I am sure many of you who have watched the movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara have had the thought of going on a long road trip once in your lifetime. Fortunately for me, I have had that experience a long time back, to be precise 15 years back (2003) much before the movie popularized the concept of a road trip. Back then this was just another long drive and it is only now that I realize that it was actually a landmark in my traveling life.
It all started right after I finished my last examination in college where I was completing my Batchelor’s degree. There was a gap between the last examination which I still remember were Economics and the result date. I still hadn’t figured out what to do after graduation thus was completely relaxed.
On a very short noticed I was informed that SCM (Student Christian Movement of India) was having its Annual General Meeting in Kodaikanal and I was requested to develop a website for them before the start of the conference. It was planned that the website will be launched during the conference. Back in 2003 Web Designing was a very new concept and very few people knew it thus with my previous experiences in other web development work I was requested if I could help them out. SCM had its headquarters in Bangalore (Bengaluru) and I would have to work from Bangalore for nearly two weeks before proceeding to Kodaikanal for the launch.
Since I was informed at the last moment thus getting a confirmed train ticket from Howrah to Bangalore was impossible. That was the very first time I tried the option of break journey by traveling from Kolkata to Vizag (Visakhapatnam) and then from there directly to Bangalore. I had booked two separate tickets one from Kolkata (Howrah) to Vizag and then on the next day Vizag to Bangalore City. In Vizag, I had planned to stay at the house of another SCM colleague Mrinal Srikanth.
I took the morning train from Howrah and reached Vizag late evening. After spending a night at Mrinal’s house where I had some lovely Biriyani for dinner I took the next morning train to Bangalore. I reached Bangalore City the next morning.
It was intensive work at SCM Bangalore headquarters as we just had around two weeks to finish up a website. I had to click photos, scan them, prepare the content, code the website and finally make those fancy design layouts. Those were the days of PC’s and after a couple of sleepless nights, the website was finally ready.
The next leg of the tour was where things got really interesting. There was this old Mahindra Jeep which belonged to SCM House and it was decided that we will drive all the way from Bangalore to Kodaikanal in that rickety Jeep. Since we were coming from the head office thus the back of the jeep was full of various documents and books. This was no ordinary Jeep but those vintage 1960’s jeep with a Roplas hard top. It was extremely noisy and bumpy with a max speed of 60 kilometers per hour it was sure going to be a long ride.
I don’t prefer long journeys in a vehicle thus wanted to avoid at all cost. In the end, I did not have any option since the General Secretary of SCM was also traveling along with my friend Paul who was taking care of accounts for SCM. All the driving would be done by James who was the resident driver for the organization.
We left on 7th of June at around 11 AM from Bangalore and by that time the city’s morning traffic was slowly settling. After crossing Hosur things settled in. We were slowly zooming across the newly built four-lane highway. Hunger came in fast and it was way past 3 PM and we were still figuring out where to have lunch. Finally, around 4 PM we stopped at a small roadside dhaba.
It was a typical roadside dhaba down south, not the ones you would find around Delhi or Punjab so no tarka, no tandoori rotis. Apparently, we need to order and they will prepare it accordingly. With hunger hitting the roof we just ordered for some roti (flatbreads) and some chicken curry. Next what we see was beyond our conceivable imagination, the owner of the dhaba trying to get hold of a live chicken which he would use for the meal. We asked him to drop the idea of a chicken curry and to just prepare a vegetable curry with egg omelets. We waited and waited and the cooking went on and on. Finally, an hour later we were served our ordered food. The taste did not really matter as we just gulped them down.
The journey continued on the newly built four-lane highway with some sections still having some minor work ongoing. The weather was pleasant and to make things even better rain clouds could be seen at the distance. It was raining on the distance but was bright and sunny on the road. Missed clicking those shots since back in those days I only had a film camera that too points and shoot thus impossible to capture those sceneries from a moving vehicle.
At around 9 pm we stopped for dinner at a very crowded hotel where we were served chicken prepared in coconut gravy and barota (parathas). I was really tired so just managed to gulp down one paratha and headed straight back to the jeep for a quick nap.
The jeep kept on moving and at around midnight we reached Dindigul. We had no hotel arrangements as such, there was some far away relative of the General Secretary who lived somewhere in the town. It took another half an hour to find that house. It was a really funny moment when we realized that the relative in question was being met for the very first time. The smiles were absolutely artificial and being so late at night we just requested them to let us sleep for the night somewhere. The house was small and the only space available was the rooftop. We all slept like a baby but the sleep was short-lived as we again got up around 5 in the morning ready for the final push towards Kodaikanal.
The rickety jeep started and the journey began along with the rising sun. Plain roads gave way to mountainous roads and slowly we were climbing hills. In between somewhere, I don’t remember exactly where we picked up P. C. Jena who was then the chairperson of SCM. So we had a new member in our team and the journey continued. The monotonous winding roads were slowly turning into breath-taking views. We stopped in-between for some fresh jackfruits which I guess the locals were selling. This was another opportunity for me and Paul to click some photographs.
By the time we reached Kodaikanal, it was way past noon and our lodging was arranged at Kodaikanal Christian College which was also the venue for the annual meeting. The college was having vacation thus the student’s room was given to us. With breathtaking views of the blue hills, the rooms were more like that of a star hotel than a college hostel room.
The annual conference lasted for around three days which was a mixed bag of fun as well as serious discussions. Many new friends made and many unforgettable memories.
The return trip was to be done on a bus which was hired for all the participants to take them to Madurai. Two such buses were booked followed by the Jeep at the back. Myself and Paul took the bus since we had to be with our friends. On the way back we got stuck somewhere in between, there seems to have been some altercations between some locals and some bus drivers which took around an hour to get resolved.
We stayed in Madurai at Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary for around two days. In the evening we went for a tour of Meenakshi Temple and then to watch a Tamil movie, I don’t recall the name but the songs were really good.
Finally, it turned for me to return home but this time on a train. I said goodbye to Paul with whom it was a three-week fun ride. We took a train from Madurai to Chennai Egmore and then again from Chennai Central back to Howrah.
When I look back at this particular journey it feels surreal since I just had Rs. 3000 in my pocket at the start of the journey and when I returned back to Kolkata I had Rs. 2500 in my pocket. So it was like a trip of a lifetime from long Jeep rides to bus journey and finally train journeys. Some trips shape destinies and for me, this one was one of them which made me believe that the journey is the real fun and the destination is just a part of the bigger plan.