Continuing with the backpacking trip in the South of India in the last column, Soumya tells us about a trip to Kodaikanal, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
We took a local bus from Madurai and checked in at the Tamilnadu Tourism Guest House in Kodaikanal. The town is a very pretty picture-postcard sort of place and is spread over gentle green hills, surrounding the clear lake, half covered in mist with deeply forested ranges framing the scene. It is a very romantic and isolated place, ideal for honeymooning couples and we spend the day walking, boating and just lazing around.
The food was, of course, South Indian and looking for a change of palate, we went for dinner to a Tibetan shack, which was famous for its food and atmosphere among the backpacking community. Previous trekkers in the area had given us the heads up.
The one mistake we had made was discounting the winter of a South Indian hill station with the arrogance of Delhites, insisting that only madrasis would need a sweater here. However, the weather was chilly and dressed only in T-shirts and shorts, we were shivering with cold.
The shack was warm, the Thukpa and Momos hot and the warming effects of Chang, the Tibetan rice beer, soon made us quite cozy and comfortable. The company was genial, a mixture of local Tibetans and foreign backpackers. But soon, most of the customers left and we noticed that it had become quite dark outside. Kodaikanal, we were told is a town that sleeps early and there is no nightlife.
Worried about the long trip back to the Guest House in the dark and empty tracks, ill-clad for the cold and wet weather, we hurried out. However, the early darkness was due to threatening rain clouds and soon a thunderstorm broke out making us scurry back into the warm shelter of the shack. Our Tibetan hosts were kind and asked us to stay by the stove till the worst of rain is over and even offered us a torch and plastic sheets to cover on our way back. But the rain showed no signs of abating. We called the hotel from the phone and had our host explain in Tamil to the Reception that we needed a hotel taxi to come and pick us up, but we were told that no vehicle was available because of the weather. We next tried to call the taxi stand but received similar replies and also were told that some trees had fallen making it impossible for them to move out.
The only other customer in the place appeared to be a regular, a tall curiously dressed and very drunk European. We learnt that he was a German who was a permanent resident of Kodai and some kind of environmental activist. He had not spoken a word throughout the evening. The landlord suggested that we sleep there and got some blankets and put a few benches together. Not relishing the prospect at all we prepared to somehow pass the night. The lone guest had also silently left, huddled under an anorak.
Suddenly there was a honking outside, and peering out in the rain we saw the headlights of a vehicle and the dim outline of a long American car. With a big grin, our host told us that it’s the mad German and his ancient Chevy.
‘’He will drop you back,’’ were the sweetest words we heard.
It was a crazy ride through a pitch black night in howling wind and pouring rain huddling in a rattling car driven by a dead drunk German who silently managed to take us to the safe haven of our hotel.
Throughout the entire journey, our knight in shining armour did not speak a word, and to this day we do not know the name of our strange benefactor.
Photos from the Internet
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Soumya Mukherjee is an alumnus of St Stephens College and Delhi School of Economics. He earns his daily bread by working for a PSU Insurance company, and lectures for peanuts. His other passions, family, friends, films, travel, food, trekking, wildlife, music, theater, and occasionally, writing. He has been published in many national newspapers of repute. He has published his first novel, Memories, a novella, hopefully, the first of his many books. He blogs as well.