The D-day was here. After weeks of planning and preparing, it was time to step out on the road. As always, excitement kept me awake almost all night until I finally decided to get out of the bed at 3 A.M. By 4, I was loading the saddle bags on the motorcycle. My spouse and a friend joined me in the process. After a short test ride with the luggage, more to check my confidence and comfort to manoeuvre the motorcycle than anything else, I was all set to embark on the journey. By now, another friend had joined to flag me off.
As the sun was slowly coming out of its slumber, I rode towards the historic town and the UNESCO World heritage site of Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram, just 50 kms from the city. Today’s stretch is going to be along the coastline almost for the entire duration of the journey i.e.., 575 kms. I rode past giant stone sculptures carved in the 7th century depicting stories of India’s glorious past.
With its quintessential French charm, Pondicherry or Pondy (as it is called) welcomed us with mild traffic on a sleepy Sunday morning. Riding past heritage structures with streets having French names and a canal running in the middle of the road, it truly lives upto its tag of ‘giving time a break’. For the first time, I was trying to give commentary while riding. My helmet was set up with an action camera, a microphone and a ton of wires wrapped under the hood so that I can document the ride on the move. I’am not particularly known for my multi tasking skills so this is going to take a while for me to get used to.
After a quick breakfast at a modest place, I set off towards Velankanni. The road started to deteriorate just after the Pondy border. By the time I reached Chidambaram, the road was almost non-existent as it was being expanded into a four lane national highway. A lot of infra work was taking place:- road widening, bridge construction etc due to which traffic was being diverted almost every 200 metres. This stretch might take at least a year to become a proper national highway. I reached the outskirts of Karaikal, part of the union territory of Pondicherry, around noon and proceeded further towards Nagore and Velankanni.
I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the journey as I was covering Nagore (a holy place for Muslims), Velankanni (holy place for Christians) and Rameswaram (holy place for Hindus) in the same day.
For lunch, I stopped at a small but a beautiful family run restaurant on the outskirts of Muthupettai. It was a straw hut with some tables and a kitchen. On either side it was lined with clay pots and flowers available for purchase. This place is run by a retired village administrative officer (VAO) and his family. The straw hut was cool, cozy and above all natural. As for the food, the home cooked meal was both nutritious and filling.
The plan was to make it to the iconic Pamban bridge ( a 2km long bridge across the sea connecting the island of Rameswaram to the mainland) before sunset to get good pictures using the natural sunlight. To do this I kept riding non-stop post lunch to make up time. After Velankanni, the road became better. Though two laned, it was smooth tarmac all the way till Rameswaram which helped my cause. As planned, I made it to the middle of the iconic bridge well before sunset. After spending a good fifteen minutes, I was on my way towards the hotel in Rameswaram before calling it a day. A beautiful start to this mega-ride.
After a good night’s rest, I was all set for day 2. The ride plan for today was to visit Dhanushkodi & Arichal Munai - a 25 km ride from Rameswaram towards Sri Lanka. Yes you read that right. From here, the tip of Sri Lanka is only 16 kms away. The ride to this point is spectacular, to say the least. With white sand and turquoise blue waters on either side of the road, it is a photographer’s delight. The ocean road starts getting narrower until you finally reach the end point where you are surrounded by water on all sides. And the best time to experience this is early morning to make the best use of light and avoid the crowd. Mythology says that Lord Ram and his army of monkeys built the stone bridge to attack Lanka from this point (called Ram Setu or Adam’s bridge). The end of the road has a large Indian national flag and the three lions emblem (the official emblem of India). After spending some time here interacting with another rider from Europe, I was on my way towards the land’s end of India - Kanyakumari.
The ride was mostly a highway run till Tuticorin, a port city famous for its pearl divers and macarons (not the French president). From Tuticorin, I was riding thru village roads along the coast, a lot of salt pans and a nuclear power plant! On some stretches there were dark red soil forests with its innumerable palm trees and quaint churches. Once again a mesmerising landscape. By 2 P.M, I was approaching the end of the land and the converging point of the three seas - the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and the mighty Indian Ocean thru India’s second longest highway - NH 44.
The landscape of Kanyakumari can leave you spellbound. While there is blue water all around, it also has lakes, rivers, hills, paddy fields, windmills, rubber plantations, flora and fauna. You can catch the sunrise and the sunset over the sea at the same place! Needless to say it ranks high on the list of must visit places in India.
From Kanyakumari, it was time to bid adieu to Tamilnadu and enter God’s Own country - Kerala.
To be continued in my next post…