Sunday 12 September 2004

Back from tour!

I'm back! After a week of a South Indian tour, comprising of Waynad, Munnar,
Thekkady and Kodaikanal, I'm finally home, and NOT enjoying it one bit. I
mean, the tour was simply awesome. Seriously, unless we had gone to maybe
the Himalayas, or Switzerland, I don't think anything beats rambling about
God's Own Country with a bunch of friends. I can safely say now that I truly
LOVE Kerala. Not only is it beautiful, it's also gorgeous and spectacular at
the same time. And that's an understatement. Anyways, on with the travelogue.

Day 0 - The Departure

Our train (Mangalore Mail) as scheduled to leave Chennai Central at 1945 hours,
but for some vague reason, the tourism company wanted us to be there at 1745.
However, in what is now recognized as a quintessential Indian trait, me and my
gang (Sasi Kumar, Anitha and Thamarai) left Chromepet only at 1745, to be joined
en route by a clutch of other maties. We ended up reaching Central only at 1900

Scatterbrain that I am, I had forgotten to take along the 4000 (yep, 4 grand)
bucks to give to Vinod and Vivek. Vivek was O.K with it, but Vindy was furious.
Oh well...

Once on the train, we generally had a good time that night, after the inevitable
seating confusion that accompanies 45-member groups. We did practically everything
that could be done on a train. You know, the works, cards (normal as well as Uno),
songs, dance, wild food-fests and the mandatory Antakshari. The next morning we had
our first taste of the tourism company food, when they handed out jam sandwiches.
Admittedly, they weren't very well made, but I went ahead and had four anyway.

Day 1 - Calicut/Waynad

Immediately upon our arrival at Calicut station, we were bundled into a decent
looking airbus, with comfy seats and a VCD player. Since we'd known about the
VCD thing before, our guys had come armed with a bunch of Tamil movie CDs. Vivek
had also brought along 'The Matrix', but that was just wishful thinking. Never
in a million years would my class have allowed an English movie to be played.
Heck, they wouldn't even allow songs that were non-Tamil!

About lunchtime, we reached Waynad, where we were to say at Hotel Harithagiri.
It was a quaint-looking place which claimed to have a gym, an indoor games centre
and an Ayurvedic spa, although we never got a glimpse of those. The hotel manager
was a *really* fair Mallu guy - who for some reason bought Sai Prakash a lithium
cell, but wouldn't buy me one. Hmm...

After a good lunch (even though they made us wash our own plates), we were off
for some local sight-seeing. First we went to Pookkot Lake, which was a quite
amazing experience, notwithstanding the obscenely high rates for boating. Me,
Vivek, Praveena (some stranger blew a kiss to her) and Meena pedalled around
the lake, merrily disturbing couples who were coochie-cooing in what they thought
were secluded spots ;)
After boating, we went on a nature walk around the perimeter of the lake, which
proved to be most interesting. I also ended up walking with nearly all my class
cliques, as I was slightly on the hyperactive side that day, and kept running
back and forth. One of the highlights of this part of the day was when I bought
an entire grapefruit and ate most of it. I would've had the entire thing, but
my maties are bhukkad fellows.

Then we saw something called 'Chain Tree', which is supposed to be the samadhi
of the founder of Waynad, and hence is also the reference point for Waynad. It
consisted of a heavy chain looped around the branch of a tree and linked to two
iron hoops in the ground. But all of us failed to see how it served as a tourist

The high point (literally and figuratively) of the day was when we climbed up
a hill thinking it led to the peak of a mountain. We went pretty high, and by
the time we realized that we had probably come the wrong way, it was too late to
do anything about it. However, the sheer beauty of the view we had took everyone's
breath away, and conseqeuently the disappointment of not making the summit was

Finally we got back to the hotel for dinner and more of our continual vetti-thanam.

Day 2 - Waynad

After breakfast, we left for Soochipara Falls, where we all mucked around in
the water and the slippery rocks for far too long before going off on our way,
but not before I had some 3 or 4 cool drinks in some local Mallu potti kadai.

The final spot in Waynad was to be the Edakkal caves, which were brilliant. Not
only the caves, but even the access route to them. Both ways, I stopped to gorge
passion fruit, which were selling for a rupee apiece, and bananas. Yeah, yeah,
I know I'm a fruit freak. The caves themselves were supposed to be some tribal
thing, with carvings on the walls. And apparently, you can see TN, Kerala and
Karnataka from the very top of the place. But I didn't go there, for reasons of
laziness...Incidentally, Janani was the only girl to do so.

Anyways, we got back to the hotel after that, skipping Chembra Peak, due to time
constraints, and pigged out on rotis and some vegetable thingy. The non-veg gang
had a ball with some chicken & gravy dish. I went to sleep really late, after a
few rounds of cards and a ghost story session in a scary-looking gazebo.

Day 3 - Waynad

We left for Kuruva Island after breakfast. It wasn't an island in the truest
sense of the word, but I got to make a complete fool of myself in front of my
entire class, what with my crocodile hunting, frog search, amateur botanical
ventures and falling on my hiney when trying to impress the girls.

We were then supposed to go to a place called Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary,
but the rates there were simply outrageous, so we left as fast as we had arrived.

Thirunelly temple was the next destination on the list. Fortunately, the temple
people were sensible enough to understand that guys in a college group cannot
be expected to wear dhoties and walk around. Some guys expiated their sins in
an offshoot of the Papanashini river.

I also made calls to Bombay just before entering the temple :-D

Finally, we went back to the hotel, had dinner (what was it?) and left for
Munnar, which was to be an overnight journey.

Day 4 - Munnar

After an eventful journey (consisting of a birthday treat at midnight for our
very own C.K, followed by a window of our bus getting shattered, and a brief
bathroom break) we finally reached Munnar, where we stayed at some lodge-type
shack called the Munnar Tourist Home.

We then finished breakfast and left for Mattupatty Dam, where some decent girls
(omanakutties!) were present. One of them even spoke to Pradeep Naick, much to
the chagrin of birthday boy C.K.

This was followed by a speedboat ride around the lake, and some jumping around
a little island hillock. We couldn't see the Echo Point as it was raining, and
we didn't want to see the Indo-Swiss project, which turned out to be nothing
but a fancy cattle farm.

And so we went back to the hotel, and went for walks around the town centre,
where most people bought tea.

This night stay had to be the most uneventful, even boring, of the entire trip.

Day 5 - Thekkady

We left Munnar for Thekkady after breakfast, and soon enough discovered that
most of Munnar and Thekkady is owned by the Tata Group, in the form of HUGE tea
estates. Soon enough, we reached the Hotel Lake Queen, located at the centre of
Thekkady town.

The Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is apparently the home of the Nilgiri Tahr, but
even though we went to the maximum possible limit through a combination of rock
clambering and an uncomfortable Jeep drive, we could only see the silhouette of
this glorified mountain goat. However, I *did* discover that tea leaves taste
very, VERY bitter.

A decent boat cruise was the next item on the agenda. While the cruise itself
was excellent, it would've been better if we had managed to get a proper look
at some of the purported wildlife. But, it rained :(

Dinner that night was inconsequential, as some of us only barely had a few
mouthfuls. We'd earlier gone shopping around town, and grabbed a bite to eat.

Day 6 - Kodaikanal

The previous night was an interesting one for me, what with my involvement in
prank phone calls to girls' rooms and a drunken encounter.

Anyways, we left for Kodaikanal after breakfast, where I immediately went cycling,
upon arrival, around the lake. I also managed, thanks to the girls, to find a
decent gift for Shubaga, during the mandatory round of shopping.

En route to Kodai, we encountered some called 'Silver Cascade Falls', which is
basically any other waterfall, only, it's surrounded by vendors hawking all the
usual 'tourist goodies'.

We went to the hotel only went darkness set in, and what a hotel it was! Make a
note: Hotel JC Residency - highly recommended.

The campfire was a somewhat mixed affair. 'Passing the Parcel' was played, songs
sung, and dances danced. Everyone definitely had fun, but there was some key
ingredient missing. Hmm, could it have been spontaneity?

Dinner was amazing, as was the 'Truth or Dare' session that followed. In between
was a minor incident, when Praveena and G.D caused the TT table to collapse in
an untidy heap. We left the games room only after ensuring no trace of mischief

Day 7 - Kodaikanal/Departure

After yet another innocuous breakfast, and a few rounds of TT, we were off for
local sight-seeing, which mostly a letdown. Pillar Rock and Green Valley View
were invisible due to the fog. But there was a nice part where we had to clamber
down a mountain in order to reach the 'Guna Caves'. (i.e the caves where the movie
'Guna' was shot) We never did actually see the caves, but had some good ice-cream.

Somewhere in between all this, Praveena's cellphone got lost when we were
wandering around some woodsy place where lots of movies are supposedly shot.
That involved an exciting hitch-hike on the back of an open truck.

Finally, we were done and left for the Kodai Road station after bidding a tearful
farewell to the hotel. Our train (Pandyan Express) arrived on time, and we had
an amazing dinner on board. Most of us ended up staying awake all night simply
chatting away or playing cards. Arrival at Tambaram was at 0500 sharp, and just
like that, the tour was over.