We have this tradition on our anniversaries where we make it a point to go to a new place that we have never been to before and spend some time there, cut-off from the world. You could say, it is our "Time-to-reflect-close-to-nature" time of the year. Everybody needs to have one you know, what with the stress, pressure, competition that we face everyday, that sometimes we tend to forget what we actually are doing in our lives. You know what I mean?
So this ride was a really special one for us as this marks the second year of our marriage, so the place too had to be a special one. We started zooming in on our google maps, reading travel sites, blogs to find that one place that could suit our requirements. We were pretty worried about the virus spread that had just broken out in other countries that fortunately hadn't yet reached India during our time of planning this trip. So we obviously were looking for a place that was less crowded during this time of the year, that would save us from the virus spread, if there were going to be any, and most important of all, help us beat the March heat. After much contemplation and spending time and energy over listing out umpteen places on every digital device we own, we decided to head out to the beautiful city of Kodaikanal.
Here's a bit of information on Kodaikanal, for those of you who know nothing much about the place except that it is a pretty hill station for a quick getaway. Kodaikanal is known as "Princess of Hill Stations" and is situated in the Dindigul district of Tamilnadu, India. There are several meanings to the word 'Kodaikanal', based on the way it is pronounced, but the popular one being "The gift of the Forest". Doesn't that sound mysterious and magical at the same time?! This place is surrounded by Parappar and Gundyar valleys, and it sits above the Palani Hills. There are several villages and hill ranges around Kodaikanal, though less known, are worth a visit.
We decided to make it a 5-day trip, the longest one for this year so far (At the moment of writing this blog, the world is under lock down. So far, this has been the best decision of our lives). Since the number of days were more, so was the time needed to prep and pack everything essential. Since we had been looking forward to this road trip, it goes without saying that we had good time on our hands to plan this out really well.
We set out on a Monday morning at around 4.30. Now you may wonder why didn't we set out on a Saturday itself and why on a Monday? Valid question! The answer being we know that Kodai (short for Kodaikanal) is thronged by tourists during the weekends. And as I mentioned earlier, we wanted to be someplace that is super less crowded and hence the decision. And the best part would be that the highways would see less vehicles on a weekday as well. And since we had to head out of Bangalore from the Electronic city, which is infamous for it's round-the-clock traffic, we did not want to take any chances! So once we payed for a one-way toll at the Electronic city, Phoenix was all set to munch miles to our destination.
Now I must tell you the road to this beautiful destination wasn't going to be easy. Yes, the highways are something that every Indian dreams of, but the terrain is, in my opinion, pretty bland. One could easily feel bored and their minds might end up wandering the whole of the universe and wish and wish and wish that you could reach your destination sooner.
However, we very wary and unaware of what awaited us and were busy looking for a place to quiet our growling stomachs. We spotted Hotel Adhith Bhavan, right by a fuel station (I think Phoenix would have been happy to see this). It was close 7 a.m. by now and we loved the fact that the whole of the parking lot was at our disposal. Dodging the usual eyes that scan us and Phoenix, we quickly got off our heavy riding gears and sat down for a hot plate of idly (our usual trip food). But unfortunately, as it was too early in the morning, Idly was unavailable and we had to, halfheartedly, settle for Dosa. This is never a good thing as we always have experienced that Dosa makes us feel heavy and sleepy. Since we were left with no much options that morning, we agreed.
The best part of this morning was, we were the first customers of that hotel! We had visited this place earlier and have seen how jam-packed it can be. But today everything was so peaceful and silence was our common companion during our breakfast. We quickly had our breakfast, as we did not want to waste too much time (super-excited about the trip you see) and geared up and got on our ride and were back on the highway once again.
We had made a mistake. A huge mistake. Our out-of-control, super-excited mind did not let us catch enough sleep on the eve of the ride and we ended up waking at 3 in the morning. Since we were super pumped, with adrenaline flowing like water in our body, we thought sleep was a fairy-tale for the day. But we paid the price for it by the time we hit 150 km on Pheonix's Odometer. I could feel my eyes heavy and slowly drifting in and out of sleep. I thought it was just me and did not want to alarm Akshay with this and tried my best to keep sleep at bay. But before I could realise my helmet had knocked Akshay's helmet and this was a clear sign between us that I am snoozing. I kind of panicked when he stopped right next to the diversion to Salem airport, by a bus stop and asked me to get down. I apologised to him, in my mind, and got off only to see him groggy and half-closed eyes! My shocked look led him to explain that he too was battling sleep and would not be able to continue this way for long.
We had experienced this on our first, long, ride to Goa (a story in itself, for some other time). But back then we had checked into a hotel and caught up on our sleep. But today was different. We were in a different state, with sign boards written in a language we just could not understand and google map too showed no signs of any hotel any time soon. So we did what you would not do under normal circumstances on a ride. We slept. Yes we slept off. In the bus stop. With all our riding gears on. We. Slept. Off. My sleep was on and off as I was worried of being robbed of our luggage or that something bad might befall upon us, but I could clearly hear Akshay snoring, catching up on his forty winks. In my half-sleepy state I tried to keep watch of our belongings. I'm not sure how many times I might have nodded off. I know in the state that we were in, no one in their sane minds would remember to click photos. So neither did we. All that we have with us is the memory of us sleeping on that bus stop.
After what seemed like eternity, Akshay woke up and he seemed much better. This was important as we still had good 260 odd kilometres to go! I somewhere had had my 20 something winks of sleep and we were off. This route is dotted with hills all along and after a point the heat was getting us and the peaks seemed less exciting by the kilometre. It being a weekday added to our woes as there were hardly any vehicle movement and it felt like we entered a dimension where humans seized to exist. To add to this, there were hardly any restaurants in sight. It was now 2 p.m something and our breakfast was long digested, converted to energy and utilised as well. For a moment I wondered if we made the right decision at all...
Like water in the desert, we finally spotted a bakery, but on the other side of the road. We had to take a pretty long detour for this, but hell, we didn't mind this. We were worried that if we even let this place out of our sights it might disappear altogether. Hunger and thirst can so easily play tricks on your mind! We finally parked under the shade of the bakery (I don't seem to recall the name). A bunch of happy, hospitable elders welcomed us and as always we were quickly bombarded with loads of questions about Phoenix. I was rude enough to break this conversation to run to the adjoining bakery and buy anything that looked edible. Unfortunately this was not a fancy bakery and had no much items, just the local brand chips, biscuits and few selective cold beverages. I bought what looked familiar and filling to me (This is applicable ONLY to me, no one else in the world, after such a detailed explanation of our hunger!). I bought 2 packets of Thenkuzhal Murukku and a bottle of Sprite! When I am terribly hungry, few pieces of food particles are enough to fill me up and today was no exception. Akshay settled down for a bottle of Pepsi and a few bites of murukku here and there. We had our fill and bid adieu to the happy bunch and were off again.
All re-energised and happy we hit the highway, this time ensuring we click photos to add to our bag of memories.
As we entered deeper into Dindigul district, and saw the peaks emerge before our eyes, we realised that THIS is the real deal. The roads up the hill were winding and few places they were broken, but overall it was a breath-taking experience. Akshay and Phoenix were ecstatic seeing the winding roads ahead. Phoenix seemed to have a mind of his own and was taking us high up the mountains with ease. Words can't describe how beautiful everything around us was. It was like a world in it's own. Hardly touched by the ever-modernising hands of humans.
As we left the base of the hill, we could feel the air grow thin and temperature dropping with every curve of the road. It was truly refreshing as we were severely cooking inside our riding jackets (so not exaggerating here). At one point, the temperature dropped so low, I had to fetch my winter gloves and put them back on. And the air...mmm...I can smell the scent of Eucalyptus as I write this.
Time was 4.30 p.m. and we reached to meet the Princess of Hill Stations but finding our hotel was another tale altogether. For some reason Google Maps was troublesome that evening, and kept taking us into these tin, narrow streets only to hit a dead-end. Those 30 mins of figuring out directions to our hotel was a pure test of patience for all three of us. Finally after what seemed like hours, we reached our place of stay - Sterling Kodai Valley, situated in the village of Villpatti. A beautiful resort with most rooms giving an enthralling view of the valley surrounding it. We had booked a Privilege Suite and were shocked when we were directed to a duplex looking tower overlooking the valley! Oh my God! We couldn't have asked for more.
After all that we went through to reach this place, I think we deserved it all. After exploring every nook and corner of our room, well...not room, more like a studio apartment for the next 5 days, Akshay and I ended up on the balcony, recalling our day's experience and charting out our plans for the coming days. This was what we needed. This was what meant home away from home.
We slept with our hearts filled, and stomachs filled even more with the delicious delicacies, waiting to start our adventures here. The days to come were going to be memorable ones for the year 2020.