Diwali, in India, is always associated with fun and celebration on a grand scale, but there are some moments of happiness which aren’t probably very dignified yet they stick with you forever because the events felt special when they occurred. This memory relates to one such morning, 16 years ago when I was in the 8th grade.
We (mom, dad and me) decided to spend the 1994 Diwali vacations in the picturesque hamlets and serene beaches of Murudeshwara, near Mangalore in the state of Karnataka. Accompanying us were another family of three, who were old family friends. The entire trip was a wonderful experience. On Diwali day i.e. ‘Lakshmi Pujan‘ day we decided to check out the interiors of the area and especially make a visit to the famous, and extremely scenic ‘Jog Falls‘, the country’s highest untiered waterfalls.
We purchased a map of the area, and realized immediately that it was a heavily forested space with not much human habitation. There were no direct tours to this place. The locals informed us to look for ‘Gersoppa Falls’ because that is how they referred to it. “Sounds good”, we thought, and took a ride in one of the local transports which took us to Gersoppa, only it was a town named Gersoppa and not the waterfalls named Gersoppa. If this bit of embarrassment isn’t enough, let me also note that there is a distance of several kilometers between the town and the waterfalls. Just perfect, isn’t it?
So all six of us were left to do the journey to the waterfalls on foot, through almost uninhabited and pristine forests. This was a time before GPS handsets and satellite tracking, so the map was our only ally. If only the places were accurately marked on it! The (relatively few) passers by told us that the place is just “a few meters ahead” and that we should “start hearing it” when we got close to it. Well, those few meters never seemed to end and we could hear an echo of the water from all four sides, throughout the brief journey!
En route we came across a small hamlet consisting of about 8-10 huts. Soon we realized that there was a makeshift tea-stall at the side of one of the hutments. It was quite apparent that we weren’t the first ones to be lost, others had ‘been there, done that’. Why else would there be a tea-stall smack in the middle of nowhere?
Being Diwali day, it was also a time for them to clean and repaint the house with whatever meagre resources they had, and I must admit that they were doing a sterling job of it. Now, we weren’t just thirsty, we were hungry too. We casually enquired whether we can get something to eat along with the hot tea. The owner wasn’t going to refuse business on a Laxmi Pujan day for sure. He said that he could prepare egg omelets for us all. Well, something is better than nothing, so we all obliged. Little did we know that he did not have a single egg in his stock. He quietly went around the back of the hut to a couple of his neighbors, borrowed six eggs from them, came back to his kitchen, prepared the omelets and served them hot along with bread slices in 10 minutes flat. Talk about business sense and timing! On a day when Indians traditionally worship the goddess of money, it had even more significance. The little children in the house were so thrilled at having so many customers at a time, that we could see them peeping out from behind their mothers’ and fathers’ protection. Its a sight that I will not, and cannot forget. The smile on the faces of all the dwellers in the hut was something really, really special. 🙂
Here comes the shocker: the total bill for all the omelets and the tea was just Rs. 37. Beat that!
We tried making our way through a group of neighbors gathered to witness the ‘spectacle’. The word had got around to the only ‘wealthy’ person in town; wealthy because he had a brick-house and a Maruti 800 car parked outside, which by local standards made him something close to a billionaire. He came to the hut looking for us and invited us to his house. He seemed a good natured person. We later learned that he had a small business of selling packaged bottles of fruit juice made from the abundance of fruit nearby. We purchased a few. After a brief chat bordering on some valuable instructions on finding the right way and information on how far we still had to walk, we took his leave.
That was the last of the human interactions we had until we reached the spot of the waterfalls. The final leg of the journey wasn’t long, about a kilometer, and the sight and sound that greeted us was… breathtaking to say the least. We climbed all the way down to the base, spent some priceless moments there and came back up. After we returned that evening to the hotel at Murudeshwara, the manager told us “aaj aap itne ghoome ho.. ab aap kal subah 12 baje se pehle nahi uthane wale..” (you’ve walked so much today.. I don’t think you’ll wake up before 12pm tomorrow..”). Well, call it exuberance, but we did get up at first light the next morning! The trip was a long way from over and there were many things still to be seen, but the surprises and smiles of the previous morning had made a permanent home in each one of us. 🙂