This is going to be one hell of a trip. वाट लगने वाली है - was my first reaction once my date of departure grew closer. My first trip in Kashmir was a no network zone for me but this one was not.. Then my friends had feared that militants might shoot me, I may not return alive... ऐसे कैसे नहीं आते . This south trip was the longest I have ever undertaken in one go. 10 days flat, multiple cities, states and पता नहीं क्या क्या . My trip started excellently. Just before my entry into T 3 I got hold of 2 things- An IAF heavy duty cargo jet was there on the tarmac in full glory and I also saw a MIG 23 full scale model from close quarters. Wow. Once inside the terminal, glanced left and saw a Sukhoi 30 model beckoning me from an IAF counter. Jaldi badh...people say when they are getting late but I was saying this because I had to go and see that beauty. Literally dumping all the luggage on the belt at the check in, I must have made the fastest check-in in aviation history. I felt like the plane model was saying to me, “ Welcome back buddy. Good to see you after Kashmir. We`ll be there whenever you`ll travel. The IAF wishes you a safe journey”.
.....Roger that. I know you`ll be there in some form or the other.
Passing time in the lounge after the security check in , just out of curiosity switched on the wifi to find an open network. Tried to connect it and found out that it was a service by TATA and required authentication to access free wifi for 45 minutes. Work done. Noticed a charging point to charge the mobile and found out that it was dabba- no power. Found another one and hardly had the cell charged 2% more, the call for boarding was made.
Food arrives and I love the colour combo of that. It looked tasty, tasted that way too. I try sleeping but its not possible. My mind goes overdrive and I write a poem while in the plane. Mine was a stop over flight at Chennai. While coming in for the landing, I saw the sea merge with the land. Took a snap with my cell. Just then the captain of the cabin crew said to me-
“ Sir please switch off your cell ”.
Me: Its already on flight mode
She: No. Switch it off.
I switched it off and the moment she left, I murmured , “ मेरे को आर्डर ?? अभी बताता हूँ ..अब देखता हूँ प्लेन का navigation कैसे मेरे एक फ़ोन से खराब होता है ” and putting in the earphones in the cell switched it on, muting the opening sound. Although I agree to whatever a beautiful airhostess tells me but today I was in my elements. The flight landed at Chennai and I was waiting for it to take off again for my destination- Kochi. Up from the sky the city looked beautiful. The evening snack loaded on the flight (Taj Chennai) was..... *bleahhhhhh* to say the least . Dead cold, ekdum bekar except for the plum cake. Touching down at Kochi I felt the hit of the first coastal breeze- cool one just like you find in the evenings in May. Making the phone ready for use (disabling flight mode, activating data) got an Fb message that my friend Neha was departing at the same time at which my flight landed. बेडा गर्क, नहीं मिल पाये L
The taxi ride to the city was long. Came to know that the airport was situated in the coastal area, 35 kms away hence the time. Entered the city and got another jhatka when saw an Indian Navy billboard ad about an exhibition which had got over just 2 days back. Seriously I was cursing my luck beneath my breath. The hotel people told that the city wakes from 8-8. At 9 pm even the public buses go off the roads and there is no night life here. The next day was my chance to go and see the God`s own country- the backwaters. Starting early passed coconut trees, clean roads. The people at the toll were quick. 2 take the money beorehand and one has the slip ready when you reach the barrier.
We reached the houseboat and it was magnificent and the view was Wow, wow, wow, wow..... I had the boat for full 24 hours alongwith the boat crew. All the fatigue of the journey seemed to fade away at the sight of the scenery I witnessed. I used everything I had to capture the pics- camera, mobile. The welcome drink was ofcourse coconut water. It was bliss.
After sometime the boat docked at a place and me and my father got down to explore the ways and roads. It provided a quiet environment. The unwinding path provided me a spectacular view and on the right I saw fields and trees. Saw houses which were beautiful and immacutaly clean. There were probably many more houseboats just like us in the backwaters. The view was breathtaking.
The afternoon sun, the water, breeze and everything. I was enjoying here while my friends were freezing back in Delhi. The backwaters is a a place where you cant describe how you felt, it has to be experienced.
The boat dropped its anchor and Lunch was served. The food was heavenly and yet i was on earth *wink*. After a hearty meal I slept on the wooden platform. Felt the same as sleeping under a tree on a hot afternoon. I dont think I have ever slept like that. I was pushed to my room later because “ जिस तरह से सो रहे हो , जेब से कुछ निकल कर पानी में गिर गया तो ?” . Drowsly I opened the window an noticed a Coast Guard motorboat coming for a verification call.
I got up after few hours and noticed that all the boats were going towards a canal to dock for the night. On the way there were Chinese fishing nets used to catching prawns in April. We docked close to land with 2 other housebaots adjacent- one in the front and one at the back (for security at night). The one in the front had a family from UP but I was more interested in the other one at the back. One beautiful girl. Could only hear her name- Muskaan. Although each houseboat has a Dish antenna and Tv, the dish never works. My mother wanted to see a serial and I was laughing as the other houseboat had also done the same thing. Instead of `Saraswatichandra` she had to see Kuch Kuch hota hai on Disc.
After another awesome meal I retired to my room and whatever happened after that, I had not experienced that before.
Switching off the light, the moon and the moon light light up my room so beautifully that I sat on the floor and my mind started visiting some memories. I wrote another poem. My second one in just 3 days.
Morning presented a beautiful view of dawn and I was fully awake by the prayer call from the mosque nearby. The houseboat journey ended 45 mins later leaving me spellbound. On the way back to Kochi I had witnessed a lot of things- A Noida registered Desire, Posters of Katrina, Dhoom3, panwaadis, Woman attendents at petrol pumps and I was dying to speak Hindi. Had forgotten my own voice speaking English.
Explored the market using Google navigation as my guide. Ladies Shopping---- Traumatic. My mother went into a saree shop or should I say a hugeeee showroom. The whole building was 5 floors high. Had Woman staff with dresses, Ids. The number must have been close to 200. Sareees of every colour, variety, price and the number of shoppers every minute? Combine the whole crowd of CP in delhi and Hazratganj in Lucknow. There were attendents to look after small children too. Tired of the visual shopping, I came outside and sat on the chairs outside and saw a few things. The buses had no window panes, the roads had shrunk due to metro construction, little girls (15+ age) were selling lottery tickets on the road outside the shop. Mind you they were all properly dressed up. A toy seller was playing the Instrumental of “परदेसी परदेसी जाना नहीं ” on a flute...melodious. My wish for speaking hindi came true when I met a group of 5 people who had bought sarees for their wives. UP Wale. A bit more exploration and the trip ended.
The next stop was Kanyakumari by the night train. Initial changes in the travel plan meant I was a WL 3AC ticket which didnt confirm and a confirmed 2S ticket. The train arrived and I was shocked. The coach was packed with people everywhere. There must have been close to 600+ people in my coach. Lets equate it. South India Train 2S coach= North india Train Unreserved coach. I was the only person with luggage in the cramped compartment. People were on the seats, in the passage, under the seats,overhead on the lugguage racks. Clutching my wheeler close , I went to my seat to see that it was occupied. Gesturing through hand signals, told the man to move but he was fast asleep and didnot care. The other ones(yes, the lungi wearing ones) gave me a seat to sit. Luggage was kept between my legs-no place anywhere. The man infront of me asked “ Country you?"
Me: Delhi...New Delhi ( clear and few notches high)
He: Where place?
Me: Nagercoil (destination)
I was waiting for 5 am when the train would arrive but i had some 5.30 hours to pass. The cool breeze dozed me off to sleep and i woke 30 mins. Later. This went on and on. I used to sleep in instalments of 30 mins each, wake up for 10 mins and then sleep again. I relaxed when the train reached Trivandrum. Majority of people got down there. The rest of the people at Kulitterai and I heaved a sigh of relief. Now there were just 40-45 people. Looking out of the window at the running tracks, moonlight I wrote another poem at 4 am. It took me another hour to rach Nagercoil but by then sleep had vanished from my eyes (the poem effect). Alighting at the platform, I bid adieu to my “coach from nearby hell”. After more than a decade I was visiting the same places now.
After 35 mins and 20 kms later, I was at Kanyakumari. I noticed a rush of people there. In the morning went to see the Rock memorial and the Thiruvalluvar statue from the seaside instead. Avoided the jetty due to the huge rush, choppy seas and the long line it had. When i saw both structures in the daylight, I was shocked. 10 yrs back, they both were beautiful. Now I better not say how horrible they looked. Earlier, the top of the rock memorial was light red and the rest in sandstone colour alongwith the statue. Now, the top was deep red and instead of sandstone colour both the structures seemed black in colour. Looked like someone had smeared cherry blossom. In short, I was dissapointed.
Winds blowing at 60 km/hr made standing, keeping the camera steady a herculean task in itself. The waves were crashing among the rocks. The sea was not good and the boat service to the memorial had stopped. After some snaps and noticing how much it had changed- multiple hotels now,more crowd,more high buildings I decided to fast forward my trip and head to the next destination- Madurai that day itself. Twitter notified me that my friend Rahul was holidaying in Kerala. People reach places when I have already left them.
Caught the bus to Madurai and along the way saw green fields and lots of windmills, they just brought another beauty to the landscape. The journey concluded after some 4 hours through some of the most smooth roads. Reaching the hotel, relaxing a bit went to explore the market a bit.
In the morning it was Meenakshi temple. The last time i had visited it, it was in the night. This time it was beautiful. No cameras allowed inside so had to rely entirely on my mobile to take the pics. Upon entering I noticed an elephant with its mahawat. People used to give it money, it used to take it in its trunk, hand it over to him and then place its trunk over the head of the person in the form of ashirwaad. It blessed a small child and a foreigner. Next I proceeded to the darshan and saw a pattern which would be seen later on too. Tickets for darshan. Normal ones priced @5/- and the Sheeghr ones @20/- and someplaces even @50/-.
|Meenakshi temple snapped by pure luck|
The sheeghr ones had shorter lines,normal ones were packed. Looked around and saw colouring going on the statues, pillars, roof etc. Couldn`t understand that was it because of beautification or preservation. Things like this look good in their bare form. Both the darshans went smoothly. A difference which i noticed in the temples here – priests never obstruct the view to the deity when they come out with the arti, they walk to the sides whereas its just the opposite in the temples here.
A pool in the temple complex was a welcome change. In the corridor of the temple, there were shops lined up on either side of the pavement selling the goods. 1000 pillar hall- a hall cum art museum displaying ancient statues in glass cases. Tickets here too. They even issue a separate ticket if you want to click a pic from your cell. People find ways to break rules. I saw a big statue of Nataraj in a very different pose than what is commonly seen.
Then I sneaked to the side end of the hall and clicked a few pics of an old carved door lying there alongwith a lingam. Ancient idols were kept in glass cases and people destroyed their beauty by dropping their photos, visiting cards in them. They might be god fearing but this is what i call typical “पढ़े लिखे गंवार ”. Each case had some 50+ photos and cards. Spent quite a long time exploring the beauty of the temple and then had an ice cream- it was that hot and humid. People used cycles quite a lot. Also heard a regional version of the hindi song “ Rafta rafta haule haule" from Hulchul. The most interesting incident happened with my mother in the market. A lady was selling oranges and language was a problem to communicate the rate. She took out two 500 gm weights on the scale and showed a 50/- note to my mother to convey the rate. 1 kg= 50/-. Now how do you beat that?? The hunt for north indian luch followed. Bahut ho gaya south indian khaana.. in the evening it was again ladies shopping. *palm on the forehead*.
The next morning it was the turn of rameswaram by taxi. My desire to travel by train on the “bridge over the sea” could not materialise due to some reasons. The scenery was good and in the villages there were speakers blaring the songs of the southern superstar NTR. I saw a foreigner couple on a motorcycle on a countrywide trek- wheelers, backpacks tied to the bullet motorcycle bearing a Delhi number.. The real drama started just before the Pamban Bridge (railway bridge over the sea) and the new vehicular Indira gandhi bridge. The bridge was undergoing renovation in places and the traffic was being halted and allowed to pass in patches. Whenever the people see something to eat, their civic sense goes out of the window. A family in the taxi was busy enjoying pineapple slices being sold while parking the vehicle on the wrong side of the road behind a barrier even as the police had a hard time maintaining smooth traffic flow. Many people were busy clicking pics with Pamban in the background.
When we reached the temple, there was a different feel to it this time. The last time I was here it kind of spooked me out then. The baggage was deposited in a locker room. Nothing allowed. The darshan again was the paid one. There were diyas lit up in the garb grihas and the lingam glowed in its light. The story of the ramayan before and after the battle was reflected in paintings and explainations both in English and Hindi. Through that i came to know the story of the lingam. Leisurely exploring the temple i enjoyed the big doors, the huge statue of nandi at the entrance and other temples in the complex. Stayed away from the famous wells of the temple. For 25/- you can bath at all the 22 wells. All those who thought that the sea at Rameswaram looked like as shown in Chennai express, मुबारक हो आप बेवक़ूफ़ बन गए हैं . The sand was all grey, the sea not clear. Rohit shetty must have passed off any resort of Goa as Rameswaram.
On the way back, when the bridge came, me and my father rushed out of the car and I quickly captured the pics in burst mode. The police was surely giving a tough time. It was not easy though. Here too the winds were somewhere close to 40. It was worth the hurry with me telling to driver to drive off quickly just like they do in the movies. I made him stop at a docking base of an Indian naval Ship and admired the beauty of the establishment. The sentry guards were kind enough so as to let me stand and admire. The air force welcomed me in delhi, Navy here..only the army was left now.On the way back I wrote another poem. Saw a 6 man team badminton match. The setting was just like volleyball but here the players had badminton raquets and shuttlecock.
In the night it was bye bye Madurai and hello Chennai. Thankfully it was confirmed 3AC for me this time. In chennai, when it was time for sight seeing (for me and my father, for mummy it meant only shopping) I made sure to visit the eatablishment first – The Officers Training Academy or the OTA. It felt so nice to see it again. My pilgrimage of visiting all 3 branches of defence was complete. Also tried to book a trip to Tirupati for the next day. Andhra Pradesh tourism office did not have any vacant seats and I had a fight with the person in the office of Tamil Nadu tourism at the reception. A really nasty one which i dont wanna disclose. I gave him a full dose of maa behen ki gaalis in hindi infront of him.
After the so called shopping, the next stop was the Marina beach. In fast reducing sunlight it looked beautiful. Spent quite a lot of time in the fast breeze. On the way back saw the famous Chennaswamy Stadium, standing tall and huge. After sometime I ventured alone to find any church to visit on christmas. The tickets for tirupati had been booked by a travel agent and little did I realise that it was going to be a nightmare for me and my family and I would discover the hidden terms and conditions in such darshans.
Our bus left at 5 am the next morning for tirupati. Every bus , whether govt. or pvt. Leaves at this time. All rely on the Sheegh darshan tickets priced at 300/-. Normal ones are booked in advance and time and day slots are provided for them. It was a package @1300/- per person, ticket included. At tirupati all pvt. Buses are left behing and KSRTC buses headed to Tirumala are boarded. At the security checkpoint all passengers are frisked, luggage offloaded completely (if any) and vehicles checked as if we were some militants rounded up. After a hilly round of some more time, our guide disembarked at group of shops, handed us a slip with the shop details where our belonging would be. Tirupati deposit booths were scattered everywhere, not for us (time consuming).
At that shop all our mobiles went into a drawer and all footwear in sack. No identification...daalo aur bhaago. Ticket...what ticket?? We had to buy the tickets ourselves as they were sold inside the temple premises and the queue was some 5-6 kms long. The guide lead us to a point and directed us to the line for the sheegrh darshan and told us to break the line and enter. One person every few steps. Group infiltration would be met by angry protests by the rest of the pople. We felt like infiltrators being pushed across the LOC by pak. The line was moving really slowly. We entered the line at 10.30. The people alongside had been standing in the line from 7 am. This mid breakup of the line had saved us 3.30 hours because we had only this full day. Barracading on the left started thereby preventing any further breach by anyone. Through left, right, up, down turns we went through the line ( which was double formation). The authorities had promised water and prasad at regular intervals along the way so that devotees didnt feel hungry or thirsty. What irked me was the sale of chips, chocolates, groundnuts and things like that by the vendors. It looked as if it was a picnic line, people were having all sort of things before the darshan and all. खाते पीते दर्शन ? This doesn`t happen in the temple of north.
After hours we came to the security checkpoint. Made up quite a lot of ground there and bought the tickets. There was barracading to demarket the lines which was not there years back. After the ticket, we were led to a big hall with benches used as waiting halls. Another door opens up to the path leading to the temple. We waited for an hour atleast and then I had to cushion my mother from the Junglee bheed which just descended when the doors opened...all in the name of darshan. I hurt my left ankle in the ventilator , my foot too. Wailing babies, broken bangles in the maddening crowd told a different story of the temple which is considered to be the richest. Others may term me to be an atheiest but it seemed a Dikhaava to me, dhakosla. Jostled again for space and line in the leadup to the temple. Once the temple courtyard started, again there was a security check. Arrey when once it had been done then what was the need of the other one? At one moment I must have been looking at crowds of 5k every 15-20 mins. While in the line I noticed a politician being personally escorted by priests for darshan. VIP treatment.
When I entered the main temple there were rows of people all pushing each other in the line. Your luck of seeing the idol lasted just 2 secs at the max. The priest standing on the right side line pushed a woman so hard (in order to make them keep on moving) that she fell. The man with her protested. He was verbally abused and even physically assaulted by the priest and the sector security and pushed in the crowd of people leaving after the darshan (complex is divided into various sectors and each managed by persons designated security , equipped by walkies). I dont know what happened with the man afterwards. Seeing that 3rd class treatment with people I made the quickest exit fom the temple. My mind became aversive and “ऊँची दुकान फीका पकवान ” came true. I vowed never to come back to this place after what i Saw happening with people. The so called famous ladoos have degraded in quality somewhat. What sort of place is this? Beyond my understanding.
After a search of 20 mins finally found the shop of our belongings and there was achill in the air. We couldn`t move because there were still a lot of footwear unclaimed for. People were still at the darshan. At that shop it was a mini india- people from UP, Bengala, Maharashtra, Tripura, J&K. Good for match making. A beautiful bengali girl caught my eye and I dont know how long i kept looking at her. A hunt for the bus ensured which would take us back. It was like finding a needle in the haystack. When we found the bus number which the guide had given me, I was so tired that I slept. After an hour reached our original bus and reached chennai at around 1 am. Next day was my flight so no more heroics for me.
The Kamraj Airport (Chennai) is situated in serene surroundings, seemed like fun. As with kashmir, here too the security check in people emptied my Tic Tac leaving just 3 pieces in the whole box. As I waited for the boarding to announce, found another defunct mobile charging point ( like delhi) and the deck clearing here being done by machines. Aaye haaye ..... another beauty in the cabin crew. My dil goes mmm. Had to deliberately purchase a soft drink can so that she could stay just a little longer. As luck would have it, she stayed a full 30 mins serving food and beverages to the other customers as well. While I was busy admiring her, wrote another poem this time around in the flight. In an otherwise boring flight, the only adventurous part- experiencing turbulance. I landed 40 mins. before time at delhi at a temp. Of 12 way down from 26-27 I had been experiencing all these days but surprisingly I was not feeling any cold despite the rain too.
As per the promise made in the start, the IAF was there to welcome me. I was greeted by the sight of 3 cargo and 1 fighter jet. As with kashmir, In this trip too I noticed quite a few things-
1. The girls in the south are real beauties without makeup
2. They can carry saris with the same ease as with jeans and tops
3. Women can be found doing all jobs there...everything.
4. They are also the most polite. The lady in the cyber cafe in madurai was really polite and patient with the people coming to her with work. In meenakshi temple, a lady stepped on my foot and she was exteremely sorry. Her gestures and body language reflected that.
5. Expect waiters to ask for tips everytime.
6. All railway stations whether big or small have multi touch displays for information.
7. You are eating in a restuarant and people will stand near your table waiting for you to finish so that they can sit next, wont even wait for the tables to be cleared
8. Same with the bill. The moment you say you want nothing more, bill would be presented at that moment while you are still finishing your meal.
9. By whatever means you go to tirupati darshan. If you are looking for the sheegrh darshan ticket, you will have to buy that yourself irrespective of what the package says.
10. Important- Girls are considered assets there and the pride shows in the eyes of the parents. Kerala sure knows how to treat its daughters.
I might have competed Kashmir to Kanyakumari but my heart still wantes to explore the left out portion of kashmir.... Kargill, drass, Leh , ladakh etc. Lets see where the next trip takes me...
The backwaters is what is the real beauty in Kerala. A must experience once , just like people say that you must experience kashmir once. When I was planning for the backwaters, I had very little info about that, but this time Kerala tourism has started a website just for this purpose.
Kerala: God`s own country Reviewed by Shwetabh Mathur on 9:55:00 PM Rating: