Sunday, January 14, 2007

Day 1 of my trip to Rameshwaram & Kanniyakumari

Its been a long time since i posted! This is my journal (of sorts) of my 2nd trip to Rameshwaram & Kanniyakumari. The journal below is of only Day1. Its long, so be patient when you read it. Am not sure when i will (or if i will) write the rest of the journal. Hope you enjoy it!
Day 1 11 Aug

I left home at 5 am & my plan was to reach the Temple Town of Madurai at the max, towards the end of the day.

The previous evening on my way back home from work, I was wondering what if I packed, ate dinner & left off riding in the night itself to Madurai & by day break more or less I would make the distance; by doing this I would save one day. The only factor was that I would have to brave the National Highway, the trucks, tempos & buses. It sounded interesting for me & more of a challenge cos in had never done it before.
Mom thought I was crazy. None of my friends were sure except for one. Not that I am giving it as an excuse but something told me it wasn’t good an idea. It was possible but the question was, was I prepared to ride through.. Hmm...Interesting question!!

I stuck to plan. Got up at around 4am. Had some good strong coffee. Checked on my inventory; chckd the bike. Started it up, I let the engine rev up so that it gets warm. Picked up my backpack. Now here is one of the 1st good things I have done on this trip.

The last time I went on a trip, rode the circumference of Karnataka; close to 1600 kms on the same bike. I took the same backpack & carried it throughout the ride. My back at the end of 5 days was, should I say in a very subtle way, not in its greatest form. Had one of the severest attacks which made me rest for 3 days. Me & my back; that could be a diff topic for a write.

So, I picked up a luggage strap (thanks to my colleague Masroor); which has hooks at the end of a stretchable string. Loaded my BP on the back seat of the bike. So that I could sit freely & if I wanted I also could lean back on it a little. The bike is of my brother; it’s a Honda Unicorn, a 150 cc bike, very comfortable to ride for long distances. I have a smaller bike, a Bajaj Discover; a 125 cc one; use it within city limits u see.

Helmet, Leather Gloves, a head gear, & a Water resistant overall are the usuals for me. Took a picture of the bike before I left on the Porch itself; the 1st one of the journey.

Looked up to the sky, said “God Bless”, said Bye Bye to Mom; who religiously will be there no matter what time it is, to ask me to take care of myself. She knows & is completely aware of the fact that, I can in whatever the situation; but as usual she is concerned. That’s how Moms are!!

I start the bike up & put it into gear & I am off.

I ride through the city. Bangalore looks beautiful & peaceful (within city limits) at night & has very wide roads. Its just that there are too many vehicles on it that it looks congested. I pass through Mekhri Circle – Cubbon Road – Brigade Road – Johnson’s Market – Hosur Road.

Once I am on Hosur road; for that time of the day there is some pretty good traffic. Mostly truckers, the rest of them are call centre cabs & very few motorists heading towards Electronic City.

I have to tell you something here; call it my quirky observation or compliment my senses. Couple of kms after the fly over on the Silk Board junction, there is this funny smell throughout till I hit Karnataka Border & enter Tamil Nadu.
Let alone that peculiar stench of the trucks when they pass you, you will have to be put up through the smell of fresh shit. Oops can I say that…. I mean, this 10 -20 km stretch is very handy to truck drivers. You will see them walking up & down in couples, crossing the road with a mug with or without water; depending on if they have finished their business or not. The smell is obviously awful; at this timely hour I am not very proud of my olfactory senses. Talk about Aroma Therapy!!!

Sun’s trying to break out. It is a little cloudy still. I stop for a pic at the Karnataka Border. I enter Tamil Nadu & head towards Hosur. I am praying that it wouldn’t rain now. I pass through very familiar landmark, Ashok Leyland Office. It’s a huge premises here… they have thr manufacturing unit down here. I have been through this road often, so can identify easily. The landscape is constantly changing, from city to electronic city to farm land…. & open spaces. From shirts & trousers to vests & lungis. Am passing through children going to school; boys in thr shirts & half pants & girls in thr half saree; here the govt uniform is in blue. For the next hour I see that the clouds are playing with the Sun. It started drizzling, I didn’t stop. Now it rained. Heavy rain. It came down with all strength. I immediately found a huge tree to take refuge. The main point of my worry is the camera, which I keep it hanging on my left handle bar, so that its easy for me to stop & take a pic when I want; more over it was my boss’s. I take carry-bags with me (the ones a shopkeeper gives u). I carefully put the camera inside it & make sure water doesn’t seep in. By the time I finish this; I took probably 3/4 mins. It stopped raining. Just like that; as if it never happened. & the sun came out. It was a bright morning now. I was laughing at myself & cursing big time at the sky. I carried on.

I was going at a descent speed of 45kms/hr. I don’t ride fast on day 1. The max I hit on this bike is 60.

Considering it was a NH, the road has been bad. “Not paved in Gold!!” as my friend later taunted me by SMS. I cross Krishnagiri at 10 mins to 8. From here to Dharmapuri, there has been a strong wind. It’s funny & difficult to ride a bike through wind esp if it is blowing from sideways. Another hour & fifteen mins later I am in Dharmapuri. I stop for breakfast. I stick to Idli & Vada. A cup of hot coffee follows. Rest of 10 more mins & pack my backpack to bike.

I leave for Salem. There are 2 things which puts me off. 1 is if I don’t get to drink Tea once in an hour or 90 mins & the other is traffic. (3 is to be put up with drunk & irresponsible truck drivers) I will talk about the former a little later. Its good to have little traffic on NH, it will keep up ur concentration levels high; I kind off doze off when thr is no traffic at all. Ok, I will talk about this later again. But today it was heavy, as heavy as the rain. Only thing is it didn’t stop like the rain god did. As a rider, you look forward to going places & ride smoothly; u get the time to look around, enjoy the view. Ah Ah, this doesn’t happen when u need to stop every once in a while behind a stinking truck.

I stop in between for Tea. Wash my face, walk around for 5/10 mins, put my gear on & move.

By about 11.30, I hit Salem By-pass. I should have been here at least 30 mins back if not for the traffic. Took couple of pics of milestones. Kept reminding myself of the long journey ahead; cos this time unlike the previous ride, the distances between each stop is long. I had to reach Madurai by the end of the day. Was thinking of calling it a day there.

Am getting hungry. Reached Namakkal by quarter to 2. Lunch here. Took a break for abt 30 mins.

The ride today has been slow. I know I have said this before, but its not entirely bcos of the traffic; but of the wind.
Let me explain, the wind was blowing from the side of the road. It becomes very hard to keep the bike up straight & keep the same speed too. It goes slant..& its not constant also. There are these gaps in between where there is no wind but once u ride out of that pocket, you are hit by the wind again. Its not dangerous as it may sound; but its funny cos you are in this fight against the nature trying to keep the bike straight & also keep up the speed.

By about 5pm, I touch Dindigul, took a break & moved on.
Apart from me stopping for my regular chai & water; the bike needs rest too, for every hour of riding, I stop it for 5/10 mins so that I don’t burn the engine off.

We reach the town of Madurai by about 7. Ask for directions to the temple. I reach there by 7.15pm. Parked my bike. Now, I was looking for a place to keep my shoes & the regular place which is managed by the temple authorities was closing by 8. They said, we could keep it here only if we are sure about coming back by 8; which I was not sure about. I was not even sure what next after here, let alone how much time inside the temple.

So, I took my shoes off, went to the main alley. This is covered by small shops on either side selling anything from toys, fancy items, colorful cloth pieces & puja material for the devotees.

I gazed around; I caught the eye of one of the shop keepers who kept talking to me in Hindi, luring me to come to him & give him business; which meant I can keep my shoes & have to buy the puja basket. I walked up half way to him & stopped. Now, more shopkeepers kept calling out for me…all in Hindi. This guy senses tht I am not following him, so he starts off with Telugu, Malayalam & then to English. I look at him, give him a smile & say “Tamilkaran Ge” (which means, ‘I am a Tamilian’). He jumps up smiling & says why didn’t you say that. I had no idea if you were understanding me; I thought you were from North India & kept speaking Hindi.

I keep my shoes under the small table of his & before I realise he puts a basket consisting of 2 coconuts, flowers, agarbathi & kumkum in my hands & says “40/- rs only”.
I ask him if the temple is going to be open / is there going to be crowded. He politely answers, as this is a Friday, it would be open till 9.30, so I need not worry.

My feet move immediately towards the temple, as if it knows where its going?! It was a sight to watch. I am here in my no-more-a-white-T-Shirt, my track pants in black & red stripes, my bulky blue back-pack on the shoulder, my gloves, camera & my head gear stuffed inside the helmet in my right hand & this basket on my left (barely balancing it); trying to make way through the crowd towards the sanctorum.

This is when it struck me, was I joking!! I was inside the infamous Meenakshi Temple of Madurai. & if I am correct, it is nominated for being one of the Wonders of the World. By God!, this temple is huge. I kept on walking till I ask one of the temple volunteers for direction towards the sanctorum of the Goddess & he shows me to the direction of a big long queue & asked me to join it. I could see the main door where it was disappearing but couldn’t see the source of the same. This was another task. After I go round & round like a confused kid in its 1st day at school, I finally find it. I was one among the thousands who had formed a snake like chain. For the next 25 mins I follow it. Never mind all the glare I get throughout!! I finish the Darshan.

Now, here comes the best part of this hour! I was still holding on to the basket even after the Darshan. Once we are out of the queue, the devotees with the basket are led to another window, behind which there are about 6-8 pujaris; each one of them putting there hand out to do the offering/puja for you.

So, one of them gives me this big smile; puts his hand out & takes my basket. Asks for the name to which it needs to be done. I give mom’s name; he says whatever he says & then disappears. I keep my stuff down & by about 2 mins, he comes out with the basket, the coconuts broken, new flowers & lot of kumkum. Now its more difficult to hold on to. I keep them down, juggle my other stuff & purposefully try to ignore him; he ‘shhss’ me, signs me to come near the window. He picks up half the length of a garland with the ends not tied, puts it around my neck, still muttering stuff, keeps a tilak on my forehead & stretches the bronze plate in his other hand with a lit deepam in it & lots of loose change.

I understand the indication, reach out for my wallet & keep a 10-er. He smiles & I smile back (cursing him in my mind). He’s happy & I am (as usual) philosophical. Commercialization at its best; with God too!! I say to myself.

I am kind off lost again trying to find my way out of this maze. A volunteer helps me out. I go back to the ‘flower-man’ who mistook me for a ‘northie’. He is all smiles. We have a small conversation. Where I come from, how I know Tamil, where am I going next, how he got into this business, his visits to Bangalore…so on & so forth. I pay him, pick up all my stuff & bid him goodbye.

Now, this is kind-off where I decide I shouldn’t stop here. I should continue to Rameshwaram. It was only 200 kms I thought it would end up saving 1 whole day of riding. I was so excited.. I wasn’t tired at all. Was still feeling fresh; probably the entire temple trip got me charged up.

I head up back into town; was asking locals where I would get good food. I asked one of the auto-drivers, for directions to Rameshwaram; thought it would be a good idea to ask him also abt dinner. He suggested me a place where he eats dinner & pointed me towards that place. It was called “Amma Mess”, no relations to the former minister of this state. It looked (have to admit), a little shabby from the outside. But the confidence I had on the driver, took me inside; I was more than happy to see families having dinner.

I was so hungry that I binged. Needless to say the food was great. 40 mins later, I was heading towards Rameshwaram.

Now, this is the 2nd good thing I did for the day.
For the record, I have never rode before in the night. The maximum I would have done was from my frnd’s place back home by 12/1 in the morning. That’s just about it. Never ever like this, alone on a NH to some place I have never been before.

The weather was perfect; cool breeze, good road, negligible traffic, with exception of truck or a transport van here & there. Mostly winding roads through small villages, which were asleep by now, except for the chaiwala’s & the glowing STD booths.

I enjoyed this ride thoroughly. Had chai in couple of places, struck with a lot conversations – mostly people wanting to know, why I take this trouble of coming to their town on a bike. Why wouldn’t I choose the comfort of a bus or a train? Its also less expensive.

I reach Ramanthpuram by 12.15, I guess. Had chai.

A little later I pass through the Naval Base of Ramnad. The road becomes straight now. Remember, I telling u, if there is no traffic, the ride becomes dangerous (not to the word). As much as I was excited, I was also getting tired in my mind & it lead me to yawn. I was falling asleep. My mind does not have anything to stay focused/concentrate on apart from the monotonous road & the hypnotic white strips in between them.

I did something stupid (for normal) then. The moon was up. So I wondered how it would be if I had no headlights on my bike. I dared to switch them off. It was creepy & pitch dark. I could see nothing for a second. I was cursing myself & switched it back again.
But the rush it gave me for those 4/5 secs was great. I liked it. I was awake now. I had something with me to keep my mind occupied. It was a thrill for the next 30 mins to play with my headlights. I got so good at it, for nearly 30 secs I would ride without lights. I could see the road & only follow the stripes. It was amazing.
A little later, I stopped playing around with it.

I now was waiting for the famous bridge which is a little over 2 kms connecting main land India to the island of “Rameshwaram”. When you are on seashore or anywhere near it; I knew I would be treated with cool breeze & a distinctive smell.
The wait was now unbearable.

The sound of the sea crashing into the land got louder now. All of sudden, both sides of the landscape of trees gave way & I could see the sea. I was shouting “Sea Sea…..I can See the SEA!!”… I was laughing out loud & was sure that my face lit up like a 100 wt bulb.

The strip of land got narrower now. Sea on both sides of the road. The colour of the sky changed…the moon was up..the road being lit by my bike’s headlight cutting across this piece of land covered by sea on both sides. What more can I expect?, I asked myself.

I was like a small kid on the eve of his first Christmas. Happy..cant stop smiling!!
I almost ignored the small bump on the road & suddenly the elevation changed. I was leaving behind the land mass now & climbing onto the Pambam Bridge.

The bridge is about 60 ft wide & has walkways on both sides. Has tube lights stuck on either side of it throughout the length of it. I was so looking forward to see this & finally on it, I was elated. There is also a railway line (next to it, down below) which goes parallel to it & its much closer to the sea. From the bridge, I could see small boats in the sea venturing out to fish with lanterns tied to them. This ride over the bridge lasted a little more than 2 minutes but is gonna last as a Happy Memory for ever.

There is a check-post by the local police immediately after the bridge. Today alone, I have passed through at least 8 of these. 10 minutes later, I am back again in winding roads & then hit the town of Rameshwaram. The long straight road leads me to the West Entrance of the temple. Its square in shape & surrounded by high walls. Roads on all 4 sides of it; eateries, small shops, gift shops & lots of hotels & lodges around it.

It was 2 am & there is not a single soul in town at this hour except for stray dogs. I go around the temple once, look for places to stay, stop at a lodge where the watchman was snoring at the gate. Parked, walked up to him, woke him up by shaking the gate excessively, asked him if there was a room available. He said ‘Yes’, took me in. he woke up the boy at the reception counter& walked back to his throne. I asked for a single room. He stared at me; asked me how many occupants. I looked around me in amusement (telling him isn’t it obvious) & replied ‘one’. He shook his head sideways. He said ‘No room’. I said I am open to take up a double room as well. I know they do this so that they can make money at the cost of my desperation. They always say no to single room & end up asking you to take 2BR. He said the lodge was booked for the weekend. I cursed at my luck & walked out. On my bike again, went to another place…same reply again. I was like, my luck cannot be this bad!!

There were other things happening at this hour! I was tired, it was an odd hour, I was not at all pleasant looking, dirty shirt, lousy looking jeans, my hair all messed up, a ton of dust collected on my face; even my mom wouldn’t recognize me;; & over all this I am not getting a room! I am running out of patience!! Damm it!

I try looking for one with couple more lodges; now I am asking directly for a 2BR. I still get a “NO ROOMS”. On my last try with a hotel, I again walked out with no hope, the hotel boy followed me outside; I struck a conversation with him on the road. It was his turn to be in shock. He couldn’t believe that I was riding from bangalore on a bike all by myself!! Upon further probing, I was told that any lodge would decline/refuse to take me in, bcos, from some time there has been an increase in suicide rates of single men & women in hotel rooms (in this town). So, they are scared to give out rooms unless you are a married couple or you are with friends. Now, all this made sense to me. My appearance & the fact that I rode alone made it “impossible” for me to gain entry!!!

I remember, I was laughing at myself!! The boy from the hotel was kind enough to suggest me couple of other smaller lodges; which I had initially tried! Now, there were two options in front of me. One was, to sleep (sit rather) on the steps of the temple. Two, was to ride back to Ramnathpur & try my luck there.

There was no way I am going to spend the night on the steps & try sleeping till dawn breaks; & there was no saying if I could still get a room in the morning! In the mood/spirit I was, I almost made up my mind to ride back to Ramnathpur!

So, I sat back again on my bike, put my helmet on; when from no where a half drunk came upto me & asked if I was looking for a place to stay!! I nodded! He asked me to follow him. He led the way, not far from the temple through a small lane. He went past the gate, spoke to whomever & came out saying you can stay here. The guy behind the desk came out to see me. Learning from my previous lessons, before I got down from the bike, I asked the elderly gentleman, is it ok? I am single! I am from bangalore. Confirmed this again! He shook his head up & down! I heaved a sigh. Got down, unbuckle my backpack, parked my bike outside the compound!

After the initial process, I paid him the advance, he asked me to take the 2 BR room on the 1st floor. I said ok. He gave me the keys; I was climbing the stairs, then he called out for me! I looked down, he asked me to come down. Cursed him big time! Looks like he changed his mind; he said I will give you a single room & pointed his finger bang opposite to his desk. I said ok again; just wanted to get through this & CRASH!! I really didn’t care much where it was as long as it had a bed & a fan above!
I knew where all this was leading to; he wanted to make sure that he was as close to me as possible! I smiled & said Ok!

This was a small room, very small room. A single bed on one side, a chair(foldable one), one bulb & a fan (which when turned on, could wake up a monster!!). Another door leading to the bath room cum toilet. As usual, when you enter a room, you tend to look around, I looked up the ceiling, checked out the bath etc…. The look on both the guys there was priceless!! It was funny.

After they left the room, before I crashed, noticed that except for one small window (which opened to the desk outside) there was no ventilation at all; I was left with no choice but to keep the window open! Took my pill, had some water. Ohh, I forgot, I tipped the drunk driver Rs. 20, for helping me out! I Crashed! Couldn’t sleep much; half the time I cursed the dam fan & the other half, wondered how many times would these guys keep peeping into my room to see that if I hadn’t killed myself!!