Day 5: Nagarhole/Kutta – Kozhikode

Summary: The reason we went to Kozhikode? We will come to that in the details. But this morning, we took a long stroll aroung the 40 acre estate, then checked out Iruppu Falls and the temple. After that, much deliberation happened and we drove towards Kozhikode via Wayanad. The short and sweet distance to cover took about 4.5 hours in total. The round and round and the world comes down trip made the khalasi seat biwi a little light headed. But we checked into a tripadvisor recommended hotel Asma tower in the evening and decided that the day would end here. So, it was a short 300 odd km day. Why 300? Since Kozhikode is less than 200km? We will come to that too. But the crisp takeaway – 300 odd kms over 8.5 hours of driving. Loved the beautiful wayanad region, figured out that of the three beaches around Kozhikode, Kappad is considered better, but Kozhi’s own beach is the really crowded one. Major Marina Beach and Golden Beach feeling happened. And learnt a few tiny lessons about better road tripping, maybe.

So, as expected, we couldn’t get up at 5:30, so Nik missed the 5:45, and we got all fired up to catch the 6:15 bus. Its a different matter that I was so sleepy that I almost slipped and broke my hand. But since we had to continue marching forward with no real pain (?), I did not. All good. At 6:15 the bus did not turn up. Yeah. It was one of those scheduled buses that may or may not make the schedule. The uncleji at the homestay, Mr. Raghu suggested we go to Gonikoppal to drop Nik. His mental maths was that the distance was about 25 kms. On the meter, it was about 45. Well, this, I am used to happening to me. Across India. “Bas thoda sa hai, paidal nikal jaiye” or “bas wo thoda aage hai. left side mein” kinds. Anyway, uncleji accompanied us for showing the way, and I didn’t complain because that early, with the fog still not cleared and the weather a pleasant cold, I was enjoying it.
After a 90km round trip, we had Nik packed and despatched, and biwi had ordered for coffee and breakfast. For the breakfast we had rice balls with bhaji (alu bhaji) and chutney. And some poached eggs. Delicious. Again. And that’s when the deliberation happened. After much debate, the end conclusion was – hold your breath – lets take a walk. The homestay streteched for several acres and we decided to take an unsupervised walk and do some meet and greet with the nature. It was a beautiful time of the day and the walk across the estate was great fun. We came back an hour or so later, and then decided to explore the Iruppu Falls. Now, here is a funny thing about Iruppu falls. All the local signages are for Irpu falls, while google talks about Iruppu or Irpu or Irupu,  and occasionally leads you to different places, one of them being 98kms from the homestay. Better sense prevailed, and we asked Renuka, the wife and the primary caretaker for the homestay.

With some little confusion, we covered the 7-8km distance to Irpu Falls. Another example of some place with great potential gone waste. The damn fall is about 120 odd steps of trekking up away. While you get to the fall, there are several treks that offshoot from there. Now, the problem I have is – most of these are not safely laid out (which is somewhat ok), are completely unsupervised and with no cellphone signal either (which could still be fine), and are never mentioned anywhere until you reach that signboard which says – a 6km trek to XXX and and 9km trek to YYY. It also expects you to buy a ticket, but you can’t see a ticket counter to buy the trekking ticket from. And with dustbins every 20 odd steps, our fellow countrymen still decide to throw plastic bottles and piss wherever mother nature reminds them. So much for tourism promotion in our country. Ideally, someone who’s into trekking can spend a couple of weeks easily in the region, just ticking off one interesting trek after another. But we sold our ideals around the time of independence. So, zip it.

The irpu temple is under renovation (at the base of the hill). The legend goes that when Rama-Lakshman et al were crossing this place during their vanvasa, Ram was very thirsty and wanted Laks dude to get him some water. Laks dude fired an arrow into the ground and that’s how the rivers and the water fall came into being. The place is also called Lakshman Teertha, and the place where Rama did the worship of Lord Shiva is the Irpu temple. Holds great respect and has more visitors during Shivratri. So, if you are looking to trek, you can avoid that particular time of the year.

We came back an hour and a half or so later from the fall, and proceeded to do some touristy stuff. We bought vanilla tea from the nearby shop! Yeah! With that taken care of, we came back to the homestay, had another great meal. And then packed and left. But not before another round of deliberation happened.

See. The original plan was that we will go towards Kasargod from here and then stay at Bekal or something. Our calculation, which had gone haywire over the last couple of days, suggested a 4-5 hour drive. But Uncelji was of the opinion that Kasargod is a waste of time and a much worse drive (road quality wise), and we should rather go towards Kozhikode via Wayanad. Especially since Kozhi is just 2 -2.5 hours away. And Kerala has better roads than Karnataka.After a lot of very Indian discussion-  where the alpha male speaks with great confidence about things he has never done in his life but has definitely got an opinion about, and the alpha female (or beta female) decides to occasionally chime in with some details thoughtfully. Its only later that you realize which part was correct and/or relevant.

Now, at the end of this drive to Kozhi, I realized a couple more things. One – don’t trust everything and everyone (this actually was just a reinforcement) and two – I do look like Schumacher or Alonso from some angle. Anyway – no major complaints since it only took 4-5 hours to get to Kozhi and by then we had given up any hope of moving further up to, say, Kannur or Kasargod. That being said, since the entire drive is through the wayanad region and you go and up down the entire ranges, its a beautiful serpentine road. Two lanes. No divider. And people driving at Thalaivar speeds. Anyway, biwi rose to the occasion, and drove another 40 odd kms this time (she did a 30 odd km ranging towards Nagarhole as well yesterday). After that, she decided that this was too much and so she started periodically dozing off in the khalasi (conductor/helper/chotu) seat.

As we were getting closer to Kozhi, we realized that we’d rather stay here overnight and then start towards mangalore/udipi and beyond. We did two things that most respectable internet savvy people do. We checked the things to do in Kozhi. Surprisingly, there isnt much. Second, we checked travelguru or something to see which might be a decent mid range hotel to stay at. We picked Asma Tower and came out very satisfied. Ask them as you book, and they will easily offer you a 20% discount on rack rates.

So we had some mean fish dish which came wrapped up in delicious tomato based masala and fried and then steamed inside a banana leaf. That with Appam and some soup. Some more lying down, reading and the lights went out. The plan for the next day – 120 odd kms to Mangalore (2-3 hours) and then take a call for the go forward. And maybe, drive till Bekal and beyond.

From a roadtrip perspective, three important lessons –

1. For road conditions, refer to . The guys on those forums are probably the best updaters.

2. For every destination you are thinking of plan +/- 50km radius as well. Because there are too many things that may not be in your control.

3. And this one’s important – It’s very difficult to find hotels with rooms that are not damp or have absolutely clean bathrooms. After Asma, we realized that it does make you feel a lot better if you are sleeping in a nice clean place. It might be a tad more expensive, but sometimes, it’s worth it. At least, plan for it so that you’re not surprised if you don’t get it.

And yes, we are excited about finally starting on the west coast drive – the konkan experience!

Day 3, 4- Bangalore, Dabaspet, Mysore, Nagarhole

*Back posted to maintain the continuity of the road trip. *

Summary: Spent day 3 in Bangalore meeting some friends during the day and devouring some amazing alooparathas made by Amit’s mom. Made a rushed drive to meet my mamaji, maami, cousin and my nani. At Dabaspet, which is about 50km backward on the same NH4 via the same outer ring road. Ate some more good motherly affection laced food, and then left at 6:30 in the morning of day 4 (having planned to leave at 5).  Got my cousin to tag along for this leg of the journey. Realized what different things people mean when they say that the roads are good. Drove towards Mysore, saw Philomena Church, couldnt see the palace, and then proceeded to Nagarhole National Park. Reached Narikadi Homestay in Kutta (t as in Tomato, not t as in “tarikh par tarikh”) after a gruelling drive. Approx 2:30 in the afternoon. Had a great lunch and dinner at Narikadi. Went for the evening safari at NHNP. The meter was at 1430 km or so by now. The trip mileage was at 13.5 kmpl. And the route we had taken was Bangalore-Dabaspet-Bangalore (NICE)- Mysore Road-Mysore-Hunsur-Nagarhole-Kutta. Torturous road, somewhat scenic as you drive through the national park.

Now the details –

Bangalore D3 was mostly about resting at our gracious hosts’ home, eating some amazingly delicious aloo paratha made by Amit’s mom for breakfast, meeting a few friends. Plan changed a little in the evening when I realized that my bade mama is posted 50-odd kms from Bangalore, and against what I was thinking, it’s not to be on my onward journey from Bangalore where I’d meet them, but that I had already missed out on meeting them on my way to Bangalore. See, they are at Dabaspet which is between Tumkur and Neelamangalam on NH4. To make matters worse, I realized very late that my nani is here as well. So biwi and I rushed over to spend the night with them. Quality time (limited though) was spent with mama, mami, nani and my little brother nikku. We also managed to convince Nikku to join us for the next leg of the trip to Nagarhole. And yeah, there was some delicious food at home – parathas, anda bhurji, rajma, bhindi, etc.

On D4, we had plans of leaving at 5 in the morning, and as per the plan, we left at 6-6:30. We took the NICE toll road to exit towards Mysore. And this is also the beginning of my learning that all roads are not the same. All highways are not 4 lane. All driving is not rational. And all Karnataka has ridiculous road bumps.
Anyway, to cut the long chase short, starting at ~1070kms on the meter, we did ~350kms during the day to get to Nagarhole via Mysore. We saw the Philomena Church in Mysore, where the Sunday mass was in progress. We wanted to spend an hour at the palace too, except that for some ridiculous reason (the King’s birthay or wedding anniversary or such), the palace was to open not before 11:30. And we were at Mysore at 10:00. We did the maths, and decided to move forward because we were keen on doing the afternoon/evening safari at Nagarhole.

We had booked through and were to stay at Narikadi home stay at Kutta. Its not Kutta as in Dog. The “t” sounds like the t in Texas and Tomato.  The drive from Mysore to Kutta takes you through the Nagarhole national park (Rajiv Gandhi National Park) and the distance of about 90 odd kms is a punishment for at least half of your sins. At least that’s what I think. That should make me happy, right? Half my sins absolved for? Well, that’s not your first reaction as you are going through the experience. You just want to get it done with and move on to a more sinful life at that point, just in case there is very little of it left. The roads are bad, and have been laid sporadically across what must have been a giant pothole encompassing the whole of the region in the times of Mahabharata. The speedbreakers are extremely torturous, especially for people who drive a car like the City. The number of times your car scrapes through makes you wonder if you will ever be able to drive beyond 10kmph.

Well, we managed to reach the homestay at about 2:30PM or so. ~4hours from when we started from Mysore. The route was the Hunsur one, in case you are wondering.

Things did improve from here. We had some excellent food waiting for us. A spicy dry variety of chicken, the brown rice pulao, white rice, sambhar, rasam, papad, two different vegetables, some pickle, curd, etc. Most excellent. Detour: There is a  little thing I need to share here. Whenever I am in my native village, somehow the food that has been procured closer to home and is less processed/moved around, etc. seems a lot tastier. And I am not sure if you have eaten food from the wooden/ clay ovens in villages. Something’s there that makes you wonder where that extra bit of taste is coming from. Not quite sure if that was the case here, but these guys have a 40 acre  estate where a whole bunch of farm products are sourced from, for their own kitchen as well.

We then rested for about 45 minutes and then left for the Nagarhole safari. The pics will be inserted once I have had a chance to overcome my laziness. The safari was interesting because at least two of the parties sharing the bus with us had already paid some under-table money to the driver to ensure good views and better exploration. People with giant lenses and mega-camera-bodies were with us trying to catch a glimpse of something exotic. Unfortunately for them, and not so bad for us, we saw the four horned antelope, a lot of cheetals, some sambhars, couple of Gaurs (wild bison), elephants, tonnes of monkeys and one lion tailed macaque. Between the three of us, we moved the camera around to get passably decent pictures of wilderness and animals. Done. Ticked. Get back to the home stay. Time check – 6:45PM. Darkness – check. Laziness-check. Fatigue- double check. Food craving – check.

Dinner surpassed the lunch with supremely fine vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare. Language barriers with the serving staff made it difficult to get a lot of answers about the recipes or the contents, but I am a foodie who enjoys eating more than analyzing what is being eaten. Or instagraming it. The items included a variety of chilly chicken, coconut milk flavoured chicken variety with gravy, a very oil-free and delicious variety of bhindi with some coconut scrapings for garnishing, a very different variety of cabbage (new taste for me), some rasam on the side, and some rice. Usual suspects (curd, pickle, papad) etc were there.

By then we were in the zone where we lay down to read some and then go off to sleep. The plan for Day 5 was tentative, like most plans. One thing we knew, that NIkku had to catch a bus back to Bangalore. Which meant a 5:30AM start tentatively. For the records, I still hate getting up early morning.

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