Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Kemmanagundi Trip - Hebbe Falls

Hebbe Falls was one of the most important items in our Kemmanagundi itinerary. But somehow, mostly due to bad planning and physical unfitness, it was quite late in the day by the time we got there.

Hebbe Falls is about fifteen kilometers from Z-Point. But most of the road is not motorable. I'm not sure why - the road could be fixed in no time if the authorities would put their minds to it. Perhaps they want to provide employment to the jeep drivers who are available on rent there to drive you down. Another possible reason is that it would make more tourists venture there and spoil the beauty of the place. As it is, only the adventurous types will try to get to Hebbe Falls. I definitely can't imagine fat aunties in heavy saris enjoying the beauty of Hebbe!

The jeep ride to the falls is one to remember. Jolting over a rough red road of rocks. Feeling quite certain at least a couple of times that the jeep is going to topple over. Hoping like Hell that no vehicle comes from the other side, because the road is too narrow for two. Laughing aloud at the contrast between our faces and the poker face of the driver. Marveling at the fact that the driver does this every day and every hour!

We jolt down the red hill side, and then pass through the comparatively better road of a coffee plantation. The driver finally deposits us at a place and says that he can go no further, as it's private property further on. We will have to trek a further fifteen minutes through the jungle to get to the falls. He promises to come back in an hour to pick us up.

So we haul out our bags and start walking. It's already a quarter past five, and we're very aware that we will have to hurry up - or we'll get very little time at the falls.

The path is wide and plain initially - an easy walk. Soon, we leave behind the coffee plantation and enter the forest - in front of us is the river. We have to cross the river twice, we have already been warned. There's a pack of five girls in front of us, and they take off their chappals and walk across with lots of squeals and shouting. Stupid people that we are, we have chosen to wear shoes, so we spend a couple of minutes taking off our shoes.

The problem with the river is not the cold water or the depth (it's quite shallow). It's the slippery stones we have to walk over. At least a couple of times, we slip and almost fall. But we make it across finally. We cross the river twice more before we get to the falls. The path has become a proper jungle footpath by now. In places, it's difficult to find it.

The first glimpse of Hebbe is awe-inspiring. You glimpse it through the leaves - a giant of black rock and white surf. Its beauty lies, perhaps, in its brute force - here is nature in all her glory, and she can kill you if you take a step out of line.

Hebbe invades all senses - the sound echoes inside the jungle and mutes all else; the spray hits you many meters away. Your mind is invaded by a strange kind of ecstasy, and you walk, zombie-like, closer to the walls.

Inevitably, the rocks are slippery here as well. We clamber over them and get as close as we can to the fall. The rocks form a kind of wall in front of the falls, creating a large pool there. We stand in this pool. The water reaches our thighs, and the floor is sandy.

Thankfully, there are very few other people. The girl gang leaves after a short while, and is replaced by a group of two young couples. They don't enter the water, and we have the water all to ourselves. We play around, splashing water on each other and whooping with the sheer ecstasy of being alive. The cold water washes away the exhaustion of the day, and we are happy just to be there, to be experiencing this spell-binding place. The outside world is far away - we know only the falls, and the rocks, and the river, and the surrounding forest.

I go and sit on one of the rocks forming the rock wall, to look up at Hebbe and marvel at its might. It's nice to sit there, to NOT note the darkening sky, the forest coming alive at dusk, the spray changing colour to gray. After a while, I go back to the gang, and suddenly there's a shout.


I look around and see a long rope of orange wriggling crazily. It's right next to where I was sitting!

With a lot of shouting and screaming, we're out of the water in five seconds, slippery rocks or not. I don't even look back at the snake to see where it is. (We tried later on to identify the snake through Google Search, but we couldn't even agree on the colour - I said orange, while others said yellow, and yet others said light brown.)

It turns out that the snake arrived at the right time. We suddenly realize that it's almost dark, and that we have a fifteen minute walk through the jungle ahead of us!

Then begins a frantic half-run through the jungle, barefoot. It isn't so much the jungle we're worried about as much as the river - the three river crossings are going to be quite dangerous in the dark. We won't be able to see the stones, and who knows if even bigger snakes are lurking in the dark water?

Thankfully, we make it across in one piece. The final crossing is the worst - the river is quite wide at this point, and the stones quite slippery. It's almost fully dark. I get across first, and shine my phone's torch on the water for the others. But it's almost no use, since the water just reflects the light. Two of us slip and almost fall, thankfully with no worse result than wet shoes.

And so ends our Hebbe adventure. The jeep is waiting for us, and we rattle our way up the hillside again. The driver drops us to the spot where we have parked our Xylo, collects his money (Rs 800 for the round trip - which seemed way too high before the trip, but not after we experienced the teeth-rattling ride), and goes off.

The place is extraordinary in the dark. It's an open area, surrounded by hills. Almost no light all around, except for the stars up above. No sound apart from those of the jungle. We change into dry clothes - the guys under the stars, and the girls inside the vehicle. And then we start on the three-hour drive back to Kemmanagundi.

Hebbe Falls was certainly the best part of the Kemmanagundi trip. Hopefully, I'll get another chance to go there.
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