My bus to Kodaikanal was scheduled for departure at 7:30pm from Shantinagar bus station. I chose to walk till there. It took me 45 mins to cover a distance of 4km. 

I had booked an ultra-deluxe bus through SETC - Road transport corporation run by the Government of Tamil Nadu. There was nothing "ultra" or "deluxe" about this bus though. My seat reclined on its own as I leaned back and the cushions of the hand rest had come off, exposing the metal underneath. The water bottle handle was broken in almost all seats. These little inconveniences do not bother me anymore. But that does not mean one must be subjected to it. I was happy that the suspension of the bus was descent and I experienced less jerk during the ride. 

Three boys boarded the bus on the way and told the conductor that a few of their friends were still on the way. The conductor was worried that this would delay the departure. The boys spoke in Hindi and the conductor replied in Tamil. They struggled to communicate with each other. Finally, the conductor found a solution. While the buses take a longer route to reach Madiwala police station, the boys could reach via a short cut that taxis are allowed to take. Thanks to the peak-hour traffic, the boys reached by the time we arrived at the spot.

We stopped at Hosur bus stand. I got off to use the public toilet. The toilet was about to close and the caretaker did not want to let anyone in. But upon insisting, he let us in but charged Rs5 each. Generally, this service is free in the State. Someone else’s desperation is an opportunity for the others to mint money. Such is the nature of mankind today.   

The young boys were in a vacation mood. They kept speaking and laughing as the bus headed towards its destination. I was so tired that I slept off immediately. But in between, I woke up to a loud voice. The man sitting behind me was asking the boys to maintain silence. He educated them that this was a public transport and they should behave appropriately. The boys soon apologised and kept quiet. He changed his tone and advised them to go to their guest house or hotel in Kodaikanal and then have fun. He mentioned that there has been a death in his family and he was traveling with that heavy thought. I hope that the boys have learnt a lesson. Anything that is properly conveyed, is often well received. 

I had a disturbed sleep. I woke up several times during the journey. At 6AM I caught a glimpse of a beautiful sunrise outside the window. The bright orange strip of sky closer to the horizon formed a sharp contrast to the thick dense, dark grey clouds above it. The bus passed by several waterfalls. 

I got off at the bus station and walked towards my hotel. Hotel Jayaraj residency is about 200m from the bus stand. I got a free upgrade to a deluxe room. I think the booking website had charged me more. It is often cheaper to book directly at the place. The room was good - nothing "deluxe" about it though. 

Kodaikanal is a crowded city now. There are several shacks by the road. There is trash everywhere. I can only imagine how beautiful it might have looked a few decades ago. 

I stepped out for my morning tea. Tea with vada seems like a thing here. After that, I walked to the lake. The view from the lake was amazing. The orange sky had now turned bright blue. The thick dark grey cloud had begun to disintegrate and form a cirrocumulus cloud. I took a short walk around the lake and returned back to the hotel to freshen up. 

At 9:30AM, I stepped out to explore the town. But first, I had my breakfast at Astoria veg restaurant, opposite the main bus station. I had some tasty pongal and vada. The weather was pleasant. The temperature was around 15 degrees and a light jacket kept me sufficiently warm. I also went to the bus station and checked about the buses to Pombarai. They told me that there is one every hour. 

There are no auto-rickshaws in Kodaikanal. You have to book a taxi to go around. This is to aid the local taxi drivers. You can book a taxi to cover all attractions for a nominal price. The price is listed on a board next to the bus station and most drivers stick to that. As I enjoy walking, I chose to do that. As I set-off, I had no idea how exciting and long this day would turn out to be. I decided to walk to Pillar Rock first. It was a 4km walk from town. I took shortcuts as prompted by the Google Maps. Just as I had started, someone called me from behind. When I turned, I saw a young boy waving at me. He was carrying a huge backpack. He wore a blue jean, white shirt and red cap. He approached me with a broad smile. He introduced himself by his Instagram id – Colourful traveller. He told me that he was hitch-hiking across India – From Kanyakumari to Kashmir. He has been traveling for more than 2 months now. I was delighted to know that he was from Dakshina Kannada; my native. We began conversing in Tulu language. I requested for his name and he hesitantly replied – Aflal. I wonder why he hesitated.

Aflal is a spirited young man who makes reels on his travels. He speaks in Kananda, Malayalam, Byari and Tulu. He also speaks Tamil, Hindi, Telugu and perhaps more languages. Having spent a lot of my childhood playing with my Muslim neighbours, I had picked up the Byari language too. As a child I spoke very well in the language but eventually forgot when they moved out of our locality and I had no one to practise it with. Listening to Aflal's reels will be helpful. 

Since he was going to the same place, we decided to walk together. On our way, we came across a forest area. This was a walking path. We saw a Malabar giant squirrel. We continued our walk with non-stop conversation about our respective lives and travels. I was very interested to know more about his experiences. He shared some of his stories were strangers helped him find food or shelter. He also shared some scary experiences with truck drivers. I had always wanted to do this – Travel across India and Aflal’s journey reminded me of my dream and motivated me to act upon it. 

During our walk, we came across a beautiful waterfall by the road. Vattakanal mini waterfall had no tourists around. Due to some recent death, tourists were prohibited from entering the waterfalls in this region. 

We continued our walk till Pillar Rocks. We tried some local chocolates on the way. It was okay. We met Benny on the way. Benny sits all-day outside a rich man's estate and tries to attract attention of the passerby for a visit to the nurses in the property. He looked at Aflal’s ring and held on to it. Aflal decided to gift it to him. Benny was delighted and his face suddenly cheered up. With a childlike curiosity he asked – “Will this ring bring good luck?”. Aflal replied – “Someone gave this to me with good intentions and therefore this will only do good.” Benny was happy with that reply. It is people like Benny who fill me up with joie de vivre and remind me again and again that how little is actually needed to be happy. Unfortunately, even Benny does not realise this. 

At Pillar rocks view point, a crowd had gathered. Many students had come for a school trip to Kodaikanal. The views were spectacular. I managed to take a time lapse video there. 

From here, we walked to Guna caves which was another 2km away. All along the route, Aflal and I discussed a lot about various topics. Guna caves is nothing like what I have seen before. The cave itself is closed now but the roots of the trees surrounding this region is very interesting. The roots are above the surface of the earth and the twists and turns it has produced gives a haunted look to the place. 

We spent some time capturing videos of the sun rays trying to penetrate the canopy of trees. When it did, stripes of light entered the relatively dark space we were in, thus creating a beautiful effect. 

We began to walk back. Thanks to Aflal and the conversations we were having, I was not tired and did not even realise the time. We decided to go to the Dolphin nose. On our way, we met Benny again. He was very happy to see us. He told us that he would finish duty at 5pm and then he would head back home. He lived close to the Vattakanal waterfall. He invited us home for dinner and told us that he would offer us passion fruit from his garden. We agreed and continued our walk. 

Along the way, a few villagers were packing freshly harvested carrots. When asked, they offered us a few. That was our lunch for the day. Surprisingly, I never felt hungry. Perhaps it was the Pongal, rich in lentils and ghee that I had eaten in the morning.

The walk to Dolphin nose was long and tiring. We passed through Mountain viewpoint but the view was covered with clouds. We continued the walk along the trail. Some villagers have setup stores along the way that serve Maggie, bread-omelette and fresh fruit juice. Aflal left his bag at one of the stores. 

At Dolphin nose, the view was spectacular. We could see the city of Kodaikanal in front of us. The cloud covered and uncovered the view. We sat there for more than an hour. We met several groups of young people who were visiting the place. This short trek to the viewpoint can be tiring for the old, unless experienced. There are a few Rhododendron trees around this region and they had flowered. Unlike in the north of India, here people do not seem to make juice or wine out of them. 

Some of them suggested that we walk further down for about a km to view the sunset at Echo point. Aflal and I witnessed a beautiful sunset there. We were the only two there. Watching a beautiful sunset from Echo point, discussing about life and travels was a perfect way to end this day.  

When we reached the main road, it was dark and we began walking towards town that was around 5km away. A young man whom we had met at Dolphin nose offered us a ride for some distance. Town was still 3km away. A jeep driver offered us a ride till town. Since Aflal mentioned that he was riding all over india without money, the driver hesitated for money. He indirectly hinted at this. Sensing it, I requested him to drop us at the bus stand for Rs100. He readily agreed. He had offered us a favour and there was nothing wrong in paying him a share. Aflal wanted to hitch-hike on a truck to Tiruppur that same night.  The jeep driver warned Aflal and asked him not to take such risks. I think Aflal had already taken so many risks that this advice would not be of any value to him. 

Considering that we had walked over 20km, I knew that he was tired. In this condition, without a meal, I did not want him to go looking for a truck. Since he had to be in Kasaragod for some event in two days, he had to continue his journey. I suggested that we have dinner and then I would sponsor his bus ticket to Dindigul. From there he would find another bus to Tiruppur. He was happy and readily agreed. 

We had dinner at a small store near the bus station – Dosa and idlis. It is when the food went in, I realised how hungry I had been. With some rest, the legs too began to ache a bit. I dropped Aflal at bus station and gave him some money for his journey. 

I am so happy to have met Aflal on this trip. He reminded me of my plans to travel across India in a similar fashion. Though I am not sure if I can hitch-hike now, I surely want to drive across India someday. Aflal too seemed inspired by my stories. He told me that he felt confident about continuing his travels and not pay heed to the criticism he receives. 

Tired that I was, I returned back to my lodge and went to bed straight away. My mind tried to keep me awake with the thoughts of the exciting day, but my tired legs induced pain and asked me for some rest.  

Next morning, I woke up and took a walk around the city. I caught a spectacular sunrise on the way. 

I then walked to the lake and enjoyed the view for sometime. It was peaceful out there. 

Back at the lodge, I freshened up and packed my bags. I had breakfast at Astoria restaurant and then headed to the bus station. The Government bus heading towards Poombarai arrived within 5 minutes of me reaching there. It was time to say goodbye to the Kodaikanal town and head to a rural setting 20km away. With a great start to this trip, I looked for more excitement to follow. 

My Film on Kodaikanal:

CONTINUED HERE: Poombarai - Day 01