Memoirs of South India


Though I have been pretty busy of late, delaying this further will have collateral damage. Not only will Sunay be hurling all sorts of words towards me, but I will mess up, forget the little crispy details of the trip and then reading this won’t feel as Tasty!

Putting to rest all the lengthy introductions yours truly – crowned prince of Jammu, his Majesty Kanav is famous for, and I will cut straight to the point.

I wonder if we can make it a lifelong ritual – one trip a year, to a new place and to new adventures. This might be possible, but can we make it happen having the same members? Now that will be something!

Anyways, I am someone who has gradually taken to travelling. This trip happens to be my third trip with Sunay and second involving Mohit and Sunay


Introductions

Mohit: Mota Bhai is the calmest person you can wish to travel with. So calm that the seas rose in anger seeing the characteristics they are famous for! He is one of my batch mates from IIT and an extremely knowledgeable and witty personality. And yeah, anything related to Shri Aurobindo gratifies his soul. (Kindly notice the italic typeface)

Sunay: Well, Sunay is an asshole. Enough said!

Planning

Don’t get me wrong, but this generally happens to my weaker side. So when Sunay enquired of me on 5th of December about the plans, I was blank. Finally on 16th December a Skype group was created and Mota bhai was added to the same group. The discussions went at fast pace – Hotels, bus tickets, train tickets, then flight tickets, the lodging, the free lodging, the girls who will come, then the girls who won’t come, cancellations, confirmations! Time flew faster during those days.

After I suppose 6-8 iterations, having removed Hampi, having added many, we finally had a plan!

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Lovely isn’t it?

Budgetary considerations

Let me be clear here. We don’t earn over the shelf like many of our batch mates (and juniors and seniors) earn. So budget is a concern! Also, Sunay is a baniya. Period!

But we estimated the expenditure to be around 26000 with a variation of 10% expected (Time will tell how much close we actually came) and decided to respect the limit! I was anointed as the CFO (Chief Finance Officer, bitches!)


The trip

So now, time to start what you all have been waiting for. Before you proceed further, I will not be held responsible for any sort of damage which is done to you in terms of health and time! “Proceed at your own risk!”

Pre-Requisites

Before you decide to emulate us people, please note that the following items will be important (More so because we missed some of these)

Condoms, torch lights, shaving kit, medical kits including crape, bandages, anti-vomit tablets, anti-loose motion tablets, paracetamol, shorts, T-shirts (extra), footwear (shoes as well as slippers or floaters), monopod sticks (Because one can break), multi-plug.

Other items can include sufficient loads of cash, chargers, clothing, cameras, extra memory cards, tripod stand, sunglasses, and creams for the beach.


Day 0, 25th December

After having packed most of the stuff mentioned above and much more not mentioned above, we left for the ISBT bus stand in New Delhi at 6:00 in the morning. From the bus-stand, we took the bus for Jaipur and so the journey began. There wasn’t much exciting about the journey except for the two hot girls sitting right at the front of the bus and the way we sat tightly packed with a rucksack between and a half on my legs.

We reached Jaipur around 1:30 in the afternoon after being helped a polite guy who was overhearing our conversations and there we called upon a senior of ours for a meet-up. We ate at the mall nearby, had a good laughter filled couple of hours of chats before finally bidding adieu and leaving for the airport via Ola.

Afterwards, it was about settling down in the plane and reaching our next destination – Bangalore!

To keep it brief, there are things I love about the airport at Bangalore. Best two being the Girls I have met there and the air which has caressed my face during summer travels!

After landing at the airport, we took a cab to Himanshu’s place – VRR Heritage, Dodenakundi.

Himanshu, ladies and ladies, happens to be our batch mate from IIT and one of my sharpest and jolliest friend who is extremely pragmatic when it comes to use of money (Read “Baniya”) and extremely knowledgeable regarding any topic. He once made an android app just to pass some time! Beat that!

Anyways, we reached Himanshu’s place at around midnight and had ordered food from a delivery service titled – “Midnight delivery”. They say when you are hungry, anything tastes delicious! This made an exception!

After the meal, we slept quickly so that we could wake up on time to start our mammoth journey!


Day 1, 26th December

On the morning of 26th, we took a cab from Himanshu’s place to the Bangalore city railway station. The first part of our journey required us to make a trip to Mysore and then hire a cab from there to proceed further. The cab had been already booked in advance and was to pick us from the railway station itself.

The train journey from Bangalore to Mysore was a very peaceful one, with Sunay sleeping through the journey and I eating away Mohit’s brain and ears. Nothing much to add except for this.

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We reached Mysore in the afternoon and after collecting cash, we got the cab and embarked on a week full of funny incidents and exciting, thrilling adventures.

What I had forgotten was to convey to the cab organizer that we didn’t know any South Indian language. So to our amazing luck, we got a driver who only knew the language of South. I have forgotten his name already and hence my urgency to write the blog down is more justified!

Anyways, as we started, Mohit & I wanted to go to Mysore palace, but Sunay didn’t agree. According to him we were late and hence we need to hurry to make up for the lost time. So we decided to get on the road and get going!

Checkpoint #1 – Bandipur National Park

We passed through Bandipur national park on our way to Munnar. We were advised to go through it. Though it wasn’t as fascinating as we had thought, it made for a good drive through. We stopped at a place in between for a moment and continued on our journey.

In the day itself, we passed through Ooty (Queen of hills), and several other national parks including Indira Gandhi national park, Chinnar wildlife sanctuary and Eravikulam national park before finally reaching Munnar at 1:00 in the night.

It was while we were passing through Eravikulam national park that we accidentally had a meeting with a black panther who ran away as soon as the lights hit his eyes. But in the dark too we could make out that a black, giant body had just crossed our sight. We, for once, realized the dangers of travelling at night in these areas.

Well, our night wasn’t over yet as we were up for a harsh surprise. The hotel which we had booked was actually not booked and hence we had no place to sleep at that moment. Being a tourist season, we were in a spot of bother. Then, as it happens so many times in India, we found a guy who escorted us to a place where he provided us with a room for 1800 INR. To be honest, it didn’t warrant 600 in normal times, but we were desperate and the guy cashed in on it. Having settled down for the night, we decided we will sleep and rest long and start afresh the next day!


Day 2, 27th December

So after a refreshing sleep and good night’s rest, We all decided to get on the road. But before that, we had to eat something! So we went to this south Indian restaurant called Sarvana Bhawan! (It happens to be a popular chain in the South, as witnessed by all of us)

Hats off to their food and service! We had eaten so much in so little time and were off on the road to see and enjoy the beauty called Munnar.

Our first destination in Munnar happened to be the tea gardens for which Munnar is ever so famous. We stopped in between, enjoyed the views on the tea hills, took some pics before our driver amazingly got the rear bumper wacked off! (I couldn’t stop being the usual bitch I am and kept on making faces, again and again!)

Upon returning from the tea gardens, we proceeded to Mattupetty Dam. *The name suggests what we could have found there*. If the sights weren’t rewarding, the place had an unmatched experience in terms of coconut water, its cream and a slimy fruit which left a very different feel in the mouth.

Boom and Munnar was wrapped up! But the day wasn’t

From Munnar we proceeded to Maduria via NH49. Trust me, the journey can never be better! Through clouds, up and down the mountains, before reaching the plains again – It was the finest part of travel for the first 3 days!

We reached Madurai late in the evening and were thankful to have found a great room at a nominal cost of INR 1600 only! A good news had arrived while in that room, it was a good day indeed.

We had another meal at the South Indian restaurant, having accustomed ourselves to the names and the dishes before finally watching a movie in our room and going off to sleep.

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Day 3, 28th December

We started early from our hotel and went and paid our homage at Meenakshi temple. It indeed is a beautiful temple. The colors are breathtaking, as are the entrances to the temple built in all four directions. The details in the statues are marvelous and the experience can leave one spellbound.

After the temple we had identified a palace in the city and wanted to go and visit it. If having found it located right in the middle of a busy and crowded neighbourhood wasn’t enough, the condition of its made us ponder over how we take care of our heritage! Inside the palace, behind massive pillars, lovers discovered the privacy which they are deprived of in the city!

After the palace we were again on the road and the destination now was Rameshwaram!

I honestly had not heard of the place before and was really looking forward to it. I was later told that it was one of the four Dhams (Four Hindu places of high importance, maybe created in such a way that a pilgrim who visits all the four can have a flavour of all four parts of India) and hence it just added to my desire to visit the place.

Pamban bridge and the Palk strait

Rameshwaram is connected to the mainland via a bridge called the Pamban bridge. It is a cantilever rail-bridge as well as a road bridge for the cars, buses, trucks and other motor vehicles. In life, it is a place you should visit! Standing on the bridge, we enjoyed the coolest and the fastest winds ever! The sheer velocity of the winds rocked the monopod in my hand and made it difficult to click photographs! The half an hour spent on the bridge will be a much cherished memory.

Later in the night, we set out on a long search for a hotel. Being the holiday season, we were in a spot of bother since the rates were over the top. But then Sunay struck jackpot! Initially we were finding rooms for 2100 a night, and Sunay got us a room for two nights at 2100! (Hell yeah!)

We went around the place in the evening, explored the temple area and after a discussion about milk and wedding nights (The relation) followed by a glass of hot almond milk, we called it a night!


 Day 4, 29th December

We had planned on waking up early and visiting the temple quickly before the crowd sets in. Instead, we slept late and hence had a change of plans!

Make a mental note here to ensure your driver understands your language and your urgency! After missing out on the sunrise, I was pretty much not amused. But then I was made to calm down. (As if I had an option) We decided we’ll visit Dhanushkodi first and then we will go to the temple.

dhanush

(See, I told you, the place get you excited. But the red portion at the end is underwater and hence we couldn’t go till there)

We parked our car at the parking and confused how to go ahead, we started walking (See the marker below)

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What we didn’t know was that it is not as short as it initially looked, forget about as easy. After having walked two and half km under the sun, we realized that we had made a wrong call. Then started the struggle to get a jeep, or a mini bus to stop and take us along. Unfortunately, over 30 minutes worth of efforts proved futile and nobody stopped, till, of course, Sunay intervened and waved his wallet. Funny how easily money can get the job done.

park2Upon finally reaching the point,  we saw a monkey run and take a banana from a temple, eat it away like a boss. What was remarkable was to see 4 churches in a place which generally would remind Hindus of a place of sanctity. We saw a floating stone, Shiva temples and had a light dip, met a Travel blogger (Whose blog we have forgotten, tried the jump (photo) shots before finally making it back to the parking

Afterwards, we went to the Kothandaramaswamy temple where Vibishana was crowned as the king of Lanka after the death of Ravana.

This place had water knee deep for 100s of meters. In it we could experience the Interstellar moment (1st planet with huge tidal wave) and clicked probably the riskiest and coolest photograph of our trip.

We returned back to our room tired from there and slept off for some time.

Afterwards was the time to go to the temple. Before that we went for a ferry ride, on the way to which Mota bhai purchased new pair of slippers and we all sat down for an ice cream. Sunay slept the ferry ride and after we enjoyed a cool breeze we again returned to our room to pick clothes for temple. Mota bhai had forgotten his new slippers near the ice cream spot and they were duly lost!

Rameshwaram Dham

We packed some clothes and proceeded to take a bath in 22 kunds (Wells). It is considered to be one of the holy activities in our religion. We completed the bath and proceeded to return to our room. We had visited the temple already once to pay homage to the deities worshiped there and were truly impressed by the architecture and the peace the place brought.

Once back at the room that Mota bhai started searching for his bag of clothes which he had carried to the temple. The fact that it was in his hand yet had disappeared mysteriously made us hysterical and we almost had stomach pain laughing at what had happened. “Next on the list is Mota bhai’s turn to disappear” – This became the joke of the moment. Still, we tried searching for the bag, futile however it was and eventually retired to our room after dinner to prepare for the next day

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 Day 5, 30th December

We started from Rameshwaram for our next destination – Pondicherry. While on our way, I saw Thanjavur come up on the maps, a little away from our route. I asked Mohit if he remembered that there was a temple in Thanjavur which was famous for its structure and size. Mohit said that it was actually Brihadeshwara temple. On referring to Google, we found out that the two were the same.

Sunay again started protesting, saying that the trip was becoming a pilgrimage. But then, we had a vote and he couldn’t say much. Upon reaching Thanjavur, we got the car parked and proceeded to the temple.

Brihadeshwara temple, Thanjavur

The decision remains one of the best ones we took on the trip. The temple was majestic. One couldn’t help but stand amazed at the sheer gigantic size of the temple. I experienced vibrations of the sort I hadn’t experienced in ages. I felt delighted, to say the least. After offering the prayers, we paused for some photographs before returning to the road.

The rest of the journey went as per the plan, except for the trouble we landed in with the cops because of not having the permit to go inside Pondicherry. After settling the issue, we reached our hotel and went to rest. The first of our hotels in Pondicherry was a small one, yet with amazing rooms at seriously cool prices. We had been expecting some female friends and hence had booked a more decent looking hotel for 31st night.

After resting and refreshing ourselves, we proceeded to roam around Pondicherry. We went to the fabled Pondicherry promenade which looked to me like the Marine drive of Bombay albeit the traffic. We sat on the rocks for some time before deciding to eat at the famous La Mainson Rose as part of the good news. And we were not disappointed (Mota bhai was though). The chicken was juicy, balanced and deserved a reorder. The ambience was mesmerizing, ideal for love birds to eat at. (Sunay, I am telling you, I have exercised extreme restraint here). After finishing the meal, we had natural ice cream before retiring to our room and sleeping off.

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Day 6, 31st December

Himanshu had traveled to Pondicherry to spend the night with us. It was good to have another member on the trip. It added to the fun.

In the morning, while we headed to Paradise beach, Mota bhai went to the Ashram. It was a sunny day and hence the beach walk was a little more difficult than usual. Paradise beach was calm, and without the tourists in the early morning which made it a good place for a walk and some photographs.

Initially we were scared to enter the waters, but upon seeing a family do so, we decided to drop the clothes down. We had a good swim for 30 odd minutes before changing and returning back to the hotel. We had a small rest and then were off to Auroville

Auroville – The city of dawn

The website reads as follows:

“Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities.
The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity.”

Once we were there we could realize what the entire hype was about. The menu at the cafeteria described how the raw materials were locally sourced and how the staffs were volunteers. Reading more about it and watching a 10-minute video on the place added to the already growing admiration of Auroville. After watching the video, we proceeded to see the Matri-Mandir or the meditation center. On our way, we came across a Banyan tree, which happened to be the center of Auroville. It stood there magnificently, with some of its hanging roots as broad as trunk of many other trees. Sitting in its shade felt good. We proceeded further to the viewing spot of the Matri-Mandir. And there it stood – The golden sphere, shining in its glory. I recommend you read more about it here

After that, we went to see an academic center inside Auroville and returned back to our hotel after paying a visit to Auro beach, where for a change we found people enjoying the roaring beach happily.

In the evening, we went to another of Pondicherry’s famous eating spots called ‘Cafe Xtasi’ where we had an 18 inch pizza! We missed a chance of asking three girls out for the New Year’s party and save 1000 INR per head.

As the evening descended into the night, we landed at the beach party for the New Year. Let it be clear here, the experience wasn’t good. At least the organizers made sure it would be worse, but the music and the beach with its winds made up for everything! We returned late into the New Year but were disappointed to know that the promenade had been closed off. Night fell sweet on us.

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Day 7, 1st January

In the morning, we left Pondicherry a little late than planned and hence had to disappoint Himanshu by not showing him the promenade. We made up for it by the drive along the ‘East coast road’. It is one of those roads which will make you feel delighted and leave you in its awe. Our next destination was Mahabalipuram. Fair to say, the history book lessons stood vindicated after the trip.

The shore temple, Mahabalipuram

It is a UNESCO world heritage and a visit ensures you understand why. The temples are small, yet beautifully carved and are a sweet sight. Strangely, no deity is worshipped in these temples. The beach at Mahabalipuram was the best we had witnessed during the trip and is a must visit if you are near Chennai.

We then proceeded to see the temple of Pandavas (The five son of King Pandu immortalised in the epic Mahabharata). Again you could see the class of the sculptors who had carved out temples from a single stone and in different shapes. Legend had it that the temples were like examinations for the sculptors to see the level of their skill.

Mahabalipuram is a travelers paradise in all aspect. You can easily spend a day there and still end up missing something. And it is so undervalued, in my opinion since I hardly knew about the other legendary things the place had for display.

Chennai

From there we proceeded to Chennai to meet one of Sunay’s friend. It was a good drive on the East coast road till we approached the city and felt the traffic after so many days. We had lunch at a fancy place near IIT Madras where we met Sunay’s friend. It is always a joy meeting friends after a long time. Even they are good ones, the pleasure is that little extra. While Sunay was engaged in conversations, the other three North Indians broke the record for eating South Indian food in fastest time possible, such were our hunger levels.

We were on our way back to Bangalore after this and had some decent level of sleep on the way. We reached Bangalore late in the night and bid the driver a farewell after an eventful week. I suppose we were too tired to get emotional, or maybe just thankful that it was over. That night Arun (another one of our IIT batch-mate) came over with his brother and we had a delicious meal.

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Day 8, 2nd January

Next day we met Devyani, yet another batch-mate of ours at the Phoenix city mall in White fields. Infact we met her parents too. It is a funny, positive feeling. I always have enjoyed meeting parents and introducing mine to my friends. I believe it helps the bond grow further. We went to have a lovely lunch at little Italy after that. I guess we did ensure that we ate our stomachs out. Everything on offer was tried and tasted!

In the evening, I finally met Srishti, a friend of mine at Arbor Brew Company (ABC). It was nice seeing her after so long. We all had drinks there and enjoyed the ambience. It was an unusual sight for us since we had never seen girls alone at brewpubs in our city at least. We thought of talking one of the ladies up, but then lost the chance to couple of guys who started showing some magic tricks! (Guess we ought to learn some of our own)

Eventually we got back, wrapped up the packing stuff and left in the early morning for the airport


 Day 9, 3rd January

After reaching Jaipur via an eventful, dangerous flight, having landed in zero visibility conditions, we proceeded straight to the bus stand and had a good North Indian food after so many days. We could sense that our bodies were totally done and hence were eager to board the bus and get back. The bus journey to Gurgaon was longer than anticipated. We reached around 9 in the night, took a taxi and ended the trip!


Summary of places visited

1. Munnar ( 3/5)

2. Madurai (Not enough to rate, Meenakshi temple is a must visit)

3. Rameshwaram (5/5, Period)

4. Thanjavur (Again, didn’t see much of the city, but the Brideshwara temple is a 6/5)

5. Pondicherry (3.5/5)

6. Mahabalipuram (5/5, a must visit place in India)

Budget (Estimated v/s actual)

As discussed above, we had a budget of 26000 + 10%. Eventually, we ended up roughly spending 28000 per head. Some extra expenses which were not foreseen regarding Bangalore shook mine a lit but that was about it. As the CFO, I say,” Mission accomplished”


Tips to help you in case you are traveling in South India:

Logistic concerns

  • Our driver Naveen (Thank you Mohit for reminding me) did not speak English or Hindi. You can understand our dilemma. Kindly try and ensure your driver knows one of your language.
  • Please confirm what are the extra costs you will be incurring for travel permits beforehand. The driver will ask you for it
  • Ensure the papers of the car are in place, else the police will not spare you – Huge time waste
  • Don’t book hotels using http://Stayzilla.com , but in case you do, double confirm the bookings with the hotel. We reached Munnar at 1:00 in the night and were shocked to know the booking wasn’t confirmed. We were screwed for sure and on top of that the website gave us no attention afterwards
  •  Air Asia was cheapest option to fly between Jaipur and Bangalore. Keep a tab on its prices

What is must visit, what can be avoided

  • Munnar is a good place to visit, but try and avoid the tourist rush. It isn’t ready to take the load
  • Definitely take the road between Munnar and Madurai, it is totally worth it.
  • Rameshwaram is worth a bargain. In non-tourist season, you should get a room at a very reasonable rate. Don’t miss the sunset there
  • Keep enough buffer. The hill roads are longer than what google predicts
  • In Pondicherry, kindly don’t waste money on a beach party, not a good experience.
  • Pondicherry needs a day extra, keep it with you
  • Thanjavur and Mahabalipuram make you realise India and its richness, do visit these cities. It is a once in a life experience
  • Food in South India is economical. Enjoy the cuisine while there

 

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