Sunday, 21 July 2013

From Western Ghats to the Nilgiris - The Perfect Road Trip

"Where are the water bottles?"
"Behind the seats. Did you check the room?"
"Hm... nothing left behind."
" Oh! Wait! What about the potty, bucket and the mug?"
" Safe in the boot...your potty and your bucket!"

     With the map on the dashboard, we drove off from Pune one early June morning. Our good old Maruti 800 was going to take us through the Western Ghats, along the Western Coast to Coonoor in the Nilgiris. Having started from Nasik two days back, we were leaving behind our first halt Pune and moving to  Belgaum, our next halt.

   This was a dream trip for many reasons. Husband was back after six months of keeping vigil on the border. It was a kind of family reunion after a couple of years of staying apart prior to this stint at the border. My daughter hardly knew him. And if she could talk, she would have probably addressed him as 'uncle'. Our final destination was Defence Services Staff College in Wellington, Coonoor, a milestone for any fauji worth his boots.
 Apart from being my husband he also happened to be an excellent driver knowing when to go easy on the accelerator, how to take the bends or drive up a hill. This was very important since although I love travelling, ironically I have this bouts of motion sickness. And there has been an instance when I've actually asked the driver of a cab taking us to Guwahati, to swap places with hubby since he was getting too fond of the clutch and the brake.
   But the most important part of this trip was our route, a dream stretch of the ghats, beaches and the hills. I had always thought of this trip in my dreams. Friends, if you ever plan a trip to the Western Ghats, Monsoon is the time. What lushness, what abundance! The dripping foliage, swayed throwing different shades of green! The dark, rain sloshed roads gleamed ahead.
    We rolled across Kolhapur with its undulating fields and dark clouds threatening to come down. With the kind of weather, pav-bhaji and batata vadas seemed perfect for the road. The best part of moving across different places is the variety of food the tummy is appeased with. So if it was pav bhaji here, it would be  fresh fish at the beach side shacks in Goa, the dosais in Udupi and soft fluffy appams and idiappams with ishtew in Kannur. I firmly believe that if you have had good satisfying food on a trip, it becomes all the more etched in your memory.

 After a night halt at Belgaum we moved on to Goa. As we climbed the last of the Ghats, suddenly  a wall of thick mist stoically greeted us...with a board beside it that hazily said "Welcome to Amboli". Visibility was barely one metre! We slowly rolled into the  mist, awed by its beauty. Objects on the roadside were  blurred outlines. There was a thunderous roar of a waterfall that kept getting closer. It was extremely tempting to stop but we had a schedule to adhere to.  Amboli is the last hill station as the Ghats meet the coastal plains.  We extricated ourselves reluctantly from its soft embrace and moved on with one last look. As we reached the plains the sun sparkled unveiling stretches of green fields. Amboli has remained an enigma for me to this day.

   Goa, needless to say, lived upto its name and let us revel in it. The beaches, cruise on the Mandovi river, the churches and its people left a warm fuzzy feeling. We moved on after a couple of days along the coastal Highway. There were stretches where the waves lapped against the boulders along the Highway. What a sight! The sea on one side and the fields on the other! From Goa it was to be one long drive to Kannur with Udupi in between for a lunch stop- over. We were geared for this marathon with food supplies (sandwiches and chips actually) in the car.

  When we reached Kannur, dusk had already set in. The home-going traffic jostled aorund with groceries to be carried home. We made our way into a hotel solely because it promised a hot breakfast of appams and ishtew. Making our way into the room we looked up at the hills nearby that beckoned us with twinkling lights. That was to be our last stretch to destination Coonoor.

  Early next morning saw us excited and all ready for the home-run. With a warm feeling of fulfillment mainly derived from the promised breakfast, we climbed the Nilgiris at a steady pace. We found ourselves in the middle of sloping tea gardens at times. Then there were times when we discovered coffee plantations, having never seen a coffee bean in our life. The only coffee I knew then, was the one in the Nescafe bottle. We crossed cashew and pepper plantations that left us in awe to see them in their native existence. "Oh! This is how they look actually!"

   Having made our little discoveries and rendezvous with realisations, the Highway took us into the intimidating Mudumalai  forest. Twelve years back it was advisable to cross this part during daylight and in convoys  since it was rumoured to be  the dreaded sandalwood smuggler Veerappan's territory. The forest lived upto its reputation by turning dark and foreboding when we went deep in, even as the sun was at its zenith. The only sounds were those of the birds and some monkeys. I kept my eyes peeled at the faraway dark bushes and branches waiting for someone to drop by la Tarzan style. Thankfully, we finally made our way out of its dark depths.

   I never realised at which juncture did this trip turn into a journey of discovery. The wonder at the changing landscapes, the surprises sprung around the corners or the languid motion leaving a sense of content...The 800 gradually wound down the slopes of Ooty to take us to Wellington, tucked away in the folds of Coonoor. There was a slight drizzle and the clouds kept crossing our path teasing us with views of our final destination.

   But that was not the end.  Hubby had to report his arrival where he was handed over the keys to our apartment that was to be our home for the next ten months. Along with the keys came the paraphernalia of two LPG cylinders, a packet of rice, dals, vegetables, six electric bulbs, a dozen eggs, butter, packets of milk and so on. We looked at each other and got down to work. The Maruti accommodated the  two LPG cylinders, a packet of rice, dals, vegetables, six electric bulbs, a dozen eggs, butter, packets of milk and so on in addition to two suitcases, a bag of footwear plus the odds and ends that appear just before leaving a place, the potty, the bucket, the mug and the makeshift bed, a child and two adults. It was literally an uphill task winding up Gorkha Hill that was to be our address.

  This journey ended in a typical dream like sequence when I opened the windows of the apartment to let in fresh air...little mists of wayward clouds wafted in as if to welcome us after a long drive...

This post was written for the Ambipure "The perfect road trip" contest.


  1. wow what a trip !!!!Pune to Kannur !

  2. what a trip! and how beautifully described!

  3. Thank you TTT! It was a beautiful one do try it some time.

    Juanita Thank you! I am glad you liked it :)

  4. What a trip and I fully agree with "if you have had good satisfying food on a trip, it becomes all the more etched in your memory" :) When I was ten we went on a road trip in a jeep from Kozhikode to Goa :) Reminded me of that

  5. Jaishree Kozhikode to Goa must have been great. We once did a trip from Coonoor to Kozhikode and Trivandrum to Kanyakumari. It was enchanting!

  6. I enjoyed reading about your journey. I love some of the wilderness areas that you passed through and can spend an entire lifetime there. :)

    I can visualise your exciting journey. You write well. Keep on writing.

  7. The way you look into the things make them beautiful. It would have been a different story of a tedious journey if written from the angle of a house wife with small child, disgusted of frequent transfers of the husband.Keep up the spirit.


Your words keep me going :)