Let the journey begin :)

The song ‘ Hum jo chalne lage..’ from the movie ‘Jab We Met’ is on the top of my mind right now as I sit to pen down my travel experiences over the next 10 days. I put on my headphones and listen to this number. Indeed, the best of journeys are journeys where the roads are unknown and where one discovers as one goes along. Well.. my next 10 days may not be as unplanned as this, but nevertheless , the excitement of visiting new places is comparable.

The trip is special to me for a lot of reasons but the most important one is my mom. After a long time, me and mom are out together. This is mom’s first trip after retirement, a phase which has brought a lot of stillness in her life.  After a very long time, I heard her laugh her heart out in the last two days.

As always, when I write, I do not think and reframe my words. I just let them flow. I am not sure if I want to make this post a complete traveller’s blog post or I want to capture only some special moments. I will just let the words flow.

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Dec 22nd – With just two days to go for the trip, I was not sure if we would finally go. Mom was not feeling well. She almost convinced me to cancel the trip as she was not comfortable traveling. It was not about money that made me finally stick to the plan, but the fact that this trip was a much awaited one and I wanted mom to have a special start to a new year.

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Dec 23rd – And so, I finally convinced mom we should go. It seemed so much of a chaos to take a ten day break from work. Mom did all the packing at home while I kept messaging her what all to pack. I reached home at almost 9 in the night when all the packing was done. I booked a cab for the airport only to be scolded by  mamaji for doing so. I did not want any inconvenience for him early in the morning. But his fatherly love won over and I cancelled the cab.

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Dec 24th – Mama dropped us to the airport (somehow I cherish the moments I spend with him a lot, no matter how trivial those might be). It was mom’s second flight but I could see her childlike excitement. She wanted a window seat. Sometimes moms can also behave as little kids you know 🙂

As we de-boarded at Chennai airport, it was burning outside. My first experience of language becoming a barrier came in while booking the cab. I wanted to book a cab from the airport but twice the drivers cancelled my bookings and I could barely vent out my frustration on them. Finally, the third time I was lucky and the cab came. As we drove to my friend’s place, I realized how badly Chennai roads had been badly damaged and how the city was in a complete state of mess. Reading about such stuff in the newspapers is a different story and seeing it is quite another. The in-person experiences can often give anyone goosebumps. The Christmas festivities compensated to a certain extent.

I reached my friend’s place around noon. I had not met her for almost 5 years now. I had never met her husband so far, although had spoken to him on some occasions before. But the warmth of the couple was overwhelming. It did not seem we were meeting after such a long time. Truly, some bonds are beyond time and distances.

The one day stay with the family and their two kids was fun filled and memorable. We spoke about a lot of things, be it our work lives, career plans, business ventures or about becoming a mother, a husband wife relationship or good music, good food..Just about everything. I wanted to go out to the city initially but in the end, a day well spent at home was worthwhile.

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Dec 25th – We were supposed to embark on the next leg of our trip at 9 in the morning. The cab driver however ditched at 8:30 AM. The next cab came only at 12:30. 3/4 experiences with Chennai cabs had gone terribly wrong. Who knew at this point that this was just the beginning of our cab adventures and more was to come.

We reached Mahabalipuram around 4 and visited the Sea Shore Temple and Pandavas 5 Raths. I think its been so long I have been to a temple that temples no longer bring out any religious sentiments in me. I think I have found my God somewhere else, somewhere deep within may be. Temple worship..I am not sure …if ever again I can relate to it…As it happened throughout this trip, I was more intrigued by the architectural wonders of these temples than their religious teachings/history.

We reached Pondicherry late in the evening, freshened up and visited a famous Ganesh temple. This was followed by an eventful dinner. Eventful, because I never realized ever before that there could be restaurants in India which had problems making chappatis. We got back to the room and slept. Mom had a troubled night as the food did not suit her and she ended up coughing almost throughout the night.

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Dec 26th – Day started with a visit to Auroville, a place symbolic of tranquility. A beautiful meditation centre totally enraptured me and took my breath away. I have not followed Sri. Aurobindo’s life so far, but the place still seemed so relatable. A place where I would definitely like to come back on a solo meditation trip.

As I observed people around the Ashram, most people were busy clicking photographs rather than being in that place at that time. I observed this on a lot of occasions in the trip and somehow, the more I observed this, the more I wanted to stay away from camera and capture things through my eyes.

The spiritual quotes written on the path to the dome gave peace deep within. Visited Aurobindo’s ashram and a museam and then did some shopping for friends and family. Just when I was tired and wanted to go back to the room, we thought of visiting the beach.

As soon as we reached the Paradise Beach, all the tiredness I was feeling simply vanished. The water and setting sun enthralled. Getting drenched in water and sand felt just so amazing. Feeling the pressure of the waves as they came towards me, playing with them and being thrown away, I felt like a child again. No wonder, by the time I reached back to the hotel, my eye lenses had got badly damaged and my suit tore 🙂

Evening was spent walking on the sides of the sea in a place known for its atmosphere and food, Promenade. Star gazing is a luxury in Delhi. Thoroughly enjoyed the day exploring this beautiful town. Promenade is where I would like to go back again too. In fact, I would like to stay at a beach resort sometime to enjoy a day long view of the waters.

I love the way my mom doubles up as my best buddy on such vacations and enjoys all of it with me, be it splashing water or trying out different food stuffs. She remains my bestest gift in life.

I would definitely like to come back and spend a day doing just nothing but gazing at the waters and may be reading with lots of tea 🙂

Time to sleep so Dec 27th can begin with a morning boat ride 🙂

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Dec 27th – And as I expected, could not get up in time for the boat ride. We started for Madurai around 11 AM. En route, we were to visit two temples, one each in Mahabalipuram and Trichy respectively.

When visiting these temples, what struck me most was that despite being built thousands of years ago, these temples still symbolize some of the best architectural places and are symbols of true craftsmanship. Despite being built in an era of no machines or technology, these temples beat some of the best-engineered structured buildings today, both in terms of strength and concepts.

Also, the temples are very different from the ones in the northern parts of the country. Be it the form of deities or the stones used, be it the shapes of the temples or the modes of worship; these temples make you realize the diversity our country possesses. And last but not the least is the devotion of the people. It being a peak time for most of these destinations, most temples are crowded even at 4 in the morning. We could not visit the temple in Trichy because of the huge rush at the temple.

It was only the 4th day of our trip but the craving for having a proper north indian meal was growing. Every evening from here on, the hunt would start for a good vegetarian restaurant which served North Indian stuff. On most occasions, the chappatis were half cooked or made of maida. It was particularly difficult for the elderlies in the group. Mom, for example, is allergic to rice and rice made products. Uncle wanted to have his chappatis properly cooked and so on. Zomato became our top used app along with TripAdvisor.

Anyways, we reached Madurai around 11 in the night. Everyone was tired to the hilt. The next day, we were to get up at 5 in the morning to visit the Meenakshi temple.

So most of the group went straight to the room and dozed off. I had to finish some urgent office stuff after which I went to the terrace of the hotel we were staying in. The hotel we stayed in not just had a great location (with our room facing a lake and park), but also a terrace restaurant. The breeze at the terrace was blissful. There were Tamil songs playing in the background. And even though I understood nothing of it, yet I enjoyed the rhythm of the music with the breeze on the terrace. The day ended with a cup of tea.

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Dec 28th – Getting up early morning to visit a temple is not everyone’s cup of tea; at least not mine. I wanted to go back to the rooftop and enjoy my morning tea. Eventually, I decided to accompany the group.

Meenakshi temple is beautiful and huge. Each of the carving on the temple is very intricate. I could not enjoy it much though as I felt very sleepy. The hundreds of Kms were taking their toll I guess.

Came back to the hotel and had Aloo Poori made in South Indian style for breakfast. Talking about food, India is truly diverse when it comes to food. Unlike North, people in the South seem to avoid too much of spices in their food. Also, rice is the primary food ingredient for most of the stuff. Do not find much variety in the South Indian food as well. I guess a lot of it is to do with the climate of the place. In such hot extreme weather conditions, people cannot digest spicy and heavy meals, I guess.

Post breakfast, we started for Rameshwaram. En route, we visited a friend’s village. The host was a retired Army colonel and a co-traveller’s ex-colleague. I was really impressed with the simple style of living of the colonel. His house had minimal furniture and stuff. When we reached his fields, I was awestruck to see his old mom tilling the land. It was inspiring to see the love of an 80 year old for her land.

Next in stop was a Navgraha temple wherein Lord Rama prayed to the 9 grahas for penance after killing Ravana. Some of the idols were submerged in water while some still managed to stay afloat. It was the smallest temple I had seen so far and yet it was one of its kind temple, floating half in sea and half on land.

We reached Rameshwaram around 8 in the night. It was raining very heavily. We were staying in a Lodge just next to the holy temple. The Lodge was very clean and well maintained. The terrace had a sea view which made the stay memorable.

I eagerly awaited my visit to the temple the next day.

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Dec 29th – It was probably the first time in my life that I had got up at 2:30 in the morning after sleeping almost at midnight; that too to visit a temple. But some thing about the place had made all of it so convenient. Leaving our lodge at 4 AM as we walked towards the temple, it started drizzling.

Even at 4 AM in the morning, the place was bustling with devotees. The temple has a special shivalinga darshan between 4 and 5 AM everyday. We attended the same after which the actual pooja started.

For those who have not heard of the Rameshwaram temple, it is the place where Lord Rama prayed to Lord Shiva before embarking on his journey to Lanka. Also, when Lord Rama came back after killing Ravana, he prayed to Lord Shiva at this place for penance.

We had to take a dive into the sea water three times, chanting Om Namah Shivay. Suddenly there was heavy downpour and the waters became violent. Be it the holy dive into the sea or the rains, there was water everywhere around us. In any other place or time, people would have panicked in such a situation. But here the devotees continued their prayers with full faith. Everything around felt so heavenly.

After the dive into the sea, we were supposed to do a 22 well pooja ritual, where water from 22 wells was to be poured on us by the priests. These 22 wells have waters of different temperatures and tastes. Some wells tasted sweet, some were way too salty; some were hot, some were cold. And plus there were the rains. There was a cyclone and that had led to the incessant rains. All of it taken together was a one of its kind experience for me.

Once the 22 well ritual was done, we were supposed to change clothes and do another round of pooja in dry clothes. This took us another one hour wherein the priest took us around the temple and we offered our prayers to several deities.

The entire experience was more than 2 hours. It felt so peaceful after the rituals.

We started for Kanyakumari after resting for a while and reached the place around 7 PM.

Herein started our round 2 of transportation adventures. We had booked a cab from Chennai for 11 days. However, the driver was probably not informed on the travel duration. He wanted to go back and was not ready to take us further. But what caught us by surprise was an abrupt decision and communication by him without any prior intimation to us by him or his company.

Initially, we tried to convince him to come along or ask his company to arrange an alternative for us. However when he refused, we wrote couple of emails to his company but we did not get any response.

When we reached Kanyakumari, he expected us to pay him and leave the cab. We however decided on adjusting our losses against his payment. The driver was a local fellow and he assumed that by threatening us, he could make more money. There were bad arguments and he asked us to come along with him to the police station. All calls and emails to the cab company, Fast Track went unanswered.

At the police station, the police took the decision in our favor and asked him to take the money we were giving. He now began calling up and threatening us from different numbers. That dampened the spirit of the day to a certain extent. We would definitely take Fast Track to consumer court for spoiling our holiday experience.

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Dec 30th – Kanyakumari is famous for the beautiful sun rise. We all got up early morning to see the same. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, the sky was cloudy and there was no sunrise. After waiting for half an hour and seeing no signs of sunrise, we came back to our room and slept.

Our hotel room had an excellent location to see the Vivekananda rock memorial. Excited to go there, we stood in the ticket queue only to be told that due to the cyclone, the ferry for the day were cancelled. There was so much disappointment in everyone’s eyes. Since the previous evening, everything had been going against the trip.

We decided to leave for Trivandrum and booked a cab. En route the cab took us to Poorvar backwaters and Kovalam Beach in Kerala.

Poorvar backwaters had a private beach, which was one of the cleanest beaches I had seen. The tide was strong and the life guard did not allow us to move beyond a point. Kovalam was crowded but nice.

We reached Trivandrum around 7.

Tomorrow, we are off to spend the last day of 2015 at Ponmuri, a hill station around Trivandrum.

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Dec 31st – Dec 31st is a special day for almost everyone. A day when an year comes to a close. For me, the day used to be special too, until 2012 when I lost my best buddy, my grandma on this day. Since then, Dec 31st is a date I hate, a date which reminds me of a loss so unrepairable. The day began with prayers for grandma’s soul, wherever she is. On the trip, my friend is travelling with her mother and daughter. The love between Saisha and her grandma reminded me of granny many times during the trip. No matter who was wrong, my granny always took my side. Her love for me was unconditional and pure. Dec 31st is a date I wish I could somehow skip from my calendar.

The day started with such gloomy thoughts which got intensified when we realized mom had lost her gold ring a day before. By now, I have also begun to feel homesick and feel like taking the next flight to go back home to my family, especially my brother.

We visited Neyyar wild life sanctuary today and saw a lion and white tigers in the forest reserve. This was followed by a trek at Punmudi where the wind was so strong that at many times during the trek, we felt it would just blow us off the hill. In the evening, we went back to the Kovalam beach hoping to find mom’s ring. But as expected, it was a far fetched wish.

Spent the rest of the evening chatting away with mom about the year that went by and our plans for the next year. Wish loads of happiness and health for her in 2016.

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Jan 1,2016 – Spent most of the day shopping in Trivandrum. Mom bought me so many sarees. In the evening, my friends had a train and they left. Me and mom went to a nearby beach and had long conversations on a lot of things going on in our lives. I could not have started the year on a better note, spending the day exclusively with mom.

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Jan 2,2016 – Arrived in Chennai, back to my friend’s place. My friend showed us some good places around. Came back and slept , only to be woken up by the kids. Home made north indian food was a welcome respite.

Came home the next day morning.

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An awesome trip, where we saw everything : from temples to beaches, from wildlife to hill stations, from shopping around to being with friends, from the company of a 2 year old to company of retired people, from 2015 to 2016 🙂

 

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Author of "My Beloved's MBA Plans", "Because Life Is A Gift" & "Corporate Avatars"

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