Sunday, July 5, 2020

Kerala's Tribal Belt to India's Silicon Valley (To Bangalore via Mulli, Ooty)

Mannarkkad – Mukkali - Agali – Mulli – Ooty – Masinagudi - Bandipur - Mysore – Bangalore

I saw Western Ghats every day from my birth till I left for Bangalore as part of job. Even in Bangalore, nothing fascinated me like those memories. Hence, I decided to go to Western Ghats as much as possible and to try to cross the mountain on all routes.

So far, I completed,

a.      Via Kanyakumari (TN) - Nagarcoil (TN)

b.      Via Palakkad Gap [Palakkad (KL) - Coimbatore (TN)]

c.      Via Anakatti [Mannarkkad (KL) - Coimbatore (TN)]

d.      Via Amarambalam, Mudumalai, Bandipur National Parks [Nilambur (KL) - Gudlupete (KR)]

e.      Via Bandippur Tiger Reserve [Muttanga (KL) - Gundlupete (TN)]

f.       Via Nagarhole National Park [Kattikulam (KL) - Kabini (KR)]

g.      Via Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary [Virajpet (KR) - Iritty (KL)]

h.      Via Sakleshpur [Sakleshpur (KR) - Subrahmanya Road (KR)]

i.       Via Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary

j.       Via Kulem - Castle Rock

Looking back, I think I could have completed couple more routes like, Teni-Kumily and Aliyar-Athirapally.

Mannarkkad to Mukkali

I never knew about this route until Eldho told me on an evening that they went to Ooty via Mulli. Back then I had no idea that the route existed. Even though vast stretches of Attapadi mountain ranges comes under Mannarkkad taluk, I hardly went to that area and had little understanding about roads there. So, I created plans to go through Mulli to Mysore and from there to Bangalore.

On that eventful day, I left home an hour later than planned. Within 10-20 minutes I crossed Mannarkkad town; took a left turn to Mannarkkad -Anakatti-Coimbatore road. I went slowly. It's not only the wild beauty of hills which slowed me down excellent condition of roads as well!!! After crossing Aanamooli and taking couple of hairpins I reached Mukkali junction. Mukkali is the entry point to Silent Valley National Park.

Silent Valley

In terms of size, Silent Valley is a small national park. Its core zone is just around 90 (buffer zone is 148 This national park is part of Nilgiri subcluster. Silent Valley is also known as Sairandhrivanam (Sairandri means Draupati, wife of Pandavas and Vanam means Forest). It is believed that, British named this valley as Silent Valley because of the absence of Cicadas in the forest. This mountain range is one of the three hot spots of endemic centers in Kerala. Other two are, Agastyamala and Anamalai High ranges. This is one place where the combined might of government bureaucracy and KSEB (Kerala State Electricity Board) failed in front of monkeys knows as Lion Tailed Macaque. Well, I am simplifying it!!!

Kerala border post at Mulli

Mukkali to Mulli

From Mukkali onward road is parallel to Bhavani river. Further up comes Tavalam, from here I took left to Tavalam-Mulli road. After crossing the bridge, it was a smooth sail. From here Bhavani river will be on your right side. Before you reach Mulli, for a brief time you will enter Tamil Nadu and come back to Kerala.

Mulli police outpost is the last point in Kerala side. Since forest areas in and around Mulli are considered to have Maoist presence, Kerala Police deployed units of Thunderbolts here. Whoever passing through this road has go to the outpost and enter license details there. Thunderbolt is the commando wing of Kerala Police. At Tamil Nadu check post also it’s the same procedure; only difference is one need to pay 50 rupees there.

From here onward its almost an empty road. For a while, I wondered what I would do if I met any armed Maoists; fortunately, it did not happen. Due to so many turns, narrow road, and blind curves one cannot move fast through this stretch.  At Gaddi there is a dam and powerhouse known as Canada Powerhouse. Then a series of hairpin bends came. From dam onward there was 43 hair pin bends. In fact, I updated my own record of crossing maximum hairpins in a day (BR Hills to Bhavani Sagar in Satyamangalam Tiger Reserve). At that time, I hardly knew that I was going to update that record again on the same day.

 Manjur Town to Ooty

This road took me to Coonoor - Manjur road; from that junction I went in wrong direction and ended up in Manjur town. Well I had to come back and finally on the way to Ooty. On the way I got lot more hairpins; kept updating my number of hairpins record in a single stretch!!! Kiloor… Chamraj estate… Kaikatty… Kallakorai Osatti… Lovedale… Ketti Valley viewpoint… Charring cross…

Ooty (Udagamandalam, Nilgiris district)

Finally, at Ooty - once a calm and quiet tribal area. This hill area came under various kingdoms before its annexation by British East India company in 1799. In 1819 John Sullivan, then collector of Coimbatore district camped at Kotagiri and was thrilled by the beauty of Ooty. Todas ceded land to Sullivan; he built roads, which was later extended to Coonoor. Sullivan is known as the founder of British settlement in Ooty. He also introduced horticulture in Nilgiris; as well as Potato, Barley and other agricultural products. Sullivan also built Ooty lake. This hill station attracted Europeans in India and in 1928 Ooty became a military condonement. It is to be remembered here that, his son Henry Sullivan went on to become the collector of Coimbatore and another son Andrew Sullivan served in Madras Civil Service.

Ooty went on to become the summer capital of Madras presidency and nearby Wellington become home to regimental center for Madras Regiment. Madras regiments history goes back to 1660s; however, it was formed as a battalion in 1748. This regiment was commanded by notable people like Robert Clive, Arthur Wellesley etc. Ooty also has a good number of top boarding schools.

Post-independence Ooty (along with Kodaikanal) became top honeymoon destination for Keralites; before Singapore, Thailand, Malesia, Bali etc took that place.

However, urbanization destroyed a lot in Ooty and it is slowly looks like any other town. I slowly crossed Ooty town via Ooty - Mysore road. Big pine tree forests were really good and pull anyone in. Unfortunately, it was afternoon and I wanted to reach Bangalore before midnight. Looking back, I could have stayed there for couple of days and explore - including Nilgiri mountain railway, Avalanche lake, Ooty lake, Emerald lake, Botanical garden, Needle rock and Kodagiri.

Soon I reached Tamil Nadu RTO check point at the exit. My plan was to take Masinagudi road to Bandipur. Unfortunately, traffic police did not let me take that route. They asked me to go via Gudallur. After denying the request for a second time, I took Naduvattam - Gudallur road to reach Bandipur. It’s a good road; numerous Tamil Nadu and interstate buses were parked on roadsides. Both school children and college students want to spent time in Ooty. Sides of the roads were so beautiful that I want to get down and sleep for a while.


Somewhere around Naduvattam, on a turn, I looked at the valley on the right for couple of seconds. Suddenly a SETC bus colored with green and light green paint appeared in the turning, coming from opposite direction. I hardly get time to think or do anything. I hit the bus head-on, right under driver's seat. I flew up in the air and after couple of seconds hit the road. For a moment everything blinked in front of my eyes. For five to ten seconds I simply lay on the road trying to understand what just happened.

I tried to count back and forth from 0-10 and try to remember couple of things. It is all working. I looked at my bike, its fell in the middle of the road, petrol was coming out from somewhere; handle was twisted; headlight was gone; there was a massive dent in petrol tank; in short entire front was gone. Back and the center portion was relatively untouched. If it was not for the iron body of Thunderbird, the question of repairing the bike may not even come up.

I tried to wake up and did it after some struggle. My right hand was broken. Left looked fine. There was a surge of pain in right leg, but I was not sure whether it is broken or not. People started coming out from the bus and started enquiring about what happened. After some time, Police also came. As per them, if I don’t want to file a FIR, then they wouldn't get involved. At that time, I was not sure whether filing FIR was a good idea or not. Hence, I said no. Later I realized that was a mistake. 

Let me tell you couple of things I learned from mistakes (for those who undertake long journeys).

a.      Take pictures of your vehicle from all major angles before you start. This will help you if insurance surveyor contests your claim

b.      Always go for FIR if the accident is serious. Always involve Police, if other side starts shouting or people who assemble in accident spot demands money on behalf of other party. 

c.      If possible, take picture of accident spot and all vehicles involved.

d.      Note down address of the place.

e.      In case you are in bike, make sure that you wear all protective gears (helmet, steel covers for hands and legs)

f.       For biker's - make sure that you have a good crash guard.

g.      Note down the number and whatever other possible details of other vehicles.

Real problem for me was leaving that forest area and reaching Bangalore. As per SETC (bus was going to Pollachi) driver, mistake (which was correct since bus was on its side and not speeding) was on my side and I need to pay for damages. Amount was 3k - to replace the dual headlamps on driver's side and metal sheets in the front. I didn't have that much money with me at that time and there was no ATM anywhere near that forest area. I also need to find a vehicle which could transport my bike to Bangalore.

There were a stream of vehicles going to Gudalur; I got into a lorry and went to town (which was some 25-30 kms away). Driver was good; he asked his assistant (in his early 20s; this happened in 2018 and I am not able to recall his name now) to help me. This guy spoke Malayalam. He dropped both of us somewhere in Gudalur. I tried multiple ATMs, but all were either empty or not working. Finally, I got a machine which had money. Next target was a hospital. Interestingly some clinics were closed on that day. Since the next day was Divali, people were in a hurry to reach home. Limping, I slowly walked forward and reached an Ayurvedic clinic. Doctors and nurses in that clinic were Keralites. They confirmed that the hand was broken, and I should see a doctor after reaching Bangalore. For time being, they applied some ayurvedic balms and tied my hand to a bamboo stick so that it will stay in place. They even advised me to leave the bike there and take it later. I had no idea when I would be able to come back; hence, I said thank you and left.

Lorry driver's assistant told me that, he will arrange a vehicle for me and my bike to go to Bangalore. We waited for a while and then a Mahindra jeep came. In that jeep, I went back to accident spot and paid SETC. Pulling Thunderbird into that jeep was not an easy task; some way they pulled it inside and tied tightly with jeep. We went back to Gudalur town and after stopping for some 15 minutes. Without any tablets or injections pain kept on rising.

Jeep guy charged me for both directions; since the next day was Divali (2018 Divali) as per my newfound friend and his friends not many people were interested in leaving the town on that night. For me total distance to travel was some 300-310km. My new friend told me that, he talked with a jeep driver and total cost was 10k and I have to pay that amount in advance. I obliged. If it's today, I don’t think I would have agreed to that. But then it was different time and situation. I was desperate to reach Bangalore. In fact, for their help I even gave 500 to them. Driver came in and we left Gudalur.

Now the real twist happened. Jeep driver asked me for money; I told him that I already paid. He asked me how much I gave, I told 10k. He immediately called jeep's owner. Then I understood the whole set up. My newfound friend and his friend was not actually helping me. What they did was, they made a deal with jeep driver for 8k and told me it was 10k. They took the difference. In addition to that, I, without knowing the scheme paid another 500 to them for their help.

That journey was a horror. My pain kept on increasing, I was not able to move my right hand anymore. Jeep was not covered well, and hence cold November wind came in. Jeep driver was never been to Bangalore and no idea about the route. I had to be awake for the whole time to give him the directions. Even in those long and wide roads he went slowly. On top of everything, he kept on asking time and remaining kilometers in every 15-20 minutes. In that night, I just wanted to sleep for a while and it never happened. After reaching Bangalore, he kept on asking for another 1000, which I eventually paid. 

After reaching the apartment, I called Akhil - my roommate. Akhil with Jeep driver and security guard pulled the vehicle out of that jeep. Then we called an Uber and went to St. Johns Medical College. Doctor's applied cast on my right leg and manually fixed bone alignment on right hand applied cast there as well. Even after taking all injections the procedure was very much painful. Early morning next day we left the hospital. Now one month on bed rest.

Some more lessons learned from accident

Most of the time, people who help us in accident, have good motives. However, when money comes into picture be careful. In case you know any friends or relatives in that area call them.

There are people who wanted to make money even in tragedies.

Take decisions slowly. Right after the accident you may not be able to take decisions. Give some time to think.


 Note: 1k = 1,000

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