Wednesday 20 July 2011

4WD Army Jeep from Chennai to Cochin

This road trip was done in July 2010 while I was working with HDFC Bank at Cherthala -my hometown. I took two days leave, after visiting Deepak at Palarivattom,  boarded a KSRTC bus to Coimbatore from Cochin to attend a friend's wedding reception. I spotted this Mahindra 4WD 550 jeep custom built for Indian Army and Rexy, a friend from college days who used to participate in bike races in and around Kerala with this Suzuki Shogun and Yamaha RX135. I couldn't help jumping off from the KSRTC bus at the next speed breaker and join Rexy to Chennai. My plan was to get down at Coimbatore but I fell in love with this 4WD which was auctioned later to scrap dealers at Chennai and decided to go along with Rexy to pick another jeep from Chennai. On the way to Coimbatore we had to stop at a workshop to change the canvas inside the wheel cup since the front wheels were wobling too much. Well prepared for this, Rexy had all the tools and spares for any kind of breakdown, including two spare wheels, foot pump, two hydraulic jacks, bearings, belts etc...a mini workshop and spare parts shop for a jeep.

We reached Coimbatore at 10pm and met my friend and wife, they were relatively free as there were not many relatives left out and I could chat with him for 15min though I missed out on the vegetarian dishes and good looking Tambhram girls. After a while we continued our journey to Chennai. After another 100km, both Rexy and Nasar were tired and they slept for a while parking on the roadside near a toll plaza. I rang up Nithin and briefed him about my whereabouts, I took shelter under a truck while there was a light shower. We reached Chennai next day morning 10am and went straight to the scrap dealer's yard.

Numerous vehicles from Army at this yard amused me. Shaktiman trucks, Suzuki Gypsy, Mahindra Jeep, Armada - you name any off road vehicle, you will find at least one here. These vechicles come with 98B XXX registration numbers for army. 10 years or later these vechicles will be auctioned as scrap. The dealer will get them to his yard and get an RC book in his name, pay road tax, get insurance etc. Rexy and similar automobile crazy guys will come to this yard and pick one or two vehicles at a price. Later this Jeep or Gypsy will be repaired and repainted with a new life and roll the wheels on road or an estate where 4WD is essential. We started fixing the four wheels so that we can tow the jeep back to Cochin, 700 km. We changed the bearings, lubricated the rolling parts and ensured there is enough air in the tires. Everything seemed fine and relaxing, by evening we retired from the yard unwinding after a night out on NationalHighway. Got recharged and start our journey at 8am on Sunday -at least that is what we planned for next day.

Sunday morning- after a high calorie berakfast, we were all set to start our 700km towing trip. Both old and new jeeps were wed-locked using an A-shaped connecting rod and bolted using U-shaped clamps. The jeep behind our jeep will turn and break as we steer and stop the one in front. Driving is not as easy as driving a single jeep since there will be force to either sides or forward when we take a turn or apply brakes. When we are about to reach Krishnagiri, we found that left front tire is wearing out than normal and the tire surface was abnormally hot. The root cause was not identified so we tried a different configuration for the tires keeping another tire at the left front. While we were changing tires from one side to another, I met Oswin on the road - they were coming back from Trissur to Bangalore. We continued with the new configuration towards Salem. It was found that the new tire is completely worn out in less than 20km! It was clear the tire will not last our next 500+ km. We tried a brand new tire which is expected to run 20000km and tried our luck. It was 10pm and we reached Bhavani, half asleep. The tire was 80% worn out and it would not last another 400km to Cochin from Bhavani. After parking the jeep on the roadside, we slept through the night. Searching for another tire next morning  did not go bad. Tata 207 tire which should be lasting at least 500km was found at Erode. 30hours are over since we started from Chennai and still more than half the distance to go. I got my mobile battery charged from a nearby shop and kept updating Facebook about my trip with pictures.

Finally after various diagnosis and trial and error methods, Rexy found that the driving shafts were jammed at the left front side which was a hindrance for the tire to freely rotate at the turns. It was fixed in 5 minutes with a hammer! We lost 24hours and two tires already!! Anyhow, enjoying the slight drizzle and the cool weather, we drove on NH47 towards Coimbatore. By 2am we reached Angamaly where the workshop is just 10km away. I parted my way with the army jeep and took a KSRTC bus to Cherthala and reached home at 4am. No air conditioner but that was the coolest trip I ever did on road. No mobile car charger - but we were fully charged throughout. 

I am not sure Rexy is doing the jeep refurbishing now. You can contact him at Kalamassery very close of Cochin University  campus; he has a shop named Twinkle.

Perseverance is the key in this mission-completed in 4 days and costing a few tires!!

Sunday 17 July 2011

Honeymoon in Honey Valley





Rains!! The clattering of rain drops on top of the mangalore tiled roof at my grandmother's home always urged me to get out and drench in the rains. So when I called up Suresh Chengappa asking for accommodation for two, he could not detriment my desire to trek in rains. Once I told him that I hail from Alleppey, he knew I am born and brought up in rains. When I was a baby, my grandmother used to give me bath and she never used to dry my head completely so that I develop immunity to get drenched in rains.

After shutting down the laptops and corporate life, I was home at 7pm on last Friday evening. Megha had packed all the bags and kept the essentials ready- Jyothi Laboratories' MAXO insect-repellent cream as active safety against blood-sucking leeches and turmeric powder as the passive safety once they bite you- are the top priority apart from the usual first aid kit. We also packed two John's umbrellas of 545mm width -imported from Kerala and light weight rain cuts from Decathlon. KSRTC runs volvo buses to Virajpet starting from Majestic at 11:30pm and the ticket costs Rs 400 per head. I was impressed by the fact that we can board any BMTC bus to Majestic free of cost if we are taking a KSRTC bus from there. Our bus started at 11:40pm and the route was Bangalore-Kengeri-Mysore-Gonikoppal-Virajpet. At 5.30am on Saturday morning, we were at Virajpet.

The sleepy town of Virajpet was just waking up to their daily chores sans a few newspaper vendors and auto rickshaws. We walked towards the Private Bus stand around 1.5km away. On the way, I picked up a Malayala Manorama and so excited to read it after a long time. Megha and I debated if Malayalam or Kannada has jilebi look alike script. We pit stopped enroute to have a tea at a 'chayakada' and I was cross-questioned by a police man on why I was taking his picture. I was not. I was taking the picture of the bus stand with the fog in the background. Once I showed him the picture, he was ok. The linguistic advantage in Kodagu region is that you can speak either Malayalam or Kannada. Mix up both and you speak something which is close to the local language.

The private bus 'Ganga' started at 6:50am after its morning ablutions -changing the tires and radiator check up. After 45min ride through the winding roads, we reached the destination -Kabbinakadu junction. Even if you are coming in you own vehicle, you need to park it at a nearby parking lot and board the 4-wheel drive jeep from Honey Valley estate, as the last 4km to the home stay is accessible by a 20 minute 4WD jeep ride or by walking for one hour. This ride was one of the bonus as Ganesh tackled the muddy and slippery jeep track by shifting through the 4WD gears. This reminded me of my trip from Chennai to Cochin towing a military jeep using another 4WD jeep through national highway.

Honey Valley is not a resort- it is run by Mr.Suresh Chengppa and his wife who settled here 28 years back. They have a sprawling coffee estate and you can stay in one of the rooms or huts catering to different budgets. Food is with a fixed vegetarian menu and if you are a carnivore, order in advance and those dishes will be served at your dining table.

Honey Valley has it's own hydro-electric turbine for electricity and bio-gas plant for cooking. Heating water for shower is done by solar and firewood. Many European backpackers come and enjoy the lush greenery and rains as Honey Valley is listed in Lonely Planet and other travel guides. Mr. Suresh is well-read and spoke Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi and English fluently. He has a vast collection of fiction and non-fiction books apart from National Geographic magazines. His calmness and grey hair spoke about his eventful past life and I was impressed at his 'been there done that' attitude. His son is currently travelling around the country and he called home from Kashmir two days back.

Route: Bangalore-Srirangapatna-Hunsur, Virajpet-Kabbinakad -235km; By bus: Bangalore-Virajpet (6hrs) Rs 500, Virajpet-Kabbinakau (45min) Rs 18.

Accommodation: The basic double rooms with shared toilets Rs 350, Double rooms with attached bathroom and geyser Rs 800, 4-bed room Rs 1200. Contact: 0822-238339, 200325, Email:,

After a sumptuous breakfast and piping hot coffee made out of freshly grounded coffee powder, we walked to a nearby waterfall taking directions from Mr. Suresh. A friendly dog was guiding us to the waterfall and you will hear other friendly dogs barking when you walk near the fenced boundaries of the coffee estates. After a relaxed 15min walk, we were at the bottom of a 25-feet waterfall with magnificent cascades hidden in the forest. It was not another crowded waterfall with drunk semi-nude men, but peaceful and calm where you can spend hours reflecting on life. We were back around lunch time and on the way back, I was attacked by 3 leeches. The insect-repellent was washed off my feet while walking in water. MAXO was very handy to get rid of the leech and applied turmeric powder at the bites to help blood clotting and as an antiseptic. After lunch, the rains gathered strength and we spent the afternoon gazing at the rains and listening to the clattering of heavy downpour on the Mangalore tiles.

In the evening, sipping hot coffee we discussed our plans to hike Mount Thadiyandamol (1745m) with Mr. Suresh. He was really happy gathering our interest in hiking and he gave me a booklet he had prepared with detailed map and directions for 18 hikes starting from Honey Valley ranging from 2 hours to full-day. We wrote down the whole route to Mt. Thadiyandamol but still I asked him for a guide if available. He was not sure of getting one the next morning, as the tribal people are not greedy and if they have the bread for the day, they did not care to work for tomorrow. Though it sounded very philosophical, I was convinced next day as our guide vanished after showing up in the morning.

After breakfast we started around 10am picking up a picnic bag with bread, cucumber, tomato, jam etc. We reached the "Dry Pond junction" which is the starting point to all the trails and this tiny pond was filled with rainwater. From this point, we had a little confusion about the path towards Mt. Thadiyandamol. Anyhow, we started hiking through the most tranquil and scenic path expecting that it would lead us to the peak. Listening to the numerous crickets and frogs, we walked for almost two hours. Crossed multiple streams skirting the mountain on our left side and making our path through the dense forest and thickets of wild hibiscus. After a while, we could not find any obvious path but could see Thadiyandamol peak and walked towards that by wading through knee length grass and bruising our legs and shoulders against the thorny bushes. It was really adventurous to walk through a path that was not listed in the booklet of 18 trails and both of us were thrilled at the 'Man Vs Wild' episode in our honeymoon trek. Whenever I was confused with my instincts I asked Megha to take the lead.

Suddenly Megha stopped and cried out as something bit her, I was horrified if that is a slither. She pulled out an insect from the ankle in a frantic reflex which looked like a leech but was different in texture and size. Blood started flowing without any indications of clotting. I pulled out the antiseptic wipes and cleared the tiny wound and applied turmeric powder. It did not show any relief and there was a sign of poking pain on her face. Iodine ointment was my next remedy, though in vain. Using a band-aid I tried to cover the wound and we decided to get back. As I write this after 5 days, still a tiny swelling is visible and it is paining slightly. Anyhow, we could not find a viable route to go further and it was just enough time to get back for lunch at Honey Valley. Definitely it was more fun to be in a off-beaten trail than going in a routine trail with a crowd polluting the trails with plastic garbage.

Mr. Suresh was surprised that we lost our way and returned. But he was encouraging and exclaimed 'it is not about the destination; it is the hike that is thrilling'. During lunch, we met a few French travelers and discussed about Catacombs under Paris and Decathlon products at length. Post lunch, we moved to a double room with a common toilet and the verandah was occupied by two ladies - one from Spain and the other from Russia. More backpackers were present in this building and one guy from Delhi was visiting this part of the country to study about frogs as part of his research. Enjoying the rains and a few cups of coffee, we spent our evening. By 7.30pm Mr.Suresh dropped us back to Kabbinakkadu junction. The last bus from Madikeri to Virajpet arrived at 8.20pm and we were at Virajpet by 9.15pm. Our Bangalore Airavat bus was at 10:45 and after dinner, we waited at the bus station. After a short sleep of 5 hours, we were at Majestic bus station at 4.00am. Back to concrete jungle and the only noise is that of harsh horns and screeching brakes not crickets and frogs. If you love rains and lush greenery, Honey Valley estate is the place to head to on any weekend.

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.