As soon as the rumors started floating about an upcoming holiday, I immediately opened my otherwise boring work mailbox. There it was! The holiday-memo email.. yoohoo! I unlocked my mobile and dialed the hubby. The phone rang. “Hello?” I breathed an air of tension into that word. It met with an excited “We have an off day Monday! Let’s call them and plan” response from him. And yayyy went all the happy hormones in my system. Long weekend! The heavens had finally opened up to shower the holiday starved working class with some extra beer.
I rang up my partner-in-crime since my school days, Santa and her husband Banta (names changed to save my ass) who live in Bangalore as well. I could almost hear Santa’s couch breaking under her weight as she was jumping on it because she had just received the news about the weekend plus one. We talked to Santa and later to Banta and zeroed in on Wayanad for the weekend getaway. Why Wayanad- the drive through the jungles appealed to Banta and the hubby, whereas Santa and I were focused on finding cool jungle resorts. Logically the only jungle resort that can be available at the eleventh hour was that one which had free accommodation and additional facilities like sleeping with wild elephants and boars under the star lit sky. Trip with Santa and Banta meant death by laughter. As we were couples who were just couples without babies at that point in time, we were even ready to sleep in the car in the worst case. Sigh! Those were the times!
So my early bird husband woke up even before the ghosts did – at 3:00 am. He shook me awake and rang up Banta and woke them up as well. We started from home around 4:00 am and headed to Santa’s apartment and waited outside. Soon two policemen came in a white jeep and stopped next to us. The police gestured hubby to walk to him. Soon the hubby was seen talking and pointing towards me. The potbellied man got out of the vehicle and walked towards me. “What’s your name?” He asked. ‘Anita’ I replied. “Whom are you waiting for at this hour and what is your relationship with this man? “He demanded. Seriously these Sherlock Holmes wannabes are really ambitious. I opened the dashboard and produced a copy of our marriage certificate. Suddenly his expression changed from a high profile detective to that of a scared rabbit. I also produced copies of our identity cards, which he was not interested to check. He then said, “You cannot park the car here. This is a main road”. Oh, that is why he wanted to know my relationship status. If we were not a couple we could park the car on the main road? Soon enough, we spotted Banta and Santa sleepwalking towards our car. The spicy narration of the policemen incident woke them to hearty laughs and active conversations thereafter.
The drive took us through the spectacular woods along the Bangalore-Mysore-Wayanad route. The picturesque locations and thick jungles with occasional sightings of wild elephants, boars, peacocks and deer were serene and peaceful to our senses which were otherwise abused by the polluted city lives we led. Even the animals, as we spotted them seemed to be extremely at ease and it was the reflection of freedom they enjoyed in the environment where it actually belonged. It was a striking contrast in comparison to the misery and helplessness we often see in the eyes of zoo animals. We slowed down and clicked many pictures, even though there were certain restrictions about doing that. Finally we reached ‘Jungle Hut’ where Banta and hubby had made a reservation (without our knowledge) and checked in. The resort lived up to its name with lush greenery all around.
Jungle Hut consisted of various tiny cottages set in the real forests of Wayanad. The staff said that most guests are greeted by herds of deer in the mornings as they opened their doors, but we really did not believe that. This came as a joke to people like me who've not seen even a dog in like, ages. The jungles which were close by are said to have a remarkable tiger population too, and the national animal had marked its presence a few times to the lucky few who happened to be driving at that time. The staff therefore warned us to not hang around outside the cottage at night. They stressed this point several times to Banta and hubby, as they pretended not to hear that and kept clicking pictures when the dos and don’ts were explained. They also reminded us that once we were settled in cottage and needed anything we should dial the reception and not answer the door even if it is being knocked at night. That line was a bit spooky for Santa and me who were already scared listening to tiger tales. We received our keys and walked to Cottage no:29, which had two bedrooms separated by a door.
It was almost half past ten when we found certain brochures on the coffee table by the window. The last page of the brochure said, that many people have had unfortunate encounters with wild animals, especially tigers in that area, and therefore one should not venture outside at night. Thoroughly city bred kids like us could not digest the fact that there were real tigers outside. That’s when it started raining. It started with a drizzle and strong breeze but soon evolved into a heavy downpour. The noise it made against the cottage roof was so deafening that we couldn't hear each other anymore. The lights in the porch went off, and those inside the room flickered. We just stared at each other wondering what could be the next plan of action in case the lights were to go off. The only weapon for last minute planning to a jungle trip power outage was mobile torches. And we knew how long that was going to last. I hurriedly took the land phone to dial the reception, but it also had succumbed to nature’s fury. The mobile phones struggled and failed in its attempts to find a network so we could call the reception. Altogether, we were trapped in a cottage in the middle of a jungle, weaponless. Our lives hung around the strength of the door knob that locked us in the cottage. Even though we were snacking and talking, the fact that it had started to rain and that we lost any contact with the hotel authorities sank in on us. Our conversations started losing color, and in some time, we were just snacking and plainly looking at each other.
Soon, headlights from a distant vehicle pierced into our room. We tried to peep through the window, but the downpour allowed us only to see the two headlights that blinded our eyes. We came back to our motionless existence.
In a few minutes, there was a knock on our door. To open the door was foolish. It was almost midnight. There were groups of drunk bachelors in other cottages. The knock sent horrific chills down our spines.
After a few moments of discussion we asked, ‘Who is it?”.
No answer. We kept our ears against the door, as we weren't sure if we were audible to whoever was knocking. After five minutes of knocking and intense trials to make ourselves heard, the knock stopped. And soon enough the headlights were switched off too. We gathered our heartbeats and tried to sleep.
The next morning, we headed to the reception and gave a peppery account of the knock-knock episode from the previous day. The staff was as clueless as we were, because they were not the same guys we saw last night. They obviously worked in shifts. We continued to breakfast and proceeded to Soochippara Waterfalls, adhering to our instant itinerary.
This was a place which was untouched by commercialization. It was at least a fifteen minute walk through a narrow stone paved path with lush greenery alongside, to reach the falls. As we walked through, a very familiar face turned to look directly at me. “Lanta!” I exclaimed. Santa knew her too, as we were all batch mates of the same school. It is such a stark coincidence to meet someone you know, that too a batch mate, at a random tourist spot! The encounter progressed with loud shrieks and excitement. Lanta was on a weekend getaway too. As we walked we talked about everyone in our batch who were married, engaged, divorced or making babies. The time we spent at the falls with our new company was priceless. We walked back with lots of memories and were exhausted from all the laughter and exhilaration. By the time we reached the car it was time to bid goodbye to Lanta and the wonderful time we had with her.
“So, where did you stay? I asked in curiosity.
“Oh. This resort…”.she said carelessly. “We were supposed to check out yesterday. We tried to move our car out of the parking area, but because of the rain one of the tires got stuck in the mud. We tried every possible way to get it out. There was another car parked adjacent to ours. If that one could be moved a little bit, there were chances we could get ours out”
“Then?” Santa and I asked in unison.
“Then what! In an attempt to not disturb the tourists we tried to get the tires out of the mud hole in the incessant rain. Finally drenched and tired we went to reception and they accompanied us to the cottage of the tourists whose car it was”
“Those cowards did not respond despite us knocking for at least ten odd minutes. The staff tried to contact them on their mobile phones but after the rain started, the network was screwed as well. So we went back to the reception and extended our stay. As we were supposed to be back home yesterday and couldn't be contacted on mobile, our parents were terrified and had a sleepless night” Lanta turned to her husband ..’Honey, which cottage was it?’
“Cottage Number 29. Jungle Hut’.
Lanta drove her way back to Kerala.
Back in the confines of our car, we felt amused and terrible at the same time. We were too surprised to express our confused emotions.
Our extended weekend was over and we drove into our respective busy lives. That same night I took my mobile, and messaged Lanta.
“We were the ones in Cottage 29, Jungle Hut. You're welcome. No mention”.