It was almost lights out in the small town of Bathlagundu at the Kodai foothills when we took advantage of the cool night to begin clocking the almost-3000 kays of the trip ahead.
"Soak in the weather while it's still possible," said Hari, as we closed in on Bangalore in the wee hours of the morning. He couldn't have been more right...
We touched down in Karnataka's capital just before sunrise, so it worked well to beat the headache that is driving in the city, and waited briefly on Kodai Cheese Bangalore distributor Murali Shanker to unload the first batch of product. The street dogs around were certainly more friendly than the watchman, who acted strangely paranoid about the shadow of the truck falling on his vacant property or something.
You can't do good work if your heart and soul ain't in it, and that's exactly why Kodai Cheese is now widely available across most retail outlets pan-India. The abundance of all-nighters and long hours are testament to Hari's dedication to his beloved company. He believes in hands-on participation with his team, even for the not-so-glamorous loading and unloading of the dairy products. Think two tons of cargo, and you'll begin to get the picture.
The Bangalore batch was quickly dispensed into the warehouse, and we wasted no time in getting back on the road, because as people from these parts know, time is traffic. The road to overnight stop Belgaum was long and mostly straight, and our faces cooked sunny side up with the mercury rising to well over 40 degrees. Needless to say a few kilos were shed under the shower that evening...
We were out of Belgaum by half past four, and made the 300-odd kilometres to Pune in good time. It was to be another full workday, with the GPS set to Belgaum-Pune-Mumbai-Pune.
The fresh fruit juice that tagged along for the journey in the reefer not only kept us going in the sun, but also helped get things moving with the grateful warehouse staff.
The second round of cambrie, blue, and feta was off-loaded and registered efficiently, which was a good thing, because the financial capital too needed its own share of sumptuous Kodai Cheese to find its way into salad bars, pizzerias, Italian restaurants, wine bistros and dinner tables across the city.
The excited cries in Marathi of the energetic toll booth attendants allowed us a quick entry into Aamchi Mumbai at lunch time - how they handle the sheer numbers of vehicles entering the city is truly remarkable. No time to check out the city sights or nightlife though, because Kodai Cheese is a tightly-run ship that prides itself on its niche appeal, where timeliness of order delivery obviously plays a crucial role. It's really no wonder that the family-owned firm with humble beginnings has grown into the player it is in the market today.
After a little misbehaviour on Google's part, we made our way into the unloading bay of the distribution centre in Parel. The cheery staff kept spirits high while the final ton of product was transferred into storage, bound for the company's ever-expanding list of upmarket clientele that already include The Taj Group of Hotels, 1471 Pizzeria, and Olive Bristo, to name a few.
Never a dull moment with Mr. Tiwari and his super-sweet tea the next day, and the negotiating over a shining HMT cream separator allowed me to witness the no-nonsense attitude towards business - Kodai Cheese prides itself on constantly staying ahead of industry standards.
Kodai Cheese began its tryst with cheesemaking all those years ago in 1972 in a small factory in Kodaikanal, founded two generations ago by Sri Shanker. The fully-independent firm hasn't looked back ever since, expanding operations to an organic farm just outside the town of Bathlagundu, Tamil Nadu. Operations have been streamlined over the past several years, and a 60-ton cold storage unit is proof that the company remains fully dedicated to furthering of the popular Kodai Cheese brand, with ISO 22000 certifaction and exclusive national and international clients.
We had already been on the road for eleven hours when it was time to call it quits for the day, but not before a famished devouring of several rather deadly rotis and peas masala at a dhaba we discovered just after Hubli.
Separator secure. Check. Back on the expressway watching the familiar lane markings getting sucked under the pickup again, we began the six-hour trek to Bangalore. All was thankfully calm as we bypassed the city at around two in the afternoon via the rather NICE road.
Hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go.
We were armed with enough liquids for a month-long desert trek but needn't have worried, because the skies opened up for the first time three hundred kays from home on NH7, mercifully doing away with the hot wind buffeting inside.
Scores of toll booths later, this aged operator passed on the change. The highway can be a cruel place for some, we reflected during one of the several discussions in the cab that varied from fond high school memories to the sorry state of truck drivers in the country.
Almost seven, south Indiaah, yes, the last leg of the journey has to be pulled because our journey was drawing to a close with the Kodaikanal exit fast approaching.
Traffic junctions rarely look inviting, but we toasted Bathlagundu loudly as we did away with the final five kays to the Kodai Cheese farm.
Ah, but only for some folk in this story. For the special cheesemaker, however, it's business as usual with a start at daybreak despite the mammoth excursion over the past few days. Just another example of how Kodai Cheese continues to remain focused on pushing the boundaries of Quality Concentric.