on travelling solo to Kanyakumari.

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It is 10 pm right now and Google tells me that I am at a place called Agasipalli, somewhere in Tamil Nadu. With a blizzard of headlights glaring in my face. Peeking outside the bus window. As we whiz right past the highway traffic.

I had managed to squeeze in ample packets of banana chips early on, to keep myself good company in the night, and it’s kind of working. Really well, actually.😋

Anyway, the beautiful, beautiful moon continues flaring up the night sky with all its silver and the wind is just lovely. A bit cold but very very soothing.

So the driver had stopped for chai sometime back and I obviously got down because…. me.🤷

It is almost 6 AM now and we are still riding on the NH-44 searing through Tamil Nadu. I am WIDE AWAKE courtesy the refreshing chai and the surprising (and uncomfortable!) nip in the air. Tugging harder at my stole. Staring into the blue suddenly washing over everything in the distance. Taking comfort in watching the darkness dissolve into dawn. Reveling in the light pouring in, welcomingly flooding my sleeper compartment!

Merely half an hour on, the view outside is scintillating. Lush green fields. Dotted with giant, towering windmills. And covered with vast palm plantations. That are swaying with the winds.

A violet silhouette of distant hills is making itself clearer on the horizon. In the backdrop of a trail of many brown ones.

Many bright-colored roofs keep popping up on the way. Almost as sudden reminders of the people that inhabit this pretty countryside, the kind of life that flourishes here.

Oh, and the rugged grey tarmac stretches for miles ahead! As if screaming the kilometers yet to be covered. And the beauty yet to be uncovered!

Greyish-white clouds, looking as fluffy as candyfloss, seem painted all over the sky. Moving about, slowly and steadily. As if having had surrendered to the winds, wherever they may take them.

And the ones like these too, hanging pretty low, right over the fields, almost blending in. Looking like abstract melting into real.

After a long and bumpy ride, I arrive at Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India! Having finally reached here after a 14-hour long journey from Bangalore, I feel dead tired and just need a place to crash! Surprisingly, wherever I inquire, they tell me they don’t give rooms to solo travellers around here. That is kind of a real patience-tester when you haven’t slept well for the last 24 hours. However, one guide gets me decent accommodation. Which is basically just a bed and a washroom to get by, but it works! I am so exhausted that I pass out in a minute. And after a good two hours rest, I head out for the usual South Indian breakfast of dosa and hatti kappi (hot coffee).

And then, after negotiating my way through several lanes and bylanes of tiny shops selling pretty seashells, I reach the boat jetty. And catch the ferry that glides me safe, over the treacherous waters of the Indian Ocean, to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial some 500 meters away from the shore.

Landing there, the first thing I see is a panorama of a town stretched in the backdrop of a seemingly endless wild ocean, with waters wearing colours from blue to green to grey. Soft, pale white clouds drift above.

Everywhere around here is damn windy as I climb up the steps to the roof of this Memorial.

Inside one hall called ‘Vivekananda Mandapam’, there’s a grand, bronze statue of Swami Vivekananda where he stands in his typical posture! I read, it was built in 1970 in the honour of Vivekananda who had got enlightenment on this rock.

Inside another is a meditation room, also called the ‘Dhyan Mandapam’, that is pitch-dark save for the lights blinking from a green, resplendent ‘om’ in front of me. A lulling voice reverberates in the background urging everyone to rest our chaos aside, and reach an eternal calm within ourselves. Once in 1892, Swami Vivekananda had done exactly that (for two days straight!), where I sit right now trying to find something similar in this abode of peace.

Cannot sense an iota of awakening though! No, nothing ripples through me!😕

That is, apart from the familiar desire to rush to the sea. To have the sun in my face. To feel the wind in my bones. So five minutes into the practice of trying to hold myself quiet and still, I give up. Maybe the chaos in the ocean outside has got my heart. And the one inside me simply leads me to it!

I am standing at the edge, clutching at the railings, watching the ocean and its overwhelmingly powerful waves. I try to look for the lands beyond its vast, breathing body. I can still hear the ocean roar over the fiercely loud winds as the waves break their tumult over the rocks. Often, few tiny drops come splashing at my face. It is so humbling, experiencing this magnanimity and sheer abundance of nature!

I spot this rainwater reservoir at the Memorial. A nice initiative in a place that is infamous for its seasonal rainfall and thunderstorms!

The Thiruvalluvar Statue stands all tall and majestic in the distance. It is an ode to the Tamil poet, Thiruvalluvar, who wrote Thirukkural, one of the finest works of ancient Tamil literature.

The stone sculpture now stands guard over some of the last imprints of the Indian peninsula.

There’s no boat leading up to the statue though. So I just catch a boat back to the shores.

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Though the waters look rough and intimidating, we have a smooth sail. And after hardly a 10-minute ride, I alight and begin my walk towards Triveni Sangam.

It is a point of confluence. The Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, and the Indian Ocean meet here. A point of paradoxes too. Echoing a rare coexistence of commotion and bliss.

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The ground is rocky and the sand is full of stones, pebbles, silt, boulders, and everything’s slippery. Very, very slippery. I fear lurching deeper into the sea. But there are people I can see, who do not. And as I watch them, I step closer, to them, to the sea, into the daunting waters.

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And suddenly, the physical act of wading through those waters in that moment, very subtly turns into a metaphor for the belief that you somehow get past everything in life. Anyhow, but you do.

Maybe, sometimes, the chaos does things to you that silence cannot? Just as the furious uproar in the sea offers me what the quiet in the meditation room could not. Maybe its storm mirrors my own. Perhaps that’s why the intimate connection?

I walk towards the Sunset Point at the Arabian Sea, probably the last point on the Indian subcontinent. But I stupidly undermine the distance to the Point and end up walking for half an hour or so. Again, me.🤷

Nevertheless, the walk in itself makes for another compelling reason to catch the Sunset there. So I carry on, taking all those slightly-weary steps, beside a long stretch of ocean on an almost deserted road. And the peace at the end of it is just worth all the rush.

No, I didn’t click the sunset. I was too spent already. This is, I guess, the last fancy picture I took, after which I ended up not really doing anything but plainly watching (just as this guy?). But also feeling. And thinking. But that’s for some other post some other day.

a road trip to Mysore

Walking through the gates, I find magnificence standing tall before me in brick-and-mortar. The cream-colored facade gracefully embraces the fine granite structure within. The deep pink marble domes concretize royalty. It is the Ambavilas Palace (also called the Mysore Palace), that was once home to the Wadiyars (meaning Lords in Kannada) who ruled the Kingdom of Mysore for over 500 years.

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I am asked to take off my footwear before entering the palace. The warm weather and a long queue turn me a bit grumpy. But unfazed by the crowd, I persevere anyway. I know, the interior is going to be a spectacle to behold!

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A step inside, and I am gazing all around the palace, filled with wonder. The kaleidoscopic murals gracing the walls. Vivid colors glistening bright, off the ceilings. Intricacies patterned out with rare finesse.  An artist’s golden touch, subtly caressing the walls, the roof, the floor beneath my feet. The perfect interplay between shadow and light.

Every speck mirrors the grandeur of the Wadiyars who once lived here. And adeptness of the artists they patronized. 

How they must have worked at it!

Hands chiseling just the right quantity of stone. Poised at the exact angles that were meant to be tore into the masterpiece. Shaping it nimbly to its last millimeter.

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The palace perfectly encapsulates the glory of the kingdom it once adorned. It is an epitome of its power. An ornate jewel. An architectural splendor. A fusion of Hindu, Mughal, Rajput, and Gothic styles.

Influences from several eras coming together to birth one piece of art.

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It’s already 4 by the time I leave the palace. On the way back, I come across a local restaurant, Hotel RRR,  that seems to have been beckoning me to try out their typical Tamil food! Here, they serve food on a long banana leaf. The platter is luscious, all decked up with rice, daal, rasam, sambhar, kofte, curd and sabudana kheer (made of tapioca pearls). And I savor it well with all my fingers digging in! 😛

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Then I’m headed to Chamundi Hills, to visit the famous Chamundeshwari temple. It has been named after the Goddess who was worshipped by Mysore Maharajas for centuries. Chamundeshwari (Durga) is the fierce form of Shakti who killed the demon Mahishasuran. His colorful mannequin greets me as I reach the summit of the hills.

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The exterior of the temple is fascinating, embellished with numerous images of Nandi (the bull mount of Shiva). A small market, sprawled just outside the premises of the temple, is buzzing with color and life. I buy a beautiful Ganesha idol, having grains of pulses glued together to materialize His form.

A perfect souvenir to carry back home.

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It’s almost evening now and rains have swamped the streets of Mysore. Having been stuck badly in traffic for an odd hour or so, I take a detour, back towards Bengaluru.

The rain-ride is so much more beautiful anyway.

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A delicious dinner at Thalassery later, I am back home, happy and (almost) warm, save for the cold I catch the following morning! It’s worth the ride though. 😉

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This is the 3rd post in a 4-part series on my travel stories from South India. If you like this part, you can read the other parts on CoonoorOoty, and Pondicherry.

unwrapping the gift that Coonoor is.

Winding around pine thickets for the past half hour, I have been adoring the midnight-blue silhouette of the Nilgiris painted against the pale-blue skies. Looks so much like those pretty picture postcards.

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Finally, I disembark at Sim’s Park. On the board outside, it boasts of having rare plant species from around the world.

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I walk inside and roam around, breathing in the fresh air thick with an earthy fragrance.

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Having experienced the storm in Ooty last night, I find Coonoor surprisingly sunny. And so much more beautiful that I snap out of the auto midway to dash for the tea gardens flanking either side of the road.

Coonoor has acres and acres of them!

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Ambling around, I soak in the overwhelming essence of tea leaves. The Blue Mountain tea that grows here is dark and is known for its intense fragrance and flavour.

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Further up the road, I stop by the Highfield Tea Factory and watch the end-to-end process of tea being made from these tea leaves. The entire place feels immersed in a strong aroma. It permeates me. Tickles my senses. A few refreshing cups of Chocolate Tea, Masala Tea, and Green Tea later, I feel grateful for the little sips of happiness.

Walking on, I come across coffee beans being ground into powder. Feeling my love for coffee scream inside me full-throttle, I instantly pick up a handful to take back home as a souvenir.

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Few steps ahead, a sharp and pungent scent comes wafting across the room. Inquisitive, I find out, what I had just sniffed was the odor of eucalyptus oil being procured from the eucalyptus leaves lying heaped nearby.

I step out and see small shops selling natural oils and creams. Feeling whimsically compelled, I immediately buy the cucumber one. Downstairs, they are selling handmade chocolates and I don’t leave without packing all the dark chocolate that I will need for the month.

Driving off to Lamb’s Rock, past cultivated plantations, and unguarded wilderness, I uncover Coonoor more intimately on the way. Lying sheathed in clouds and mist, it is a beauty enveloped in the embrace of blue hills, that appear melting into the blue skies.

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I trek up to the highest viewpoint at Lamb’s Rock and take a fleeting glance around. What strikes me is, I am staring down into a deep, scary gorge that at the same time accommodates a breathtaking panorama of tea estates, coffee estates, and Coimbatore plains.

Surreal.

The path back meanders through a jungle and the experience is alarmingly enlivening.

Exactly how badly had I needed this rush?!

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At last, I arrive at Dolphin’s Nose. It takes me a while to register for myself how the tip of the peak resembles a dolphin’s nose. A beautiful wind blows in my face, as I stand there watching the Catherine Falls pound in the distance.

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Later in the night, I lie snuggled up under my blanket, back on my way to Bengaluru, and the moon through the window feels like a welcome trespasser.

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This is the 2nd post in a 4-part series on my travel stories from South India. If you like this part, you can read the other parts on Ooty, Mysore, and Pondicherry.

about the time when I fled to Ooty.

First weekend in Bengaluru and it’s pouring down hard! After scouring through Google for about half an hour and skimming through the top suggestions it algorithmically throws my way,  I pick Ooty at random and book the bus tickets for the night!

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The bus is unusually (or usually?) late but the weather Gods are bizarrely happy today. I watch a dark cloud canopy growing over the night, amidst a low rumble of thunder. I witness lightning bedazzle the sky. A cool breeze and light drizzle later, I am still waiting for the bus sigh! but am nevertheless feeling all cheerful and pumped up. After an hour of fiddling around with whatever, the bus finally arrives and I trundle off to Ooty with an overjubilant smile! Dragging his grumpy one along.

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I have never been to the South before, so as the bus goes coursing the lanes of Karnataka, all through to Tamil Nadu, I don’t care enough to doze off for once, and rather keep peering out the window all night. By the time morning comes knocking on the stained glass, the signboards change, and I spot people in lungis and saris, and there are vast green farms flanking the roads and the sun overwhelming those green farms.

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I stumble upon Iyengar’s bakery while walking around, in the Commercial Street, on my way to the hotel. They offer me the softest bread encasing thick layers of jam and cream within, and my tired, hungry soul washes everything down maniacally, with a hot cup of tea! A tangible piece of bliss when I have been hungry since dinner last night.

IMG_20180331_171430731-01At the Hotel Eden, I come across a weirdly funny receptionist who keeps iterating “just 1 minute, just 1 minute” over and over but never seems to genuinely help me out with any of my needs. But it had been the cheapest last-minute gamble I had pounced upon (courtesy booking.com!), so I bear with it. 

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I am inside an autorickshaw, spiraling around the Nilgiris, on my way to the Doddabetta peak, crowned the highest in the Western Ghats. The path leading up to the summit is densely forested. Tall pine trees lie shrouded in mist. Clouds have embossed themselves over distant peaks, that are standing bathed in innumerable shades of blue.

I come across rare flowers, blossoming at every other turn, spilling open into a cute, vibrant bunch of colors, gleefully juxtaposed against green that has invaded all the space around.

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The fresh air breezing through the Nilgiris feels so enlivening, that I keep bobbing in and out of the autorickshaw, throughout my way uphill, to rest my feet at the edge of a cliff, feel my nerves come undone, and breathe. It feels magical. Unburdening magical.

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At the summit, there is a Telescope House that should supposedly enable everyone to catch stunning views of the valley but honestly, it doesn’t serve its purpose. At all. So I stroll around, gaze at the sky ripping itself apart to allow the sun flood the wilderness, watch life unwrap itself in the valley as giant trees branch out, to make home for monkeys prancing on their edges, dangling from one, hopping on to the next, nestled careless and free and content in their impenetrable abode.

monkeys

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I see a tiny market nearby and excited, trail a bit down to reach for a cute rainbow-hair-prop and wear it over my head and try to pretend I am something exotic until he says it is time to leave. In my defense, it was fun! Ample fun. Okay. Whatever.

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Later in the night, weather takes a magical leap and I find clouds fogging my view, floating beside me and beneath my feet, sliding over and under the moon, and enveloping almost everything under their white haze.

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It feels damn weird but beautiful.

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Back at the hotel, I devour the handmade chocolates I bought from the Chocolate Factory, a few gorgeous hours ago. Tomorrow will be a happy day for sipping tea in the woods, as I make my way to Coonoor. But for now, I just snuck my pillow close and zone out.

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This is the 1st post in a 4-part series on my travel stories from South India. If you like this part, you can read the other parts on Coonoor, Mysore, and Pondicherry.