A bike ride to Coonoor

It was the middle of the night and the silence of my room in Bangalore was shattered by the ring of my mobile. It was my girl friend from Coimbatore. I wondered why she was calling me at such an odd hour of the night.

“Hello,” I said sleepily over the phone.

“Sorry to be disturbing you at this hour. But I really need to talk this out to someone,” she said.

Her voice quivered over the phone and I knew this was something important.

“Give me a minute,” I said. I got up washed my face in cold water and went out to the garage so that I could speak with her without disturbing my room mates.

“Tell me. What is it? What’s troubling you?”

“I think I’m going to quit my job. I couldn’t stand the pressure at the office. It's driving me crazy. I'm completely stressed out. I really wish I had you near me now,” she said.

"Just relax, ok? Go to sleep and be ready with your bags packed. We're going to take an off and go some place where you'll feel good".

"Really! Are you coming down?", she sounded all perked up at once.

"Why not? You said you wanted me to be there, right? Or, did I hear it wrong?"

"But... Where are we going?"

"I don't know. I haven't thought yet. But you needn't worry about that. Just leave it to me and pack your bag and be ready in the morning. I'll give you a call when I reach there and be ready for a surprise. Now, just go to sleep dear", I said and kissed her "good night" over the phone.

Now, you might be wondering whether this is the beginning of one ‘Mills and Boons’ tale. Well, it might sound like one, but no. This is about how a bike ride, the mist laden breeze and the intoxicating aroma of the Coonoor tea gardens helped my girl de-stress.

A few minutes in front of the internet and figured out where we'd be going - Coonoor. I looked for a descent hotel for the us to stay over the weekend, took down the phone number, freshened up and by 4.30 in the morning I filled the tank of my bike and set off to Coimbatore. Coimbatore is around 400 km from Bangalore and I reached there by half past nine. My idea of giving her a surprise flopped as she very well expected me to turn up on my bike knowing my passion for long rides. She was thrilled, all the same, at the idea of a long ride with me.

Coonoor, located at the head of the Hulikal ravine at an altitude of 1,800 meter above sea level, is a quaint little hill station in the Nilgiris, 75 km from Coimbatore en route Ooty. Ooty is another 19 km from Coonoor. It took us 4 and odd hours of leisurely ride to climb all the way up with pit stops for refreshment at the little tea stalls on the way. We reached Coonoor at around 2.30 in the noon and checked into the hotel where I had booked a room. I could see that the ride and the cool air of the Nilgiris has already begun to do good for my girl’s nerves. I noticed an air of peace about her as she stood at the balcony of our room, gazing at the lush greenery stretching all around us. I was obviously tired after the long ride and I drifted into a deep dreamless slumber.

A good 3 hours sleep and I was wide awake, refreshed and at the very best of my spirits. It made me happier to find my girl all freshened up after a wash and smelling pleasant of the bath soap and shampoo that she use. She was sitting by my side, lost in ’11 minutes’ by Paulo Coelho. She has always been an avid reader and never forgets to carry around some books to read.

A good long bath, making benevolent use of her shampoo made me presentable enough to go out with her. We went out for a stroll in the town. We walked around aimlessly visiting a Ganesh temple and spending few quite minutes at one of the churches. Later in the evening we visited the local market place, all bustling with life and munched on fresh-baked pop corns and chilly bhajjis and vadas. The freshly brewed Nilgiri tea at a local tea stall is something, the taste of which will linger in my taste buds for a long time. A pleasing dinner at a local restaurant and we returned to our room.

We woke up rather late the next day and after washing up and a modest breakfast of toasted breads and omelets, we set off for the site seeing. Well, the site seeing was not a part of our agenda as the prime aim of this trip was to be away from the regular mundane routine and to relax at leisure and pleasure.

We first visited the all popular Sim’s park, walking all the 2 km from our hotel to that spot. A CafĂ© Coffee Day on the way bid us in and my girl being a coffee aficionado, we spent a good one hour there over cold coffees and a Black Forest pastry. Now, here is something - have you ever tried cold coffee sitting at a place where the temperature outside is close to 10 degree celsius? If not, try it once. I bet it would be an experience unparalleled.

Spread over 12 hectares, the Sim’s park was more than any other parks I’ve visited before. It had lush green grass spread all over and the lawn mowed to perfection. The winding paved walk-along through the woods is another attraction of the Sim’s Park. There is also a little play area with swings and see-saws for kids and a lake with a boating facility. Does it sound like a very big place? Well, it is not. As I told you, it is only a 12 hectare plot and is only large enough to house a hundred varieties of trees, plants and flowers and small enough for a comfortable walk around. Sitting at one of the park benches, humming an old Hindi song, “Tum ko dekha, to ye khayal aya…” and my girl gazing at the little kids on the swings is a picture-perfect that will remain etched in my memory.

We then visited the Lamb’s Rock which is a trekking spot around 3 km from Sim’s Park. The view of the valley from atop the Lamb’s Rock is breath taking. Other classical view points in and around Coonoor are Dolphine’s Nose and Lady Canning’s Seat. We didn’t visit all the spots as we were not in any sight seeing expedition. After ambling along a tea garden, hand in hand and love in the air, we returned to our hotel room.

Another major attraction of Coonoor is the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. The toy train ride along the winding hills is something that had captured the imagination of many movie makers all around the globe. The “Kasto maza…” song sequence with Saif Ali Khan, a guitar in hand, in a train full of kids in the movie ‘Parineeta’ is the one that comes to my mind when I think about the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (I’m not too sure the song was shot here). The Nilgiri Mountain Railway was declared by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in July 2005. This railway links Coonoor to the town of Mettupalayam at the foot hills. Coonoor was the original termination point of this railway, before the line was extended to Ooty.

Anyways… we started our ride back at 6 in the evening and reached Coimbatore by 11 at night.

“You’d never know how good you made me feel…,” she said on reaching back.

Now, tell me dear readers, isn’t this a wonderful way to de-stress on a weekend? Well, she forgot her idea of quitting her job and said she just realized the need for a change when life gets too routine and tiring.

Original post:
'Motorcycle Diaries' compilation in MSN India by the same author

Coonoor Factfile:

Nearest airport: Coimbatore (80 km), Tamil Nadu, India
Nearest railwaystation: Mettupalayam (46km), Coimbatore (80 km); Tamil Nadu, India
By road: Regular buses from major cities like Bangalore (Karnataka), Mysore (Karnataka), Calicut (Kerala), Kochi (Kerala), Tanjavur (Tamil Nadu), Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu)
Accommodation: From home stays to luxury hotels (economy, budget and luxury)
Activities: Bird watching, tea plantation visits, sight seeing, hiking etc.

A joyride to the Golden Peak, Ponmudi

It was the month of August and the monsoon season in my place was coming to a close. And that means occasional showers when we least expect it and quite sunny, the day around. I had a particularly tiring week at my office and wanted to break away from the routine and relax. But as fate would have it none of my friends were in town and I was left all alone with a long uneventful Sunday ahead of me.

For no reason I woke up early in the morning and sat in front of my computer browsing through every odd stuff. Soon I got bored of that and I shut down the system and lay on the bed with my empty eyes on the fan on the ceiling. The blades made uninterrupted circular motion, slicing the air in a regular rhythmic and monotonous pace. And suddenly the idea struck me and I wasted no time to get into my trousers and t-shirt.

“Wouldn’t she be sitting alone and bored too”

I rang up one of my lady friends and asked her whether she’d be interested to join me for a ride to Ponmudi. And there begins a joyride to the Golden Peak, Ponmudi.

Ponmudi is a hill station, around 60 kms from my home town, Trivandrum. Unlike other major hill stations like Kodaikanal or Ooty, Ponmudi aka. The Golden Peak is rather a little place known for weekend stay overs, picnicking, hiking and trekking.

‘Everything that glitters is not gold’. Ponmudi used to be a favourite haunt for the cupid struck and honeymooners but now, not much people visit the place owing to the lack of descent amenities. The place does have a Govt. Guest House and a couple or other private accommodation but for some reason or the other, it has ceased to be a preferred destination for travelers. Lately, I heard that the KTDC (Kerala Tourism Development Corporation) is coming up with a premium resort at the top of Ponmudi Hills called the Golden Peak. If that is so, you can be assured of a descent stay if you'd care to spend a couple of thousands for a weekend getaway.

Coming back to the literature of the ride, we started our ride at around 9 in the morning with not much preparation other than me loading fresh cells into my camera. Hoping on the pillion of the bike my friend said she’s out with me for a joyride and that she didn’t want me to touch more than 40-50 km/hr. Ah! And there’s a perfect co-traveler for I never like to ride fast when I go for long rides. Besides there’s only 60 km ahead of us to travel and an entire Sunday stretching in front of us. What’s the hurry anyways?

Fifteen minutes of ride through the not so heavy traffic, but with annoying stops at every red signal, we reached the outskirts of the city. Another few minutes ride along the country road and I stopped at a rustic tea shop before we started our 910 meters climb. There’s always something good about the tea from such places – it taste really fresh. Maybe because they make it with the leaves fresh from the garden or maybe it's 'coz of the thick milk, fresh from the cow at their homes.

A brief 10 minutes break, gazing at the laid back country life with dogs lying around the road-side, unmindful of the occasional motorists who speed past them; the little kids, naked and running around their houses and the cattle grazing around in peace and chewing, chewing and chewing all the time, we resumed our ride.

Meandering along the winding climbs of Ghats we started to have a spectacular view of the lush greenery around, bordered by hills running along each other and little silvery streams trickling down the hills and disappearing behind the thick of the woods at the foot of the hill ranges. 25 km of ride without a stop and we broke the ride at the edge of a hairpin bend. The view of the green-green valley from there was splendid.

I did look around for a tea shop but gave up for two reasons – firstly the place was quite deserted with only the tall trees around us and secondly because my friend started showing annoyance, without any assumed sophistication of a new age girl, at my “odd” fondness for tea. She prefers coffee over tea and so do most of the people that I come across. Many of them go to the extend of taking lectures on how one should have that “fine taste for things in life” to enjoy coffee, and enlighten me to the fact that there are more coffee lovers around the globe than lovers for tea. Arguments apart, I still cherish the lingering taste of that really strong tea made of thick buffalo milk that I had at a rural settlement called Yelandur en-route to Coimbatore from Bangalore via Satyamangalam on one of my bike trips.

It was only another 15 km to reach the hill top and as I’ve told you earlier, we were in no hurry and we took another 40 minutes to cover that distance. It was 10 minutes to 12 at noon and our stomachs started whining for replenishments. But the only restaurant at the hill top of Ponmudi, which is the Govt. Guest House canteen, would start serving lunch only by 1 and we were informed that it was too late for break-fast. I was quite amazed that the canteen couldn't even serve us with something like bread & butter or maybe a serving of steaming omelets. Yet, luck wasn’t so hard on us as the departmental store near the restaurant was open. We brought biscuit packets and soft drinks to fill our empty stomachs.

We loitered around the place with a few prying eyes at our back and finally reached the spot where the picnickers hang around. This is a flat space at the top of the hill from where you can have a grand view of the valley and the rolling hills all around you. There were more people there than we had expected and what more? There was the shooting of a musical album going on. Initially, we were quite amused and even found it very odd to find a young couple in bright and colourfull outfits dancing around hand in hand. But seeing the camera focused at them from a distance cleared all the “oddity” in our heads.

A couple of hours there with the mist and the cool breeze to sooth our body and soul made us feel that the purpose of the ride was served. We started back at around half past two. I rode steadily for close to half an hour and we reached the thick of woods with the sound of a stream trickling by somewhere around the bushes. I parked my bike by the road side and we found the stream that added harmony to the silence of the woods. The water was cool enough to send a chill through my veins at the first touch and my friend had a good time splashing and playing in the water, becoming a 10 or 13 year old that she once was. A bunch of raving studs howling and whistling at us from a jeep ended all the fun and we hurried back to my bike.

We had our lunch at a township on the way and we hit the city by around half past 4. Dropping her back at her home I returned to my lonely room to spend the rest of the evening revisiting that winding Ghat road, those rolling green hills and the serene little stream in the woods.

Original post:

Ponmudi Factfile:

Nearest railway station/airport: Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India (65 km)
Accomodation: Try your luck
Activities: Trekking, Hiking, Sight Seeing, Good place for a couple of good nature pics.