Of summer rains, marriage trip and ottayan

It was the marriage of Bosky, our colleague in Koodaranji, near Calicut, in Kerala on 1st May 2010. A week before that three of us (myself, Arun and Raghav) had a telephonic conversation where we decided that we will drive to the marriage venue.

I had limited confidence in my long-distance driving skills. But Arun had done some night driving. Raghav had also done long distance driving. Thus, we had three drivers, including myself. We also had Arun's brother and friend coming with us, making it a five member party.

The original plan was to leave Bangalore around 2 AM. It was meant to be a 7 hour drive to our destination. The marriage being at 11 AM, this gave us 2 hours to get ready for the occasion.

There was another reason for choosing this time. We had to pass through Bandipur forest. The route is closed for vehicular traffic (to permit animal traffic?) between 9 PM and 6 AM.

We had a sync up call on 30th April. Not being regular night owls, we were wary about our abilities to get up at 2 AM and drive. We decided that we might as well start at 10.30-11 PM and do a leisurely drive. Even if we reached Bandipur at 3 or 4 AM, we could doze in the car, awaiting the opening of the gates. This discussion was in the early afternoon - before the rains.

"Should I get the directions in the net and take printouts?", asked me.

"No need. It is straightforward. I know the way. I have gone before", said Arun.

It began to rain in Bangalore at 7 PM on Friday, 30th April, 2010. This has been the wettest summer in my baker's dozen years in Bangalore - clear signs of climatic patterns gone awry. Whether it is global warming or some other term, it is ultimately about the battle between man and nature, where there can only be one winner - none.

I managed to beat the rain and reach home. That was not the case with Arun and others. Starting at 10 PM was ruled out, since the traffic would be very high with people trying to go home after the rains subsided.

I tried to get some sleep before the journey, but it just made things worse. Arun had to call me twice, before I got up at 11.30 PM!

A steady drizzle persisted, but it was time to start. Never too fond of night driving (thanks to the high beams of oncoming vehicles of our civilized fellow-citizens), the rains meant, the window getting fogged up, making the visibility zero. Add to this, water-filled potholes, stray branches and uprooted trees on the road and I had an eventful start.

Braving the traffic jam in St.John's Hospital in 100ft. Road, Koramangala, I reached Arun's place around 12.15 AM. He and his friends joined us, which considerably reduced my worries. The four of us then drove to pick the last of our party.

We debated whether we should use my car (Indica diesel) or Raghav's Ikon, but decided on the former, since the space appeared to be sufficient - none of the members being horizontally challenged. That diesel was cheaper than petrol influenced the decision as well.

We managed to find the way to Raghav's place amidst drizzle and road blocks due to Metro work. Did I mention Raghav was online (on the phone) giving direction every metre of the road?

I guess it was close to 2 AM, when we finally left to Mysore. Raghav volunteered to drive first and I was more than happy to yield. The commute to Mysore was partially done in drizzle. The Rain Gods finally went to sleep as we neared Srirangapatnam. We used this drive to catch up on our lives and work - exchanging information about what we were upto. We preferred the road side tea to Barista and Coffee Day outlets. Arun took over the wheels from Raghav post-tea and body break.

We also realized that petrol and diesel vehicles can't be driven the same way. Arun had difficulties especially with first and second gears.

From Mysore we need to find the route to Gundulpet. This meant getting inside Mysore, going past the Palace and asking two-three people (who were fortunately around) for directions. We were actually looking to get into NH-212 (as I found after returning back and checking the Net).

We passed Nanjangud and then Gundulpet as the time showed 5 AM. Driving further, we reached the check-post, which we knew a kilometer ahead, since vehicles were lined up. It was pretty cold. There was no sign of any tea shop. We joined a couple of buses in breaking the queue and driving on the opposite part of the road. The theory was, there would be no vehicle on the other side of the gate (which is the jungle).

There was some hope that the gate would open at 5.45, but ultimately it was at 6 AM dot, that the gate opened. As we embarked on the journey into the forest, we came across an intersection. Arun was the first to be confused since he didn't remember this intersection. The road to the left appeared to be popular amongst the gathered vehicles and we began to follow. As we descended a very steep incline, it dawned on us that perhaps we were not in the correct road. We pulled over and saw buses with Ooty in the destination board. It didn't take much intelligence to realize that Ooty was in a different direction from Calicut. Arun made matters interesting by referring to one of his friends, who went by mistake to Ooty instead of Calicut.

We took a tricky U-turn in the slope and retraced the path to the intersection. The other road appeared to be deserted.

Bosky, our bridegroom friend had called as early as 5 AM to check our whereabouts. We now called him for directions. He was adamant was, there was no intersection in the jungle route - just one way. This meant, we were in the wrong route after all notwithstanding the checkpost and the queue.

We went back to the check-post, a half-kilometer away and asked for directions. We were asked to retrace our path to Gundulpet. We had not observed any alternate path from Gundulpet that we should have taken. However, we drove nearly 15 km back and had almost reached Gundulpet, when we saw a T-junction. The road to the left was the road we had missed. There appeared to be no signboard in the junction to indicate which road led where. It had also been pitch dark when we passed the junction - no wonder we had not noticed it.

We took the left turn on to the road leading to Calicut. We crossed the check-post to the Bandipur Wildlife Sanctuary at 7 AM, exactly an hour behind schedule. This check-post appeared identical to the one, where we had waited. However, there was only one road with no deviations.

The drive through the jungle was exciting, though we had no time to appreciate it. There were occasional signboards saying No honking and no stopping. We saw some of our considerably literate compatriots doing exactly that (hmm! maybe they didn't know English?). In fact, one vehicle had gone inside a jungle trail, which is only used by the official safari jeeps, after manually opening the barricade.

We crossed the border and entered Kerala. We passed Muthanga wildlife sanctuary and onto Sultan Bathery. I suggested that it must be actually Sultan Battery, which was localized to Bathery. Others thought it was amusing. I now see from wikipedia that I was right - only it was Tipu Sultan, who used the place as his battery (whatever that meant).

We had a three hour commute from the check-post. So no time was wasted as we crossed Kalpetta and went to Vythiri.

Imagine my shock when I realized we need to cross the Ghats! I had never driven in the Ghats. Perhaps, it was fortunate that we did not discuss the route before we started - if I knew the Ghat section was involved, I might have had second thoughts about taking my car! While going, we had to descend the mountain, after crossing Lakkidi, the highest point in Kerala (according to Arun).

From Adivaram (literally this means the base of the mountain), we continued on NH-212 to Thamarassery.

From here, we had to ask for directions as we moved out of the NH to local roads. We passed Koodathai and Thiruvambadi, made a couple of wrong turns, before reaching Koodaranji, our destination. The time was 10.30 AM.

Throughout the entire stretch of the way, the roads are fabulous, except for some small stretches between Gundulpet and Mysore.

The marriage festivities were in full swing as we occupied the available bathrooms at Bosky's home to have hurried bath. We were just in time - the marriage party was just setting off. Bosky appeared excited and nervous - excited seeing us and nervous about the impending matrimony.

We had not had a morsel of food. There was Kerala parottas for breakfast, but wait, what about the side-dish? Chicken, of course! Myself and Raghav are vegetarians and Kerala, by no means is vegetarian-friendly. However, Bosky, well aware of our tastes, had handled this. We got an exclusive home-made vegetarian side-dish.

Breakfast done, we went to the venue of the marriage, a kilometer away. The Church is set in a beautiful location, high above the town. A school and hall are adjacent to it. From the top, there is a nice view of the surrounding areas. Thanks to large mango trees, the atmosphere was cool - only under the trees though!

A few other friends of Bosky, some of whom were known to us (Ganapathy and Ashok, for one), had turned up as well. The marriage ceremonies went off as per tradition - a unique mix of christian and kerala customs.

We didn't waste time to get to the lunch hall. Considering that some of the guys had some work on Sunday, we wanted to get back by Saturday night. Trying to rest post-marriage meant the possibility of not reaching the check-post by 9 PM.

Green colored plastic-coated paper cut in the shape of plantain leaf was laid. (Wondering why not actual plaintain leaf, which should be plentiful in Kerala?) Lunch was traditional Kerala food, with appam being the only variation. The sought-after side-dishes were all non-veg, which meant, myself and Raghav had a tough time, with the servers. They were disappointed at our leaves not having any fish or chicken and kept coming with these items. In the end, there was ice cream.

Lunch consumed, photos with Bosky taken and goodbyes said, it was time for the return journey. It was 2 PM and warm and humid.

This time it was my turn to drive. I realized that it was not fair for Raghav or Arun to drive up the Ghat, considering their unfamiliarity with diesel vehicle.
Indica had a tough time with 5 people on inclines. Since we had a friend who was headed our way, upto Kalpetta, two of our team decided to come by the friend's car. This meant, we could run the air-condition off-and-on as we drove from Koodaranji to Adivaram.

The drive up the Ghat over the 9 hairpin bends was fairly straightforward, though we did have to wait up the incline a couple of times for oncoming traffic. It was sheer pleasure to be in Lakkidi - to stop for snaps and meet up with our two colleagues.

The road to Kalpetta was lined with Congress flags and workers - Defence Minister A K Antony was coming to town that evening. We stopped at Walnut Cakes to buy, what else, walnut cake and then took another break at Kalpetta to buy chips and drink coffee. It was 4.30 PM. Looked like we were well on our way back. What could go wrong now?

As we started from Kalpetta, the sky suddenly turned black and it began to rain. And what a rain it was - heavy and blinding. Fortunately, the road was good and the traffic non-existent. I have never driven so fast in such a rain in my life, with the defrost on to remove the fogging inside the car. It rained pretty much up to Sultan Bathery and the water logging meant a slow commute inside the town.

It was just a small drizzle beyond that as we entered the forest and crossed the border. As in the morning, we got stuck in a traffic jam close to the border. (Why do they have check-posts in the middle of the forest and not at the end?) 6 PM found us in Bandipur forest and we were witness to a few deer and quite a few elephants, perhaps the same ones we saw in the morning?.

A couple of vehicles coming towards us stopped and warned us of ottayan (The Lone Tusker) - a male elephant which is very strong and can overturn vehicles. As we hesitated on how to proceed, we were joined by a Scorpio.

The decision was taken out of our hands by a KSRTC bus, which went past us in full speed. We tailgated it, hoping it will help us escape the wrath of the elephant. We spied the elephant from afar (I guess Arun actually saw it), and stopped after a few metres, when we saw a mother and baby elephant. The baby elephant was kind enough to pose for us. With no further incidents, we crossed the Bandipur check-post.

It was 6.30 PM and getting dark. I suddenly remembered our ex-colleague, Shilpa. She invariably used to be in Mysore on weekends to be with her parents. Arun had her number and Raghav called her up. She asked which Raghav was calling, causing us to roar with laughter. We fixed up to meet her at her place - we were meeting her after nearly 3 years.

It was an uneventful drive to Mysore, which we reached around 8 PM. Finding Shilpa's place was tricky though and she had to come with her dad to guide her from a landmark. If I thought Bangalore traffic was bad, Mysore traffic is unruly - people driving recklessly in full speed.

We were treated to great hospitality at Shilpa's place. Mothers of the world are Goddesses - who else can dish up a three course meal in no time? Much against our wishes, we had dinner at their place.

We set off from Mysore at 9.15 PM. Arun took over the driving from me. We were dead tired by now and I know for sure, I dozed off and on during the drive back, often neglecting my duty to warn Arun of speed humps. This is arguably the most irritating part of the Bangalore-Mysore commute during night. Arun fortunately managed to keep awake - with a break for water.

12.30 AM and Raghav was home. It took 20 minutes for us to retrace the path from Raghav's place, what with the one-ways and Metro work and unfamiliar roads. Then it was smooth sailing to Arun's place. The final stretch from Arun's to my place was also not without some event - there was some temple festival which blocked the Airport Road on one side - from ISRO Junction to Kemp Fort. I tailgated a cab, which had its blinkers on, as it went slowly on the wrong side of the road. It was 1.45 AM when I got into the house, none the worse for the trip.

Comments

  1. Hi Raghu,
    Awesome, Excellent, You narrated the journey in such a way i felt i was traveling with you guys.I think you can definitely write some books. I was happy that i felt like i attended Bosky's marriage through your Blog.
    Thanks Keep it up.
    Sachin Kingaonkar

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Pictures:
    http://picasaweb.google.com/arunmenavan/BoskySMarriage#

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  4. http://picasaweb.google.com/arunmenavan/BoskySMarriage#

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  5. Hi Raghu,
    I go with Sachin's statement... Realy wonderful. After a long time, had a good time even though haven't come with you guys. Realy missing Razorlynx Team :(
    Had been to Lakkidi during my final year trip, Wonderful place

    My special invite to Rlx friends to Singapore

    Regards,
    Sathya

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  6. Hi Raghu,

    This is Sreejith, Arun's friend. I am awestruck..for the way its being narrated. It was interesting as I was also a part of the story for a couple of scenes. I felt as if I travelled with you guys...not forgetting our awesome journey to Kalppetta in an Innova reaching there in 4 hours 15 mins.

    Thank you for the beautiful narration.

    Sreejith.

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  7. Excellent narration Raghu!!! You pay so much attention to every detail around you!! Thats amazing!!I occassionaly read the interesting articles in your blog & enjoy every bit of it. Thanks,

    Anitha

    ReplyDelete

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