As I sat in the corner of a sort of shady place in Bylakuppe slurping much sought after thukpa, I tried to recall how I had ended up at this place. The original plan was to end up about 500km east of there. In Pondicherry. But a combination of nature's fury and abject spinelessness had interfered. And so it was, that at literally the last minute, 7am on a drizzly Friday morning, we turned the two cars around and headed west from Bangalore. The first destination was to be a much raved about café on Mysore road. The website for that place claimed it open 24/7. Filled with a sense of a good beginning, and a wonder for what lay ahead, we set off at a good pace towards Ramanagara. But, the café had other things on its mind. It was closed. After much cursing at both the café and the guy who suggested the place, we proceeded towards Mysore. At the entrance to Mysore, an idea. Let's go to Bylakuppe, and the Tibetan settlement there. And why not, it was not as if we actually had a plan. Turning onto SH88, we the travellers, Veena and Kalpana, me, DS (Rahul), P (Vivekanand), Shravi (Shravan) and Monty (that's his real name) looked forward to the drive on the brilliantly twisty road that would eventually lead to Madikeri.
The drizzle, barely noticeable, came in bursts. With fellow driving aficionado, P, drooling at the wheel at the prospect of hitting the apex on every curve, we arrived at Bylakuppe in good time. A peek at the Namdroling monastery and a satisfying meal of momos and thukpa followed. Refreshed and satiated, and with me back at the wheel, we hit the road to Madikeri. It seemed like the logical next stop. The road was just exhilarating. Sharp twisting curves, smooth tarmac, and a close and thick canopy of trees on either side. A light drizzle, just enough to wet the road and colour it a dark shade of grey; a colour made for an evening drive through the mountains, with the bright green of the foliage and the shimmering golden-yellow of the setting sun providing a mind cleansing backdrop. With crash barriers on either side of the road filling me with confidence on these curvy mountain roads, I let go. DS in the back got to work on the music, and started to play a song by Shubha Mudgal and Swaratma. As Shubha Mudgal opened her voice, I opened the taps and left the cares of the world behind.
Finding a place to stay near Madikeri involved us calling every home-stay whose billboards we we saw on the road and asking if they were available. On the 30th of December, our hopes were slim, and we surrendered to a tough search. But Veena came through. After calling several home-stays, and getting more contacts from them, she finally managed to locate a place a few kilometres from Madikeri. A place in the middle of a coffee plantation, and far away from "civilisation". What followed next may best be described as cultured debauchery. A proverbial round table conference. With two confirmed sort-of-sober people who could drive the next day morning, the rest of us discarded all responsibilities. But, there was a catch. This place was available only for that night. We had to clear out the next day. We decided to worry about that the next morning. But morning came much quicker than expected. But, unfortunately not for me. My troubled dreams were filled with sounds of diesel locomotives at full speed. After breakfast the next day, we had to set off. But to where?
DS suggested Mangalore, and I suggested a route via Kasargod. I wanted to avoid NH48 at all costs. With P at the wheel in one car, again drooling at the curvy roads, and me in a state not quite awake, the road provided a very exciting drive. But at places. In other places, the road proved to be some sort of hell. But P certainly enjoyed hitting the apex on every bend. I took the wheel back at a town called Jalsoor, much to P's dismay, as I had heard of the brilliant road that lay ahead. And that was not an exaggeration. Driving on that road gave me goose bumps. And Kasargod came too soon for my liking. After a lunch of the most delectable prawn curry at a place called Hotel Metro in Kasargod, and binging on cheap petrol, we set off on the death trap also known as NH17. We thankfully reached Mangalore before dark. After a brief circus when DS's car refused to start, we stopped off at an ice-cream place called Cherry Square for some much needed refreshments. But accommodation for that night proved to be elusive. As we had nothing to lose, DS asked the owner if he knew of any available place.
He did know of a place which was available. It was his own serviced apartment, not two streets from Cherry Square. We lucked out. Again. After dumping our stuff at the apartment, and a mild refreshment later, we arrived at a pub called Froth on Top. This pub holds fond memories from my college days, and I still believe this is the best pub I have ever had the pleasure to drink at. That I was to spend new year's at this place was just beyond belief. Beer arrived. And it was drunk hungrily. More beer arrived. True we had to drive about 400km the next day via difficult and untested roads over the Charmadi ghats to get to Bangalore. But at that moment it didn't seem to matter. The clock ticked ever so surely towards zero hour. And we waited, glasses in hand. Fireworks started going off around the pub, and revellers on the street drove by, horns blaring. The clock ticked closer. And we raised our glasses. Zero hour dawned, and as we drank MESCOM joined in the celebrations. With a power cut.