Weekend vacations: a digital detox
Far from the clutches of social media, a weekend in the company of birdsong, forests and water
I have driven many times towards Jog Falls in the Sharavathi Valley, but I never made that last-mile turn towards the Sharavathi Adventure Camp. It is the end of the road. Literally.
The long winding road begins on the outskirts of Bengaluru and bumps along highways until, after 400-odd kilometres, it veers off on to a strip of rutted macadam. Ripening rice and millet fields exude a warm, rich scent. Birdsong wafts from patches of semi-deciduous forest waging a desperate battle against the invasion of areca-nut monoculture. Then, shimmering through the latticework of lanky bamboo tucked into pockets of woolly green hills, a vast sheet of water announces itself.
But though I’m adventurous, driving 400-plus kilometres for a weekend holiday wasn’t my idea of chilling. I got a good night’s sleep aboard the overnight train from Bengaluru to Talguppa, the nearest railhead for Jog Falls.
I was there, and I wasn’t feeling touristy enough to make Jog Falls my destination. I had been advised that India’s second-highest plunge waterfall would disappoint in the dry season, although it is spectacular from July-September, when it’s fed by the monsoon outflow from the Linganamakki dam.
I had three full days and plenty of boxes to check. Evenings for kayaking in the reservoir. Mornings for motorboat cruises among the verdant islets that stipple the lake. Some lazy pedal-boating. Nature walks for birding. Trekking up the hillside for a well-deserved cardio workout before admiring the sunrise from the summit, and then rushing downhill to wolf down a gargantuan breakfast to rebuild every calorie burnt.
A thickly wooded gulch that separates two parts of the camp and the concrete walkway across it turned out to be a great vantage point for birding. A turquoise-green Blue-throated Bee-eater picked a beet-red dragonfly out of thin air. Asian fairy-bluebirds—stunning in black and blue—squabbled for drupes with gaudy green leafbirds and lemon-yellow ioras. Malabar Grey Hornbills, known for their repertoire of embarrassing sounds, mocked gently from the canopy. A rat snake sunning itself slipped away to avoid making conversation. For 10 minutes, I watched a spider spin its web.
Marvelling at the passage of time can be an actual pastime. My mad city thoughts, like mad city traffic, jostled and tripped over each other before settling into a placidity that was unnerving at first, then deliciously hypnotic. Rest, I discovered, was infinitely more precious after I had shaken off the withdrawal symptoms of WhatsApp deprivation. But this doesn’t mean I had a sedentary holiday.
I made two side trips besides the obligatory one to Jog Falls. A 20km drive in the direction of Honnavar took me through some of the oldest rainforests in the Western Ghats. From a ramshackle watchtower at the Sharavathi Valley viewpoint, I took in the expanse of the riverine landscape. Katlekan—the intriguing name is Kannada for dark forest—harbours some of the last surviving stands of Myristica, a species of wild nutmeg that grows in woodland swamps and is identifiable by its mangrove-like stilt roots. From the forest’s innards came the unmistakable calls of endangered Lion-tailed Macaques. Two courting Malabar Tree Nymphs—endangered butterflies found only in the Western Ghats—floated at arm’s length.
In the afternoon, I made a half-day trip to Ikkeri and Keladi, temple towns that lie about 40km from the camp. Ikkeri was once the seat of the 16th century Nayaka rulers, and home to the Aghoreshwara temple. At the magnificent Keladi temple, called Rameshwara temple, Kannada-speaking guides volunteered to interpret its architectural features and history.
Back at the resort, I walked along the reservoir. Cormorants and herons fished in the shallows. A honeymooning couple, cementing their love, took turns on the jet-ski. A family of four that had arrived two nights ago had settled in nicely. The preteens, weaned off the iPad over which they had been fighting, were now playing hopscotch.
Boating in the reservoir at sunset, my eyes travelled to the silhouettes of birds. What were White-bellied Sea Eagles doing here, 70km inland from the west coast? I wondered aloud. With a toothsome smile, my boatman broke his silence: “You are not the only one on vacation, sir!”
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros.
Bijoy Venugopal tweets at @bijoyv
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