce “Betta! Betta!” (Mountain! Mountain!) while pointing at the top of the mountain. The man probably thought I was a bit stupid, and replied in his own language something that probably meant “Yes, this is a mountain”.
I gave up and set out to circle the bottom of the mountain to find a trail, and then a kid showed up happily shouting things to me. He showed me the way up, and told me to stop and take off my shoes halfway to the top. I thought wearing shoes might be seen as disrespectful towards the mountain, so I followed his orders.
Instead, he wanted me to venture inside a cave. He sneaked inside the rock and I followed him, my body barely fitting through the holes. It was freaking scary.
Five minutes into our journey to the heart of the mountain, the kid was excitedly shouting things around, and then he suddenly stopped and looked at me with a serious face, pointing at mine.
I stood still, confused, and he finally had the courage to step forward and remove my headlamp (duh). Even though he was the only one speaking, he pushed his index finger towards his closed lips, and lowered his voice. He looked at me one last time with the torch, and then pointed it towards the path in front of us.
And there it was, a water pool, infinitely calm and mysterious. I looked back at the kid and found him staring at the water with rapture in his eyes. This was his secret spot, his very own piece of paradise in a place that everyone else would already call paradise.
I tried to make some conversation combining simple English and hand movements, and he replied back in his own tongue. We started a conversation made up of two monologues that probably made no sense.
We finally made it back to the world and continued our climb towards the peak of Gavi Betta. The views from there were exceptional, and I started snapping shots like a madman. He was not impressed by the scenery and was standing next to me, waiting for me to go back down with him.
The people from the lake
Hidden along the first rows of trees facing the lake there were 8-10 houses, plus the temple. The people there lives off some fields north of the lake, and maybe plantations as well. A big chunk of Kodagu’s economy relies on coffee plantations and the tourism that comes to visit them.
Back to the lake, I walked my way around and met the self-titled “forest kids”, who shyly approached me to offer me some candy, and decided I was fun enough to take me on a quick trip around their jungle.
They showed me the different trees they got fruits from, the fields their parents worked on, and finally jumped into the lake to get rid of the heat. They were later disappointed that I had to leave the village, and offered to lend me their bicycle if I stayed with them.
I declined the offer and started walking back to Somwarpet. In the end it was only an 8 km trip through coffee plantations, small villages and all sorts of greenery. People were surprised to see a white guy on a backpack and shorts happily walking through their land.
A group of locals who were sitting on the back of a truck threw a bunch of mangoes at me, and everyone else made sure to wave at me.
Back in Madikeri
Once in Madikeri, I spent what I had left of the day chilling in the train station, observing commuting activity as it happened around me.
When the bus was already twenty minutes late, I decided to call the company, who notified me that the bus was indeed not going to stop at that place today for some reason.
A bit pissed, I took the first rickshaw I spotted, and told him to hurry to the nearest bus company branch office, where the bus was making a stop. Once there, I told the driver I actually had no cash at all, and we both went inside the company office.
I demanded that the bus manager pay my rickshaw fare. He said “no” and laughed at me. Faking an angry look, I stormed outside, boarded the bus and made for my seat at the back of it.
I peeked through the window and was proud to see the employer pay the rickshaw driver as the bus set off and away from Madikeri, a place where so many things happened I hoped never to forget.