I was itching to get out of Tenkasi for the last two months. A short visit to Ponmudi, near Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, about three weeks back didn’t fully heal it. Inclement weather in Tenkasi is a routine feature now. The place is not cool anymore, as it used to be when we first moved to Tenkasi in 2006-07. Urbanization is taking a heavy toll on the people’s life in Tenkasi. During the last couple of weeks, the mornings were unbearably hoti and the afternoons and early evenings were cloudy, sultry and suffocating. Rains deluded the place mostly, or when it rained increased the humidity, compounding the uncomfortable feelings.
For quite a long time, I had been planning to visit Valparai and Theni in Tamil Nadu, and Munnar in Kerala. The opportunity was eluding me for one reason or other. When I checked the weather forecast ten days back it said clear weather from Wednesday, the 21st for about a week in the places I wanted to visit. I concluded this was the opportunity not to be missed.
After visiting a couple of relatives in Madurai and Trichy, we drove to Valparai on Friday, the 23rd,stopping at Pazhani for the darshan of Lord Muruga. It was a crowded day in Pazhani temple, and waiting for the rope car itself took nearly three hours. However, we had a peaceful darshan of the Lord on the hilltop. It was nearly after about 25 years I visited Pazhani this time.
We left Pazhani around 3.30 in the afternoon and reached Udumalpet. One of my contacts there advised me against self-driving to Valparai during late hours. So, we drove to Pollachi. Fortunately, despite heavy booking, Hotel Ramanuja, behind the bus stand offered us a decent air-conditioned room for the night, strictly on the condition that we should vacate before 10.00 am in the next morning. Hotels were heavily booked for the long weekend at Pollachi and Valparai too. Besides, we were suggested that Valaparai was just a plantation area and one could do it in a day-long trip.
So, we left Pollachi early morning around 07.00 am on Saturday, the 24th. The drive to Valparai along a smooth road, free of potholes and speed-breakers all the way was very memorable. Nowadays, it is really hard to find such finely laid roads in rural and semi-urban Tamil Nadu. The road to Azhiyar, on the way, was under the canopy of dense trees on either side. We didn’t stop at Azhiyar dam. The vast expanse of water of the reservoir could be seen on one side of the road to Valparai when we started climbing the hills. There were 22 hairpin bends up the hill. The picturesque route was most exhilarating. We took pictures at several places on the way.
On reaching Valparai, we frantically looked for a decent vegetarian restaurant, but we found none. Thankfully, an autorickshaw driver mentioned about one Sabari Mess run by a family in their house, squeezed in between the market. The breakfast was very simple, homely and tasty. There was no electric power that morning, so chutney was under ration. The lady who managed the mess was extremely polite and courteous.
After our breakfast, we drove to Neerar dam, en-route Koozhangal (Pebble) River. It was a river for the namesake only. Just a stream of water. Yet many tourist vehicles had stopped over there for the travelers to have a bath in the shallow stream. Neerar dam is located at a distance of about 11 kms, partly through tea estates and partly through dense woods. The road forked into two for the upper and the lower dam. The road was narrow, awfully bad, and full of crater-like potholes and rough rocks. I was self-driving, and I prayed God that we should have an incident-free return back to Valparai. At the dam, steps take you down the dam, closer to the water outlets and the river down. I was really thrilled to stand at the closest point to the water outlet and pose for a picture to the camera.
Thank God, we were safely back to Valparai. We then drove to Solaiyar dam at a distance of 18 kms. This road was decent, but after reaching there we realized that there was nothing spectacular to see. We were just on the upper dam. The water reservoir was fairly full, but they hadn’t opened the water gates that day; so, it was just dry.
On returning to Valparai, we concluded that there was nothing more we could do within the limited time available to us, and so we went to Coimbatore, via Pollachi, to spend a memorable evening in the company of our cousin and his family.
On Sunday, we drove straight from Coimbatore to Theni and the journey took nearly five and half hours. We had been informed about the Sri Swami Sidhbhavananda Ashram in Theni, and we went straight there for the day’s stay. The administrator was quite accommodative and allotted us a room. This Ashram, encompassing a magnificent Dakshinamoorthi Temple, is located in a quiet area, away from the din and noise of the town, in Aranmanai Pudur, a kilometer away from the Theni New Bus Stand. The two days quiet stay in the Ashram was a very pleasant experience.On Monday, we drove to Suruli Waterfalls, a distance of 46 kms. We passed through some of the greenest areas of Tamil Nadu. I came to know that Theni and its surroundings were known for its coconut groves and banana plantations. The National Highway connecting Kottarakara in Kerala and Dindigul is a blessing to self-driven cars. There was no crowd in Suruli. We didn’t know that one had to walk about half-a-kilometer distance and then climb about 100 steps to reach the waterfalls. I was told that a battery car operated between the parking area and the base of the steps to the falls, but it was not in operation that day; they gave us the convenient excuse – maintenance, as the reason. For the first time, I fully realized that Courtallam near our Tenkasi is probably one of its kind in India where waterfalls are located at ground level for anyone to reach and have bath. Maybe, there were no rains and so, the flow of water in the Suruli waterfalls was moderate that day. There was no hustle-bustle while taking bath – unlike the one we hate to see in Courtallam. Plenty of monkeys roam around freely, snatching anything they find attractive from the tourists. I saw a monkey pulling out all the papers from a leather pouch fixed to a parked motorbike. It was fun for us, but what papers were lost by the owner of the motorbike I didn’t know.
I must admit that the trip to Suruli waterfalls was very disappointing, considering the fact that we live very close to Courtallam waterfalls.
From Suruli, we drove towards Ramakkal Medu in Kerala, a supposedly beautiful plateau on a hilltop. However, the road till Cumbamedu was woefully bad and fully broken. On reaching Cumbamedu, we decided to return back to Theni, not wanting to take the risk of driving another about 12 kms on the bad road uphill. I was very disappointed again.
We spent our Monday evening peacefully at the Sri Swami Sidhbhavananda Ashram, participating in the poojas in the Dakshinamoorthi Temple, the spiritual lectures by Poojya Sri Onkarananda Swamiji and the other Poojya Sri Pragyananda Swamiji, and having a quiet walk in and out of the Ashram. They serve delicious ‘satvik’ food, three times a day. The employees and sevaks were very courteous. The ambience was serene, inspiring and silencing, and given an opportunity, we would like to go back there again. We also had the opportunity of meeting the Swamiji, interacting with him, and taking his blessings. The temple is undergoing renovation, towards its Kumbhabhishekam scheduled to be conducted during July, 2016. They have a decent book store where several spiritual books and CDs are available.
Someone suggested that we should have gone to Thekkadi, instead of Theni. Unexpectedly, the stay in the Sri Swami Sidhbhavanandha Ashram compensated for any other disappointments we had in visiting Theni. We couldn’t visit Munnar as originally planned by us.
With the Grace of God, we returned back safely to Tenkasi on Tuesday, the 27th after driving nearly 1400 kilo meters in a week’s time. It was a good experience for me. I thank God, I never felt tired.
I have a few important observations to make about self-driving on Indian roads:
1.It is advisable to keep a smart phone/i-Phone with 3G for accessing Google Maps. It appears to be fairly very reliable. Reliable power-bank is a must for keeping the phone continuously charged. Of course, people everywhere willingly help us for directions.
2.The signboards for directions on the roads are either confusing, or dilapidated, or painted with too small letters for anyone to read, and not prominently placed. I don’t know why the government cannot do something to facilitate tourists move around easily to places.
3.Many say the road condition in Tamil Nadu is one of the best. I still doubt. Many interior roads are awfully bad, neglected, badly maintained, and even when they are repaired, they last only for a few months. Many tourists could be put off from traveling because of road conditions. Rural economy could also be strengthened by building good roads. In many places, when I found the road was good and I took speed, there appeared, all of a sudden, a huge pothole or a speed-breaker throwing me off-guard. Why speed-breakers on important State Highways even, I don’t understand. It is very funny that India is marketing and selling several models of high-speed vehicles, but the roads are still in vintage times; still more funny to see signboards that restrict the speed limit to 30 kilometers per hour on main roads.
4.The motorists and motorcyclists need a lot of education and also disciplining. The government and authorities generally turn a Nelson’s eye to their misbehavior. Risky driving and overtaking, carrying long, protruding, heavy objects on the pillion rider’s shoulders in a motorcycle, or in small mini-trucks or tempos, using cellphone while driving motorcycle/scooter, carrying goods covered with loose tarpaulins which fly off right in front of another motorists behind, driving on the wrong side of the road, and the likes are common sights everywhere. We only constantly complain and curse within ourselves, with no solution in sight to the safe drivers.
5.There is hardly any restroom/toilet facilities on most roads. Gents have no problems easing themselves on the sides, shamelessly. What about ladies?
People say that I lack acceptance of conditions of living in India. It seems very true. Don’t I even have the right to dream of a better India to live in?