It was a bright sunny day. Blue colour scattered the canvas above my head and streaks of puffy white clouds dotted it. And as soon as I got down the car and looked at the mountains of Kemmangundi covered with a lush green carpet, I knew I was home. I am home, I shouted excitedly. The ride from Bengaluru to Kemmangundi was certainly worth it. The bygone months have been some of the most trying times of my life. Locked inside our homes for the most part. Forever scared about the deadly infections of Covid-19 and the effects thereof. It was a scary situation yet, I & my brother left the comfort of my native and fled back to Bengaluru following the “instructions” from our respective employers.
However, even while in Bengaluru, we were working from home for the most part. I was desperate for some fresh air, a fresh view, and a moment away from all the things that chained me. So I planned for a trip to Kemmangundi from Bengaluru to trek up to Z Point. Following that plan, we drove on a dark deserted highway, stayed at one of the most beautiful homestays in Chikmagalur, trekked up a wrong but rewarding peak, and truly hit the refresh button on my life. This was one of those defining trips that helped me take a step back from my routine and critically analyze the next steps. And just three months later when I write this, I can definitely say, travelling is certainly a game-changer. Read on to know all about it.
Locked In Jayanagar
It was February 4th when I almost hit the breakdown point in my career. As calm-headed, I was, several things frustrated me. I wasn’t enjoying my job anymore, I wasn’t spending enough time reading up, or writing for that matter. I was desperate to take back control. In those moments of desperation, I turned to my good old friend in the mountains for advice.
And he had only one thing to say,
“If you’re not happy about something, there is nothing stopping you to change it”
Ah! Yes, I nodded in agreement but how can I stop it if I am constantly working in a frustrated state. That’s when I remembered all those trips back in 2018 that helped me get away from the regular work and created enough headspace to start thinking about changing things I didn’t like. And without thinking further, I proposed this trip to my brother and few more friends. Few missed and a few agreed to it and we were all set to drive down to Chikmagalur on Feb 6th. I knew there was a ton of work but I just resolved to make this one trip happen, no matter what.
Come Feb 6th, the clock ticked past 4:30 PM when my brother’s phone buzzed. It was a notification to pick up the Tata Tiago we booked for the trip. A mad rush took over me as I increased my typing speed to finish the pending work for the day. I was frantically switching between stuffing biryani into my mouth and typing on an endless array of rectangular blocks aka excel on my laptop screen.
Ah! Who am I kidding? This is not getting over anytime soon, I yelled. I quickly saved the files and packed the laptop into my backpack, presuming I’ll get time to work during the drive. I freshened up and we booked an auto. We were following google maps and lucky for us, it was all fine until we reached Bellandur signal. Once we crossed the signal, the road we were supposed to take was blocked. So we took a detour and followed the robotic voice of google maps.
Everywhere But Zoomcar, Bellandur Hub
We crossed a hospital and entered a narrow muddy road. That definitely didn’t feel right but we didn’t have a better choice but to follow google maps. We entered the narrow muddy road. Two high raise walls surrounded the road. A few moments later, shabby huts made of fly ash brick walls and covered by asbestos sheets and tarpaulin entered the sight. The houses were so cramped up that it felt like there was no boundary between them. Unity, I said to myself. These guys must’ve come to Bengaluru in search of work and a better lifestyle. I wondered if they miss the wide-open roads and paddy fields of their native, coz I sure did. The shabby locale stretched almost half a kilometre before ending at the shore of Bellandur lake.
My suspicions increased exponentially with every meter we drove on that road. But the suspicion took a u-turn when we saw a Drivezy hub. So considering most of these hubs are placed close to one another, we continued the drive on that road. Few more meters and we reached a dead-end.
By then we had already spent 30 minutes searching for Zoomcar hub in the middle of that slum. We went in circles and circles. Kids playing in the muddy roads yelled at us for disturbing their concentration. But we were too preoccupied to even notice it. A while later, we gave up. The auto bhayya was so hell-bent on leaving us at the right place, that he drove back to the main road, diligently followed every turn shown by google maps and still ended up in the middle of nowhere every single time.
By then it was already 5:50 PM and we were supposed to pick up the vehicle by 6 PM. Not that I knew what would happen if we didn’t pick it up but I was just anxious. So we decided to do it the old school way. We searched for the Zoomcar hub on maps after driving back to the main road. But this time, instead of letting google decide the road, we zoomed in and out of maps to figure out where we were and which turn we had to take to reach Zoomcar.
And guess what? We reached Zoomcar at sharp 6 PM and picked up that Cherry Red Tiago.
Yeah! We’ll Be There in 10 minutes
So the deal was, I and my brother pick up the car and drive through the hell that is Bengaluru traffic and reach Bannerghatta road entrance of the NICE road. Chandan mentioned that they’ll wait at the entrance to get into the car.
Chandan called me saying that they reached the NICE road and asked where we were. I said, Bellandur. He asked me how much time it will take.
It should take about 10 minutes give or take an hour, I chuckled. I guess he didn’t hear the latter part of my sentence and called again after 10 minutes inquiring about my whereabouts. I told him we’re at Bellandur. How come you’re still at Bellandur? It’s been 10 minutes since I last called. Well, what can I say about the traffic in Bengaluru? It took us 10 minutes just to take a U-turn and get onto the right road.
After almost an hour of drive through the sea of rubber, metal and smoke, we reached the NICE road entrance on the Bannerghatta road. Chikmagalur was roughly 260 KMs from there and it was around 7:30 PM. So even by the most conservative estimates, we expected to reach Chikmagalur by 1 AM. We clicked a quick selfie and started the drive on the NICE road.
Speed Locked Cherry Red Wagon
The NICE road was surprisingly empty that day. So I was quick to change gears and put the Tiago into full speed. 3rd Gear, speedo crossed 40 KMPH, 4th Gear, speedo crossed 50 KMPH, 5th Gear and speedo crossed 60 KMPH, I pushed the accelerator and soon it was 80 KMPH. I loved Tiago’s response until I realized the speedo got stuck on 80 KMPH. I switch the gears and move to 5th gear again and push the pedal hard, still stuck at 80 KMPH. That’s when it struck me, the car had a speed lock.
You don’t fully understand the pain of a speed lock if you’ve never driven on an empty highway. It’s like that cheesecake that slips off your spoon right before entering your mouth. It’s a horrible feeling. So for the next 30 minutes, I just ranted and held the speedo at 80 KMPH.
After 30 minutes of driving past trucks, we reached the Tumkur road where we took a turn onto the Bengaluru-Mangalore road at Nelamangala Town. We quickly stopped by to buy an AUX cable to rig up the stereo in the car. But to our surprise, even that wasn’t working. So here we are. Bunch of friends on a road trip, driving a speed locked car and a defunct stereo. I guess it can’t get any worse than that. Hope you’re listening, Spotify.
We stopped before Kunigal to have dinner. We were searching for Kamat Upachar to have something light as it was already 10:40 PM. But we couldn’t find Kamat and found Taj instead. New Taj Hotel is a non-veg restaurant and the food is delicious. The thoughts of having a light dinner faded very quickly and soon we gobbled down whatever we could get our hands-on. The dinner was followed by a delicious Pan and a selfie to commemorate the sumptuous dinner.
With My Heart In My Mouth
So much of the drive after dinner was on the Mangalore-Bangalore highway. The highway was mostly empty barring few rogue drivers that overtake from the left and a few more idiots driving with high beam ON and tail you. But in the entire drive till Hassan, there was only one moment where I had my heart in my mouth. I think this was after crossing Channarayanapattana. I was driving by myself, calmly, listening to music Chandan was playing on his phone.
A KSRTC Airawat entered my eyesight from the left, occupying the entire visible space on our left. I guess the bus also had a speed lock so both of us were driving in parallel and couldn’t overtake each other. I was scared of driving beside the humongous bus in a tiny Tiago, so I wanted to slow down a bit and let it pass. Just then this dude enters the scene with a Mercedes GLS. He switched on every possible light in his car and put the headlamps on a high beam. He started honking like a mad dog indicating that he wanted to overtake. I don’t know if he was blind but from my senses, I could figure out that a GLS couldn’t fit the narrow gap that existed between the bus and Tiago.
But he wouldn’t give up. The bus driver didn’t give up so I had to maintain 80 KMPH to not let the GLS crash into us. The Bus on the left, the divider on the right and the GLS on the tail. Many scenes from the final destination flashed in front of me as my mind worked out infinite possibilities of what could go wrong. Taking things into my hands, I opened the window and signalled the GLS to slow down a bit. Surprisingly, he did. Following that, I slowed down a little and let the bus drive past us. Without any delay, the GLS overtook us and we were back on our own.
Chandan and I switched places and we continued the drive to Eden View Homestay in Chikmagalur.
The Cozy Stay At Eden View Homestay, Chikmagalur
We reached Eden View homestay at around 2:30 AM. When I thought of the trip 3 days before the departure day, I was frantically searching for accommodation. Since we wanted to go to Kemmangundi, I searched for stays close by, to have more time exploring the trail. But since we were starting late in the evening, it would be midnight by the time we reach the Kemmangundi area. After speaking to Jeevan I realized it might be risky especially when he mentioned the wildlife spottings late in the night. So I dropped that plan and started looking for stays in Chikmagalur. I must say we got lucky to get to stay at the Eden View Homestay. Kemmangundi is around 60 KMs from Chikmagalur. So I thought if we start early enough then we’ll have enough time to explore the Kemmangundi peak. And boy was I wrong.
We reached at 2:30 AM the next day and after a quick stretch and stroll around the homestay, I slept off. My alarm rang at 6:30 AM, I turned it off. It rang again at 7:00 AM. Turned it off again without opening my eyes. Then at 7:15 AM, I realized that we had a peak to explore and a job to get back to in Bangalore the next day. I tried opening my eyes but they wouldn’t open without making a squinting face. I must have tried opening and closing my eyes 10 times before I finally woke up only to find my eyes blood red.
Quickly freshened up and I went out for a walk. You know you have those moments in life that you just wished you could freeze forever. That was my moment there. It was so refreshing to be surrounded by silver oaks and chirps after ages almost as if new energy passed through me.
Drive By The Foot Of Chandra Drona Range
After the walk, all of us freshened up, bid goodbye to Rambo and Eden View and left for Kemmangundi. I first heard about Kemmangundi during the Kudramukh trek with Jeevan. Kemmangundi is a hill station 60 km away from Chikmagalur. Jeevan shared the stories of the lush green meadows and the panoramic views of the inner western ghat mountains from the Kemmangundi Peak and I was instantly hooked. Kemmangundi hill station is also called Sri Krishnarajendra hill station since this was the summer retreat of Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV. So wouldn’t it be amazing to walk the path of a king and enjoy the best of what nature has to offer?
Chikmagalur surprisingly had very sparse traffic and we drove past the town in no time. The sun was shining bright and bright blue scattered all over the sky. With traffic behind us, the roads opened up to the mighty Chandra Drona Mountain range and at a few turns, we saw the Mullayanagiri Peak, the highest peak in Karnataka, as well.
We stopped at Siri Coffee for breakfast and some piping hot coffee. My relationship with coffee is very strange. I don’t consume coffee every day but I do make it a point to explore coffee at new places. So since Chikmagalur is touted as the land of coffee, I couldn’t resist the temptation to have it.
We continued the drive after breakfast. The road wound through tiny hamlets at the foot of Chandra Drona mountain range. The entire road was covered under an ample shade of silver oaks on both sides. The road gradually increased in altitude and soon we were on an uphill road surrounded by coffee plantations and silver oaks.
The Winding Descent Into Kemmangundi
Within half an hour, the coffee plantations bid goodbye to us and disappeared into the rearview mirror. The road then put us on a ghat section with a 30-40ft drop on the right-hand side. This was scary because this is my first time driving a car on a long trip and the ghat road brought its own fears. At every curve, I decelerated to the lowest speed I could manage to drive past the corners safely. While there are idiots who try to overtake on such narrow and dangerous roads, there are other types of idiots who come drive into you while turning around the corner from the opposite end.
By god’s grace, we drove down the ghat section without any accidents. And as a reward for our descent, nature rewarded us with a wide-open road. So I pushed the pedal and zoomed past tiny villages and by 11:30 AM we reached the entrance into Kemmangundi forest.
Lost In The Wilderness Of Kemmangundi
The initial stretch of road towards Kemmangundi- Z Point was flat and surrounded by silver oaks and coffee plantations. Although it was bright and hot outside, the moment we entered the forest area, the temperature dropped like a ball leaving my hand. A few moments later, Tiago started the ascent through what I was experiencing to be the densest forest road ever. The trees were everywhere. Above us, below us and on the sides though it felt as if they were eating the road for breakfast.
But the drive-through that stretch was oddly calming. The cool wind brushing past my cheeks as I navigated the twists and turns. The careless monkeys by the road just hanging by the branches and the innumerable species of wildlife lay beneath the tree cover. I felt as if the entire trip was just leading up to this one moment of peace. Because honestly, even though I left Bengaluru, I was still busy mentally and constantly distracted.
I kept thinking about the choices I made in the recent past that lead to where I was. Perhaps, I was overly proud of what I achieved and overestimated my own potential that I grossly overlooked how a new job or new life would impact me. I guess that’s what pride does to you.
It made me blind to my own fatal flaws and before it’s too late I was already drowning in deeper oceans of life’s misery desperate for a helping hand. Call it an epiphany or the way of god, I realized, staring into the wilderness surrounding me, that I can walk away from all of it. While I write this month later, I can surely say I did walk away. It was quite an effort but totally worth it.
And that marks the first part of the drive. Next up is a detailed account of the Z point trek and a beautiful temple in Amruthapura. So make sure you sign up for the newsletter here to receive the next one directly in your inbox.
That’s all for today folks. Thank you for sticking through to the end.
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I’ve restarted my blog posting streak with this one after a gap of 4 months. Hope to keep it going like I did earlier. In case you want to get in touch, you can drop me a DM on Instagram.
Thanks. Talk to you soon.