Doraemon, Chotta Bheem, Motu Patlu, all seemed to have breached the Model Code of Conduct or आचार संहिता. Everyone of them publicizing and displaying their strengths in full color. However the election officials seemed to have turned a blind eye rather focusing on puny and tiny shards of papers with some silly party symbols. It seemed that the real contestants in the LS polls are these innocent characters and their paintings on school walls resembling or mimicking our aspiring leaders. Only if these leaders could give back to the public the same faith that these characters instill in the hearts of the young.
The typical school venue of an election poll booth venue, an exemplary reflection of our country’s polling and its politics. The walls off-colour with flakes of colour jumping off. The sweaty corridors of an old school reeking of musty damp walls. The only respite coming from a nice breeze stealing itself from crowded lanes of voters and a few unbalanced ceiling fans which were happy to move on to another event of 5-year term polls. These school’s air dispensers probably have witnessed the terms longer than the people it services.
The Indian East Coast was something that was pending on my “been there” check-list. Somehow it had always evaded me. However this time my engineering classmate figured out a time slot and an itinerary in the early Feb. The plan was a road trip from Bangalore, in his humble Wagon-R.
First stop was Auroville, the calm green roads of the place were indicative of what was to come next in the Auroville Visitor’s centre. This place was more of a modern temple, with twisting walkways passing through trees surrounded by boards / placards depicting the history of Auroville. This was an extreme foreign visitor magnet along with tourists. Most enjoying the cafes, patisseries and ice-cream bars more than the history and the soul of Auroville.
What amazed me more in Auroville and adjoining places, is the abundance of bakeries, cafes and gelato ice-cream bars. Its not that they are one of ” just another bakery”, No, ie I had breakfast at the famous Auroville Bakery, it was awesome, the price was well with reach of locals, rather the Indian food was cheap and other croissants, rolls were well within the bounds of reality.
Pondicherry / Puducherry
Pondi, the affectionate call for Pondicherry or Puducherry has one major attraction – The White town. The southern part of Pondi has a canal running North – South. The west side of the canal (away from the beach) belonged to the native Indians during the French colonial rule while the East part belonged to the French (the “white”). This was the prime area overlooking the beach lashed by turquoise waters of Bay of Bengal. The white town, had a very distinct feel to it. The first thing that hits you is cleanliness and the roads. Very clean, well paved and clearly marked roads. A lot of trees along the roads, trimmed and flowering Bougainvillea. Next noticeable feature of this part, are its bungalows / houses. All of them clean and white-washed with distinct blue or dark-gray bordering. The houses had either a white or a typical yellow colour, more like chrome-yellow. The bungalows on the junctions had a clear blue colored board with white lettering, “Rue Dupuy”, “Rue Romain Rolland” and so on. For a non-french learned like me, what is Rue? My friend mentioned that its “street” in French.
We had our lunch at the “Le Cafe”. Keeping same expectations of Auroville Bakery, we were truly disappointed. The food was average, it was cold and it was pricey. However it seemed the French had a special love for this one and came in by flocks. Complacency?
While we roamed around and along the promenade by the beach, we saw loads of visitors in awe of the place, snapping at any flatly yellow colored building. I wasn’t sure if its just the cleanliness of the area that fascinated people. Across the channel, the Tamil town, was just another busy day with hustle and bustle of vehicles and people alike.
A wet Saturday in July and an itch to roam around the Vaitarna, picking small water bodies and navigating through slushy dirt roads on foot and car both. Me and my old riding partner Manas trudged.
First up was Lohape Talao / lake close to the Vajereshwari town, we had made a similar trip exactly a year back. This time we thought we’ll check smaller lakes and dams around that area.
Next up was a lake / dam called “Shelte Water Lake” as labelled by Google maps, this one was right below Kohoj fort. We stopped our car next to the highway and continued our offroading on the foot, through muck, slush, water, you name it. The rain came in hard, our foot got stuck in the soil, T-shirts sprayed and splashed with dirt. Almost 15-20 mins into the trail, but we couldn’t find it. All that we could see was lush green earth and farmers toiling on the paddy fields below a towering mountain behind half hidden above the low rain clouds. We decided to head back without having a peek of the Lake.
Amidst discussions of post-retirement life, bikes and cars we head home. The whole trip without even a single song played on the stereo!
One of the many songs that I kept humming inside my balaclava. Wondering what its chords could be, as they turned out to be F# Major, B Major, E Major. Or crooning to the base guitar in the song “Dil Se Re”… The song reminds me of the storm that we faced riding to Kankavali –
A road winding through the woods, the white borders defining a strong ardent character. As we raced ahead, the storm clouds hovered in, turning the bright sky into a obnoxious dark gray shadow. The trees rustled and the leaves fell apart, straight down the road we could see the rain closing in turning the clear sight into a hazy might. Lightning struck places a many followed by the thunder cutting through the forest. We decided not to ride our luck and rather wait it out…
Another one of my Unicorn’s 1000km+ bike rides. This one was originally spanning through Dudhsagar waterfalls, but as always rains played spoil-sport and had to resort to Maharashtra’s tallest waterfall – Thoseghar.
~ 40 hours on the saddle
~ 1700 km
~ 45 litres of fuel / petrol
Hash tag – #reachedhomewithoutbruises – ? ? ? Thanks to Kandya
Fridays are good, even better is the Easter one. Gives us an opportunity for a long weekend. This one we had Tarkarli on mind.
We decided to take the AH-47 / Old NH-4 / New NH-48 as it was faster (supposedly) and Google Maps showed around 10+ hrs of traveling time. Old NH-17 / NH-66 Mumbai Goa highway was sure slower for its single lane. As we neared Kolhapur we called up the Tarkarli resort owner for a suggestion between two routes
The Radhanagari route was suggested, This one seemed to have longer ghats also some forest section which was enticing. But the longer ghats meant slower speeds. We opposed Google’s suggestion of via-Gaganbawda route.
Radhanagari route wasn’t great random potholes and patched roads. Only a section near the Phondaghat was smooth, well paved and marked. Rest of the section till Mumbai-Goa highway was strictly ~50-60 kmph. Once on NH-66 road was smoother but the undivided stretch meant slower movement and not to mention the difficult and far and few overtake maneuvers. At the Kasal fork, we moved towards Malvan on the SH-182 Kasal-Malvan Road almost 40km in length. This one without the heavy vehicles was better to drive.
We had left the JVLR junction in Mumbai around 6am and reached Devbag, Tarkarli only around 7.30pm !!! Were quite unsure if the Radhanagari was the best option.
April 16, 2017
Back to Mumbai. We didn’t want the same patchy Radhanagari route. This time we decided to stick with Google’s senses, via-Gaganbawda. This route took us on NH-66 upto Talere around 10km north of Kankavali town where it took right towards Gaganbawda ghat. The initial section till Vaibhavwadi was super smooth and was new, laced with trees on either side of the road.
There was a small bad patch before it lead into the ghats, the Ghat section was looong… BUT S-M-O-O-T-H nowhere to be compared with the phonda-ghat route. Post that route flattened but had a nice smooth 60+kmph ride till we were 15km radius of Kolhapur where things slowed cause of two wheeler traffic, but nowhere as painful as patchy-potholed-road section.
From Kolhapur – AH-47. As we crossed Katraj, south of Pune, we moved into the Pune traffic which took almost an hour to cross ~40km,
We reached our homes around 1.30am, We had left Malvan around 12.30 Noon. This too had taken us 13hrs, but this also included heavy Pune traffic, and an hour+ lunch break and another 45min break for late-night snacks around 11.30pm at the new Food mall near Lonavala.
Distance Traveled: 1180km
Tiago XZ Petrol mileage: 18.2 kmpl (as shown by MID, with all-time AC in City Mode)
Car Time: 26 hours
1/3 rd of our 72 hours / 3day vacation was on the road. But who cares! It was a road trip !
Was the call of the tea vendor as the 3-Tier-AC Punjab Mail coach raced into central India. Cousins all converging at single birth where there was something happening. Either it was awesome crisp chakalis and chirotes made by our aunts or a game of dumb charades. 6 kids accompanying us ensured there was never a dull moment, either it was constant shrieking with the excitement of the moving train and jungle-jim designed bunk beds or their cries in an event of a fall or an unfortunate squabble. It was a surprise to my colleagues when I told them I have a big family gathering at temples of Khajuraho !
In the central plains of India, April is a sweltering period. The day time temperatures reaching upto 42°C ! The land seems already parched. The arid soil is not the most fertile, but it yet breeds a host of vegetation. Amongst those, a specific tree stands out tall, literally!
The Mahua tree is high standing structure. At times tall as 20m. Its shape sometimes resembles an afro. The branches almost having a mathematical progression. The tier-1 branches shooting off radially around 7feet high from the ground. From those sprout the 2nd tier of branches that rise almost vertically. The next set of off-springs again spreading horizontally. April makes the tree leaves almost maroon in color. Start of the summer is time to bear flowers, the infamous Mahua flowers!
The Mahua flowers are small, bulbous almost a thumb’s width. The petals however have a strong character. They are thick, light green and hold a fragrant musky odor with sweet fluid. The flower is edible. The smell reminiscent of tender coconut. The flower is used for making sweets and even alcohol. The cattle seem to be extremely fond of this delicious flower.
Before we could be enthralled with the sculptures of Khajuraho, we had planned a safari at the Panna Tiger reserve. Entrance is difficult, with chaotic checks of the rosters, entry passes and guards. The tiger reserve like any other forest bore a serene demeanor. Even during the hot month, early 6am was pleasantly cool. The first sightings of the animals were the deers, Sambar and spotted deer (chittal). The black faced hanuman langoor perched at the edge of the road held almost a day old baby clinging close to the mother.
Tigers are elusive and shy, however the spotters always find pug marks. We found a few, where the trackers had placed rocks along side the marks. It seemed like juvenile male tiger as the guide thought. That was the last and closest we came to the big cat.
We passed along the Ken river, “The cleanest of all the rivers in India” as our guide put it. The river runs northwards and drains into Yamuna. Its also the home of Indian freshwater crocodile or the Muggur crocodile. We did have a glimpse of one swimming in the distance, with just its snout visible along with the trail of the water. Through the hills we drove in the 4×4 Gypsy surrounded by mostly Sagwan trees with its big leaves now almost withered by this time of the year. We stopped at a scenic spot, above the river when a young Sambar female came up the gorge right next to us. It was followed by an even younger one. Both of them almost posing for the cameras.
The second day was reserved for the highlight of the tour, the shrines. Below the north-central heartland plains of India ruled the Chandela dynasty in the hilly terrain now called Bundelkhand. The western group of temples are dotted at the periphery of large lawns. We attended the light and sound show by the late evening. Lighting and highlighting the famous temples. It began with a voice and a story, a story told in an extremely well choreographed manner with light and heavy soothing voice of the narrator. Through the story, random areas of trees were lighted and bathed in sounds of the narrative. As the story moved towards the creations of the temples, the originally light parts of temples glowed differently revealing the majestic splendor.
Even a temple visit had to be an early morning one, unless we wanted to bake ourselves. We hired a guide for a whopping ₹1900 (for the entire tour, the eastern and the western group). Our first visit was to the western group of temples, the stronger ones and with more character. Rolling us through the stories of Varah, the Chandelas, Vishnu, other gods, demi-gods and devils alike. The guide cast a tight web of neatly linked story. A story that also kept relevance to the temple and its facade that he kept referring and pointing towards using a mirror and a beam of light.
The Laxmana temple was the most regal of all and perhaps the biggest as well. It perhaps could’ve had more than 1000 sculptures on its face. From mythological cupids, damsels to Gods to mortal humans in their daily grind of life. The vanity aspect of श्रूंगार (personal make-up and beauty) having more focus. The sculptures typical pose of a couple in the आलिंगम् (sideways embrace with female’s right hand on the shoulder of the male and male’s left hand on her breast) was most common. It had figures of women wearing makeup like mascara or stretching in their beautiful curvy figures. Some of the sculptures turned into the infamous positions and stances of enjoying sex. The entire trip around the western group did turn out to be exhausting. Some of us were more interested in the menu on the breakfast buffet at the hotel than the historical mark of beauty in front of us.
Back at the hotel during daytime was laid back, Everyone wanted to cram up into a single room and even wondered if a dormitory would’ve been an excellent option. With all the cousins, sis-in-laws back from Khajuraho’s temples, giggles were relentless.
बापरे … किती अभद्र !!!
“How indecent !!” yet laughs followed. During one narration by our temple guide an aunt and another set of cousins couldn’t control their laughter – thanks to the heavy tongue of the guide and the unmentionables ! – They just burst out right in front of his emotion-less poker face of the guide. Poor guy, probably has to go through the same every single day.
The lack of a dorm wasn’t good enough to deter us from finding a common gathering spot. Somebody found out gymnasium with a neat AC running and clean carpeted indoors. We just settled in there. Some just enjoying a cool pleasant walk on the treadmill while most of us going through rounds of UNO card game and other card games.
The evenings too didn’t go without collaborative fun. It was the pool where 3 generations of the family swum enjoying a cool water after the hot summer day. Aunts, uncles were the one who swum with their grand-kids who at times were shit scared of the water, but now accustomed to it, just like us – the 2nd generation. Someone even played songs by “Maroon V” that made it even more enjoyable.
After a sweets laden dinner, most of the seniors and 3rd gen along with their 2nd gen headed back to the soft comforts of the bed. While other set of the 2nd gen who could afford it, ventured out again in the open lawns, under the Mahua trees with their musky fragrances, remembering events of their lives. I went through the horror stories of my burns to the intoxicating tours on my cycle and motorcycle alike. When exhaustion ran over, most of them headed back to the rooms. While some strong willed continued the narratives, stories and UNO games into the rooms. With my sister lying next to me, doused with sleep, yet listening to anecdotes and movie dialogs by cousins, it was hell of a moment !! Times that would stay long imprinted in our memories.
Leaving back was never going to be easy. The kids loved every moment, specially now with the nuclear families – kids are used to more secluded lifestyle and not really pampered with love of multiple aunts, uncles and grandparents. As well – they had to deal with their situations by themselves as their parents weren’t always there to interfere.
For us too, the large family gathering seemed like a huge success. Amidst ups and downs of our roller-coaster lives, the Mahua tree stood tall with some leaves withered while fresh new tender red ones slowing gelling in to make the tree stronger. Undeterred, deeply rooted looking ahead into the future.
I wondered what people felt or experienced in their first out-of-country experience. Today, I was going to experience one.
Abu Dhabi, 15 Nov 2015 0900 GST
As the Boeing 737 flew over the Arabian sea and then over the North Eastern peninsular tip of Saudi Arabia, it gave a lovely but a strange feeling. I loved watching “Untamed Africa” on Discovery channel in my school days. The charm of the African continent always lured me, The sand dunes of the Sahara to Masai Mara. This was still Asia, but close to Africa!
Flying at 35,000 ft. the air was very clean, even down below things looked pretty neat. The almost red sandy brown color of the dunes glowing in the early rising sun was the astonishing. The barren brown was sometimes dotted with some dwellings. Further west, Oman and the mountains of Fujairah, the plane slowly descended for its approach to Abu Dhabi. The houses down below were neatly carved in a very geometrical grid like fashion. They too replicated the hue of the environment. None of the houses had any stark bright color, but an earthly shade of dusky browns and creams. Each one of them having a small yard ahead bordered with palm trees. As I stepped out on the aero-bridge, the outsides seemed vast, eternally golden brown. The airport having turfed greens along the taxing route to add a little dash of artificial vegetation.