A wedding, especially if it’s your own, is a mind-boggling experience. The silver lining however comes after you have rampaged through the numerous gifts you receive. Anything wrapped in a gift paper has the ability to fill our hearts with childlike wonder. I will be blamed of being outright ungrateful and greedy if I describe how I can tell whether a gift is a hand-me-down, recycled or one that screams out, “Hello stranger, here is an indifferent gift and you are free to pass it on.” In the middle of all this there are certain gifts that aren’t gift wrapped but they strike a chord instantly. Our friend Rohit falls in the latter category and he gifted us a weekend stay at the Club Mahindra property in Masinagudi called Casa Deep Woods. True to its name, Casa Deep Woods, was nestled deep into the Madhumalai jungle and unlike the artificially landscaped resorts, this one was built to be naturally wild and eerie.
We drove from Bangalore and clocked more than 700 kilometers in 3 days travelling to Masinagudi, Ooty and Doddabetta. We did the road trip in our reliable Alto through roads that were scary, treacherous and devoid of human habitation. Getting there was a fantastic experience mostly because of the high you get out of driving on spotless roads. City driving can kill the pleasure of driving because it ends up being a tap dance between the clutch and the brake. So when we hit the NICE highway between Bangalore & Mysore, it felt like we were skating for the first time on an ice rink. And the “nice” roads followed us all the way through the Bandipur National Forest on the Karnataka side of the border, and crossing over into the Madhumalai forest range on the TN side. We drove continuously with just one pit stop at Maddur for some scrumptious Maddur Vada.
It was the first time I saw elephants, peacocks and deer standing in the middle of the road, fearlessly watching the traffic pass by. It was one surreal moment after another as the roads through the jungles gave us something breathtaking at every twist and turn. After a lovely lunch, we checked into our cottage, which was right at the edge of the property line and gave us an unhindered view into the heart of the forest. When the manager informed us that there were leopards and cheetahs that were spotted on the property, I was in equal parts scared and awed. A big blackboard that captured the last time a guest spotted a tiger greeted us as we arrived, and our spirits were high. We were looking forward to three days of solitude, with nothing but the sounds of nature all around us.
On Saturday, we drove to Ooty, which is about half an hour away through the legendary “Road with 36 hairpin curves”. We didn’t stop in Ooty and proceeded to Doddabetta, hoping to do a bit of trekking in the jungle. As our luck would have it, all trekking routes were shut because of a cheetah attack not very long ago. We spent a few minutes exploring the Doddabetta peak and made our way back. The roads here are quite bad and we were constantly afraid that the tiny car would implode.
On our way down from Doddabetta, we stopped at a tea estate, had fresh masala chai and walked around the tea plantations. It was an experience like none other – completely cut off from the world, with just the two of us and a lot of tea! It was like a place made just for “Chai Around The World”.
A nasty detour forced us to drive 80 kilometers out of our way to reach Masinagudi on our way back. Travelers to Ooty beware – vehicles that are not TN registered are not allowed back on the 36-hairpin bend road to reach Masinagudi. You’ll have to take a very long and very dangerous detour. We almost became roadkill more than once, navigating crazy truck drivers and impatient tractors. After a hasty lunch at a hotel in the middle of nowhere, we arrived back in Masinagudi around five in the evening. Just in time for a scheduled “safari”.
The safari, which was supposed to show us a lot of wildlife, was a major disappointment. The forest department officials were not allowing any vehicles into the wild. We had to cruise along on the roads, hoping to spot a few animals. Apart from a herd of bison and an elephant far away in the distance, we didn’t see anything. Tired and frustrated, we reached our cottage around eight in the night and spent the night lazing around.
All in all, it was a very good trip and I still crave for those moments of absolute silence when all you can hear about you is the sounds of the jungle nibbling away in a corner. The overwhelming darkness, the wonderfully star-filled sky and the early morning haze – these are memories that are indelible.