A Trip To God’s Own Country

It was another day at office just like other days. I saw my team-mate who sat next to me booking tickets to some place. I asked him casually, ‘Where to, Sidhant?’

Trivandrum’

On enquiring further, I came to know that he was earlier working from Trivandrum (I know the name has been changed to Thiruvananthapuram but for ease in writing as well as reading, let’s call it Trivandrum) campus and had few things to collect. He was going solely for that purpose. I saw this as an opportunity to visit Kerala, aptly known as ‘God’s own country’. I mentioned this to him and he altered his plans quite happily which was a surprise. He had planned his journey to be as brief as possible but with me coming in, he made room for a day more for sightseeing. Tanumoy, another team-mate of ours too asked to join in and he further extended the plan to Kanyakumari. I saw yet another opportunity in this and dropped in the plan of taking flight one way as I had never traveled by flight (discounting the days when I was a baby and papa was in Air Force). They also agreed as this was going to save time.

The travel plan was chalked out in a spreadsheet. It was decided, we would take the flight to Bengaluru and would then travel by train to Kanyakumari. From there, we would return to Trivandrum and from there to Bhubaneswar by a 37 hours’ train. Tickets were booked in the next few days.

With work keeping us busy, we didn’t realize when the day of travel arrived. Tickets for Tanumoy were cancelled as he had some issues and it was only the two of us who were travelling.

It was going to be my first time in an airport. Before I get started with describing the trip, let me tell something about my travel partner. Sidhant is not your average normal guy. I won’t call him weird either. But he is different. Consider this, on the day of travel, I had the cab pick him up from the office. You can say, he spends more time at office than at home. It is his library, his cyber café, his gym, his meditation center and I can go on. Just to clarify, he is not among those who just waltz into the office and use its facilities and then leave. He works along with these activities.

I had all these doubts as a first timer in the airport and was amazed at everything. We collected our boarding passes and I couldn’t resist myself from taking a snap of that. I had asked for a window seat because that was what I was excited about; seeing the world from above. Next, we underwent the security check where Sidhant was asked to drink from the water bottle he was carrying. All formalities done, we waited for our flight. We boarded the flight once the boarding call was made. Air hostesses explaining the safety precautions with sign language was a first for me.

Few minutes later, the wheels were rolling and it did for quite some time before finally taking off. I felt like I was on an amusement ride. The plane slowly veering in the air as I watched the vehicles on the streets get smaller and smaller. Next moment, I could see wisps of cloud floating across the window. The meandering rivers down below among the green cover looked beautiful. Soon we were on top of the clouds which now looked like a vast layer of cotton. With nothing moving in the background, the flight seemed stationary though we were cruising at a velocity of 500 knots (926 kmph). Sunlight streamed in through the glass window and the constant din of the engine was something I had not expected.

Maiden Flight
Maiden Flight

Sidhant took out a book on Indian Parliamentary System from his bag and started reading. I listened to music. The seat which was booked for Tanumoy was empty. The seat belt sign was turned on as the flight experienced turbulence due to a rough weather. There was an unruly, sun glass wearing, French bearded passenger who had to use the washroom then. Despite being requested by the air hostess, he got up. She was the good cop. Then the bad cop came along and she gave a fair bit of hearing to the passenger. Few minutes on, the weather was stable outside and the seat belt sign was turned off. Right then, an air hostess came along and told Sidhant, ‘Sir, you may now use the washroom.’ Sidhant engrossed in the book gave her such a weird confused look, I couldn’t stop myself and burst laughing. The air hostess left and then I thought she must have thought, ‘So much for being nice in this world!’

The voice from the cockpit informed us that we were descending now and would soon land in Bengaluru. It was raining outside and the flight shook a bit but it landed safely. Our train was scheduled to depart after 3 hours from the railway station which was approx. 30 Kms away from the airport. We got into the airport bus and luckily we did not get to witness the famed Bengaluru traffic as we reached the railway station in an hour.

Now having plenty of time, we searched for a restaurant nearby to eat something. This was going to be our dinner as well. We had yummy dosas and vada and then I realized the magic of a flight; having dalma for lunch at Bhubaneswar to dosa in Bengaluru after couple of hours!

We got in our train as it chugged along into the station. It was the originating station. We slept and next morning when I woke up, we were already in Kerala. The train got almost empty at Thrissur and as I sat next to a window I experienced the greenery and the beautiful nature outside. This train journey is the best train journey I’ve had so far as we went along the entire western coast of Kerala. Coconut trees and banana plantations were lined up all along the route. The houses too were aesthetically pleasing with their red-tiled roofs supported by pillars. Men in white dhoti folded up to their knees was a common sight. There was no pantry car in the train, no hawkers to sell any food and it felt like we had the train to ourselves. But then we had to eat as well and with no parents around to complain, our lunch for that day was cakes, biscuits and banana chips fried in coconut oil from a station.

Kanyakumari
Kanyakumari

We got down at Kanyakumari sometime in the afternoon. It is a small town and everything is within walkable distance. We checked in to the hotel to change and were out in the streets. It was quite a feeling to witness The Bay of Bengal, The Arabian Sea and The Indian Ocean together at one place. We took a detour before reaching the ferry harbor and realized we were late as the last ferry had left for the day. The statue of Thiruvalluvar and The Vivekananda Rock Memorial were to be seen the next morning. We walked along the ocean to check few places as the water splashed against the rocks. It was Eid and therefore the place looked like a big fair. We then walked quite a few steps on a spiral stair case to reach the top of a lighthouse. The view from the top was magnificent as we saw the waters crashing against the rocks turning into foam and rocks disappearing under waves briefly to resurface again briefly when the waves retreated.

Thiruvalluvar Statue & Vivekananda Rock Memorial
Thiruvalluvar Statue & Vivekananda Rock Memorial

It was getting dark and we sat on a bench facing the ocean and talked about life. We left once we had enough of the salty air and had dinner which was good except for rotis which had turned into papads and its pieces almost threatened to cut the inside of our mouth. We retired to our hotel room. The lit statue of Thiruvalluvar and The Vivekananda Rock Memorial was visible from our balcony. We turned the TV on and Sidhant tuned in to Times Now where Arnab Goswami was as usual going about his business of shouting at his shows’ panelists. Right then a moth flew into the room and started flying around us. I was bothered but not to the extent Sidhant was bothered. He folded a newspaper and hit it with force to kill the poor creature. He was dozing off in a few minutes. I switched off the TV and slept.

Vivekananda Rock Memorial
Vivekananda Rock Memorial

The next morning we went straight to the ferry harbor as we had our train at 10. Having found the gate closed, we lingered near the gate not knowing that people sitting there were part of a queue and it was a really long queue! If we had queued up where the queue ended, we would have never made it. We sneaked in at one of the gaps in the queues and nobody complained. The gates opened and the queue went forward swiftly to be stuck at the ticket counter. It had started drizzling. We finally got the tickets but the batch for the first ferry ended just ahead of us. We were glad when we were asked to move to another ferry.

With the experience of riding the ferry in the Hooghly River, this ride was too short to be exciting. Once we reached The Vivekananda Rock Memorial, it had started raining. It would rain for a while, then stop to allow the tourists to move around a bit before it started raining again. It was quite windy up there as well. When we returned, we were half drenched. We headed straight to the hotel, changed and went to the station to catch our train.

The Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean

Sidhant realized that it would be better to visit Varkala by train as it was a couple of stations ahead of Trivandrum. But we had reservation up to Trivandrum, so we booked a general ticket from Kankyakumari to Varkala. Before boarding the train, we checked how far the general coach was and it was two coaches ahead of us. The AC coaches of the train was almost empty. It was a 2 hours ride to Trivandrum. Once we reached Trivandrum, we quickly got down and got in the general coach.

Indian Railways
A Sneak Peek Of Sidhant

We reached Varkala late in the afternoon and most of the restaurants were shut. We found one which was open and had biryani. It was different. When you first looked at the plate, it would look to you like plain white rice, but underneath it, there would be chicken with gravy. The rice too wasn’t the thin basmati rice that you normally see in a biryani plate. It was here I saw for the first time, warm water being served to drink. Lunch being done, we walked a short distance to reach the cliff side of the beach. It was an off-season and therefore was not crowded. From the top, it was beautiful to see the waves crashing against the cliff. As we started walking through the market on top of the cliff, it started drizzling at that moment. We saw few foreign tourists and I was told this place was a huge hit with them. Sidhant was few meters ahead of me when a guy with long hair came along and said, ‘Hey dude, can you suggest me a good place to have some nice beer?’

Varkala Cliff
Varkala Cliff

We returned to Trivandrum by a local bus. Malayalam is a very heavily accented language and so when we read out the name of the place to the bus conductor from Google Maps he didn’t understand us initially and when he did, he repeated the same thing as we said.

We were lucky enough to reach the hotel before it started raining cats and dogs. There was a rain forecast for the next day as well and the prospect of spending the entire day in the hotel didn’t seem like a farfetched idea at that time. Couple of hours later when it was already dark, Sidhant decided to visit the place where he stayed to collect his things. We went to Infosys campus first. When I sat foot there, I was reminded of the happy days in Mysore. The Bhubaneswar DC’s campus no longer held the charm as it reminded me of work. It was still raining lightly, so we moved around the campus carrying an umbrella, Sidhant’s friend (who was his roommate earlier) showing us the campus. Everything was new for me and even for Sidhant there were quite a few new things to see as there were several changes to the place since he left. We went to the newly opened bowling alley and I wished we had one in Bhubaneswar campus.

We now had to go to collect Sidhant’s things. It had now started raining well and his friend’s tiny umbrella (every umbrella looks tiny once you see the umbrella inside Infosys campus) was the only thing to protect us. There was lot of construction work going on as well at that time and that meant muddy roads. The friend was adamant about him cooking for us and we having dinner at his place and for that he had to shop for few things at the local mart. Also Sidhant was looking for a trolley to carry his things back. So we went there half drenched, shoes soaking with water. It is a strange experience when you are roaming in a rainy night in an unknown city, you feel clueless. You visit the same place in a sunny day or for a person who is familiar with the place, it would be completely okay.

We went to the friend’s place. They had moved to this house recently. While his friend went cooking in the kitchen, Sidhant collected his things, ranging from utensils to keyboards to books to trousers. We got talking with another roommate and I heard his stories about Sidhant. In the meantime, the dinner was ready, he made it really fast and it tasted really good too. The rotis especially were really well made. He was a simple and a sweet guy. He even wanted us to sleepover at their place but since we had booked the hotel, we didn’t want to. He then called up an auto from the nearest stand as we didn’t see any cabs nearby in our apps. When we left, it was still raining.

We dried our clothes in the room and went to sleep hoping that the weather would be kind to us the next day.

Poovar Backwaters
Poovar Backwaters

Next morning, we woke up to find that the rain had stopped but it was still cloudy. Sidhant had booked a cab the previous day and we waited for it after we got ready. The cab driver arrived on time. The cab was from Mango Cabs (the car even had a mango flavored air freshener), a local cab company. Our plan was to visit Ponmudi, a hill station. But the driver suggested, with the rain it would not be a wise decision as the roads would most probably be blocked by the authorities as a caution against possible landslides. We had our return train in the evening and therefore had the entire day to spend. He then suggested to go to Poovar Backwaters. He showed us the pictures of that place and we were interested. Since we had paucity of time, we had preferred Ponmudi but Poovar was also in my wish list. As we planned on returning to the station directly, we checked out of the hotel and so began our road trip. In between we stopped for breakfast and it was here I came to know the Lachha Paratha that AHost served in Infosys, Mysore had its origins from the state of Kerala.

Poovar
Leaning Coconut Trees

On reaching Poovar, we went for a 40 minutes boat ride in a motorized boat in the backwaters. It was the best thing of the trip as we had the boat to ourselves and there was no chatter. As the boat powered along, we crossed several islands with coconut trees all around. The boatman would slow the boat down at several places to soak in the feeling. He then took a detour through the mangrove forests and the experience was exhilarating. He also made a brief stop at Golden Sand Beach where we got down and witnessed the sea waves. From top, the beach would look as a magnificent strip of land separating the backwater and the Arabian Sea.

Golden Sand Beach
Golden Sand Beach
Floating Cottage
Floating Cottage
Bridge
Bridge Separating Kerala From Tamil Nadu

Despite all the fun, the trip ended too soon and we had still some time to spend. We asked the driver for any nearby places because we couldn’t visit far off places as well with the amount of time we had. He discussed with the boat man and we decided to visit The Neyyar Dam. We began our road trip again moving through beautiful landscapes and markets. We were quite familiar with the driver by now and he was good company to have. He asked us about our state, we asked him about his family as we moved along. We were apprehensive about what the dam would have in store for us but on reaching we were surprised to find a wildlife sanctuary there. We went up the narrow slopes of the hilly forest to reach the booking counter. We got the tickets and from here we were going to embark on our third boat ride of the trip. Considering my mother’s warning of not getting into water, this was something to mention. This boat ride was a long one as we crossed several islands with the hills in the backdrop. They had lion safari on one island and a crocodile park in another.

Neyyar Dam
Neyyar Dam
Lion Safari
Lion Safari

On our way to return, we had a delicious lunch with the driver at one of the restaurants suggested by him. Since Sidhant is a vegetarian we had vegetarian foods most of the time and it was a good break from eating chicken. With weather not playing foul and we having had a good time, our only worry now was the confirmation of our return tickets. We were in the waiting list of 3 and 4 since the day we booked and it had not moved forward but I was optimistic with my past experience that it would be confirmed once the chart was prepared. Sidhant though had already planned on travelling by General Coach for the entire journey. He asked me to check the status before we let go off the cab and as expected it was confirmed. In a rare show of emotion, he was overjoyed. We bid the driver goodbye after clicking a few photographs with him. We wished him good for his life and he wished us the same for our journey.

Mango Cab
The Cab and The Driver

Since it was going to be a long journey both of us decided to purchase something to read on our way to kill the time. I couldn’t find any good book at a low price and I was left with no choice but to buy Chetan Bhagat’s novel, Half Girlfriend. Considering the fact that the book store sold everything as per the printed price it was also pricey! Sidhant got a business journal for himself.

We boarded the train and as expected it was crowded from the beginning and remained the same till the end. The book that I got was for no good as I finished it off in a couple of hours and it made no difference to the journey time since there was an engine failure and the train was stranded in the station for equal hours. The content of the book made the price I paid for it feel even more now. Plus the entire time I read, I hid the cover as much as possible as I didn’t want anyone on the train to know that I was reading that book. They say don’t judge a book by its cover; I say don’t even judge a person by the book he is reading because you never know the situation which got him to read it.

This trip made me enjoy travelling. I had finally moved on from the habit of getting myself clicked to clicking pictures of the landscapes and structures. Instagram had a role to play in this as well as I realized with me in the picture, the landscape gets ruined. The problem with getting yourself clicked is that you worry about how you look, if it’s windy, you complain about messy hairs, if it’s sunny, you complain about tanned skin and so on. I realized it was so much good to let go and soak in the beauty of nature while occasionally taking a few snaps of both the nature and yourself. A little bit of narcissism never hurt anyone.

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