It was sometime in May 2018 that the travel itch struck. 5 long months to my last trip (excluding the college Industrial Visit) and after the slew of beaches and sands, I wanted something hilly and misty. Mulling over loads of hill-stations, the choice was made – Munnar – the rolling greens coupled with the tea estates and the explorer in me was dancing with joy. The bookings were made, plans set in motion and then the wait began. August seemed so long away! There was so much I wanted to do and that feeling of inadequacy – which hits me each time I sit down to make my itinerary was back! Everything from the Neelakurinji Safari, the Kathakali and Kalaripattayu Cultural Show at Punarjani Village to the Mayaroor Sandal Forest and Tea Estates were calling out to me. Luckily, the months flew by quickly and August arrived.
A week before I was to take off, the news of incessant rains in Kerala began to filter in. However, the seriousness and the gravity of the situation was not known. Soon, the news of Kochi Airport being shut for 2 hours came in on August 09. At this point in time, I had seriously begun to reconsider my plans. I was scheduled to take off on August 14 and return on August 21. As soon as the news filtered in along with the warning pings from family and friends, it was a flurry of activity at my end. The first call I made was to my host (I mostly prefer booking Airbnbs during my trips as it ensures privacy in budget) who assured me that all was fine in Munnar and the roads from Kochi to Munnar were functional. Although my mind continued to give those warning signals, I decided to do a double check and made a few more calls.
The second call made was to the team at Punarjani Traditional Village in Munnar City where I had already booked tickets for the show. The person at the other end assured me that all was well and Munnar was not flooded. Also, the situation was bad only in certain situations. The third check was Kerala Tourism website where there continued to be posts of sunny Wayanad beaches. Checking multiple weather apps showed the rains would soon clear. All this did ease my mind though I was still wary. I even got a few friends to call and check on my behalf – and the response was the same from all sides. The calling and cross-checking continued till late Monday evening by when, my mind was made up and the bags packed. All responses were the same – “Everything is fine. You can come. Buses are working and roads are open.” Also, the respite from the rains, the re-opening of the Kochi airport boosted the morale and there I was, boarding the flight with my fingers crossed.
However, being solo, and a woman at that comes with its own set of anxieties. I was still not free of worry. Though my flight – which was entirely rain-free and turbulence-free eased my mind further, I needed to be triply sure. The moment I landed in Kochi, the first stop was at the Kerala Tourism kiosk. I wished to confirm if the route was safe – if not, I could atleast buy the return ticket right then and head back. Or set my Plan B in motion. However, the representative assured me that everything was fine. He then went ahead and outlined an elaborate plan of how I could reach Munnar as there were no direct buses from Kochi Airport. I decided to go ahead with a local bus from Aluva, instead of waiting for an AC bus which would take me much longer. Just to cross-check, I even visited the pre-paid taxi counter at Kochi airport where the lady at the desk gave me the same advice and assured me that the routes were open and all was fine.
Wishing everyone lots of sunshine and happiness on Chingam 1, the Malayalam New Year. pic.twitter.com/JzLKw0FRhQ
— Kerala Tourism (@KeralaTourism) August 17, 2018
It was all hunky dory and now, my mind was at ease. Also, the fact that the flight to Kochi was full as well as the bus to Munnar was full. At no point of time did anyone warn a tourist. In fact, each and every one went out of their way to assure me that all was fine and I would definitely enjoy my trip. Till the last moment, I believed them.
At Nelliyampathy, follow a puffing sound to spot the great hornbill, the state bird of Kerala flapping its heavy wings. pic.twitter.com/URpnIxt9Mg
— Kerala Tourism (@KeralaTourism) August 13, 2018
— Kerala Tourism (@KeralaTourism) August 13, 2018
— Kerala Tourism (@KeralaTourism) August 9, 2018
And then, disaster struck. As I was sleeping in the bus, I was woken up by constant calls from my host who informed me, at around 3PM, that the gates to Mattupetty Dam had been opened and Munnar was flooded! He asked me to check with the conductor where the bus was headed as no vehicles were being allowed in Munnar. Enter – Langauge Barrier. After much effort, I managed to communicate what I wanted to say to the conductor and he rubbished the news – their office did not send them any such notice and bus would go to Munnar! I was thoroughly confused. A few locals jumped in and tried assisting me. As they had not heard from their families residing in Munnar, they assumed all was fine. They told me it was perhaps a hoax and that I would reach my destination safely. I even checked news sites to see if there was anything online as well as Twitter timelines but there wasn’t any news anywhere.
Finally, my host called again and told me there was no way I would be able to get in as Munnar was submerged with the flood water. He spoke to the driver and the conductor who still had not received any notice from the Munnar Bus Depot authorities. All the locals in the bus by then had tried connecting with their families. Constant back and forth with my host and he advised me to get down at Adimali, a small town 25-kms before Munnar and even helped me in booking an alternate hotel.
I was still hopeful of the roads clearing up in a day or two but the landslides and incessant rains put all my plans on hold. I was holed up at Rangers Hotel, Adimali. And so were many other tourists as the hotel was full. We were there for nearly 5 days, till one road finally opened up.
I received a lot of calls and messages during that time asking about my well-being and some also questioning my decision to go despite knowing the situation. Well, yes, I went ahead with my trip. That is because each and every one of the authorities listed below in no uncertain terms assured me that everything was fine.
- Kerala Tourism
- My Host
- Multiple hotels
- Entertainment venue centers
- KSRTC Officials
- Prepaid cab
There have been questions raised as to the impact of tourism during this time. However, being a part of it, the tourism was welcomed. Tourists too, did not leave a stone upturned in assisting and aiding the locals. Also, the revenue the tourism brought in at this point of time was much needed. It was a whole lot of warmth and openness that I experienced when I was stranded there. The hotel I stayed at in Adimali, the staff came from Munnar. They were also stranded with no way to get to their families. The adversity bonded us like nothing else. From assisting the staff to giving them tips – all the tourists in the hotel too did their bit. Contacting the local police daily, going to the market to get the limited supplies… It was an experience like no other.
Yes, I continue to get judgmental looks and arguments as to why I went and what I did there, how I strained the economy further. Maybe I did. Maybe I did not. But I know that I definitely learned a whole lot about warmth and hospitality. About how disasters ravage a place, but never the spirit. About how it is never the people but rather the powers at the top that play the games causing the losses.
No, I do not regret one moment of the trip. Rather, I cherish the learnings.