PR and I did a little reconnaissance trip and chose a lovely looking shack for dinner. You had to access it by way of a small bridge. Their menu promised yummy food. The seating on the first floor was on low tables lit by candlelight. With such an atmosphere, very little could have spoilt dinner. NA and self engaged in a juvenile competition to figure out who could blow tiny bits of wax the furthest distance on our table. When everything was eaten, and I was proven clear winner of the competition, we started for our hotel.
We had seen autorickshaws on the road to the beach the previous night and were not unduly worried about the transport. Sure enough, when we got to the road, the autos were lined up on either side. Unfortunately there was no sign of a single driver. And just like that, we decided to walk up the seven kms to our resort.
My beach floaters were already coming apart. With some ingenious ideas from SA, they were fixed. PR and SA were not in trekking gear either. NA was the only one comfortable in the footwear department and had atleast recovered from his dehydration attack. After ten minutes, I began to get worried. The road was in excellent shape but there was no one on it now. The only light was from SA’s torch and the moon. I had read a sign board on the dirt track between Kudle and Om beaches cautioning people to be careful about thieves and animals after sunset. I was not sure if both parties had spread their areas of operation to include the road we were on. There was thick vegetation on both sides of the roads and insects buzzing intermittently. When I had worked myself up to a frenzy, I figured out it was time for some distraction. And thus began the question round.
We talked and talked and talked for the next hour, asking each other inane questions like ‘what soap do you use’ to interesting ones like ‘if you had to pick out one person of your own sex to date, whose looks would you prefer’ to personal ones like ‘what thing did you most enjoy doing as a child’ (My answers to that – Pears, Angelina Jolie and traveling with cousins). We stopped for a water break but after the general spookiness of the place began to set in, decided mentally to just continue walking non stop.
A little later, we could hear the howl of a dog at a distance. Other dogs woke up and responded. The hillside was suddenly a frenzy of mad barking. We were finally approaching a village and the village dogs had woken up. I froze and walked on auto-pilot based on instructions from SA to act normal, fervently wishing I had not read the Hound of the Baskervilles as a child. Earlier in the trip PR and SA had discussed how scary it was to face dogs in the nights. They tend to gang up and terrorize you and even though you knew at a logical level that they would not bite, it was still an experience one could avoid. I had not commented on this topic, not having experienced it before. It was as though fate had decided to broaden my life’s experiences. We walked at our usual pace; looking nonchalant (I like to think). The dogs continued barking. I eyed the walls of the houses in the village we were passing through, checking out which were the best ones to clamber over. The walk lasted a mere five minutes (and obviously a very long time for me) and we were done with the dogs. I realized except for me, the rest were quite alright.
The only good thing was I stopped worrying too much about the thieves and wild animals. Atleast we were in civilization, such as it was. After sometime, we could hear the next set of dogs barking. Simultaneously, we could also hear an auto put-put in the distance, approaching us. We stopped the auto to ask for a ride. After two minutes, SA thanked them and waved them away and explained that he was fairly certain the occupant of the auto was not particularly sober. Clearly, facing the dogs seemed a better prospect. So we continued through the next round of dogs. By this time, I had given up all pretence of being calm and began to slowly mutter all devotional songs I knew (largely repeating a few words over and over again given my pathetic knowledge of such things)
We were on the last leg. The final set of dogs was awaiting us at the turn up the hill to our road. We were quite exhausted by now. It was 11.45 in the night and being in bed seemed like a fairly good idea. The dogs were standing at shoulder height, thanks to the terrain and I could hear SA promise himself to come and make mince meat of them the next morning. Company finally! PA continued to walk about like she was making her entrance at a ball – graceful, with her wraparound skirt held up. NA looked like he could not have cared about the dogs’ actions one way or the other. Luckily the dogs were happy with just a display of their vocal prowess and did not reach for the jugular.
Beyond the turning, the road disappeared into a wild mesh of stones and mud. We had to pick our way carefully since we could barely see and ran a decent risk of falling over the cliff’s edge. Thinking back, I realized that we had walked practically non stop for seven kms uphill – a feat I had not achieved even on days when I was supposed to be officially trekking. Also, suddenly the beauty of the countryside, bathed in moonlight hit me and I basked in the glorious shared walk.
Later on, when I heard PR narrate her version of the story, I realized she had been less paranoid than me and had thoroughly enjoyed herself from the word go. Being brought up on a hill station, she was used to deserted roads and barking dogs. Still, as memories go, this one will live on for a long time.