When we drive in the night, we hardly see beyond the headlights’ glow but that doesn’t mean we stop and wait until it’s seen! We see ahead as we move! A trip that’s done for the sheer pleasure of driving is almost similar. We never know where is that we are heading, but we still cruise through! Zip through the finely asphalted roads, tumble and topple over the rugged pathways, hit the dirt, splash the sluggish water by the road, soak in the relentless rain pounding against the windshield and smoother in the golden sunshine that follows! We make way as we go! It’s all for the absolute fun in driving! For the bliss that exists in wandering like a squandered soul! And for once, I was in there, living it!
On another fine rainy Friday night, we drove out of Bangalore at about half past twelve, delayed by over 4 hours which has now become mandatory for every start. I did have some sleep lingering around my eyes but then had to shoo it away. After a fuel stop at Kengeri, it was the good old Mysore corridor again. Few more trips and this is going to be as familiar as my house corridor! Mysore road was almost stranded by then. Not many vehicles and just ready for a fine cruise after taking the rain that lashed in the evening. The plan was to reach Mysore, crash at a friend’s place and then start early to a nearby hill temple on Gundulpet road. Planning all this, we go to bed at around 4AM after a long chat and a nice drive! Yeah, Bangalore-Mysore corridor always brings joys, ask the frequenters! J
Day had broken on time and so did our plans along with it! Broken and packed back! It was 9 AM when we decided to raise n shine, finally! After a burrrppppping breakfast at Green Leaf, Mysore (amazing food, my votes), we were again on the road. Driving past the cattle, tender coconut vendors and of course the iconic burnt tram on Nanjangud Bridge, we reach Gundulpet. Plan 1, strike! No time to make it to the temple. Next destination, Edakkal Caves ! But there were distractions awaiting us. A full and freshly bloomed sunflower farms on either side of the roads along with some other flower farms! We had to stop! Fully bloomed, wide, bright yellow sunflowers adorned the farms on the foothills of the mountain range. A sight to behold! There was a local chap who was inviting tourists into his farm. But he even demanded money for clicking a photograph with the flowers. There were families on tour with kids running around the farm. We moved into another nearby farm which had Marigold flowers called Chendu hoovu in local language. The orange bed of flowers stretching out into the horizon was extremely attractive. The panoramic view with the mountains at a distance made us stay longer. It was then the farmer’s family came out for lunch and we spent time chatting to the two adorable kids of the gardener! Time flew by and we got back into the car only because it started raining. We had to deny the lunch invite from the farmer’s family since it started raining and had to hurry to our destination. It was around noon when we left the place hoping to do the Edakkal caves trek this evening. Little did we know that we would have more distractions?
The minute we crossed the last village on the outskirts of Gundulpet, all that surrounded us was thick, deep and green forest! Bandipur National Park! We were in this amazing habitat of the wild friends. All those who had to head to Wayanad seemed to have already reached there. The roads were deserted but for very few vehicles every 5 or 10 minutes. Deep forest on either sides with crickets & other insects trying their best to break the silence and finely paved road ahead, the ultimate nirvana in driving was in front of me to take! Close to 30 kms of that mesmerizing drive took almost 45 minutes which on another day shouldn’t have taken more than twenty minutes! The bricks of the plan were rolling down one by one! Along this soul filling drive, we entered into the state of Kerala at Muthanga, Wayanad District.
As the civilization started showing up again, the forest started bidding adieu. We stopped at a place and asked about the destination we were heading to, Edakkal Caves. We were in for spoilers! The entry for hiking would close by 4 and we had no chance of making it now! We checked for Soochippara waterfalls (Sooji – Needle and Paara – rock in Malayalam), one that’s known for its single free fall like a needle onto the rocks! Even that looked out of equation now as clouds were gathering and it was getting darker earlier than usual. We had to rethink our plan ! I so love this feeling of getting lost and stranded in an unknown place! Plan 2, strike!
For revising the plan, we needed to think and to think, we needed food! Mint Flower Restaurant is a must visit place if you are in Sultan Bathery and hungry like us! Cashew nut pulav, fish biriyani and I put on the seat belts again and headed towards Kalpetta, the heart of Wayanad. The plans, maps and schedules had flown out of the windows even before the Black Swift was in its top gear!
I had known about this view point called Lakkidi from my friends who had visited the place before. Drove past the crowded Kalpetta city and further towards Lakkidi on the Kozhikode highway. Soon after Vythiri, famous for its well known resort and we were at the top most point of the ghat that connected the hill station of Wayanad district with the coastal Kerala, mostly called as the Wayanadan churam or Thamarassery churam.
This enchanting strip of spiraling road has an interesting story behind, like always! When the British tasted spice for the first time in Kerala, it probably got their taste buds going gaga! It went to the extent of bringing entire India under their control for the love of our spices. But one thing the Brit dude couldn’t find was the way up the hill where all these magic spices n black gold a.k.a pepper grew. The cunning officer then, threw his bait on a local tribal man, promising him comforts or using his innocence. For the greedy Indians we are, the tribal took the officer all the way into the hills and showed him the magical world of spices and hidden secrets of the forest. Needless to say, the tribal man fell prey to the Brit and apparently he was murdered in the hands of the officer who went on to take the credit of discovering the way up into the spice haven. But story isn’t complete without a last minute twist, is it? The tribal’s ghost came to haunt the place and though the Brits ventured into the cliffs of Wayanad, they had to face many deathly accidents on this ghat! Finally a Malayalee namboothiri came as a relief to the people and supposedly tied up the tribal’s ghost to a tree with huge chains, which stands so even to date!
Stories & myths apart! The view point at Lakkidi makes you forget all those when you are standing on the edge of the road, soaked in mist and overlooking the snarling roads and plains way below. Flanked with high rock walls on one side and deep gorge on the other, like most other typical ghat sections, Lakkidi gives the moist and cold feel even when you look at the pictures. With the rain clouds pouring down, we had no much option to venture out of the car but to relish the view of rain coming down on the plains below.
It was getting darker and I was getting reminder calls from the place where we had booked our home stay. Drove all the way back to Kalpetta through a small hair pin bend section graced with tea estates of Harrissons Malayalam, one of the major producers of tea. After a small coffee stop and continued into Kalpetta town to find our homestay.
When I had booked the place that had a catchy name as Coffee Acres, least did I expect that would be actually one. At least after driving through a narrow road in the heart of Kalpetta town, I did not expect this is where we would end. Couple of kilometers on the narrow, but well laid road we turn into a slushy, mud road that has a board saying Coffee Acres. Another couple of kilometers like an off roader, climbing a small hill and then down and then through a gate, on a more slushy, black mud road that made way amidst a dense coffee estate, into the parking lot on the front yard of Coffee Acres. I was amused and totally awestruck looking at the home stay. It was dark and the cottages where aptly lit! Neither dark nor very bright! Perfect mood setter! And the aroma of the citronella oil that they spray to keep the mosquitoes away filled the surroundings and gave the perfect nature feel. The insects where on a concert yet again and the rains now came through the coffee plants!
The cottages where truly independent! One away from another at least by a 50 meters and were built on a raised foundation, giving it a tree house look. With wooden stairs leading up to the door, it was truly rustic! The room, no less than brilliance! A huge room with a dining table and some quintessential wooden furniture! The aroma of citronella, so fresh and reviving, was complimenting the feel of the room. We freshened up and settled down for our dinner. Lip smacking chicken and chapathis, the day had finally come to an end in the best possible way it could.
Mornings could never get better. The door adjacent to the dining table opened into a wooden balcony with a pair of wooden chairs and a small wooden teapoy. The balcony was built around a tree and now it seemed to have grown out of the balcony itself. Water droplets from the rain of last night dripping down the leaves of coffee plants and making the dropping sound, the citronella aroma was gone and the air filled with the delightful scent of ripe jackfruit that was cut open on the tree by some monkeys and birds. Far away, the famous Chembra peak was visible from the very same balcony! Exotic in all its senses! It was hard to leave such a place and go in search of another. Especially after that filling breakfast of semiya (rice noodles) and peas curry, it got more delightful. We strolled around until it was time to check out and we had to leave. Back again through that slushy mud road amidst the now visible dense coffee plants, truly the Wayanad I looked for!
We could go to Edakkal Caves and Soochippara falls and return through the same Muthanga and Bandipur forest back to Mysore! But we would not have enough time to complete the cave trek and will be driving back again on the same road that we came! Normal is boring! We scribbled on the planned lines again. The caves and falls will wait! Lets try the other road via Nagarhole to Mysore, came the suggestion. But the roads aren’t good that way, came another! But who cares until you get to drive through an amazing rain forest that’s famous for its Tiger and elephant habitat, who knows just in case if we got lucky! So the plan was chalked again, for the sheer love of driving this bold & beautiful black Swift.
Kalpetta to Mananthavady – we were all prepared to ignore the potholes and enjoy the drive, but who says the roads weren’t good? Yet another amazing drive through the winding roads down to Mananthavady and from there across the border back into Karnataka. Blessed with lush green farms on both side and further the Brahmagiri reserve forest with trees that looked like posing to be clicked! On the way, we were crossing a small bridge across the rampant river Kabini that meanders like a snake amidst the reserve forest patch, and spotted 4-5 local men fishing. We instantly sprang out of our cars and watched them from the bridge. Seeing us, they were more enthusiastic and more than happy to ask us to come down the bridge, on the banks. We jogged down the slope, through a farm, jumping over the mud heaps and muddy water that was stagnant from the rain on previous night. Kabini was raging with all the rainwater in her, and there were these local men trying to get a curry for their afternoon meal.
They had fishing nets which were being thrown into the pale orange colored Kabini. African Moshaai, that’s the name they had given to their favorite fish and they were all trying to get the big catch taking turns in throwing the net into the water. As we were taking pictures of their netting talents, they had already caught one Moshaai! A pale black colored fish with a moustache! We chatted with them for some more time, showed them the pictures and jogged back to the car.
Drive to Kutta, after the Karnataka border was another delight! It looked as if these roads were meant to sleep on n not ride! It was almost secluded. Very few vehicles and the entire road to us. We met few local guys who were on their cycles and we had another session of photo shoot cycling on the incredible stretch of road flanked with greenery on both sides.
Kutta is the southernmost town of Coorg district and at the border of Karnataka state and one thing that makes the quaint town of Kutta famous in the tourist map, the Lakshmana theertha or Iruppu falls. The clouds had gotten darker by the time we had reached Kutta. Picked up few snacks and drove further towards the waterfall on a rugged road that snarled through the coffee estates and small villages. As we were approaching the falls, the view around was getting better. It looked as if we were covered with the Brahmagiri hill range on three sides. With clouds getting more and darker and starting to drizzle now, the hills looked magnificent. By the time we parked the car at the entrance to the falls, a temple dedicated to Lord Rama, the rains had got heavier. It was pouring down. But who is going to be bothered? We wear our jackets, pack the camera safely enough to avoid getting drenched and start our walk.
Iruppu Lakshmana theertha is a waterfall formed by the Lakshmana Theertha River, tributary of Cauvery and said to have been gushed out upon Lakshmana firing an arrow into the Brahmagiri hills to quench the thirst of his brother Lord Rama. The falls is located at about half kilometer from the temple and needs to be covered on foot. A small jungle walk, crossing a hanging bridge and climbing few steps will take you to the bottom of falls. But doing this jungle walk in heavy torrential rain is just another experience to feel. Drenched from tip to toe, safeguarding the camera, jumping over the slush and mud and finally stepping into one and sinking the feet, climbing the stairs and there it was, The Lakshmana Theertha falls a.k.a. Iruppu falls! Gushing out in glory, in all its splendor, taking the clear, medicinal water from the Brahmagiri range and rushing to meet river Cauvery, the falls looked at its best with all the rains happening around. There is a view point built on the foot of the falls with some benches. On a clear day I would have sat there for hours. Such was the view from the place. We climbed up into the water and soaked in the mist that was being churned out of the fall. Truly splendid Iruppu!
The mad rush began again! Nagarhole gate was to be shut at 5.30 and we had to rush to make it before that. It took about half an hour on the way back through Kutta to the entry into Nagarhole national forest gate. We were there on time. After entering the details into a book there, now it was relaxing! No hurries, once again an amazing stretch of road through a national forest, early evening and tried bodies.
The atmosphere through the forest was more than anybody could ask for a relaxing evening. The black Swift was never above 40kmph on this stretch until Nagarhole and the reward, so many herds of Deer, Antelopes and different types of birds. The icing, a herd of elephants grazing with their little one on grassland, a sight that truly made me wish for a telephoto lens!
We took our own sweet time to cover the 40km distance and by the time we reached Hunsur, we were at our hungry best! Remember, the last meal was the breakfast. By 8pm, we were waiting for our dinner at Ruchi restaurant in Mysore.
This travelogue is incomplete without the mentioning of Mysore and its people. It was about 8pm by the time we had arrived at Mysore and the car needed a wash at any cost. Given the distance travelled, treading past dirt and dust, splashing water by the road and taking all the treatment, the car needed a wash and I was told about the car bay that’s in the basement of a famous mall (DRC?) or Easy Day. But with all anticipation and excitement I reached there only to find it closed and the staff had left to home about an hour back. As I was about to leave cursing my luck, I met a gentleman who offered that he could give a call to the bay owner and check if he could come. What happened in the next ten minutes was something that would not happen even if you have a wash bay of your own. The person-in-charge came back from his home, opened up all the closed brushes and panels and asked me to drive the car into the bay. There I was inside the car, watching it pass through the huge brushes and being sprayed. After a fifteen minute bath, now the black swift looked like a kid out of shower, all shining and happy! I could not believe what just had happened. A person, whom I had met never before, not only offered to open his shop that he had closed for the day but also washed the car so efficiently,! And the icing? He refused to take the amount that was displayed there as the washing charges, saying that the wash was not complete since the cleaning boys had left for the day instead please pay me only half the amount! Honesty and sincerity still persists, doesn’t it? It wasn’t his necessity or his requirement to open a shop that was closed, to a stranger! But a favor like this will won hearts! He surely did!
The next was with a waiter in a hotel on the Madikeri highway just outside Mysore. After this washing incident we headed into Ruchi restaurant on the highway. Scarcely lit outdoor dining on a brilliant lawn! Amazing ambience! The place looked superb until we started losing patience on how delayed our order was getting delayed. Given how hungry we were, the dinner should have been over by now. It obviously started getting on my nerve and I called for the waiter! What followed was one of the best hospitality that I have ever experienced in a restaurant. The waiter stood by our table apologizing for the confusion with the order and saying that ‘I understand you lose the mood to eat when the food is delayed, sorry for that!’ The chap hardly moved from the vicinity of our table until we finished our dinner. Every time I stretched out to serve some curry to myself, he would ask me to continue eating and let him do the serving. The waiter did not look educated and his typical Kannada was proving that he was from the rural Mysore. But the hospitality that he showcased set a standard, a very high one!
All good things had to come to an end. Driving back on Mysore road never seemed so heart filling before! With all the wonderful stretch of roads, silence of the dense forests, the rain lashed Wayanad, hide out in the coffee acres, rain trek to Iruppu and another stretch of mesmerizing roads followed with some amazing Mysoreans, my trip was complete! At least for now!