More Like It : Now, this is more like how eerie Doddaballapur station looked. Pitch black and heavy rains.
Power Of Darkness : All you need to do is to open your eyes longer and discover the hidden beauty. A completely dark Doddaballapur Station, awaiting its next thunder
Prologue : https://pixeltrailz.com/2017/02/23/mentally-prepared/
Part I : https://pixeltrailz.com/2017/03/03/conquering-the-blues-i/
Part II : https://pixeltrailz.com/2017/03/24/conquering-the-blues-ii/
It was close to a 30 minute drive winding and snaking through narrow, misty, green and uninhabited roads before we reached our stay for the night, a beautiful secluded tea estate bungalow right in the middle of a tea plantation, owned and maintained by Glendale. The pretty evening sky was making its way to a clear starlit light pollution free atmosphere. The estate bungalow was well maintained with 4 large rooms and attached bathrooms. While our cook was busy preparing some evening tea and snacks, the tiredness caught up with us while we gathered around the living room to relive our day. After a nice evening get together we quickly dispersed off to freshen up and rejuvenate for the night that lay ahead for us.
I am a very cynical person by nature and believe that majority of the relationships are just superficial. With the advent of social media, it has hit the extreme and it is not uncommon to find an individual with two conflicting personalities, one real and one reserved for the social media. To illustrate this, I had a small challenge with my family. I changed my Facebook settings not to display my date of birth or send a notification to anyone regarding the same. I also modified my settings to disallow anyone posting on my wall or tagging me. I celebrated my birthday a few days ago and the result was interesting. 2 years ago with no restrictions, I had about 200 wishes including my wall and pm. Last year without wall posting rights, it trickled down to about 50 or so pm and this year, down to one single wish and a few Whatsapp wishes from family and a few close friends. Why do I rant tangentially at times is a question I cannot answer myself, so let’s leave it at that. What I expect is good and a sincere relationship with folks I know and to put in perspective with my birthday experiment, it translates to “I am happy if someone remembers my birthday and wishes me. I am happy if someone doesn’t know my birthday and do not wish me, however I find it weird and superficial when folks whom I hardly know and merely acquaintances wish me because FB reminded them”.
Why this philosophy here ? because I cannot express the camarederie and the connection I have built with this group over the past 3 years. It gives me great pleasure and a sense of freedom whenever I go out trekking or railfanning with this group, each one unique with a distinquished background and social statuses, but everyone down to earth at the grassroot level sharing and enjoying a common passion and there is nothing superficial about it or the relationship which we have built over the years. We freshen up soon, settle down, get into some spirited discussions running late into the night accompanied by Ilayaraja’s gems duly distorted and thrown out by overworked speakers of our vehicles, the free spirit getting out the poets and artists amongst us and in the end, a night well spent in the middle of nowhere with like minded friends and without a care in the world. Now that’s what I call a stress buster that can last for a long time. It is moments like this which make you feel alive and worth living for.
Dinner, drinks and and loads of discussion ranging from stones used in railway ballast to nuclear submarines, the group gradually disintegrated to call it a day and start fresh the next morning. It was an absolute beautiful morning. Bright sunshine, dark blue cerulean sky, some real tweets, a few local kids enjoying a brisk game of cricket in a short patch of available flat land among sloping landscapes, mist rising and gliding across the mountains and interspersed thin waterfalls and a variety of breakfast items and tea / coffee on demand from the bungalow caretakers. We continued from where we left the previous night and soon found ourselves cruising our way back to Coimbatore after a heavy lunch. One group left early towards Mysore / Bangalore. Another Chennai / Bangalore bound group bid us goodbye and were onboard the train towards their respective destinations. My usual travel partner trundles off towards Palghat to be with his parents and I had the young company of a senior citizen, bound for Udupi the next day and younger than most of us as we settled down for a restful night with the windows sneaking in light overlooking the platform no 1 of Coimbatore Junction Railway Station.
By 8 AM the next morning, done with breakfast and other trivialities, we find ourselves waiting on PF No 1 to board the 16565 Yesvantpur – Mangalore Express. Led by a Vijawada WAG5 we were soon cruising through the beautiful landscapes on offer between Walayar & Kanjikode. We reached Palghat a few minutes ahead of schedule, where my regular travel partner, PK was waiting with homemade food for our return to Bangalore by 12678, Ernakulam – Bangalore Intercity Express. We bid goodbye to PKV, the young senior and a delayed 12678 ensured we had a good time roaming around the station soaking in nothing but the typical railway station vibes from one of the cleanest railway stations of India. 2 days of enduring unusual physical activity, quite uncommon for majority of the working IT population in the current world meant that our body wanted a bit more of rest to compensate and match our primarily sedentary lifestyle and being used to unnecessary luxuries of life, we wanted to upgrade our second sitting ticket to AC Chair car. One look at the incoming train and it was clear as day. No room in AC. The second sitting was cramped and the coach was occupied like a typical Rohit Sharma career. Bits of brilliance with extended patches of mediocrity. The area we were seated was cramped and I was right between two giants. A few seats ahead it was wide open spaces. By the time we reached Erode Junction, the crowd had eased considerably and the journey turned out to delightful. On hindsight it was good that the AC coaches were full. Nothing can beat the fresh wind, rhythmic wheels of motion, the typical clickety clack of wheels moving over rails and the feel of being out in the open of a second class of an Indian Railways travel experience.
We soon depart Salem and enter the single line diesel section towards Bangalore via Hosur. This section is an unexplored paradise for the rail enthusiasts. It boasts of a small ghat section too, but not quite like the towering mountains connected by large viaducts or piercing through the mountains in long tunnels. We have to climb close to a kilometer above the sea level from the ground over a distance of 200 kilometers. The train passes through sunflower fields, mustard fileds, small hills and innumerable sharp curves and bends. Muthampatti and Rayakottai are one of the many beautiful areas this route covers, the former known for its Hanuman temple and innumerable monkeys and the latter for a very famous horse shoe curve. This is a section unexplored and is in the list of to do things in future and best enjoyed during the monsoons.
Street food, Junk food and following the same train of thought, railway pantry food especially when you can feel & smell the fresh fried items in stale and expired oil is ironically enticing and we succumbed. We indulged in a wide range of junk unhygienic food only to find myself in the washroom every five minutes cleaning out my gut and stomach. My friend and travel companion PK was able to pride himself of his superior resistance for for about 10 minutes longer until he decided to join the fun. A typical case of food poisoning and thankfully mild enough to leave us with enough strength and energy to complete the last leg of what would be a memory etched forever. We crossed Hosur and held up Karmelaram for a while to let the Bangalore Dharmapuri DEMU to cross. A simple 10 minute delay now escalated to almost an hour as were held up prior to descending the Byappanahalli ramp and join the Chennai Bangalore mainline. It was then that I realised that the one that would have been affected the most in this fiasco would have been the Mysore – Mayiladuturai express who would still be waiting for us to clear the line and it was no surprise to find it waiting at Byapanahalli with headlights off waiting. An absolutely bored and resigned loco pilot waving us the green signal as we chugged past accelerating and clearing his line towards Bangalore Cantontment, where we were deposited around 8:20, a good hour late from our scheduled arrival. Thankfully for us Island Express bound to Kanyakumari, the one I started this trip with was just entering Bangalore Cantonment. A brisk sprint, we were onboard the Island and the breathing returns to normal a few minutes later as we disembark at KJM, Krishnarajapuram. We bid goodbyes, ready to do it all over again next year and a half hour later, I was there ringing the doorbell, back to reality, back to the chaos this world has to offer, back to the concrete jungle from the real one, fresh, charged and rejuvenated, ready to take on the challenges until I run out of charge, however I am rechargeable and until then, back to the grind.
I hope I was able to take my readers along virtually on this quickie litte recharging trip across the Nilgiris. Do let me know your feedback and comments. Until the next one….
Meanwhile, a video & photo compilation of the memorable trip
Flickr Link For Trip Photos : https://www.flickr.com/photos/ponds186/albums/72157676295739252
We departed Mettupalayam a few minutes behind the scheduled time of the passenger. The breakdown special was loaded with tools, generator and almost the entire manpower of the mountain railway. The Chief Engineer was quite confident of getting his work completed the same day and was hopeful of resuming the services by Sunday, 18th December 2016. The short ride from Mettupalayam to Kallar was uneventful and our group was busy distributing fluids, energy replenishment, cookies, chocolates and another miscellaneous set of food items ensuring everyone is self sufficient to carry on with the trek. Passengers or not, the train has to stop at every watering station to replenish and cool down the thirsty monster, X Class Oil powered locomotives.
As we reached Kallar, memories of the previous trek took us back a year ago when this very same station was covered in mist and heavy rainfall. This year it was a distinctly different atmosphere. Cool, bright and sunny interspersed with thick blue clouds against a beautiful cerulean blue sky. Any which way you see, Kallar represented peace and serenity. The pin drop silence was only disturbed by the original twitterati, a flow of water somewhere in the vicinity and the roaring growl of our thirsty & whistling X Class locomotive.
Once we depart, this would be a perfect place to spend some quality time with your inner self far away from pollution, industrialization, selfishness, greed, competition. We evolved to live with nature amidst every living creature and find a balance. As our brains developed, we lost the design we were built for. We stopped seeing the beauty and simplicity around us. We were mentally conditioned that power and money are the two things to live for. We challenged the Darwin’s theory. Survival of the fittest gave way to thriving of the meanest. In just a couple of hundred years, we destroyed our planet. We destroyed every living organism and animal. We made them play to our tunes. We thought we knew everything. In our pursuit of materialistic pleasure, we get rid of everything in our way, be it our own species. Amidst all this, when you spend a little time in a hamlet like Kallar, you really start to see how our life was intended to be only to rue the fact on how it turned out to be. Maybe one day we will realize the enormity of our mindless actions, but that will be the day when our Mother Earth decides to press Ctrl+Alt+Del.
The cog & teeth gets aligned at Kallar and the engagement needs to be inspected at every water filling station usually spread apart by around 4-5 km. After aligning, we chugged along towards Hillgrove with an intermediate halt at Adderley for inspection and water filling. I have to say, it was pretty nostalgic traversing the same section which we had trekked along the previous year. I could relate to every milestone, every landscape, every tunnel, every viaduct, every bridge and every single stream of water. The feeling of been there, done that. Cruising along the first major viaduct with gushing waters below brought in an involuntary sense of euphoria and a smile that can not be described. The viaduct which took us close to 6 minutes of careful trek the previous year was done and dusted in less than half a minute. The surroundings this time around weren’t as green and fresh as it was the previous year, but still refreshing and liberating. The highlight of this section was a huge black snake going back into hiding possibly scared to wits with the vibrations. The immediate fear and skepticism in everyone’s eyes were masked by faked expressions of absolute indifference. Folks, it is OK to be scared and we should be. Fear is an important factor that keep our senses sharp and let us handle the situation. Soon enough we reach Adderley and continue onto Hillgrove after a 10 minute break. We pass through that small temple where we had lunch the previous year. That nasty little slippery bridge where we had to let one of our group exit due to severe cramps. That protective rock like structure from where we were forced to return to the bridge due to an elephant encounter and that long distance view of Hillgrove station board which never seemed to come closer the previous year. Ten minutes after ten in the morning. We are now where we quit last year and all set to continue to conquer the rest of the Blue Mountains.
It was another ten minute break for the workers, while we were getting ready for the next 10 km of trekking the steep gradient. The landslide was supposedly less than a km ahead towards Coonoor which we would be crossing shortly. Hillgrove is famous for monkeys and “Dal Vada”. The stall vendor who guided us down from here a year ago treated us to hot, crispy and perfectly balanced dal vada and steaming hot tea to liven up our senses for the arduous task ahead.Ten minutes later as the breakdown special pushed on towards the landslide area, we collected our baggage and got our miniature versions with the station name board captured into the silicon valleys of my 64GB UHS1 Class 10 Memory card. Fully refreshed and excited, it is time to complete what was left incomplete. Should I say, intuition or premonition or deja vu, I felt that the breakdown special is gonna block our way right in the middle of some bridge or viaduct. A passing thought soon lost as we blended in with nature all around us. We bid goodbyes to the station staff and the innumerable monkeys and started hiking up the 1 in 12.5 gradient.
In the last 3-4 years, I have been attending a lot of workshops & meetings with clients, a few of them stretching almost up to a week. The typical discussion patterns always turn out to be something similar to MS Dhoni’s innings. The first 1% of the agenda items consume about 99% of the time and the remaining 99% of the agenda is completed in 1% of the time. Our hike was no different to this. Add to it the fact that Hillgrove – Runnymede section of the NMR provides the best visual treats, it was no wonder that the first 1 km of the trek took us close to an hour. We encountered about three waterfalls , a couple of tunnels and 3 small bridges before we could sight our breakdown special berthed and off to some real heavy duty work.
As we neared the BDS, my weird intuition was proven right. The Loco was right there parked in the middle of a narrow bridge smoking and puffing. Our hike came to a complete screeching halt. I am not sure if I could transport any of you to the scene with my writing ability, but allow me to experiment. The Loco is covering the entire length of this small bridge. There are no hand holders / any space available on either side of the loco for us to move ahead. To the left is a plain straight drop of at least 200 feet. On the right is a drop of about 8-10 feet which would place us in a landing at the base of a wayside waterfall. A few rocks right under the bridge. There is no way down on the left and the only way is to hand crawl down to the landing on the right, get drenched, use the rocks under the bridge as support not to fall off the steep cliff and carefully trundle along the 30-40 feet length of the bridge to reach the other side balancing our bags and equipment against slippery rocks. Well.. we did it all right. All of us. Came back up on the other side fully drenched and refreshed by an ice cold natural waterfall. If I were let to sum up the experience of NMR, this one adventure would suffice. Ten of us and half an hour is what it took for us to move on. A few meters ahead, we encountered the landslide which brought the NMR to a complete standstill. It took us just a few moments to realize the quantum of labor and manpower required to clear a small landslide. The unforgiving terrain and limited access path and lack of space to dump the debris demands the highest of resources from even the fittest of the workers. These workers need to be truly appreciated and thanked for the efforts they put in to get the NMR back on track for tourists like us to enjoy the beautiful visages NMR has to offer. After thanking them, we moved on.
The trek up to Runnymede station was uneventful and quick. This 4 km stretch took us exactly an hour from the landslide location. A short 2 minute refreshment & hydration break every kilometer kept the momentum going. Some of the best visuals in this hike were reserved for this section. The view of the valleys, falls, mountains and the long winding Mettupalayam – Ooty highway presented some breathtaking visuals where a description would provide no justice to the reality on display. Right alongside Runnymede station is the famous Katteri Park, a well maintained tourist spot. We were supposed to get our lunches delivered by our drivers at Runnymede station, but the traffic and roadworks en route ensured that they had not even started the climb towards Coonoor. Half hour later, post energizing and hydrating ourselves, we continued on only to be presented with the 1 in 12 gradient again. Plastic bottles, covers, sewage / waste mixed with streams and falls, gave us a clear indication that so called civilization is around. It was clear to us not to depend on any natural water source beyond Runnymede.
Considering our previous encounter with a hungry wild elephant, we had all our senses tuned to sense any danger. However as the elevation increased and more civilization around, the chances of encountering any more elephants were going down as we kept going up, but a repetitive pattern of prints on the left side of the tracks kept us interested and on the edge. Just as we were exiting out of another tunnel, the local population urged us to be quiet and move to the other side of the tracks only to witness a full grown adult male Indian Gaur casually lazing around chewing gum. A beautiful sight well enjoyed from a safe distance. Unlike the previous trek which was in the middle of a devastating cyclone on the east coast, this one was relatively dry and slightly more tiring, but we had the experience of the previous trek and mentally prepared for the task which we had so underestimated the last time and quickly completed the remaining 5 km to Coonoor in 2hrs. Coonoor presented us with relief, clean water, a beautiful YDM4 GOC Alco and excited tourists waiting to be hauled up to Ooty as the Coonoor – Ooty section of NMR was operational. We had to wait for another 30 minutes for our food & transport to arrive. An hour later, with a half full stomach, tired aching legs and body, I find myself under a hot shower at the secluded Glendale Tea Estate, Adderley, getting ready to fill up the remaining half.
Personally, If I were to compare the previous trek with this one, this one was certainly better planned, well executed and completed with lesser assistance from others, but the charm and beauty of the trek last year is beyond comparison. If there was one negative factor in this trek, that would be the “civilization” which has a total disregard for nature and the environment. Nature thrives where humans do not exist. Period.
Read the prologue HERE.
When you cook your dish longer than it is supposed to, you lose its texture, flavor & the real essence which you try to get, which is exactly what started happening. With almost a year of planning behind us, the entire trip is now in jeopardy, courtesy cyclone Vardah. A few more drop outs at the last moment and now the final figure stands at 10. As always, I reach my boarding station, Whitefield well ahead of time to indulge myself in trainspotting and feeling the typical vibes of an Indian Railway Station. I had a full 2 hours to kill and warmed up for the next day’s trek with long walks on the platforms spotting and capturing trains at extreme angles. Just a few days after Cyclone Vardah had its impact on Bangalore, the entire atmosphere had a surreal calmness associated with it, only shattered by the whines & screams of Chennai – Bangalore Intercity, Tirupati – Mysore Intercity & the Chennai – Vasco Expresses. Chennai – Bangalore intercity was led by a typical whining Royapuram kiddie WAP-7 while the other two were led by macho & muscular WAP-4s.
I am well balanced, socially sensitive, always in tune with current affairs who fights for women liberation & rights and every other social cause. I fight against child labor, child prostitution, revolt against corrupt politicians, take the fight back to the authorities be it pantry car overcharging or a speed bump missing on the road. I voice my balanced opinion and fight for justice at every opportunity. I fight for the betterment of the society. I change my social media DP to support various causes. In fact all terrorist activities have stopped all around the world ever since I started changing my DP. Too bad no one does this for attacks in India which has the potential to stop any further attacks. I am a typical social media darling doing all the right things to project to the world on how the world needs more responsible and genuine citizens like me. The levelheadedness, patience, understanding, maturity & a few more good adjectives you can think of, with which I handle issues in my virtual social world is beyond unreal. In the real world, I am just a normal ass who doesn’t give a damn to anything unless it really affects me personally & the real me is now real pissed.
I was supposed to take the 16526 Island Express from Bangalore to Salem and board the Nilgiri Express (The official connecting train to the Nilgiris), locally called as “Blue”, to Mettupalayam. Two of the team were supposed to enjoy my esteemed company up to Mettupalayam. With a few moments left for my train to arrive, the group gets a Whatsapp message indicating that one of them (PKV) had missed the train by a whisker. A few frantic calls went unanswered and I am now convinced that this is supposedly a game. Minutes later, PK informs me that he would now not be able to make his train at Banaswadi due to heavy traffic and planning to give this trip a miss. Since he was anyway looking for just any inconsequential excuse to miss this trip, I was pretty convinced that this is the end of the trip. However, I had to think about the immense pressure and bureaucracy the organizing team had to undergo to get this planned and abruptly disrupting this plan did not seem to be a fair thing to do. Added to that, it had been a while since I had met the rest of the group and wanted to meet them anyway. My current state of mind : I don’t give a damn anymore. I am genuinely pissed. Called up Dr Nazeer, one of the organizers that I would be there at Mettupalayam on time. Sent a message to the group that I am going back home and stopped answering any calls. As the Erode P4 glided into the platform, I boarded my coach to see PKV with a half worried look wondering if I had really gone home. Oh, come on folks. I can play this game too. Now, I am at peace. I have accepted the reality. I can only control what I can do, which is, I am doing this trip.
The Yesvantpur Howrah express trailed us all the way until we took a right towards Salem and the former took a left towards Jolarpet. Unlike the last time we were not on a rampage. We were cruising steadily at a sedate 90-95 kmph until we reached Tiruppatur right on dot. With great optimism, I was now looking out of my window for the mainline signal turning green and have the legendary Trivandrum mail overtake us again. However for some reason, which I would know once we reach Salem, we got a line clear and moved ahead. With this only action missing, we retired for a short midnight power nap and woke up as we were pulling into Salem. Stepped out of the station for some light snacks and tea. Meanwhile, I get to know that PK had managed to board his train and on his way to Salem. Having attained nirvana by now, I just waited for my “Blue” and drifted into dreamland humming Que Sera Sera, whatever will be will be, before the Blue could pull out of the station.
Mettupalayam has always been a quaint laid back station since ages, the only excitement being decking up the Nilgiri Queen for its daily ride up the hills. This Saturday, 17th of December, 2016 was a disappointment to all the “OOTY RIDE” aspirants. Nature had played spoilsport and a landslide just beyond Hillgrove had suspended services for the previous 3 days and possibly for the next couple of days as well. Folks like us who were aware of the situation had alternate plans in place, but the rest who were unaware of the situation had disappointment evidently written on their face along with a temporary phase of being absolutely clueless. The MG platform which usually had the little toy train charged up for the ride is now ready with equipment and tools and all set to to climb up to accident spot for clearing the landslide.
It was actually good to see finally that all the 10 have actually made it up to Mettupalayam and ready for the adventure. Two of our organizers were on their way and should be with us within the next half hour. To recollect, exactly a year ago, we had trekked the 10kms uphill from Kallar to Hillgrove. The target this year was to cover the remaining part upto Coonoor by foot. Since the landslide was just ahead of our proposed starting point this year, we had 2 options. The first one was to trek down from Coonoor to Hillgrove. Get down to the road from Hillgrove along the same path we had done last year and proceed by road to our resort. The second option was to climb up to Hillgrove from the same point we had got down in December 2015 and continue on trekking upto Coonoor. I was in favor of the second option inspite of the extra effort that would be required. It is my strong opinion that climbing up may be a bit more exhausting but much safer and easier to control than a downhill trek. While this discussion and arguments were running back and forth, a few of us had a quick breakfast at the station, while a few others decided to try their luck to see if the breakdown special could take us upto Hillgrove. We had verbal permissions from the railway authorities about our trek. We had informed the station masters of NMR about this. A few of the workers know most of us from the trek last year. With all this background and attaching a significant weight on the permissions obtained for the trek, we once again contacted officials stating our predicament and after a long winding discussion and negotiation on no of passengers, we were allowed to board the breakdown special upto Hillgrove or upto the landslide area. It was a record of sorts. It took just 2 minutes to get the entire team transfer their required accessories, gobble up their breakfasts, dump their remaining luggage in the car, assemble quickly and board the BDS, which is ready and waiting just for us to get on. A simple call and a one liner did the trick. “You have 2 minutes to board the BDS upto Hillgrove, failing which we shall meet you at the resort in the evening”. PKV, though young at heart, was rightly refrained from doing this strenuous trek and decided to proceed towards the resort in one of the 2 cars which would meet us at Coonoor railway station later in the day. Man proposes and God disposes. Sometimes everything happens for a reason. With this thought and jealous looks from confused passengers, our queen whistled and started pushing us towards Hillgrove.
To be continued …
After a mindless & breathtaking run from Nizamudding, Chennai Duronto crawls into Jhansi. The next section from Jhansi to Bhopal is not going to be as mindless and aggressive as this run.
Good Morning : The Sun rising past a relatively clear sky amidst green fields and misty morning, Nagpur, near Vidharba Cricket Stadium shot onboard Chennai bound Duronto Express.