Monday, September 07, 2015

A Long Drive: Travel Story in TNIE

Long drives with the super chilled out parents have been a thing for years. This one, from a most lovely week spent at home in Madikeri was particularly nice. I wrote about it for The New Indian Express here. Or see a slightly unedited version below.


A collection of picture postcards must not be joy to browse through, every day. I could imagine how it can get, tedium with the constant presence of everything that adheres to the accepted ideas of landscape beauty. So it is for me, having lived a lot of my life in the verdant excesses of Kodagu (Coorg, if a travel agent tells you this story), and having family that always did long drives, picnics, treks and other outdoorsy things, come hail or storm. The storm part, quite literally. This past week or so, back home on a little break to soak in what was left of the monsoon, all that I was going to do was read and watch the rains, my dog Vira at my feet wondering if I would let him eat my phone, a tall mug of coffee at the window sill…that sort of picture perfect holiday. What could be that great about another drive? Sure, dad promised it was through forests and stuff, but I have seen enough of those. Being home on a break means to vegetate, I protest.

But the drive still happened. Some vignettes:

Madikeri is well soaked that day in lazy mist, the kind that floats in, curious, if you open the bedroom window and sits next to you, peering into your book and cooling your coffee naughtily. Grey clouds above, a powdery rain, the weather of my childhood. From Madikeri we take the Talacauvery – Bhagamandala route, the latter being the birth place of River Cauvery. Big pilgrimage spot and everything, it is. The route is as I remember it, lush, flanked on either side by coffee estates, fields and villages with two shops and many jeeps. We pass by a Coffee Bar, set up years ago by a women’s cooperative. The coffee they served was without chicory, I like mine with; so I hadn’t liked their brew. Two other shacks have come up next to it now. Everyone sells blingy packaged chips and local biscuits these days. The air gets cooler, these parts get a lot more rain than my town.

We don’t enter temple town. Just before, there is a turn right that takes you to a village called Karike, through Talacauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, a sanctuary I never knew existed. This is when I begin to gasp and become wide eyed at every corner and turn. The road is narrow, but fairly well maintained. It is a shorter route for people travelling from North Kerala to say, Mysore, so several KL registered cars pass us by. It is the tail end of the monsoon, so rains are infrequent elsewhere, not here though. Not torrential, but a rain that can’t seem to make up its mind between a drizzle and a shower joins us along the route. On the right are several dozen waterfalls, some tiny and cute, like something you want to coochie-coo at. Others are taller. Still polite though, the menace with which Ma says they drenched our car, this one time, must have ended with the heavy rains of July. We stop often to admire the bigger ones. To the left are deep, very deep valleys. Like an umbrella, are very tall trees, the kind that have to look up higher because the sun cannot get to their roots, the firewall of branches and canopies are just too thick. A bare headed mountain at a distance gets a hint of a sun ray though, and seems to feel happy and smile.

Just before the gates of Karike, we stop at a tea stall. The bakery biscuits are fresh, mildly sweet. The tea is too sweet. Karike is just another village. Then the road rises up and up. And we head to Panathur, State of Kerala. The landscape still looks familiar, though a few laterite stones here and there, sudden warmth tells me we are nearing the plains. At Panathur, we buy kappa (tapioca) and pappadams, the Kerala kinds we don’t find at home. I get to use the very little Malayalam I know.

Over a big bridge and then along we go, this road in one state, that one in the other. Just a turn later, literally after a turn, like magic, it is the landscape of the plains. Drier, hotter. Alongside emerald fields and beneath a sudden downpour on narrow, ill roads later we reach Sullia, firmly in South Canara. A familiar town that marks, for me, the beginning of the plains, down the ghats from Kodagu. Kannada like the sorts in written books, formal, too polite.

A quick, bad lunch and we start climbing up again. While away at university, the bus ride from Sullia to Madikeri used to be a favourite, for the way the landscape changed, for the winding roads, for the first glimpse of the mountains. Beloved Madikeri remains cold and wet when we arrive. Vira is sulking because we left him behind. Later, I reach for my book again.

It feels like a wholesome package tour in 140 kms. Cold – rain – dry – plains – heat – wet – rain again. In those things familiar it is that you find the best surprises, I tell myself. Remind me never to take home for granted.


Samuel Gnanadurai said...

Deepa, Welcome back! Strange that I have to tell this in your blog. you write travel best and I so felt like being taken there to madikeri.

Sudha Marakini said...

nice,aa dinana puna nenapu madikonde.

Deepa Bhasthi said...

Thank you, Sam! I am glad you enjoyed the piece. I desperately wish I had the time to write more just for the blog and not just post work stuff here.

Thank you, Amma.