Two for the road
Twice, in a span of a fortnight, I came close to losing my job as our two-member family’s official navigator. Barring the two wrong turns that cost my husband a few extra (read six) hours at the wheel, the 4,000-km road journey we undertook recently was, well, a trip.
If it were not for one of the wrong turns, we would not have seen the Indian ingenuity at work that I’ll narrate in a bit. First things first: The motivation for the journey — to meet family, research the Rajapalayam dogs and, finally, to return to Mumbai — were important, but it was the experience along the way that made the vacation memorable for the urban gypsies
in us. Happiness, it is rightly said, is found along the way.
As we left the grey jungle of Mumbai for the lush greens of Kerala via the sugar belt of Maharashtra, the coconut and areca nut-fringed fields of Karnataka and the highways in Tamil Nadu lined with tamarind-laden trees, our eyes feasted on the landscape unfolding beyond the windscreen.
Sights and sounds
Along the way, we passed many Ayappas (pilgrims) , dressed in trademark black mundus, their essential belongings perched on their heads, trekking to the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala. It is a pilgrimage that only men undertake. One of the most endearing sights was to see a boy Ayappa, barely knee-high, carry a red toy car in his small bundle. One doesn’t know whether this, his most valued possession, was to be an offering at the shrine or just a plaything to keep him entertained.
Elsewhere, a baby elephant watched nonchalantly as a row of vehicles made their slow climb through a ghat in Kerala. There was enough wildlife on the way — monkeys prancing about in the jungles of Karnataka and the many birds all along our route.
Another sight to behold was that of the windmills in Tamil Nadu. Their rotating blades looked like school children flapping their hands at a physical training drill. We also had a pick of fresh strawberries, figs and guavas by the roadside near Satara, not to mention the fresh sugarcane juice across the cane fields near Kolhapur.
Talking of food, the best roadside meal of this trip was in a small eatery on the Madurai-Rajapalayam bypass road. I polished off a crisp dosa and piping hot pongal off a banana leaf, regretting the gluttony when I had to forego the steaming hot cup of coffee later. No fast food could be a match for this quick but wholesome fare.
Threshing out the details
Suddenly, we took a wrong turn, adding an hour to our drive. Only, it ended up as an eye-opener. The first time we drove over a heap of harvested raggi (millet) on the road, we apologised to the woman standing by for driving over her raggi stacks.
After four such apologies, the penny dropped: this was an innovative way of getting the raggi threshed. On our return two hours later, we found sacks of raggi stacked along the road ready to be transported, perhaps in one of the vehicles that had helped thresh it earlier in the day.
Similarly, in Karnataka, tree guards were fashioned from split bamboo — sturdy, cheap and yes, eco-friendly. — instead of the expensive metal ones that often get stolen.
My way or the highway
The roads, for the most part, are excellent — especially the stretches that are part of the Golden Quadrangle. The four-lane dual carriageways and the trees and shrub planted along and between the dividers make for a smooth and scenic drive. Navigation is easy along the national highways, but enter a state highway and the story changes.
Signboards are rare and mostly in the local script. So when the scribble on signboards turns to small jalebis it is Karnataka and when the jalebis get more complicated, it’s Kerala. Further, when the script becomes more right-angled it is Tamil Nadu.
Take a road journey. It is good for marital harmony — with no television or Internet for distraction, you have a captive listener for long hours. And considering that the option to slam the door and walkout does not exist in an SUV clipping at 100 kmph, arguments aren’t many.