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Published: February 18th 2010
"Excuse me Sir. Please step aside" barked a stern looking man in a pressed brown uniform.
It was a cool but piercingly bright morning, the air filled with birdsongs, when I was stopped and questioned by the police. I had arrived in Kodaikanal, a hill station perched at 8000 feet, the night before and was out taking a morning walk to explore the town.
"Where are you walking, sir?" "Why do you take this road?" the officer continued, in a tone that suggested he was a man to take seriously.
I paused. I wasn't really heading to any particular destination - I was just out exploring the town and had not expected to have any problems. I calmly told this to the officer and his tone lightened slightly. He immediately proceeded to ask the obligatory "Where are you from?" and "how long are you travelling" type questions. As the questioning continued the officer's tone lightened considerably, and after about twenty minutes of questioning he was laughing and shaking my hand. Apparently, some powerful politicians were visiting Kodaikanal that day and their motorcade was headed up the road I was walking along. About half an hour after I was stopped the motorcade passed, close to 60 4X4s in all, and I was free to go.
Kodaikanal is nicknamed the Princess of Hill Stations, but for me it lacked in charm compared to the green hills of Munnar I had just visited. Sure the scenery around the town was gorgeous, but it seemed that the whole time I was there I was faced with one frustrating encounter after another. In retrospect its all pretty hilarious, but that first morning I had no idea that getting stopped by the police would be the first in a long series of events.
First of all, I needed to buy new batteries for my camera so I could take pictures while out hiking. However, after three hours and several of failed attempts, I came to the conclusion that no business in town sold AA batteries with enough juice left to power my camera, so sadly I have no pictures of my own from Kodaikanal. By the time I had determined that I wouldn't find the batteries it was too late to take a long hike, so I retreated to my Guesthouse to relax for the night.
I was planning to stay for three nights, and had already pre-paid for the first two at the Guesthouse. It was run by an outgoing, but overly inqusitive family, who would wander into my room whenever I was home, start going through my things, and start asking questions about my belongings. Although they seemed very friendly, there was something about the whole thing that me uneasy. It hardly felt like I had fallen asleep the second night, when I was awoken by a pounding at my door. Stumbing through the dark, I opened the door to find the father and two of his sons standing there. As soon as they saw me they started to shout ""money! money!". I slammed the door back shut and locked it after telling them that I would not be staying another night and would find another place to stay. Maybe I was too hard on them, but there is something jarring about being woken up before dawn in a foreign country to the sound of three men pounding at your door yelling "Money Money!" I left as soon as the sun was up and checked into another place down the road for my last night there.
My last day in Kodaikanal I wanted to get out of town to hike around a nearby lake up in the mountains. However, getting there would be difficult, because the lake was at the end of a 25 km dead-end road, and no public transit plied the route. I talked to a couple taxi drivers about driving me to the lake, but they were only interested in selling me day-long tours, and refused to just take me there to hike. Finally I found a driver who was willing to drop me off to hike. He told me that the lake was in a restricted area and I would need to get a permit first to hike there. We soon found out that the permit office was closed due to a holiday, and there would be a checkpoint 14km/8miles before the lake blocking the road there. The driver suggested that he just drive me as far as the checkpoint and I could hike the rest of the way in by foot. We stopped just before the checkpoint and the driver showed me a small footpath that he told me would get me around the checkpoint without being spotted. It worked, and I had a spectacular hike. The scenery was amazing with vantage points of the plains over a mile below. I saw wild monkeys, who would get belligerent and start throwing sticks if I looked at them too long. There were also wild bison-like creatures that would snort and grunt and break down small trees as they tramped through the underbrush. In all I hiked about 30km/over 18 miles to the lake and back. Arriving back at the checkpoint I got a ride back into town by a 60 year old German man who was spending months touring India by motorcycle.
The last day I have been in Madurai, which has a spectacular Hindu temple. I am trying to head to Bangalore tonight, but the train is sold out. However, here in India anything is possible so I am meeting the station supervisor tonight, who may be able to get me on the train. Stay tuned for the next blog - hopefully with photos.
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