Kemmangundi - The Journey

Kemmangundi - The Journey

Article dated - October 2005


It was decided that I, my hubby Soumya, and a friend Pradeep would drive through the night in our trusted Maruti 800 to Kemmangundi. Friday night's the night. Reservations were made, camera rolls bought, and all was set except taking out the money. It was the start of the month; I had just got my salary, so I was very surprised to see my bank balance just had a few thousand. ATM Machines! So I just took out Rs 3,000, and thought, well, we can pay for the petrol by card, and Pradeep will be carrying some cash, so we will manage. It was just a weekend trip after all.
So I got back home, packed my bags, opened the door to let Pradeep in, asked him how much money he was carrying, and he opened his wallet, and... He had only Rs 20 on him.

We would probably get ATMs on the way. We soon discovered there were no Citibank or ICICI ATMs between Old Madras Rd. to Chikmagalur. What was Soumya doing all this while? Why, yakking away on his mobile, of course. The first hour, I shouted myself hoarse; we will be in trouble, blah blah, blah... The second hour I sulked, because no one was listening to my rantings. Then by the third hour, with the help of a little dinner down my food pipe, I decided to enjoy my trip anyway. Well, with one last warning to Soumya. Me: "There are no petrol bunks after Chikmagalur, so you better fill up if you need to." Soumya: "grunt" (Soumya's thought bubble - Wife blabbering something. Obviously irrelevant! Obviously inconsequential!)

A little ghostly interlude in the story right about now.

We had crossed Chikmagalur. Of course, we didn't fill petrol. What do you think? I was in the navigator’s seat, pouring over maps. Well, no, we couldn’t see where we were going, because it was 3:00 am, pitch dark, and no one on the roads to ask directions from. We were climbing up some hills, and somewhere there we'd have to take a left to go to Kemmangundi, or we might drive past it and reach some other town on the other side of the hill. By now, it had dawned on the male species in the car that we were low on fuel and couldn't afford the luxury of loosing our way. Lucky for them, they had a good navigator at hand. Well, so we were going up the hill, couldn't see beyond the 10 feet light from the headlight of the car, mountain on one side, cliff on the other, when suddenly, out of nowhere appeared a man on the road. He was not in the middle of the road but neither was he standing on the side. He was tall, covered from head to foot in a blanket, held a long stick, and was standing stock still. The moment we saw him all of us gasped. We went past him in a flash, and he just stood perfectly still. Didn't even move his head to look at the car speeding past. The woman in the car, of course, was the first one to recover. Me: "Hey, let’s go back and ask that man where to take the left for Kemmangundi!" Soumya (after a death look at me): Are you crazy? Pradeep (still gasping): "Yes, why not ask him to sit with me back here to show us the way, while you are at it!" Well, by mutual agreement we decided: "It must have been a ghost!"

Mrs Calculus, of course, found the exact place where we needed to take the left and we arrived safely at the deserted and mist covered horticulture guesthouse at around 4:00 am, with 2 litres of petrol to spare. Went around the place, found the probable location of a probable caretaker, woke him up, asked him for the keys to the cottage. He didn't speak Hindi or English, and we didn't speak anything else. But we managed to get him to open up a "cottage" room for us anyway. By the time we switched on the lights in the room, he had disappeared from sight. I checked out the bed sheets. They hadn't been washed for a year. With tremendous amount of goodwill and courage I decided to flip the sheet to the other side, and try to sleep on that. Guess what? Lot of other people had the same idea. The other side hadn’t been washed for a year either. Let me not even start about the mattress. Went back into the misty hills to look for the elusive caretaker. Woke him up again. Me: "fresh bed sheet!" Him: something that I guess basically translated to "No, madam, cannot give." Me: "Very dirty, can't sleep. Give fresh." Him: "There are bed sheets there. Why do you want more?" Or something to that effect. Then I recalled my infallible dumb charade skills which I have practiced with my maids in Bangalore over the past two years. So I held up the dirty sheet in one hand, held my nostrils with the other, and made a disgusted face! Successful communication at last! He grunted and grumbled and got me fresh sheets from somewhere. Torn, but mercifully fresh.

Slept for a few hours. Beautiful morning. Green hills as far as your eyes can see. Paid for the cottage and food, kept a little aside for the way back, and then had to face the truth. We had no petrol and no money! And the nearest petrol bunk was 40 KM away, so 80 KM both ways. Ran around the place, hunted out some boys who would go down the hill and get some petrol for black. Arranged to see Hebbe Falls in the guesthouse jeep with some other tourists. What was Soumya doing all this time? Well, no, he wasn't yakking on his phone. He was imparting the philosophy of his life to Pradeep. "Everything always works out in the end." I agree. Only, don't ignore the one condition in fine print below this. You have to have an efficient wife.

Hebbe Falls, very nice, lovely trek, refreshing. Back by lunch. No news of petrol still. Decided to go to Z Point for the evening. Excellent trek. Exhilarating. Spectacular view. Came back to guesthouse after sunset. They’d found only 5 liters of petrol. Well, at least we would get back to Chikmagalur, and ever cover Mulliyangiri if we were lucky. Night spent relating ghost stories, with the result that Pradeep refused to leave our bed that night and sleep on his own.

Next morning, set out for Mulliyangiri, highest peak in Karnataka. Amazing sights. Very nice. Came back down and hit Chikmagalur. There is no other way; we have to get some petrol now. If we do, we might manage a drive down Bhadra Tiger Reserve that afternoon. Well... none of the petrol bunks in Chikmagalur accept cards. There are two or three ATMs. SBI, Federal bank, and one more. But... none of them were working that day. So... we are stuck. What do we do now? I finally called my friend Juan in Bangalore, who is incidentally the most well connected person ever. Me: "Long story, but we are in Chikmagalur, no money and no petrol." Him: "Give me two minutes." And he called up exactly two minutes later, said, take down the name, address and contact no. of the person in Chikmagalur, go and take money from him. So, we went to this person, took money, filled petrol, went to Bhadra tiger reserve. Beautiful place. Beautiful wooden cottages by a stream in the forest, eventually drove back to Bangalore.

"Everything always works out in the end." Well modify the fine print condition a little: You have to have an efficient wife, or better still, befriend Juan!

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