Day 15: Block rockin’ beats (Wayanad, 2017)

When VC told me he was meeting with R and R over drinks one November evening, “to plan our cycling trip,” I dismissed it as an excuse to drink and talk bicycles. But four hours later, when I caught up with them and they spelled out their well-laid plans to cycle 300 kilometres, over three days, all the way from Bangalore to Wayanad, I ate my words thoughts and kept my cynicism to myself. Because the second part of the plan, as I was informed, included me. They would need a support vehicle. To carry essential supplies, a bike rack for emergencies, and generally a fall back, should something untoward happen. Which is where I featured: designated driver or said support vehicle. At this point, I happily joined in what I thought was a mad plan from hell. I haven’t seen VC this excited in anticipation of anything, ever. Except this time, instead of his typical hyper-efficient, over-preparedness, he just had a lot of sleepless nights. Like an over-eager kid before a school picnic. I was a bit surprised to see he didn’t even dust his bike before the ride, forget getting it services or tuned up. They’d managed a few rides here and there in supposed prep for the long distances, but really, nothing that can actually be passed off as training. Anyhow, that’s what the support vehicle was for, they said. To jump into when the going got tough.

And so, on the long weekend around Christmas, they were off. The plan was to cover approximately 100 kms a day, over three days, halting along the way. Day 1 began at 7:30, saying goodbye to the boys as they rode off to battle Mysore road traffic on bicycles — all the while wondering why they wouldn’t just allow me to drive them to a point beyond the traffic jams, and then set off. But there’s no arguing with such determination. And stubbornness.

I had happily agreed to drive when this plan was first proposed, but on the morning after the boys had left, a wave of laziness came over me. I wasn’t so hot on driving all alone anymore. Slowly, over three days. What if I had a flat? What if I got caught by the cops (the car was GA registered)? What if I was just bored hahaha? Anyhow, too late to have second thoughts, I left a good four hours after them, and we merged about 10 kilometres short of Mandya, which was our first pitstop. On the way though, turned out my worries were unfounded. The car was a zippy Honda Jazz, and with absolutely no weight to carry around, some really good music and a better drive given less traffic at the time of day that I’d ventured off, I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed the drive.

I met with a very dehydrated R stopped on the side of the road, with a flat tyre, waiting for the other two to back track and come help him. We made it to Mandya by about 3, ready to check in to the hotel. It was super entertaining trying to explain to the hotel staff in a very straight-jacket, respectable lodge, why three men dressed in neon coloured lycra wanted to cycle from Bangalore to Wayanad, when a woman was driving along with them. Not nearly as entertaining as convincing the same staff that VC and I were in fact married, and the other two “gents” sharing the other room were just friends. The request to carry our bikes into the rooms with us probably did nothing to help our cause.

Picture: VC

A terribly delayed lunch, a mistimed, extra-long nap and general disorientation from the schedule being so off meant we woke up bleary eyed at 8 pm, wondering what to do next. We drove off into the town looking for dinner. We circumnavigated the place  three times before we settled for a seedy local stop that promised Bannur style biryani. It was delicious, but not the kind of place we could chill and eat slowly. In and out quickly, we then headed back to call it a day in lieu of an early start the next. But not before finishing the tedious task of fixing R’s flat – which he did in amazing sync to Block Rockin Beats that played, as we all watched, amused.

Day 2, despite good intentions, began late. It didn’t really matter to me, but the boys needed to beat the rising sun and make it to the next stop ideally before lunch time. But that was not to be. Traffic, a horrible head wind and then cross winds, plus the sun beating down hard, meant they took it nice and easy. I sped off, drove through Mysore, and found a nice little spot just 20 kilometres short of our next pitstop, where I pulled over. I popped open my kindle and read for the next 2.5 hours waiting for them to catch up.

It was a glorious day, had they got that early start, but with the sun soaring and the wind to beat, the boys looked completely wiped. At this point VC threw in the towel, mounted his bike on the rack and drove with me for the remainder of the journey to Gundlupete, our stop for the second night.

200 kilometres done, I couldn’t believe they were still up and gunning for more. Crazy, crazy boys. While the other two caught some z’s, VC and I ducked off towards Gopalswamy Betta, to catch the sunrise, but ended up mucking around trying to catch light trails, on the drive up instead. Which is to say VC pitched his tripod up waiting for the right light, and that trail you see are my tail lights speeding off into the distance.

Picture: VC

After some much needed food, drink and rest, we convened for a round of drinks and other downers to set us up for a good night’s rest. The evenings were getting progressively cooler and I was excited to get to Wayanad the next day.

Day 3, the last third, commenced late once again. But, in terms of terrain and landscape, it was probably the best, most enjoyable drive for me. I know the boys thought so too. Undulating stretches of road, driving through not one but two states worth of national forest reserve, which meant a constant canopy of trees to hide under, gave them sufficient shade from the sun.

And thank god for the nice and refreshing first half of the ride, because the second half, once we entered Wayanad, was gruelling. Arduous ups and downs, punishing climbs, narrow hill roads in bad shape, unruly traffic. By the last stretches, we were halting every two kilometres or so, so they could give their legs and backsides a rest. VC, being VC had called it a day soon after the good bits riding through the jungle were over. He drove shotgun, and grabbed his camera to film what little he could of the ride. R and R powered through, all the way till the goddamned end.

We’d booked ourselves in a lake-facing resort with tented accommodation, which looked very promising online, as such things tend to. In person, it left a lot to be desired. Also, the resort was attached to a government tourism facility with boating services in the lake, which meant we had noisy, selfie-taking tourists traipsing around us all evening long. However, the view made up for it, once the facility shut shop for the day, we ventured out to sit by the lakeside, watching the sun go down, and a ghosty fog descend over the lake. The morning was supposedly gorgeous we were told, so despite three mornings of rising early, R, VC and I managed to drag ourselves out of bed while it was still dark, waiting for the sun to rise. It was stunning, and worth the few hours of missed sleep.

Wayanad is quite the stunning part of Kerala, and it takes a little scouting to find a nice spot tucked away from the humdrum of mainstream tourism, much like any popular destination in this country. But once you do, the sights and scenes are a feast.

Picture: VC

The acres and acres of banana and areca-nut plantations, blue skies, palm trees and winding roads, are all reminiscent of the slow life. It was easy to decide we wanted to stay another day. And so we decided to delay our return, and set off on the look out for a place to stay the night. A place that wasn’t as “public” as the lake-facing resort.

We found another tented accommodation set along the steep slopes of a coffee plantation. A setting and a price that was honestly too good to be true. Happy for the opportunity, we settled in. Pretty much all day was spent indoors, and we only set out before sunset, for a walk that took us from the wild and rogue growth of coffee plantations to the immaculately neat style of tea plantations just across a winding village road.

A splendid sunset sealed the deal and we returned, to repeat our evening routine – drinks, downers, dinner.

The next morning, R and VC trekked off once again to catch the sunrise, and apparently had the best hike of the trip. R and I missed it. Because, sleeeeeep.

The boys, of course, had their share of fun. High on adrenalin from the ride, and the thrill of having finished what was only an idea just few months ago. However, it was a really good three days, for me too. After ages, I found myself amidst a gang of boys — a feeling I’ve forgotten. I realise it’s a different kind of easy-going, hassle-free fun. Maybe it’s my own newfound fascination to let-it-go and go-with-the-flow and see where it takes me, and these boys were probably the best boys to tag along with on this kind of trip, but I surprised myself. I wasn’t bored, I didn’t feel lost or left out, so much so that I didn’t even open my kindle for the rest of the trip. Whenever they were off the saddle, we chatted, listened to music, ate some good food, drank and made merry late into the night. Road trips of this kind, are the best kind.

This is a pretty accurate picture of what the holiday did for me.

My memory was jogged back to days in Goa, with the same gang (a couple other boys sorely missed) when doing this kind of spontaneous thing — a random road trip to a faraway beach,  an unplanned but miraculously well-worked-out barbecue, a secret trip to a campsite in a neighbouring state, a monsoon trek upstream a river — was so passe, so normal, so regular. And so I took it in, happy to have had another chance to experience something I had pushed far back into my mind. Like I also said here. And here.

The best part, for me was how relaxed and devoid of rigid plans the entire trip was. Aside rom setting off to cycle every day, little else was fixed and we played it entirely by ear. There were several stops for chai, coconut water, pazham-puri, and on our return journey, toddy — which I’d never have ventured out to try on my own. I’m glad I did because I really, really loved it.

It was truly a trip that was more about the journey than the destination. And perhaps because I was meant to tail the boys and always stay within accessible distance, I was forced to slow down and enjoy it that way.

VC, he made a film, so we can always go back to it and remember the trip for what it was.

Next time around, I want to be on a bike, rather than in the car.

One year ago: Two new pieces
Two years ago: Day 15: Come undone

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Day 12: Obscured by clouds (Coonoor, 2017)

As it happens, VC and I hadn’t taken a holiday together in a couple of years now. The last trip that comes to mind is Sri Lanka. There have been several weekend getaways in and around Goa, but my privilege doesn’t allow me to count any of them as “holidays”. And so this December, we decided to take off on NYE. Two reasons. In all our years away we’ve never “celebrated” the day with a typical bang. Save for the one year we went to P’s for a small party of close friends, we’ve always only ever stayed home, cooked something nice and had an evening by ourselves, or with a friend or two – tops! It would be nice to get away, I thought. Second, being in Bangalore I was deathly afraid of getting dragged to VC’s annual family get together. So I figured, anything would be better than being here.

Having woken up very late to this eventuality meant we were left with little choice. It’s Bangalore, and every single getaway destination within driveable distance was naturally booked up. So we made multiple bookings in multiple places, because we really didn’t have the luxury of choosing. Unsure till the very end where we’d actually end up. The week before NYE, we received a strange email from the hostel we’d eventually locked down on, asking us to make a final payment to confirm the booking. In it was a clause: a no-alcohol clause.

Now, I’m not the biggest drunk around. I can go entire holidays without drinking actually. But I’d definitely like to have the option to choose. Especially if I’m on holiday with my husband, over NYE. It was a dealbreaker. And that’s how our final choice too went out the window. Back to the drawing board again, I was frantically hunting for a place that would have us. Even if just for one night, we thought. All we needed was a clean bed and loo, some peace and quiet. I’d manage the rest, I thought. Our standards were really dropping.

Suddenly, a property we’d never stumbled on in the weeks of hunting before popped up. A home nestled amidst tea estates, aesthetically designed, small and cosy, not housing more than 7 people at any given time, and available over the long weekend — it seemed too good to be true. So without much ado, we booked it.

And so it was that we decided to be in Coonoor. I was super excited. It would be my third time there, the second being just one year ago when S and I took off for a blissful week in the clouds, with no plan but to stay-in.

I realised that over 2016, I took many holidays, none of which were with VC. 2017 was dedicated entirely to settling in, and despite considering several opportunities to go away, somehow nothing materialised. It really was beginning to feel like it was time to go on holiday. Together.

My new-found excitement about going to cold places (even though I’m petrified about turning into an icicle) peaked when this trip came through. I bought myself woollen gloves and a beanie, in addition to the ridiculous number of warm clothes I’d packed.

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Picture: VC

VC laughed, but within mere hours of landing in Coonoor, the sun setting and the evening mist settling in, I had the last laugh when he gingerly asked if I’d perhaps packed any extra warm things for him. I had. An extra sweater, a muffler and lots of socks. So there I was, in two jackets worn over my teeshirt, socks, gloves, a shawl around my neck and my beanie — snug as a bug. While VC had to make do with a double-barrel sock arrangement, a sweater inside his jacket and a muffler. Before long though, he appropriated my beanie.

Google told me night time temperatures would drop to 3-4 degrees. I had that exhilarating combination of thrill and worry when I read that. But when we got there, the homestay owner pointed at his very dead looking tea estates and told us how bitterly cold it had been this winter. Temperatures had dropped to -3, causing the tea to be bitten with frost, dying a slow bitterly cold death.

But this is the wonderful realisation I’ve come to so late in life. Like the Danish saying N told me about goes, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” if you’re adequately equipped, you’re mostly good to go. I used to think I was completely incapable of handling the cold. This was confirmed by short brushes whenever I’d travel to cold places in the years I was away, but it was exacerbated because I simply didn’t own the right clothes. I’ve been too afraid to consider travelling to Ladakh for this reason. For years I’ve nursed the dream, but stopped short of committing several times over. This trip though has been a bit of a game changer.

***

We planned to leave early on a Saturday morning to try and beat as much outgoing traffic as we could. Anticipating that most of Bangalore would be on the Bangalore-Mysore highway, an early start was crucial. But it was not to be. We celebrated VC’s birthday the night before, had a late night, and stupidly forgot to set our alarms (forgetting that the auto-set ones only goes off on weekdays!) so I woke up with a start, a good two hours later than the time we planned to be out the door.

Oh well.

This put us considerably behind in our schedule and extended our drive time by three hours. But, since we weren’t on a deadline, VC and I decided to just relax and drive. I had a playlist ready and it was a long, but comfortable trip up, despite considerable traffic along the way.

Once we were in tea land though, the landscape is just so gorgeous. Rolling gentle slopes of green, so green it makes your eyes hurt, achingly blue skies, with the of fluffy clouds scattered, mist floating in and out casually, with tea pickers huddled under the weight of their baskets, tea stalls selling piping hot tea and vadais, the narrow hilly roads made us relax and enjoy the ride.

In Coonoor, I had no agenda but to put my feet up and chill. We had the house completely to ourselves the first night, and on NYE night, we were joined by a group of five people from Chennai. The hosts were incredibly lovely, hospitable, and cooked us simple homely food. The rest of the time, VC was determined to be outdoors shooting pictures. Having recently rekindled his love for still photography, he wanted to make the most of the best two slots of any given day — sunrise and sunset —  so we ended up driving out everyday scouting for vantage spots. I’d carry my kindle along, and when we found a spot, VC would take off to set up his tripod and begin his patient wait for the right moment and right light. This would take anything from 1-3 hours, during which I’d listen to music and read. It’s how I finished the last book of the year in two days. I like this part of our life where we manage to make our love to travel and be outdoors merge, only to get there and have the freedom and space to enjoy it the way we please.

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Picture: VC
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Picture: VC
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Picture: VC

NYE itself was a very quiet affair, that surprised me. I had no expectations actually, and was fully prepared for another simple meal eaten between just the two of us, and an early night. However, the other house guests got chatty, invited us to share their daaru and maal, and were delighted when we offered them ours. It’s not usually like me to happily join a crowd like this, but I know now that that’s changing. So we joined them quite willingly, the hosts got a big fire going, and we huddled around it. Me in all the layers I could possibly have thrown on, of course. It was an added bonus that they had speakers, and remarkably good taste in music (they had a lot of Coke Studio Pakistan on their playlists, aside from some Beatles, good old classic rock and a few staple new poppy trash favourites). Dinner was simple, but it was all that was needed. I was high on the ambience, and the experience. Deathly silence, with our music playing softly, while we chatted — smack in the middle of a tea estate in a corner of Coonoor, with no humans for miles around us — it was like no other NYE I’ve ever had. Our house guests joined us half an hour before midnight, and entertained us with stories about interesting guests — of the human and wild kind — and by the time the fire began to die down, my energy was flagging. It was just before midnight when I called it a day and crashed. A hot water bottle snuggled into the sheets was such a welcome little touch of hospitality, in Coonoor!

Intoxicated on all the relaxation, and the perfect, best end the best months of the year, that I could ask for, I woke up on Jan 1st feeling physically energised. Happily grateful for where I am, excited for where I am headed. And just so happy deep into my bones. So happy, that we decided to extend our stay by another day, and drive out to Ooty, in the hope that the crowds would be on their way out.

We checked into a hotel there, spent the day roaming around, took an extra long nap, and headed out before sunset, grabbed a drink of thick hot, rich hot chocolate at Moddy’s and went off into the hills because VC wanted to catch one last photo opportunity. We topped that off with a hearty dinner at a rooftop Chinese restaurant in a hotel that VC has lots of memories from his childhood spent there. I was happy for the extra day and the chance to share this slice of nostalgia with him.

The next morning we woke up super early to hit the road back to Bangalore, only to find our car frosted over. Pretty soon I realised the grass all around that was looking oddly pale was actually encrusted with a layer of frost. I’ve never seen snow in my life, so this came pretty close and excited me no end!

It was a happy three days of peace, lots of snuggles, plenty of good hot tea and biscuits, soaking in winter sunshine, enjoying the mist and finishing off a book and just re-grouping all that I have been mulling over in my head. I cannot explain it, but the last six odd weeks have been so high on mental activity, I have felt like I have really crossed a major landmark and stepped into all new ground as far as self-awareness and growth goes. My heart was just so full. I came away with all the sights embedded in my head, and not more than half a dozen pictures. So almost all the pictures here are courtesy VC.

On the way home, the otherwise not very expressive VC gently shared how the holiday, simple and unplanned as it was, had unlocked something in his head.

“We’ve got it all wrong, Rere,” he said. “We can’t be working our asses off so we can travel. There’s got to be a way to make this our work.”

I’m summing up a conversation that lasted a good hour, of course. But I think he’s on to something. The same thing I’ve been on to for years now.

I heaved a sigh of relief, and ended the holiday on such a good note. My workaholic husband has come home to me, and is finally on the same page as I am.

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One year ago: Inconsequential posts you really don’t need to read
Two years ago: Day 12: R & R

Warm sound

For the last two days now I’ve been willingly waking up before the crack of dawn. Venturing out in the cold, through veils of mist. Waiting for morning to break and the first rays of gold to kiss the sky. It’s not something I willingly and happily do back home. But it’s been oddly special and satisfying to be able to take in that transition from dark to misty and shrouded to gentle light casting mellow shadows all around before things get bright, warm and clear.

Slow, transient, forcing you to enjoy the process as much as the outcome, memorable, subtle, yet overpowering in its simplicity. And experiencing it took doing things I wouldn’t normally do, pushing myself out of the snug comfort zone I am in. Much like all the best things in life.

Same time, last year: Day 362: Time

Morning song

Part one of two mini holidays this month. Sitting in a tent, up in the midst of the overgrown slopes a coffee plantation, waking up to the view of the mistiest lake I’ve seen in forever.

The story about how and why I’m here is the stuff of another post that I may or may not get down to telling. But I’ve had the funnest set of beginnings if days and mornings I’ve had in quite a while now.

Can’t wait for part two which will be spent amidst rolling slopes of tea.

Not too shabby an end to 2017, I think.

Same time, last year: Day 358: Home is where the yellow roses are

Hotel hangover

It started on the 13th of last month, driving from Bangalore to Goa for an assignment with VC, and we broke our drive at Hubli. This marked the first of many nights to come, that would be spent in a hotel room. On day 1 I excitedly messaged P expressing how much I love hotel rooms for their plush pillows, bouncy beds, luxurious showers and room service, as I was drinking my single malt and eating kebabs whilst in said bouncy bed.

Oh and then there’s the breakfast buffets. THE BREAKFAST BUFFETS. For someone who’s been on a low carb, no sugar diet with a moderately strict intermittent fasting regime in place, the buffets just did me in. So I was all omg-I-could-do-this-for-life when I realised the convenience of just waking up and showing up to a mind-boggling spread of breakfast. Correction: breakfastsss.

(What I didn’t consider was the fact that I would be in hotel rooms for the next 15 days and nights (barring a couple of days in-transit) and that I might feel differently by the end of it.)

Our first assignment was for the newly opened Le Meridien Hotel in Calangute, Goa, and so we stayed on location of course. It has to be said, given the number of hotel stays I’ve had in my life, as well as this past year for all the reviews and travel I’ve done, this stay and this hotel has shot it’s way up to the very top of my list of best most memorable hotel experiences I’ve had in a long, long time.

I flew down to Madras next, en route to Pondicherry for the next leg of my journey. On an assignment reviewing hotels, I spent the next 5 nights in 5 different hotels. It sounds very exciting, and it was for the most part, but I’ll get to the not so great bits in just a second.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the Le Meridien for the impeccable service and hospitality that went several notches above anything I expect of a big brand hotel. Let’s face is, at the end of the day, they’re a chain, and they tend to be very generic and cookie-cutter at the end of the day. But this was starkly different.

Being away from home, living out of a suitcase and flitting from one hotel to the next has also given me a lot or mixed feelings and some angst about the indulgence and high levels of consumption of resources that goes hand in hand with travel. It’s hard to miss seeing it once you do begin to notice. And I am beginning to really question the hows and whys of this kind of big budget travel in general.

Then there is the matter about being a woman travelling alone. It all feels very liberating and for half a day I felt like a strong, independent woman.

Who is sometimes afraid of the dark.

In my excitement to be travelling alone again, I forgot that I am sometimes quite the scardey cat. So on just day 3 in Pondicherry, I had the strangest night, sleeping in a room with an attached bathroom with a shoer area that was open to sky.

I drove myself into a tizzy convinced that all it would take for someone to intrude was scale the bathroom wall from the outside and enter my room. So I slept with the lights and TV on. All night. And when I say slept I meant dozed from time to time.

Yeah, design and spaces don’t account for things like solo women travellers, and forget to put in little things like locks on bathroom doors, I suppose. I forgot going solo means also getting rid of some of these stupid fears. But that’s another thought for another post.

There is a place for big brands and what they do, but on the last day of my stay in Pondicherry, walking into a heritage-home-turned-hotel immediately gave me a sense of home no place else has, those past two weeks.

I love good design and good service is kind of a given when it comes to hotels, but I realised I’m so not a generic, expansive, we’ve-got-it-all resort kind of person. And after spending the three out of five days in such properties (that resulted in three back-to-back sleepless nights) with rooms as big as my home in Bangalore, making me feel small and intimidated, I felt so at home and on familiar ground in the heritage home.

Tucked under a regular duvet on a tall old wooden bed no different from the one you’ll find in your granny’s home, I breathed a sigh of relief.

So yeah, take your pretentious open air showers and air conditioning panels with so many features I couldn’t get the AC temp down. And give me small spaces chanracter. Give me rooms that feel like home. And give me a hotel that is an experience of the true flavour and character of the destination I’m visiting, and I’m hooked.

Same time, last year: Day 305: Light and life

More Goa postcards: walking through Mapusa Market

Easily one of my most favourite things to do in Goa was visiting the Friday market in Mapusa. Few things invigorate me like a market full of fresh produce can. And our visit to this one churned up all kinds of nostalgic and mixed emotions about how far away I am from the simplicity and luxury of this: going to a market this abundant, lush and thriving, where I can buy things straight from the makers/growers themselves.

Le sigh.

Filed under #youwinsomeyoulosesome

Goa mornings like way I like them: chai <3
Goa mornings the way I like them: letting my nose guide me through the piles of produce on a Friday at Mapusa market
Goa mornings the way I like them: bathed in a crisp, blindingly bright October light

Same time, last year: Day 305: Light and life

More Goa postcards: yellow

Walking through Fontainhas always gives me a sense of stillness. Like time stopped for a bit, and then picked up again, but the effects of that lag, those missed moments linger on indefinitely. Casting a cliche old-world hue, not just on the way the place looks, but energy it carries. I always feel like I can feel right to my bones, the yars and years of lives, histories and experiences that these buildings, little streets, tiny shuttered windows opening on to groaning balconies must have witnessed.

If I had one word to describe the afternoon we spent back in Fontainhas, it would have to be S T I L L.

And then there’s the beach of course. It doesn’t get more Goa than this. Peachy sun-kissed sunsets, a lilt in the air, beach dogs befriending you and succeeding effortlessly, and the smell of seafood and tandoori everything in the air as the shacks get set for dinner service.

After this trip, where every dog that passed us made a beeline for VC, and instantly struck a friendship and unreal levels of intimacy with him, I’m convinced he might be a dog whisperer.

Same time, last year: Day 301: Notes to self