Last week I discovered Agumbe (pronounced Aagumbe). A quick one hour drive, straight up over 14 hair-pin bends took me from the coastal city of Udupi to the heights of Agumbe. And guiding me to Agumbe was the man who is most likely to put Agumbe firmly on the map – Jai Prakash, known to all and sundry as JP.
JP’s story is atypical. JP hails from Udupi the charming coastal town in Karnataka. And for a youngster from a nice south canara middle class family, he landed the ultimate prize – a job as an officer with the Sate Bank of Mysore. Soon he found himself in Bombay running the treasury of the bank as part of the International Banking Department. And life was good, with 3 offers from international banks stuffed in his back pocket. Except, he didn’t think this was what he wanted. Brooding and moping about on one of his visits home (and driving his family nuts), he stumbled upon a lovely piece of land for sale in the nearby mountains of Agumbe. And before he knew it, he has bought the land and had become a full-time farmer and Bombay was just a distant memory. He was all of 28 years old.
He regaled me with stories of his farming days; stuff ranging from how deers figured out ingenious ways to avoid traps he set to how a village schoolmaster changed his entire outlook on things. Unfortunately farming didn’t work out and after 5 years of determined struggle, JP gave up. And now comes the interesting part.
JP just couldn’t seem to give up on Agumbe. He soon started working on a small school for local children. And worked on it and worked on it, till his effort was suddenly noticed by the biggest education group in India; the Manipal Foundation which incidentally happens to based near Udupi. Today JP is the Director of Agumbe Shikshana Sansthe a charitable society set up to bring good education to Agumbe and its surroundings. And 3 years ago, they set up the Annapurna Vidya Mandir, an English medium school with a strong focus on developing well rounded adults. All this is fascinating because Agumbe is seriously back of beyond. With a population of 800 people in the out-of-reach heights of India’s western Ghats, Agumbe is not the most obvious place for educational excellence to flourish. But one man and his perserverance is making that happen. And as I visited that school last week, I saw it for myself.
Agumbe gets a few tourists now. Mostly youngsters working in software companies in Bangalore out to trek across some of the best trekking terrain in this part of the world. Adreno runs adventure camps (treks, river rafting etc) in and around Agumbe.
( Annapurna Vidya Mandir framed by the western ghats)