Waking up on Day 3 proved to be an ordeal – even for the punctual runner among us, Harsha. The temperature was just cold enough and blankets proving too cozy to come out of. However one by one we trudged to freshen up and found a sumptuous traditional North Indian breakfast of puri, bhaji and halwa waiting. Try as hard we might have, however none could control our appetites and after the meal each was looking to hand over the car keys to the other.
A quick photo session with my cute little niece Ilisha later, we hit the road (Bibin finally agreed – reluctantly – to drive through the chaos). If we needed jolting out of our reverie, Bangalore traffic was there to oblige and by the time we hit the outskirts heading towards Mysore, the comforts of home were long forgotten and the breakfast digested courtesy some rally-route inspired roads.
My eyes were looking out for the much hyped Mysore expressway, but to my disappointment I found it’s still under construction and hence we had to make do with the traditional Mysore road. This wasn’t bad in any way and the tarmac was near perfect, with the McDonald’s and KFC on the highway reminding us we were in India’s silicon valley. These good roads were finally making up for the late start, however the joy was short-lived.
We had planned to drive through Sathyamangalam Tiger reserve, and that meant diverting from the traditional route for Wellington. Ideally we should have driven past Mysore and approached Wellington via Ooty. Instead we diverted south from Maddur towards Malavalli and were to hit Wellington via Conoor. Well that was the plan at least (and looked decent on the map). The prob started with a gadget misconfiguration as our GPS guided us to take the “shortest” route and not the “fastest”.
Therefore it made us turn south before Maddur into some atrocious village roads. Now we always knew the diversion towards Malavalli was a state highway and hence roads would be precarious, but this was well below our expectations. Though the route passed through some breathtaking ethnic India landscape, however the dirt road was more suited to tractors than a relatively sophisticated urban vehicle.
After a couple of hours of battling we did hit NH 948 toward Tamil Nadu, heading to Sathyamangalam. The roads though nothing extraordinary, were a big relief – just goes on to show how significant “perspective” can be. After the past two hours, we could have accepted anything that had tar to drive on. As we approached the much awaited Tiger reserve, temperature dropped dramatically and by sunset it was quite chilly.
The forest unfortunately turned out to be overly populated and hence a disappointment. Not for a moment (apart from the chill) did we feel away from a highway or civilization, and this meant we were far away from appreciating any significant fauna enroute. Eventually we had to take a break to meet our hunger for food and were fed with near perfection.
We happened to hit upon a small state transport run eatery and the place served some traditional South Indian food to kill for. As an added surprise, the staff were some of the most amiable sarkari mulazim I’ve ever interacted with, and their smiles made all tiredness fade away. With traditional rural simplicity and genuineness (of both food and behaviour), this was something we are so far removed in our metropolises and I can say confidently, it was one of the best experience we had in our entire trip.
The approach to Conoor had us tackle 38 hair pin bends, 24 going down and the remaining 14 ascending. Though it was dark by now, the roads were superb and driving experience exhilarating. The chill only added to the pleasure and lifted our spirits close to nirvana. For once I did not want the road to end and wished we reached our destination as late as possible.
Eventually though we reached Madras Regimental Centre Officer’s Mess, which has the honour of being the oldest regiment in the Indian Army; having been raised in 1704 as the personal bodyguards to the Maharaja of Travancore. We were now in the hands of the gallant service and god knows very few can host like them. I have stayed in a few popular hotels and even in those I’ve not enjoyed such hospitality. Even the very top end hotels am sure would struggle to match the grace, elegance – and above all – human touch of the fauj.
Right from the moment we arrived, till we were comfortably settled with our drinks, the mess saab was there to make sure we felt as close to home as possible. To be frank, this really cannot be put in words and has to be experienced in person. Hence a good day’s drive came to a perfect ending. Day 4 was to be spent in the scintillating environs of the Nilgiris, exploring the areas around Wellington and Ooty and indulge in the serene climate. So while no long drives, but many things planned and being our first break, it would help us soak in the place, people and food.
I will continue this travelogue on Day 5, when we start our journey to Goa with a totally different experience awaiting us. The peace of the mountains would soon be replaced with the chaos of boisterous beaches. But that’s still more than 48 hours away. So till then to enjoy the crisp air and wonderful environs. Till tomorrow…