Saturday, January 07, 2006

When the music's over turn off the lights

Mysore came in after 8 PM. We didn't know the roads well and it took quite a few u-turns and reversals before we hit the road towards Nanjangud (It wouldn't make sense to ask for Ooty, we were told). On the way we saw such a wonderful spectacle that we were rendered speechless. The Mysore Palace is indeed very beautiful. It makes sense to maintain our heritage buildings just for the sheer pleasure of appreciating beauty. We made a note to visit Mysore sometime and see the palace in detail. As we entered the road towards Chamundi Hill a road forked to the right for Nanjangud. At the fork a Kamat Hotel stood beckoningly. At 8:30PM food sounded a great idea. Mini meals with jowar roti tasted just too good. After a leisurely eat topped with paan (or beeda as it is called there) we climbed back into the car for the drive to Ooty.
The last time I had traveled on this route was in 2000 with Jags, Sanju and Avi. I didn't have a good recollection of that trip and there was some trepidation in our minds. Fuel was running low and we were looking for a place to refuel. I was scared as I had a faint remembrance of a mountain road and I feared that there would be no petrol bunks there. The first few petrol bunks that we met were unable to dispense fuel as there was a power cut and the pumps couldn't run. We finally found one and the car drank it's full happily, not the least because fuel there was cheaper.
We sped away in the early night along an incredibly good road that compared only with the road to Mangalore. In an hour's time we reached Gundlupet after crossing Nanjangud in a blur. Sleepy towns all. Soon we entered the environs of the Bandipur forest. Such a pretty sight with dozens of deer walking around. At 10:30 it wasn't a very odd time for deer to venture out for a post prandial walk. At some point we also came out of that and entered into Tamilnadu (Mudumalai said the signboards). There was a fork in the road - the right went via Gudalur and the left via the Mudumalai forests. The Gudalur route said it was longer by quite a bit and so we took the other one. Couple of kilometres drive along spellboundingly beautiful forests with rabbits and bisons lazing around, we reached a gate across the road. A majestically mustachioed forest guard let us know that the road was open only from 6AM to 8PM. As it was around 11PM we weren't allowed to use that route. We were dejected to have to drive back upto the fork and then take the route via Gudalur. However, another wizened old man sidled up to us and informed that for a consideration of Rs 20 they would open the gate for us. It immediately became obvious to us that it was allowed to take this route after all. The rule was only to allow the guards to make a quick buck. Unfortunately I hadn't cared to have change with me and I had to act generous doling out Rs 50 for the gates to open. However, the drive beyond the gate was immensely beautiful. Moonlit jungle roads with animals standing lazily at their positions on the roadsides was an unforgettable sight. We drove slowly, careful not to scare or hurt any of them. And it would be bad manners to have camera flashes disturb the nocturnal frolic of the owners of that forest, so we could take no pictures. But boy, was it pretty!
The climb to Ooty had 36 hairpin bends and it was such a lovely climb. The fact that there were almost no vehicles on that road made it even more fairytale. Imagine climbing up to heaven on a moonlight night. The lands below unfolded in delicate layers with a cluster of dimly twinkling lights here and there wherever there was a town or village.
After a thrilling drive we reached another gate. Here there wasn't a guard and except for a scooter in front of a temple there wasn't any sign of human habitation. We honked awhile and then resigned ourselves to the fact that we were stuck there at around midnight. For a moment, we thought that we could open the gate ourselves but decided against that. This was a jungle after all and it was not wise to rile the guards at midnight. Veerappan used to roam around exactly in these jungles. It wasn't possible to bring ourselves to drive ourselves all the way down the 36 hairpins. We settled down for a wait till something happens. Soon another jeep came from the other side and also waited. The driver got doen and went somewhere behind the temple. In a couple of minutes he got the guard along with him. The guard unlocked the gate and we sneaked past.
Soon we entered Ooty town and a call came from home enquiring whether we were snug in bed. I had an idea that Wellington was halfway from Ooty to Coonoor. But as we took directions and drove along we found that it was almost at Coonoor. Driving through Ooty at midnight, we found that it was almost deserted except for a Coffee Day joint where we asked for directions. Finally, finally, at about 12:45 PM --- almost 10 hours after we left home --- we entered the Riga Wellington HotelPosted by Picasa

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