After dinner, which can be put in the list of the worst meals I had, Dilip talked about life in Australia. This name, Dilip, sounds too impersonal; I would rather call him by his nickname, Golu. Golu freely shared his experiences from down under. We did not know when sleep got better of us, but a sudden high jump at a speed-breaker by our bus woke up all the passengers, and how well! Till then we did not know that the bus was a convertible which can give you flying experience without any kind of security check. We were flying inside that fly-on-wheels but the landing was not so smooth. Some of the passengers got pain in elbows, others in knees, and backs and where not. When I crash-landed, I felt some pain in back of my neck which was going to hurt me for a couple of days. I thought the pilot lost his license after that because the plane never took off again. The night was relatively peaceful and the next day morning we were in Kottayam hunting for a Vagamon bus. Surprisingly we reached in Kottayam two hours before the scheduled time.
After another two and a half hours bus journey, we got down in Vagamon. The weather was sunny and pleasant on the way, the ideal for the trip and we expected the same in this little-known hill-station. When I tried to call the person who could give us accommodation, his mobile phone was switched off. What a start! We enquired about the place where he was to be found, a certain Asha Sadan, and started walking towards it. There was a beautiful lake on our left with green-top mountains in the background. But rain started pouring in. Now that was not the welcome we anticipated and were prepared for. We had to buy an umbrella on the way. Six years in Bangalore, and I have never used an umbrella, and there I was, in Vagamon, barely within six minutes, holding it like it was my companion for years! The wind was trying hard to snatch the umbrella. We were lucky to get a home-stay opposite to Asha Sadan, which was at the footstep of Kurusimala Hill. We had lunch at a near-by place whose owner was the caretaker of the place I was staying at.
Vagamon has something very interesting – there are three hills: Kurusimala Hill which is a Christian holy place and has a Cross on top, Murugan Hill where there is a temple of Murugan Swamy and another hill which hosts a dargah of a Baba. Religious harmony on the hills! We started climbing up for Kurusimala. It was rather very easy hike of around 2 km. By then clouds had completely taken over the sky and they were resting on the mountains. We were surrounded by mystic and blissful haze; the only sound we could hear was that of wind. We could hardly see farther than 10 meters. I enjoyed that – not being able to see far beyond and see what lies ahead, and savoring the moment of peace and tranquility. Who cares where we are heading as long as the journey is enjoyable. The trail started descending soon. The intermittent rain constantly accompanied us. There were small streams everywhere, and water was trickling down below my feet. We drank from the streams. Remember the line in Rang De Basanti - maine jharne se paani maa taud ke piya hai? We reached to a dead end from where there was no way going forward. There was a house there and when we asked about the place where the Cross is, the man said that we could not have reached his house without passing by the statue of Christ and the Cross! We actually went past the Holy Cross without seeing it. A game of hide and seek in the mist! Golu found a guava fruit on the ground and started looking for guava trees. Eventually we traced the source of the fruit, plucked a few more by using the umbrella. That was the just reward we got for coming so long! A lady, watching us jumping in air for the fruits, started talking smilingly. She was speaking in Malayalam, I guess, which I did not understand. After a long and difficult conversation, I figured out that she was offering us a long wooden pole to get more fruits. This is something which I love about people in mountains. They are innocent, humble, happy and always ready to help. I don’t understand why such rough conditions make them so soft. Hardships may have their own ways to infuse softness in people. A little sunshine showed the Cross in complete light when we reached there again. It was there, in front of us. This is the thing about God – if you have clouds of doubts covering your faith, you can’t see Him even if he is right there, for us to see and be blessed. The balloon of faith flies high as long as it’s not punctured by a needle of doubt. There were a few steps to reach to the Cross. We climbed them and stayed on the top for quite some time. The wind blew heavily and with my underweight body, I struggled to stand upright. We set on the steps for sometime but soon slept, sitting there…just like that. A gang passed us by and we did not even notice that. That was the best 5 minutes nap I have ever had. The nap in the lap of the God!
We also had tea at the tea-shop there. The Murugan Temple was a climb to another hill from there and we wanted to pay the visit. It was a steep climb and as we went up, the wind kept getting stronger. The visibility was very low. We kept on going but could not find the temple. We set there for a while and filled our lungs with the air. Occasionally when clouds were cleared, we could see the mountains all over the place, erect like hump of a camel. Pretty sight…but the air was getting heavier now, the sign of impending rain. We decided to get down the hill and reach our place. When we were half way down the hill, the heavy rain started. Golu removed his shoes and walked barefoot. He had an interesting theory – he believed it rained only when he tried to take out his latest Nikon camera. The rain never stopped that day. To make the matters worst, even power was also gone. Golu was too reluctant to go out to visit an Ashram which was just 2 km away. We had nothing to do so we played cards whole evening. A little session of game after dinner and the curtains were down on the night.
The morning was serene. We wanted to visit the famous Vagamon meadows and the palm tree forest. We took a bus to the palm forest. We got down at a place from where we had to walk around 2 km. There were some tea gardens on the mountains. It was great fun to watch sun rays spreading over the green meadows...lightening up the trees. The houses, scattered around, were of different colors – yellow, red, orange, and pink, as if the flowers have flourished in the valley. Probably it was a way to identify their houses where everything else is green. The palm forest was on a descending side of a mountain. The most of the trees were straight, standing in order as if they were part of a great army. The light coming from behind made the trees more elegant. We were in woods! At that moment I pitied the man who derived the phrase getting out of woods. Why the hell the woods became synonym for troubles? Why do you want to get out of the woods when they are so beautiful? The only thing I could think of was a little poem:
Let me stay here,
Allow me to pray here;
To right the past wrongs,
And to sing the happy birdsongs;
Dear God, never let me out of the woods!
Allow me to pray here;
To right the past wrongs,
And to sing the happy birdsongs;
Dear God, never let me out of the woods!
The sky was getting darker, a sure sign of rain. Golu, by then, was so much frustrated with rain that he decided that we would leave for Kottayam the same afternoon and then catch a bus to Bangalore. I was little disappointed that I could not stay for another day, but agreed with him. On our way back to Kurusimala Hill, we had to travel in a jeep. The jeep may not be a likeable vehicle in plains, but it’s a queen in mountains. It was fully loaded and there was no place to sit, so we stood in the back of the jeep and enjoyed the serpentine ride, though it was scary when the driver took turns. By afternoon, we reached to our home-stay, and had lunch and left for the bus station. Vagamon was beautiful, but a day was not enough. I felt like I tasted a very good food but too little, too less; the taste remained in mouth, wanting for more.
We got the bus for Kottayam in another 15 minutes, reached to Kottayam at around 4 pm and caught the Bangalore bus at 5 pm. Next day morning, we reached to Bangalore at 7 am, reached home, had breakfast and slept for 12 hours. I wish the trip ended that way, at least for the sake of poor Golu. That was not meant to be. Remember the prayer? Such a fast turnaround! It had never happened before. We waited for 2 hours at Vagamon bus stand to get a bus, that too not for Kottayam but some place on the way to it. From there we got bus for Kottayam. By then Golu decided to visit Mysore for which bus was available from Kottayam at 5 pm, the same time as that was of Bangalore bus. We reached Kottayam at 4:45 in the afternoon, and the Bangalore bus was there, not many seats occupied, but the Mysore bus was in workshop for some repair. We let the Bangalore bus go, but when Mysore bus came, we realized it was packed. Not a single seat was available. The 17 hour journey standing in a bus was not possible. So we were left stranded in Kottayam since all the Bangalore and Mysore buses were gone.
Golu was festered by now and dropped idea of going to Mysore. Somebody advised us to go to Coimbatore and catch Bangalore bus from there. We saw a Coimbatore bus leaving in front of us. Then it struck to me that we might try private bus operators. We caught an auto to go to the place from where we could get the bus. On the way the break in the auto failed! The auto-driver was following a bus and when the bus driver applied breaks, the auto-driver had no options but to change the lane sharply. In the process he drove the auto on footpath, if you can call it one. The stone plates were rough and ill-placed. The auto jumped twice like a frog and came to a sudden halt. Unaware of all these, I was typing a message on my phone and when auto stopped, I asked the driver why was he in such a hurry to overtake the bus? Golu looked at me as if he wanted to kill someone. I am pretty sure that someone was me! No doubt we did not get any tickets even from private bus operators. We had dinner in a hotel. The food was horrible, but I could at least charge my mobile phone! We went back to the state transport bus stand. The Coimbatore bus was at 7:30 pm. The problem was that the most of the buses had Malayalam or Tamil boards, not English boards. So we decided to stand at different sides of the bus stand, and kept asking everyone about Coimbatore bus. Finally we got the bus at 8:00 pm. It was crowded, and the seats were narrow and hard. 7 hours journey was difficult, but Golu and I tricked us a bit by playing Antakshari. We remembered all the songs we used to sing when we were in college. The ik din beek jaayega maati ke mol used to be our anthem. Pyaar hame kis mod pe le aaya hai was great fun to sing. It was 2:30 am when we reached to Coimbatore. Was there a direct bus to Bangalore? Nope. What next? Go to Salem first and catch the Bangalore bus. After 45 minutes, we could not get a bus to Salem so went to Erode which was on the way. From Erode we boarded Salem bus at 5:30 am. The sun was out after a goodnight’s sleep and we were awake for almost 24 hours. That bus, with its blue and green color shining seats, was full of commuters. There was not even space to move my hands. What pissed me, though, was loud music in the bus during that early morning time. Somehow we reached to Salem and got Bangalore bus in half an hour. On our way back we had very good breakfast on highway, which was the only good food we had during those two days. Around noon time we reached to Bangalore. The end of the journey, a long and hectic one.
That was an eventful journey, to say the least. Did I enjoy it? Surely, I did. It was enjoyable, if not comfortable. It was different; to go unplanned, wander in woods, unaware of what was coming, run wild for buses and the relief of reaching home at the end of it all. Beautiful chaos!