Earlier that morning, Patil emerged from the fog & mist covered roads of Sakleshpur to join me on the trip. Patil a veteran forest official of the lower clerical rung had put in more than 25 years in the forest dept and for the last few years was posted at Hassan. Like any good forest official he knew the topography well and could roll out amazing facts & figures of all the surrounding forests effortlessly.
It was work related matter that had brought me to Sakleshpur, a 5 hour drive from Bangalore. The trip so far had been a pleasurable one, the route (NH48) wound its way through picturesque Malnad region. A brief stopover at Hassan where I had a meeting with the Forest officials is when I first met Patil. During our luncheon conversation he convinced me to make good this visit with a trip to Bisale forest.
Munzerabad club boasts of more than a century old History. It was established in 1893 by one Englishman by name Middleton, a coffee planter from Ceylon who came seeking fortune and adventure to the jungles of Malnad. It is said that an officer of the East India Co brought him to these virgin ghats here and told him to take the jungle from this hill to that, and from that hill there to this hill here for no tax at all, but to remit quarter of the earnings to the government.
True to its colonial character, one can find several Horn-bearing skulls of wild game that these planters indulged during their leisure time here. The club log book bears such names as Crawford, Radcliffe, Young, Middleton (junior) and mundane details like missing cutlery, the minimum whiskey that should be stocked, and such earthly matters of it’s hey days.
After refueling at the only petrol bunk in this hill town we drove down the winding roads and not long before the city could slip by we approached the fort of Tipu sultan facing the imposing Western Ghats. A trip atop the fort requires climbing about 100 stairs but the effort is well rewarded with some of the most scenic panoramic views of the western Ghats. The fort stood as if in brazen defiance of Mother Nature whose writ runs large and wide in these western Ghats .
Our route to Bisale forest made its way through a narrow stretch of tarred road that progressively got worse after several twists & turns running through isolated hamlets in the undulating hills. Buoyed by the onset of Monsoon, several small waterfalls along the way had come to life. Try as I might to soak in the beauty of the surrounding nature but for Patil’s incessant chatter distracted me to no small extent.
One of his stories unfolded in these very thick Jungles. Three software engineers from Bangalore decide to go on a trek here, apparently without the knowledge of the local forest authorities. Soon they lost their way in the Hills and went missing for several months. Only to be found accidentally one day by a forest watcher on a reconnaissance trip in the Jungles. Their remains in a skeletal state , identified by a gold locket that was still hanging from one of the bodies . Such is the thickness of these Forests where even the forest officials carefully tread.
We slowly made progress on our way to what patil kept describing as the ‘Beauty Spot’. The car by now tilted and swayed like a ship in stormy sea waters making its way through gaping craters on the road. The incessant rains in these western ghats had taken its toll on the tarred roads and after a while it was quite apparent that the stones & gravel were all left of it.
Deep in the forest where it is difficult to find road posts or signs and with the path challenging you every mile we finally came to a spot which overlooked a steep valley. The forest department had managed to put a large board at the entrance that described the flora & fauna of the surrounding area. As I entered the fenced area , I realized that the dept had taken efforts to make it a picnic spot with seating arrangements and a nice observatory perched on the steep slope overlooking the valley.
“Sir it is a picturesque deep river valley and offers rich hilly forest terrain view from this point . The breathtaking valleys, regal looking meandering river and the splendid scenic beauty of the thick Bisale forest make it an awesome experience” patil had mentioned while drawing my interest to this spot.
But after an arduous trip all we got to see was a thick white blanket of mist surrounding the valley from this vantage point . All we could hear was the quite murmur of the Kumaradhara river flowing down the valley. We hung around there for a while & started back disappointed; none of us had imagined that the mist would have played spoilsport on a such a lovely rain drenched day.