I am getting better with each Journey. I think I could pull off my long term plans sooner. As a team of 4 members, we have completed our first fully chaotic unplanned trip. Let’s see how things have gone.
Disclaimer: It would be spurious to say this trip was completely nomadic. We did finalize the places we wanna go, but we haven’t figured out how we are gonna do that. We booked the train tickets for our Starting point(Madurai) and Final destination(Trivandrum). We picked four places(Thekkady, Idukki, Vagamon and Allepey) in between. We thought to choose what’s feasible based on the availability of transport and weather conditions.
After recording our Vote on April 18, we started our journey from Puducherry Railway Station and reached Villupuram Junction. Unfortunate us, we didn’t get Confirmed tickets. We opted for Vikalp being a busy day, we didn’t avail any alternative trains too. Despite having backup plans, We were down-spirited. All the restaurants were closed, and the only open roadside shop was also occupied. Skipping our dinner, we took an auto to Villupuram Bus stand. The place was crowded, and we couldn’t find any buses. The staffs said it is unlikely that we will get any bus that night to Madurai. We went with our other plan of using Private Transport. The price got hiked up that night, and most of them were reserved entirely. I could sense distress. We waited for an hour, and finally, we boarded a bus to Madurai. With an empty stomach and uncomfortable seating, our Journey has officially begun.
Apart from Mugunthan, none of us had a good sleep. We reached Madurai Bus stand early morning. From there we took another bus to Arappalayam West Bus stop. After a cup of refreshing Ginger Tea, we made our way to Thekkady Periyar Tiger Reserve. Little that we know, remote station buses take a long time than we anticipate. This bus journey alone took us around 4 Hours. We were expecting to reach Periyar Tiger reserve around 8 AM to join for the bamboo rafting/ Trekking expedition. We reached the TRP around 10.30 AM and obtained our entrance passes which are of 35 INR for Indian Citizens. We took a haul inside the park. The expedition events were closed that day because of a public Holiday. We tried to reach the park officials a day before, they were not of any help. I am sorry to mention this, they were disconnecting all calls seeking enquiries. We had our breakfast inside the park. Collected information for our next expeditions from park rangers.
We took a bus and reached Kumily Bus stand. We came to know that, there was a festival(Thekkady Devi Temple) and the whole town is crowded. The elephant camp near Kumily was also closed due to public holiday. We hired a jeep to visit Elephant Junction. It is a private sanctuary featuring Elephant Safari and trekking. My primary reason to visit this place was to bath with an Elephant. I have seen people taking a bath with elephants in their camps. It was in my todo list for more than two years. We took a bath with an Elephant, she showered us by filling water in her trunk. I was on cloud nine. Her name is Meena. She was so friendly the whole time when I was riding her. We fed her fruits, and we hugged her. With the Happy face, we came back to Kumily and took a bus to Kuttikarnam. The weather was enchanting. We were blinded by intense fog. We reached Kuttikarnam, and it started to pour densely. The bus driver seeing all of us getting drenched, agreed to drop us at Ellapara. People of Kerala are Lovely. We reached Ellapara. We went straight to a hotel as we were fungry. We ate Dosa with Chutney. I will not speak about the Sambar though. Despite my warning, Mugunthan tried Banana Bajji.
Meanwhile, the last bus to Vagamon left the station. We were looking for some vehicle to take us to Vagamon Town. We enquired jeeps, none of them was willing to take as there was a chance of a torrential downpour. Shaiju, an Auto driver agreed to take us to the town.
It was Election day on April 23 in Kerala. Throughout our Journey, we were witnessing lots of placards and advertisement especially from LDF candidate Joice George. Sathish, Shaiju’s friend also joined us on the ride. We discussed lots of things. The rain was torrential, yet they showed us all the places that we must visit the next day. If we have started the Journey in the day, we might have spent the day with them as our local guide. Ofcourse, we began discussing politics. They were so proud of the party(CPI) they are affiliated with and the works they are doing for the betterment of Vagamon town, and it’s people. They showed us the bus stop and other infrastructure they have built for their village. Their involvement with local issues, working with Government and what not. They also have shared their distress with current ruling Government, and they were expecting a change. They enquired us about our stay, and they were willing to allow us to stay in the party office if we haven’t found any. It was heart-warming to see this much kindness from complete strangers. We reached our hotel around 8 PM after 1.45 hours of travelling in heavy rain. For dinner, we went to the nearest home-hotel kinda place. They tried Kerala’s Special beef Curry with Parotta. Being a veggie, I had to settle with fruits that night. It was drizzling, we didn’t want to explore more so we came back to the hotel and crashed.
The next day we woke up hired a jeep and went to explore the touristic attraction in Vagamon. We missed Idukki Dam and Kurishimala peak because of timing mismatch and the weather. Also, there was scarcity of vehicles, since it was a long holiday. The jeep driver was friendly and stayed with us for a longer duration than the time he agreed upon. Our main reason for Vagamon is to do Paragliding. We reached that place around 2 PM. When we arrived there, people were gliding on the cliff side. With lots of eagerness, we hiked to the gliding point just to see them closing the place sighting the downpour on the other end of the mountain. We were completely off. We went for a little walk and sat on the edge of the cliff. The view was fabulous, and the eolian sound made it a perfect spot for relaxing. Without further adieu, I listened to my favourite Song “Avalum Naanum”. We were advised to leave the place, as the area is prone to lightning strikes. We reached the nearest bus stop. We didn’t have any route figured out on how to reach Alleppey. Another complete stranger asked about our whereabouts and helped us to sketch a short path to Allepey. He was working in Chennai and came back to his native place to spend some time. We were waiting for our bus to Petta. We discussed their culture, sooner we got some company, all of them were eager to help us, and an aunt even agreed to let us stay in her house if there were no buses because of rain. To my surprise, all of them spoke Tamil fluently, and they were taught in Tamil Medium of instruction on top of that, some Tamil schools are still in operation.
We boarded our bus to Petta and then to Changanaserry. From there, we took another bus to Alleppey. We finished our dinner at Indian Coffee House and hired an auto-rickshaw to our Home Stay. The place was not ready for guests, I presume the season was not yet started there. That place might have hosted guests years back, and now ‘it’s not performing well. We got a good deal on the fare. It was near the beach with hammocks and perfect beach dormitory setup but abysmal maintenance.
We woke up early in the morning, went for a walk on the beach. I had my Tea in the nearest Chechi Tea stall. Again, the place was full of Red flags, and people were proud of that. We went to Allepey Boat house road and hired a Shikara boat for 3 Hours and cruised the backwaters. We reached the dock in the evening and took a bus to Kollam. The Election campaigns were supposed to end that day. The road was blocked entirely, and we were delayed by 2hours. We reached Kollam late at night. We had plans to visit Varkala or Jatayu Earth Centre. This long-drawn hurdle made us drop those pitstops. We changed our plan to reach Trivandrum and spend the last day in the city. Maniraj and I rushed into a bus that was leaving the station without Mugunthan and GP. I rang the bell to stop the bus multiple times and then witnessed the conductor standing next to me. I never thought pulling a string will get me this much bashing. I apologized for my mistake, and we got down at the next stop. Uuuf!!!
We took the next bus and directly went to our hotel. It was near the railway station. While having dinner, I realized it’s Monday the next day, and hence all the Monuments and other recreations will be closed. I made a backup plan to visit Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre and registered for the forenoon session.
We left the hotel and went to Anantabathmanaba Swami temple. My plan visit Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre was ditched as we didn’t get confirmation till 10 AM that day, whereas we were supposed to start our tour by 9.30 AM. To spend the rest of the day, We hired an auto to tour around the city. We went to Vizinjam Port, Sagarika Marine Research Aquarium, Poovar backwaters and then to Kovalam Beach.
We tried Snorkeling at the Kovalam beach. It was intense. As we were breaking the waves, I felt more disconnected from the land. Sathish was our Captain. He guided us on how to breathe with the help of snorkel and then boom, I jumped into the Arabian Sea. It was tough in the beginning to see things and after some time, learning to control the breath via snorkel; things started getting interesting. After some rest, We went for an another dive. We bought some spices on the way back and reached TVM station at 4.00 PM. The train got delayed by 30 Minutes. After some munching, we boarded the train at 4.40 PM. Mugu’s ticket got cancelled. We paid a hefty sum as fine to allow him to travel with us. With all the things going on, we forgot GP’s birthday plan. We couldn’t find any bakery near the station and ditched our idea of celebrating his birthday on the train.
After boarding the train, we ordered a Pizza as an alternative plan. Everyone slept as soon as they boarded the train. The train was supposed to reach Madurai around 11.20 PM. It got delayed, I was awake the whole time to make sure I didn’t miss the station. Around 12.10 We reached Madurai, I came down from my berth and then noticed GP speaking with his SO(at 12.10 !!!!!). We got the pizza and tipped our delivery bro, as he waited the whole time. To celebrate his birthday, we sliced the pizza, ate it like we haven’t had food for multiple days. We reached Villupuram the next day. We took a bus back home, and there ends our epic Journey.
Key takeaways for us:
- Always carry your own water bottle when you are traveling. One can always refill at restaurants as most of the places were using Mineral/ Purified water. This will reduce the amount of plastic we create.
- Do not throw trash for God Sake especially in the forest premises. How many time I had to shout. @Mugunthan
- Plan beforehand. One can improvise on the go, but betting your whole trip is not something I can vouch for.
To know about our Itinerary refer this page.
Picture Courtesy: Maniraj Arvind, Geethaipriyan.
Camera: Canon 1300D, Gopro Hero 7 Black, Mi A2, Honor Play, Pocophone F1.