Sunday, November 14, 2010

Travelogue - A 1900 km drive (Part une)

Certain highlights define any visit to a place to be archived into memory. An eventless visit usually is like a fog; it lifts off after sometime and doesn't have a recall factor.

October is a time of a break in Karnataka because of the Dussehra celebrations and schools are closed for the mid-term. Decided to take off on a visit to Kodaikanal and then decide thereon, on the fly, if Kanyakumari was apt to go to, as a typical tropical depression had set in on the east coast. And so it was, and we (self, Señora, La Niña and El Niño) left over a Thursday morning, to stay there long enough to idle around without an agenda and the haste of a typical tourist.

The Thalaiyar falls (Rat tail falls) are visible in the top and centre of the montage
The water from the falls flows into the Manjalar dam visible at the bottom
Collage defined using Picasa
The drive into Kodai was uneventful with the weather playing a perfect host. The uphill climb provided a wonderful view of the Rat Tail falls (a.k.a. Thalaiyar falls, the third highest waterfall in India from a straight drop perspective, but this waterfall is practically unreachable and is a day's trek to and fro, from what I heard). This is visible at around 8 kms from the start of the ghat section. The Silver Cascade Falls, just before Kodai, was in a perfect flow. Never thought that we would get tired of seeing waterfalls, but the thrill of shouting "waterfall" ebbed in a day as almost with every other bend in Kodai, we ended up sighting one of them (some of them gushing streams and some, real waterfalls) and the unseasonal rains at that time had increased the water flow.

Clockwise from top left - Silver Cascade Falls, Bear Shola Falls, Fairy Falls,
Anju Veedu Falls (2 angles), A stream cascading off Pillar Rocks
Collage defined using Picasa.
Our hotel was around 6 kms away from Kodai overlooking a valley and the pain of the distance came to the fore only when the stomach grumbled. The restaurant was decent, but I wanted something South Indian. And then began the first of the many trips into the heart of Kodai from the hotel, and at the end of which I could drive almost blindfolded on that route (well, that happened one night, when a thick layer of fog engulfed the entire route :-)). There is a very good vegetarian restaurant, the Astoria Veg, close to the lake and on the main road in Kodai (Anna Saalai, as I recollect). South Bengalureans may have heard of Woody's vegetarian restaurant in J P Nagar on the Ring Road (adjacent to the new Bangalore Central Mall), which has branches at Kolar and Kodai. Searched in Kodai for it and drove into there at around 7:00 PM. This place is off the main road and the place was so eerily deserted (no one in the restaurant, but it was open!) and a stone façade that added the character of a haunted house, that we scooted our way back to some semblance of civilization and La Niña christened it Bhooth Bungalow. That was the end of the visit to Woody's at Kodai and further attempts to pay a visit there were shot down because of the Bhooth factor. :-)

Noticed that the town starts to sleep after around 6:00 pm when darkness sets in. This was very similar to what Bengaluru was when it was a real "pensioner's paradise". Streets go empty, the noise ebbs, the street lights glow a foggy yellow or white, you hear the crickets loud and clear, the rush of a nearby stream, maybe, and the town starts to ghost and by 9:00 PM, soundly asleep. :)

As my opening para of this post states, one highlight of the visit to Kodaikanal was the trek to the head of an almost unknown waterfall, 'Anju Veedu falls' (Five House falls), which is probably the name of a village close by. This waterfall is in Elephant Valley (Vilpatti Valley) and reached via a detour on the Kodai-Palani road towards Ganeshpuram. This falls was almost a kilometre inside the jungle, and we had to cross a stream (fed by the water from Silver Cascade, upstream) and is a place frequented by elephants. Elephants had been there a week or so back, and we were told that there weren't any explosive booby traps planted, which are used when an 'elephant watch' is on. It was hot and humid as we walked our way towards the waterfall moving through the dense foliage, wondering how the elephants manage to walk through inhospitable territory.

Anju Veedu Falls - Up, close and personal
Used Avidemux, Audacity and Free AVI MPEG FLV Video Joiner to edit the video.
The waterfall by itself, is not a huge torrent, but is of a substantial flow. The drop must be probably around 40-50 metres and falls in two different branches. It was surprising that the falls have not been prominent as they were discovered during the time of the British who built a small check-dam upstream to control the water flow towards the falls in lean season. We waded through the rushing water to a dry patch in the middle of the rock face, with water flowing on both sides and stood 2-3 feet from the roaring, vertigo inducing vertical drop, looking down at the gorge (the video above). There was absolute silence except for the roar of the falls and gurgle of the stream. Spent some time there and returned back, on the way plucking some wild oranges and limes as memoirs. Just before we crossed the stream bringing us back from the jungle, Señora and El Niño noticed that their legs had been targeted by leeches. :-) One was still active and was plucked out and salted to die a bloody death. We then returned back to Kodai.

Earlier, while in a quest to get the forest department's permission (in the middle of town) to visit a lake (Berijam Lake) in the middle of protected shola forests, our car plonked into a ditch while I was reversing blind. Had to get help from a few passers-by to "lift the car" out of the rut. It was another matter that the officials played hide-and-seek with us asking us to come hither and thither, now and later and giving wishy-washy answers and we eventually had to back out of the plan to visit the lake.

While driving around later near the lake, the car conked off and refused to start. Some minor troubleshooting. including random scraping of deposits around the battery terminal, refused to get the car started. We still had a few more places to go to, but this vehicle failure deterred us a bit. The nearest authorized service station was at Madurai and we hadn't planned to go down towards Madurai for at least a day and a half more. Hail God for small mercies that we were on undulating roads and the time-tested method of rolling the car in neutral gear and then shunting the gear to kick-start the engine worked fine. But we (rather, me :-)), being "adventourists", refused to be cowed down and visited places which would have scared an ordinary mortal with a possible vehicle starter failure (Guna caves, Dolphin's nose for example), while always looking for a place with a downhill gradient to park and then doing the rolling maneuver to start.

The downhill drive to the plains seemingly took a longer time than the uphill climb, though we started off in the morning. Maybe our enthusiasm had waned or we were sapped of energy. Breezed our way to Madurai to check what caused the vehicle startup failure. It wasn't a starter failure, after all, but a corroded battery terminal, which led to improper circuit closure, and was replaced in a jiffy with a drain of around 500 bucks (we had anticipated 10 times more). Due to incomplete directions, we had gotten into Madurai city, when we could have bypassed as the service centre was right on the highway just beyond Madurai on NH-7, costing us around 1.5 hours with potholed roads and crawling traffic. Going into Madurai allowed me to show the kids, where my parents resided and the college where I studied. The city almost looks the same, save for the changes induced by growth (and maybe M K Azhagiri), but most of the landmarks I was used to, remain. As for the weather; I don't know how I managed there for around 8 years. Scorching!!!

Bins of interest
La Niña and El Niño had a whale of a time in Kodai and Madurai counting and photo-snapping, of all things, large garbage bins. There seemed to be lots of those everywhere. I haven't seen even one in Bengaluru, and the garbage is strewn all over, in many places. :-( Maybe something for BBMP to learn from there. :-)

And we then started off towards Kanyakumari, as the weather-gods graciously permitted, by having the depression weaken and cross the coast, well ahead of our rendezvous with Cape Comorin. :-)

(Rest in a sequel post...)


gils said...

wow nice travellogue..superbly written

Ramesh said...

Lovely post and the sequel will no doubt be even lovelier. Being the loud mouth that I am, have to "contribute"

Firstly hats off to you. Anybody who can drive 1900 km in India is an absolute hero in my eyes.

Secondly, how could you blasphemise Woodys. I am told by a friend (his word carries weight literally and figuratively) that the pongal breakfast at Woody's is the closest thing possible to heaven.

Thirdly what do you mean - Bangalore sleeping at 6.00 PM when a pensioner's paradise, etc etc. It sleeps at 6.00 PM even today :):)

Sequel soon; sequel soon ....

RS said...

You drove through the entire trip??? Whoa!!! That's a feat by itself!!

Lovely snaps there....I watched the video too! The sound of the water falls (For that matter any flow of water) is by itself, soothening....Thank you for sharing....

Kodaikanal brings in fond memories of the trip we had with our entire family last April. We hired a bus (:P) and made a 3 day halt there...Preferred to stay indoors, though!

Now, I'll wait for your pics from Kanyakumari....

RamMmm said...

@gils-Thanks Thanks :-D

@Ramesh-:-D :-D You should then see my brother. He just now returned back from a roadie trip with family to Gujarat from Bengaluru.

I drove most of it and Señora some. There were some bad sections however (will touch it during the sequel post)

The comment was for Woodys at Kodai. It was never Woody's at Bengaluru. I love their sambhar/rasam vadas here. :-D Stopped going there after they demolished their building to build a shopping complex and moved the restaurant to the back. :-( The earlier charm has been weakened.

Smiling at your 6:00 PM comment. I think you may be staying way off from the true Bengaluru. :-D

@RS-:-) Thanks. I didn't drive the entire time, Señora did a lot too. She did the uphill climb into Kodai and a few other legs. If you see any photos from the car, then it implies I am not driving. :-)

Wow! that must have been one large group outing. :-) [Bad that you stayed back indoors. Hopefully there weren't much crowds then. We didn't see crowds at all except for a Sunday when crowds overran most of the places. :)]

Swaram said...

I luvvv the rasam vada @ Woody's ;)
Lovely pics and u helped me relish my Kodai memories from the past :)
Thank u :)

chennaigirl said...

Water gushing sound still lingering in my ears. Such a soothing atmosphere. So ithuvum reason for long absence ist? Wonderful post :)

zeno said...

Looking forward for the sequel!
Seems to be too many adventures :P

RamMmm said...

@Swaram-:-D Thanks and you are welcome. Woody's was a fav haunt for kids for its 'panneer tikka', but now they have moved to 'UD Residency'. :-) They now go not to Woody's, but to the McD adjacent to it. :-)

@chennaigirl-:-D. I am back and under regulation. :-D. The sound of water is always soothing. The one thing Bengaluru lacks is a beach. :( There are a few more posts below this. paakalayaa neenga? :-)

@zeno-:-) Thanks! Sequel doesn't have too many, but a future travelogue will. :-D

Haddock said...

Driving down is more fun as it takes away the tension of being at a place at a particular time and then there is the flexibility of changing routes. But like you said improper directions is something to be avoided as it eats away into our time.
The waterfalls are great and worth all the trouble of going till there.

R-ambam said...

Interesting ! I wonder if its the twists and turns of the journey or ur writing :)

RamMmm said...

@Haddock-True. I didn't think there were so many waterfalls at/around Kodaikanal, but hill-stations are usually that way; they give you surprises. :-) Pune did surprise me with a 4 degrees Centrigrade weather around 4 years back, I think, when I was there. :-) Self-driving is definitely way more flexible, as long as there are at least 2 drivers, which was there in my case :-)

@R-ambam-:-D :-D Thanks. Let's see how it pans out. :-)