The winding open road beckoned again, so off we went to Kodaikanal, the last among the jewels of the hill stations of Tamil Nadu, completing the quartet of Yelagiri, Yercaud, Ooty( covered over the last 8 months) and of aforementioned destination.
The timing couldnt have been better. Our Natural Resources and New Energy NFO closed on a dismal note, collecting a grand total of 230 Crs as against a planned collection of 1800 crs or there abouts. The sibling's exams had finished. And Monday, being Ugadi was an optional holiday, optional as the stock exchanges were working, and we close officially only when the stock exchanges are closed, made the weekend a long one. So what better thing to do than take off on a road trip.
Friday morning loomed faster than I expected, I slept at 1:00 in the morning and had to wake up at 3:00! A quick brush up later we were silently driving through the darkness, the only car among a dozen trucks on Hosur Road. Though apprehensive of the Hoggenakal mobs around Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri we safely passed through till our breakfast stop just before Salem. We were saved by the early departure I guess for the next morning's paper carried a photo of a KSRTC bus in flames. After passing through Rasipuram, presumably the native town of the famous RK Narayan and Laxman, Karur (my local neighbourhood banker) Namakkal (famous for its bus building services) and Dindigul (famous for making locks) we had left the dusty plains behind us.
We wound our way up intermittently stopping to click photos and gaze at distant waterfalls shimmering in the afternoon sunlight.
Kodai town or rather the touts there welcomed us with the usual furore of race enthusiasts waiting for their favourite driver to cross the checkered flag. The smart guys who noticed the KA number plate started off in Kannada, "Cottage beka saar?" "Banni saar, room ide, guide beka saar?" Ignoring their plaintive cries we headed to the TTDC hotel where our bookings had been made. A second quick brush up, bread omelet and tea later I was ready.............to hit the sack. It had been 10 hours of driving, a majority of the miles covered while yours truly was behind the wheel, so sleep was essential. But we did go out for a short evening stroll to savour the cold and see our breathe turning into a mild mist in front of our faces.
The next morning a lazy sun nudged us up with great difficulty from between our blankets. After downing a rather filling breakfast of Dosa, Pongal, Vada and tea, it was time to set the limbs in motion at Coakers Walk, a kilometer or more long pathway along the edge of a hill, the name of which I forget. Though hawkers had set up shop on one side of the walk selling trinkets, woollen clothing, ice cream, carrots and a whole lot of other things the view along the walk made up for whatever shortcomings or disturbance they were the cause for. Verdant rolling hills sprawled below, in various hues of green, low cumulus suddenly covering everything from sight. Cars snaked up on the winding roads like ants. Couples hands locked in eternal love smiled at each other. Time stood still for them, until a bunch of probably drunk visitors decided that screaming their lungs out from the top of the hill was a good way to entertain themselves.
Next stop was at Pillars Rock (viewpoint) considering the rock itself was in front of us. A jagged V shaped protuberance alternatively getting covered by the clouds. Though I felt that I should have stood there for some more time to capture the various moods of the cloud covered rock the bus loads of tourists predominantly from my home state prevented me from doing any justice. A short drive from Pillars Rock is the Green Valley View Point formerly known as Suicide Point as the board claims. The approach to the point is lined, by shops, this time on both sides, selling wares varying from homemade chocolates to sea shells! The point itself is barricaded by a high pointy fence. Monkeys with swishing tails though were not apprehensive about the drop below as they patiently waited to be captured on camera, sacrificing their privacy and inhibitions for scraps of food and drink.
Twilight led us to the Kurinji Andavar Temple. Devotional songs and incense sticks along with the sweet smell of jasmine greeted us at the entrance to the temple. In a corner a rectangular piece of land, about 2 feet by 6 feet, sprouted the kurinji plant, the plant whose purplish blue flowers which blossom once in 12 years lends its name to the Nilgiris. A board above it proclaimed that the flowers would blossom next in 2018. Incidentally we had witnessed the flowers in bloom in 2006 in Munnar.
Night descended quietly as we wound ourselves back to the town after having stopped at the Chettiar Botanical Garden. The Kodai International School with its campus bang in the middle of the town was host to a rock show, the last event of their cultural fest I believe. Strains of Megadeth, Metallica and the screams of 100s of hyper active teens floated along with the harsh calls of street hawkers peddling their wares.
The lake is probably the most attractive sight of the town. A large limpid span of water which looks even more attractive during the night reflecting the twinkling lights from nearby hotels and other buildings. Almost 4 kilometers in circumference, walking around it is an ideal way to work up an appetite before dinner, also to soak in the milieu around the boat house with its various nik nak shops and tea stalls. Though a round on the cycle also wouldnt have been a bad idea. This done, followed by a warm dinner of phulkas and aloo ras later, it is time to do another round of the lake, this time in the comforts of the car.
Day three of the trip started with me making a visit to the Forest Office to seek a letter of permission to visit the Berijam Lake Reserve. The letter having been signed and authorised we turned towards Berijam, a mere 21 kilometers away as the map claimed, only to turn out to be 45 kilometers, almost half way to Munnar across the border in Kerala! The route was so scenic, passing through thick pine forests, lush meadows and copses with rivulets gurgling through them that finally the distance didnt matter. What disappointed us though was that once we reached the forest office check point and this was 9 kilometers from the actual point we were informed that we couldnt go further as a large tree had conveniently decided to place itself in the middle of the road. After much debate whether the tree had naturally fallen or was planted in the middle of the road to prevent people from visiting the place and hot words exchanged with the forest official we traced our tracks back to the town with a pit stop at a point where a board claimed it was a view point of the Palani Hills. Half a day wasted because of a communication gap among the forest officials. Damn!
The evening turned out to be more fruitful with three beautiful places covered. First was the Upper Lake View Point from where we could see the entire lake in all its shimmering glory with little paper like boats gliding on its surface. That was followed by a visit to the Fairy Falls, a quaint little falls inside the Horticultual Research Institute campus. True to its name it fell like a white curtain quietly from a small cliff, in an environment which greatly evoked of a sense of being transported to an Enid Blyton world of fairies, elves and pixies among colourful flowers and mushroom shaped houses. The last was an even quieter place with a slightly more thundering falls called Bear Shola Falls. An ideal spot to sit and contemplate the meaning of life and various other philosophical thought processes which might have been ignored so far.
We returned to the town to finish a quick round of shopping, viz home made chocolates and some glass trinkets for the sister. A speedy dinner of Mushroom Sukka, chappati and mix veg curry downed we did a last round of the lake, this time looking oddly eerie with a light fog hanging on the surface of the water and trees dancing spooky shadows in the mellow street lights.
The next morning dawned earlier than anticipated. The drive down the hills was slow. A steady hum of crickets punctuated the air, occasionally broken by the sound of a gushing stream. The sweet piny smelling air slowly disappeared to be replaced by the dusty highway. Cool replaced with heat, reminding us of the harsh summer ahead of us. The hills were left behind, a magical land, of solitude and calm. The words remained in my head though. Respite. Refuge.