The crisp morning air and foggy roads were quite a treat at 6 AM on the way to the KSRTC bus stand. On reaching the bus stand I approached the reservation counter to enquire about the tickets to Virajpet and behind the counter were these two lovely ladies who were absolutely oblivious of their surroundings or the time of the day and were yakking away to glory. It made me wonder if I would ever have the motivation to get up and sit at a counter at 6 :30 AM every morning in the cold. Anyway, once I interrupted them, they very sweetly sent me to the correct bus and told me to buy the ticket on the bus itself. The bus arrived in few minutes and I was giddy with excitement to get on with my adventure which involved me getting on to a government bus. It had been 20 years since I last did that.
2 hours and 30 minutes later, I was in Virajpet, I had to take an auto to the private bus stand as there were no buses from the KSRTC stand to Kabinakad. All through the 45 minute journey to Kabinakad the bus was swerving violently as the driver maneuvered through the narrow roads which dips in and out of thick forests, suddenly opening up to large fields with grand views of the majestic hills. Another interesting thing about this bus ride was that I got to see how the Indian postal system works in these parts. Every stop, a postman was standing with a big brown jute bag of letters and parcels, which got flung into the open bus door and landed right under the seat of the conductor. He looked barely 17 but the conductor knew exactly when and where each of these bags were supposed to go. It was perfect. Before every stop he ran to the front collecting tickets and then ran to the back to usher in passengers while collecting and dispatching the mail.
As I got down from my bus in Kabinakad, I heard a voice shout out to me “You, Chingaara!” I said “Yes!” equally loudly. It was the driver from the resort where I would be staying for the next couple of day. He quickly pointed towards a jeep waiting for me on a small side road. I could see that this road had all the makings of a good village road that would take me to my destination – Chingaara estate house. 15 minutes of exchanging pleasantries with the driver in Malayalam (which by the way everyone speaks here), we arrived at this very steep road which opened into a clearing that had a small cottage on the right and on the left I could see mountain ranges in the distance through the trees.
My host Ajith got me settled in my room quickly where I took some rest after a good lunch. Later I started exploring the property which was as if right out of a movie set. There was a main building which had a restaurant on the ground floor and some rooms on the first floor. The ground floor was an open verandah type construction with lots of plants and picket fences surrounding the area, with a couple of friendly dogs and a pup scampering about. A few other guests included a couple of hens and a few donkeys that brayed every now and then. The property has one main building where the cooking happens adjacent to the restaurant, another building about 50 feet away that has a few rooms on the first floor and the cottage where I was put up. Wherever I stood, I could see the mountains in the distance. The weather had a crisp nip in the air. And mixed with the warmth of the mountain sun, it felt just heavenly. I couldn’t wait to get started.
After a few hours of rest, I walked up to their main property that was situated a little higher up on the hill called the Honey Valley Resort. The single, rocky path was surrounded by the thick forest and was full of bright red and yellow flowers, thick cobwebs on the floor with sounds of various birds calling out to each other, perhaps to indicate that there was someone from the city walking in their back yard. There was not a soul in sight for the entire one and a half kilometer stretch to the resort. This was perhaps a trailer for what came the next day.