Thursday, May 30, 2013

Unplanned trip from Chennai - Tiruchendur - Tenkasi - Courtallam and Manjolai

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Day 0 - Towards Day 1:

 Two of the planned trips I had to miss. One was for Deepak's wedding in Bangalore on the 15th for which plan A, B and C failed. Next was a spiritual trip to Pondy that was planned for the 20th to 23rd. Pondy was executed after planning for Goa, Masanagudi and Kodaikanal. It happens when wish is too far to reach from reality when constrains kick in.

Still I missed all the travel opportunity I got this month. I missed traveling a lot. I want to make it up, but no opportunity left on the cards for this month. Luckily I had a holiday this month on the 27th for Memorial day (US federal holiday). I cannot expect everyone else to be having a holiday for Memorial day. That was the case.

I was eying on this holiday from Monday (21st May), but was not sure what to plan for or where to go. I just wanted to go somewhere, but where, how and with whom were to be answered. I struck a conversation with Nivethan and came to know his home town was Tiruchendur. Later I was hearing Tiruchendur a lot on the news. So picked Tiruchendur, a place I had never been to. Why not start from there. I checked for tickets and my initial plan was to leave on Saturday evening and spend a night somewhere and start back on Monday night. I spread the word to my friends who would be ready to join in, but no one was able to commit as they all had office on Monday.

I was still not completely prepared to take on with this travel until Friday morning. I had called Murali to have a last confirmation if anyone is joining, and the answer was no. So it was just me for now. I checked back for the tickets, it was still available for Saturday evening. By the afternoon I was set to make this happen. Google map, little insight on the area from Nivethan and Kumaresh made me take the plunge. We were out for our break at 5 pm and I decided I will plan for my travel on Friday than to want till Saturday. The bus was at 9pm. It was 6 pm when I was still deciding. Did a reverse plan, I had to start by 7 pm from office to make it for the bus, but still I was not ready and I still had work to be completed and one hour is not enough. I made up my mind and first booked the return ticket for Monday evening from Tenkasi (As it is close to Kutralam and also reachable from Tirunelveli). If I start on Friday or on Saturday, I should start back on Monday. So booked the ticket. Now is the question of when I am going to leave. I rushed through all my emails. Replied to all emails and had two proposals to send. I had one prepared and had Rajaram to send it, so that he can still follow-up when I am away and the other is something that was in progress and he can send it directly when it is ready. It was 6:50 pm when things were settled and the option for Friday evening was possible. I booked the ticket, send an email to our Sales manager that I am leaving and will not be having access to internet and am back only on Tuesday. Bang, 7 pm, I was out of office.

On my way home I was preparing the list of items I need to pack. I also have to inform my parents. No explanations needed, but I had to let them know. I reach home. Told my mom that I am leaving out of station and will be back on Tuesday. She was puzzled, she asked if it is office work. I said 'No'. 'Who are you going with?', I said 'Alone'. 'Why suddenly'. I said 'I have a leave on Monday, so going out'.

She was a little confused and was not able to frame more questions. To avoid taking more questions, I started asking for my dress and shirts she cannot find, so that she can keep searching until I am left. It worked. :) It was 8 pm and the bus is at 9 pm. CMBT. It is 9 km away and will take a good 2 hours by bus and I need to take a hop at Vadapalani and auto rickshaw, might be between 40 min to an hour. With a huge risk factor involved, I decided to go by my bike, leave it in CMBT and walk from there to the Omni bus stand (Not sure why they call it Omni).

Swift... Reached CMBT by 8:30 pm. There was a very long queue for parking. There were pretty interesting argument on who came first in the queue and people were forming groups to defend their positions in the queue. Nothing compromised my position. I was in by 10 min. I had 20 min and I was not sure where this bus was. I started walking towards the Omni bus stand. I called the number on he ticket, he said it is the apple bus opposite to KPN. So, now I need to find the KPN bus. I had just 5 min and no sign of KPN bus or the Apple. Another call. He said the bus is inside the bus stand opposite to KPN stall. My mistake, I was looking for KPN bus instead of the KPN stall. Sharp 9pm, I met the Apple bus. It has sleeper and semi-sleeper. I had booked the last window seat on the left. I took my spot and the journey started.

The bus was already behind schedule even before we left out of Chennai. We reached SRM college by 12:30. A good 3.5 hours to reach SRM college. I was prepared for the delay if the bus is going to go in this pase. Then I realized I did not have my dinner. I usually skip my lunch. So, I was running with some reserves from my breakfast. By 2 am we reached a highway hotel. Got a pack of chips, water bottle, Cool drink and a cig. Then off to the bus and the journey continued.

Day 1: Got down without a plan

May 25th, 2013 (Saturday)

The bus reached Tiruchendur at 10 am. I wanted to visit the Murugan temple. But first things first. I need to find a place to take bath. Source of information: Tea stall. Ordered for a tea and started talking to the guy on how the crowd is, how to reach the temple and where to find a lodge to take a quick bath. The previous day was Vaikasi Visakam, the crowd was huge. So comparatively, the crowd was very less when I reached there. Got the way to the temple and he also guided to a place where I can take bath.

Temple was pretty crowded. There was a free darshan and paid for Rs. 20, Rs. 100 and Rs. 250. As I had nothing else to do, I planed to go by free queue. I saw a long zig zag queue. No, this is going to take hours just to reach inside the temple. Then 20, was a little less, still lengthy. Opted for Rs. 100. The darshan was over in 30 min. Came out and saw a board that said Nazhi Kenaru. Wanted to check what it was. I followed the sign and it took me to a bus stand. From there a bus was starting to Tirunelveli. I changed my mind and got on the bus to Tirunelveli.

It took about an hour and a half to reach Tirunelveli. I had no plan and was not sure what to do next. I had reached Tirunelveli new bus stand. It is outside the city and was in an isolated place. Nothing nearby except for a veg restaurant and a familiar green color board which also said Bar attached. :).

The last meal I had was the previous day breakfast. I had skipped meals the whole day. Definitely a good chill beer will give me enough energy. I asked for all familiar beer I can think of. He said he has only Commando. After hearing the list I gave him, he said he will try for Calsberg. He has no beer on earth, but will try for Calsberg!!??. After about 5 min he came back and said they don't have Canber. Ok, my mistake, I misunderstood that he got Calsberg right.

arasan hotel tissue paper
I had to settle with Mr. Commando. There was another guy on my next table in white and white. My first guess was he is a cab driver. I started talking to him and was asking him places to see near by. His name was Laksman, he is a studio photographer. He suggested I take a room in Kutralam (Not sure why they spell it as Courtallam) and I can see the places near by. I need to reach Tenkasi to reach Kutralam. Tenkasi means Koushik. He was working in ICICI bank in Tenkasi. I got his number and reached him. Bad news, he has left Tenkasi and is in Chennai for about a year. From Koushik I got his friends Paulraj number, who is in Tenkasi. I tried to reach him and had no luck. He did not pick the call. Further deep in to the conversation with Lakshman, he said he is on his way to his in-law's place. It is near Papanasam. He said he will leave me in Papanasam, I can go to a falls in Papanasam, from there go to Tenkasi - Kutralam and get a place to stay. On the way we had lunch from Arasan Hotel, which was Lakshman's favorite place. We had one Chicken Biriyani each and shared a Chettinad Mutton gravy. The bill was Rs. 391 and we shared the bill.

papanasam reservoir

He dropped me in Ambai and asked me to take a bus to Papanasam. It was only about 4 km from there. I took the bus and reached Papanasam at 5:30 pm. Climbed up to the small reservoir, and reached at 5:40 pm. The forest ranger denied entry as everyone have to leave at 6 pm. I told him that I will be out at 6, even before he can come and call for me. He left me in. The place was worth visiting. Took a dip and was there only for about 10 min, and the ranger was already in, asking everyone to leave. The fun short lived, I had to leave.

papanasam reservoir near tenkasi, ambasamudram
papanasam reservoir near tenkasi, ambasamudram
I took the bus to Ambai, and then to Tenkasi. Kaushik called me again and asked if his friend Paulraj had suggested a place to stay. I said no. He called his friend and reached him and told him I will be calling him in a minute. Looks like his mobile was in silent mode when I called him in the afternoon and he did not return the call as it was an unknown number.

He gave me his uncle's number who has a lodge in Kutralam. He called his uncle Jesusona and had informed him that I was coming. Shalom lodge, Courtallam (Kutralam) was my next destination. It is on a parallel road to the main bus stand. It is a 10 min walk from the bus stand, unless you take a short route. You need to go through the fence behind the Indian oil petrol bunk that is opposite to the bus stand. If you want down the slope and cross a stream, you will reach a street. Shalom lodge is building on the first left. It is a quiet place and it was QUIET. A quick check with the owner and they gave me a room for Rs. 300 per day. The room at that time will usually be about Rs. 500 to 700. But Paulraj reference made the difference. It was night and time to try some parota.

I went to a stall opposite to the bus stand. Standard menu which you find in any parota stall. I ordered for a Chicken Kothu. Later checked the price, it was Rs. 110. I guess the price was for the location, i.e. opposite to the bus stand. I shared the table with two others who were from Tuticorin. Time to strike a conversation. Then came to know that they supply fish to restaurants in this area. One was a driver and the other should be a helper. Both were drunk. The helper for sure was in is late teen. I shared my kothu with them. They settled with a couple of parota. Later the driver offered a ride the next day, he will take me to the falls above Papanasam, but cannot drop back. They were going around for collecting the money for the weeks supply. I took his number and told him I will let him know by morning 8 if I want to join or not. I went to bed by 2 am and got up at 6 am.

Day 2: In Kutralam, but not for Kutram today

May 26, 2013 (Sunday).

For day two I already have a offer to go to the falls above Papanasam. Or can find another place to go. Options are to go to five falls, the only falls in Courtallam in which they still has water when I was there or to go to Tirunelveli and get Halwa for my home and office. Still I was looking for something interesting. Kutralam and Tirunelveli can happen without much planning. So it can wait. If I want to try something new, I can take the risk on Sunday. I was checking places on google map and was checking few sites to plan my day. I saw Manjolai. The name sounded familiar. From Google map it was 30 km from Tenkasi and will take 50 min by road. Also read it was the Kodaikalan of Tirunelveli. Ok, this sounds like a place I want to try. Called the number I got the previous night and informed that I will not join them.

Kailasanatha temple, tenkasi, gopuram
I got ready and left to Tenkasi from there I can try for a bus to Manjolai. In Tenkasi went to the Sivan temple. I checked the history and came to know that the gopuram was damaged by a lightning strike and they had renovated it recently. During renovation they had not painted few feet from ground to denote it was renovated. It was surprising that there was a heavy gush of wind blowing from the gopuram entrance. It was really heavy. Not anywhere, but only near the gopuram entrance.

After the temple visit, settled for a couple of dosa in a stall opposite to the temple. It was 10 am, now it s time to look for a bus to Manjolai. There is only one bus to Manjolai and it will leave only at 12 noon. Now I had to spend 2 hours. Tenkasi was boring. It was busy. So, I chose to go to Ambasamudram and wait for the bus from there. I reached Ambi at 11 and the bus to Manjolai reached there at 1 pm. It was a long wait, spent time staring few guys who were fishing in a temple pond, had Keppai kuzhu, 2 cig, bovonto, a cranky drunk guy who was talking alone. It was dragging, but still time rolled by. Then came the bus. The bus was already full. I had to stand, but knowing it will take only 50 min (From google map), I was ok with it and made myself comfortable.

There were empty seats, but there were guys guarding the seats for others who will get on bus in the Sandhai stop. I was irritated with 2 guys who were holding 6 seats. They did not let anyone sit for 2 stops. I took one seat and they guarded the other 5 seats. Both had only one more to join them from Sandhai bus stand. So the fifth seat was given to another guy. The conductor came and asked where I was going to. I said Manjolai. He said he has not seen me before. So he knows everyone who travel in this bus? I said I am new and wanted to see Manjolai. He game me a ticket for Rs. 18. From Sandhai bus stand he also got Tomatoe basket and pushed it underneath my seat. Almost everyone in the bus know each other. They all know by their names, or in some cases know their profession. One lady was addressing another lady as "Press", her husband has a printing press I guess. They were all returning from a marriage.

We crossed Ambasamudram railway station and in a few minute were near Manimutharu dam. It was almost like a beach surrounded by mountains. We were going on the realm of the dam. Then reached a checkpost. Then the ascend started. We were gaining altitude and it was getting chill. Known symptoms were kicking in for others nausea, head ache.. By the time I started talking to other guys on the bus and came to know that there is nothing to see in Manjolai, but there is a view point in Kuthiraivetti. The bus last stop is Kuthiraivetti. On the way there was a falls on the road side. Where you see water, you see people. Cars parked along the road. I just had to watch them enjoying :(

Manjolai Tea estate
Manjolai was a good 2 - 3 hours ride. We took a break in Manjolai. Had a tea, cig and two masal-vada. Vada was really good. The place was filled with tea plantations, and the only employment opportunity was based on the tea plantation industry. The conductor then saw the main plate on the shock absorber was broken. They still decided to continue to Kuthiraivetti. I got on the bus and took another ticket to Kuthiraivetti. It was Rs. 14. I also checked for the last bus from Kuthiraivetti, it was the bus I was on. There is no bus after that. There is no place to stay and and no place to eat. Only option was to return back to Ambai or Tenkasi. Another option was a bus from Uthu, the last bus from there is at 7 pm. Uthu is 4 km from Kuthiraivetti. I had planned to walk my way to Uthu, but has risk involved. The place has wild animals, and it will get dark, I had no source of light with me. The pressure was less up there and not easy to walk. Still I wanted to take the risk. We then reached Uthu, and I was tracking the route, after about half the way I knew it was not going to be easy. There were two other guys like me who had come just to see Kuthiraivetti. They had asked the conductor and came to an agreement. The bus will drop us before the bus stand from there we can go to the watch tower, the bus will pick us after dropping everyone in Kuthiraivetty.

Kuthiraivetti view point watch tower
We got down at Kuthiraivetty view point at 5:40 pm. A good 4.5 hours ride. The bus will be back in 10 min. We had to go down a slope, and then climb up to reach the watch tower. There was also a "Rest House", it is managed by the forest department. Where they also had facility to stay, but  you need to get permission from the forest department they said.

I first started to walk, the other two were running. Before I could reach the half way mark, they had already reached the watch tower. If I go late, the bus will leave. I had to be with them. I then started to run pulling my pant up for every few meters. I reached the watch tower gasping.

Kuthiraivetti view point Kuthiraivetti view point
Manimutharu dam from Kuthiraivetti view point Kuthiraivetti view point
Kuthiraivetti view point Kuthiraivetti view point

The view was awesome, excellent, splendid, magnificent mind blowing. I have all the right to use all these adjectives. I had spent 4.5 hours for this 5 min view. The place was cold. I enjoyed the climate and definitely the place takes you out of this world. The other two were already near the road. Time to run again. Clicked few photos, held on to my pant and started to run. By the time I reached the road, the bus was already there. I was back on the bus in 10 min. I asked for a ticket to Ambai. The conductor smiled. He should have thought I much be crazy or I was misguided to this place. In any case, I enjoyed the ride and the place. The seat was cold. The grill were cold. What else can you ask for in the middle of summer. Descend was a little quicker. We made to the Sandhai bus stand in 3.5 hours. The conductor gave the tomatoe basket to the guy he took the tomatoes from. He also gave him the cash. Then I heard this bus takes all the goods to the people living in the Manjolai hills. The driver and conductor were known to all and they too know everyone in those villages. It is a different kind of a relationship we cannot see in other places.

The day went fine, I got down on Ambai, then took a bus to Tenkasi. Had dinner in a parota stall in Tenkasi. Yummy parota and they had chicken fry which was pan fried shredded chicken. It was half crispy and had a very interesting texture. My mouth is watering just by thinking about it now. Took a bus to Kutralam at 11 and reached Shalom lodge. Slept at 2.

Day 3 - Stock up and leave:

May 27th, 2013 (Monday)

Got up at 7 and I knew my plan for the day. I had to go to five falls and Thirunelveli for Halwa. Got ready and started to walk to Five falls, the only falls which has water in it. It was 4 km from main bus stand. My plan was to take a walk. An auto guy checked if I want to take the auto. After bargaining we settled for Rs. 40 one way. He started from Rs. 120 two way. After I reached five falls I told him I will return with him. Deal was Rs. 80 two ways and he will wait up to 2 hours. Out of five falls, only one had the water flow. At least it had water flow, else Kutralam visit would have been a void. There was a queue to wait for your turn. The process was you first get wet, then soap and come back to take a wash.

I do not understand this logic. Should we have to go to water falls to take a bath or to enjoy the falls. By using soap and shampoo in the falls we are only polluting the water which will be used down stream. I took my turn and spent a few minutes under the falls. I wanted to take another turn, so went back in to the queue and took another turn under the falls. I had my time in Kutralam, now had to go to Tirunelveli. I checked out from my room and started to Tirunelveli. In Tirunelveli went to the Nellaiappar temple and was out by 11 am. I now have nothing to do and my bus is from Tenkasi at 8 pm.

I was walking to find a bus stand. A banner caught my eyes, Past and Purious 6. Yes, it is Fast and Furious 6 in Tamil. With nothing to do, it is better to go watch a movie. It also says the theater is Full A/C. Not sure if they also have partial or half A/C theaters. It was Rathna Theater. The ticket was Rs. 100. The show was at 11:30 am. Took the ticket and went in. There were about 20 gentlemen in the balcony Rs. 100 area. The movie was action packed and had a very fast screenplay. Only area that had hit the logic with a sledge hammer was the climax scene. I guess it was a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III aircraft which has to take off with the bad guys in it. It was taking-off for a good 15 min. Not sure where they had a run way to accommodate for a 15 min take-off. Otherwise the movie was good.

After the movie went to the old bus stand, then found my way to Shanthi sweets to get halwa. Be careful, there are bigger stores with the same name, but they are all imitations. The Shanthi sweet with crowd outside is the original Shanthi Sweet. It is next to St. Mary's medicals.

 I had lot of time left and nothing to do until 8 pm. I started to feel thirsty. What better option than to share the table with some cool companions. I found a hotel with permit room, Hotel Brindha. The place was good and most of the tables were filled on a Monday afternoon. I saw everyone were having beer from a tall glass. I wanted a beer mug. So I asked for one, after hesitation, the server said they do have beer mug and this is what I got.

Hotel brindha beer mug
Had two beers, french fries (It was battered and soggy), green salad (No complaints). After the bad experience with the french fries I made sure the preparation for Chicken Manchurian was that of a Chicken Manchurian and ordered one. I told them, strictly no curry leaves and chilli powder. It can have capsicum and green chillies. I got what I wanted. Spent an hour and a half and left to Tenkasi.

Now I have one last mission, I have to have my dinner (The Chicken fry was still in my list) and find the KPN bus. It was 7 pm and I called the bus number, they said it is on  the Kutralam road. I was checking for KPN office and was roaming all around the place. Finally I got two confirmations that the office was just around a corner. So relaxed I settled on the same parota shop for dinner. The same Parota, chicken fry and they also had chicken chops. It sounded new, later when it landed on the banana leaf, it was chicken from the salna gravy. It was not interesting as the chicken fry, still was good.

I was stuffed. Want to make sure everything stays down during the travel, I came out and had a 7up. It paused my movement. I was not able to walk. Two loud burps, I was able to move. Now mission finding the KPN bus started. I walked twice on the same road where people said the KPN office is and did not see the office. Later one guy took me to the office. The banner outside the office had no light and was faded. No wonder why I did not notice for three times. But the office was there, but not the bus. It was 7:45 am. KPN, please don't leave me. Another call and the bus guy said the bus is waiting after Aanai bridge on the way to Kutralam. Walked for another 10 min, found the bus and took my seat.

This is what took me around and kept me engaged for these three days,

bus tickets

Day 4: Back to routiene:

May 28th, 2013 (Tuesday)

WOW O WOW. I made it. Came back to Chennai, found my bike camouflaged with red sand in CMBT. Quick dusting and I was back to my routines and back to place known to me.

Except for the start and end, the whole trip was unplanned. Met new people, went to places which I never knew before and it was all an adventure. I was filled, I gained back what I had missed on all the lost trips. I want to make another unplanned trip sometime. Just plan the start and the end. Leave the rest to as it goes and where it takes me.

Leave  your comments :)

If someone want to try Shalom Lodge, Kutralam (Courtallam) try  these numbers: +91 9842182056, +91 9976691686

Update -

It happened again. Here is the write-up of my second solo planned-unplanned trip. This time even bigger :)  Chennai - Coimbatore- ________ - ________ - ________ - Coimbatore - Chennai.

Solo bike ride from Chennai to Delhi:

Solo ride bike from Chennai to Mumbai