Until the unseasonal rain in mid-May, it was hot as hell, and the dogs were lethargic and bored. A trip to cooler climes seemed like a good idea, but Goa doesn’t offer much within easy driving range. After some scouring of the Internet, we zeroed in on a resort called The Last Resort, in the hills near Chikmagalur. But that was still a long drive away — Google Maps said it would take close to nine hours, but with our way of doing things, we new that would stretch to ten or ten-and-a-half.
That’s a little too much for us to do at one go, so we looked for a pit stop closer to home, and found it in the Coqueiros Beach Resort at Kundapura, which promised air-conditioned cottages to offset the heat. Anjali sprang into action, and soon had the Coqueiros management convinced about allowing the dogs at their place. The Last Resort guys were willing anyway, so the itinerary was sewn up.
But one knows what happens with the best-laid plans. To begin with, a bunch of chores backslid into the day of departure, and by the time we left from Porvorim, it was already noon. The bothersome business of negotiating the bridge construction work either side of the Mandovi and the Zuari became much, much worse once we crossed over into Karnataka. The National Highways Authority of India seems to have gone into overdrive there, and construction was afoot virtually every inch of the way till Kundapura.
We were, as a result, driving through half-built highways, with chaotic traffic going both ways on the constricted roads. The effects of a cyclone over the Arabian Sea were also making themselves felt, and by about 4pm, thunderclouds were overhead, plunging us into a deepening gloom. The light stayed in that quasi-twilight zone till nightfall some three hours later, creating a strong sense of disorientation. Oncoming vehicles would sometimes have their headlights on high-beam, sometimes not have them on at all; some had double-blinkers in action, others drove as though it was bright daylight. To add to everyone’s woes, piles of gravel and sand, haphazardly-placed barriers, and construction crews would pop up out of nowhere. I usually enjoy driving this stretch of the coast because of the spectacular landscapes cut into strips by wide rivers. But even those were a bit hazardous under the current circumstances, as many bridges were being enhanced or newly-constructed, and a lack of signage plus, in several cases, vanished siderails, made negotiating them a tricky prospect.
It was one of the more difficult drives that I have done, and I was mentally and physically quite drained by the time we turned into the Coqueiros compound. By that time, the storm was raging around us, winds and rain lashing, lightning flashing, and thunderclaps booming like massive explosions. The sea across the road from the cottages was a deep slate grey, and wild and frothing.
The Coqueiros Beach Cottages have been set up by a local entrepreneur named Chandrakant Shenoy, who we learnt had had a long professional association and a strong affinity for Goa. He named the resort after the O Coqueiro restaurant in Porvorim, and dotted the area with the coconut trees that the original is named for. When we drove in, those trees were whipping themselves into a frenzy of headbanging in time with the blasts of wind. Prashant, who oversaw our arrival, was quite nonchalant about the weather conditions, mentioning casually that it had been raining there for the past 20 days or so.
It was good to get out of the storm — the cottages are cosy and pretty much insulated from exterior weather. They are pre-fab wooden cottages which we had, in fact, seen some years ago being promoted in Goa. We had stopped by a demo site where they had been out up, off the highway between Verna and Nuvem, and had a look at them as a potential option for use when (or if) we got around to building a home for ourselves.
Though there is a dining area, we ordered in, not wanting to brave the bad weather again. On our trips with the dogs, before we settle in for the night, we give our dogs one last walk. This one got quickly aborted, however. While the main entry to the cottages is from the compound, they each also have a balcony that faces the sea, which would no doubt be a lovely place to watch the sunset from in more pleasant conditions. We decided to go out that was with the dogs, but had just got out when a local mutt came trotting out of the darkness. Fearing a raucous battle, we beat a hasty retreat. After a while, I peeked through the curtains to see if the coast was clear, and found her sitting right outside our balcony door. She seemed to feel that if these interlopers could be allowed access to the shelter of the cottage, she should be too.
The next morning, we learnt that the dog is Rani, a much-loved dog that hangs around the resort, and we got to make friends with her too (our dogs, of course, are anti-social brutes and only want to tear non-pack dogs limb from limb, so they didn’t get to meet her).
After a heavy-duty breakfast, we drove out towards Chikmagalur. The storm had abated, and the weather was much more pleasant. Once we turned off the national highway, the drive was also a dream, and we reached The Last Resort by around 5.30pm. The cottages here were much more basic, but huge! There were two double beds in our cottage, and there was still enough room for us to have had a kabaddi match if we had so desired.
The landscape was the opposite of the previous evening’s. The Last Resort is in the middle of agricultural fields and orchards of arecanut and coconut, and looks out towards misty hills. The day after our arrival, we drove up into the hills. The road, to our surprise, was concrete up to the start of the Bhadra Tiger Reserve, some 10-12 kilometres up. Till that point, the hillside is covered by coffee plantations, many of them sporting signs announcing their association with Coffee Day.
This area, of course, is the birthplace of coffee in India, legend having it that the plant was brought from West Asia by a pir called Baba Budan, whose shrine is in this area.
We had hoped to take the dogs to a stream or waterfall, but the only one in the vicinity, the Kalahatti Falls, can only be accessed through some dratted temple premises. Religion messes with everything!
We enjoyed the drive and the walks, though. The area is beautiful, and the weather was great.
By the time we got back to the resort, though, a potentially undesirable eventuality had happened. We had been given a cottage right at the end of the resort, one of a bunch of three. When we got back, we found that some group of young people — either college students or perhaps colleagues at an office — had occupied the other two cottages. Some horrendous music was emanating from phones, but luckily they weren’t particularly loud and obnoxious.
That night, they had a bonfire lit in a little clearing across from our cottage, and partied into the night. The Kannada and Bollywood film music was interspersed, to our surprise, by Pink Floyd and Santana, and we were please to find that our cottage was astonishingly soundproof.
The food that they had, and the detritus from it, presumably, had a different side-effect that had repercussions for us. Late in the night, around 3am, Soulkadi suddenly needed to take a walk. As I was taking him out, I found that the plush sofas in the patio were occupied by two dogs, one of whom greeted us by thumping his tail on the sofa arm. Hidden by the sofa backs, though, they escaped Soulkadi’s attention and I managed to take him for his spin.
On our way back from the resort the next day, we stopped at a small shop selling the produce of a farming initiative run by a young woman, from whom Anjali ordered some ghee and stuff to be delivered by courier.
The trip back — we returned directly to Goa — was also long, but not as harrowing as the outward journey, as we drove through the interiors which are largely forested or covered with fields. For the large part, the roads are in excellent shape, and we reached home tired but quite satisfied with the uneventful but relaxed trip.