Sunday, March 22, 2009

Part 14 - The end!

For a while we were lost in the irony of life – serious love and flirtatious love. But like everything else in life, you have to move on and so did we. KY switched topic back to travel – a favourite for him and me. The target was Prabhu who had recently been on a 3 week tour to Europe with his family as part of a tour package. KY kept questioning and probing and I added a few questions as the conversation proceeded.

You would remember that we came a long way uphill to get to Wayanad and now it was a rapid downhill ride. And on rapid descents some people get nausea.
Jabradamus revealed why he was occupying the front seat thoughout the trip – easy access to the window!
The feeling was contagious – Barath was the first affected by it and then others also jumped into the nausea bandwagon. YK, Prabhu and me were not affected by the nausea effect. I soon switched into the last seat beside KY to listen to Prabhu’s stories.

The train ride was really short with us waking up at around 4am to get down at Cochin. We then went to the BSNL guesthouse that Sachin had booked for us and we dived into bed to catch some sleep. The guest house was luxurious with ample space and all facilities – tv, ac, cosy comfortable beds, thick blankets, spacious bathroom with heater.

Morning we set off for the marriage at the church. With the entire proceedings happening in Malayalam it was tough for us to follow what the priests said. There were also a few hymns in Malayalam. There were some things that we understood – “You both agree to stay together in times of wealth and penury, good and ill health, times happy and sad”. That was a nice sentence – being together in every situation.

Lunch was sumptuous but the only problem was that we had a lot of time for our train which was at 7:30 or so. The time was 2:30 and one suggestion was to hop for some movie. But which one – either we had to go for Twenty Twenty (Malayalam) or Villu (Tamil). We knew that 20-20 was a good movie but weren’t sure of the Vijay starrer Villu; his movies were just not up to the mark these days. The scripts he picked were on a downslide from what everyone else said because I hadn’t watched any of his last few movies.
Prabhu was keen on Villu.
“Oh, he wants to go because of the heroine”
Vasanth on the other hand wanted to sleep!
“You can sleep in the film!”
Finally it was decided that we will check out the theatre timings and then take a call on whether it was movie or something else. The afternoon heat definitely didn’t encourage us to roam around the city as well. The theatre was close to the BSNL guest house and so we could surely go for a 3pm show if there was one. It was quite a comedy in the bus ride with us thinking that we had gone way beyond our point and no one able to communicate clearly with the conductor.
The confusion arose when people say boards that said, “Hey, we are in Ernakulam. We have crossed Cochin itself”.
We later realized that the bus had taken a circuitous route and we were still on the right track.

The show timing was perfect and since there was only minor support 20-20 Villu it was decided.
“Jabradamus’ second Tamil movie in theatre!”
The first one he went for was by accident; or rather being setup unknowingly. He thought we would go for an English movie but at the theatre the others bought tickets for a Tamil movie!

Since we had enough time for the movie to start, around 45 minutes or so, we took a walk towards marine drive. The heat was terrible and we had to abort the walk – we sat near the shore watching a few boats racing away on the waters.
“We could have gone for a boat ride instead of Villu”
“First half will be okay”
“Now no time for a boat ride – by the time they get the boat filled up it will be late”

The film was an out an out comedy in the wrong sense. The humor was wry and I wondered why most of the times in our films the humor had to be in the physical sense. We just couldn’t believe what they had attempted to dish out.
“And they were advertising this as some James Bond movie”
“The heroine is there for nothing meaningful – just for the glamour and nothing else”
“Wonder why they aren’t able to write a better script. They spend so much money and it is kind of ridiculous the way the plot is”
“It is actually a copy of the old hindi film Soldier”

When we reached back to our room we enquired and found that all seats except 1 were still in waiting list. And since it was a e-ticket on waiting list it would get cancelled. So that meant 1 reserved and 8 on waiting list – perfect!
I went over to the other room to announce the good news, “Great news guys – we have 8 still in waiting list – numbers 1 to 8 in the waiting list. Jabradamus got his confirmed!”
And then we evaluated our options – any other train or bus options possible.
The debate raged on at the railway station – I was worried about my leg; there was what seemed to be a different swelling and pain on my foot. I put some cotton and band aid to cushion the wound.

A couple of guys decided to take the bus; they didn’t want to travel by unreserved coach. The rest of us got unreserved tickets but I realized that it is better to take tickets individually than having all in one – because then whoever wants to go can go and needn’t be dependent on the group. It creates unwanted complications and in the end I was part of the group that went for the bus ride. And what a ride it was – one stop in between. We started at around 8pm and reached Chennai at 3pm! The unreserved travellers got a place to sit after an hour. There was a comical traffic jam we witnessed – on a narrow stretch of the main road, a tractor was stuck in between a large truck and the back of another vehicle. The truck was carrying the tractor, and somehow it got displaced from the back and as it slipped sideways jammed on to the truck which was coming in the opposite direction. Traffic came to a standstill for 40 minutes.

Long bus rides have their effect on the body and I had a swollen foot as a result of the ride; it was a bit frightening because it was my injured foot that was swollen. Doctor said it was less likely to be a fracture and I had to get a tetanus injection and stop tennis for a while till the pain disappeared.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Part 13 – Love as a time pass works out!

After munching on some chips and biscuits, KY started the conversation from the back of the van.
I won’t disclose who said what in this – I leave that to your imagination!

“Hey, tell something about your girlfriend” YK started.
“What to tell?”
“Start something interesting – how you met or how you made her love you or something of interest”
“That is all easy”
“Really, ok – then tell how one should make a girl fall in love”
“That takes time; you should go slowly about it”
“Ok, what is the first step to do”
“First main step is that you should get her trust”
“Her trust?”
“Ya – win her trust”
“How do we get the trust?” someone else interjected.
“Haha – he is asking so excitedly as if trust can be bought. Which market can I buy trust from?”
“Its like she should get comfortable with you – she should feel like confiding everything to you and trust you”
“Ok, how do we win the trust?”
“Keep talking regularly and be with her in bad and good times and you will win trust”
“Talking regularly means how regularly and how long?”
“Everyday you should talk; start with few minutes and then it will go on for hours as days go by”
“For hours? What do you talk for hours everyday?”
“Anything; sometimes we would play antakshri also on phone”
“Oh, even songs you will sing on phone”
“Ok, after winning her trust what next?”
“Once you win her trust then it is easy – it will all naturally happen. You will start talking about a lot of personal things and all”
“Oh; then?”
“Then if should reach the point where they are always thinking about you. Like they should feel life has to be with you”
“And then?”
“At some point you or she will say about love and it will just click. At that point it will just seem so natural. You shouldn’t force your way”
“Oh ho. Just like that”
“Ya, trust is the most important thing”

“And how long is your current love story going for?”
“A few years now. Had another one before that but that is over now”
“What? How many have you had?”
“Hey, these are not really serious ones – just for time pass you do”
“So you don’t intend to marry the one you love?”
“Of course not – marriage is arranged marriage only; there’s a thrill in that – some unknown person you get to live”
“Ya; I am never serious about these affairs”
“And here I am who keep asking girls with all the seriousness of marrying them and they refuse”

“Oh, really? You are serious about the ones you propose?”
“Of course”
We guys did laugh over it and that was the irony; you had one case of someone who was serious about commitment but love had never clicked for him. And there was another person who loved as a time pass with no intention of marriage and girls were mad of him.

The ironies of life!

Part 12 – We don’t market ourselves well

YK did look a bit odd in my large sports shoes, without socks and with a colourful shirt. In some ways he reminded me of captain Haddock! We had lunch in the place we had ordered but to our shock the owner of that hut said each meal costs Rs.35. He justified the higher price sayin that it was due to the plain rice he prepared specially for us; if we had asked for normal Kerela rice it would have cost only Rs.20! Huh – so, moral of the story is go for the local food rather than something different to experience the feel of travel and also to keep it cheap!
Next stop was another dam Banasura Sagar dam (Earth dam; supposed to be among the largest earth dams in Asia).

“Speed boats will have 2 hours waiting time”
“Oh; so that is ruled out then”
We bought entrance tickets and went in.
“So what else would be there?”
“We’ll just see the speed boats and come”
“What are speed boats?”
“Must be motor boats only – the ones they use in races, probably that variety”
For the entrance ticket they gave us a nicely printed card that could be used as a postcard. It had a lucky draw coupon on one end as well.And off we started on a walk – there was a nice long road and we walked it with no idea as to what we would see. There was still waters on the left and the road just seemed to keep on going.

“I don’t see anything around here”
“It is just a dam – so there won’t be anything”
“We’ll see what the speed boats are; at least get a glimpse of them and return”
“You’ve noticed one thing – we people just don’t seem good at making money out of tourism”
“This same place in US or Europe would have had a souvenir shop with books about the dam, special photo shots, some helicopter ride and what not”
“We don’t market it properly”
“There is absolutely no staff around to tell what this place is all about”
“SS, it will be good to start some tourist company. Where we get the best hotel rates for people, provide accurate information regarding the tourist places – make it like unravelling a mystery for them. Showcase our actual heritage and culture along with explanations so that they can appreciate it”
“Really, that would be good”
To me it felt as if India isn’t making the amount of money it could actually make out of tourism. There were numerous sightseeing spots all over the country and each place could have provided a lot of opportunities for employment to people.

After 20 minutes of walking, I was actually limping a bit with my wounded leg. “There’s the boat”. And finally we saw the speed boat. It was nothing but a motor boat – like the ones they use in racing competitions. There was a little park with a few swings and one juice shop at the end of the road. We had a drink, sat for sometime there and then walked all the way back to the entrance.
“Anyone has a pen” Karthik asked.
I gave him mine and he began filling up the lucky draw coupon that was attached to the entrance ticket.
“Who knows I might win”

“He is dreaming that he will win a honeymoon trip”

“He will win a trip to Wayanad with free stay in the same hotel” we all joked.

The last stop for today before we returned to the railway station was Soochipara falls. Guys slept off and I went around clicking snaps. I tried to capture rays of sunlight by changing the camera settings and it wasn’t long before my camera whined “Batteries low” and shutdown! So much for photography experimentation. At around 5pm we reached the waterfalls entrance. Again there was quite a way to go before we actually reached the waterfalls. Since time was running out we took a jeep and all of us crammed into that one jeep. I was the last one to enter and was literally lying on top of everyone else with my leg dangling outside the jeep! The driver raced downhill at breakneck speed.

Climbing down a lot of steps got us to the waterfalls. Vasanth and I stayed on top while the rest of the gang went towards the base of the waterfalls. Vasanth was saying, “I don’t like trips with a lot of walking around to do and all”“You prefer just visiting spots and moving on”“Ya, don’t like to trek and all”Each person had a different way of enjoying travel – some liked the adventure while some liked it calm.

Not everyone went into the falls to have a bath. Vasanth and I clicked snaps on the cameras we had. There were a lot of other people as well. After a while a group of college students came in and it was around 6:30pm when we started walking upwards. No jeeps were available and we had to walk all the way up! I was terribly hungry and bought some chips, biscuits and juice to carry along on our trip back to the railway station. Around 7pm we were on our way heading towards the railway station – a three hours ride that opened up an interesting topic of discussion.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Part 11 - Crocodiles aren't that sharp!

The stream had a few rocks in between that formed a broken path to the other side. There was no other way to the other side other than crossing this stream. There were a few other people as well in the area who were dipping their legs into the stream. The forest ranger in the area said that we can cross the stream.
“Go quickly guys; the crocodile is not too far off”
I wondered how the rangers were encouraging people to cross the water stream when we had seen a crocodile in the water some distance away.
The guys began crossing the river.
“Remove your shoes – it is very slippery and shoes will get soaked in water”

I reluctantly removed my shoes and stepped on the stones. Watery stones are really slippery but I felt that I felt more slippery without shoes! Having my shoes in one hand and camera cover on my shoulder I gingerly stepped on the stones. Viswa was in front of me with my camera on his shoulder. The rocks were mostly within water with just their top projecting above the water level. The water was flowing at a fair pace.

With us three-fourths of the way through I stepped on a stone, slipped and fell. There was nothing really to grip on to and one of my shoes floated away. The other shoe I threw over to the other side where the guys were standing. Fortunately the stream wasn’t deep and you could wade through the water which was only upto waist level. Perhaps I could have waded through the water instead of taking the slippery stones!
“SS, do you need a hand”
“It’s okay Viswa, will manage”

As I got up, he slipped on the next rock and fell! He managed to grip on to something and didn’t fall that bad. The camera also didn’t touch the water. When I reached the other side I examined my leg. I had a wound on the left leg, between the knee and the ankle and some scratches and minor bruises on my feet. The main wounded area had become swollen and first thought was what my mother used to say ‘swelling indicates a fracture’. The bleeding had stopped; my shoes and socks were wet and I couldn’t put them back on over the injury. Guys examined my wound while I wrung the socks. I walked barefoot along with the group and we faced another water body. This had still water and we waded through the water; we trusted the depth of the water bed.
“Jabradamus, we can now test our theory about crocodiles. A few drops of my blood will be there in this water – let’s see if it comes over!”
I didn’t go much further; crossed another still stream and found an area which was basking in sunlight. I put my socks on a tree trunk for drying; Jabradamus also stayed back to give me company. He did some photography and pulled out a very beautiful snap.

Ten minutes later the others returned and we were all heading back. We again had to cross the moving stream but this time few of us waded through the water rather than taking the stones. We would feel with one foot, test the next step and only then move on. Some of the guys felt secure walking on stones than with their knees under water and took the same path we came by. I came over to the other side and tried to take snaps of the worried expressions on those who were returning – worried about whether something nasty might happen on the next step.

KY put on my shoes while I put on his slippers and we waked back. The swelling on my leg had subsided but it still hurt when I touched near the injury. The return was quicker because we didn’t stop for any photographs. In 15 minutes we were back on the boat heading back to the entrance.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Part 10 - Kuruva islands

It was around 9am when we were at the Kuruva islands entrance. First thing we did was enquire about lunch; there was only one restaurant it seemed (not exactly a restaurant – it was a thatched roof house). The guys told we would be back for lunch there. Kuruva islands would take 2 to 3 hours to cover depending on how much we roamed about. Jabradamus and I talked to the forest ranger near the main gate and got boating tickets. He told there are numerous small islands that we can visit.

Kuruva islands was separated from the mainland by a small stretch of water and there were two 10-seater boats to take us across. The oarsman were forest staff. On the other side we had a path leading us to the entrance of Kuruva islands. We took a few snaps on the way to the entrance; there were many tall trees on the way and I was misled by a few dried leaves into believing that there was a bird amongst the branches! The strange part was that there wasn’t much movement to be seen – no birds and no small animals around in an area that was like a forest; very odd.

We bought the tickets for entry; you could pay an extra Rs. 100 to get a forest ranger to guide you through the islands but we felt we could manage on our own. As we walked along we took numerous snaps – on bamboo chairs, on tree trunks that were tilted, on tree stumps, on branches and what not.
“Karthik; too much”
“Every time after taking a snap he will check the preview to see how he looks”
“Not just that; he will zoom in to see if he looks perfect!”
We took turns in photography. But the more we walked the more surprised I was that there were no animals around.
“So where are the little islands?”
“There they are”
“Those are just some large rocks in the water”
“They also constitute an island!”

Suddenly there was a forest ranger pointing towards the water; a few people and all of us rushed to see what it was. Viswa who was having my camera exclaimed, “See this”. He had captured a snap of an alligator coming out of the water – it returned back to the water immediately.
“They say that crocodiles and alligators are attracted even by a drop of blood in the vicinity”
“We have Kumar here – he has plenty of extra blood; one drop is not an issue”

We ambled along and came to a pit which had a tree trunk lying across it – you could either step down the pit and climb up the other side or walk on the tree trunk to get to the other side. The pit wasn’t very deep but standing on the trunk did feel uneasy. The guys below were doing photography and asked us to position ourselves better on the trunk. I walked midway on the trunk and then stopped; even if I lost balance I could jump safely into the pit but my legs quivered. At this point the guys below asked me to move a little in front so that they could get a better snap! I had balance but there was a very visible trembling below my knees.
“Hey, you legs are really jittery” Jabradamus shouted from below.
As soon as the photo session was over I darted across back to safe turf. There wasn’t much out here; the area was perhaps good for a picnic spot but there didn’t seem to be anything else of interest. I still didn’t find any bird in the area!

We soon came across a stream and only now did I understand what they meant by small islands. There was a main water body that was separated in many areas by pieces of land leading to the formation of many small islands. The guys decided to cross the stream while Vasanth argued, “What is the point? We will have to come back this side again to exit”.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Part 9 - the life of a writer!

We had breakfast of pooris and started for Kuruva islands. KY and me struck up on a lengthy conversation that continued in the van. We both took the last row in the van.

“Should do something different” he said.
“Something other than just visiting normal tourist spots”
“Yesterday’s trekking was quite different from a typical sightseeing”
“Yes, I should have come for that – missed it”
After a little thought he continued, “We should just mix with the local people and experience their lives”
“It will be fun especially here where language is also a barrier. Just be left alone”
“Right, and it should be alone; not in a group”
“I’ve generally seen that when we are in a group we don’t do certain things; we tend to be more shy and conscious when in a group. But when alone we are more bold”
“Fear of those who know us! And we shouldn’t go through all these travel tours”
“Ya, they will take us where they want to go and hurry through the whole thing. It is good to plan the entire trip on our own”
“Stay at cheap places and mingle with the local people”
“Like farm side houses and lodges”
“The people might not talk with us but still it will be a good feel. Should also have one local contact in the country in case of any emergency”
“It will be awesome, all alone in a foreign country”
“Should not be one or two weeks also. Should be for at least one or two months in which we can travel at our own leisure; see what we want to and maybe even without planning. Just wander around from one place to the next”

I was dreaming about it; it would be great to travel like that, loitering in a foreign land with no worries or cares.
We were travelling for 20 minutes and by now a few of the guys had dozed away while some were just gazing idly outside. Only KY and me were in non stop discussion.

“I wonder how much it will cost” I mused.
“You mean a trip abroad?”
“Hmm – going to a foreign country and staying there for a month. Should work out the cost and see”
“These famous writers can enjoy in the name of researching for their book!”
“Need to get one bestseller. After that whatever they write will sell”
“Have you read that IIT story; Chetan Bhagat?”
“Yes, read that one. But didn’t read the other two by him. Guys said the other two are not great”
“I am yet to read the first one. But after that it is like whatever he writes will sell”
“Same with our Booker prize winner; the White Tiger”
“That book is all about corruption, poverty and all. Readable but I was curious to read it to see how a Booker prize winning book is”
“He is now very popular”
“And other books written by him are in Landmark bookshop’s top selling books! One clicked and now everything of his will click”
“Write one bestseller and then travel around the world. What a life”
“And if anyone asks what are you doing you say that you are researching for your next book”
“But seriously, books written like that will sell well because you will write in fine detail facts about different places; man, what a life that would be”

And both of us chatted pretty much non stop throughout the ride; travel, books, writing as a career and what not. After a couple of hours we reached out destination – Kuruva islands.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Part 8: The night...

Some of the guys went to get drinks while the rest of us headed back to the hotel. There were a few foreigners waiting to check in.

“How did those people land up here?”

“It’s not that great a place”

“All connections – hotel will give commission to the auto drivers and cab drivers for every person they bring here”

“And searching on the Net will throw up their website”

“But the place looks awful on the website. We were actually quite worried about how this place would be when we saw the photos on the Net”

We took the keys from the receptionist and enquired about the wildlife reserve.

“There you might not find any animals – sometimes you will sometimes you won’t”

“So is it better to go to Kuruva islands or the wildlife reserve?”

“Kuruva islands” he declared and with that we dropped the plan of the wildlife reserve.

The guys who planned to drink didn’t come for dinner and instead asked us to get food for them. The rest of us went in search of a restaurant along with the driver. As we walked, we discussed about tomorrow’s schedule.Vasanth tried to get details from the driver.

“Kuruva islands would take how long”

“Ah, Kuruva; you will reach at 2”

“Oh two in the afternoon; hey, Jabradamus it will become 2 when we reach there it seems”

It seemed odd because according to the map it didn’t seem like it will take more than two hours.We questioned the driver again and he said it will take 2. After a while we realized the driver actually meant 2 hours drive and not 2 o clock! We had chappatis, parathas and biriyani for dinner. We packed a lot of parcels for the guys who stayed back in the hotel. On our way back we stopped at a grocery shop and had a different Keralite sweet - each piece was specially packed in a paper.

Back in the hotel, I joined Jabradamus and KY in their room. There was some movie called The Fountain which was running on Star Movies.

“That is supposed to be a good movie”

“Oh, what is it about?”

“About some fountain of life and about a tree but I didn’t understand it”

KY shouted looking at the screen, “Hey this guy”

“What this guy?”

“This guy is that guy?”

“Which guy?”

“It’s wolverine”

“X-Men guy you mean”

“Ya – Hugh Jackman”

“Na that’s not him yaar – you are confusing”

For 5 or 10 minutes we debated over the actor but never reached a consensus. We then tried to follow the story line and unfortunately couldn’t do that either.

“It’s good they put English sub titles”

“Ya, otherwise need to keep volume in full blast and listen to each word. We’ve already missed most of the movie”

The scenes kept jumping between the past and future and between some dimensions. There were two Hugh Jackman’s or probably three – at least one of them appeared quite clearly like Wolverine and there was a huge tree. There was one Hugh Jackman floating in the air in a yoga posture. And the entire story was complete confusion for us – just like how any Hollywood movie is when you try to butt in the middle! We took a break and watched the guys who were having a drink; none of them had a heavy drink and all were within control though some interesting scenes arose.

“Eat da – eat the biriyani. Why aren’t you eating?”

“What is there to eat? You have eaten double your share and now you want me to eat the leftovers”

“Eat yaar” he repeated.

There was actually nothing left over!

“He drank it like water and kept on eating whatever was near him” someone complained.

When we returned back to YK’s room, it was the ending of Fountain – the tree of life was growing out of Wolverine’s body; then there was another Wolverine who was planting a sapling in another world. And finally in the credits screen YK exclaimed as if he had won the lottery, “See – I told you. It was all Hugh Jackman!”

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Part 7 – Too late to regret

(based on suggestion from Ankita we will try to add relevant snaps to the travelogue; hope you enjoy it)

I was quite hungry and so was Viswa. We bought a Tiger biscuit pack and a bottle of water.
“Oh, they make special Tiger biscuits with coconut added here”
“Yes; coconut added to everything”
It tasted different but in the hunger I didn’t mind the difference. Before entering the van, I spotted a beautiful bird on a tree top. I used the maximum zoom possible to capture it. After four attempts I got one where the bird was in the frame. Vasanth tried next to capture a better snap of the bird – it was a matter of keeping your hand steady. He also captured one nice picture. Praveen saw both of us trying to photograph something and he also wanted to try his hand at it. We were trying the patience of the guys inside the van!

According to the original plan we thought that from 1pm to 3 or 4pm maximum we would be in the caves and after that would have ample time to go to a waterfall. We had grossly underestimated and it was now 5:30pm. Next stop was Meenmutty waterfalls – we weren’t sure if it would be open but there was nothing else we could visit and so we thought of checking it out.

On the way Jabradamus, our trip coordinator asked, “We can decide on the plan for tomorrow”.
“How many want to go trekking tomorrow?”
The original plan was that we would go on a trekking trip tomorrow – on some actual trekking spot. Today’s trekking above the caves was not part of any trekking route.
“We did trekking today; why do it again tomorrow?”
“I’m asking because few of us went all the way but others didn’t. So if they want then we can go tomorrow for trekking”
“Na no need”
And so the trekking idea was dropped. There was a reserve forest to which we could go early morning and there was another sun rise valley we could visit.
“What to do in a reserve forest? There will be nothing”
“There is a jeep trip for 1.5 hours”
“It might turn out that we see no animals as well”
“But for all that we should start by 6am or so”
“Time is not a problem”
“The only problem is the guys there”, someone said pointing at Vasanth and Barath.
“Oh no problem you can just lift us and bring us to the van!”
“Or you go to the reserve forest and then come back and wake us up”

Meenmutty falls was closed – no more visitors allowed for the day. And so the next stop and last stop for today was Karapuzha dam. As we headed towards the dam, it was sunset time and the skies looked beautiful in the orange hue. If we had reached the dam 10 minutes earlier we could have had a perfect view of the sun setting with mountains on either side and still waters in front – it would have made for a beautiful picture. There wasn’t much to see in the dam – it is just still waters and a barrier. Praveen, Vasanth and I were experimenting with the night photography setting on my camera while the others were having a dip in the water. I reminded myself – no water! There was no staff around but plenty of tourists kept pouring in. People just walked the 500 meters stretch of land close to the water and returned back. As darkness set in we moved out from the dam.

The return trip back to our hotel was fun; Santanu started singing – he had a beautiful voice and sang well. He started with a couple of Hindi songs but on demand he switched to Tamil with Vaaranam Aayiram songs; Vasanth and KY provided the chorus support. Typically in such situations you never sing a complete song – you tend to keep jumping songs after a couple of verses. And so it went on for about 30 minutes or so along with pulling someone’s leg! I was reliving the trekking trip; I still couldn’t believe we had climbed it and returned in one piece!
“You guys should have come up – at least KY and Prabhu. It was awesome”
“Ya, should have”
Oh, well; it was too late to regret. They’d have to wait another day to live that experience.

( be continued...)

Friday, February 06, 2009

Part 6 – One step at a time

The more we climbed the more we thought about how hard the descent would be. To add to our joy there were a few teenagers returning down who said, “Going up will be easy; you will suffer while coming down”. Not exactly the same words and tone but they actually hurled a few words at us like a curse which meant the same.

After all our efforts we did reach the top; from the 11 who started only 6 of us made it all the way – Bharath, Praveen, Jabradamus, Kumar, Santanu and me. It was exhilarating to be at the top and at that moment we were the only ones at the top.
“Mobile signal is very clear. It must be a direct satellite link at this height!”
The Airtel signal was strong and I exchanged a couple of messages with a friend from the top of the hill. Kumar and Praveen who were from EEE batch of engineering posed for a snap beside a boulder that had “LBSCE EEE 06-09” painted on it.

“Those guys must’ve carried paint with them all the way up!”
After a few more snaps and absorbing the beauty from above, we started the descent downhill.
“I am not going in front of Kumar. If he falls I will also be pulled down. Let him go in front”.

And so it was – Kumar took the lead and went ahead of us. Let every man defend himself!
I made for the rear of the group with Santanu in front of me.
“Remove your shoes; you will have better grip”
I didn’t; I felt comfortable with my Nike and trusted it for grip.
“We have to go so far to reach the place where Vasanth is”, Praveen shouted pointing down.
“Don’t look too far down – it’s frightening”
“Just take it one step at a time. Sit down and use your bum”

Using our buttocks made the descent much easier; you just sit down, let your legs free to find the next foothold carving, get a firm grip and then move down. In some places we weren’t able to reach the next carving below and we had to lower ourselves using our arms to reach firm ground. At one point, Kumar took a diversion on the right while the rest of us went on the left side. It was a circle and so both paths met again but Kumar’s path was the path less trodden upon (or perhaps never taken by anyone) – there were bushes through which he had to find his way and then jump at an awkward angle to join us.

Santanu who was in front of me got stuck at one place – the place where we climbed up using a tree branch. He was circumspect about how to get down. Praveen from below shouted, “Just place your leg there”.
“But it is slippery there”
“It will be fine; just hold on with your hands and step over there”
“But my hands are also all slippery with the sand”
Santanu was a bit jittery but after someone advice from Praveen below he tentatively placed his foot on the spot Praveen pointed. I was happy that he finally moved because I was stuck in an awkward position straining my ankles.

We continued downwards, going down the vertical ladder and soon reached the spiderman area. After clicking a few more pictures there we went to the other side and continued our downward journey.
The rope walking was easy going down and our descent was very rapid and smooth. There were no hiccups and we reached Vasanth’s area after spending three hours in the hills. We washed our face in the water that was coming out of a tube.

We stopped for having lime juice before we went down the 1 kilometer road. At the pit stop we did pull legs again – about Kumar finding his own route and Santanu complaining about slipperiness everywhere!
"And now I know why those kids cursed us while we were going up!"

The one kilometre road down was easy this time; Viswa and me literally ran down the slope.
“I can’t walk on this slope. It is easier to run”
“Ya; if we try to walk our calf muscle hurts”
The only problem was the rash jeep drivers who raced past us. At around 5:30pm we were back near our van.
“You can go slow if you side step – that doesn’t hurt”
But both of us were happy to fly down the road.

( be continued...)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Part 5 -Spiderman

The rest of us went up. After some more climbing up rock steps and paths having very few foot holdings we came to a place where there were huge slabs of stones. One of the slabs was at an inclined angle. To get to the other side we had to crawl through a small crevice between the inclined slab and the rocks beneath.

“And now we have to go like spiderman!”
“Why are we doing all this? What are we going to get to see?”

The crevice could barely accommodate one person; we had to lie almost flat and side step. On coming out at the other end Karthik happily announced, “SS, here we are and there we have to go!”

I followed his hand and what I saw stunned me. I could see people climbing up another hill – and there were people at three fourths the height of the hill; I couldn’t fathom how we would ever get to such a distance and height. It just seemed incredible.
Santanu said, “Karthik, keep my camera”.
Karthik was wearing the baggy type pant which has umpteen pockets. Only now did I realize that my camera was with Vasanth! There was no way I could go back, get it from him and return.

The next portion was relatively easy – not much of a slope and easily walk-able. But to get to the base we were confronted by a 45 degree inclined ladder that was literally dependent on just one soldering on one of its legs. On going up the ladder there was a stony surface with no foot holdings – you couldn’t walk just like that; instead there was a thick rope which you had to hold on to and walk to the other side. I bit like rappelling – you depended solely on the rope and nothing else. Each time you wonder how you are going to cross such things and each time you somehow make it across. All of us went over to the other side. Viswa and I were the last; behind us were a couple of girls who were sceptical about coming over using the rope.

Viswa enthusiastically shouted, “If you feel confident you can come otherwise don’t”
Then he continued, “This side we can help you but while going back you have to go on your own”.
“So only if you are confident come”.
I whispered, “So you are waiting here to give them a hand eh?”
He smiled.
There was no need for either of us to give hand because one girl started and came over. After she came to the other side, her friend deserted her and returned back.
“She deserted you!” we exclaimed in unison.
Apparently the girls had come along with a few others and so this girl joined another guy from her group.

The more we looked up the more frightening it seemed – people were visible at heights way above us. And yet we kept moving. The trek got tough from this point onwards. You had to ensure you had your foot on some footmark holding to move upwards. Some of the rocks were very lengthy and we needed to stretch our legs to the maximum. We were soon confronted by another ladder – this one vertical; as you climbed up you could feel the ladder waver! Karthik halted his climb upwards because his slipper had broken. Next we came to a point where you had to hold on to the branch of a tree to lift yourself up – Viswa dropped out from the group at this stage. Further on we were confronted by sharp ascents that we felt would be very tough to descend – the stones were too smooth and if you didn’t find the foothold carvings there was no way you could get any grip on those stones.

“How will we come down?” Santanu asked.
“It will be pretty hard. Either we go on or we stop and turn around now”
For some unknown reason, perhaps the thrill of it and perhaps the fact that we weren’t the first to take this path prodded our body along.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Part 4: Eddaikal Caves - the fun begins!

The driver told us that we would have restaurants near Eddaikal Caves and so we decided to have lunch there – after a 30 minutes drive we reached our destination. There was just a small board which said “Welcome to Eddaikal Caves”.

There were only two restaurants out of which one was not functioning. We ventured a little further but only found a snack bar and a few craft shops. We returned back to the restaurant and had to wait for 10 minutes to place our order – it wasn’t crowded but the waiters were busy serving two other tables. We ordered a few plates of parathas and few meals. “White rice or red rice?” asked the waiter.“Red rice” Red rice is the Kerela rice – a little bigger in size and supposed to be healthier. The food was good; though we were circumspect about red rice at first, we didn’t find much difference in taste compared to the white rice. Or maybe we didn’t feel any difference because of the extreme hunger all of us were in. The meals was typical like what we usually have – sambar, curry, morkolambu, applam and the good thing was that even applam was unlimited.We were told that we would have to walk a kilometre to reach the actual entrance to Eddaikal caves. It might have been just a kilometre but it was an upslope road all the way. To add to our misery there were two jeeps plying up and down that were dropping people at the entrance. The drivers had no consideration about foot travellers and seemed like they would be more than happy to bump us off; each time a jeep came the one in front would sound an alert, “Jeep approaching. Step aside” and all of us would step as far aside as possible.

“One step of SS equals two of mine. He is going up easily”, remarked Viswa. Vasanth was the one who was most tried.“Hey, look at him. Vasanth is pushing himself!”He had both his palms on his back and was actually trying to push himself uphill. We took turns to take the lead; suddenly there was a burst of energy in KY and Jabradamus. Jab shouted, “Let’s run”. And KY followed him. It reminded me of Greek legends where certain heroes would raise a war cry that would lift up the spirits of their troops! Both jogged for a few metres before tiring out.Finally after walking up the rock steps we reached the actual entrance to the caves – there was a ticket counter. We sat down for a few minutes before proceeding to the ticket counter.“No problem guys – there is no one in sight below us; so we can sit till the queue moves”.The entrance and exit was the same path and the width was just sufficient for one person to pass through. Soon we guys treaded up through the entrance.

“So what’s up there? What do we see when we go there?”

“There will be a room from where you can see a view” someone joked.

Actually there was no room – there were huge stones shielding us from the afternoon sun; there was a tube from which water was gushing and then there was a path going uphill again. There were metal steps, rock steps, gravel steps and mud to traverse through. There was a stretch of path where there was a metal rusted ladder lying at a slight inclination. You could either take the rocky path on the right or trust the rusted ladder! We soon reached a platform from where there were steps on the right side leading to a small enclosure. This was the cave – huge stones flanking either side with a huge stone on top creating a nice enclosure.

“What if that stone fell?”

“It will be instant death – you won’t know anything at all”

“Will be terrible; what they call a koduram saavu”

“Might seem so but it will just be a split second!”

The stones on either side contained many carvings. Not natural marks but carvings made intentionally – weird symbols.“I wonder how they made carvings at such heights”, observed Jabradamus looking at patterns made near the top of the stone.We took a few snaps posing near the stones and then moved on to the left side of the platform. There were a few rocks leading further uphill; Vasanth halted at that point. Along with him KY and Prabhu also stopped. They weren’t keen on going up.

“What is there further up?”

“Oh, probably nothing”

“Some viewpoints maybe”

(…to be continued…)

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Part 3 – First stop: Pookod Lake

The journey to Wayanad was silent for most part; most of the guys continuing their sleep. I tried some photography in the moving vehicle and experimented with some settings on my camera. The ride uphill to Wayanad was similar to going uphill to Kodaikanal – I guess it was the same in most hill ; you keep going on a circular road with the one side being the slope of the mountain – the sight was awesome; nature at its best – unpolluted and clean. Our first stop before heading to our hotel was the Pookod lake.

The main attraction here was boating – three guys opted out while the remaining eight of us took four pedal boats and pedalled across the lake. Only after I started pedalling did I remember that dad had told me not to step into lakes and water – oops; in the midst of a gang you tend to forget things! Well, I marked in my mind that the next watery place we went to I should avoid the waters.
“Do not pluck flowers. Fine is Rs.50 per flower. Haha – where do you have flowers in this area!”
“And they will count the flowers you have in hand for the fine!”
As we pedalled away I asked, “Santanu, do you know swimming?”
I shouted across at Prabhu and Kumar in the other boat, “How about you both?”
Neither did they!
“Oh Kumar won’t have a problem – his body will automatically float!”
As we pedalled to the extreme end of the lake we discovered the flowers; there were a few water lilies on the lake. It was quite an exercise for twenty minutes for our legs to start the day – pedalling a boat is not as easy as it seems!

“Hey, there is an aquarium”
“Yuck; I’m not coming; it will stink there” someone commented.
“We’ve come all the way so we might as well see everything around”
“They have an entrance fee for it; Rs.2 per head”
“We’ll do one thing – two of us will go and see what is inside; then the rest can follow if it is good”.
I volunteered to go in first. We stepped into an old room where a few fishes were swimming in separate glass tanks – the place was not maintained and there were only a few varieties inside. It wasn’t long before Vasanth and everyone entered the aquarium.
“Why did all of you come? There is nothing great inside”
“You guys never gave any status update and so we all decided to come in”

Jabradamus was our guide and explained to us about some of the fishes that he knew: the cleaner fish, in each tank, was a black fish that always appeared lazy and stuck its mouth to the glass sides. Then there was the cat fish, then there was a particular fish that kept biting at another fish’s tail, then there was the fish that was supposed to play with people – you move your finger and it would move along with you. But unfortunately here, either the fish was fed up with playing with visitors or it was frightened by Vasanth! It actually went into hiding when Vasanth surprised it by popping his face straight at it.

Finally before leaving the lake we took snaps of some flowers. Another 40 minutes drive and we were in our hotel room – 4 rooms for the 11 of us. All rooms had a TV. Santanu and me shared a room. The rooms were decent with an attached bathroom. After freshening up the plan was to drive up to Eddaikal Caves where we would have lunch. After visiting the caves, we would go to a waterfall and then return back to the hotel – I reminded myself that I shouldn’t enter the water when we go there.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Kerela 2 - What is pongal?

It was only 10pm after one round of pulling legs. Kumar, on his way to the restroom, unknowingly knocked the head of another passenger with his elbow. This presented us with another opportunity to target him again! All he could do was smile – you really can’t do much when you are the target because anything you say in defence will be used against you!

Berths for four of us were in one compartment while Kumar’s berth was two blocks away. To his dismay his berth was already occupied by a person – a middle aged man who was part of a gang that had occupied all eight berths in that compartment. Everyone there was fast asleep and Kumar tentatively woke up the man. The man didn’t budge but after a couple more of our guys joined Kumar the man reluctantly gave up his side upper berth and Kumar happily jumped in.

The train had a LED display near the toilet that displayed the next station and the time due for the destination. A nice addition to the Indian railways.

I hopped into my upper berth and was lost in thoughts for a while – the berth in a train is one of the best places to contemplate over anything – present, past or future. Just lying there chugging along, with a slight rocking effect, staring into a ceiling that is just an arm’s length away, with no one to disturb you does stir up some fascinating and romantic thoughts!


The five of us were awake by 7am. Only KY had brought a toothpaste in our group!
Someone commented, “Kumar was mobbed by girls while brushing his teeth”.
“Oh; it wasn’t him they were crowding around – it was for the wash basin that they were there!”
The train was supposed to reach Kozhikode at 7:45am. A Nepali coffee vendor came over to our compartment. In the comedy that ensured with KY asking a ‘How much’ and then following it with a ‘Too much’ we all burst out laughing. In Hindi I asked the vendor when the train would reach Kozhikode and he said he didn’t know but the train was half an hour late. The LED display wasn’t working in the morning and so we really didn’t know where we were and just sat gazing through the window trying to identify our location. At around 7:45am we saw some signs on boards that indicated we were in Kozhikode. And in fact the next station was Kozhikode itself.
“I guess that guy wanted to take revenge on us. The train is on time and he said it is late!”

We had arranged for a van to take us to Wayanad, northern Kerela. But before Wayanad we had to stop for breakfast. The Keralite driver, probably thinking we would dine in high class restaurants, took us to a hotel where they had a breakfast buffet. Judging by the looks of the place we knew it would be costly. The problem was that none of us knew Malayalam and the driver knew only Malayalam. With the little Malayalam we knew we told him to take us to a “siriya” (small) restaurant.
“The driver was having a high impression about us and now all of that is destroyed”, Praveen commented. The next restaurant we stopped at was a typical way side restaurant.
Karthik, while seated in the restaurant, confidently said, “Here in Kerela appam is called white pongal”.
Everyone thought he knew some Malayalam and accepted; but Viswa wondered if appam is pongal here then what is pongal called?
His doubt was cleared when the waiter announced that appam was on the menu. So much for Karthik’s Malayalam.

Jabradamus said the kadalai (black channa) curry was a speciality and so both of us ordered appam with kadalai curry while the rest asked for idlis. The appam had a tinge of sweetness and the combination tasted great. We guys had occupied three tables and while paying the bill confusion ensued – we were billed for four tables instead of three; the extra table was occupied by guys of our age; they were into non vegetarian food for breakfast and the bill was pretty hefty! We had to repeat our explanation a few times before the waiter realized that he had made a mistake – huh; I wonder what all troubles we will get into because of the language barrier! be continued...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Kerela Travelogue 1 - The journey begins...

The following is a travelogue about our trip to Kerela to attend a friend's wedding...


I set off from office earlier than usual after bidding adieu to those I held near and dear. I gobbled up a few idlis at home and took an auto ride to the central railway station. The auto driver surprised me by asking for a decent fare – I did bargain and bring it down by Rs.10 but was happy with his reasonable starting price; perhaps it had to do with inflation falling and the cost of fuel dropping.

I was 45 minutes early at the station. The train was Mangalore Mail and my coach was S10 – unfortunately S10 was at the other end of the station and I had to walk a fair distance. I hoped to catch a glimpse of some known face on the way but there were none; not even in S10! I confirmed my berth number by checking the chart and after waiting for 25 minutes outside I boarded the train. As with any trip, there were a lot of changes in the participants for this journey – some dropping out in the beginning while some had to drop because they suddenly had something more interesting – marriage, onsite opportunity etc.

Jabradamus, Kumar, Prabhu, KY and Karthik soon joined me. The rest of the gang was in coach S6. At 8:30pm the train started chugging. When you have a large group of guys in one compartment you can except a lot of “pulling of legs” to happen and that is exactly what happened in our coach as well. Everyone had something interesting and no one was spared the teasing; Karthik was soon going to become the bridegroom and we threatened him about the gifts we would present – a photo album with some treasured snaps and poses! And then there was his love affair with the mobile. Guess everyone engaged goes through the same story – hours and hours of non stop chatting before marriage.

“Karthik can never be reached on phone – phone always busy”
“As soon as he gets up he calls her to say I woke up now. When he goes to brush his teeth he calls again and says I am going to brush my teeth now”
“After breakfast he calls and tells everything that he ate”
“Can’t bear his phone calls these days!”I was teased with the college story I had written. Fortunately since I wasn’t in the same office as the others I escaped a bit lightly! Jabradamus was the rising star in office - one of the most popular figures in office over the last few months. Kumar was teased about his bulky body frame.
“He has the looks of being a rough and tough dada but he is actually the opposite in nature”
Quite true – in fact lot of people give you one impression on first look but turn out to be just the opposite.

KY was a writer who had posted many stories in the internal electronic bulletin board and that was the theme used to target him.

“He puts a post in the BB and then will come to my PC and send an appreciating from my email id”.
“And in the name of reviews you should see the emails he writes – the original post will be half a page but his comments will be two pages long!”

Soon Viswa joined us with a plastic box containing vegetable kurma in which a layer of oil was floating and I guess it had been rejected in S6. We had finished the chappatis that Kumar had bought and so left the plastic box untouched – the oil put out our gluttonous temptations. Viswa on entry was the next target. For Prabhu it was always a self-goal as we call it; he would try pulling someone else’s leg and in the process would blurt out something that made him a target. He tried his best to keep mum but somehow he would manage to utter a remark and get himself in trouble!

(stay tuned for part 2)