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.
Figures of men and women dotted the fields, weeding and replanting the paddy saplings.
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.
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.
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.
An hour passed quickly. We decided to head back home.