On Wednesday, Mukkodlu, a village around 25 km northwest of Madikeri in Kodagu district of Karnataka, wears a desolate look. A ray of sunlight cracks through the clouds in the sky and illuminates the coffee and pepper plantations in the village.
But except for a group of local residents milling around the anganwadi kendra in the village, there is no one in sight.
The residents led by Loknath, an agriculturist in the village, were involved in a solemn discussion probing whether anyone was missing from the village. "Few people had visited the village on Tuesday, but Wednesday is the first day we are coming back to see the village. We don't know when we can return to our homes and begin growing crops again," says Loknath.
Residents like Loknath are trickling into Mukkodlu for the first time since floods and landslides ravaged the hilly areas surrounding the village, forcing the residents to leave their homes and seek relief either at a relative's place or in the relief camp at the Madapura government school, around 10 km away. Access roads to Mukkodlu, Thanthipala and Makkandur have been cut off from Madikeri following the landslides and residents had to walk through slush-filled roads and cross fast-moving streams to reach the village.
For some, the journey was a chance to check the damage in their plantations while others wanted to feed pets left behind in their homes. But many people, particularly labourers working in coffee and pepper estates in the district, made the journey to see if their houses were intact.
Estate owners visited their plantations to check the damage done to their crops and found that coffee and pepper beans had fallen off the plant before they had matured due to the heavy rains.
"The coffee beans ripen around December and now they have fallen off four months in advance," explains Maleyanda Ponanna, an estate owner in Mukkodlu. Maleyanda, who also visited his estate for the first time since the floods, found that at least 5 acres of his 22-acre plot had been damaged. "It will take 8 years before we can cultivate coffee again and at least a decade before we get produce anywhere close to what we make now. It will take a long time for people here to recover but we are confident we will," he says.
Maleyanda also adds he was eager to visit the village to feed pets left behind and stray dogs which had remained in the village during the rains.
But the worst affected by the floods and landslides in the district are the labourers working in the estates. "Many areas where the landslides occurred are where the labourers in this village have their homes. Since plantations and fields will not be cultivable for some time, they will be the most affected," observes Rohan Cariappa, a local resident.
Enormous tracts of land which have slid down from hill-tops can be seen from Mukkodlu and Thanthipala. The landslide swept away everything in its path, including trees, houses and electric poles.
In Mukkodlu, the problems due to the rains began much earlier. "There has been no power since July. One of the houses in the village has a generator and we would charge our batteries there and would watch TV and come back to our homes for the night," says Denil Muthappa, a local resident, manoeuvring the water-logged roads to the village with caution.
Denil recounts that the residents of the village had no inkling that the situation would turn this dire. "We have often seen waterlogging in our village and it usually recedes after a while. My family has been here for three generations and we have not seen anything like this," he says.
The residents of the village began to flee their homes on August 16 after the rains increased and cut off access to nearby areas. While a few people managed to trek through the forest and reach the relief camp in Madapura, others were rescued by the Dogra and MEG regiments of the Indian army, who approached the village via Hattihole and Iggodlu.
The rescue operations in the area has now been completed and army officials are currently on standby awaiting SOS calls. But the residents of the village took it upon themselves to launch a combing operation to search for missing persons. "A man named Francis, who we call Appu, is missing and he was helping everyone save themselves from the floods and landslides. We are hopeful that we will find him," says Rohan.
In spite of the tragic events of the week, residents of Mukkodlu are confident that the village will recover and flourish once again but admit that it could take years for it to happen.
All pictures taken by Prajwal Bhat.