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Monday, 12 August 2013

GETTING UP THE GHATS



This is the first of a series of articles that I intend to write about Kodaikanal.  If you should be fortunate enough to visit this southern Indian hill-station in Tamil Nadu, make sure that you buy a copy of Zai Whitaker's excellent guidebook Kodai Cocktail ( publ. by Ecumenical Book Services, Chennai, India: 2012). In it she refers to a guidebook published in 1909 by 'E.M.M.I.' and Lillingstone of Kodaikanal. I found a copy of this detailed book on the Internet, and bought it. The black and white illustrations in this article and others that I hope to write came from this venerable book. 

This article deals with our  journey from Bangalore to Kodaikanal by road in July 2013. We did not travel in a chair carried by local Indians as is illustrated in the picture above, nor did we travel in the superior successor to this mode of transport illustrated below.


These pictures were taken before  a 'decent' road , the Law's Road was opened in 1916. We travelled in a brand new Suzuki Dezire from Bangalore. After leaving our daughter at Bangalore's international airport at 4.30 am, our driver Hanumaya drove us southwards right across Bangalore toward the Karnataka/Tamil Nadu border, which we reached soon after sunrise. We stopped at the RTO 'check-post' at  Zuzuwadi, which is on the outskirts of Hosur, and after a long delay our driver paid the 100 Rupee tax that allowed us to drive in Tamil Nadu.



Hanumaya proved to be a bold driver. Between Bangalore and Dindigul, we travelled along a modern highway. Our speed never left the range 120-140 km per hour except at the numerous toll-booths that we had to pass.  Although it was not particularly congested with traffic, there was some. Hanumaya was determined that none of this would slow us down. We overtook and undertook. If two trucks were overtaking, Hanumaya would shoot through the steadily closing gap between them. If two vehicles were moving towards each other, he would squeeze between them, narrowly missing contacting either of them. His driving was truly a ride of the 'white knuckle' variety.

Soon after we had left Hosur, I noticed that Hanumaya was getting sleepy. The car was drifting - at high speed - from one side of the carriage way to the other. Hanumaya, who had picked us up at 3.30 am, must have left his home an hour earlier. I suggested that we stop at a roadside café, which was part of an hotel, in order that he could take a nap. While he was fast asleep, we had coffee, but before that we needed the toilet. The proprietor of the café unlocked one of the rooms of the hotel (see below), and  told us to use its en-suite bathroom.





We continued our journey after Hanumay had slept for 45 minutes. Every now and then, he stopped for a cup of tea. Here is a shop at one of these stops. Notice that its owner has placed mask-like rakshasas to ward off the evil eye.




After several hair-raising hours of dare-devil driving, we reached Dindigul, where we left the motorway. Had Hanumaya been less tired, we would have entered this town. We decided to visit it on our return.  We joined the road that led towards Kodaikanal. It was not a dual carrigeway, but this did not mean that our driver needed to reduce his speed; he did not. We drove on westwards until we reached the small town of Periyakulam in which there was a huge traffic jam because a festival was in progress:



We realised that we had missed the turning for the ghat road leading up to Kodaikanal, and made a u-turn in the midst of all the festive chaos around us. After an anxious 20 minute drive retracing our steps we saw the sign to Kodaikanal and began ascending the winding road that was to take us up to 2500 metres above sea-level. At first, the road was quite good. Every now and then we encountered troupes of monkeys sitting by the roadside. They scattered away as we sped towards them.



Further on, the road deteriorated in patches, causing Hanumaya to consider slowing down a bit.



We had the feeling that Hanumaya was not familiar with mountain driving. He took curves at high speed, swinging the steering wheel around violently using only one hand. I cannot recall how many near misses we had as we met vehicles speeding down the road in the opposite direction. 



We climbed upwards for the best part of an hour and a quarter until we reached a toll-booth where we had to pay a small fee for entering the district of Kodaikanal. Soon after this, a few hair-pin bends later, we arrived at  a wonderful waterfall called Silver Cascades.



The falls, were were informed, were less spectacular than usual on account of poor rainfall. Near to the falls, I saw something that looked like a parody of an artwork by Damien Hirst:



It was in fact a collection of balloons that formed a shooting range for visitors to test their skills as marksmen. There was a line of stalls near the falls. They offered a variety of things for visitors. We selected one of the many tea-stalls at random and bought cups of ginger tea. This is made with freshly crushed root ginger, milk, tea powder, sugar, and powdered dried ginger. After this lot has been boiled up, it is strained through a cloth filter, and poured into cups. Here is our tea being cooled:



The tea was so delicious that we made at least one special trip out of Kodaikanal to drink it at this particular stall. Its owner told us proudly that his son was a university student studying engineering. After refreshing ourselves with his tea, we continued driving upwards until we entered the town of Kodaikanal. The temperature was about 11 degrees Celsius  It had been well over 32 down in Dindigul. 



We booked in at the Kodaikanal Club, an ex-colonial institution dating back to 1887. We were given a spacious room in the new block. It was nearer the dining room and other club facilities than the rather more picturesque original Victorian rooms:



Before retiring for the evening, we took a stroll around Kodaikanal's bustling bazaar area. 





On our way to this we passed a few fancy shops selling spices, dried fruits, and locally made chocolate, something that I would not advise anyone to even consider tasting even the smallest of pieces!



THIS SERIES OF BLOGS ABOUT KODAIKANAL TO BE CONTINUED


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