Travelling: It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller-Ibn Battuta
Raindrops are dripping from the concaved mud tiled roof, sky touched palm trees sway along the wind, everyone’s working hard in the fields wearing a unique cap. This is a scene from a Kannada movie called “Nammoora Mandaara Hoove” and this is where I was introduced to Uttara Karnataka for the very first time when I was a kid. The scenes from the movie stamped on my memory and never faded, I had to visit these memories and experience them.
I stayed in a village called Hostota, 36 kilometers away from Sirsi Town at Vihar Home Stay. In a sedate ambiance where silence has its own meaning, paddy fields, and Areca Nut trees encircling the house; in my own solitude, I was embracing the feeling of the stills from the movie that was carved in my brain.
Niranjan Bhat who runs the homestay is an Ayurvedic doctor by profession but he was always passionate towards farming, he left his medical career to pursue his interest in farming. He says he is happier now working on the farm as this is what he grew up with and gives a sense of satisfaction to live the life with trees and birds. The homestay is an alternative income, once in a while I get to meet some interesting people but my priority is towards farming, he says.
He has a great collection of vintage coins and ancient manuscripts made out of palm leaves; he also sculpts Ganesha idol for Ganesha festival in his house, he says it’s a family tradition. His grandfather and father have done this, he is doing it and says his son will carry it forward too.
The food is served to guests exactly the way they eat at home on a banana leaf; the one in the picture here was my first breakfast-Dose, Kai (coconut) Chutney, Chutney Pudi with shengai yenne (peanut oil) and Joni Bella (Liquid Jaggery). Food served to guests here is all vegetarian (Havyaka food as they call it) and vegetables are grown in their organic garden by their house.
I was served chutney made with garlic leaves and cucumber skin, one of the most creative heads with food I have ever met. Nothing goes waste; everything is converted to a splendid dish.
All across Uttara Karnataka, Multi-Crop farming is followed. As the name says, more than one crop is grown in the same field. Areca Nut, Pepper, Cardamom, Cocoa are all grown in the same field; this saves water, land space and also more yield at one go. Although each crop has their own season of harvesting, they work best in terms of preserving resources.
We went for a walk in the twilight to their Areca Nut farm; it was the season for Areca Nut harvesting. The first step is to climb the tree with a rope tied around the waist to hang the Machete and also to pull the other tree to jump on it. Once he is done with one tree, he jumps to another tree. This is the riskiest job in the whole process and there is usually just one person who does this job in about 2-3 villages around. Once the Areca Nut is fallen to the ground, it will be picked up manually and taken for the next process.
After picking up, the orange and green ones are separated. Green ones are peeled as soon as they are plucked, orange ones are sun-dried and then peeled. The Areca nuts are peeled using a specific knife; the outer cover of the nut is removed.
The ladies come from a neighboring village and are paid daily wages along with tea and snacks. They were concerned about me traveling alone and asked me to bring my family the next time, as I took my phone out to take their photo they started to laugh. After a while got comfortable and suggested few places for me to visit around Sirsi.
Peeled Areca Nuts are immediately added to boiling water and is boiled approximately for about 45 minutes. All these steps are completed within 24 hours once the initial process of peeling starts. If there is too much gap after peeling, the quality of the final product goes low. Areca Nuts gets softer once boiled and should be constantly watched and removed at the right time, if not removed at the right time, this can harm the quality too. Once removed, they are dried and sold to market.
The peeled skin of the Areca Nuts are used for mulching around the trees, this helps the soil to hold the moisture and also helps the roots during heavy rains. If not as mulch, they are mixed with cow dung and used as gobar. Yet again, nothing goes waste here!
Niranjan Bhat stirs the boiling pot to make sure the Areca Nuts are boiled at the right temperature and shares the tension about labor not being available off late as they are more attracted towards moving to the city. This has been the same in every village I have visited so far, it continues here too in Sirsi. He tells, how difficult it is to get them to work and how prompt they are with their timings, who would not want to stretch even for a minute if there is some extra work. He mentioned, I guess in few years we will need robots or it’s impossible to carry on with farming.
Most of the houses here have a story weaved in them; Niranjan Bhat’s ancestral house is one of them too. A 200 years old house, it takes 2 people to push the door wide open. The light passes through with high beam and spreads across the house; the strong pillars are holding the roof tighter creating an eternal love story. They moved out from this house as it was difficult to maintain, he took me around the house sharing his childhood memories. I was spellbound looking at the vastness the house offered, the light and fragrance of the wood etch a desire to build a house that shares stories like these.
I lived my childhood dream of visiting Uttara Karnataka in Hostota. I re-lived my dream.