Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Survivors Of the Road

It was a Friday morning and we were passing the languorous moments listening to some super senti love songs from the middle of last decade. Now there was something fishy about this. The otherwise ardent rock aficionados were stuck on love songs and each one had their own sweet reason for doing so. Ok, let’s not get into it. It would be a whole new blog if I decide to write about it.

Our mobiles were flooded with “happy diwali” messages, making us realize that it was diwali. No big deal, we continued to listen to the super senti stuff until Girish suggested that we went somewhere for the long weekend. Humpi was the first obvious suggestion. Rana was the one, who had already dropped out owing to some inevitable stuff he had to take care over the weekend. It was just me and Girish now. But, Rana still kept pouring his suggestions. I was reluctant to the idea of Humpi as I had to work on Monday and that 2 days wouldn’t be enough for a complete Humpi trip. I instead suggested that we went somewhere close bye, an overnight stay and head back the next day.

After a brief search through the net, Girish came up with a couple of options and finally we decided on Kemmengundi. Girish ran with the decision and got himself busy with downloading the road map and other relevant information about the place. That’s how we came to know that there were 2 routes to Kemmengundi from Bangalore, one via Chikmanaglur and the other via Tumkur. The former would be more scenic but would cost us an extra 100 km, adding up to almost 350 km one side. Now we had to make a decision here. Before I could say anything, Girish settled on taking the scenic route while going and return via the shorter one. Wasn’t a bad idea I thought, and gave into it without any fight. Now the decision was made but still several questions kept coming on the agenda. We had no clue where we would spend the night. We didn’t even know if there would be any accommodation available in the close proximity. We made a couple of attempts to book a room with few of the numbers we got from the net but all in vain. Still, our spirits were high and we had no intentions to back out. Finally, decision was made to hit the road with the first light of the dawn. Fat chance, I knew in a software engineers life, nothing gets executed as planned. And I was right; it was 6:30 in the morning and Girish was fastening my bag with the bungee chords. Big boy had a big machine (Royal Enfield Electra) and we were all set to runaway. Without much delay, we started off. On the way, we stopped at the Sai Baba temple in Cambridge layout and paid homage to the deity for a safe trip. That’s probably one of the few times we show up at a temple. Girish does it whenever he is off for a long trip.

It was a cloudy day and it appeared as if it would start pouring anytime. A whiff of cool air, sound of distant traffic, people loping on the walkway and our roaring machine gathering all the attention. It was a beautiful morning and all this was giving us the essential drive for the journey we were headed for. When the spirits are high, adrenaline pumps in, mutual cooperation uplifts and incredible things are achieved. We had crossed the city limits and were doing about 100 kph on an empty highway. Girish’s bull was cruising ahead with out any disruption. The rain clouds were gradually receding, leaving the sun shine brightly on us. As they said, the route was in fact very scenic. We stopped at several places to capture the beautiful countryside in frames, keeping in mind that we were already behind schedule as stated in our agenda. At about 150 km from Bangalore, we stopped at some place on the highway for breakfast. It was a small hotel but appeared to be decent. We quickly grabbed a few hot idlis along with tea to keep us going for another couple of hours.

From here, I took the drivers seat and Girish started playing Mr Navigator. It was a straight stretch with almost no traffic and I couldn’t resist the temptation of zipping through it, and I did. Girish took out his camera and started filming the beautiful landscapes. I was not much used to bullet. To avoid any goof up, I placed my left foot on the brakes with a feathery touch to remind me of the brakes being on left side. We kept taking frequent butt/leak breaks and didn’t miss a single scenic spot. At times we even drove away from the highway, into the narrow roads that appeared amidst the grassy lands.

Quick and flat with exhilarating curves, minimal traffic and provokingly smooth, this road was a real treat to ride on. After a while, the increasing traffic density suggested that we were approaching Hassan. It got cloudy again. But the rain gods were once more relaxed.

We reached Hassan at about 11:30. Now we were in the penultimate stage of our journey. Hassan to Chikmangalur via Belur. The last stage being Chikmangalur to Kemmengundi. Fro
m here, Girish took over. The road got noticeably narrow with pedestrians and cattles occupying most of the road. Soon the throng disappeared as we carried on and we were riding on a road that appeared like a bund wall dividing a reservoir. We could see the Sahyadri Mountains growing bigger as we approached them, the plain road gradually changing to a lot of slopes and curves.

At about 1:00 pm we reached Chikmangalur. Had a proper Kannada meal. What we came to know from the locals was that the ride ahead was entirely on the ghats. So it was imperative to have a tea to calm down the buzzing adrenaline. This was a prolonged break and the tea had a real rejuvenating effect.

Now we had reached the last stage of our drive. A few kilometers from Chikmangalur, the climate appeared to have transformed. Gentle hills, coffee plantations, cool clime, the clouds and mist rolling on. Driving in the Ghats was a breathtaking experience and we had just begun.

Green was the color of the day and it was all over. We stopped at numerous curves from where we had a greater view of the magnificent nature around. Lush green carpets all over, the white clouds hovering over them and the glimpse of blue sky when the clouds budge. Each view was picture perfect. Our camera batteries were draining out, so we had to give up the temptation of capturing whatever seemed worthy.

At about 4.00 pm, we reached kemmengundi. Now it was time to settle down. Girish just needed a place to lay his head but I had already started fanaticizing of a cozy bed and a warm blanket as it was getting colder. There were 3 guest houses; all of them jam packed as expected. The Forest Department guest house was our last resort. The manager, who seemed to be a nice guy, first denied of having any room for 2 but later on nonstop request, nodde
d his head and asked us to follow a guy who was already listening to the conversation. The guy took us to a place that appeared like an abandoned outhouse. It looked weird from outside but inside, it had 2 clean beds with a warm blanket and that was all I was concerned about. The room had a pungent smell of phenol all over. After a while, we got used to it. There was no power. On enquiring they said the supply is from 6 to 6. It was getting dark and cold. I wrapped myself in the blanket and rested on my back, watching the fan which was unquestionably from the middle of last century. Girish took out his mouth organ and started playing some exquisite tunes which appeared to me like from one of those war movies, played in the backdrop after all the destruction is done. After a while, we had our dinner and then we crashed.

The following day, we started off with the trek to Zed point, the highest reachable point in Kemmengundi. As always, Girish came up with his crazy idea of taking the less traveled path that appeared in the regular route. This time it was a narrow trail of path, mixed up with a 70 degree climb for about 50m. I started panting by the time we finished that but didn’t stop thinking this was the only peak. Little did I know that there was another one standing tall ahead. But then, having come this far, it was of the essence to get on to the top. With a little more exertion, we reached the top. “This is it. We are on top” Girish stated emphatically. His approval making me exhilarated.

The beauty of the panoramic view from the top left both of us absolutely speechless for a while. “This is Nirvana!” He proclaimed a little later. We spent about an hour on top enjoying the crisp mountain breeze and descended along the same less traveled path, rejoicing the magnificence of this beautiful land.

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