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Old 10th June 2016, 16:33   #1
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Default Exploring the Western Ghats in Kerala & Tamil Nadu

It all started with Hyderabad weather turning crazy hot and the water crisis becoming a daily issue. I just wanted to get away to a colder place. The choices were either Himalayas or Western Ghats down south. Himalayas were ruled out because of a huge head-start requirement and poor internet connectivity. So, the only choice was western ghats.

Right around the same time, my wife booked a flight for home (Ahmedabad) and she was going out for two weeks. I definitely didn't want to suffer the heat all by myself. I decided to drive to Kodaikanal and neighboring hill stations.

Background
I am a software engineer and I work remotely (from home) and can work from anywhere with a basic 3G connectivity. I work in CST/CDT timezone meaning I work all night long and I am mostly free in the daytime (well, at least when I am not sleeping). Like everyone else, I don't work on weekends and hence they are used to cover either long distances or staying nearer to the wildlife or remote places without worrying about connectivity.

The Ride
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2009 Honda City iVtec with 1,00,000 KMs on the odo.

Stats
Length : 4,525 KMs
Duration : 5 Weeks
Total Fuel : 370 L (Petrol)
Fuel Cost : Rs. 23,956
Fuel Economy : 9.15-15.71 (12.16 Average)

Route
Hyderabad - Chennai - Kodaikanal - Marayoor - Munnar - Kochi - Vagamon - Thekkady - Munnar - Palakkad - Kalpetta (Wayanad) - Masinagudi - Ooty - Ananthpur (AP) - Hyderabad.

Since this was a long trip, I'll try to be as brief as possible posting only relevant and useful information.

We try to record as many videos as technically and humanly possible while we are on the road. Below is the playlist for this trip. Video quality hasn't been good so far. I promise to keep my windshield cleaner in future

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...FNyCSUwVwI-Yal

Shameless plug: SUBSCRIBE to the damn thing for updates.

Teaser



Index
PS : This is my first travelogue on Team-BHP.

Last edited by bordeaux : 1st July 2016 at 04:09.
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Old 10th June 2016, 21:52   #2
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Hyderabad - Kodaikanal / Apr 23 - Apr 24
I dropped off my wife at the airport on Apr 23 at around 4:00AM and continued my journey towards Chennai. Ideal choice for Hyderabad - Kodaikanal must have been NH-7 via Bangalore but I had never traveled on southern stretch of NH-5 (NH-16) before so I wanted get a feeling of that road as well. It was a solo drive and most of the day was quite uneventful.

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Sunrise somewhere near Miryalaguda on TS-SH2

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Hunt for a restaurant for lunch ended up with a pleasant surprise.

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Food Plaza On NH-5

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Ample Parking Area on both sides of the Toll Plaza

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See http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/route-...ml#post3959488 (Hyderabad - Chennai : Route Queries) for latest road status.

Reached Chennai at around 4:00 PM. Slept the rest of the day and night except for the dinner.

Next day, woke up early at 4:30 AM. Got ready quickly and made myself some tea. Started around 5:15 AM from Vandalur, Chennai and reached Kodaikanal at 1:00 PM. Chennai - Trichy is one of the best roads I have driven on in south India. Properly marked roads with absolutely no potholes on the entire stretch. See http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/route-...ml#post3962729 (Chennai - Kodaikanal : Route Queries) for updates on roads.

Last edited by bordeaux : 1st July 2016 at 04:16.
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Old 10th June 2016, 22:44   #3
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Kodaikanal / Apr 24 - Apr 29

Apr 24, 2016

Kodaikanal weather was such a sweet surprise provided that I was in Chennai's out of the world humid weather yesterday. Icing on the cake was little drizzling while I was still looking for my home-stay. After taking lunch and a little bit of sleep, I went for a drive around the Kodai lake in the evening. I was shocked to see the traffic jam and crowd. It felt like I somehow got teleported to Bangalore. I somehow managed to secure a parking for my car. Tried to take a walk along the lake but it was a total mess. A zillion people, horses, bicycles and what not. I immediately left the place and went back to my home-stay. Peace and world order restored.

Way to the home-stay.



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Views from the home-stay balcony

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Crowd far-far away

Apr 25, 2016

I was expecting lesser traffic as it was Monday and that was indeed the case. I tried to go around the typical Kodai tourist circuit but there were still more people everywhere than I like. So, I just drove around, had lunch and came back to my home-stay.

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Pine Valley

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Monkeys trying to own my car

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Looks like we'll have to fight it out

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Boom!!!!!!

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Owned. Thank you very much!

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Why did chicken cross the road? Because we need chicken tikka, no?

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Amazing greenery but they are burning farm waste :-(

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So should we go out or stay here?

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May be we'll just stay here and relax!

Apr 26, 2016
Today's target was to go to the famous Altaf's Cafe and spend some time out there. The route to this place is a little tricky as some of the roads gets converted to one-ways in Kodai with not much signage. Also, the final stretch of the road is really narrow and you have to frequently reverse to let the other vehicles pass. I didn't like the place much despite the good views from cafe. I guess I had better views from my own balcony.

Road to Altaf's Cafe in Kodaikanal




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I brought lunch!

My companion for the entire stay. This bird was there everyday and always fetching food for the kids.

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Time to feed the kids

Apr 27, 2016
Did absolutely nothing. Went for the regular driving around town. Had lunch, got some groceries. Living like a local. No sightseeing for today.

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These flowers are everywhere :-)

Apr 28, 2016
Tourist mode was invoked and I was determined to visit at least a few places. Luckily not too much crowd.

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Beautiful Kodai lake as seen from a view point

Since I was sure that I don't want to go to the Kodai lake itself, I thought of driving to a far away place called Manavanur (~40 KMs). It has a lake as well. The road till Manavanur is single lane but smooth. Broken only at countable places.

A sample section of Kodaikanal-Manavanur road. Notice the trucker flashing indicators to let me pass. Almost brought tears in my eyes. Salute to such truckers.




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Beautiful views all along the way.

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Boating complex at Manavanur. No vehicles allowed inside. ~500 meters walk.

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Little peaceful lake where you can go for a ~20 minute coracle boat ride for ~100/person.

Whenever you are in a coracle boat, please, please ask the rider to make it go round like crazy. Thank me later.




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Forest complex at Manavanur boating site

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Post tourist's Swatch Bharat Abhiyaan

Between Manavanur and Kodaikanal, we have a village Poombarai. The awesome views of this village can be enjoyed from the main road. You can spend some time here.

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Purpose built wooden ladder for village views

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Poombarai Village

And that was all for my Kodaikanal stay. Overall a wonderful place if you manage to stay away from crowd. I know it's not possible for all folks, but please try to avoid this place on weekends in peak season. Well, that's actually true for tourist places all over India

Last edited by bordeaux : 1st July 2016 at 04:20.
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Old 22nd June 2016, 21:40   #4
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Kodaikanal - Amaravathi - Marayoor / Apr 30 - May 1

Apr 30, 2016

It was time to say goodbye to Kodaikanal. My first attempt at working all night, touring all day has been a grand success so far. Thanks to the rocking BSNL 3G. BTW, do you know that I carry 4 sim cards and a data card all of different providers whenever I am travelling. So, having internet is of utmost importance to me to be able to work. If I don't have internet, there is probably nobody who has internet in my 500 m radius at least

But today was a weekend. Time to run away from claustrophobic touristic spots to a less crowded town out of nowhere. Destination was Marayoor, Kerela (40KMs from Munnar towards Annamalai Tiger Reserve).

The route of choice was TN-MDR-170 (Kodaikanal-Perumal Malai-Palani).



This road is way more beautiful compared to Dindigul-Kodaikanal but it's a really narrow road with deep valleys on the side. At times, it really becomes difficult to pass a bus. It becomes wider as you move away from Kodaikanal. There is a 4-5KM stretch which is bad and has large but not so deep potholes.

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Early birds get the best views

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Views from Kodai-Palani road

I could have driven all the way to Marayoor directly but when you are all alone, you just want to kill more time on road. I decided to drive down to Amaravathi Dam. I knew that there will be hardly any water but then I thought water-less dams never hurt anyone. So, why not. Turned out to be a good decision.

I'll let the pics do the talk for the rest of this visit.

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On the way to Amaravathi Dam

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This entire region is dotted with these beautiful flower trees.

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Amaravathi Dam

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Not much water but still a beautiful view.

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Amma fishing fish

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FYI

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One of the canals

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That so looks like an airstrip

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Another canal, totally dry :(

Since the bridge connecting on one of the canals was under construction, had to go around on the dirt road by the canal.



Then continued on to Munnar. I think I should mention that the Tamil Nadu forest guards at the check posts are totally hungry for bribe. They don't mind asking for money. Was never asked for money at any of the Kerela forest check posts.

The road through Annamali Tiger Reserve is narrow and one of the cars need to go off the road to let the oncoming vehicle pass. The situation improves as you enter Kerela.

A sample of the road in Annamalai Tiger Reserve.



Reached Marayoor around 2PM. Had lunch at Sandal Breeze (one of the few good looking restaurants in the area).

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Guest house at Marayoor

In the evening, I opted to go for a ride to the nearby places with property caretaker. Turned out to be a good idea. We went to Annakotai Park where they have ancient burial sites. We also went to the nearby sandal forests and mange to spot some wildlife as well.

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One of the ancient burial sites

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Beautiful views from Annakotai Park

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The giant squirrel

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Spotted deer

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Indian Bison


May 1, 2016
Beautiful Sunday morning. Breakfast done and we (me and the caretaker) started off to explore the nearby high altitude village Konthaloor. This place is really nice for people who love nature (especially flowers and fruits). So many of them and of different kinds. Can't share all the pics as this thread will not longer be readable

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We got some desi stuff on tap here.

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Let me cook some famous Marayoor Jaggery. Will ya!

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Green fields

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Minions be mad coz somebody stole the banana!!

After the Konthaloor nature drive, my caretaker took off and asked me to proceed further with a guide. We went to a KDHP tea factory for some demo but it was closed because it was labor day. We headed back to Marayoor. On the way, guide suggested that we stop at Lakkam waterfalls but looking at the number of vehicles parked on the road, I immediately declined and we proceeded further to Marayoor.

Gauging my 'run-away-from-crowd' attitude, guide suggested a secret stop on the way where we can go down to the river and have a peaceful time. All in. Turned out to be a good decision.

Park you car here and walk down to the river. Be careful and don't kill yourself. Stones may be slippery at times.

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Wannabe artist

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River side

Ran out of image limit. Continued in next reply...

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Old 22nd June 2016, 22:49   #5
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May 1, 2016 continued

In the evening, I opted to go for a forest trek in Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary (6 KMs down from Marayoor). The trek cost is Rs. 250/- per person. A guide takes you through the forest and on the way you can sweat yourself out, pass by the ancient burial sites, have a look at the ancient mural paintings, beautiful forest views and some wildlife if lucky. The trek lasts 3-3.5 hours and difficulty level is easy-to-moderate. Bring a bottle of water and carry the empty bottle back with you.

Since nobody really cares to go for a forest trek on foot these days, I was the only one. Some pics.

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A handing bridge sort of thing for monkeys to cross the road

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Another giant squirrel

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Burial site

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Info

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Actual painting

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Forest views

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The guide

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Forest lodge in the sanctuary. You can stay in the wild but not sure about the booking process.

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Water stream

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River view from top

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You know what it is

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Ok, this is not grass. This is a real grasshopper which looks exactly like surrounding grass. The guide was able to spot this while walking randomly. 6/6 for eyesight there.

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More Indian Bison

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Thoovanam Waterfall view from road.

That's all for Marayoor and surroundings. See you in Munnar.
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Old 25th June 2016, 02:12   #6
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Munnar / May 2 - May 6

On Monday morning, I started for Munnar. It's 40 KMs drive from Marayoor. I was already getting hungry for the overdose of the famous tea gardens. I did get a glimpse of them yesterday while on my way to KDHP factory for a tour but that wasn't enough. Stopped at the Lakkam Waterfall on my way. Lesser number of because of Monday but still significant. So, didn't go for a bath but just clicked some pictures and moved on to Munnar. As I wasn't too sure about the 3G coverage in Munnar so booked a real cheap hotel in city center but just for today. Turns out Munnar has mind blowing 3G coverage all around the city and at the outskirts as well if you don't go too far.

After reaching the hotel, had lunch at a Rajasthani restaurant. If you see the number of Rajasthani/Gujarati/Marwadi restaurants in the town, you can't really tell it's Kerela. Marwadis have owned this town completely As the hotel was reserved only for today, I started driving towards Kochi looking for a cheap hotel (remember I am lonely soul on the run) away from town but still with 3G coverage. 10 KMs out and couldn't really find anything with good reviews. Either good hotel or no 3G. Then moved towards Chithirapuram, same scene plus potholed road spoiled it all. And to add to all these worries, the absence of food options. After driving for 2-3 hours, came back to the hotel and extended the stay till Friday. Room or hotel was not an issue but traffic noise was really bad. The only thing working in my favor was that I was not getting burnt in the Hyderabad heat. I guess that was the major reason for this trip anyways.

Pics will tell the rest of the story.

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Lakkam Waterfalls. You all know it already.

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Crazy queue at Aravikulam National Park. Turns out people wait in this queue for 2-3 hours. If you are not a crowd lover, please stay away from this place like forever.

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Reminder to wash my car more often.

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Tea Gardens on way to Top Station

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Though eucalyptus, green cover matters.

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View from Top Station

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Way back from Top Station. Not recommended for elderly. Definitely not on a hot or a rainy day.

It was not a very happening week as such. Drove on the Top Station route twice. Rained every time. Couldn't ask for more. As it was the last week of travel, I was getting worried about getting back to Hyderabad. My wife was scheduled to arrive in Hyderabad on Sunday. So, plan was to return to Hyderabad by the time she arrives. But the thoughts of Hyderabad heat were giving me nightmares. Called up wife and asked her to come to Kochi instead where I'll pick here up and we won't return to Hyderabad till summer ends. Well, she was getting fried in Ahmedabad weather and was very happy to hear this offer. I rerouted her flight to Kochi and now she was scheduled to arrive in Kochi at noon on Saturday. Perfect plan.

Kochi-Vagamon-Thekkady / May 7 - May 8

May 7, 2016

On Saturday morning, started for Kochi around 9:30 AM. The Munnar - Kochi highway is two lane road throughout. NHAI is a doing a really good job in reducing the blind spots and widening the roads near Munnar. On some of the sharper turns, the roads are almost 2.75-3 lanes. The till Kochi is in good condition and is green all the way. Reached Kochi airport around 1PM. I was driving all slow and taking breaks because I had time to kill and didn't want to spend that at the airport. Pics and videos for the rest.

Periyaar Bridge. Somehow I find these types of bridge beautiful. Modern bridges are functional without any aesthetic appeal.



I drove through this town called Kothamangalam. They have parking spaces all along the road and everybody parks their vehicles properly. For a moment, it felt like I wasn't in India. Not much honking either.



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Kochi Airport now officially tops my favorite list. It feels like a resort. BTW if you spend 15 minutes in the sun here, you'll know why this airport is run completely on solar energy.

Remember it's a weekend, so internet is of no real use and we need to run away from the crowd. Hence, we go Vagamon. We took the regular Muvathupuzza-Thodupuzza-Kanjar-Vagamon route. We were just falling in love in Kerela. Smooth roads, tastefully designed mansions and bungalows all along the way (especially around Thodupuzza). Only drawback of the entire route is that it's crazy humid. All is well as long as your stay in your car. The last leg of this route (Kanjar-Vagamon) is a narrow village road and quite steep but all green and scenic. It's even better around sunset. Pics ahead.

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Real deep and steep valley on the side.

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Too much green

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Sun gods trying to bless us

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Free rainbows all over the place

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So need a 4x4. Felt like climbing this.

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Gotta swim on that

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Sun never feels this good back home in Hyderabad

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Our stay, if we had a lot of money

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Our room with our current financial status

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Our house, if we had a lot of money and then some extra

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Lovely sunsets

May 8, 2016
Beautiful Sunday morning. A little warmer than Munnar but there is no crowd here.

We spotted this lovely bird family at the guest house. Hungry kids in the morning are difficult to handle.



We were totally clueless about what to visit and do. So, we hit the road in main Vagamon town direction to visit some places. We got lost in the greenery and next thing we know is we ended up on some random route to Thekkady.

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We ended up taking this route. Which is not even a major road. But we didn't mind it and continued further to Thekkady.

A sample of the road we took



Oh BTW, Thekkady is a horrible place to visit on weekends and that too in peak season. If you live in Bangalore and want to experience Thekkady, please visit Silkboard Junction at peak traffic time. A million cars and buses packed up at the entrance to the lake and a zillion speed breakers on just 2-3KM road. Oh and steep entrance fee of 140/- for car and just two passengers. On seeing the cars, we immediately took a U turn and ran away from that place like crazy.

We had lunch at Grand Thekkady in the town and started for Vagamon via NH-220 (new NH-183/Kottayam highway). Beautiful road. Smooth, green and being widened. Same approach here like road outside Munnar. Blind spots being removed/reduced. This turned out to be a much better road than the village roads we took earlier. Tea gardens all the way. Pics ahead.

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Beautiful tea gardens

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Hallelujah

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Looks like a US Army cemetery but it's just a tea garden work in progress

We reached Vagamon around evening. Pleasant weather. We wanted to go to the suicide point (just for a visit) but there was some scuffle in progress. So, we proceeded further to Tea Lake Boating point which we missed earlier in the day as it was hot back then. It's sort of a virtual lake among the tea gardens but really nice place if weather is favorable. Paddle boats, kayaking etc. No motor boats though. It's not large enough to ride a motor boat. We went for the paddle boat (200/- for two if I remember correctly). It was fun.

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The lake

By the time we were done with boating, there were dark clouds building up. A heavy rain was evident.

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Brace yourself

It was at that time, this amazing idea struck my wife. We must go for Kayaking. I rushed to the ticket counter to get the tickets while wife rushed with camera and stuff to store them in the car so that nothing gets spoiled in the rain. I asked for the tickets and the person there pointed towards the clouds and shouted maḻa, maḻa, maḻa. maḻa means rain in Malayalam. He was surprised that I still wanted the tickets.

By the time I returned with tickets, it already started drizzling. People aborted the rest of their boating plans and immediately rushed to their vehicles. We wore the life jackets quickly and in no time we were back in the lake, this time on a Kayak with no roof. The next 20 minutes we spent kayaking will be cherished for life. It rained like crazy and we had all the lake to ourselves. Too bad that we couldn't capture any of those moments but as they say, the best moments are to be lived and not to be captured (I am not sure who said that though).

We got drenched like crazy, drove back to our home-stay and that's all for the Vagamon. See you in Munnar.

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Munnar / May 9 - May 13

May 9, 2016

My wife had never been to Munnar before, so it was obvious choice. We drove to Munnar from Vagamon via Idukki Dam route. Beautiful scenery all along the way. We tried really hard to locate the point from where you can get to the Dam but all in vain. Google Maps didn't help and we didn't care to ask for directions. So, we drove straight to Munnar. Not many food options on the way. So, eat when you see an ok place and don't wait for that perfect restaurant.

This time we stayed a little outside of the town near the bus stand. No traffic noise here thankfully and away from the crowd as well.

Monday was consumed in transit and it was already time to work.

A sector of road between Idukki Dam and Munnar.



May 10, 2016

Last week, I didn't do much exploring in Munnar. It was more about long drives. Since, it's more fun to just drive in these hills, we decided to do that. We drove all the way to Top Station with only a couple stops in between.

A section of the road between Kundala Dam and Top Station. (Video from earlier week)



We didn't visit Top Station as I learned earlier that it should be visited only when clouds are on to make climbing those stairs worth it. Instead we drove further to the Pambadum Shola National Park. Shola forest is like a rain-forest but much smaller in area. It's dense and wetter than surrounding areas. We drove on this circuit passing through villages Vattavada and Koviloor. Few video recordings from earlier solo drive but the route was same.

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The Circuit

Heavy logging between Top Station and the National Park check post. I think it's a part of the regular process. Once the trees are mature, they need to be cut down to make way for new trees. No logging inside the national park though.



Check Post - Vattavada/Koviloor



Koviloor - Chittavurai



Vattavada - Koviloor



On this route, there are little villages and scattered houses all over the place. Almost no traffic. The entire route has amazing valley views.

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Somewhere inside Pampuda Shola National Park

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Carrot Cleaning Machine in Vattavada

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Vattavada Village View

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A machine that gathers no mud is not my favorite

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Some other village view on route

It started raining sometime when we were returning from Koviloor. Rains feels even better while in the dense forest. You can hear it all around you. By the time we reached Top Station, clouds have owned the valley completely. Visibility was reduced to hardly a few meters.



At this point, we wanted to go to Top Station but were totally out of time as I have to return to the hotel and start working.

When we reached Madupetty dam, huge amount of water was being released from one of the spillways. It was a little overwhelming even from a distance.



This day turned out to more adventurous then we originally planned and with just driving component.

May 11, 2016

Since we didn't stop anywhere on the way to Top Station yesterday, we planned to take the same route again with stops at scenic spots on the way. This was the fourth time I was driving from Munnar to Top Station and trust me, excitement was still the same as the first time. Pics ahead.

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Rose Garden on Munnar-Top Station road. Place is worth a visit if it's not too hot.

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Tea Gardens look even better with these symmetrically placed trees.

Next we stopped by the Botanical Garden (near Elephant Park). It's an indoor version of Rose Garden but smaller.

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Botanical Garden

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Boating in Madupetty Dam Catchment Area

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Echo Point

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Completely flushed out Kundala Dam

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Side view of Kundala Dam

During my previous visits, I had identified a spot between Kundala Dam and Top Station (Near Ellapatti Village) where not many people stopped but offered amazing views. On my four visits to top station, I/we stopped here every time for a tea and/or maggie.

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Ellapatti Village View

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Super views from inside the tea shop

May 12, 2016
It was mutually (?) agreed that we won't go to Top Station again. At least not during this trip So, we decided to drive to the other side of Munnar (Kochi Highway, Chithirapuram etc).

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Ladies in action

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On way to Chithirapuram

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We also visited Cinnamon Garden on Munnar-Kochi Highway. It's a small garden where they have many fruit/spice/vegetable trees in house and they take you on a tour of the same with a guide. They charged 200/- for two person. We didn't find it too exciting but if you are into botany and all, you might as well go there.

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Forgot the name but impressive tree where fruits grow directly on trunk.

May 13, 2016
Since it was our last day in Munnar, we went for the mandatory Lakkam Waterfall Snan. Munnar visit is not complete without taking a snan here irrespective of the season or weather. They have limited lockers there for keeping your stuff and you can buy cheap bathing clothes if you forgot to bring some along.

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Lakkam Waterfall Shop

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Munnar - Palakkad - Wayanad / May 14 - May 15
Yet another weekend and we need to drive long distance. Target is Palakkad, Kerela where we halt for the night before moving on to Wayanad.

May 14, 2016

Started around noon from Munnar. Totally forget the mega mess that Aravikulam National Park entrance is. Got stuck in major traffic and wasted roughly 45 minutes there To restore peace of mind, we went to the same river side I mentioned in my earlier post. Such a nice place and everybody wants to stand in queue at Aravikulam National Park instead. Sad.

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The bridge

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The obstacle

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Peace

After spending half an hour by the river, we get going. Nothing significant for the rest of the route except that it was getting crazy hot as we moved closer to the plains. Also, the election campaigns were at it's peak as it was probably the last day of campaign. But we were totally stunned to see one of the best disciplined traffic in India so far. Here is a video for your reference. It was almost a kilometer long jam and no one moved out of line except 2-3 autos.



May 15, 2016
Palakkad is a beautiful little town with pitch black roads with brightest white markings almost everywhere. It'll be such a nice place to live only if it wasn't a humid hell. Sun felt harsh even at 8:00 AM. Since we had ample time at hand, we decided to visit the Palakkad Fort. We were totally surprised when we reach there. It's a small fort that houses a temple and a state prison now. There is a trench all around for protection. That was a first for us.

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Palakkad Fort

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Satellite view of the fort

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Jail inside fort

After a quick visit to the fort, we started for Wayanad. Roads were smooth all along the way and were under development wherever they weren't smooth. Not many food options all along the way. We stopped at this place called Priya Supermarket and Food Court (not on the map yet). Decent place.

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Priya Supermarket & Food Court

Sections of Areacode - Thamaressary Road



Thamaressary - Kaithapoyli Section of NH-212



And the best of them all. The Lakkidi climb. Love those hairpin bends.



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View from Lakkidi View Point

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Love of my life

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Moving on to Wayanad

Our home-stay manager recommended that we visit Pookode lake on the way. We did go there but Sundays are not the days to visit tourist places. I keep forgetting that all the time. Somehow manager to get out of it and went straight to the guest house. Took some rest and visiting a little waterfall. Peaceful place. One of the best sleeps I had in recent times.

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The Jack Fruit Tree - Home-stay

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View from balcony. Chembra peak there at the center.

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Football ground surrounded by huge and dense bamboo trees

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Our home-stay from the other side

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The little waterfall

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Jumbo home cooked food for dinner.

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Kalpetta, Wayanad / May 16 - May 20
After a fun weekend full of some really nice drives and staying closer to nature, it was time to move closer to towns in search of the mighty 3G. We decided to stay in Kalpetta as we weren't sure of connectivity elsewhere.

May 16, 2016
It was an election day so we anticipated that most public places will be closed to promote voting and drove straight to our home-stay. On the way, we noticed that many voters were carrying saplings. Later we raised this with our home-stay owner and he told that Wayanad district collector has come up with this out of the world brilliant idea of giving away free saplings to all voters who are voting for first time or above the age of 75. Why god no send more people like him/her to this planet??

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Our stay for the week. We almost owned this place for the duration as we were alone most of the time.

May 17, 2016
We decided to go to the famous Edakkal Caves. Drove straight to the location right after lunch. Turns out we were late to the party. They had changed the timings to prevent any incidents due to bad daylight in the evening.

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New schedule for Edakkal Caves

After this flop plan, we decided to drive to Wayanad Museum. It's not a regular sized museum. More like row-house but they have some interesting artifacts on display. Since it doesn't take much of your time, you might as well visit it (9:00 AM - 5:30 PM).

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Range of containers for storage and catching fish

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Poor lady. That guy was probably a noob and the arrow backfired chopping lady's head off.

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Multipurpose container. Can be used as a weapon in emergency.

Next, we visited the Karapuzha Dam. It turned out to be really nice place for an evening walk if weather permits. Not much crowd, cool breeze and vast views were really nice.

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Karapuzha Dam. The walking track is still a work in progress.


May 18, 2016
We finally gathered courage to go for the Chembra Peak trek to see the famous Heart Lake. You can take your vehicle all the way to the point where you start your trek. There will be Jeep drivers on the way who'll warn you about real bad road ahead. They will try to trick you into hiring the Jeep to avoid any damages to your car. They are partially right. If you are the proud owner of a car with low ground clearance, love your car like real bad and are 4-5 people, you might as well consider the Jeep option. Your car underside will register scratches and noise will not be pleasant.

Remember that our ride for this trip was Honda City 2009 model which is world famous all over India for it's bad ground clearance. For the onward journey, we were 2+1 (including guide) and I managed to pass the road with only teeny tiny scraping noises. But on return journey, we were 2+2 (guide + we gave lift to another forest personal whose only other option was to walk a KM all alone). Boy, I never scraped my car like that Those forest people were kind of worried about all the noise but me and wife were all smiles. This was the new limit we had pushed our vehicle to. We just love it when machines take abuse and still serve their humanly owners. Also, note that the car has registered 1,10,000 KMs on the odo. We get worried only when we go over a speed breaker and there is no scraping noise.

For reference, people with Swift, Ecosport, i20 had taken their cars to the last point.

A section of road to Chembra Peak. It gets worse once you pass the forest check post where you obtain a ticket for trekking and also pick your guide up.


Trekking fee is 790/- per group (750/- trek + 40/- Camera). You can go for a normal visit which is cheaper but I guess you are allowed only till a certain point (not too sure though). With 790/-, you get a dedicated guide who will be with till you return and get back into your car. The trek length is ~3KM and it gets real tough and steep at times. Not a problem for young adults but I'll not recommend this for elders no matter what. It took us 1.5 hours to go up as wife wasn't able to keep up (we are in late 20s). Getting down was easier but still took ~45 minutes.

Keep in mind the famous quote before you decide to go on this trek.

Quote:
“Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” - Ed Viesturs
Now, lets see what the real deal is.

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On way to the trek start point

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FYI

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Educating is the first step

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At half-way point. They call it first peak. Note that you are not allowed to go all the way to the top.

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View of Chembra Peak from highest trekkable point.

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Downward view from the same point

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The Guide

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The Heart Lake

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First peak view from second peak.

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The Car Park

It was evident that we weren't going to get back in time to start my work. So, I took a leave from office. BTW did I mention that we had excellent Idea 4G at the top with download speeds of 10 Mbps? You just wish you got that kinda speed at your home in your megacity

May 19, 2016
May 19 was election results day and there were a zillion crazy people on the roads. Regular laws were not applicable. We decided to stay at home. We went out only for lunch and dinner. We almost got stuck in a few hours long traffic jam while trying to take the regular route for lunch. Managed to take a U turn in time.

May 20, 2016
After losing two days to election and another to changed schedule, we started early for Kuruwadweep. It's an island within a river and is accessible by a boat. Not much to do on the island as such. People usually take a bath in a stream where water looks really dirty. Avoid on weekends as there will be many times more people than this island can really handle. It gets crowded even on weekdays.

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The Bamboo Boat. Carries ~50 people I guess

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The sailor. They steer the boat using ropes and they park it like a boss with superb accuracy. I can't even park my car properly with power steering, reverse camera and what not.

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Better perspective of the entire arrangement

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The slippery stones. You can sit on them and kill time or take a dip in the water. You think you have choices but you really don't.

It's not as bad as I have described it but we are not happy when we encounter exploitation of nature. We'd rather not go there and contribute the the overall load.

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Masinagudi / May 21 - May 22
Another weekend and we are off to the wild side. We decided to stay at Masinagudi. It was highly recommended by a friend.

May 21, 2016
Woke up at regular noon time, had lunch and started for Masinagudi. Superb NH-212 till Sultan Bathery. Then we took the state highway to Gudalur. The road is good all through. Roads in both Kerela and Tamil Nadu are of superior quality compared to their neighbors. But roads in Kerela are functional while in Tamil Nadu they come with certain aesthetic appeal. That extra stress on white markings even on the not-so-important roads makes them much more enjoyable.

From Gudalur, we took NH-181 (old NH-67) till Thepakku where we turned on to a really narrow road (more like 1.25 Lanes wide) to Masinagudi. Drive slow on this road and do know that two sedans can't cross each other on this road without one going slightly off the road.

Beautiful NH-181 runs through Mudhumalai National Park. Speed breakers are annoying but they are a necessity given the number of animals they have here.



Ultra narrow road to Masinagudi



Reached our guesthouse at around 4:00 PM. Took a little nap, played a little badminton but wind was too harsh. So, just killed time with a little walk. And some lady suddenly shouted, Māṉ, Māṉ, Māṉ!! Māṉ a Tamil word means Deer. Turns out there was herd of spotted deer right outside our guesthouse. That was slightly unexpected. It refreshed memories of our trip of Bishnoi village near Jodhpur. Spent a lot of time clicking and filming that group. They were a little shy but not much.

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Tree House. This was totally owned by the Langurs in the evening. No, we didn't stay in that.

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Howdy stranger!

We had too much time on hand. So took a video as well.




May 22, 2016

Masinagudi is a village, small town at best if you stretch it a little. There is absolutely nothing to do here other than to just relax at your guesthouse or go for an evening safari. That's it. Restaurants are hard to find and the ones that are there score real low on hygiene. The only hygienic place we could find was a CCD ~5KMs towards Ooty. Also, Masinagudi is hot while the sun shines. We spent all our afternoon at CCD and ate a lot of stuff there. Plan was to kill time till 4:30 PM before we go on the safari.

At 4:30 PM, we started for Masinagudi and went towards Singara Dam. We knew there are no places to visit there but we just wanted to drive around. Singara Dam is closed for public and you have obtain permission from Chennai to visit it. It's a nice drive nonetheless and there are grass fields on the way you can stop for a family picnic. Only issue is that you can possibly become a Sloth Bear's lunch while you are having your own lunch Yeah, this is what we got on our way back to Masinagudi!



Next, we headed to the regular safari route which is a road with perfect tarmac all the way. You don't need to hire a Jeep for this. There are many Jeep drivers around Masinagudi who will trick you into hiring their services. Only advantage is that compared to a sedan, you'll have open views and you'll sit much higher which will again result in enhanced views.

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Masinagudi Safari Route : Masinagudi - Moyar Check Dam

This is one of the few safaris where we actually saw wild-life. We haven't been to many but most of rip offs. We spotted a herd of elephants, peacocks and deer. Didn't get good pictures of the elephants as I didn't want to get out of the car at no cost. Angry elephants get real crazy angry.

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Moyar Check Dam. A long earthen ramp for the perfect evening walk.

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Beauty at its best

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When we returned to the guesthouse, it turned out that we (along with another family) were the only people who were staying the night. There were like 10 cars last night. Most people come to Masinagudi around Saturday noon, take the safari, stay the night and go back or to Ooty.

Even though there is not much to do here, I'll still go back for the small town feel. And this is a place which you can definitely visit on a weekend.

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Ooty / May 23 - May 27
Despite knowing the fact that Ooty is probably the most crowded hill station in this region, we decided to stay there for a week.

May 23, 2016
We checked out around 10:00 AM and started for Ooty. We had been warned several times about the hairpin bends and steep inclines on Ooty road. I didn't ignore them completely but didn't take them too religiously either. The warning/advice was something we needed. This stretch is not to be taken lightly. We encountered two totaled vehicles on the way. There are a total of 36 hairpin bends between Masinagudi and Ooty. The steep inclines at the hairpin bends add to the difficulty level. We were in first gear on most of these. The car was not feeling all that good even in second gear on some of them and I didn't want to take any chances.

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All hairpin bends are equipped with convex mirrors for enhanced visibility. Also, the bends are numbered so that you can monitor your progress.

A section of the same route.



It took us around 1.5 hours to reach Ooty. Then started the real trouble. It felt like high altitude version of Bangalore without potholes. Too many people, too many cars and super confusing roads. To add to the trouble, Google maps trolled us like a boss. It took us into some real narrow lanes. We had to finally call the home-stay owner to guide us on phone. Another interesting thing that came out of all this experiment was how your perspective makes you its slave. The narrow lanes where I was having a tough time reversing my Honda City with all the reversing aid, a Tata LPT 1612 full size truck was unloading cement. How did he even get there! How is he ever going to take a U turn to go back. Anyways, philosophy aside, it took us close to 1 hour to locate the home-stay.

Since we were ultra frustrated after the navigational mess, we opted for pizza home delivery. Ate and slept. Not much to talk.

May 24, 2016

While searching for places to visit, all popular places within Ooty were immediately crossed because we didn't want no more trolling. I came across this place marked as 43 Hairpin Bends on Google maps. I felt like that road was calling me We had to go there.

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43 Hairpin Bends Road

I always wanted to drive on a road with lots of hairpin bends but I never had the time or car to take up the trip to Gata Loops. Yeah, sad story Anyway, the deal was done and we were going.

On the way we crossed Lovedale. A few kilometers after Lovedale, we were greeted with mind blowing valley views. The best we have seen so far.

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Speechless

When you are in any other part of the country and you read Major District Road on Google maps, you imagine a 1.25-1.5 lane wide road with potholes and sky high speed breakers and other death traps. That's not the case in TN. MDRs are better than some state highways in other states.

A section of TN-MDR-1077



And finally the 43 Hairpin Bends road. I am personally calling it poor man's Gata Loops.

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Welcome aboard! No convex mirrors here.



We went all the way down till Geddai and covered 38 of the 43 bends. Now that we didn't have no business in Geddai, we turned around to drive back to Ooty. We traveled through ~110 hairpin bends in total. There was another set of 7 bends and a set of 34 of which we only covered 10 I guess. I was all smiling. We almost never had motion sickness but wife was feeling a little dizzy and she didn't speak at all on the return journey.

Word of caution: If you are in Ooty for a short stay and you don't like to kill time, avoid this. It's just a drive at the end of the day. Definitely not recommended if you passengers prone to motion sickness.

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Beautiful temple on the way

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We stopped at Chamaraj Team Center while returning. Nice little place. They offer Ice Tea and Black Tea. No milk tea available though.

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Our company for tea. One of them didn't really like it.

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Mind blowing cloud formations around evening

May 25, 2016

It was a little tricky to come up with places to visit when you are not going to visit what everyone else is visiting. So, we had lunch, road around a little. A super intelligent cop advised us to not go to Botanical gardens. May god bless him and all his forthcoming generations.

We tried The Sidewalk Cafe (inside Hotel Nahar) for lunch. Horrible place. Waiter looked like totally high. Slow service & bad food. BTW other two restaurants within Hotel Nahar has really good food but they get very crowded.

After the messed up lunch, we decided to drive down to Chamraj Tea Center again. I really loved that road but it's a super 21 KMs away from Ooty. Few pics from the day.

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A school compound in Ooty. Zoom in and notice the number of buses parked there. Now imagine all those buses on Ooty roads twice a day. Now imagine that this is just one of the schools in Ooty. Feel better.

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Clouds were totally trying to own the valleys

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Sun

May 26, 2016

We decided to drive down to Ketti Valley as we read that it has amazing valley views right off the Coonoor road. That wasn't the case really. We had better views from the Chamraj factory road. While returning we stopped to checkout this place called The Culinarium. It's run the company that manufactures needles. They have a continental cafe and a shop where they sell DIY kits for embroidery, knitting and stuff like that. Wife immediately liked it and purchased some stuff to make some other stuff as well.

The cafe gets really crowded though. Nothing much other than that. We took a few pictures on our way back to Ooty.

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Beautiful farms

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Nice way to create visual confusion

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Who advertises like that!

May 27, 2016

Since we liked the culinarium much and didn't get to spend much time there earlier, we decided to have lunch there. BAD IDEA SAAR! Pathetically slow service. All that glitters is not gold. They have like 15+ staff to wait 4+3 tables and over the counter sales. All of them are running around constantly and nobody is getting what they ordered. Not sure what they are running for. It took us 1.5 hours for us to actually have the lunch. As soon as we finished the lunch, wife hit the DIY craft store again where she purchased some more stuff to make some more other stuff. I have no idea what she purchased. While she shopped, I killed time teasing other shoppers' kids.

After finishing the shopping business, we drove down to Coonoor and take a round of the city. It felt like we were inspecting the roads. Nice roads BTW. Oh and we accidentally came across the Kapoor's house they showed in the movie Kapoor and Sons.

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Kapoor's House

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Stuff bought from Craft Store

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Other stuff in progress

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Other stuff

After getting home, we both got real upset stomachs. Bad food at the Culinarium I guess. And perfect timing too. I need to drive like only 850 KMs over the weekend to get back home. We had light dinner. I even had to take half day off from office as I was coming down with fever as well. The first aid kid that we always carry saved the day (or night). I was all sound when I woke up next morning. And that's all for Ooty.

Last edited by bordeaux : 1st July 2016 at 03:17.
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Old 1st July 2016, 03:39   #12
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Hyderabad / May 28 - May 29
It was time to get back. I wanted to drive all the way back to Hyderabad but we started late around 10:30 AM from Ooty. In addition to that we have this soft rule which prevents us from driving after dark. We have driven enough in the dark and it's just not enjoyable.

May 28, 2016
Started at 10:30 AM because of delays caused by multiple factors. Route via Gudalur-Mysore was the obvious choice. It took quite sometime to drive down those hairpin bends. I stayed in 2nd gear mostly as oncoming cars were being driven unnecessarily fast for this road. Probable weekend mania and people getting restless to reach Ooty.

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Lovely elephant with his/her kiddo by the side. Somewhere on NH-181.

Roads were smooth mostly till Nanjangudu. Between Nanjangudu and Mysore there is still a 3-4 KM stretch which is still a work in progress. Mysore ring road is mostly a useless road despite being six lane. No flyovers at interchanges and countless famous barricades. Still it's much better than going through Mysore. NH-275 Bangalore-Mysore again doesn't feel like a highway. Passes through many densely populated areas. Urgent need for a few bypasses on this stretch.

All was well, till we hit the NH-4 after exiting NICE Ring Road. It's a maze with only a little signage. A smart city planner will put directions for Hyderabad at every interchange or flyover entry because he wouldn't want people bypassing the city accidentally getting lost and contributing to the already monstrous traffic.

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We took this route to bypass Bangalore. Not sure if that's the best way. Traffic in our direction was not much but the oncoming traffic jam was like a few kilometers at least. There is a flyover on Railway track which is still a work in progress.

Once we crossed Bangalore, it already started feeling like home. But it was already 5:00 PM or so. We were targeting Kurnool earlier and Ananthpur was plan B. After another hour, there was no plan A and we decided that we'll find a hotel in Ananthpur and stay there irrespective of how it is.

We reached Hotel Masineni Grand and was totally surprised to find this amazingly neat and clean upmarket hotel at a really affordable price. This was probably the best value for money stay for the entire trip.

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Mind

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Blown

They have a regular restaurant and a pure vegetarian restaurant.

May 29, 2016

There was no rush really. We don't have a single traffic signal between Ananthpur and home Yeah, beat that! We drove real slow, enjoyed the rain drive for a while as well and were home by 3:00 PM I guess. But I guess adventurous stuff just follows us. We had this right before we hit the NH-44 in Ananthpur.

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If you live in Bangalore, first thing that comes to your mind is Bellandur Lake.

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People have to walk through this poison

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It's so cool that people want pictures with it.

And a broader picture



That's all for this adventure. See you next time.

Last edited by bordeaux : 1st July 2016 at 03:58.
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Old 1st July 2016, 07:19   #13
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Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 1st July 2016, 08:07   #14
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Amazing travelogue. You are indeed a lucky guy to do these long trips!!
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Old 1st July 2016, 10:29   #15
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Great thread bordeaux and what a way to spend your summer

Quote:
Originally Posted by bordeaux View Post
I am a software engineer and I work remotely (from home) and can work from anywhere with a basic 3G connectivity
Envy your job. If I had a similar job, i would probably rent a place far far away from bangalore and breathe clean air

Quote:
Originally Posted by bordeaux View Post
By the time we reached Top Station, clouds have owned the valley completely. Visibility was reduced to hardly a few meters.
the foggy drive video is so tempting. Sometimes i feel that cycling in such conditions would be so much more enjoyable!

Quote:
Originally Posted by bordeaux View Post
43 Hairpin Bends on Google maps. I felt like that road was calling me We had to go there.
Again looks very inviting. Thanks for the video!

The next time you plan to bypass North Bangalore using Nice road, use this route as the railway crossing on ORR is always a pain and sometimes results in hour long jams.
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