Another long weekend was here to spoil me again and as always, I obliged! With four full days and five nights at our disposal, the plan was for a far away destination. Finally after gulping liters of tea and making hours of phone calls it was finally decided that we go on a drive, a real long drive or on a road trip in short! Just for the love of being on roads a map was chalked choosing the farthest possible roads to the destination! To be on the move was the biggest affair.
Mission: Kumily and Thekkady with a visit to Gavi and then via the tea plantations of Wagamon to Athirappilly and later through the Ghats of Ooty to Bangalore.
Team: Yours truly with 4 of his ‘ready-to-trip’ friends on a Hyundai i20 that recently joined the LIVE TO DRIVE gang!
Ignition and turn!
Late Friday night, around 1AM, we start our drive towards Hosur with Kumily as our first destination. A major traffic jam due to road constructions near Hosur cost us at least an hour & a half and finally around 9AM we were at Dindigul, South Tamilnadu. From Dindigul we take a right towards Theni and the condition of road from here makes it worse costing us more time! After a quick break & breakfast at Theni we proceeded towards our destination, Kumily.
Kumily can be reached via two different routes from Theni. One through the plains of Cumbum, covering a distance of 60kms and another through the winding ghats of Bodi & tea plantations of Pooppara covering a distance of 120kms; when your mission on a trip is to be on the roads which is the road that you would prefer? Without doubt we turned towards the exciting ghats of Bodi that is cut along the hills and connects the plains with the mountains. This stretch of 25-30 kms, famously known as the Gap road, is truly an engineering marvel and will be one of the top most entry on the must drive roads in India. The narrow road that winds up into the state of Kerala is tourist spot by itself. As we drive up the ghat roads the panoramic view of plains of Tamilnadu could be seen and the view points at strategic locations let you take in the view at leisure. All the viewpoints had at least 3 to 4 cars of tourists posing for the cameras. We chose to skip all those and drove further up into the hill. The road was like a coil wound and placed on one side of the mountain. Dried up trees and red soil with humidity soaring up did not make it a comfortable place to be in. But the raw sight of soil in striking contrast with the sky was a totally different sight from the usual. Given that the time was few hrs before noon was not at all helping us to enjoy this magnificent view.
Few photos and fewer stops we continued our drive. This stretch is supposed to be part of the Meghamalai Mountains the name that literally translates as Mountain of Clouds. But all that we could see was pale orangish rocks. May be during winter mornings the stretch is more scenic than it was now. Further few cornering bends and suddenly we see civilization. The sight on our left confirms that we are exactly on the top of the hill and a forest gate there says ‘Welcome to Kerala’. From that point onwards, it is driving down the hill. In simple words, we had climbed the Meghamalai hills from Tamilnadu side, reached the peak at Bodinayakkanur check post and crossed over into Kerala and now driving down the hill on the Kerala side. Border on a hill top, you don’t have many places where this is possible, do you?
It is not for nothing that Kerala is called God’s own! Shockingly yet surprisingly it is imminently felt and visible. Never experienced a climate change so quickly as much as that I felt at Bodinayakkanur; the display on the car dash showed a dip from 35 degrees to 27deg! The dusty, scorching hills were now replaced with lush green slopes and tea plantations. It seemed as if we suddenly got under a water cooled umbrella on a sunny day! Very contradictory climates within a gap of five kilometers; Nature never stops to amaze!
We crossed by Pooppara around 1PM on Saturday. A diversion towards right and another 30 odd kms, we would have been in Munnar. On another day for sure, so we took the left turn! The drive towards Kumily is kind of a roller coaster drive. The roads are smooth and soft, no questions but it looked as if they had a competition on how many bends could we cramp into a kilometer’s stretch. Turns & bends and again bends & turns! But since the road was closely covered, sometimes with a small forest stretch and sometimes with plantations & trees, the drive was fun.
It was from here that our date with churches began which would go on for another two days. This part of Kerala (or is it the same for whole of Kerala?) seemed to have a church every kilometer or sometimes at a distance even less than that. Dedicated to various saints, there were churches, cathedrals, shrines, chapels and more. If somebody told you take a right turn near the church then you are for sure going to be lost!
Another half an hour more of twisty roads down the hill, we reached Kumily junction, a small town that lay exactly on the border of Kerala and Tamilnadu. A bus stop, a sales tax cum forest check post, many shops that sold bananas and tea and a hoard of taxis that were awaiting tourists was the sight at the junction. What is that cannot be missed are the boards and hoardings and stickers and all possible kind of advertisements with charming pictures of wild life safari, river rafting, trekking and more. Adjacent to the bus stand was the road on which the home stay was located along with many others. The house which we had booked had three huge rooms on the top floor and two on the ground with a common kitchen. This place was really worth every penny for the deal we struck. We decided to take one of the rooms on the top floor. A big room with a spacious bed that could fit in four people comfortably and another sofa beside the bed overlooking the TV (It was important to have the TV given that there was an India-Pakistan cricket match the next day!). The bathroom was long and clean and the highlight of the place was our balcony with a cane swing and stone benches.
We had plans of going for the much famed Thekkady wildlife boat safari this evening. But tickets were not available since it being a Saturday and as the care taker of the house explained, “Saturday full rushing rushing”! So we had to find further options without wasting time since it was already about 3PM. After freshening up and a snack, we went about collecting details as per our initial plan. Thekkady safari and a trip to Gavi were on top of the list.
We went around the Kumily town asking for details on how to get to Gavi and to find if there was a good place that we could visit this evening. One thing that I honestly did not like about Kumily is the attitude of few people towards tourists. There were many of them who were making undue advantages of the tourism boom that this place has witnessed. In simple, the helplessness of a tourist was being utilized. Out of the many that I enquired, hardly two people gave the right details and many had contrasting information. Worst was few of them saying a particular place is banned for public but they could make arrangements if we paid them. Horrifying truth is that most of those places mentioned were well accessible. I would have gone around asking at least fifteen people in the town of Kumily regarding the village of Gavi but no two people had same response. My final solace came as a KSRTC depot manager of Kumily bus stand.
For the evening, we finalized on a short Elephant safari that we got to know about during the enquiries and headed towards the place called Tusker trails. After much bargaining we fixed a deal for a half an hour ride. The place was located on the cliff and near the forest. We expected that they would take us inside the forest on the safari and waited. But what followed was disappointment at its best. It was just an Elephant ride like in a children’s park and not a safari. They would make us ride on the Elephant for a few hundred meters and reach the view point from where the plains of Tamilnadu could be seen and return to the starting point. The beating that the elephant takes on this so called safari was heart wrenching. It was a ride for 3 people at a time and 3 of my friends had taken the first round. I, with another friend opted not to go for the ride and rather take the elephant on a walk. I hope they at least feed the elephant well for all the money they are making out of it and for the cruelty they show on that animal.
Having nothing much to do for the rest of the day, we settled back at our home stay after a tasty dinner from Hotel Kumily, worth a try! A good night’s sleep was very important as we had driven a long way, had a disappointing outing and more importantly we were to have a long day ahead tomorrow beginning at 5.30AM!