People, sorry for the delay. I know this travelogue is taking forever to write. In order to clear my conscience and allow myself to blog about other things without apologising, I’m completing the quartet today. Rather, I hope to do it in the next few minutes.

As you might have figured out,

, kodhi and I were supposed to go to Sikkim and Bhutan. then, bj’s leave got suddenly canceled and he had to back out and it was just the two of us. And about a week before we were supposed to leave,

comes to Bangalore and comes up with this brilliant idea. He says if we can chuck the trip to the north east and go somewhere close by, Sathya (who was about to finish a project and thus get leave) and he could join us. And that instead of two of us boring each other for fourteen days, four of us could have fun for four. I’ll cut the story here, get back to abusing bongs for rioting in calcutta and get on with the story.

We were going to Highlands Home Stay near chickmaglur for a couple of days. We were to reach there on Monday and were planning to leave on Wednesday. Manu was to come back to bangalore while we would go on to goa. Everything seemed fine. Except that it was already Sunday morning and we were yet to decide on transport.

The idea was to rent a car, maybe from Avis. However, none of us was taking responsibility for it. Then, my mom threw a fit and told me that she won’t allow me to drive in the Ghats and that we should hire a car with a driver. However, what were we to do with a car and driver when we were staying at one place for two days? Numerous SMSs and conference calls later, we had decided to go by bus, and I promptly booked tickets up to Chickmaglur. There was going to be a little problem here, as described later.

The jeep from the estate was bang on time picking us up from the Chickmaglur bus stand. It was as rickety as it got, as we headed away from the town, after buying enormous quantities of bottled water, soft drinks, biscuits and beer. We were soon off the main road and into the Ghats, and the air got colder and the views got better. And the roads got bumpier. Also, I should mention here that the leg space in the jeep was minimal and we were in acute danger of falling victim to deep vein thrombosis.

We stopped at some random village on the way and there was a change of jeep personnel. Our drivers got off to be replaced by a new pair of drivers and about a kilometer later, we had gone off road and into dirt tracks. It had also gotten dark by now. A while before someone had mentioned that Chickmaglur district was a Naxal-affected area. A while later, someone remarked that the jeep drivers were naxals and were out to kidnap us. Why else would there be two guys in front, we asked ourselves?

The darkness and the path that we were taking convinced us that these guys were indeed naxals, and we were indeed being kidnapped. A couple of times we did ask the guys where they were taking us. And they replied “estate”. We were totally at their mercy, and could do nothing about it now. The road twisted and turned and the jeep clattered and clanged. After what seemed like an eternity, we saw a few electric lights. A lone colonial-looking house in the middle of nowhere. We had reached.

Highlands estate is a 250-acre coffee and pepper estate, and lies in the middle of nowhere near chickmaglur, in the Bababudangiri range. They also grow pepper and cardamom along with the coffee, and the estate gets its water and power from a small stream that flows through. A turbine has been placed in the stream, and thus the estate is self-sufficient in terms of electricity. There are no mobile phone signals available, so you are completely cutoff from civilization. The rooms are comfortable, though the hot water in the loo is muddy.

It was a nice lazy day and a half that we spent at highlands. We took the occasional walk, once to a “sunset point” (I went there alone – the others decided to turn back halfway; and by the time i reached there the sun had set) and once to the little stream that flows through the estate. Simple south indian breakfast lunch and dinner were served to us at the appropriate times. There was coffee available, though none of us took a liking for it! such irony. The views were spectacular, as was the weather. Just the hint of sunlight but there was still the chill in the air. And there were the long bitching sessions.

One of our two evenings there was spent star-gazing. We were so far off from civilization that we could see a sky full of stars. So full that we couldn’t even spot the Orion (the only constellation we can easily see in the city)! We watched a few shooting stars. Followed the path of a few satellites. Tried to remember some high school physics. And Sathya was explaining some random involved mathematical concepts.

On wednesday morning, before we left the estate, Sam (the owner of the estate – a fairly young chap) took us on an estate tour. It was as if we were back in school as he explained to us the coffee growing process, the processing process, the kind of beans, the coffee market and the like. We got talking about the ubiquitous cafe coffee day. He said that the owners of coffee day own some 10,000 acres of plantation, and are india’s largest exporters.

The way back was once again by the rickety jeep. This time, it was in broad daylight and there was only one driver. And we followed the same dirt path back. We were confident we weren’t being kidnapped by naxals this time. And Sam had anyways told us that there were none in Chickmaglur. Most of them were in the Sringeri area. Soon, in due course, our phones started buzzing with SMSs. We were back in civilization. And planning the next leg of the trip.

This concludes my four part series on last last week’s vacation. I know I haven’t written it as well as I could. Basically lost enthu after the first couple of entries, and then just went through the motions. My apologies for that. And the intention of blogging in reverse order would be that some new visitor to my blog could just read the whole thing top-down! You get it right?

Even if you didn’t get that, you may want to have a look at the trip photos. You can find them here.

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