The customary ‘that makes no sense’ intro
Two student trips to Kodaikanal in a span of four years, and I could safely say that I could climb atop a bus and pose for pictures. And look down upon lesser mortals. And lest I forget, the foolhardy mission to walk across the Athirapally Falls in the peak of the monsoon were the highlights of my travel pursuits. Unless, of course, you count every Tambrahm family’s enforced vacation to the ‘native place’ which comprised only temple trips around Tamil Nadu after which we vowed to never go there again until the next year, when I would want to go on another weight-loss spree. Every trip, without fail, gave me gastro-enteritis and atleast two days stay at a hospital on return.
I’m not the type to slip on a light backpack and travel the world. Why, I didn’t even visit the Jewish Synagogue five minutes away from home until I was 20. And it is really famous, if you must know. If I see a beautiful place, I just plonk down – never mind if it’s the hard ground or a weather-beaten bench and just enjoy the scene. My favourite place was and is the Mattancherry Boat Jetty – where I can feel the salty air of the backwaters and watch the row boats bobbing above the water.
Ten years into Muscat life, we decided to go for the customary Singapore-Malaysia trip. Two days into the torrid weather and I felt violently sick. A kind doctor in Malaysia suspected dengue. So I coughed my way throughout the trip, seeing two baboons in place of one at the zoo, shooed away birds at Jurong Park, stayed cooped up in the hotel room at Genting and made life miserable for the family until I landed in Madras and slept for two days straight.
The only family trip I’ve enjoyed so far is to Sri Lanka because I didn’t have to wait queues miles long, to see a single star on the horizon or wake up at 5am to get on top of a tower, the same view I could have partially seen from the 30th floor of my hotel. It was one long road trip but with enough pink jackfruit, rambutan and yoghurt with honey, I did not even mind the single sleeping leopard that we saw at Yala National Park. (I realised a year later, Banerghatta National Park at Bangalore had more of ‘em cats and therefore did not warrant a trip to Sri Lanka.)
Anyway, I digress. Thankfully, my short press tips to Beirut, Istanbul and Switzerland were fun. I liked the company, the pace and the five-star stays. Travelling by business class topped with OTT services meant I enjoyed every bit of it. Except for Indonesia which was a mad trip with OCD guides, a few hours at every city (including beautiful Bali where we spent a total for four hours. I’m still crying over that one) flights every day, unsmiling travel exchange clerks and tofu at every meal. And the sheer volume of the currency. The only country where I got to be a millionaire with a few dollars.
We try to ‘do’ a trip in the home country every year and they are certainly different. Unplanned, unorganised, and all at the wrong time of the year, they have been, nevertheless fun. My goal here is to therefore, list, one accidental discovery at a time, beginning with a hill station just 35 kms away from the in-laws place, Nelliyampathy, in God’s Own Country.
All for a few brilliant photographs
After having just recovered from a whirlwind trip to the Periyar Tiger Reserve at Thekkady and the vineyards at Cumbum and trying our phones on both sides of the border (BSNL in Kerala and Airtel in Tamil Nadu, ah what an idea Sirji!) and other such trivial pursuits like travelling in a KSRTC bus for seven hours inside a forest to spot non-existent elephants, we returned home for a few days of rest.
With the nephew’s arrival from parched and humid Madras, our travel bug bit us again. First was the customary ‘rain-soaked’ experience. Walking back from the cinema hall after having seen a Bangalore tourist documentary (Bangalore Days), we were the only four foolish people (Two adults and two children) to walk 2 km in the rain without umbrellas, even stopping at various places for ‘selfies’. After a round of fireworks from the paati, and in my case, the mother-in-law, we went out in the rain again and also planned a trip to Nelliyampathy the following day.
The Nelliyampathy Hills, in Palakkad is around 35 km or so from Ayakkad. That’s why we never visited it until now. And instead of taking the usual tourist summer route, we decided to traverse the path in the peak of the monsoon when visibility is so low that no driver would actually venture with a gang as mad as this one! But as good Palakkad folks and neighbours go, Rajan our driver was by now, aware of our frequent bouts of insanity (he had seen us frolicking in the rain, you see!) and acquiesced.
So armed with a Nikon (mine) and a Canon (my nephew’s) we set out for Nelliyampathy. First, we travelled to Nenmara, where along the way, the husband, for the thousandth time, pointed out the college where he had studied to cries of ‘Oh! No, not again!’ and traversed our way to the Pothundi Dam which stood at the foot of the majestic Nelliyampathy Hills.
There are 10 hairpin bends and numerous waterfalls which I am told flow only during the monsoon. There was not a soul around and we had the road to ourselves as we stopped every few minutes to take photographs of the valley and dam below. The cloud-caressed peaks played hide-and-seek and when they came into view, they presented a different perspective altogether, sometimes dark, sometimes shiny and at other times enveloped in a mist so thick that our driver kept on repeating, “Njaan idhu munbe kanditilla!” (I’ve never seen this before). So we just said, “Okay, you got a chance to see it now. Keep going!”
All this while, the cameras were having a field play, with shots of every kind – on a rock, beside a milestone (the caption already thought of: The road less travelled), the coterie sprawled across the road as if in a hartal, or candid shots of shivering in the cold or the wind unbalancing the carefully-thought of poses!
Poor Rajan had no choice but to brave the wind, the rain and the numerous stops to show us Nelliyampathy in its full glory. If the weather is clear, you can see vast stretches of paddy fields that form Palakkad. But with three-fourths of the party coming from desert lands in the Gulf and one coming from parched Tamil Nadu, the rain and the mist offered a wonderful respite.
At the centre of the town, we were approached by Manoj, a jeep driver who offered us a thrilling time. Little did we know what was in store. He took us on a journey inside the forest for three hours through treacherous paths, as our bones creaked, our stomachs rattled and our mouths made screeching noises. And it had to happen, the jeep got stuck in the mud. It was hoisted back on track by the men and we reached Seetharkundu traversing through various tea and coffee plantations. The view there is out-of-this-world (one push and you’ll surely be out of this world!) and the mist played with our cameras straining to catch the gossamer-like light and the rain-washed faces. The happiness has to be experienced to be believed.
With the rain coming down in torrents and the sky turning dark, we slowly started making our way down the Nelliyampathy Hills. Our feet ached, there was throbbing back pain for the older adults, but there was a strange sense of contentment and peace. As the kids took the backseats and fell asleep on each other’s shoulders, I smiled!
Life is full of accidental journeys. You just don’t know when they begin and how they end.