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South Indian adventures

A two-week road trip to Kodaikanal was filled with jaw-dropping views and a very smooth drive

Dielle D’Souza

We had no plan, just the goal to reach Kodaikanal and spend a few days there. Early one Monday morning a black VW Polo with two and a boot full of randomness set on a south-bound course. Destination 1 – Manipal.

The seven-hour drive was hot, flat and as it turned out fairly boring compared to what was to come. Over the next two days the service apartment witnessed grilled cheese sandwiches, Pictionary and Taboo battles and a decent bit of lazing around. It was humid around Manipal Lake, but quiet and relaxing. The Museum of Anatomy and Physiology (MAP) was quite the eye opener with its embalmed human body, baby Cyclops and strange but true disfigurations.

Over the next eight days, we picked our way across a small section of south India to places we never imagined we’d go. Each time we planted ourselves somewhere, we’d find a host of things to do that we mostly never ended up doing, but had fun anyway. The drive, however, was fantastic!

Manipal to Kudremukh kicked off routes through forested area and miles upon miles of breathtaking views. We passed through Kudremukh National Park, which is home to a number of species of wild animals, a horse-shaped mountain which gives the place its name, trekking routes and waterfalls.

Delicious pork and a campfire marked the night at Silent Valley Resort, and a trek uphill the following morning. We then drove just over a couple of hours to Chikmagalur. This time, the car wound its way through the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, part of Project Tiger, and the site of the sacred Baba Budan Giri Hill. There was no one else at Winter Green Resorts, so we got the pick of cabins at a discount and the largest bonfire we could manage.

The next morning, the Polo decided it was suffering from PMS – lights began blinking on the dashboard, and the music system involuntarily sent the volume rocketing to maximum. A trip to the town’s chaotic garage ended in a decision to switch the route from Coorg to Mysore, where there was a Volkswagen service centre.

It was a week before the famous Mysore Dussehra, which pulls in enormous crowds for the parade. The Royal Orchid was renovating its rooms and bumped us up from a standard to a deluxe, complete with bathtub, minibar and snacks. While Sweet Brown was getting her insides checked, we stole a trip to the Mysore Zoo, which houses a wonderful array of animals, birds, and reptiles over 157 acres.

Since the technicians said there was nothing they could do with Sweet Brown just then, we made our way through the Bandipur and Mudumalai National Parks to Kotagiri, driving along the Nilgiri Ghat Roads with 36 hairpin bends with a whole lot of ‘oohs’ at the view. It was meant to be a single night’s stay, but with a room looking across tea plantations, it was impossible not to change our minds. So stay on we did, taking morning walks through waist-high bushes of fragrant tea and breathing in lungfull of fresh mountain air.

Then, a week after we’d left home, we hit the road to Kodaikanal. We stayed outside the commercially over run town in Vattakanal. Our cottage was a hike up muddy pathways on a steep hill with the most magnificent view we’d seen so far. Bisons often graze in the darkness, adding an element of thrill, the danger only slightly muted by the presence of the guest house’s friendly dogs.

We made a night visit to City View to see the twinkling lights of Kodaikanal, paused at the deplorably touristic Coakers’ Walk and stood on the edge of the cliff at Echo Point. There were beef momos, carrot cake, pear jam and muffins in town; sweet corn on the cob, Maggi noodles, baby carrots and boiled eggs in our cottage on the hill. The views made the trip more than worth it.

On the way home, we stopped in Bangalore for a few days, and took a short trip to the hill station of Yelagiri. Sweet Brown made it back home after two weeks on the trot with two happy faces and a boot still full of randomness.

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