Friday, March 12, 2010

Poomparai : The Mist And The Misery

Poomparai – Kukkal ;

                On Dec 25th 2008 we were all set for this journey and dropped it in the last minute, due to some official inconvenience Dinesh had. Nearly a year later, on Dec 19th 2009, while I was delivering a lecture at Calicut, my mobile rang and it was Dinesh. An online enquiry – ‘shall we make it this time’ – and I went busy planning by the end of the day. Just 6 days left and we were all engaged in many ways. After some sort of mobile conferencing, Sinesh also agreed to be in.
Thus in the fine morning of 25th Dec 2009, I and my family knocked at Dinesh’s door, by around 9 AM. We, in our WagonR, joined Sinesh and family, in their Paleo, at Kilimanoor, along MC road, 32 km from Trivandrum, by around 10 AM. Took the picturesque Thenmala – Aryankavu – Chenkotta route and stopped at Rajapalayam for lunch, by 1.30 PM.

                           A word about our destination – Poompara, Kukkal and Mannavanur are villages on the other side of the Kodai forest range, and the nearest among them, Poomparai is about 30 kms from Kodaikanal town. The only place of stay or hotel or resort or home stay accomodation, at Poompara, I could locate was ‘Club India Resorts’ aka ‘Wilusa Holiday Home’ and it turned out to be the worst I had ever experienced. I had contacted them earlier and ensured cottages. Normal access to this place is possible only via Kodai, or else you have to go for the adventurous, non existent, track through Kadavari – We had made this once, as detailed in an earlier post.

       This time our plan was to move up to Madurai and then to deviate to Batlagundu – Kodai, regular route. A small chat with a pick up driver at Rajapalayam ended in the information of another route to Batlagundu, with out touching Madurai. We also derived another opinion from the waiter at the hotel, that this road is narrow and less travelled and hence to go for the regular route. We chose the odd one. 

                    Proceeded towards Madurai and took a left turn from Kalluppatti. The road was neither that narrow nor in bad condition. Passed through the typical TN villages of Perayur, Usilampetti and reached Batlagundu, by 3.30 PM. I guess, we had saved 35 – 40 kms, by taking this alternate route. Had tea and towards Theni, to have a right deviation after about 10 kms, entering the Kodai Ghat road. We drove leisurely enjoying the panorama, unaware of the danger ahead, once we left Kodai. Reached Kodai town by 6.30 PM. Had some local purchase and headed to Poomparai soon. Left civilization within 4 to 5 kms, and were in the deserted track, amidst the woods. 

              Till 7.15 PM it was all fine and suddenly mist spread, reducing the visibility to almost nothing. Such a scenario was unexpected, and our vehicles didn’t have fog lamps either. Rang up the resort guys – by gods grace we were under mobile coverage – and they asked us to move along, until we reach a fork turn and then to take the Mannavannur lead. They also warned us about the mist, and asked us to be cautious. My WagonR was leading the trail and occasionally I had to stop the vehicle and walk ahead, to find which the road was. 

             Some how reached the fork junction but took the wrong lead which ends at Poompara village. To our luck we could spot three villagers who were walking along the track and they confirmed that we are on the wrong path. Now we are to have a U turn, but from Where and How….. Sinesh got out from his vehicle and with his help, I could some how manage. And it was my turn to help him. 

               Got back to the right track in 15 minutes, but the mist condition worsened. We could do nothing but stop the vehicles in the midst of nowhere. Efforts to contact the resort people went futile and the situation was embarrassing. I wandered around with my mobile and luckily could establish a week connection. I could just make it out that the resort people were asking us to stay where we were, so that they could sent a search mission. Thus we hapless, stranded people chilled it out there, waiting for those ‘avatars’. A faint grunt of an engine brought us back to life and soon a Bolero from the resort appeared before us. It of course had a fog light, and we happily followed it to the resort.

          Within a while we were at the resort and the impression so far was fine, but was not to last for long. The guy who lead us to our cottage – they call him ‘Chef’ – wasn’t even aware that the cottages didn’t even have a light at the porch. In our torch light, we found this man running around for a bulb and once he got it, he was struggling to fit it in the broken holder. Some how he managed and the door was opened to the living room, which was stinging. The building hasn’t seen a clean up, once built, it seems. The living room had a sofa and two chairs which were dump and dirty like anything. Each cottage had two bed rooms and there we found cigarette ash, match sticks and cigarette boxes thrown all around. The carpet was torn to the extent that it was just patches on the floor. 

               Our hearts fell as we had plans to stay at this place for two days. Had a short discussion and decided to stay at this rotten place, just for the night, as we had no other options, and leave for Kodai the next day. And to the positive side, the night was cold and we were tired after the long drive.

             Early morning the next day, I and Sinesh drove back to Kodai, to book our night stay. The track which presented the nightmare, now wore a different look.               It was as if we were floating over clouds. The Poomparai village, below the track was just out of sleep.                     The green farms and the hillside dwellings presented a panorama that I dared to roll down the window screen even in that freezing breeze.                      Reached Kodai in an hour to find the place flooded with visitors, as those to Ooty were also diverted to this place, due to some land slide along the Ooty route. Ended up with a three bed cottage for Rs.2500 and returned to the resort along the same path.
Got ready to explore the countryside, by 10 AM and found my newly bought Nokia 5800 touch phone, out of charge. Changed the SIM with my spare mobile, kept the new one in charge and set out for Mannavanur. It’s a tiny village which had the Govt. run, sheep and rabbit farm, and that was our attraction. Dinesh, being a Forest Range Officer, could impress the officer in charge, and he permitted us in, on foot. The farm was a vast spread, with sprawling meadows all around, bordered by thick forest canopy.                  The beautiful lake at the distant valley added to its charm. We could spot herds of sheep gracing over distant meadows.          Another herd was just leaving for the meadows.             The man in charge of the rabbit farm was very helpful and he was kind enough to bring them out of their cages, for our kids to fondle.             This session was also informative on the different species, they had over there. The kids, let freed on such vast natural greenery, were excited and they ran around, keeping us watching for a while.

                On the return path to Poomparai, took a left deviation, after about 8 km, to hit the track that leads to Kukkal. The road went smooth amidst thick woods and we drove slowly, with occasional stops. As we were close to the Kukkal Lake, there was another mist attack; similar to the one we had last night. This time there were no worries, as it was mid day, and we got out of the vehicles to dare it.         Soon it closed on us and we people were almost blind.                Kids yelled and we simply waited for it to subside. Gradually it went thinner and we drove slowly up to the lake
        Spent some time near the Kukkal Lake and then drove further up to the village.                The village is about 10 kms from the deviation, we had from the Poomparai track. Kukkal is an agricultural village, famous for its carrots and potatoes.        We bought sacks of these farm fresh products for a cost, and ate as much, free of cost.             The inhabitant farmers of this beautifull hillside village, were so pleasing and informative. The Kukkal caves, a natural formation, and the Kukkal peak are the nearby attractions. But both demanded a bit of moderate to difficult trekking, and we postponed it to the next trip without ladies and kids.
                  Returned to the resort by around 3.30 PM. And as you would expect, the mobile phone, which I had kept on charge, had disappeared. The resort people just washed their hands off, arguing that the cottage had only one key, and that was with us. By then, to add to our woes, one among us developed a serious health problem, and we had to just pack up and hurry to Kodaikanal, to get him treated. We paid what they asked – I remember it was Rs.6200 for three, so called bed rooms, and the worst ever food, we six people and kids had – forgot the mobile issue, and dashed to the nearest town, Kodai. Later that night, his condition worsened, and we had to transfer him to Madurai,in an ambulance, for better facilities. I left my WagonR at Kodaikanal and accompanied in the ambulance. 

          I would never forget in my life, that midnight journey, in a howling ambulance, along the misty hairpins, at lightning speed, with a heavy heavy heart. The next day, ladies and kids were sent back home and I opted to stay at Madurai. Got back my car from Kodai, and after three days in hospital, got back to Trivandrum on 29th by 10 PM.

              At the end of mist and miseries, who care a phone, who care the trip; we care our friend. Completely recovered and back at job, ever energetic, that man remains a mystery after the mist……………

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  1. Hi Shinu,

    I am a regular reader of your blog. Your writings are very informative and entertaining. Good to know that your friend has recovered now. I can imagine the tension you would have gone through.


  2. Yesss sanjeev; beyond words
    Do visit frequently

  3. Nice post...awesome..
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