It was a cold Friday morning, alarm goes off on my wife’s phone with a ringtone which sounds like a nuclear disaster warning. She snoozes it, slips inside my blanket and goes back to sleep. It was probably 3 in the morning, still pretty dark and I could hear the sound of rain drumming on the window.
"Don’t you wanna go?" I asked.
She replied hazily, "Yeah".
"Then wake up!"
You see, my wife follows a strange waking-up ritual where a series of alarms go on and off every 15 mins for around two hours. Depending on the day and weather, one of the alarms wakes her up. All I knew was – it wasn’t this nuclear alarm that’s gonna do it today. So it had to be me. Without much effort though, she woke up and headed towards the bathroom. She had already packed the bag the previous night so all we had to do was get up and go. We decided to leave before sunrise and reach the destination as early as possible which gives us more time to spend there.
We had 3 places in mind – Goa, Puducherry and Kerala. We wanted to keep the trip short, as we will be driving and also were leaving our 2yr old behind so it had to be a two days only trip. This narrowed down the places to Puducherry and Kerala. Puducherry was my preference but wife wanted Kerala. With recent bans in Kerala, I expected the vacation to be as dry as a stale bread. But an occasion on the day of travel had put both the places on par, so Waynad in Kerala was agreed.
On the 2nd October morning, we took our phones and camera from charging points, zipped up our bags and got going. It was to be our first long drive in our present car – Hyundai Xcent (i10 sedan). I had filled up the tank only a few days ago and while doing so, had got the tyres also checked. As these modern cars are pretty reliable for such journeys, I didn’t take any further precautions or checks. I had my tool kit checked and carried first aid, just in case.
With rain still pouring, loaded the bag in the boot and took seat behind the steering wheel. Cranked the engine and kept it in idle for few mins, until wife did some final checks and locked the door. As I was about to reverse to the road, she screamed, “Wait, wait! Let me sit already”. “Well, you will have to close the gate”, I replied. She made an upset face and waited until I drove out of the garage. She had to close the gate and rush to the car in the rain which she didn’t anticipate. She hopped in, without getting all that wet and we set off!
Within few mins of drive, an unexpected speed breaker threw us a feet up in the air and crashed us down. I failed to notice the hump, thanks to the rain and no-marking on the road. The first sign wasn’t looking good so I decided to slow down. Our route was from Hosur road to Kanakapura via Nice Road and take the same Kanakapura road straight to Chamrajanagar and then to Waynad.
As we hit Kanakapura road, the otherwise smooth road was disrupted by quite a few deep potholes which at speed can throw you off the road or seriously damage the car. I turned on my fog lamps and pinned my eyes to the road until sunrise. Even so, I eventually hit a pothole which sent a jolt through the car to my spine and to my teeth. Thankfully, all wheels were ok so we carried on like nothing happened. This happened a couple of times in our round trip but I guess it's common on our Indian roads?
A couple of hours into the drive, sun started to rise and the rain too slowed its downpour. We stopped for break while it was still drizzling and enjoyed a hot cup of traditional filter coffee.
The sky cleared after a while and sun was shining. As I slowed down to take a turn, my wife interrupted, “Street food, street food”. She wanted to have street food for breakfast. We parked the car next to a cart serving hot items like vada, pulav, puri etc. I took lemon rice while my wife took pulav. The food was good and the service was even better. We paid for the pleasant breakfast which was by the way less than what we tip a waiter for his rudeness in the city.
Except for few patches, the roads were pretty smooth till the Bandipur National Park where it gets even better thanks to the greenary. As we entered the forest, the radio went berserk picking up Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada stations all at once. FM can be really confusing for the wild animals there.
The forest roads have well-spaced speed breakers which for once were well marked and break just the speed. Our wild life spotting was limited to a deer and a few monkeys. As we approached the Kerala border, Malayalam stations were getting clearer and our progress was getting slower, thanks to the narrow and twisty roads. However they were pothole free and people were surprisingly driving only on the left, so the drive was pleasant and enjoyable.
By the time we reached Kerala, it was noon and we hopped in to a restaurant for lunch. We ordered parota with fish curry which was amazingly simple and delicious.
After Sultan Bathery, we took a left turn and headed towards Edakkal Caves. The roads get even narrower and twisty. As we reached the place, the guard announced, it is closed for Gandhi Jayanthi… Seriously, a tourist place closed on a holiday! With no other plans for the rest of the day, we visited a museum and later headed to hotel.
At hotel, after getting some rest we drove to Karlad Lake which was a few kms from our hotel. Unfortunately though, by the time we reached it was closed too. Still, we had a good view of lake from the outside and the surrounding hills. With no traffic on the smooth tarmac nearby, we took the opportunity to click some pictures.
Night was falling and drive can be scary on the narrow twisty roads with no street lights, so we left soon. After a mix of day and night driving we reached our hotel safe. We parked the car and went out for a walk and dinner.
The next day, we woke up early and started our drive to Chembra Peak – the most famous attraction in Waynad. As we approached the inner road, we realized the road is in an appalling state, seems like it's bombarded by a million meteors. It’s a car breaker – better to park your car out and take a ride in one of those Jeeps.
Compared to cars like Vento, Xcent has better ground clearance so hoping it will make it, we paid for the entry fee and started climbing. The road only gets worse as we rise but somehow we managed to reach the top. The next mile or two was on foot which my wife didn’t fancy so we entered one of the tea estates for a photo shoot.
Next destination for the day was Meenmutty falls. The roads were thankfully better to this place. Upon nearing the destination, we stopped to ask for directions. A lady waiting for bus, pointed to a board over her head which read a strikethrough words “Meenmutty Falls” with hand written “closed” on top. Apparently, it’s shutdown more than 3 years ago!
As we had some time left before heading back, we thought of giving Edakkal Caves a try again. As we reached the spot, the place was bustling with people and their cars. We paid for parking and started our steep climb for 15 to 20 mins, before reaching the ticket counter. We were really tired by then and the counter had a long queue. As usual, the uncivilized were cutting the line at their will while others waited behind. Adding to this frustration, few visitors returning from the caves seemed unthrilled by the place, passing comments like there’s nothing exciting except for some carvings. As we didn’t have any more patience to stand in the line, which in Kerala can be slow moving, we followed few people and headed back to the base!
So this ends our Waynad trip, where we visited almost all of the tourist attractions, yet didn’t visit any! The drive was fantastic nonetheless and the trip is memorable!
--Signing off VBR