Friday, December 24, 2010

On the road to Kodaikanal

The road to Kodaikanal, from Bangalore, is via National Highway 7 (NH7) for most of the way. You can breakup the drive into these pieces, sort of.
  • The first is getting out of Bangalore. If you take an early start, you will beat all the morning hour rush of people heading into Bangalore and towards Electronic City. Best to do that, lest you end up spending the good part of an hour in and out of traffic jams. Since you have to be on NH7, a good starting point from where to measure distance and time is from the Central Silk Board junction. From that point, you have to go straight down the road. You can get on to the elevated expressway (Google Maps link, official web site) (Hosur Road - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia), which saves you time but costs some Rs 40 for a one-way trip on the 10km expressway. If you run into traffic, this is probably a good option, since you will cover the 10kms in less than 15 minutes, versus the half an hour or more that you could end up driving on the same stretch of road.
  • The second part is where you get out of Hosur. Bangalore may end a few kilometers from Electronic City, but Hosur is also pretty busy. Slow going there also. The road is not in very good condition, primarily because of heavy vehicular traffic that frequents this stretch. You will also come across several trucks lined up at the side of the highway. All this means that navigating this stretch is slow going.
  • The third stretch is to Krishnagiri. The highway can be a bit congested because this is also the highway that people take when traveling to and from Chennai. It is only at Krishnagiri that the road to Chennai branches off as NH46. Traffic thins out after this on the highway. Some 15 kms before Krishnagiri, at Shoolagiri, you have an Adyar Anand Bhavan restaurant, and 5 kms before that a Cafe Coffee Day and a couple of restaurants.
  • The fourth stretch is from Krishnagiri to Salem. Traffic is much less here, the road is excellent, and you can do good speed here. What is good speed? Well, weather and traffic conditions permitting, 100kmph is very doable. Some even speed at 120kmph+, but that is not recommended. It's way too fast for you to have time to respond to a sudden eventuality, like a goat deciding to cross the road at the last moment, or a bicyclist deciding to run the gauntlet to the other side of the highway despite the frantic protestations of your honking.
  • The last stretch on this highway is from Salem to Dindigul. While there is a bypass to skirt you around Salem, you still end up entering the town, and may get caught up in the traffic here. After Salem, the highway is much, much less busy, and you can do very good speed here. If the weather is good, you can do 100 kmph for extended periods of time. There is nothing here by way of a Cafe Coffee Day or a nice restaurant. There may be something inside the towns you pass along the way, like Namakkal or Karur, but that would mean getting off the highway, and this adds to your travel time.
  • You have to get off the highway just before Dindigul and take old NH45 and then the Kodai Ghat Road. From Dindigul to Kodaikanal is approximately 90 kms, and expect to take 2-3 hours to cover this stretch.
If you get an early start, you can get to Dindigul in 5 hours. That is 360 kms. So, doing an average of 70 kmph over five continuous hours is very good. As good as it can get on most highways in India. The last 90 odd kms however, from Dindigul to Kodaikanal, would take at most 3 hours. So, if you take a break or two to fuel up and to eat, add another hour, and you can be in Kodaikanal in 9 hours. Start at 6AM and you will be there by 3PM.

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This stretch below is after you have crossed the town of Salem, but have not quite left the hills of Yercaud completely behind. It was an overcast day, with the threat of rain on the horizon, and the clouds low enough to cover the top of the hills. The mountains in the background, and a beautifully asphalted stretch of the national highway, gentling curving its way around the mountains. I just had to stop and shoot this vista.

The Kodai Hills can be seen in the background here as you drive towards Kodaikanal, on the Kodai Ghat Road.

You know how some signals convey a ton of information? This is one such signal. The hoarding that advertises the weary and hungry traveler to the presence of a hotel not too far away - a trifling 30kms away. Let us look at the words that signal to us. First, the words "high class". Now this is almost certainly a guarantee that the hotel is likely to be infested with flies flying over food. Yes, please try for yourself, and the correlation would be hard to miss. Second, the presence of a "secured car park". Hundreds of kilometers away from a large city like Bangalore or Chennai, parking is not likely to be a problem, for the most part. If this restaurant needs to advertise that it provides secure parking tells a lot. Not all of it may turn out to be true, but nonetheless. The bottom line - if you can, avoid such restaurants. You could do a lot better by stopping a roadside dhaba and grabbing a vada pav, or plain plate of idli, or even some fruits.

I don't know which waterfall this is, but the vista was absolutely breathtaking. Partially hidden behind the mist, where you cannot make out the outlines of the mountains from which the waterfall makes it appearance, it seems to fall from the middle of the skies. Because of the continuing rains, the

As you near Kodaikanal, once you are in the Kodai hills, the road snakes left and then right and then left again. It climbs a lot, goes down a bit, and then climbs again. There are culverts at almost every turn to allow water a passage downhill.

The road is not in great shape, but it is not bad either.

The rains and the height make for lush surroundings. The green is very, very green. A very vibrant shade of green. The foliage is thick.

This is a milepost you will see if you approach Kodai from Madurai. Actually, the other way round.

This milepost below is on the way to Kodai, as you are southbound on the highway.

If it rains, it pours. If it is the mountainsides you are talking about, then it pours earth. As landslides. Incessant rains over the past several days had all been absorbed by the earth. Some of it flowed away, but there a substantial amount of water lay trapped in the soil. The soil kept on getting heavier with all this water, and as some breaking point is reached where the soil can no longer keep itself together under the weight of the heavy earth, a mudslide happens. And not in one or two places. The mudslides appear in dozens of places. That blocks the narrow mountain path leading up to the hill station of Kodaikanal. When we reached this spot below, the earth mover had already been there for some time, and the support staff had been doing a commendable job of clearing the debris away. We had to wait some 20 minutes before the road was cleared enough for the vehicles to start moving again. But the people the day before had not been so lucky. Many were stuck on the road for over 5 hours before they could proceed on with their journeys. For the month of November, such rains are fairly uncommon.

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.