Long Weekend Yay !! stay at home

I am taking a break from blogging about our 45 day epic road trip, riding down the entire western coast of India ( you can read about it – atleast half of it from Ahmedabad to Kodi Bengere in my previous posts, I hope to finish the rest before my next trip in July). This post is about a shorter trip we did to Yercaud labour day weekend. Since we have been in a long distance relationship since time immemorial, all our  energies were focussed on travelling great distances to  meet each other. From a looong distance relationship of living in two different countries, to living 1000 KM apart in India we are finally settling down in a short distance relationship, with the freedom of meeting each other for a meal if the fancy strikes us. So all this while we concentrated our time and money on just being able to meet, and since we travelled a considerable distance to do that, we didn’t travel much together. The concepts of short trips and long weekends were not for us.
We should have stayed that way.
For some reason, instead of spending quality time in one of the 3 cities (Chennai Bangalore  Mysore), and 1 forest (Bandhipur) we call home I decided we should do a short bike trip for the labour day long weekend. The Other had his misgivings, but agreed. Silly fellow, he should fight more, he is right sometimes 🙂  So I looked around for places with better weather, 3 to 4 hours away from Bangalore and zeroed in on Yercaud, a place both of us had never been to either.
It was so good to wear my gear and get back on the bike again, It was so good to be on the road again. But unfortunately our 45 day trip through amazing landscapes from the salt desert to scrub jungles, the mountains, the ocean to the very tip of the Indian peninsula has spoilt us, riding on a highway has become unbearably boring and irritating, and May is a terrible time to travel. It is better to hire an air-conditioned car, listen to  music and get the journey done with.
But the main reason we should have stayed at home is that everyone, their aunts, their third cousin twice removed and dog are travelling on the long weekend. We were stuck in a traffic jam just getting out of Bangalore at 6:00 am, and every breakfast joint on the highway was full… there were tokens and lines!!! It was ridiculous. We should have left at 5:00am perhaps, but we decided to enjoy a cup of cocoa and discuss Game of Thrones. Bad decision, wondering if Jon Snow will fall in love with the Khaleesi is really not worth riding in traffic. It took us a while to find a restaurant which wasn’t crowded, and by that time I was so hungry, I would have eaten the Other.
So we are not travelling on these long weekends anymore, especially by bike, we are going to enjoy a less crowded Bangalore or Chennai 🙂
Bangalore is connected to Yercaud via the NH44 – just one continuous highway. BORING !!!  with a lot of traffic. Luckily somewhere along the way I figured out we could take a diversion, half an hour extra but we were on tree lined village roads, with mountains all around. This we loved, no traffic, a glimpse into the life of the villages, every face telling a story. We stopped for some buttermilk, at this store under the shade of a tree.
Zero waste village store
A jug of buttermilk cost us 10Rs, no plastic cups or straws in the shop. She also sold ragi porridge, with a dollop of pickle on a tiny banana leaf. It seemed to be a local favourite, we saw several men enjoying it – a swig of the porridge and a lick of the pickle.
By 10:00 am we were on the hills, and since we took a detour from the highway, we were climbing up a bumpy road through a forest. It was quiet, we could hear birds and an occasional monkey ran across the road.
Up the hills
The forest gave way to hill villages, red tiled roof houses clustered around winding lanes, men lounging in their lungis and children chasing tyres. The women are always working I suppose, never seen a lounging woman, with a beedi in her mouth contemplating the world go by.
 there was a village there were small shops selling mangoes and jackfruit. We stopped for a snack, and saw these weird tubers. They were popular all over this area. They are called attu kal in Tamil – which translates to goats leg, and were selling like hot cakes ! Guess they are a traditional local root, which will probably be forgotten in a while. Have no idea how it tastes.
Strange tubers – goat leg
The temperature had dropped, the summer in Bangalore has been unbearable so far, and the air was deliciously cold. As we climbed higher, the villages gave way to plantations. Almost all of Yercaud’s natural cover is gone, it is mostly pepper plantations. Many resorts and homestay claim to be in the forest and the woods, but  they really mean plantations. Nevertheless it is beautiful landscape, tall trees reaching to the sky covered with pepper vines , a far cry from the traffic, noise and pollution of Bangalore.
Pepper plantations
By 11:30 we passed a Yercaud Lake, where you can hire pedal boats, or take a boat ride on a row boat, or for some strange reason a motor boat. NOT MY SCENE
I must warn you that it when it comes to boating, I am a snob. I grew up in Chennai, where the summers are pretty unbearable and we always escaped to Kodaikanal for a month. We did this since I was born till I went to college and all our schedules changed. It was a tradition from my dad’s family from the time he was a boy. So invariably all my cousins and second cousins would also be in Kodaikanal at that time. It was a time of marvellous endless summers; the four of us would cycle around the lake every morning and bump into our family and friends. we would yell our greetings to each other and then head to the club for breakfast. The rest of the mornings would be spent lazing, and reading books while my parents cooked lunch. The highlight of the day would be just before or after lunch, when my dad would take us rowing. He was a fantastic oarsmen, and would row us around the lake, and we would sing songs and pick up lilies. It was my favourite part of the day. Once we got a little older, he taught us to row. My brother and I would squish ourselves onto one seat and hold one oar each with both hands and try to find a rhythm. By 10 I could row on my own, and we would take two boats, my mom and I in one and my brother and dad in the other. my brother desperately trying to get taller so he could row without my dad’s assistance. Once again the lake would be dotted with our family and friends and we would raise oars in greeting. Just writing about it makes me so nostalgic, and I wish I could transport myself back to that time, and transport Kodai back to its golden era. So since I am a rower extraordinaiare as is most of my family, I look at pedal boats with absolute disdain and would rather jump into the freezing lake rather than being rowed around by a boatman.
A bunch of us including my  brother and the Other wen to Kodai in 2010, and I was so excited to take the Other on the boat. But As I rowed him around, showing of my skill all I saw was fear on his face.. humpf.. by the second day it was my brother and me on a row boat taking turns to slide through the water noiselessly, while the other and our friends took pedal boats with mickey mouse heads on them and moved around in circles. I have no words for this disrespect to rowing !!! What have I married !
Who doesn’t apprceciate the movement of an oar, watching it dip into the still water, completing the storke noiselessly, feeling the boat glide through the water, the beauty of it all…
Anyways coming back to Yercaud, we drove past the tiny lake and went higher up the hills to where we were staying – WoW bison woods. The resort is set in about an acre of land, but with very clever planting they have made it seem a lot bigger than it is, and provided for lots of tiny nooks and corners. The main building houses a restaurant and a few rooms, overlooking a garden where they grow a lot of their vegetables.
Prickly paw paw from the garden
A circuitous path takes you through the trees to the tents in the periphery of the compound. The tents are great, with air-conditioning, a clean toilet, and a little verandah. The best part of the tent is a little private garden with a coffee table and hammock.
Our little private garden
 A high fence with creepers hides you from view, and it is a little piece of paradise, where no one can see you, you can lie on the grass, or the hammock and see nothing but tree tops around.
Nap time
 I took an afternoon nap there, watching a bird of prey circle up high ahead, circle circle.. wider and wider and it disappeared as I dozed off.
Thanks to our 45 days trip Dec – Jan 2016, I have stayed in a lot of hotels in the recent past, but nowhere have I slept on pillows more comfortable than at Bison Woods. The ITC hotels where you can request for different kinds of pillows comes a close second, but I would go back here just for the pillows. The Other is someone who turns up his nose at luxury, and to my surprise even he couldn’t stop raving about the pillows. The resort also has a dewats ( decentralised waste water treatment system) to treat the sewage which is great. It is a n initiative I have been trying to propagate as part of work in old cities and slums with very little success as the entrenched bureaucracy in our country are married to their convention of pipes and manholes, and where it is not possible to lay them they would rather not have sanitation than try out an alternate system. All the sewage from the tents and the main building is directed through a series of tanks which include one with canna plants and another which is underground. The treated water is finally collected in a polishing pond in the open. The storm water from the compound is also directed to this pond. It is a great way to harvest and recycle water.
Waste water treatment
This and the fact they didn’t provide miniature plastic bottles in the toilet, but had soap and shampoo dispensers was a big plus for me. The three things I didn’t like about the place was the food, it was rather mediocre and only vegetarian. ( I am still a vegetarian, this is just for the rest of you) The breakfast was great though with mouth watering chutneys, both lunch and dinner had a few stand out dishes made out of vegetables from their garden, but over all it was mediocre. The staff were great, polite courteous and very well trained.
The resort also does not have a bar, and there are no alcohol shops in Yercaud town. We had to ride 15 KM through the beautiful ghats to a village called semalatham near by to buy our fix for the night. The tents also come with TVs, which I think should be avoided when the campus is small. It is IPL season, and as we wandered around the garden, we would hear the match going on from several tents which was a bit of a pain. The other thing I was disappointed by was that the woods near the resort was a fenced of private property, so there was no where to go for a walk or a ramble and we obviously didn’t see any bison. An uninspiring and sullen guide took us for a morning walk through the plantation, a beautiful landscape, lots of birds, monkeys eating jackfruit but zero information. I am lucky that the Other is a wealth of information when it comes to natural history –  he can identify birds with their call,  spot camouflaged rock agamas and has tidbits about everything, from why termites nest a certain way to how ficus attracts birds. But the rest were not so lucky, they had to make do with a few selfies in a green environment.
Though the Other hates these kind of fake forest resorts, and staying in plantations and is vocal about it, I think its great for city folk who don’t have access to other natural habitats. Everyone cannot boast of Bandhipur national park being their office.
Compared to the himalyan towns and villages and ooty and Kodaikanal in the south, Yercaud is a bit of the underdog, but it also means it has less people, great weather, and you can ride around for miles without seeing buildings. We spent our days riding around, eating and napping and just enjoying the weather.
riding around the ghats
We also found a great coffee shop called beans and brews inside a lakeside hotel. This place has a wide variety of coffee and it is all delicious. They even have civet coffee – which is coffee made from beans digested by wild civets and then collected from their droppings. I was too queasy to try it, but couldn’t resist buying a packet. It beckons me from the shelf every day but I am yet to try it.
Civet Coffee
The other’s sister went to Yercaud the week after us, and said it was worth trying, so maybe this week. The civet coffee is offcourse an indian version of the famous kopi luwak from Indonesia. Earlier it was a rarity as people searched for the beans in civet droppings and less than 240 KG of the coffee was available per year, worldwide. But like anything good it has got spoilt with greed. Civets in Indonesia are kept in captivity and forced to eat nothing but coffee beans and kopi luwak is now mass produced. Poor poor things, imagine being force fed something you used to enjoy in small quantities… while being kept prisoner in a tiny cage. The civet coffee sold in brews and beans, proudly claims to be from wild civet droppings, so I bought it with a clear conscience.
Yercaud also offered us great opportunities of people watching. As wow bison woods was small, and the meals were buffets in a little terrace, you had plenty of time. One family that intrigued me were a couple with a 6 – 7 year old daughter. He was quiet and resigned and seemed like the third party in the marriage. The main players were the very loud mother and the whiny daughter. The mother had eyes for no one else, and practiced a very loud form of parenting. The dining area was  a classroom and all of us forced spectators. They never once spoke to each other. One night, he wanted to take a stroll after dinner, and she proclaimed that she was tired. He didn’t say a word, he just turned and followed her back to their room. Why didn’t he go for a walk on his own ?? So many marriages around me are just power games, it is scary.
As we were getting ready to leave, his eyes lit up when he saw us in our bike gear and came up to talk to us. He enquired about buttercup and where we from … looked at the luggage carrier and asked us if he had done a long trip.. we told him about our 45 day journey.. he began to tell us about his trip a few years back to Leh. It was the most alive he had looked. But it was shortlived. His daughter had joined us 15 seconds into the conversation and was tugging at his leg, he looked embarrassed and excused himself and followed her. Sigh….
One more coffee at brews and beans and it was time to leave. We got lost  on our way back in the hills, deep inside plantations, I love getting lost. It had rained the whole weekend, the air was cool, there were giant puddles and we chanced upon these adorable children selling mangoes. They had obviously plucked them for a nearby tree and had no idea on what to charge. One said 5rs a mango, another said 10, and th third hopefully piped 20. We gave them a 50 and said give us how many ever mangoes you want to , and we got 5. Amidst much giggles and fanfare we exchanged names and took a few photos. They made my day.
Cuteness overload
We got baked on the way back – never riding in may again. Meet you all back on track on buttercupgoes west – next stop is Kerala !!

Published by: aninsightfulnut

I am quite the wave rider, have surfed through life quite happily. From school, to college and work and college again and work work work .. and now I am afraid I am running out of waves... and hence the blog. I spend my lunch breaks reading quite a few, and have been itching to join the band wagon. Plus my favourite bloggers all have lives and don't write as often as I read :)

Categories adventure, growing up, Relationships, Travel, Wanderlust, worldy matters1 Comment

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