Sunday, September 13, 2009

Casa Deep Woods - Not quite Phantom's home

The previous day, there was no plan for a weekend break. A Google search for an Environment Education project for my son took me to triggering thoughts of a weekend getaway. Cut to It offered a Casa Deep Woods, Masinagudi, package for 2 nights. Ten clicks later I was done with the booking – subject to an offline confirmation. In recessionary times, I reckoned, the confirmation was only a formality and decided to proceed without the confirmation – which was expected the next day.
The best thing about an extended weekend getaway, by car, is that your holiday begins when you want it. A little earlier or a little later than what you may have planned. In my case, this weekend holiday began on the 5th June at 5 am. Hurtling through the roads of Bengaluru at 80 kmph, I stepped on the gas on the City Market flyover and in minutes I was past Jnana Bharati , Kengeri beyond Ramanagaram and well enroute Mysore. Even at 100 kmph the engine purred, as if enjoying this part of the 250 kilometers drive.

Breakfast at Barista. The Bangalore-Mysore expressway is dotted with branded and unbranded eateries. You can have Dosa’s or Danish pastries. After an English Breakfast topped up with Mysore Coffee, we ignited the engine for the next leg. Since the journey is as important as the destination, I let the engine relax. Even at the relaxed pace, Maddur and Srirangapatanam were soon behind us. The ring road let us by-pass Mysore and put us on track to Masinagudi. The progress was slower on this leg. Narrower roads, great in parts and dug-up in other parts. I too was in no hurry – though I was looking forward to the stretch that went through the Bandipur and Mudumalai sanctuaries, the former in Karnataka and the latter in Tamil Nadu. The stretch between Bandipur and Mudumalai is through the Tiger and Elephant reserve. Elephants blocking the roads, especially in the early hours is not uncommon. The Bandipur check-post gate signaled that we were entering the reserve forest. The drive through the lush green forest and rain swept roads was exhilarating. With the windows rolled down, the blast of fresh air on the face was invigorating.
The Mudumalai forest check-post indicated the end of the reserve forest but the terrain continued to be lush green. Casa Deep Woods was only a short distance away. A few kilometers on this stretch we saw the first signboard to the resort. A turn into a narrow freshly laid road left the route to Ooty behind us. Lush green on both sides and the misty mountains ahead. Perhaps, Phantom’s Deep Woods was similar. I was now in a hurry to get there – though the goats, cows and sheep ambling on the road were in no hurry to clear the way. Honking in such a peaceful environ would shatter the tranquility of the place. A mental request and a gentle nudge with the bumper worked.

Finally! Casa Deep Woods. The parking was full – recession be dammed! I did not have a confirmation of my booking, yet. I remembered Ralph Waldo Emerson“ if you desire something badly the universe conspires to make it happen”. I hoped this would work to confirm my reservation. At this point, I desired nothing more. The universe did conspire to make it happen. Ravi Kumar, at the resort, confirmed this and escorted us to our cottage on a cobblestone pathway between densely wooded areas. Finally!
The rooms were very clean but basic. No TV. Mobile signal only if the wind blew your way. The almost alien to Bengaluru, chirping of birds and crickets, the occasional scream of the monkeys sailed through the quiet atmosphere. I did not miss the blare of television – my son did and went to the common room for the lone TV - with a satellite dish connection - for those who could not do without their daily fix.
Lunch was a good spread. Some vegetables came from the local farms and did taste nice and different from the usual fare. A Kabab by the bonfire before dinner was served at 9 pm. Talented guests sang and the not so talented took a swig from their hip flasks and enjoyed the songs before dispersing for dinner.

Ooty, from Masinagudi, was only about 40 kms away – via the famous 36 hair-pin bends route. 70 kms away via the longer route which is broader and more navigable. It didn’t feel good being so close to Ooty but not going there. Let’s go, we decided. 36 hair-pin bends and missing-a-brush-with-the—other- vehicle- by- a-whisker-later we were in Ooty after driving through blinding rain. The car and you need to be in good shape to make it to Ooty via this route. It amazes me how some old trucks, with their engines groaning and belching, make it to Ooty through this route. If you find one of these contraptions, ahead of you, on this route - keep distance. If it does not make it across the hair pin bend the vehicle will slide back before making the next attempt to take the bend. The wait will make you go around the bend!

Ooty is dotted with Eucalyptus trees. The Eucalyptus perfume cures you of a cold as my great-grandma used to say. Within minutes of being in Ooty I could breathe better with my nostrils clearing up. Since we all wanted to experience the Nilgiris Mountain Railway, I drove straight to the Ooty railway station. This train service is now a heritage rail service. However, this experience was not to be as the incoming train was delayed for an unknown duration due to heavy rains. With this desire unfulfilled, I drove into the very colonial Taj Savoy for lunch.

This leisurely lunch was filling and made me long for a snooze. Not wanting to take the sharp route while less than fully alert I took the longer and more driver friendly route back to Masinagudi via the Pykara dam. On the way back, we decided to take the Tiger safari at the Mudumalai which is available from 3 to 6.30 pm and 7 to 9am. The queue at the ticket counter was longer than a queue at a multiplex showing a blockbuster. We decided to try our luck the next morning. The ticket counter opened at 7am. We got our tickets by reaching the place at 6.15 am. It’s a 20 minutes drive from Casa Deep Woods to the safari . The safari itself was uneventful. Almost a letdown. No tigers. The Elephants, Bisons, Peacocks and the Deer ignored us in their own home. Back to Casa Deep Woods. After breakfast we bid adieu to the hospitable people managing this facility.

There are times when the Phantom leaves the jungle and walks the streets of the town as an ordinary man. I knew how Phantom must have felt leaving the jungle. I too felt a twinge of regret leaving the jungle so soon.

The familiar concrete jungle beckoned.

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