The Bannari temple road connects Coimbatore to Mysore, and its a road that few drivers would choose to navigate. There are twenty seven hairpin bends all along the road, where landslides are frequent, and a slip will easily let you disappear into the thick Satya Mangalam forests that until recently used to be the hideout of the infamous Sandlewood smuggler and Ivory poacher, Veerappan. The only reliable safety measure for drivers here is the Bannari temple at the foothills of the Malai Mahadeshwara hills, just before the road starts, a temple that was constructed as soon as the road was, so that the travellers would have the grace of God before the ventured to navigate it.
Initially, buses would not cross over from Tamil Nadu to Karnataka, so the changeover used to happen at the top of the hill, at the borders, where it was customary for the passengers to get down, vomit, clean up and board the next bus. By car, a simple wave of the hand to the forest officers there is sufficient to get you past, there is no checking that takes place now a days. The simple rule of the road is that those travelling uphill have their way... the others just move out, even if it means driving on the wrong side of the road so that it is easy for the bulky trucks to navigate around the hairpins.
Throw in an old Ambasador here, complete with the ring horn (a steering wheel kind of apparatus, right on the steering wheel, the whole thing being a horn) and a derelict air conditioner, and have the wild cat, fox, deer and elephant infested tropical forest rushing past, its a perfect setting to hear exploits of the famed sandlewood smuggler, Veerappan.
Veerappan, was apparently someone both feared and respected by the villagers in the area. Whether it was because of some Robin Hood tendencies, or a matter of bribing a lot of mouths into silence, Veerappan would regularly provide money to the villagers. They would look upto him as a prtoector and a sort of a Dada. In turn, they would provide him and his gangmembers with clothing and other such necessities which required him contact with what we would call civilisation. He used to be ruthless towards informers, anyone who blabbered would be brutally killed, and apparently a lot of the law officials and the local politicans were on his side because of the funds he diverted towards them. Apart from smuggling sandlewood and ivory, he would make demands after kidnapping prominant people. Demands that would enable him to sustain his activities.
A special task force was formed by the Tamil Nadu state in order to stop him in his tracks, and that's when things started getting ugly. It is widely rumored that he killed his own children to prevent detection from the baby's cries. His modu operandi for killing the officials on his track was to announce a surrender... at such a place and time, and when the officials would arrive there, he would have his people at a vantage point taking them all out with rifles. The bandits would circle from points higher up in the valley - when the officials would be trapped down below.
The special task force used the same techniques to nab him in the end... some guy named Vijay Kumar apparently infiltrated his ranks for a good five years, suggested that Veerappan would get his eyes checked when they were weak. Two members of the special task force hid below the planks of the ambulance van sent into the jungle to treat veerappan. When Veerappan entered, Vijay Kumar and the other official sprang out, and demanded that he surrender. When he refused to surrender, they shot him down there without further ado.
The source for this story is from my uncle, however I remember some controversy over how he died, some claim that he killed himself when he knew he was about to be captured, another claimed that he was killed by a gangmember... although it could well be possible that the identity of Vijay Kumar as this gangmember has been kept a secret to protect him.
Was nice to hear the story though, such expiriences are pretty rare, pity I didnt travel the road at night.