Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wah! Wah! Waynad

A few turned impatiently in their beds in the anticipation of the trip. Some other unfortunate ones missed on the sleep because of the work. After days of waiting, the sunshine brings the cheers today. We gather near our office gate and wait for the vehicle which is to take us to Waynad - literary Land of Paddy Fields -a district in north-east Kerala, bordering the states of Karnataka and Tamilnadu. Bharathi, Rashmi, Vidhya, Udhaya, Amit, Chandan Bhagat(CB from now onwards) and Sanjay line up on the footpath with their luggage – a few backpacks, badminton racquets, volleyball, speakers, snacks and water container. If their eyes were heavy with the expectations, the luggage was heavy with every imaginable thing you would find on the earth to make a trip fun-filled and comfortable. Chandan Mohanty(CM) arrives just in time before the vehicle, a 12-seater silver color tempo traveler. We stack up our luggage inside, make ourselves comfortable and take the name of God –He will surely be needed and relied upon in the time to come –as the journey begins at 7:20 AM. We still have to pick Vishwambhar, his wife Anamika and Gunjan on the way.

The motion of the vehicle puts Amit into action. With his hand glued to his camcorder, he starts interviewing the people. In next three days, he will use that camera so much that I will start wondering if he was born with his hand tied to it. Sanjay and the Chandans(by now you should know this is not about a couple) voice their opinions about the probable winner of the fashion show which is planned for today night. CM particularly stresses that a certain oomph factor will eventually decide the winner. Udhaya puts a brave face when asked about her lack of understanding of Hindi. She is indeed courageous – the only one in the dozen not to understand the language and still decides to come. Though we give her bravery award for that, we make sure she keeps the wonder and horror on her face by using Hindi as much as possible. Amit asks me if the trip will turn out more enjoyable than the planning we carried out for last few days sitting in our office amphitheatre. What a thorough planning Amit has done for the trip – the only way it can go for toss is if the 24-hours day changes to something else! I am sure the trip will surpass the fun of the process of planning. I have this belief that all the trips I go on turn out quite eventful, sometimes a little uncomfortable and chaotic but always memorable. Meanwhile Rashmi and Vidhya, like good and caring Indian ladies, prepare vegetable sandwiches for all of us. That is the advantage of, not the only one though, travelling with a woman. You can take her out of kitchen, but never a cook out of her. Without them we will be waiting for the next good breakfast joint forever. You see, men know how to remain hungry; they seldom know how to prepare food.

Once Vish, Anu and Gunjan board the TT, we are served with sandwiches which I have been guarding with watering mouth till now. Anu, in spite of meeting us first time, gels with everyone without any strain of extra effort. A series of karaoke songs follow. We soon realize that the TT is somewhat uncomfortable and we are cramped for space. We choose to ignore that fact as it is not going to increase the space in the vehicle. After a while, we start playing Antakshari, India’s unofficial national game. To make the circle small, I share the seat with Sanjay. Our fun-hungry fellow-travelers take that cramped closeness as intimacy. We just play along, of course to provide them some entertainment and perform little act of Dostana. No kisses, mind you.

Amit tries to be adventurous by sitting on the side-rest of a seat and falls badly. He whispers in my ear to check his jeans from behind. I explode in laughter when I see a window size opening just above his left knee! It stretches vertically upwards to you know what. Between those fits of laughter I manage to seal the opening with two safety-pins. Amit escapes the embarrassment and is much relieved. He changes his jeans when we stop at Kamat Lokruchi on Mysore Road for another round of breakfast. There has been a constant complain that except Amit, none of the men has contributed much to the planning of the trip, so to wash our hands off the accusation, and give ourselves a false sense of importance, we decide to take care of the security of the girls. A frantic process of assigning each girl a security person follows. While I am about to board the TT, an old lady, a beggar, comes approaching me. I generally don’t give money to beggars, but something inside me prompts me to spare a dime. I oblige to the inner voice. The next moment was one of the most touching moments of my life. She takes my hand in hers, rolls her other hand on my head and gives me tons of blessings while symbolically taking away my difficulties. She repeats the same with Vish. In moments such as this, you see hand of God.

We spend the next few hours playing games, singing songs and dancing. We are forced to take lunch at an Udupi restaurant in Gundulpet since the time is running out. Next time we stop at the forest department check post somewhere in Waynad. While Pervez, our driver, goes to the office for permission, we climb up the TT to show our Chhaiya Chhaiya moves. On the other side of the road are the ever-expanding bamboo trees. We slip inside and click some photographs for memory. The remaining part of the journey is spent in silence as the most of us are tired and feeling sleepy. We check in hotel Haritagiri in Kalapetta at 4:30 in the evening.

After freshening up, we set out for a walk. We get some refreshments at Woodland restaurant. We wander in the bazaars purposelessly, just for the sake of it. It is dark so we start back for the hotel. It is the time for the fashion show, much anticipated by the well-prepared people, and equally feared by the others like me. First it’s turn of the men. One by one each of us walks the ramp. I double up for a cameraman also. It is difficult to hold yourself back when your natural instinct is to start running whenever you come across some open space. I somehow hold my horses. CM makes us laugh like a crazy bunch of people when he answers the question – whom would he choose among us as a slave if he is given a choice? He says that he would like to make all of us his slaves. The reason? Well, he wants us to make his roti, wash his laundry and clean his house. 11 slaves for his seemingly basic necessities of life – Roti, Kapda Aur Makan! Manoj Kumar would be ashamed of himself for making the movie with the same title! Amit, in response to the question what will be the happier world – one with only the boys or one with only the girls, answers that it would be a world with only the girls and him. He surely has a funny bone somewhere in his body. He then dissects the problem thoroughly, as always, by arguing that since hot and beautiful girls add to the global warming, and their complete absence makes the world freezing with global cooling, such possibilities are avoidable at any cost. He is eventually declared the winner. Global warming is still hot topic around the world, isn’t it?

The ladies take their turn for catwalk after that. And you immediately notice the difference. Every inch of the detail is taken care of, starting from the minute details of dress, the footwear, the hat, the walking style, the expressions on the face, the positioning of the hands on the back, anything and everything. And here I am, in a t-shirt and denim which is not less than three years old and worn out. Thank God, I did not win in my category. It would have been a shame and a disaster for the fashion industry! When we were planning for the trip, I noted that men love ideas, and the women love the details. Well, I did not think then that they are sticklers for every detail. Probably I did not go into the details much. Irrespective of the details, they are certainly capable of the oomph factor which CM so much expected. Bharati gets the winner’s trophy for female category, while Rashmi runs away with the best model among the dozen of us. As the ladies show their beautiful legs for the camera, it reminds me of Saadat Hasan Manto’s letter to Uncle Sam in which he talked about pretty legs of American ladies.

We have a short –ok, not quite short! -drink session while the ladies have dinner. It is time to hit the beds and we cannot wait any longer.

Day two starts very early. CB gets up first at 6:00 AM and then he makes sure both CM and I listen to him. He shares some interesting anecdotes and passes some knowledge to us. I call it guru gyaan and from that moment onwards, he becomes Chandan Baba for me. All of us gather in Amit’s room and make jokes of each other. CB, in his own humorous style, notes how CM’s heavy and loud breathing in the night made him believe there was a storm passing by. The fashion show is still the most talked about thing. We decide to get ready and meet for breakfast. After a heavy breakfast – we may not get proper lunch – we leave for Banasura Dam. Considered to be the largest earth dam in India, it is surrounded by hills and bounty of nature. We need to walk from the place where we parked the TT. As we climb up the steps to the wall of the dam, the spectacular view of the dam unfolds. There are small islands and the hills everywhere. CM, Vish and I cannot resist the temptation of going closer to the water. We jump the wall, hop on the big stones and dive knee-dip into the water. The small fish with black and orange vertical stripes soon give me titillating foot massage. Others decide to go for boating which we think is not good trade in exchange of spending some time peacefully on the shore made up of stones.

The water is crystal clear. The clear blue sky and the greenery on the hills give it hues of beautiful blue and green. When the sun rays hit the water, the optical effect gives the impression as if diamonds are generously spread on waterbed. It is quite tranquil. Breeze blows through and sends the mild waves of water hitting the shore. We delightfully track the waves. As the waves hit the stones, it produces nice low sound as if stirring a soul with gentle care. A solitary bird comes down hurriedly and flies over the water like a hovercraft, picking some fish in its beak. CM or Vish throws a stone in water which breaks the spell of silence. We watch the whirls touching our feet. Then they start singing thehre hue paani me kankar naa maar, saawre; mann me halchal si mach jaayegi, baawre! - Do not throw stone in the steady water; it creates ripples in my heart. By now no corner of the heart is untouched.

After noon we start for Kuruva Island. On the way there are lots of banana orchards and coconut trees. All these trees, along with bamboo trees, grow straight upwards. Involuntarily a sudden thought comes in mind – political situation notwithstanding, the things natural are quite straight and simple in the God’s Own Country. Curiously enough for me, I find a lot of gas cylinders on the road time and again. My guess is that people keep empty cylinders outside their houses as some kind of indication to the gas agency.

We get the tickets for the boats which carry us inside the island. There is a long queue of people waiting for the boats. It takes some amount of waiting and shouldering to get our turns. The trekking starts as soon as we land on the other side. Kuruva Island is formed by tributaries of river Kabini. The forest is very dense. A patient bird-watcher can spot scores of birds here. We hire a guard who leads us inside the forest. The river is flowing parallel to the path. Then we come to a point where we are required to cross the river. It’s full of small and big rocks. The green cover of the forest gives the water green color. We start crossing the river. As we reach in the middle, the water level goes above my knees. The slippery rocks make some of us fall in the water. But that is the best part of the water – once you take plunge in it, you are completely into it. We shed the last trails of reluctance and march forward. Obviously we have to support each other – giving hand to each other, making a human chain, we cross the river. Bharati and Gunjan see their footwear floating away in the river before we somehow manage to bring it back. We cross the river three more times before we reach to the other end of the island. Rashmi falls in water while talking on her mobile phone. Her phone stops working and she strangely celebrates it! When inquired, she replies that she has been waiting for long to buy a new phone and this gives her opportunity. We sit there on the rocks, eat fruits and happily chat. We missed our lunch so we decide to eat some Kerala parotas and have tea at the nearby dhaba before going back. The plain ground and the surrounding trees make it perfect place to spend a lazy evening. But we have to leave the place because of the restrictions in the area.

While returning back, instead of crossing the river four times, we take a boat to the other side. It is rather a simple structure of bamboo sticks made like a floating carpet. No rafts are used to move it in the water. Instead a rope is tied to a tree from one riverbank to the other. The boat-like structure moves ahead as you pull the rope. A turtle is seen on a far rock sitting meditatively. That ends our trekking expedition on Kuruva Island. So we thought! But to Sanjay’s astonishment, the boat service is closed and we still need to cross another tributary to get out of the island (remember the long queue?). We again start crossing the river one last time. This turns out to be the deepest water and the most difficult crossing. Bharathi breaks the toe-nail of her left foot. She braves the great pain (I know what that pain is since I have broken three nails while running) and reaches the end. Vidhya, having the record of not falling in water till now, falters at the vary end. Nobody is spared from the water, but we eventually win the battle, although battered and bruised.

As we head back to the hotel, we see sun playing hide-and-seek with us in the winding roads. CM notes that in Bangalore he never gets to see sunset. In the night, we gather for a campfire. We play a game of Truth and Dare. Boy o boy, how many truths surface themselves! All kinds – funny, romantic, revealing, emotional, lovely, childish! We take the dinner there. While coming back from Kuruva Island, Amit proposed that the men should do mujra for the ladies! He in fact is quite serious about it. So we go to our room, the ladies arrange two duppattas and then they sit on the bed like the frequent visitors of the kothas who are always ready to savor the dance. Amit starts with dil cheez kya hai aap meri jaan lijiye. Once he breaks the barrier with it, each of us follows. CM’s steps remind me -more than a mujra -of devoted Meera dancing for Mohan, such is the state of trance he is in. I try to do inhi logo ne le liya dupatta mera. My thumkas become instant hit. CB then comes, a duppatta drawn as a veil, and serves the drinks to the visitors. Vish tops it all with his spirited performance on salaam-e-ishq meri jaan. Laughing in that madhouse, we finally separate and go to our rooms to sleep.

The next morning also brings a little sadness – we have been enjoying together for last two days and it will be over today night. We want to make full use of our time, so we take breakfast and leave for Soochipara waterfall. After about a 2 km of walk through woods, and some downhill climb, we reach to the fall. The first thing you want to do when you see it is to go inside the water and reach to the bottom of the fall. We all oblige to that feeling. The rocks are slippery but it does not hamper our spirit. We sit at the bottom of the fall, enjoying the water hitting our backs like stones. CB does not come inside; instead he sits on a big rock and watches us as well as meditates. Later he will share his keen observations with us. We scream, dance and sing, celebrating the nature. After an hour or so, everyone else comes out of water while CM and I sit there, appreciating the waterfall. We thank God for making such a beautiful world.

We line up on a long rock to dry ourselves. I feel so much cold that my body shakes violently for long time, as if it received an electric shock. When we are about to start for the uphill climb, Rashmi suddenly faints on a rock. Udhaya manages to catch her and lie her down. She tries to bring her to senses. I shout to Vish to throw water bottle and glucose. After spraying some water on her face, she regains her consciousness but still feels very weak. I give her glucose and a few seconds later she is back on her feet. But that incident gives a little scare to me. Though I like to travel alone once in a while, I fear what will happen to me in such situation. What if I die in the lack of any first aid? Surely, the death in the cradle of Mother Nature is the most dignified one, but I want to live and enjoy every moment. That thought makes you more responsible and caring. You want to take care of your near and dear ones. For once, you do not want to jump the rock, cross the water and reach to the other side before anyone else does. You do not want to show that you are the most adventurous and fearless. You want to stay behind, watch the steps of your friends and give them hand if they falter and hold them if they topple.

Taking frequent breaks, we finish the uphill climb. We buy some souvenirs and then leave for the hotel as it is already 1:00 PM. After lunch, we say goodbye to the hotel Haritagiri and start for Bangalore at 3:45 PM. We expect to cover the distance of around 280 km in 7 hours. On the way we see a family of tuskers. We also spot some deer and monkeys. Some 18 km before Gundulpet, the TT stops on the road. We have barely crossed the forest. The driver suspects that it has run out of fuel. He takes out an empty can and hitchhikes to bring the fuel from Gundulpet. We are cursing him for his stupidity – how on earth he forgot about fuel? To cheer ourselves up, some of us climb on the TT and entertain others. Udhaya and Anu decide to stay inside and catch on some sleep. When we feel hungry, we climb down and search for food inside the TT. Udhaya feels weak and dizzy, so we give her some chocolates. While we cheerfully chew on some of the food, CB notes with his sharp observation that Udhaya has fainted! We are shocked. We try to bring her to senses but to no avail. Gunjan checks her pulse. It is running. Thank God! We spray some water, but she is still unconscious. Panic-stricken, we try all we can to bring her back. Some of us curse the driver. Some other prays to God. That seems to work – she comes back to senses, but still very weak and on the verge of unconsciousness. Vidhya and Bharathi keep talking to her so that she stays awake. She mumbles for every word. With glucose, she regains some strength. The driver arrives, to our merriment, and we head for a hospital in Gundulpet. I stand up in front of Udhaya’s seat to keep a watch on her. We do not want her to faint again. I see grim faces all around. Everybody looks dull and concerned. In that somber state, I see mellow and orange sun going down behind us. Something in that sight makes me feel very happy as if all izz well. Taking it as a positive signal, I am relieved. We go straight to a hospital in Gundulpet and the doctor there gives Udhaya some primary treatment and medicines. We leave the hospital and continue the journey.

We bypass Mysore while singing some songs. From the beginning of the trip, Gunjan has expressed her desire to have dinner at McDonalds on Mysore-Bangalore Road. She is very excited and looks everywhere for the red Big M. In her excitement, she even mistakes a green board bearing name Melkotte as McDonalds. Rashmi is very hungry and joins Gunjan in the wait. By now we have almost forgotten that Udhaya is not keeping well. She reminds us that, and how well! By the time we reach Maddur, she again complains of vomiting and dizziness. We stop at Coffee Day thinking that she will be OK in a minute or two. She again almost faints down and also complains of skin irritation. Realizing that it may take a little longer, we get down and unwillingly have dinner there while Udhaya takes some rest. Panic spreads again as she is still low. She recovers for the remaining journey of 77 km. Bharathi decides to take Udhaya to her house in Bangalore and Vidhya agrees to stay with her. By now all of us are very tired and sleep in the TT. Gunjan stays awake though, like a hawk – her increased mental awareness due to the consumption of Red Bull will not let her sleep. Besides she is the first one to get down. One by one, our fellow travelers get down. CM, Sanjay and I remain the last ones to get down. It is 2:00 in the morning now.

We bring back lots of memories from the trip: from the highs of the waterfall to the lows of the faint episodes, from the catwalk to the boys’ talk, from the falling down in the river to the falling down laughing while watching the mujra, from the tranquility of the water to the shrills of frequently exercised vocal chords. The treasure trove is enriched with the finest of the jewels. They will shine forever.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome pics.. Beautiful Collage.. :)
    Espectially the cubes displaying date ;)

    Considering the length, rest I would comment later !!