Places having exotic, strange, queer sounding names have always fascinated me. Kudremukha, nestled amidst the Western Ghats, had made the list quite a while back. Horse-faced when translated to English. The fact that this used to be a centre for iron ore mining added to the intrigue. Owing to the threats to the environment and the wildlife, Supreme Court had ordered all mining activities to be discontinued. Legal dispute is apparently still in limbo.
The monsoons were gradually turning stronger as I made my way from Chikkamagaluru to Kudremukha. It was raining cats and dogs when I finally arrived at Kudremukha. It is romantic to travel during monsoons in India, but to an extent inconvenient as well if you are relying on public transport. I had to change a series of buses to get there. The last one was from Khalasa to my destination. Quite interestingly, I was the only one to alight at Kudremukha. The moment I got out from the bus, I had to run to get some shelter. My eyes scanned through the surroundings. No more people, no more buses, a lone shop where they appeared to be selling chai, and a lone tuktuk parked under a huge tree, its bright yellow paint in complete contrast to the deep green everywhere around me. I scan one more time to see if the driver is around. No luck. I rush toward the shop, shelter myself under the tiny little tin roof and strike up a conversation with a non-descript man smoking a cigarette. I politely decline the cigarette he offered, and instead ask for a chai from the lady at the shop. He gives me a quizzical look and asks me if I am here for some ‘company’ work. Although I was perplexed, I did not ask more about the company, and responded with a terse no; here for photography.
“Is this your tuktuk?”. Yes, sir.
Great! Can you drop me at a guest house, please?
Sure, it’s only 2 km. away – 40 bucks. But let’s wait until the rain gets a little gentler.
Certainly(without much conviction in my voice).
He drops me at what looked to be a huge administrative building, surrounded by a sprawling lawn and a wonderful garden dotted with colourful flowers.I was pretty impressed to know that Kudremukha could be hosting such a guest house. I hand him the money, thank him and bid good-bye. The same question at the reception: “Are you here for company work?” “Do you have a reservation?” Err, no. I figured out that this is KIOCL’s (Kudremukha Iron Ore Company Limited) guest house, that serves their current and former employees. Some sweet talk and I do manage to get a room with them. A sprawling room with a balcony overlooking their beautiful garden and the hill ranges in the background. All of that for mere 250 INR. I kept listening to the pattering of the rain for the rest of the evening and night, playing some bluesy notes on my harp once in a while for some much needed self-amusement.
It was depressing to wake up to the sound of rain pouring with all its might. Hiking plans died a premature death. The friendly staff at the restaurant at the guest house suggested that I could wander about in a Tuktuk; it could be nice in such weather. The modest tuktuk came to the recue again. A ring to the tuktuk-walla and he was there in no time to pick me up. Interestingly, the only petrol pump in the town receives electricity only during certain hours; and hence we shall wait for a couple of hours before we can venture too far. We use this time to go around the the town. We pass by housing colonies, a school, a hospital, a library, and more housing colonies, but no people. Not even a soul. My tuktuk driver explains to me that all this infrastructure was built to support the 5,000 odd employees when KIOCL was still operating in the town. Quite obviously, all of it has fallen out of use; the handful of people living in the town are ‘looking after’ the township. And this is the only reason why kudremukha can’t be given the appellation of an abandoned town in the veritable sense.
Finally, we manage to fill up the fuel tank. We drive about 20 km. to head to Hanumangundi waterfall in the lashing rain.
“The falls were roaring, and the water was spraying in all directions, making photography a tough task”
Later, we drove through the Shola grassland area, and I was telling myself that the visit has been worth so far. The kudremukha mining area is still under security and photography is prohibited. But a visit here will surely give you a glimpse of the Scottish landscape. It’s a treat to the eyes to watch the Shola slopes interspersed with perfectly aligned stretches of forest area. The moving mist and the clouds add another dimension.
“Meanwhile, I kept appending to the list of abandoned sites: a temple, a church and a mosque. Eerily beautiful”