21st December, 2015
Bangalore to Waynad (254 Kms)
My decision to have breakfast in Bangalore before leaving, cost me a huge time. When I left, I hit the morning rush of traffic. Took me a lot of time to get through the traffic and out of Bangalore. Once I was out, I had to take a diversion to go to ‘Nice Ring Road’. Yes, that’s a name of the road. One has to pay toll to ride on this road. Usually two wheelers are never charged but here all the types of vehicles were charged a certain amount of toll. I soon found out why. Rahul had told me that I would enjoy riding on the Nice Ring Road and indeed I did. The road was splendid. It was scenic, wide, flat and smooth. I wished the road continued like this till the end of the trip.
On route I crossed ‘Berambadi State National Park’ which was a great experience. The forest was thick and beautiful. Even though the roads were great, the hidden speed breakers spoiled the fun. After about an hour or more of riding, I was out of the forest boundary. The plantation was still thick even though the forest ended many kilometers ago. The place was eerily silent. Soon a sign board on the road read ‘Welcom To Kerala’. I was crossing over to another state. This was the second state I entered since the roadtrip started. Kerala is known as a ‘Gods Country’. It has some amazing places to explore but unfortunately I was going to be in Kerala only for three days. After visiting Edekkal caves I was going to start my return journey. I had decided to make my return trip via coastal route of Karnataka and Maharashtra.
By about 2 pm, I found myself on a very busy and very small town called ‘Sulthan Bathery’. The narrow streets were crowded with vehicles as well as people. I made two rounds of the same road to find my hotel. When I asked a guy for directions he told me I’m standing right at the entrance of the hotel. That was very embarrassing. I still don’t know how I missed the hotel even though I passed from the same road twice. I checked in, had lunch and went straight into my room to take a nap.
In the evening, the guy at the reception gave me a map showing all the nearby tourist attractions. I was interested in only one, ‘Edekkal Caves’. During my trip planning, many months ago, I had stumbled upon some interesting images of caves which showed some interesting ancient carvings on its walls. When I explored more, I came to know that those were images of Edakkal caves in Waynad, Kerala. I met a guy in my office who had been to this place and he also recommend a visit to this place. I went through the history of the place which induced more interest in me. And many months later, on one fine evening, I was in a hotel room which was just 13 kms away from the same cave.
22nd December, 2015
I was in my hotels’ restaurant for breakfast. I was the first one to be in the restaurant at 8 am. Exactly at the time when it opens up. Not a single waiter in the hotel could speak or understand English or Hindi. I had to explain my order by keeping my finger on the items listed on the menu card. I ordered double omelet, dosa and black coffee. Within few minutes the waiter brought a glass full of light red colored liquid, kept it on the table and left. I wondered why he brought this strange looking coffee before my breakfast. I was expecting it to be delivered with the food. I took a sip, it tasted nothing like coffee. It was tasteless just like plain water. When the waiter reappeared from behind the translucent glass door, I asked him why this coffee is tasteless. Well, he didn’t understand my language but he did catch the word ‘coffee’, and laughed. He tried to speak to me in English. He said “Sir, no coffee, that… Ayurvedic water… we drink before food”. Aaaahhhh…. now it made sense, in Kerala they follow a healthy custom of drinking Ayurvedic water before any meal. It’s some kind of a herb that is mixed with lukewarm water which then leaves all its nutritional contents in the water, giving it a reddish look.
After breakfast I left for the Edekkal caves. The road was beautiful. After 7 kms ride on state highway, I took a left turn on Vaduvanchal-Kolagappara road. The road was beautiful. I was busy observing small beautiful houses along the roadside that were peeking out from thick plantation, when I came near series of hairpin curves. A very boring truck was ahead of me. The road being very narrow I had very little chances of overtaking. The golden grass on the roadside was tall enough to touch my shoulder. I could see two big mountains far away. I made numerous attempts to overtake the truck but upcoming curves or an upcoming vehicle made all my attempts futile. I guess the driver of the truck saw my struggle. He slowed down before a turn and signaled me with his hand to pass ahead. I gave him a big thumbs up and my lovely smile and twisted the throttle hard. Now I was enjoying the ride and a beautiful view, which was being blocked for last 15 minutes by two sets of huge tires and huge metal back door of the truck.
After following many curvatures on the road, the mountains that I had seen earlier went out of sight. On the next turn a guy stopped me and told me that ‘it’s the last parking ground. If I have to go to the caves, I have to walk from here on’. I looked around, there was no sign of the mountain where the caves were supposed to be. I was little skeptical and decided to take a look further ahead. I rode ahead and on the next curve another guy stopped me and said the same thing. I crossed about seven to eight of such last parking grounds before reaching the real last parking ground. The mountain was clearly visible from where I parked the bike. I saw a jeep with Maharashtra registration plate. I thought some other curious Maharashtrians have also come to take a look at the remains of an ancient civilization.
I was shocked to see the angle of inclination as soon as I started climbing up a concrete pavement. It was very steep, I mean really very very steep inclination which was leaving me out of breath in just 10-15 minutes of walk. The tall mountain was growing even more taller with every step. The weather was not supportive either. My handkerchief was past beyond its absorption limits. Sleeves of my t-shirt had now taken up the job of the handkerchief. Soon the concrete pavement ended and steps arrived. The cave was in my view now. I reached a ticket counter, bought my ticket. I had to pay separately for my action camera and was told that I cannot use my mobile phone to take the photo in the cave. I did not understand the logic. When I started climbing the steps again, the guy in army uniform who was checking my ticket told me that there’s a baggage counter where I can keep my bag. I was glad he told me that. The gruesome climb was taking its toll on me, I could use losing some weight for the walk up ahead. I left my bag at the baggage counter and said thanks to the guy for his advice.
Soon, the route bifurcated in two directions. The right one with rock steps went towards a small cave, whereas the metal steps on the left side spiraled behind the edge of the mountain side and disappeared from the view. I saw few man walking down on the metal steps and I asked them which one goes to the cave. They told me that the metal steps are only for coming down. While going up, one has to take the rock steps. I looked up the rock steps, behind a metal railings another guy wearing army uniform was waiving at me, asking me to come up. It looked like he was cheering me up to continue walking. Felt like I was in a marathon. I walked up to the guy asked him how to continue from here as I could see the route disappearing into a small cave. He told me to continue through the cave. I entered the cave through metal barricades. It was dark in there. The ground was damp and I saw series of metal steps through my sight adjusting to the darkness. I had to duck in order to continue walking on the steps and out of the cave. It led me to the same metal steps that I had seen earlier disappearing by the mountain side. People going up and coming down had to squeeze in to make way for each other. Finally I reached the Edekkal caves. The view from up there revealed thick forest down below. The road was nowhere visible.
Enrance to the cave was very narrow. There was a huge crowd already waiting outside to let the crowd come out from inside. When the last one came out, everyone else waiting out moved in. I entered last. The cave looked smaller than what I had imagined by the images. On both sides I could see the ancient carvings. It had many images of animals, humans, bows, the swastika and ancient stone scripts carved using series of straight lines. From averted sight it looked like an alien language. There were two guys in uniform, speaking about the history of the cave and the story behind each drawing. They were speaking in South-Indian language. When they were done I heard a women speak. She asked, “Won’t you explain it in Hindi or English”. By her accent I figured out she’s Maharashtrian. I asked her where she’s from in Marathi. She was startled at first to hear a stranger speak to her in Marathi. Then she said she’s from Pune. She asked about me. I told her about my trip. She called her son Chinmay and his wife and introduced me to them. He too was surprised to hear about my solo trip experience. After a short talk we went ahead to explore the cave.
I looked up. There was a huge boulder stuck between two rock facings. Technically this place cannot be called a cave as it does not have a ceiling. The huge boulder on top makes it look like a ceiling. The guy in the uniform asked everyone to assemble in the center. This time is spoke in English and explained everything about the cave’s history. You can read more about the history of the caves on following links.
It was a thrilling experience to stand in a cave which had witnessed different civilizations from different eras. After the gathering dispersed, I went to the far end of the caves to see what others were peeking through. There was a narrow gap between rocky walls of the cave which revealed the landscape beyond and beneath. I took a walk around, spent some more time looking at the carvings, then started climbing down. It was an amazing experience altogether. I was glad I took a detour to come here.
I was back in the hotel room when I received a call from an unknown number. The call was from Mr. Paul, the owner of the homestay in Coorg, where I had made my reservations for next three days. He asked me if I’m on schedule and arriving on the said date. I told him I was in Kerala at Sulthan Bathery and would reach at his place in Coorg the next day by 12-12:30 pm. He told me there’s a beautiful ‘Tholpetty Forest’ on my route where I can ride around for exploring.
In next couple of days I got to spend time with Paul sir and his family. Met with a lovely couple from Mumbai. I really loved the whole experience in Coorg. More about that in the next blog….