“Every form of happiness is private. Our greatest moments are personal, self-motivated, not to be touched".”- Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead)
“A SOUL-SEARCH? NOPE...”
“... They have this trip to Munnar and Thekkady for 4 days and 3 nights.. It’s amazing. I am going to go...”- I said to my parents. My father was on the other side of the phone and he asked, “Are you asking for our permission or informing us”? And I said, “Informing you, of course...”! And thus started out the plan for the “Solo-Trip”!
Oh no! This trip was not planned out as a “soul-search”. I could say that it turned out to be one- in the end. Like most trips of this kind always do. The trip itself was cooking in my mind as some sort of – a deep desire to go “off-track”. Yes- movies did play a major role in this plan. As a child, parents warn you that what they show in movies is not real. But travel movies have no unnatural elements in them. I have travelled a lot. But all my travels have been with friends or family. And most of my travels with family have been to “spiritual” places. I used to have this dream. I board a bus and just “go”. There is no destination in mind- but I keep travelling. The one movie that gave me the nudge I needed to take this trip was- “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”.
I booked my tickets. I got a travel agent to book my hotels and car and I was all set!
“THERE HAD TO BE A PLAN”!
The trip was scheduled to begin on 26th July 2014. A train to Chennai and then a flight to Kochi. A car to pick me up at Kochi- on the 27th of July. I was to reach Munnar and stay at my hotel. Visit a “Tea garden/factory”. On 29th of July- I was to visit the dams and other places around Munnar. On 30th July- take a trip from Munnar to Thekkady. Stay at my hotel there. Watch a Kalari show in the evening. A bit of shopping too. On 30th July- boating and “Jungle Safari” at Periar Wild Life sanctuary at Thekkady. Check-out from hotel. Come back to Kochi. Take a train back home from Ernakulam Junction.
Sounds simple enough!
“OF GHOSTS AND UNNIKRISHNAN...”
On 26th July- at 6:30 pm- my thoughts were somewhere along the lines of- “What is wrong with me? How did I end up doing this”?! But as I started packing- I realised that there was no ‘looking-back’. I’ve just got to do this. The excitement began to mount slowly and by the time I left home, it felt as though the world was mine!
Yet- the dark but familiar roads outside the brightly lit railway station, felt safer. The tamarind and drumstick trees waved at me. Traditional resting places of “ghosts”, who, my Paatti (Granny) often said would usually possess girls who travelled alone- especially after sunset. I couldn’t help but smile seeing them dancing to the tunes of the breeze... Alcohol induced Tamil philosophical songs were playing in the local radio. Dhoti clad uncles were busy shouting instructions from across the platforms. This lady- invited me to sit beside her as I waited for my train. When I did- she asked me if I saw “Unnikrishnan”?
Apparently carnatic/play-back singer Unnikrishnan was travelling by the same train. I told her that I did not see him. Within the next few minutes- she had told me who she was, where she was travelling to and why etc. I was glad that she did not ask even a single thing about me. I was so busy trying to take in and delete all the data she kept pouring out- that I completely forgot about Unnikrishnan! Later, once I had boarded the train, I felt that seeing Unnikrishnan wouldn’t have been so bad after all! No extraordinary journey is complete without getting a ‘glimpse’ of a celebrity. I thought of the Bengali film “Nayak” by Sathyajit Ray where a famous actor travels in a train compartment with a few other people!
Egmore station is a beautiful sight in the mornings. Strangers yet- all have the same identity in there- “travellers”. As I was lost in thought- Unnikrishnan walked past me. And at that moment I knew- this was going to be an extraordinary journey!
DISRUPTING ‘SOLACE’- A NOSTALGIA...
Hot Chips at Egmore- I learnt- serves the best coconut chutney and “Pongal” during that time of the day. Coffee too was great. But still- as an ardent “filter coffee” fanatic- I cannot just call any coffee good! I was supposed to meet a friend- or rather- a “friend-philosopher-guide” at Thirisulam station. Looking at the hill at Thirisulam reminded me of a friend of mine with whom I once agreed to walk along to the top of the hill. Unfortunately- people living up there were those who found solace in “open-defecation”! And we, that day, disturbed the “solace” of many individuals!
|Thirisulam Hill and Nostalgia- 27th July 2014|
AN AUDIENCE AT A STRANGE PLAY...
After a long chat with my friend, I reached the Chennai Airport. By this time- my excitement did not allow me to take in any more of what was happening around me.
A long wait at the Chennai airport- and suddenly, I was at Kochi!
|Arrival at Kochi Airport- 27th July 2014|
The strange place felt more familiar than any other place I’ve ever lived! Perhaps it was because of the fact that I chose to go there. While the other places I’d been to were not chosen by me. En route Munnar- I had to stop at this road-side restaurant to have my lunch.
|Weather played Hide and seek as I had my lunch- cue rain and cue sun!|
The rain and the sun were acting in a play scripted by the clouds. “Cue Rain”- said the cloud and it rained. “Cue sun” it said- and he popped up again! I had wanted to taste authentic Kerala cuisine- but had to settle for the Tamil style lunch as they were out of Vegetarian Kerala food.
Meandering roads and constantly rising altitude were teasing me. Eyes that hadn’t slept all night- begged me to rest them. But as we move closer to Munnar- at every step, nature greets us! What a smile she has!
|Nature greets you as you enter Munnar 27th july|
Finally- at around 4:30 pm on 27th July 2014- I reached Munnar and checked into my room.
“ SLEEP DWELL UPON THINE EYES”...
|Tired as hell- but finally reached Munnar- Yippie- 27th july 2014|
A room with a view!
|You guessed it right!|
Finally, the sleep won me over and I had to take the fall!
|Let me just sleep!|
That evening, I began to walk up the hill where my hotel was located. I thought I could see the local bazaar and pick up something to take along. But there was nothing located nearby except for a tea stall! Couldn’t help it- but the rain, the mist, and the fact that the aroma from the tea stall fit perfectly into the picture- that day- the 27th of July 2014., I happened to have the most perfect “ginger” tea of my life so-far! The walk through the wilderness was a bliss and the rain felt like a blessing from heaven itself...
|As I walk through the wilderness...|
After my dinner- I had the pleasure of sleeping in my room with the wind and rain singing me a lullaby. The wind banged at my window and as I opened it- rain came pouring in; splashing herself all over my face.
The morning was Peace.
As I was driven through the mystical hills of Munnar- I couldn’t help but think that it’s not for nothing they call this place “God’s own country”.
|It is not called 'god's own country' for nothing-28th july 2014|
Eravikulam National Park- is a place that ought to be visited at least once in your lifetime!
The clouds touched my feet as I walked through...
Driver Anna told me that if I get to see at least one Nilgiri Tahr – then I must consider myself lucky.
|Nilgiri Tahr-28th july 2014|
Endangered and endemic to Western Ghats they said. Animals, languages, civilizations- one wishes that one does not hear of these getting extinct. The language “Ahom” is not spoken anymore. And this happened during our life time. On one hand- there’s Darwin and his theory of evolution speaking about “survival of the fittest”. On the other hand- there’s a question of preserving what one can preserve. All that a “clueless” “aam-aadmi” can do is- at least be aware that things could become extinct if not used or preserved wisely. Be it petrol/natural gas or rain water harvesting- one has the duty to ask oneself what one is leaving behind for her children. And all this conversation happened with a tea-vendor at the foothills of Eravikulam national park! He was a Tamilian working in Kerala. He found out that I was Tamil and asked me if I liked the place. When I told him that I absolutely loved it- he told me- “Write about this place somewhere. Here, we don’t have pollution- noise (they don’t use horn in the vehicles inside the national park- as it could frighten the animals!), air or water. We don’t use plastics. We don’t disturb the nature to suit our needs. We live with nature. But in your place- you have converted all of the agricultural lands into multi-storeyed apartments. What are you leaving behind for your children”? We can be intellectuals and intelligent and earn enough in ten years that could last for a life-time. But is our life-style- “environment- conscious”?
Trip through the tea plantation made me think- “I swear to drink tea from now on... Goodbye Coffee”!
|I swear to drink tea from now on... Goodbye Coffee!|
“Main aur meri Tanhai”
Mattupetty Dam- so beautiful and almost looked like an oil painting!
This place definitely suits me!
I had just finished enjoying my steamed-hot-corn. The road called on to me once again. Twisting and turning through the tough terrain- hills overlooking the beautiful tea gardens, wild flowers of all colours and hibiscus blooming all over the place- I couldn’t help but marvel at the effort humans have taken to access the nature! People often say that one tends to feel small in front of nature. Yet- I felt proud of this achievement as a human!
I reached the “Kundala Dam”. This place- I could never forget in my life! Some of my best moments of solitude were spent here. The sky touched the hills and hills- the river... I removed my shoes and let the cold water touch my feet as I sat down. “Tranquillity”!
|Kundala Dam- spent the best moments of solitude here... 28th july 2014|
The place was full of trees that aspired to touch the skies some day. Few poor horses had been trained to carry around people of all sizes and shapes! If only there were no people. Just as the Earth- wild and untamed- if only those horses could be free. Their blinkers- if only they could be thrown away... Their human masters lured away- with prospects of better jobs... If only those horses could run in the speed they wished to run in...
“I stand here on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and I spread my arms. This, my body and spirit, this is the end of the quest. I wished to know the meaning of all things. I am the meaning. I wished to find a warrant for being. I need no warrant for being, and no word of sanction upon my being. I am the warrant and the sanction. Neither am I the means to any end others may wish to accomplish. I am not a tool for their use. I am not a servant of their needs. I am not a sacrifice on their alters.”- Ayn Rand (Anthem)
|And one day- I shall touch the skies!|
I came back to the hotel- my head and heart filled with memories! That chair, that view and a hot cup of coffee- and I need no more...
To be continued...