Posted in Anecdotes

The Trip To Traquebar (That Did Not Really Get There) – 1

Cousin K is with me for Christmas for his virgin visit to Pondicherry and the fact that both of us had three free days made me get down to ardent planning. Pondy, though a favoured tourist spot for Indians and foreigners alike, does not offer much in the way of scenic enclaves. Food and booze with more than a couple of beaches thrown in – that pretty much sums up the place. Which is why I decided that this would be an ideal time for a road trip to Traquebar, the mispronounced English name for Tharangambadi, an ancient Danish settlement 120 km away that looked good enough on Google for me to plan said trip. Since the only piece of motorised vehicular contraption that I own is a scooter, it was chosen to be our choice of cheap transportation.

The itinerary was thus – we would leave in the early hours, around 6, and beat the morning traffic to reach Pichavaram Mangrove Forest at 8. We would take the very first row boat for an hour, grab a bite and set off again to reach Traquebar at noon. The afternoon would be spent taking in the marvellous view, the sea, the forts, museums and the glorious piece of history they offer and then we would  ride back to reach Pondy by night.

It was a great plan perfectly amenable to execution, but we screwed up on various levels.

Firstly, we did not leave at 6. Hell, we did not even get up at 6. By the time we actually crawled out of bed and managed to head on our way, it was 7:30. But thankfully, owing to the holidays, the morning traffic that plagued the road to Cuddalore was rather tame. The air was crisp and cool. I was in a sweatshirt and still felt the bite of the December weather. The monsoons had wreaked havoc on Pondicherry roads, but once we were out of the town it was an extremely pleasant ride; the terrain of Tamil Nadu is all plains and the roads stretch on as far as the eye can see, broad and smooth.

Once we crossed the town of Cuddalore, it got even better. The bit of East Coast Road between Cuddalore and Chidambaram is flanked by paddy fields on either side. These too stretched far and wide, large even hectares of ripe green land.

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Figures of men and women dotted the fields, weeding and replanting the paddy saplings.

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Although I have traversed this route multiple times, this was the first time I was doing it on a bike, and we made multiple stops to take in the view and click pictures.

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Wildflowers by a brook
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A lone palm in the distance reached up to the skies emulating a Christmas tree

It is a largely rural area and bullock carts were a common sight on the roads. It was interesting to note though that these had large rubber tyres as wheels instead of the old wooden ones. Things change, even when they seem to remain the same.

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Google Maps was our guide, and that turned out to be the second thing that went wrong. Pichavaram Eco-Tourism Centre that was supposed to be 58 kilometres away was nowhere in sight even as we crossed 90. After religiously following the instructions of ‘The Voice’, we followed a rough trail through abandoned unpaved roads to reach a random village in the middle of nowhere and hear her declare that we had reached our destination. Two boys came out of a thatched house and asked if we were tourists looking for the boating centre. We nodded. Wrong route, one shrugged. Must be Google Maps, the other added. Apparently, we were not the first ones to land here. They instructed us to go back the way we came and ask people for directions this time. We had to laugh. So much for technology.

“The way back” proved to be 20 kilometres and by the time we reached Pichavaram it was 10:30 and the place was crowded. There was a long queue at the billing counter and people yelling at each other about having to wait in queues. I reached the counter and asked for a row for two, pushing across a 500 rupee note. I had figured out they might not accept cards and had come armed with cash. Even that was not enough. 200 rupees, the lady said firmly, you have to pay in change. Great.

We walked to a building across the parking lot that said something about a resort and unlimited adventure and food. Food sounded like a good idea. Plus, we could get small change. We had forgotten about breakfast and were fairly hungry at this point. The restaurant turned out to be a small hall with a couple of tables and chairs. We sat down and looked expectantly towards the waiter. The restaurant is only for guests who stay, he duly informed, but you may get a plate of assorted items for 100 bucks. Good enough. He brought us a large plate laden with two idlis, three puris, a dollop of Pongal, and a generous amount of chutney and potato curry to go with it. It tasted like heaven to us hungry souls and we gobbled everything up in no time.

We had our fill, we had our change; finally good to go.

The queue, of course had gotten longer while we were away. I got us the tickets for a row boat for an hour, showed them at the next counter and were promptly assigned a rower. After donning the ceremonious life jackets that were centuries old, torn, wet and definitely not in any condition to save lives if ever called upon to do so, we climbed aboard.

I wrote about Pichavaram in a post earlier this year, so I will not go into that again. The weather was pleasant enough, cool even at noon, and there was a mild drizzle for a while, but the forests were enchanting as always. We were quiet for the most part. Birds crooned in the silence and we spotted a few in the distance.

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An hour passed quickly. We decided to head back home.

Posted in Anecdotes

Mangroves For Two

Everything gets a little better with a good friend by your side. 

My last day of monitoring was around the region of Chidambaram in Cuddalore. Amigo SR, a monitor himself, happened to be free that day, so I decided to take him along with me. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the work progressed easier with his help; we went about in buses where I normally would have relied on taxis, and he proved to be more street smart that I had given him credit for.

The official work was done by noon. The last school I visited was in the village of Killai, a few kilometres way from the Pichavaram Ecotourism Centre. To have come all the way there and to return without checking it out would be rather dumb, so we made our way there.

An auto rickshaw dropped us off at the site. Pichavaram is known for its mangrove forests, one of the three prominent ones in India. The other two are in West Bengal and the Andaman Islands. 

Row boats and motor boats can be hired by the hour, and according to the number of people visiting, and are rated at fair prices accordingly. It ranged from a one hour row boat ride for two that cost you 185 rupees (~3 dollars) to a 6 hour motor boat ride which included a trip to the Pichavaram Beach thrown in, rated at around 2500 rupees. We settled for the former being pressed for time, and proceeded to find a place to lunch first.

Only a snack bar existed within the complex, so we were directed to a restaurant on the way we came. One side of the lonely road was lined by small houses and tamarind trees; on the other ran a rivulet filled with boats – fishing boats presumably. Two aged women sat some feet apart selling karuvaadu, fish salted and dried in the sun.

We walked a short distance before spotting the sign Neithal Seafood Resto, which was less of a hotel and more of an extension of a small house, with a makeshift shed modified to be the serving area. When we arrived, the single table was occupied by 5 other guests, so we were quickly shown into the next room, a small hall alongside the kitchen. A woven mat on the floor proved to be our designated seating area. The wall behind us alone was painted an enthusiastic orange with blue waves crashing, and the dull wall opposite was covered with old family photographs. The smell of frying fish wafted in from the kitchen and made us hungrier.

The home made food was a delight, adding to the raw ambiance of the place. We had a hearty meal of cooked rice, lentils, pickle, fish curry and a piece of fried fish each.

After the meal, we headed back to the Ecotourism Centre and were soon fitted with life jackets, ready to go. We made our way to the series of numbered boats tied to the shore awaiting riders.

Neither of us had been to mangrove forests before. It was a lovely ride, taking in the beautiful view, with a running commentary from the the rowing personnel.

He filled us in with trivia about mangroves, regarding their locations in India, and their importance in the ecosystem. He has been working here for the past 20 years and the words flowed easily with a practised precision, and at times when we interrupted him with our queries, he would repeat himself over and over, like a disfunctioning record playing, unaware that he was doing it.

It was a delightful ride. As we were taken deeper into the forest area, the place grew quieter. We spotted herons and parrots flying overhead and were charmed by the other worldly nature of the place.

The route rapidly turned into a maze as the trees split into little islands. Apparently there were around 3000 of these, and you could easily get lost if you were not careful.

The hour passed pleasantly. We were quiet as we came out into the sun again, revelling in the serenity we had just experienced, the sheen of the surreal alcove still shimmering at the back of our minds like the water glitter that surrounded us.

Note : Photo credit goes to SR. In spite of me blatantly claiming expertise in photography, it was soon evident that my skills ranged between nil and zero. I proceeded to blame my phone and he was gracious enough to pretend to believe me and subtly take over the job. 😀 None of the pictures are edited.

Posted in Anecdotes

Random Sights Of Cuddalore

I felt a follow up post was necessary to showcase the stuff I wrote about yesterday. I would like to apologize for the poor quality of images. Almost all of them were taken from a moving car as I did not have the time to stop for pictures. Still I felt some snapshots were warranted, and here they are. 

You may not even be aware of the rural district of Cuddalore that nestles in a corner of the state of Tamil Nadu in India. Even I was not. Like almost the rest of TN it has the occasional bustling town separated by miles of empty fields. But I was unprepared for the raw life that existed there, the sort that is the heart of villages in India, man and nature interspersed, unwilling to separate into distant entities as in the urban landscape. 

Agriculture plays a major role and tractors laden with hay were a regular sight on the roads. In some of the more wealthier houses, you even spotted one resting by makeshift gates. I passed many a bullock cart too.

Hay on wheels! Clicked just as we were passing the truck..

The crops grown in the regions I visited were mostly paddy and sugarcane. I couldn’t help craving a bite as I passed lush fields of the latter.

Sugarcane fields
Harvested sugarcane being bundled for transport
Green and golden fields of paddy

Most of the houses in the villages were made from scratch using clay and hay. Occasionally some would have brick walls but these too were usually thatched with hay. An agricultural refuse, the left over paddy husk becomes a sustainable source for building houses!

Hut made of woven palm leaves

The post cannot be complete without a picture of the kind of schools I visited. The children were lovely, enthusiastic and welcoming and obviously shy. I did not want to distract them from their classes but managed to get a covert click of the primary school students as they sat on the veranda for their classes.

This is of course just a glimpse of the places that I visited. Many a lovely sight had to be forgone and many potential clicks abandoned, being pressed for time and due to the circumstances. I find every place has a charm of its own, and Cuddalore certainly won my heart.

Posted in Anecdotes

Mommy’s Day Out

Chennai!

For the upcoming post graduation counselling, I am bound to turn up with certain certificates from the university last attended. Unsurprisingly, I found myself not to be in possession of said documents and am on a detour to Chennai to obtain the same before the big day, accompanied by Mom. (Any event relating to academic accomplishment is generally viewed as ‘the big day’ in the medical community since such trivial things as weddings hold little importance in our lives) 

We reached Chennai at around 6 in the morning and rushed off to Amigo LP’s house to freshen up and reach the university in time to beat any other potential aspirant of certificate acquisition, in accordance with the rules of the rat race. The local trains were not very crowded (I was fooled into thinking this is a normal phenomenon) and once we reached the university gates, we were greeted by a drum-and-horns band committed to blowing the ear drums out of anyone who dared to stay in the vicinity for more than a couple of seconds. I thought this was standard procedure as well. It was only when I saw the banners and floral decorations that I realised the day had been proclaimed a government holiday to commemorate the 100th birthday of the late actor/chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Dr.M.G.R who, ironically, our university happens to be named after.

Our plans thus effectively wasted, we looked to LP to provide us with alternative excitements for the day. After some consideration, we decided to descend upon Thyagaraja Nagar, or T Nagar as it is fondly called, the perennial flea market of the city.

The bustling crowd moving out of Mambalam local rail station on their way to T Nagar

We arrived there in the early hours, just as the shops were being set up. The street undergoes a steady metamorphosis through each day, with the crowd trickling in during the morning and turning into a human high tide by evening that is sure to literally sweep you off your feet to be washed ashore at the feet of whoever happens to be offering the biggest discounts at the moment. On my virginal visit some years ago, two seconds after venturing in I found myself separated from my able friends and being thrust into a textile shop to haggle for a shawl I didnot need or desire. I shuddered at the memory and wondered if Mom needed protection.

T Nagar in the early hours

Those who have been through my previous posts may know that Mom has lived the entirety of her life taking care of two ungrateful souls, Father and me, and has not had many chances of roaming around and exploring the world outside of our residential area. She’s extremely street smart and carries her own in a way I never could, and was delighted at getting an opportunity to explore whatever little bits of Chennai as could be managed. LP and I decided to make sure she got the most out of it.

Shopping was obviously on top of the list. I treated Mom to her choice of bags and footwear and grabbed some for myself too. But more importantly, it was her taste buds I wanted to entice.

No bustling street in Tamil Nadu is complete without the vendors of varied snacks. Stalls routinely sell boiled corn mixed with butter/chilli as per command and are served as instant healthy refreshment in paper cups. I used to love these during my college days and Mom in turn nodded agreement after tasting her first spoonful.

Boiled sweet corn at the vendor’s

Other roadside favours are bhel puri, pani puri, assorted ice cream cones, lime soda and rose milk.

Since we were travelling I decided to forego the diarrhoeal roadside option and have safer versions of the same at the famous Adyar Anand Bhavan aka A2B. I chanced upon a delightful strawberry cake there and had my fill while Mom and L happily munched on pani Puri and sipped Rose Milk. The pomegranate juice that I ordered drew another excited ooh! from Mom. She readily tasted and approved of the same too.

Strawberry cake for me and pani puri for Mom

It was a very happy day indeed. The icing on the cake were of course our spoils from the day that we managed to procure without drilling a huge hole in my wallet. 

Flea smitten

Is it any wonder that I love Chennai?!

Posted in Musings

A Red Red Rose

This find in my aunt’s garden triggered the memory of a poem well loved as a child..

I hold nothing against modern poems, and indeed indulge in the same, but I grew up reading old fashioned verses with their rhythms and refrains and still hold those dearer to my heart. I speak not of poetry that’s left bereft of life due to excessive concern about rhyming, but the words that spill forth in perfect harmony and with such ease that you cannot think of a possible way to make them sound better.

A splendid example is this sweet and simple classic by Robert Burns. 

O my Luve is like a red, red rose 

   That’s newly sprung in June; 

O my Luve is like the melody 

   That’s sweetly played in tune. 


So fair art thou, my bonnie lass, 

   So deep in luve am I; 

And I will luve thee still, my dear, 

   Till a’ the seas gang dry. 


Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear, 

   And the rocks melt wi’ the sun; 

I will love thee still, my dear, 

   While the sands o’ life shall run. 


And fare thee weel, my only luve! 

   And fare thee weel awhile! 

And I will come again, my luve, 

   Though it were ten thousand mile.

💕