We just completed a major product suite release recently and have been raring to go out some place and take a nice short break. After much thought and discussion we settled on going back to Kerala. Our initial plans were to go out on a 1 night and 2 day trip, but as discussions progressed we realized how much we loved going out as a team and pretty soon the 1 night 2 day trip stretched out to encompass all of 4 nights and 3 days ! Our initial apprehensions about many folks not being able to attend a trip this long was dispelled when almost everyone signed up enthusiastically. So, off we went on a trip that turned out to be one very memorable and exciting experience.
Here's a high level summary of our trip and the main places we visited -
We had booked a vehicle (Tempo Traveller) for the trip and the vehicle promptly arrived at our office around 5:45 PM on wednesday, the 28th of May. We started our trip on wednesday evening at about 6:30 PM from our office in Bangalore. We left towards Hosur to pick up one of our organizers who lives there and after picking him up from there we reached Dharmapuri where we stopped for dinner. It was a little late by the time we found a hotel. There was a limited spread available at that time. Personally, i enjoyed the chettinad style food that was served at the hotel although some of our vegetarian members had a little tough time finding veggie dishes. After dinner, we left towards our first destination, the temple town of Guruvayur. After some games and singing in the vehicle, we fell asleep.
At dawn we reached Guruvayur. The next important activity was to find the hotel which we had booked and after a little searching we found the place. The plan was to freshen up and visit the famous Guruvayur temple. There are guidelines to be followed while visiting the temple and one of them was stipulations on the clothing that may be worn. Men had to wear the traditional mundu with nothing on the top. Ladies wore sarees or full length skirts. Also, there is a restriction on non-Hindus visiting the temple. So, while the rest of the team left to visit the temple, i remained at the hotel and ordered a traditional Kerala style breakfast which proved to be too much for me to finish. After a couple of hours, the team returned from their temple visit. We spent a while changing back into our usual casual attire and some fun times later, checked out of the hotel to proceed towards Nelliyampathy. Oh ! btw, we took a detour to visit the elephant camp/sanctuary/whatever ... this is run by the temple board and has several elephants from the young tiny tots weighing probably a ton or two, to the elderly retirees probably weighing a couple more tons. We saw elephants being trained, some lazing around, some being bathed, even one who was being ordered to bathe itself and it complied ! It took a while to go around the place and see the elephants while making sure not to get too close to any of those seemingly gentle looking animals. Oh yes, once, just once we did venture to hold an elephant by its tusks ! and pose for a picture .... it involved a little monetary exchange with a mahout who stood behind the animal's trunk whilst each of us brave hearts, nervously held on to a tusk just long enough to capture this moment in the bytes in our digicams. We could probably claim bragging rights to having triumphantly held on to the tusk of a living elephant while the animal meekly looked at us (note to myself: must not forget to do a little touch up on the picture; that mahout's arms are visible in the picture). We then left for Nelliyampathy.
On the way to Nelliyampathy, we stopped for food and after a sumptuous lunch continued the journey. Towards evening we reached the resort at Nelliyampathy. The place was beautiful nestled amidst forests and hills, it was a sea change from where we had left. Our plan was to take a couple of jeeps upto the peaks of Nelliyampathy and from there go on a night safari into the nearby jungles. The same jeeps were to be used for both trips and we were advised that the trip would not be an easy one. After settling in at the resort, we took the two modified 4 wheel drive jeeps on our trip to the peaks. What a journey it was ! To say that every cell in our body was thoroughly shaken is a fact that we can all attest to. There were what looked like roads but as we continued on our journey, we realized the importance of having a 4 wheel drive vehicle as we clambered up a sheet of rock, discovered new paths in the jungle and mountainous terrain, and to cut a long story short, experience a journey of a lifetime. Frankly, the journey did a couple of things - one, it made the usual roller coaster ride pale in comparison and two, the paths we traversed changed our perception of how good/bad a road can/cannot be. Some of the crater ridden roads back home seem silky smooth when compared to what we went through and if you thought any of us were complaining, No ! we loved every moment of it - it was a long journey up the mountain but every moment was wonderful and worth the experience. After reaching the top of the peak, we parked our jeeps and go out to some truly awesome breathtaking scenery. Standing here and looking around, its easy to feel like you are on top of the world. You notice the clouds below you, yes you read that right; the clouds are below and its a heady feeling standing there, breathing in the un-polluted air and having the slightly chill breeze envelope your being. We savored the moment and gaped in awe at the magnificence on display before lying down on the peak, looking up at the sky which still seemed far away. It was evening and in the last few moments before the sun set, we decided to leave and begin our night safari in the jungles around the mountains.
Back we went creating our roads and plunged into the jungles. Before we knew it, it was dark. This is darkness to be experienced indeed. At a couple of points, we switched off our jeeps and drank in the sounds of the jungle as we eagerly awaited any animals that might cross our way. Frankly, being in thick jungle complete with assorted sounds of the forest, and absolutely no light except some fire flies that popped up once in a while was something we will not forget. We slowly made our way over bone-shaking terrain in the dense forest. The journey was long and yes, we did encounter some animals. Notable ones included a wild bison that crossed our path, some deer that ran away as our jeep approached them and finally the icing on the cake - few elephants ! There was a small baby surrounded by a couple of over-sized elephants walking protectively around the little one. Our paths would have crossed (eventfully ?) had we been a minute or two earlier. As we progressed, we came across fresh elephant dung on the road and became suspicious of the presence of elephants nearby. In just about a couple minutes, our doubts were cleared as we saw them cross the road right in front of us. There must have been about 100 metres or so distance separating us from them and we humbly switched off our lights lest we invite their unwanted attention. After they left we decided to turn back. We had to drive in reverse for a little distance since the path we were on seemed to be on the edge of a mountain. After finding a little place to manouevre the jeeps, we quickly turned around and sped away over the craters and boulders that littered our path.
After the night safari, we reached our resort and had the customary exciting team events plus a camp fire was organized, with good music, great food and drink. After spending most of the night around the fire playing a host of games, we retired for the night. Next morning we set out to go to Kumarakom. The vegetarians in our team insisted we stop at a veggie restaurant for breakfast. After a stop for a quick breakfast, we were on our way to the land of houseboats and back waters. After about 5 hours of travel during which time we again tried our hand at a variety of fun games in our vehicle, we reached our destination. We soon checked in to our houseboat which was awaiting us. The houseboat we had booked, had 3 bedrooms, a central gathering place/ viewpoint & kitchen. It was beautifully done and we lost no time in settling in. Our plan was to be on the houseboat until late next day morning. We sailed away from land and moved into vaster expanses of water. On one side the green sliver of land with lush coconut plantations and everywhere else, endless expanse of calm water. Without delving too much into all the fun and frolic on the boat, will just gloss over some of the proceedings ... good food cooked on the houseboat by the crew, fine scenery combining thin stretches of land swathed in green, trees gently swaying in the breeze with vast blue waters, hyper-enthusiastic and fun team ... nice recipe for some memorable times. I could write a lot about our experiences on the houseboat, but suffice it to say - it was another great experience and we simply loved it.
Next day by around 11 AM we left Kumarakom on our way to Cochin. At Cochin, we went down marine drive and parked our vehicle bang in front of an area where a protest was due to start in an hour or so. Anyways, outsiders such as us were not expected to be aware of these little details and off we went to hire a boat while leaving the driver with the vehicle. After some negotiation, we found a boat that had its front shaped like a train and hired the same to take us on a 2 hour voyage that covered Bolgatty palace island, the Cochin harbor, viewing Dolphins on the way, the Chinese fishing nets which we saw in full action, going to the mouth of the harbor and seeing the Arabian sea in its splendor, seeing several ships and passing by the Indian Navy's ships that were docked at the Naval jetty. For the journey we had the boat's owner as our guide. He was an ex-Navy person with a lot of knowledge about the sea and ships. At the end of two hours, we got back at Cochin's marine drive after a great trip around the harbor. Now, it was time for lunch and we decided to go visit the Forum Mall. The food court's much smaller in comparison to the Forum Mall at Bangalore, but hey the place was air-conditioned and clean. After the fairly hot sun, the coolness was most welcome. Finished our meal and after some freshening up, we visited a local market nearby to shop for spices and condiments. After traversing the maze of narrow streets, we finally set off to find our vehicle. The police had meanwhile asked the driver to park our vehicle at a distance. After an unplanned mini-trek, we found our vehicle and plonked down, all set for the long journey ahead to Bengalooru.
Needless to state the obvious, the trip back was a lot of fun with this exuberant gang all set on making the most of every moment. On the way we raided a bakery looking for some tea and snacks. Later that night, we stopped at Palakkad for dinner. We found a nice place where we were the only customers and had a large projection TV that was showing the final IPL cricket match. All of us sat around the TV and ordered dinner. We sat there for a long time there and left after the match was over ! It was good fun watching this important game which we thought we'd miss. Later on we did make another stop for some tea and found many small stalls selling hot chips of all varieties. As our journey progressed, we continued our games and fun activities until later in the night when we slowly drifted asleep. Woke up as we neared Hosur, in the morning. Pretty soon we reached our office where we had parked our vehicles. Looking back it was a great experience spending all this time with this dream team.