Like good tourists, we decided to do the ‘activities’ of the town before leaving for next halt. Or at least some of them. Kodaikanal is a hill station built by Americans, the only one set up by them here. It it is mainly a supporting town for Kodaikanal International School. But I think it was before it gained tourists attraction. Because we spotted much more number of tourists than the KIS students, contrary to what the guide book was suggesting. Almost all town seemed to live on tourist income, which is understandable for a hill station.
There are many bicycle hire shops spread around in town. Some are from locals, some seem unionized, and some even from companies like Hero and Atlas. You get a wide variety of good quality cycles from them to roam around. Roaming around is a term very loosely used here, because all town is a roller coaster ride with steep inclines and declines. Unless someone is in pristine shape and is regularly cycling, I would suggest against the thorough cycle-sight-seeing. You would go very merrily on the downward slopes, but climbing upwards seemed very difficult for non-cycling folks like ourselves.
But the thought of cycling through the beautiful town is irresistible. So we hired a two-seater cycle to have a go around the lake. The road was flat, still the ride was exhausting but at the same time very involving. On motorcycle, you have this machine between you and the world, which you can rely to keep distance from others if needed. On cycle, you are a part of the world! The speed is not that high, you can’t put too much distance from anyone, and don’t have to worry about right gear or engine knocking. When your heart starts knocking, you know it’s time to slow down!
From 14 odd Braking Horse Power to 2 Human Power:
Later, we went for boating in the lake. There was hardly any crowd, because the off season and the fact that it was already 12 noon. The boat ride seemed very heavy when we were dragging by the shorelines, but once we went inside the lake, suddenly the resistance of water seemed very less, and we could peddle fast.
On the way out, there were these speed boats kept which I presume they use in tournaments.
After lunch, we lazily checked out of the hotel at 3.00 P.M. After all, 3 hours for 100 kilometers was an overkill by any standards, come what worst roads may. We casually asked the manager how to reach Munnar, and he said.
‘See, go from here to Kodaikanal road, and then Theni….’
‘Haha! Come on man, if you don’t know, say so. Don’t bluff!’
He was telling us to take the same road that we took while coming here, which was stupidity. The Google maps clearly showed the road, and it was not through Theni. In fact, Theni was about 100 kilometers from here, around same distance as Munnar.
We checked out and started rolling. Stopped to ask a rickshaw driver about the road. He replied:
‘Go straight on this road, turn right only after 60 kilometers.’
We left him and started wondering, did he say sixty kilometers or sixteen? It can’t surely be 60, as the roads shown on the Google map is twisty and required lot of turns. And how come we were moving in completely opposite direction, when Google told us to go south?
After confirming with third person that we were on right track, we stopped to review to Google map again. And then it dawned on me. The road that Google was suggesting, through Top Station near Munnar, was closed some 10-15 years ago! I remembered reading about it some time ago. That road passes through forests, and you have a high possibility of running into wild animals. That’s why it is no more in operations, and tourists are forced to use the longer but safer road.
But how much longer? If we are not taking this 100 kilometers road, then how many extra kilometers are we talking about? I prayed it wouldn’t be more than 30, but it turned out to be total 190 kilometers!
90 kilometers extra doesn’t sound too overwhelming by its own, but I was worried about covering that distance because of the passing hour. It was already about 4 when we were riding speedily down the Kodaikanal ghaat. There was no chance of reaching their by daylight. Munnar being a hill station, and as we were climbing down from one, it would surely have its share of ghaat roads. Would they be good? Would Munnar hotels have any vacancy? What if I have a minor emergency like puncture? In Rajasthan, at least people spoke Hindi. Here in remote villages, communicating would be lot more problematic.
For riding long distances on unknown roads, I always prefer day time, as in case of emergency you have full day ahead of you. If you ride at night, a minor mishap can multiply in consequence. And here there was no chance at all that I would make it in Munnar in day light. Damn!
So we rode and rode and rode. Down the Kodai ghaat, on the Kodaikanal road, on to Theni, and yet a lot of distance remained. We knew we had to cross Theni, but then after Theni, there were no boards for Munnar. I found this really irritating pattern of putting up boards. Only those boards which would have any meaning to tourists are in English. All the rest are in Malyalam. You will find yourself passing through many junctions, and having no idea where the other roads went or whether you are on the right road, if you can’t read Malyalam. Here, there was another problem. There was no board to show Munnar’s Direction. We passed an intersection of roads at full speed, where to our right we could read a direction board pointing at ‘Bodi’. But where was Munnar? There was no one on roads to ask too, as this was a highway-ish road. I accelerated and caught up with a tempo, and shouted at him :’Munnar?’ The worried expression on his face told us that we left it behind.
He stopped by the side of the road, and directed us to take the left for ‘Bodi’ that we missed behind. As these two states are separate, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Tamil Nadu government has shown boards towards its village ‘Bodi’, not bothering to mention the other state’s more interesting town, Munnar.
So we turned back and continued on Bodi road. Suddenly a water drop fell on my helmet’s wisor.
‘What the…? Rain in March?!’
I hoped this would be a one off event, but soon the frequency of water droplets became noticeable. It was not completely raining yet, but the roads that we were going to were apparently wet. At some distance on the same road, we saw clouds covering the path. We were heading towards the rain. On a motorcycle, I can handle any two out of the three things: rain, night and pillion. But not all three together. Here I had no choice. We halted and donned our the motorcycle jackets’ rain-proof liners. I might even had halted on some on way hotel had there been a nice one. Barring a few really dicey looking hotels, there was nowhere to stop. Approaching the rains for some time, we finally entered in its zone.
Driving inside the rainy zone was really tricky. There was a lot of fog-like smoke, but the HID usually pierces through fog. Here the visibility became too low, and we lugged on, bracing for rain any time now. The kilometers seemed really long, and the speed really slow. We rode ahead, and suddenly, found ourselves at clear horizons for as long as we could see! We couldn’t believe ourselves, but eyes don’t lie. We had literally passed through the belly of monsoon without getting wet! Thanking our lucky stars, we moved on, with more brevity now.
The sun had almost bid us good bye when we started climbing on the first ghaat. Bodi had came and went like any other small town. We had now decided to reach Munnar, and not halting for any fear.
The first ghaat is quite curvy, and has many hair pin bends. To keep Nandinee involved and occupied, we started on betting the number of hair pin bends. After 18 such bends, we left the count, and simply enjoyed the ride. The roads are not in their prime, and some bad patches right on the hair pin turn could be fatal to a two wheeler.
The ghaat continues for a long distance, but its riskier turns are in the beginning only. Later it becomes a long road with incline. The daylight was almost gone, and so was our energy. As they say, everything lies in its preparation, and we certainly were not prepared to ride 190 kilometers today. We should have been in a warm bed chatting or watching TV now, rather than riding hard in falling light on an unknown ghat getting colder by the minute. The frustration was mounting high, and here I realized the Zen of motorcycling.
You don’t ride for next 100 kilometers or next 20. You don’t ride for reaching your destination. You don’t ride in pursuit of something. You ride for the moment and in the moment. To each kilometer you ride, you give your utmost attention. Not more than the one you passed a while ago, not less. If you focus on other things, then you are not riding, you are just reaching there. Why bother for a motorcycle then? A bus will take you there. You ride for staying and living fully in the moment. You celebrate your tiny successes of avoiding the small rock that could have made your bike slip, and you learn from it, and you forgive yourself. One kilometer at a time.
And it such accumulation of one kilometer at a time that helped us munch the distance happily. It would have been natural to feel grumpy about the situation, and bark at others, perhaps at each other. But being a motorcyclist, we can choose to be accommodating over being irritating.
Just at the twilight, we were stopped by a police stop about 50 kilometers from Munnar. After realizing we were tourists, they didn’t bother to check my documents and thus saved the drama of explanation of the missing license. They asked us whether we had booked any hotel for stay, and informed us that it was alright to go and search hotels, as there was enough vacancy. One of them said ‘Curfew after 8’o clock’, which I laughed away at that moment, but later it made me wonder what he meant. The policemen confirmed that the road was safe to travel at night, and I should proceed without worry.
Later it was travelling in the bright light of HID. I can’t thank enough to the day I installed this HID in my bike. A must addition to any tourer or night traveler, HID increases your probability of survival many times. Because of HID only, I was able to dodge many deep craters in road, and at one time near a cliff when suddenly an under-construction road started, full of wet sand, I managed to steer safely.
At about 7 P.M., we approached a bustling village. Finally spotted an ‘acceptable’ hotel for tea break. The village’s name was Poopara. We were yet about 30 wild kilometers away from Munnar. It was with great efforts that we were keeping our wits together, and tried not to get irritated or frustrated by the seemingly endless travel.
Just after we left Munnar, the road bisected into two, and as usual, no boards to show the direction. We stopped at the intersection and gazed with wonder. There was no soul in sight. What if we took a wrong road? Taking risk, we slowly proceed on the left road, and to our relief found that the two roads were nothing but the same road bisected at turns, maybe for avoiding accidents.
We continued the ride, looking at a far distant village whose lights were sparkling in night. In complete darkness, that small village with its little lights from it’s homes was our lighthouse tonight. But all of a sudden, it went total dark! It took a while to register what had just happened. We deduced that the electricity of that village decided to go out at that time, and didn’t want to think any other probability. When you are riding on pitch dark roads, your mind opens up to all possibilities, including supernatural ones.
Slowly the tea estates started. We were riding through the tea plantations now, though our view was limited to what the HID was illuminating. We passed a few hotels that I remembered having good reviews on travel sites, but they are so far away from the main town, I wondered about the night’s stay there. Not wanting to get stuck in an off the way place, especially after riding this far, we headed for Munnar.
Finally, at about 7.50P.M. we reached Munnar, and started our search for hotels. In Kodaikanal, I was worrying that finding a good hotel at night may be troublesome. But in Munnar, I realized how wrong I was. At night, all the good hotels have bright signs put up on top of them, and usually they are clustered to certain areas. We could spot the neon signs of the hotels from far away, and then would go and scout that area. We checked about 6 hotels. I was longing to throw the stuff along with myself on bed after the tiresome ride, and morning’s exercise of cycling and boating, but Nandinee had got her second wind. She would merrily go prancing in each hotel to check its rooms, and would come back disappointed.
It was past 8 now, and I understood what the policeman meant by ‘curfew’. All the shops started pulling down the shutters, and the tourist information center which was surprisingly open that late when we arrived, was closed down too.
In the end we found ‘Jay’s tourist home’. It is a good hotel, with attentive staff. It’s just at the beginning of the Mattupetty dam road. Checked in, and had a rushed dinner in a nearby hotel.
We rode hardly 190 kilometers today. But they seemed very long and tiresome, perhaps because we were not prepared for them. It became clear that Kodaikanal is not a part of Kerala itinerary, it should be covered in Tamilnadu tour. It is beautiful, no doubt about it, but the logistics don’t allow it to be a part of the Kerala tour.