Whatever the Tamilnadu chief minister claims, life was not normal on October 1, when the state was to have observed bandh. A last minute court ruling held back the ruling DMK from its plan to shutdown the state on that day. A shutdown would have been better than a neither-here-nor-there situation that prevailed. People, who normally stayed indoors during bandh, were out and about on the streets, thinking that the bandh call had been withdrawn , but there was no public transport. An hour after shops at the Coonoor market opened, word went round that they be closed. So it was shutters down at 11, an hour after the opening time. Liquor shops remained open, but eating houses chose to close, putting tourists and other out-of-town visitors to hardship.
We, my wife and I, were on road that day, traveling from Coonoor to Mysore. This post is not about bandh, but about the police ‘bandha’ at Thalakunda check-post, on the outskirts of Ooty town. They have the RTO and forest dept. checkposts, at the point where the road forks out, with one road leading to Gudalur, and the other, to Kallatty. Those heading to Mysore/Bangalore prefer the K-road, which is some 30 odd km shorter and saves over an hour in travel time.
On that day (Oct.1) we ran into a makeshift check-post manned by a couple of cops. They waved down cars and vans, and dismissively diverted them towards the longer, Gudalur route. It appeared tourist vehicles with out-station number-plate were singled out for the diversion. The drivers who wanted to take the shorter route had to show their papers to a policeman in a roadside booth. Outside, I chatted up another cop who explained this was a precautionary check to ensure safe driving through the Kallatty ghat section, which has 36 hairpin bends.
“These drivers from the plains,” said the cop, “drive, with a few drinks in, unguardedly; and we want to advise/caution them of the dangers ahead, that’s all”. As he was explaining things, our driver who was busy with the cop in the booth, came out to take Rs.50 from me, and returned to the booth with the cash to retrieve his papers. Moments later we were on our way, along the Kallatty road. The policeman’s ‘travel advice’, it emerged, came with a price tag.
Oddly enough, we hadn’t run into these check-post cops a day earlier when we came in to Ooty from Mysore. But then, it was then the turn of the chap at the RTO check-post to touch us for Rs.50. The RTO check-post set us back by Rs.200 on our way in – Rs.150 for the road permit; and our driver was not sure what the other Rs.50 was for. If it was the guy at RTO check-post on our way in, it was the police on our way out of Ooty. An arrangement of convenience to fleeze tourists, I guess. Earlier, shortly after we entered Mudumalai in Tamilnadu we ran into a road-block at which we were asked to pay Rs.25, ostensibly, towards the cost of strengthening a culvert on the forest road.