Saturday, December 18, 2010

Two cups of filter coffee, a boring afternoon and a laptop was all that took two women to decide to ride out of the city over the weekend. Rach and I packed our bags and headed out to Kodai. We didn’t want to drive down and neither have patience to manage a hired chauffer. So bus it was. The adventure began even before we could leave Bangalore. It was a rainy evening and the cab did not turn up to take us to the bus station. The poor autorichshaw driver dealt with two cranky women with much aplomb. We reach the bus station only to be informed that the bus will arrive after half hour from then. So we brave the chill winds blowing though the open bus shed on a late evening and wait. Finally, we board the bus and realize the seats are not as we had desired, the bus conductor has a penchant for ignoring any request, the driver loves loud conversations while driving and the inhouse TV only plays Golmaal 3. Swalpa adjust maadi. We try to adjust as best we could and prepare for a sleepless, backbreaking night. The rest of the night was less said the better. At day break the next day, we had reached the hills of Kodai. The thin drizzle and the lush green slopes made it all worth it. We had decided to book a homestay instead of a regular hotel. From whatever we could gather from the net, it seemed to be a comfortable abode with friendly hosts.
On reaching Kodai, we call our host who had agreed to pick us up from the bus station. We meet Bala, our host and he takes us to his home, Cinnabar, on the quieter part of town, on Chettiar Road. There we meet his wife, the vivacious Vasu. With the casual pleasantries over, I only looked forward to a clean loo and to change out of my crumpled clothes. Only a shower and a change can make us feel human again after the nightmarish bus ride. The guest rooms are away from the main house and allows for adequate privacy. The room we were given, was warm, inviting and comfortable. Wooden floor, slanted roof, terracotta floor in the bathroom – clean, functional with a touch of rustic. Everything inside the room had a personal touch right from the patchwork bedspread, the sundried towels, mishmash artefacts to the coffee table books. This felt so much like home. Over breakfast in their cosy dining room, we heard how everything on the table is produced in their organic farm – the spreads, the granola, the cheese, the herbs and the fruits. The bread is oven fresh too! During lean season, the duo runs cooking classes since both are passionate about organic cooking from local resources. With wholesome food in our tummies it was time to explore the town.
So we head out with our host Bala, who was heading to town anyway. Sweetly, Vasu had drawn out a mini map of the hub with all places of interest. For two women that would mean – shopping hotspots and eateries. We assured her that we are not the touristy types who are here to see the waterfalls and the likes. Map in hand we hit the market area. Five minutes into the sojourn, we get invited to coffee at a cafe (a cafe chain I happen to work for) by two local men in strange clothes and one wearing a Stetson. We politely refuse and move on. We do the rounds of local shops supporting developmental causes – one of them is the Re Gift Shop. Looks like a lot of interesting people have settled in this hill town and doing their bit for the rural economy. One would have missed the history of the people if one was just there for the scenic spots.
We are charmed by a local villager, Gauriamma at a cafe names Potluck, perched on a narrow ledge on PT Road. She makes these amazing pancakes and a bright cuppa of cappuccino. She even takes the liberty to suggest honey over maple syrup as a spread for the pancakes. Who would have expected to be served in Ikea cutlery at a quaint old town in the hills. But such is the charm of Kodai. We visit the local haunts – Re (the gift shop), Potters Shed (where an old man sells local rough finished pottery), Econut (the store that sells health food and non-egg muffins), Shalimar (the shawl store run by a Kashmiri gent who is now lived here for generations), Pastry Corner (the local bake shop). We decided to have a vegetarian lunch at a place called Tava, where they were so generous with chillies and pepper that it was a big turn off. Being a Friday, not many tourists abound. Only the famous Kodai International School has its young students roaming around the streets giggling and doing things young things do. We finally head home to Cinnabar with tired feet and charged minds. Evening was filled with fresh coffee, some vodka and many a tale from far and near. It was no different from gathering at a friend’s home on a lazy weekend and sharing the warmth of the wooden fire in the living room. The dinner spread was continental with garden fresh greens in salad, the meat tender and the corn bread well textured. But the home-made cheesecake was the scene stealer of the night. Filled to the brim, we say our goodnights and head to our room only to find it wasn’t easy to fall asleep with my mind jostling with images and experience of a new place. The comforter was warm and the night passed in silence.
The next morning, we got up late and lazed over breakfast. If one is staying for a long time, the breakfast spread might get a bit repetitive. I am not complaining though, since I like some semblance of familiarity every morning. I have no appetite for experimenting right in the morning. We get dressed to go into town once breakfast was done and Vasu graciously gives us a ride to the seven road junction at the heart of town. We ambled about without much of an agenda and ended up shopping some more. We tried a new eatery called Cloud Street. Avoidable completely just in case someone gets inspired reading about my sojourn in Kodai. The ground floor stank of the ill maintained loo. We climbed up to the first floor restaurant to realize we were the only guests. The menu boasted of continental fare and we ordered a soup, a steak and pasta. The potato and cream soup was good. But the steak came on a steel plate. I kid you not. And the pasta was terribly over boiled. Then it started to rain, lashing on the tin roof while we played Scrabble. In due course the rain abates and we wade through ankle deep puddles and steams that had become the road. We trudge to Potluck for a cup of hot cappuccino and cocoa each to keep from freezing. It was silly to have worn summer sandals in the hills which has a penchant for sudden rains.
We get to Cinnabar as the mist envelops the hills. Another evening of vodka and deep thoughts (!) and we get to enjoy the Lebanese fare cooked with love by Vasu and Bala. There was hummus and pita bread along with other goodies. All healthy and super tasty. We retire to bed making plans for the next morning.
Our bus was to leave in the late evening and therefore we had time enough to get to town in the morning, post breakfast. Our first stop was the local market from where we bought carry bags. We needed them to carry the ‘treasures’ we bought in Kodai. Then we walked across to the Carlton Hotel. We prayed for the sun as we parked ourselves in their sprawling velvety lawn. Their property hugs the lake and offers an amazing view of the hills that surround the vale. Mid afternoon the sun peeped out of the clouds and we go shutter happy like two teenage bumpkins. With the sun still playing hide and seek we walk into this dingy looking eatery called Rasoi. Surprisingly they boast of and open kitchen and apparently make their food from scratch after the order is placed. We meet Charlie the head ‘chef’. I have never before seen someone using a pair of pliers as tongs. Charlie kindly allows us to photograph him in action, in return for a promise to send him a copy of his photo when we return to Bangalore. The food that was served was very well made and reminded me of home. Everywhere I go there just has to be one bong connection. The man serving the dishes happens to be from Bengal and we exchanged words in our native tongue with much mirth. There is a secret pleasure in finding someone in a foreign land who speaks your language. Or maybe, I am just getting old.
Towards the afternoon we head back to Cinnabar to finish packing and maybe catch a bit of sleep as we prepare for another sleepless night in the bus. We get done with the packing, somehow managing to squeeze everything in our modest overnighter. Then Vasu gets us tea and we get going with the camera.
Vasu’s garden has avocados literally falling off the trees. Yes, they taste as good as they look. Done with the outdoors, we get Vasu to ‘pose’ for us. We didn’t miss the kingfisher sundial either.
Around 6.45pm we realize the bus would leave in another 15 minutes. Vasu and Bala both came to drop us to the bus station. Vasu, god bless her, thoughtfully packed a goodie-bag of apples and homemade multigrain buns for the journey. She really didn’t have to do that since they were to host us till the breakfast on that day. They also graciously let us keep the room till the evening. All of these thoughtful gestures added up to make this a memorable trip. All was not over yet. The hellish bus ride had to be done yet. The downhill ride at breakneck speed made us sick to the core. Late night the bus stopped at a dingy eating joint and an adjoining dirty loo with red light for illumination. Imagine that. We live through that desperately hoping to get to Bangalore with our sanity intact. The rest of the night remained uneventful and we reach Bangalore at the early hours of the morning. Home and a clean bath later, I head for office munching the apple from the goodie-bag.