Paradox Paradise

Would you still call it nonsense, if sense exchanges its meaning with nonsense?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Another thousand miles

Blisters on your bum can do wonders to your mind. Surprisingly in a good way, provided that you earn those burning blisters in the right way. There are quite a few such good ways on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. This borderline runs across the Western Ghats, which geologically is not a true mountain, but a faulted edge of the Deccan Plateau. Still, at elevations of 3000-6000 ft, the ranges sure give you a true feeling of the mountains. And monsoons are the time to ride through them, if you believe your skin is naturally waterproof.

There are ten excellent routes across the 600 km long Ghats that we have travelled, of which six are on the Kerala – Tamil Nadu border, and the rest four on the Karnataka border. Two of these routes, the Teni-Munnar and Athirapalli-Pollachi, are so frequented by us that we know them as much as we know the streets we ended up living. So much so that, the teashop owners on the route know us, and greet us with ‘It’s been a long time!’ when we pull up. Well, this time, it had been a long time indeed. Even the guard at one of the check posts exhibited his familiarity by asking, “Veettil poyittu varua, alle?” (On the way back from home, eh?) It’s a great to feel home, while on the roads.

If you ask me which is the most beautiful of these ten routes, I’d be fighting in my mind for an answer. Either the Athirapalli-Pollachi route, which has countless waterfalls by your left and right along its 40 hairpin bends, or the Bathery-Ooty route lined with majestic, centenarian Eucalyptus trees could be called the best. Then, the Teni-Munnar and the Udumalaipettai-Marayoor routes are equally good. The Tenmala-Tenkasi and Kumali-Kambam ones are not any less good. The Mysore-Mattannoor and Madikeri-Badiaduka routes too equal in their beauty. It’s a tough time deciding, and an easy time riding. By the way, there’s this overcrowded National Highway 47 that takes you from Palaghat to Coimbatore, through the dried-up, plain land gap in the Western Ghats, which we would never consider taking. All these Ghat routes are pretty much deserted. This time, we hardly saw two or three vehicles, while we were crossing the uninhabited stretches of the route.

There were a couple of unpleasant incidents too for us. In one, we tore our jackets at the elbows. No great fun. But we were happy that we didn’t buy the Rs. 17,000 jackets we had plans to buy. Then the next day morning, we maimed a son-of-a-bitch. A very bad feeling for another few hours. Still, was consoled by the thought that it didn’t tear more of our jackets, or killed that son-of-a-bitch, which didn’t listen to its mommy and was looking only one way while crossing a two-lane National Highway.

Apart from that, and a broken clutch cable – which we changed in a record time, the bike was in as good mood as ours, with its engine sounding like a song. With a puny 350cc engine that’s placed too high on the bike, a Bullet may not make a decent cruiser. Still, the machine is simple and sturdy enough to make a real good companion on the road. It rarely gives problems, and even if it does can be fixed by yourself. The only instance it gave a serious trouble in the 50,000+ km long company so far, was when one of its valves got screwed up. It took an hour to find a mechanic who knows to work on a Bullet, and he took the whole day to change the valve, granting us a great time with chilled beers after chilled beers on that boiling-hot day. The next day morning we woke up and changed the route we had planned, only to have a pretty nice surprise. Instead of a Chennai-Bangalore-Mysore-Ooty-Chennai, we ended up doing a Chennai-Bangalore-Mysore -Madikeri-Bangalore-Chennai. Nothing to complain. The general rule we follow while riding – to ride half the days you have in one direction, and then find another route back, avoiding the roads you already have taken – proved to be the best riding plan. The extra beer was only a treat we deserved. Hope, the roads will never run out.

During monsoons, the greenery of the Western Ghats, especially the South Western montane rain forests, is contagious in every sense of the word. The lush green life almost vaporises into the air, filling it, and filling you in turn. And when the drizzling stops, the mist comes folding you in its cold, moist comfort. As the roads take you winding the hills, one after the other, cute dark green pyramids of little hills turbaned with light, lone, white clouds, play hide and seek with you. When you are riding towards west, there’s nothing much of a chance with the South Western monsoon. It will come pouring, when you least wanted it, right when the wind had dried your wet clothes from the previous shower. But when you are riding to the east, you can play chase with the hovering rain cloud, and can even beat it. On the plains, you have a better chance of winning, than on the hills where every alternate turn will take you back under the clouds. And if you stop for a tea, like the legendary, lazy rabbit, the cloud will take you over, and wait for you to finish the tea to splash its grace on you. And there are times, when you think you have almost left the clouds behind, but still at your heels, and the road takes a right turn, right in to the middle of the cloud. Right then, with a childlike excitement, the clouds shower the rains, and the losers grin a stupid grin, warning each other to be careful on the slippery road.

Once the Ghats are left behind, you are out in the scorching sun again. But, during monsoons, the clouds cover up the sun most time of the day and give you the best riding climate possible on that terrain. Still, the plains are boring in comparison, even with the fresh greenery of the fields, and swelled up rivers that unless stay as depressing stretches of sand dunes most part of the year – credits to over 50 dams that are on the South Western Ghats. When you are back on the National Highway pestered with trucks, and buses, and cars – all of them believe asphalt roads are not for bikes; bikers don’t pay toll at tolled roads, after all – there’s only one thing to look forward to, other than a truck coming against you on your lane. The evening, and the drink.

The drinking dens in Tamil Nadu are very different from the ones you see in the neighbouring states. I have written about them earlier, still they are worth telling again. Through out India, one can find same services offered in different classes, under the same roof. An economically viable colonial hangover. In trains there are up to five different classes of comfort – or discomfort, depending on the end you are looking at – provided, obviously, at five different rates. At a bus station we have three or more different ‘types’ of buses that commute the same routes – equal distances, almost equal speeds, but very different rates. At a restaurant, one can find the cheapest self-service counter, slightly expensive service area, and a premium priced air-conditioned dining area. To substantiate the price difference, and the faithfulness to the colonisers, the plates and uniforms of waiters are kept to match the each class. The food served though, is from the same kitchen. Bars are no exception. But slightly different in Tamil Nadu.

Alcoholic beverage marketing is under the complete control of the state government in Tamil Nadu. All the retail shops are owned and operated by the government, with its employed staff. They are called Wineshops for some strange reason, and sell every alcoholic beverage except the wine. These places don’t serve alcohol, as a rule, but only sell you bottled drinks. There will inevitably be a small shop close to it selling disposable cups and water and cola and pickles. Though, drinking in public is an offence punishable under IPC-268 and IPC-502, I never have heard of an instance of the invoking that law in front of a Wineshop. Apparently, IPC-502 says, Whoever, in a state of intoxication, appears in any public place, or in any place which it is a trespass in him to enter, and there conducts himself in such a manner as to cause annoyance to any person, shall be punished.” You can actually sue someone for talking nonsense, if he/she is drunk.

In contrast to these retail shops, the bars that are licensed to sell and serve alcohol are luxurious. With cosy couches in an air-conditioned hall, and 5 to 6 varieties of snacks on the house with the drink. They also put low wattage bulbs in different colours to lighten up this luxury. The bar we walked into went a step further. They serve every drink, except beer, in wine glasses, may be with the same allusion as of the Wineshops. No, not even brandy glasses. That too with stirrers, which are logically placed upside down in each drink. While paddling in the rum and water in our glasses with the broadened end of the stirrer, my companion said, “the laughs are on the house!” “Very entertaining place,” I replied through the laughter. And there were no more miles to go before we sleep.

Labels: , , ,