I did something that I hadn’t done for a long while and honestly, it feels so gooood! Yeah! I bunked work, packed my bags, said bye to parents and child and took off to the hills with of course two friends for company. It all started on a Saturday drinking session at Indijoes. That’s where the idea spurted and over happy-hour beer and steak, we decided to take off to Coonoor. So there we were on M G Road, wrapped up in shawls on a cold windy Bangalore morning, huddled up in Dee’s car, frizzling with excitement like the first school picnic where you got to sit with your best friend in the bus. In anticipation, I slept fitfully through the previous night making endless lists in my head of millions of things that I might have forgotten to pack. I don’t remember being this excited since I went for a college picnic. (ahem!)
Since Dee had to be woken up from bed, (yes sir!) while we waited on M G Road, we didn’t start at the time we intended to. Therefore got caught in city traffic, till we reached the highway. The drive went on with the first stop at Maddur MTR where we stuffed ourselves for breakfast. We continued peacefully till Mysore where we decide to take a ‘never-before-taken’ Ring Road, bypassing the city. For once, the road sign led us to the right path and despite our skepticism and doubts we reached Ooty Road well on schedule. The drive through Bandipur and Madhumalai was beautiful. At one spot where the road narrowed down, we met a herd of elephants. Majestic creatures that they are can look quite threatening up close. We saw a host of monkeys skipping about by the side of the road and looking out for open car windows to hop in and scavenge for food.
The 36 hairpin bends to Ooty took a little effort and encouragement. Grin. Dee had apprehensions and we bribed him with a promise of a sexy back massage when we reach Coonoor. He did not know then, that a far scarier drive awaited him on the slopes of Coonoor. We did the bends, Dee gripping the wheel and Rach and me, muttering a prayer under our breaths. We counted each one of the bends and like a trained parrot I kept reminding Dee to honk before climbing each bend. I got teased amply for it later. Next stop was lunch at Nahars in Ooty. We reach there after some drama of reversing on a downward slope with Dee losing his cool for a bit. It started raining softly by then and we managed to move inside the restaurant where all unoccupied tables were waiting to be cleared of the earlier order. I wisely stuck to a South Indian thali while Rach and Dee took their chances on naan and aloo methi. What arrived though was boiled aloo sprinkled with fried methi leaves. Rach promptly christened it Crackling Methi but i goto admit, we felt better with food in our tummy. At Nahars we met Rach’s aunt and uncle. They live in Coonoor and were having lunch with their guests. In fact Rach’s uncle was instrumental to booking the guesthouse where we were to stay. After direction to guesthouse was drawn up on a paper napkin, we hurried off to Coonoor. We landed there only to realize there was another family staying there aswell. No problem we thought. We got the booze baby. The booze turned out to be an awful concoction called Vanilla Vodka. God bless the state of Tamilnadu where government-controlled wine stores leave no choice for the customer. So while the youngest of the other family hogged the TV watching cartoons, we made merry playing Pictionary. Oh! The squiggles caused laugh riots and I have preserved them for posterity. After dinner we sat around the porch listening to the rain and enjoying the strangeness of a mountain night. Day 1 ended with Dee thinking he heard croaking toads while Rach and I were sure they were crickets!
Day 2 began easy and slow. Rach and I lazed around in the garden talking mostly about Kolkata and food (yes, the too are intimately connected!). It’s so de-stressing to not have any pre-designed agenda on a holiday! The other family had left by mid morning so we hung around watching TV till late afternoon and working out the plan for the night’s binging. The caretaker Ramu was roped in to arrange for beer (any brand boss! Just get it!) and a pack of cards since Dee wanted to learn ‘teen patti’ (an Indian variant of the card game Flash). So while Ramu went about the arrangements, we ordered in lunch from Orchid Square. After lunch we pestered Dee to take us shopping – the usual knick knacks. Dee and I managed to fill the car with utterly useless things like a set of needles (my idea) to be gifted to our moms. We bought locally produced cheese and honey and Dee picked up hemp shirts for himself and bro on Rach’s suggestion. He also managed to twist his back while trying to open a display drawer in one of the shops. However, a stiffened back never stopped him from surveying the chick scene. Such a braveheart! In a split second, he claimed to have made lingering eye contact (no less!) with a pretty lady who zipped past in a Scorpio. Rach and I thought of debating the improbability, however, we never argue with a man who takes women shopping with very little persuasion.
On our way back, we dropped in at Rach’s uncle’s home. An eco-friendly home with a real fireplace and a pretty garden. Ashok uncle and Malu aunty is the most amazing couple I have ever met. The kind that make me wish for a warm pair of arms hugging me every morning. The kind that make me wish for someone to grow old with. mmmm. They filled the room with scintillating conversation that meandered from book reviews of one of their friends to their close encounter with a bigcat. Aunty gave us roses from her garden. A hitherto unprecedented act according to Rach, since Aunty is so passionate about her garden. However, Dee got a full-bloomed big pink rose, the prettiest of the lot! It will suffice to say Dee never lets go of a chance to pour his charm in generous measures. Enthused by their stories, we decided to venture out and drive around to the jungle. The scenery was breathtaking with the blue green mountains suddenly veiled by wispy shroud of grey clouds. The sun was setting and lights were fading fast. We decided to head for the guesthouse. But such was not to be. Rach mentioned an interesting cemetery and I suggested we take a look. Which led us to a road with no humanity in sight. On the way we stopped at the gate of Mansoor Khan’s (Amir Khan’s uncle) sprawling bungalow. The adventure ended abruptly a little further as the road constricted and we found ourselves stuck on a narrow ledge that doubled as a footpath barely wide enough for the car and hugging the steep mountain slope with nothing but tea bushes for company. We couldn’t move forward as there was no road in sight. The only option was to reverse the car. Reverse? Here? Rach and I got off the car to help Dee with 'navigation'. We tried reversing for a while with the front wheel narrowly missing the outer edge by a few inches on more than one occasion. This side is a 6000 ft sheer drop and the other a rockface bristling with thorny bushes. Our cellphones showed no signal. We were cut off from civilization and the jungles are known for bigcats and snakes. The lights were fading. We prayed we don’t get a puncture. As Dee cautiously inched backwards, the brakes let out strong whiffs of burnt rubber. We prayed for an opening where Dee could turn the car. With night approaching fast, it would be impossible to reverse the car all the way to civilization. Short of a kilometer of reversing, we found a grassy patch big enough for the car to turn around. Rach and I hopped in and hugged Dee for keeping his nerve and headed homeward to get to our well-deserved booze binge.
We reach the guesthouse to find uncle and aunty already there to check whether we have returned from our wild jaunt. Thus began an entire evening of surreal stories that ended with uncle driving us to a spot in the hills where we could see the whole Metupalayam valley, glittering like ‘stars below’ (Aunty’s words). The deafening silence of the night on a wet hill side greeted us as we peered into the valley praying desperately for the clouds to melt away. But we could only see the spidery moon, winking occasionally from behind the veiled grey of the clouds. A little disappointed, we got back to the guest house where the now-chilled beer awaited. Grin. Chilled beer on a chiller night. Awesome. It all started off peacefully enough. However, night was still young. As the night progressed, we sank into ribald debauchery. Two drunken women threatening to do a ‘channe ki kheth mey’ dance on the moonlit lawn in their night clothes at 2AM, requires the man to be enormously brave to survive. The talk got kinky and wild and the laugh got louder. Dee bore the brunt with his signature silence and occasional twinkling-naughty smile. By then, we were beyond redemption and huddled up on his bed leaving the poor fellow squeezed and begging to be allowed to sleep. But such was not the plan. We insisted on playing cards on his bed and bulldozed him to a game which was a version of strip poker, the stripper of course being Dee. Looking at the wild women, he had enough reason to panic and hugged his blanket like he was born in them while we dragged the sweater off him. This isn’t a family blog and I could have easily written about the raunchy details with glee except that Dee refused to shed any other piece of clothing and the two of us tired out of the effort of pulling a fat sweater off a grown man fell on either side, snoring. It was with the early morning ‘azan’ from a far off mosque that I sauntered to my room only to fall in bed restlessly with an aching arm caused by alcohol induced dehydration. Rach too woke up with a painful forefinger and kept asking ‘do you know what I did with this finger last night?’ Yeah baby, some things are better forgotten. Grin.
We filled the morning with endless chatter and Dee quoting my previous nights utterances. In all this, we overshot the time we had planned to start for Bangalore. Finally, we left the guesthouse around 2PM to discover that we have a flat tyre. Somehow we managed to hitch the car till the petrol bunk but being a Sunday, the few auto garages were all closed. We trekked down further to finally find a dirty shack that passed for an auto garage. They mauled the shinny new alloy wheel till I was ready to beat up the guy. Dee gave me the offending nail to be kept as keepsake. It took over an hour to repair. Then on, we reached Ooty without a hitch while it rained. On the downward drive through the hairpin bends, we had Ghalib’s beautiful words flowing in the car. We drove through the Bandipur-Madhumalai–Mysore stretch chasing stray cars. Yes, cars. Grin. It was 11 at night when I got dropped home. But it’s never over till its over. On the way from my home to Dee’s, the car ran out of gas and Rach and Dee had to push it to the nearest bunk. Finally, I got an alls well message at 12 with all of us slumped in our respective beds. So till we meet again....
'Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way...'