I go South in a Tata Nano

Posted on Posted in South India Journeys

A long unplanned road trip begins

I did not buy her with my head. She struck the right chord in my heart and I fell for her. I did some round abouts in the city until she hinted it was time she hit the g-quad. It started with a humble run to Lonavla and helped me find some late night ginger tea. Her fuel bar neither flickered nor did I find her gasping on the express way. For those who left me in the dust I  could not care less. For, the purpose was not to challenge other motorists but to see for oneself. She inspired confidence in me and then happened Pune and later Goa. Her ability to handle the twisties of Amboli ghat with aplomb and return a staggering 24 kmpl left me speechless. There was never a shade of doubt after that and we were ready to do the unthinkable. A mega drive to South India. Well, I had not picked up a map this time and plotted every single stop on it. I just wanted to drive down South and may be pick my itinerary on the way. I wanted to let the plan unfold on the way.

My first stop is a few kilometers before the Wai exit on NH4. There is life everywhere. Its 5 am and I needed my sip of tea. The road side was dotted with numerous well lit dhabaas serving vegetarian food. Mixed bhel, onion pakoras, cold beverages , hot sweet tea and mineral water. I was not in the mood to eat but picked some water and chai. The road was buzzing with tyre noise and horns from the heavy vehicles that rumbled along. Some truckers stopped to splash their worn faces with cold water stored in mud pots along these dhabaas. A quick bidi , some tea, tyre check and they were off again. I could not miss out on the loud local music  that filled the eerie silence of the gaps between vehicles that passed by. I had a long way to go. I finished my tea, picked my bottle and continued. I am about to cross the border and I come across this hotel / restaurant . its a pretty large place and one cannot miss it. On your left towards Nipani on NH4.

Food quality is OK. Actually everything tastes good when one is hungry. I was too lazy for the self service option though. The knickknacks shop adjacent helped me find some gum. A must if I needed to stay awake at the wheel. The name Maganlal that is synonymous to chikki can be found well beyond Lonavla. My tank is getting close to empty and to avoid running dry , I switched the ac off and started looking desperately for a petrol pump. Cruising along got me some fantastic efficiency and helped me cross the fantastic Kagal – Kolhapur stretch.

It was time then to enter the  state of Karnataka. I finally found a fuel station and pulled over to tank up. From here on , I drove towards Chennai and going by the Nano’s unhurried pace, knew that I will be reaching Bangalore late in the evening.  Karnataka was to be crossed via Hosur in the wee hours of the next morning then.  By the time I reached Chennai , I would be having over a dozen toll receipts. I did not mind paying for it one bit considering the ease and confidence with which one could do inter-state road trips.  My sunrise will be in Chennai. My first word being – Vannakam !

It was 6 am and all through the night i was chugging along the highway with intermittent stops to catch a few winks. My depleted energy reserves were now fully charged to be received by sunny Chennai. The land of Tamils. Colorful, exuberant and friendly. The ultimate expression in stone, in music and in religion.

My first stop was to find a poster of AMMA that could dwarf my nano. I offered my salute and proceeded for a superb time in this city that was bracing itself for a marathon event around the famous marina beach. Being a sunday the streets were empty. While I had driven in Chennai quite extensively , I wanted to view her from a traveler’s perspective. I took time to watch all the little things that went around in this city; where almost all are very early to rise. I cannot read or write Tamil but can speak fluently. Not too far away on the other side was this man who gave me an estranged look finding it impossible to believe what I was trying to do in the middle of the road, grabbing people for pics. Tamil script everywhere.  I was all set to proceed to the beach promenade but had to slow down for some Brit Bombshells housed behind a large glass facade.

I could not help but slam the brakes. My car screeched right past the Triumph showroom. I took a moment to glance at those beauties who had come ashore with a loud bang. The range of motorcycles on offer is remarkable. Pretty much a bike for every need. The prices equally delicious and quality impeccable. It was just 8.00 am and the guard outside gently signaled – please come at 10.00 am. I locked my choice that am hoping will roll into my garage someday. My blood is already rushing to my heart and before I ended up with some crazy idea to joy ride one , I whisk myself away.

I returned to my nano that was screaming unobtrusive practicality. I switched on and began my hunt for some roadside cutting tea. Yellow bananas are available at every street. You can never starve in Chennai. These carbohydrate loaded fruits are great to pack that much needed energy. So, after being mesmerized by Triumph, I pinched myself into reality and finally hit this Tea joint. A glass of Tea for Rs. 7/- . experience and taste – priceless. An assortment of baked and fried snacks were a treat to watch. I was neither in the mood to kill the lingering taste of tea nor was I wanting to contaminate the taste by preceding it with something else. Especially a sweet . I could see various genres of people stop by and enjoy the drink. I was wide awake by now and so was Chennai.

Chennai wakes up!

My arrival in Chennai on the eve of a marathon event was pure coincidence. The next day morning was spent talking to locals , sipping tea and having a visual orgasm at the Triumph showroom. Traffic cops were on high alert considering the run was not too far away from the high profile government dignitaries on beach road. Since there was some traffic diversion , it took me a while to figure out my way.

 

I was very hungry. I yearned for some Idleee (rice cakes), not just any. This time I wanted to try it at the famous Murugan Idli Shop. After some talking with the locals , I headed to T-Nagar , Panagal Park. I entered the well lit up dining hall and asked with a hungry face ” do you serve Idlees” ? Am glad the reply was a ” Yes”. I looked no further and ordered for 2. It was a treat to watch how a bare banana leaf that was first wiped with sprinkled water suddenly looks so neat and colorful. Until one starts eating of course! Let’s not get there. I followed my order with 2 medhu vadaas, 1 onion uttappa , 1 sugar pongal and a filter coffee.

My honest review.

The idlees were kind of pulling away than breaking away. The vadaas and utappa were awesome. Sugar pongal was from pure ghee. I was in heaven after tucking my T-shirt out. So, overall am not sure if I would recommend this place for a die-hard idliate.

Kollywood. No matter how many fresh faces hit the screens, no matter how many wallpapers of debutants make their way on cell phones , no matter how often posters get updated on the city walls as you see here…

 

There is and will be only 1 Thalaivaaa ( Rajnikant ) .

 

ECR – Gets hotter and spectacular too.

I had a fantastic experience in Chennai and felt great to meet my good old friend Shyam after ages. Within no time we were having a laughter riot over old incidents and jokes. Shyam has done a few drives down south and was kind enough to advise about the route I could take to Pondicherry (Puducherry in Tamil). There are basically 2 options. The Chengalpattu – Villupuram road and the coastal road. Both options have excellent 2-way roads with the difference being the former has a median and hence safer. East Coast Road (ECR as everybody fondly refers to it as) is alongside The Bay of Bengal but has no median.

With a travelogue in mind, spending too much time in Chennai was not the choice. Being a coastal city the heat and humidity were already taking a toll on me. Even if you were to drive in an air conditioned vehicle, the searing tarmac reflects all the heat. Sometimes you wish to drive only around sunrise and after sunset. For any drive especially a long hot one, it is essential that one rests very well and keeps dehydration at bay. Rather than a smoke, soda or hot beverage, plain water is your best friend. I would finish a liter every 75-100 kilometers and it was working great for me.

I was heading to Pondicherry, a colony once ruled by the French and today a major tourist holiday destination down South. This union territory is known for its cleanliness, pristine beach front and bright white buildings. There is a sense of calmness around this place especially when you come down from a metro.

The major attractions here are: Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi memorials , museums, Boat House tower and the beach front. I was here purely to spend time on the beach front and proceeded to have breakfast at LA Terrasse.

About LA Terrasse….

It is on the way to the Indira Gandhi memorial immediately after the last right turn you make on the beach road. I reached there at about 0930 hours and there was not a soul around. The food was not cheap and nothing to tip over either. You get a comfortable setting with some bamboo furnishings for company. You may also want to try out restaurants on 100 feet road but beware , none offer Wi-Fi. Except for The Promenade Hotel and Cafe Coffee Day which are on the beach road.

Breakfast done. Map revisited. I headed further down on ECR. If it is a large clean beach that you wish to enjoy then head straight to Silver Beach , Cuddalore that is 21 kilometers ahead. My destination for a night  halt was Ramananthapuram. Considering the number of breaks i was taking to capture anything that interested me on the road, I knew dispatching the distance of about 350 kms would take me a while. My Nano was not to be blamed for this . she had already proven her credentials over the last 1500 kilometers , smiling and wanting many more.

One can continue to stick to ECR or deviate towards the Perambalur – Tiruuchchirapallli SH- 45B route. This road will further connect you to the fantastic Southern Grand Trunk Road of Madurai – Kanyakumari NH 7. I was not done with ECR and proceeded to Karaikal. Just when I was reaching Karaikal port road, I saw these villagers ganged up to sell coconuts and sea food. I anyways needed a body stretch myself and stopped by. Pictures articulate the fun and experience. Ramananthapuram was still 260 kilometers away and i wanted to be there by 9.00 pm. It is always a good idea to reach a place during business hours especially when you don’t have hotel reservations or a friend’s house to stay over. Nano gets another full tank and I showed her the beans.

It was almost 8.00 pm and I see the sign board that reads Ramananthapuram. Now just 47 kilometers more. Some more water and i am off again. It’s now  9.44 pm and I am in the bustling town. I manage to check into a very good hotel. Shower done. Dinner done. Quick calls. Next morning I will in one of the most beautiful places on the South East coast.

Rameshwaram here I come. 

Once you pass Pondicherry, the roads are not too broad. But are pretty good with the occasional breakers and potholes that one needs to watch out for. The people in small towns here swear by the mopeds. The ones that are in pretty bad shape take ages to stop. If you have one tail gating you, be prepared to welcome that rider in your rear seat when you have to stop pretty fast. The thirsty me had pulled over to the extreme left of the road to pick some bottled water. I always have this tendency of keeping an eye on my ride especially on such roads. As I quenched my thirst, suddenly, I saw this long haired aged man on a rickety moped wobbling his way barely 10 feet away from my car. Before I could imagine the worst , I heard this loud Thud. My jaw dropped below my ankles and i bolted to the site.

The oldie still on his bike , profusely and rhythmically apologized ” Saaaaar Saaarrry Saaar”

In South India ….

Sir is pronounced ” Saaar” .
Hot is pronounced ” Haaaat”
Sorry is pronounced ” Saaarrry”

I looked at him with blood shot eyes reminiscent of a senior south movie mega hero, fist clenched, tongue rolled and bitten. I held his handle bar with Schwarzenegger grip and bent over my nano’s bumper to witness the moment of truth. A few shakes and push. A deep breath. Looked like my Nano withstood that blow. A huge sigh of relief but not until a professional thoroughly examined her. The last thing I wanted was an engine damage that would sabotage all my plans ahead. OK, for those who don’t know about Tata Nano, it has its engine at the rear.

I released the oldie’s handle bar and give him that last angry look. He suddenly transforms into Valentino Rossi and disappears into the horizon. My priority now is something else. To find an authorized Tata Dealer and bring heavens down to have my car inspected. I continued driving, desperately looking for one. And there!

It read Manakular Motors – Tata Cars. My joy knew no bounds and I drove into their workshop gate. I am given a warm welcome with a familiarity that goes back to eons of association. I explain my situation and plans. I am comforted with some water and the assurance I never expected from a Tata technician.

My darling, who had her unexpected visit to the parlour , is attended by not 1 or 2 but 5 people. Everything checked. All fluids topped up where needed. She is good to go again.I am told there was no damage at all . No scratches either. I break into this giggle of excitement and the experience feels like a teenager on his first motorcycle.

I could not stop thanking their team enough. Decided to go for a group click of the entire staff.

Thank you Manakular Motors.

Thank you Tata.

Nano on the roll again.

Bring it on !

The tip of east India

It was 5.30 am. I was ready to do one of the most exciting 72 kilometers of my trip.

Destination – Rameshwaram awaited our arrival. The roads were superb. Arrow straight stretches felt endless at 70 kmph. This was pure Super Bike territory and I sorely missed mine.

Once again I had the sea alongside and I ditched the air conditioner in my car to enjoy the breeze. A couple of kilometers into the drive and I stopped just before the historic Pamban bridge. To my left was Rameshwaram railway station on the rail bridge. I loved the sunrise and the waves below sparkling from the light rays above. This was the only road way into and out of Rameshwaram. The temple was still a good 15 kilometers away. I continued along. I  was almost there and took a right turn a few 100 meters before the temple entrance. My destination was something else.

I was not in the mood to say hello to a few Gods and also follow the ritual of bathing with water from the 22 wells therein. I was now heading to the confluence point of The Bay of Bengal with The Indian Ocean.

I reached the last motorable point on that stretch  and gazed around. I could see nothing but acres of marshy land ahead. The cool breeze was blowing on my face and I was still trying to figure out where I was standing.

If there was ever a moment, my car could speak me , it was now. And I  heard her.

A Nano Plea !

O My Lord – Your wish is my command.

You threw a surprise test at me a few days back which I greeted with a smile.

Over the last few days , I have taken you around the forests, the coasts and the highways.

I hope I have done my job well and have not let you down ever. I shall continue to serve whenever and wherever I can.

But now, My Lord, here I stand facing 2 superpowers who are outside land – The Sun and The Ocean.

It is beyond my power to face them and shall disappoint you in my pursuit.

I succumb to them and humbly request you to step out and explore further by an alternate and more capable means of transport.

My Lord , we have reached Land’s end.

You are standing on the south eastern most tip of India.

My Lord – You are at Dhanushkodi.

Switching transport modes

History has it that it was between Dhanushkodi and Lanka that the Vaanar Sena ( monkey armay) had built the floating bridge of stones. I wasn’t going to Lanka but wanted to reach the confluence point somehow. But the remains of the land indicated  that civilization of some sorts had existed here before. May be something too trajic happened to the people here and just washed away all that was there to this place.

So, what was I doing here ? – Nothing

If the answer to the question above was ” Nothing” its because the 1984 Tsunami that took its toll on this place – Dhanushkodi.

And its left with Nothing.

Nothing but rubble.

I parked my little wonder in a suitable place for I realize the plea she made a while ago needed to be taken too seriously considering what I was in for.

Dhanushkodi is a mere 18 kilometers from Sri Lanka. Once you reached the tip, dare not venture ahead without a superb 4×4 and an experienced guide. There are about 80 maxi cabs and jeeps in all that do the tourist duty here all day. All from the Mahindra heavy vehicles stable. I awaited my turn to get into one along with 20 others. Our ride stopped by and I once again witnessed the usual Indian mentality of hooliganism.

I found one man trying to enter from the window. A lady takes ample time at the door to arrange her hair, her wrist watch and pick her Ghagra high enough to compete in the Olympic high jump. If this was not enough about 4 ladies started screaming Bhajjans about 5 inches below my ears. One should not forget that this was a religious place. Dating back to time when Lord Ram decided to build a bridge to bring his kidnapped wife whom most very fondly refer to as Sita Maiyya.

Since JP group and LnT were not there in those years, monkeys with floating stone superpowers helped him. And yes there was No Toll Fee. I think. Though Raavan had requested Ram for a monthly pass. Which Hanuman rejected as he would get bored to fly and pick the same girl evey month from the same place. I step back and hunt for the driver and very politely request if I could sit next to him. He considers my height and politeness . Gladly obliges.

All in. Packed seating.

The spartan bus thrums to life.

5 mins into the drive , a north Indian couple asks.

” waise aap lekar kahaan jaa rahe ho hamey?” ( so, where are you taking us?)

The driver turns around and says ” samundhar ke pass” ( by the sea)

( yes, the drivers can speak some Hindi )

” aap hummey waapis laayengey ? “( will you also get us back?)

The driver and I look at each other with a smirk and WTF expression.

The terrain as seen in the picture would give you an idea about what we drove over. Once we reached there, we were given 20 minutes. Very limited commercial activity. Please don’t expect to see scuba diving or para sailing . This area is the confluence point of The Indian Ocean and The Bay of Bengal. The seas are rough and choppy.

Some were performing rituals.
Some enjoyed the waves.
Some like me enjoyed the view. Truly breathtaking.

Earlier the railway tracks were until this place . The tsunami took its toll on everything . The ruins of the power station, the church and the temple complex were all testimony to the rage of mother nature. We returned to the same point where we boarded from. Each was asked to pay Rs.100/-. I was back in my car and thought for a moment. What I saw was the confluence of 2 . what about the 3rd?  Where would that happen ?

I heard somebody around say ” Triveni Sangam”

Got too ambitious with the capabilities of my Nano. Saw some sand sloping down the road. Knew the consequences but The Eternal Keeda (worm) in me gave it a go. In just 2 mins realized I won’t go any further. Happily got off the car only to find the already puny wheels covered half deep in sand. The sun was giving me a generous tan at about 42 degrees. I tried dancing all over the road to stop some jeeps who might take pity. After a good 35 mins , I decided to hold ground and not let any vehicle pass until they assisted me. A jeep filled with foreign tourists stopped and then looked at my car which by now would have cursed me enough. Six of us with me at the wheel , ploughed her out and she was back to where she behaved best. A big thank you to all. But not without one quiet tourist who asked me ” how did you manage to go there when there is nobody on the road? ” With my looks he realized I was up to something. He shrugs his broad shoulders and waves down in the air muttering “never mind. Drive safe.”

The tip of India

From Chennai I drove all along the coast with the Bay of Bengal for company.

I was at Karaikal port road and had the option to either continue on ECR or move towards the center of Tamil Nadu on the Grand Southern Trunk Road , part of the Golden Quadrilateral. I chose the latter and though there was no respite from the heat, my speed went up considering wider 4 laned toll roads. After driving a significant distance along the sands, I was smelling of the sea and my tongue was tasting salty. The town that I was approaching , was drawing me closer to its scent of pure ghee halwa. The feeling was sweet and I knew I would be in for something sweeter. The town ahead was famous for its temples and its halwa, that I wanted to taste from a shop that’s been there for just 125 years. This shop is called ” Irruta Kadai” .  When translated in English , Iruta – dark / darkness. Kadai – shop. So one might want to call it dark shop. Weird ? What a name !

Here is why.

From the olden days till date this shop has been operating beside a single candle which is now replaced with an overhead incandescent bulb. The business thrives with minimum light . the business hours are 5 – 8 pm or until stocks last. Mostly they are done by 7. There is generally a lot of crowd around this place especially since it is right next to the main gateway to the largest temple here.

The shop has no name , no advertisements or branding anywhere in town , no newspaper or television clips, just nothing. But the way it sells the only item they are famous for ” Halwas” that taste mind blowing. I has the chance to video record a few customers and know more about this place. Parallel with a steady hand I managed some clicks. Lastly before leaving I ensured I had a couple of mouthfuls of this sinful sweet.

My curiosity at Dhanushkodi about the confluence of the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean was getting me interested to drive further south. I had to come to Cape Camorin ( a.k.a Kanyakumari) . The mystery was solved as I entered the mandapam (mandap) from where one could see the confluence of all 3 – Arabian , Indian and Bengal. You can actually see three different colors.

I also took time to capture a day of life at Kanyakumari. Mix of tourists and locals. The biggest attraction though are Vivekananda’s memorial and the statue that stands tall. One needs to take the ferry to reach both these places. I captured some experiences here too

 

 

Killi Josiyam

The subject here is not an English word. Let me translate these Tamil words for you.

Killi means Parrot.
Josiyam means Astrology.

One may want to call it Parrot Tarot.

Am I taking guidance from a Parrot on my travelogue ahead?

I was walking along one of the by-lanes and saw this old man sporting a big white moustache, adorning a dhoti with his forehead revealing his religious belief. He seemed to be very comfortable sitting down and looking at people pass by. Only if somebody approached him did he urge them to know what their future beholds.

I love to try out things when am touring around and this one caught my attention. I never really cared too much about prayers or rings studded with precious stones that define a purpose based on your birth chart , blah blah blah…. to predict my life. And I would not particularly let a parrot predict.

The oldie asks me 2 questions before he is ready to begin.

My name and My age

He stacks the cards without shuffling them and invites Lakshmi ( name of parrot ) to draw my future. Lakshmi hopped out of her cage and started toppling them in a sequential order. After knocking off about 4 she promptly picked the 5th card which her master gently took away from her beak.

Since I had decided to give this a go. I also had to listen to all the oldie had to say.

What came out as a pleasant surprise though was he said something about my passion without me revealing anything at all besides the 2 questions that i had answered earlier. He said i will travel a lot because I love it. And most will be on a vehicle by road. I smiled. I paid him. I continued walking.

That reminds me, there are still many roads in India that I need to explore.

And I hope those calls come soon.

On the highest Aquaduct bridge of Asia

Thirparappu waterfalls and Mathur bridge – the highest Aqua Duct Bridge in Asia. The beautiful beaches, the bright sun, the effervescence of the locals made me drool over TN. Nagercoil gave it the finishing touch and I loved it too. I was now heading west. The palm trees that Vasco-da-Gama once mistook for people waving in welcome, still swayed in the gentle breeze that wafted its way there from the Arabian sea. Sandwiched between the western ghats on the east and the Arabian sea on the west.

I was in for the best beaches that India has to offer – Kovalam, the best of wildlife – Thekkady, the beautiful tea slopes at over 7000 feet in Munnar, the canal banks of Allepey also know as the Venice of the east, the delicious Parothas with Kurma, Jeera water and of course Bananas.

God’s own country – Kerala gives me a grand welcome. And what a welcome it was with God himself in one of his best forms. Kerala , am told has brilliant roads all through and that’s true. But there are certain roads that are barely 15 feet wide and its not uncommon to see KSTC ( Kerala State Transport Corporation) buses crossing each other inches away at speeds that are illegal. On roads like these when you spot a gentle giant, you cannot but stop and take notice. The mahout was wielding a large pointed stick to keep the beast’s behavior in check. And to be honest most of their actions warrant PETA’s intervention. I pulled over and walked towards her. The mahout who was sitting beside her feet and smoking a beedi, was intrigued. I asked her name. Saraswati came the reply. A 28 year old female. The first thing I realized I need to do was to bribe Saraswati with some goodies if I had any intentions of befriending her. Now, this wasn’t a monkey who wouldl be happy with a small Sapota (Chikoo). I walked across the road to a shop a few meters away and picked a Banana bunch. I now had some confidence to approach her. She spotted me with the fruit, her trunk twisted forward, her ears flapped, and she gulped the bunch in a flash. Her trunk came forward again and I gave the WTF look. I turned to the Mahout and requested pictures.  I saw a Church at a distance and knew for sure , it would have its own space. I bought a few more bunches of the fruit knowing I was going to be spending some time with her. The priest ran towards me and could not believe what he saws. An elephant in a church ? Holy Mother ! I requested the mahout to park himself and Saraswati in the shade that was available in abundance by way of large trees. I give my pitch to the priest and within minutes I had him with me suggesting suitable locations. The innocence that I displayed made him give in. The next 30 minutes was an experience I would always cherish.

Another vexatious receptionist

Last year it was Punjab that gave me a hard time. I was roughed up by the cops, abused and my knife was confiscated. In that kind of a mind fxxxxxd state the least I was looking forward to was getting some sleep.But no. The receptionist at the hotel got life worse for me. Punjab made it tough and I just got tougher. I still rode through Punjab with a smile especially since my knife was returned by the commissioner of police himself.

All well that ends well.

This time too, I had the same knife and my ride was something else (read Tata Nano).Afte r a 10 hour drive from my start point in Nagercoil, I had passed Trivandrum and reached Alleppey. Was in no mood for any more beaches or backwaters. So gave Kolam and the house boats a complete miss. It was 8.00 pm and after some local asking, I found this place called Surya Comfort Inn.

The name sounded pretty ok and not scary like Kumudha Lodge or Sakuntala Home Stay.

I finally reached the place.

No matter how good a hotel or resort looks from the outside, I do not give in until I have seen the rooms myself and asked about their tariff, services etc. But sometimes one has to depend on lady luck especially when one is in no mood to go Hotel searching after a long hot day. I stepped out of my car and walked to the reception on the ground floor. The reception itself did not look very inviting and I saw this somber looking character who has dived deep into his thick worn out register tallying the accounts. He was oblivious to my presence a few feet away and that gave me some time to look around.Straight ahead were keys hanging below their respective room numbers. Most of the keys were rusted. My jitters had just begun.

To my right was the door that I walked into and to my left was this long alleyway with wooden doors on either side. They all looked pretty bland with mosaic flooring and a tube light above that was flickering away to its last days.

The receptionist ( R ) finally looks up to Me and below is our conversation excerpt

R – Essss ( In south Yes is Essss)
Me – Could I have an ac room please?

R – O, Wait
Me (waiting, looking at his bald head)

R – I have one and the charge is 790 – All inclusive
Me – make it 700 , I take it now.
R – 700 ? U must be Jawking ( joking ) sir. I can do for u 750 last.
Me – deal
R – Ok. please fill this.
R – Now, go bring your luggage.
Me – Stoned look
Me – (I get my own luggage)

R – here is room key
R – take your bath towel, soap, pillow , blanget (blanket), bed sheet
Me – stoned look.
Me – (I felt I was a recruit in Tihar Jail, glad he did not give me an eating plate as well)
Me – is there a way you could have someone bring all this to my room ?
R – Soo Sorrry Sir. I am alone here.
R – Have a pleasant stay. Thank you.
Me – Great. I will try to.

I do the ultimate balancing act of my life and carry all to Floor # 1.

There was an eerie silence and it felt as though I was the only soul to have checked in. By now was skipping heart beats.

I put the bath soap in my pocket.
I wrapped the bath towel and bed sheet around my neck
I held the pillow cover with my teeth.
I unlocked the rusted piece hanging on the door.
And……

There was a power cut.

I was in my room but cannot see a thing.
I stepped out in the dark to be welcomed by an alley that only got creepier.
I used a torch light and reached the reception.
I aimed the light at the desk and could see a wide smile with a sparkly golden tooth.

Me – Sir, what the hell is this?
R – Nothing to worry. Matter of an hour. It will come.
Me – An hour ?
Me – What do you think I should do till then ?
R – You can lock your room and go to the market for some fresh air.
Me – Stoned Look (in pitch dark reception area)

I locked my room and with no choice left waited at the end of the lane intersecting the main road.

(after an hour — power was back)

I walked to the hotel again and met the baldie.

Me – Sir, I hope no more surprises.
R – Now, Nothing.

I walked up to my room and latched my door.
I was just about getting ready to enjoy some ac, a hot bath, some news updates on tv and of course a few hours of sleep.

I heard this loud bang on my door.
I opened it . It was the baldie again.

R – Sir, no no no.
R – for at least another 1 hour you should not switch on tv, ac and geyser.
Me – WTF look

Since he came up anyway, I checked for room cleanliness.

Was not too happy with the bathroom and the bed.

Me – Sir, could you arrange to have it cleaned and the mattress changed?
R – everything is clean sir
Me – (not convinced) Sir, but if somebody could at least do the bed?
R – All good sir. Not needed. Thank you.
Me – Stoned Look
Me – sir, you said there is a shower. where is it ?

R – Sir, can you see that thing bent from top. That’s a shower.
Me – Thanks. I had never seen one.
Me – If you could also tell me where is the tap to operate it ?

R – Aaaa, that is not there. some plumbing work you see
Me – so what u saying is there is a shower on top with a hole below in the wall which was supposed to be a tap once upon a time.
R – Correct sir, now u got it !

Me – eyes red. fist clenched.
Me – thank you sir. My stay is already too comfortable.
R – good night sir.

an hour more was spent just sitting in the room.

I decided to take bath.

It is after ages that I was using a bucket and a mug to take bath. Going through the rhythmic body motion took me a while to master. That coupled with the rate of flow of water from the only tap made my pee feel like Niagra in comparison. So bathing too was an experience.

I was done with cleansing myself. Now it was time to cool off.

I could hear this hissing sound in my room but nothing felt like the room was getting chilled.

I approached the AC and ran my fingers around the vent. I could feel nothing.
Next I put a few fingers inside the vent , I could still feel nothing.

Now, i stepped back and checked if the ac is on. well, it was.

I hated to step out of my room once I was done for the day but this day was not mine. I walk up to the receptionist.

R – Sir, what happened now ?
Me – is it an AC or a heater ?
R – Oh that one, will cool in a few hours.
Me – (I shut my eyes and counted to 10 so that am not summoned for murder)

I just turned around and got back to my room.

I watched some television. That was the only thing that seemed to work well.

It was bed time. I decided to call it a day.

Lights off.

I was up in less than 30 mins. I switched on the light.

Tadaaaa! Surprise!

Bed Bugs feasted on me !

I spent about 20 mins to conceal their entry points.

Lights off. I am dead to the world and to the bugs.

It was Surya Uncomfortable Inn Indeed !

High Tea

6.00 am next day, I take off towards Perumade – Thekkady.

Perumade, Kuttikannam electricity board welcomes me with superb hospitality and stay. The room given was super cozy but for about half a dozen lizards in and around the walls. I let the night pass as I slip into slumber. My mornings cannot be kick started unless I am 2 hot cups down. The cups have to reach me in under 10 mins. Every second after that is like agitating the incredible hulk within me. Add to that, if the tea were not piping hot , my day has already been ruined.

So much of drama over tea ?

I along with 3 more colleagues were driving around the tea slopes in Perumade. We drove into the private estate of Tyford. Acres of tea slopes all around. It was about 5.30 pm and the sun was setting fast. I knew I would be coming back for a photo shoot later because for now we were headed to the factory and watched the process. Now, am not writing a story here about how tea gets manufactured. There was something way way more than that . It just touched my heart.Am sure at some point of time , all of us have smelt either loose tea powder or at least the packaged ones. For a few like me, good aroma means good tea. Then buy it.

I entered the factory and within only a few seconds wanted to step out given the odor from the dried tea leaves. Let me remind you, its a similar tea powder being dried and machined into different grades. But I found it difficult to keep breathing around the same. So much then about the smell. To dry tons of moist tea powder, hot air needs to be blown through the channels. I was taken to this pretty dark area where I see this young lad single handedly lifting huge blocks of coal and placing them into the furnace with bare hands.

I was a good 20 feet away and perspiring .

I could not believe my eyes and stood still in disbelief. Until the supervisor walked in.

I requested a time out for 10 mins.

He agreed and called the boy. I could see stress, poverty, dreams and hope written all over his face. His hands were powder black, no footwear, trousers folded a few inches above the ankle. I keep staring at him and my morning habit continues to flash by. He did not utter a word and looked straight at me. Before I took a step ahead, I cursed myself a million times, handed over my camera to my colleague and hugged him close to my chest. And I said to him ” thank you sir, my morning would never see light without late shifts by people like yourself”. I said this in Hindi. Surprised, aren’t you ?

Meet Sumeet, a 21 year old boy from Jharkhand.
A widowed mother, a younger sister to be married , not met them for 2 years and does not know when he will. So much about a vibrant youth. He does a 12 hour shift everyday and the pics (it was almost pitch dark there – the only light around being the one from the furnace) speak about the nature of his work. I am told the temperature around the furnace is hot enough to vaporize a normal human being who is not used to that kind of heat. Sumeet’s time out had come to an end. He manages to give me a flooding smile , turns around and returns to his job with the same sincerity. I was taken to the last section of packing and loading. After which it was time to leave. We stepped outside the factory and drove back to the main road.

All of us by now wanted some tea. I ordered for my glass too. Was it served hot ? Did not mater now.

Next time you are having tea, don’t lose your cool on that guy who served it a little cold.

There are many Sumeets out there in our country’s tea factories who would like it cold.

Enjoy your tea.

Meet the tiger – Thekkady

My nano was nearing her 3,500 km mark and ever since I left Chennai, few things that never left my side were bananas, cattle, goats, sheep and donkeys. Bananas were in abundance in almost every shop while livestock could be seen grazing near highways and sometimes coming dangerously close to speeding vehicles. It was not an uncommon sight to see these domesticated creatures scurry for their lives on seeing danger in the form of speeding motorists showing no remorse or even bothering to slow down. I had to be very cautious and am glad I hurt none.

But this is Man’s territory, a species that considers itself to be Supreme. Immortal. Above All. He is on the lookout to wipe out every available space on this planet to create his own. Fortunately there are still a thoughtful few that consider preserving other species in their natural habitat to be of the highest priority. The Periyar Tiger Reserve, Thekkady is one such place.

But has Man, The Species truly evolved ?

Today, if one desires to travel without too much fuss, just pick the phone and have a decent travel agent fix an itinerary for you. If packaged tours or an online portal is not your style, then the internet is good enough.

The internet can give you …..
Information, Insights, Interests, Images, Impressions.

How about Initiative?
An Initiative To Behave Right!

I was in my car a few meters before the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Now, this is no by lane of Mohammed Ali Road – Mumbai that makes it virtually impossible to assess what lies another few meters ahead. The information help desk center is before the gate and one can clearly see the entrance to the reserve from there. From the main gate until the parking lot a few 100 meters before Periyar Lake, one is driving right through the jungle and there are boards that have bold displays “No Stopping”. The speed limit is kept under check with ample speed breakers. I would have loved it if they were marked, making them easier to be spotted from a distance.

If you are around the hills or in a jungle trek, man’s ancestor “The Hominids” are not too far away. The truth about wild animals that one must understand is they are “Wild”. So don’t try anything stupid especially in a setting that is their backyard. We humans are so used to “Bribing” Whether its a squirrel or an alligator, one thinks a bait is all it takes to lure them and have that Kodak moment.

You wish to enjoy nature, Rule # 1 is ” see her slowly”. Walking around is the best way to do it. But given the weather, one does feel the heat and need to be hydrated at regular intervals. Munching a few packaged snacks happens on the way.The only thing I had was my wallet and my phone. Considering I was not NaMo’s blue eyed boy nominated to do a tour of the area, there were others too. Couples, nuclear families, joint families, large groups, students. Empty bottles thrown towards dustbins, spitting around trees and blowing one’s nose with all might, quietly letting away an empty packet of chips from one’s hand. Despite bold instructions all around the place, these were some of the most careless behavior displayed by visitors.The nature lover that I am , did not hold me back from telling off a few who gave me those guilt filled looks. I could not care less.

The highlight of the day was, on my return to the car park, i see this place surrounded by monkeys. Monkeys are extremely intelligent, unpredictable, agile, strong and wild creatures. Sound, glittery stuff, food, etc attracts their attention. The last thing you want on you is a combination of all. Be sure then that an attack is on its way. And believe me a simple street monkey has 4 times the strength of a common man. Unbelievable but true. I saw some darting stones and pebbles at them for no reason. And some very religiously took time out to aim at those sitting high on branches and enjoying their food.

Here is my irritation.

I see cattle follow a line when they cross roads.
Even a dog finds a decent corner before lifting a leg.
Monkeys ensure they clean the place of everything before they leave.
Elephants await to see clear traffic on both sides before the leader crosses with the herd.

All of the species above have evolved to be better.

But Man, Look at his irony !

He is still a monkey !

Shifting Sands

Some days back I had tried and proved to myself that Nano cannot go off road. I still had 2 wheels on tarmac. I would consider it done when all 4 are struggling. I was well into my ascent towards Munnar, and at one left turn , I saw a road mysteriously going down to the right. Of I course I stopped to step out . To me photography is about getting the picture in my head first and recreating it through a lens. In pursuit of doing so, I try to capture various angles. Landscapes and people being my favorite, I go all out and stretch myself to the limit.

I liked the whole combination of Nano and Lake. I had already checked for the mush around the banks and was fairly confident about going further. When I was done clicking. I decided to pull back and we were struggling with traction again. Not just that , the car actually got way closer to the water. And within minutes has 2 tyres of the same side in. The place as you can see had none other than some cattle that were grazing around. I took some time out and sat on a nearby rock wondering if help would ever come here. The only visitor here is a herd of wild elephants and with my car around their marked bath tub was not a good idea. I look around as far as I could and somewhere in the shade far away, I see a motorcycle parked. I lock my car and walked towards it. I was happy to see a couple having a good time clearly not wanting disturbance. But my situation was way too serious and being thoughtfully considerate was the last thing on my mind. I tapped the man on his shoulder and spoiled his trip to mental ecstasy. He was shell shocked and with his eye balls popping out of each socket asks me ” Vaaat Do U Vaaant?”

And I tell him politely ” help” .

I point towards my car that looks like a spec from that distance. The couple informed some folks on the road who drove down the grassy path that I took earlier and parked their SUV around the river. All of us strategized and realized that the only way out was to have a strong rope tied to the the chassis of my car and the other end to the towing hook. We managed to get her to firmer ground and rejoiced. The boys were locals from Cochin. We ended our meeting by chance with some music and songs. With all 4 wheels stuck, Nano could nothing more than kick some dust.

The Queen Of Hills – Munnar

Exploring a wild life reserve is best done with enough time at your disposal. There is so much to see around. The trails, the pug marks, living in machans, the camp sites, spending the nights with the tribal clan enjoying some bamboo dance and so on. So in order to do full justice to such an array of beautiful activities I thought it made sense if I were to plan the reserve as a trip in itself. besides one needs to be at such places with a few people to make it that much more interesting and be safe. I proceeded upwards into Kerala on the superbly laden NH 183 towards Munnar. The queen of hills that promises some breathtaking views of the hills and the tea slopes. Munnar is visited as a destination to purely relax. And that it offers in abundance. The Rain Gods had opened up, cooling the hot weather that i was battling with all the way. I almost felt as if the clouds were just a few feet above me. I had slowed down my pace further and found myself stopping more often. Each view was competing with the other. Such was the photographer’s delight. With a heavy downpour, visibility was becoming a challenge, the roads were getting narrower and taking hairpin binds got me looking over the A – Pillar of my nano more than ever. I was up there by Sunset and my destination was the hotel at Top View , another 30 kms drive up north from Munnar market. I topped up once again and continued to do the last 30 kms of my drive to stay in a beautiful place with a fantastic view next morning.

I am sure most of you must have been to at least one hill station in your life time. The intention to go to one is to always relax rather than pace through a flurry of activities which you must have very well left behind in the urban jungle. Unless you have managed to discover a spot on google map that is completely isolated from any commercialization, chances that you do not run into agents, brokers, hoteliers , tour operators etc are extremely slim.

I woke up early morning and was greeted to this pristine valley view which I could not take my eyes off for a while. The moment that I stepped out, I was swarmed with agents who wanted to show me heaven on earth. The colorful brochures that each were carrying showcased a neat snapshot of what one was in for. No matter what, 2 points that are invariably part of any hill station visit are Echo Point and Suicide Point. But not everybody comes up here to spend happy moments. The distressed or disdained souls choose these high altitudes to end life. And when many such souls choose the same point, the point is named after them as ‘Suicide Point”. I took some time out to look around the place and wondered why is this point called so. Actually it did not make any sense to me. I walked up to a few points at various heights and realized that one could easily fall to his/her death anyways. Then why all this fuss?

My South Indian Odyssey has been surreal. And that in a Tata Nano was something I had never planned. The initial anxiety about the performance of the nano had disappeared once she had done a credible distance into the travelogue. I could actually focus on the travelogue than worry about my machine. Tamil Nadu and Kerala presented themselves in very uniquely beautiful ways. The route that I had chosen to do felt just perfect. Despite being considered as not the best time of the year, except for the unbearable heat in TN, I was more than comforted by Kerala especially once I was on the western ghats. As all good things in life come to an end, so was this travelogue. My route was now headed to the Kerala – Karnataka border of Wayannad. But before I got there, I wanted to pay my tribute to the creature who had welcomed me in style when i got into this beautiful state of Kerala.

Visit to the elephant sanctuary – Kodanad

Not many people actually know about this place until you are about 20 – 30 kilometers away. One needs to drive down from Munnar for about 150 kilometers towards the Thrissur district that is famous for the Guruvayyur temple. It is during the annual festival here that all elephants are beautifully decorated and lined up. Besides the resident elephants, others are brought from in and around the place. Kodanad is one such.

My dear friend Santhanu P. Mohan and his wife were driving down from Kottayam and had planned to join me at the sanctuary gate. We met up with the officials to understand the activities that one could participate in. I had done my research well before and was excited about the elephant bath that happens in the afternoon in the Periyar River – the largest river of Kerala.

We were given to understand that there were only 6 elephants off which about 2 large adults were secluded owing to their periodic mental state that all adults go through. A state that even the best mahouts find extremely difficult to control. During this period the animal becomes extremely violent and there have been incidents of the animal going on a killing spree. One can check out You Tube videos



The other 4 were also kept behind well secured areas. They seemed restless and would listen only to their trainers. So, no permissions were given to get anywhere close to these beasts. At about 3.00 pm the gentle giants were brought to the river for their daily bath. There too , visitors were warned to keep their distance. Recently a mahout himself was attacked while giving bath and he was hospitalized with broken bones. After hearing these incidents, I was in no mood to risk it. After the short visit to Kodanad, I proceeded to Palakkad for my night halt.

My home town Palakkad helped me rest well. I was going to be driving a lot in the interiors and up north of Kerala. Was hoping to make it to the dense forests of Wayannad by late evening the same day. I was on my last mile in God’s own country. It has been a task managing the traffic at the townships that were interspersed between Palakkad and Sultan Batthery. The city finally give way to the forest roads of Kerala. My destination Wayannad Forest Reserve was not too far away. I had clocked about 175 kilometers since morning and it was time to enjoy some black tea. I stopped by Muthu tea stall. He with his wife runs this place right opposite the tea estate at Cherambadi. Muthu is 76 and his wife Chella Thai 65. Are from madurai , Tamil nadu. Clicked a typical business day here and around. Post which it was time for me to say goodbye to Kerala. The next 90 kilometers was going to be another. beautiful stretch between the forests that would lead me to Mysore. After crossing the forest reserves of Wayannad. Kerala, little wonder made it to Karnataka. Considering Mumbai being our final destination, we chose to go through the villages of Karnataka. After crossing Arsekere, the night was spent in a quaint village to welcome the next sunrise. Little wonder (Nano) took the roads less traveled. We were loving the morning sunshine. The Golden Quadrilateral was still far away. To me,  highways were the easiest choice to make, but India through villages was a rare chance that I could not ignore.

Home is far away. But what’s the hurry?

I ask for directions. I get the way with a fresh coconut that just fell off the tree. Which is why its said, its not just the destination but the journey that makes for the Incredible Indian experience. Next stop Chitradurga. On the entire NH4 stretch between Mumbai and Bangalore, the part that I loved the most is the Nipani – Dharwad bit. You have wide arrow straight roads that are perfectly complimented with those long fast sweeping curves.

A good driver/ rider and a reasonably mean machine is all it would take to exploit the full potential of this stretch. I had crossed Hubli and was approaching Belgaum for another tank up. But realized I did not want to break the tempo of the best part of the drive on the golden quad. We ( nano and I ) approach this part in the same unhurried style and she exclaims – Let’s go for it.

I know now that her intentions are anything but sane. I pull over .

Tyres checked.
Seatbelt re-fastened.
Doors locked.
Ac switched off.
Blower minimized.
Mirrors adjusted.
Feet positioned on pedals.
Engine cranked.
Left arm on the gear stick.
Right arm clenched on steering wheel.
A few revs…
1st gear slotted.
Mirrors checked again for an empty stretch behind .
Windshield viewed for clear take off.

and………..

I dump the clutch, the rear tyres crimple, wheels spin, rubber struggle for traction and squeal, the nose lifts up and she leaps forward like a savannah cheetah on the prowl.

The engine sound changes from a mild thrum to a roar in every gear until in 3rd I push her the hardest . just one more left . slotted in 4th she hits the ton and the moment she approaches 105 kmph, the yellow light flashes on the dashboard indicating engine cut off .

She is maxed out.

As all this mayhem unfolds, I struggle to maintain her line and she behaves as if it were a victory lap.

She was done and it was time to return to speeds she was meant for. i.e. 70 kmph.

Cross winds are her biggest enemy and a big swoosh is all it takes to drift her away without driver inputs. Scary but fun at times.

Point is, she is extremely capable of giving one a hassle free ride. Keep her in her green mark.

You will have Miles of Smiles.

The last 400 kilometers were dispatched as usual. I was getting closer to home. I still could not believe the feet that little wonder had achieved. I rolled into my drive way and parked her. I kissed her on the steering wheel and  thanked her profusely for being so delightfully obedient and frugal. It was time to let her cool her heels and treat her to a royal service.

I never planned to buy a Nano and neither did I ever  imagine I would do a drive of this  magnitude in a car of this size. I must say on both counts – I am delighted.

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