Kushalnagar (Kodagu): The damaging week-long floods in Kodagu have put a question mark over the continuance of its status as a tourist paradise. Two of Kodagu's popular tourist attractions — white water river rafting and homestays — are momentarily under peril. These attractions are high-value facilities as big money has been invested in these businesses by individuals and companies. Both these activities have also been accused of being overtly expensive by locals and budget tourists, keeping them out of a regular tourist’s reach.
During the deluge, however, those running rafting and homestay services took up a new role that received widespread appreciation. Homestays opened their doors to people who lost their houses to the floods, and rafters rushed with rafts and other life-saving equipment towards affected areas. Without being instructed to do so, they left to save and shelter people on their own accord.
“We did not wait for anybody, neither did anyone ask us to mobilise. We packed our racks and equipment and headed to the troubled places," says MR Uthappa, a member of Kodagu’s rafting clubs.
The homestay owners who faced the same kind of adverse publicity wasted no time in accommodating the people who were rendered shelterless. "Over 1,000 homestays that have valid licences had opened up their establishments all over Kodagu," says Dechakka, a member of the homestay association.
75 men with 60 rafts took swift action
The Kushalnagar Rafting Club regularly holds expeditions for enthusiasts, like people from Bengaluru’s IT industry. On hearing about the damage left behind by the floods in the neighbouring towns and villages, around five clubs collected their rafts, hoisted them on their jeeps, and made their way to the affected areas.
"All our groups could muster was a total of 60 rafts. With about 75 men, we packed few items of food and water, medicines and equipment like rope, shovels and blankets. All the teams were ready within a matter of few hours, we knew that the more time we lose, more lives will be lost," said Uthappa.
The team headed to Madapura, Mukkodi, where about 120 people in 45 to 50 houses were stranded on 21 August. Due to landslides, slushy water had entered houses. Since more landslides were expected, women, children, old people, some in poor health, had to be evacuated to safety immediately. The terrain had turned hostile — mudslides were still filling up houses, trees, poles and all kinds of debris were covering the houses, and carcasses of livestock were also lying on the roads.
“Without wasting a minute, we tied a rope to one of the standing trees on top of the valley, and asked the evacuees to form a line and hold the rope – everyone was hauled over the hill. As luck would have it, a large portion of mud had caved in after we went down the valley to rescue the stranded people. A chasm at least 10 feet wide had opened between the hill and our location. It had to be crossed to reach the top of the hill. We were able to haul all of them up with the help of a rope. A few poles worked like a makeshift stretcher for the old and the feeble," recalls Uthappa.
"In Madapura, housing colonies like Kuvempu, Sai, and Indira extensions, things were worse as people had to save themselves from drowning. This is where our rafts came in handy. We made not less than 20 trips from the flooded areas towards a safe place. Rowing was hard, as the muck in the water was thick and we could not see the depth, so we sent a pilot raft ahead, where we had to divide and send people on other rafts. This operation rescued about 55 people across age groups," said Murali, team leader of the Kodagu Rafting Club.
Youngsters who run rafting clubs in Kushalnagar have a grudge to hold. “All these years, the administration tried to put hurdles in our path and none of the clubs were allowed to function peacefully despite the fact there have been no accidents. We operate white water rafting for a limited time in a year, particularly when rivers are full and there are rapids in that period. The officers there try to stop us,” say Sunil and Naveen, who participated in the rescue operations.
Homestays open up for sheltering homeless
With the news that over 4,000 people have been rendered homeless, the Homestay Owners Association of Kodagu, in Madikeri, Kushalnagar, Virajpet and Somawarpet, have offered flood-affected people to stay in their homes, where they will be given food and stay till rehabilitation takes place.
Dechakka, from Ammati Kavadi, in Madikeri, owns the Evergreen Estate Homestay, and has hosted seven families in her homestay for two days. “Despite my telling them to stay longer till they get their homes back, they preferred to move closer to Kushalnagar where they had their home. They thanked us so profusely and the ladies of the families were continually teary-eyed while telling me about the hardships they faced,” she said.
Just like Dechakka, owners of homestays in Ammatti Karmad, Napoklu, have also hosted over 20 families each for three days.
Adventure and trekking experts pitch in
Nobody knows Kodagu’s trekking paths and mountain ranges like Vinit Kushalappa, who heads an adventure tourism unit and specialises in organising treks and hiking events.
With Vinit, a group of 12 adventure activists had chipped in by working as guides for people who had been marooned due to floods. They not only helped navigate people out of flood-hit areas, but also in moving towards safe spaces. Ajit Cariappa, a young adventure enthusiast, took a six-member team to the Kushalnagar area, and helped NDRF and SDRF jawans, by guiding them through the affected areas to safety.
(M Raghuram is a Mangaluru-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com.)
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Updated Date: Aug 30, 2018 22:21:30 IST