Tamil Tales is the series of experiences from my recent backpacking trip to the state of Tamil Nadu (TN). Hoping you would enjoy the journey as I take you through the inner echoes on outer experiences.
Needed a break so was planning a trip somewhere in the North as usual but ended up booking tickets for Chennai almost at the eleventh hour! Though I had 5 days to prep.. they were 5 office working days!! It was a backpacking trip so travel light was the mantra and now with some practice in backpacking was able to do so. The tentative itinerary was chalked and checked intra-state transport just a day before! When it comes to travel especially backpacking, I believe to go with the flow- a break from the otherwise planned routine. So, with a vaccination certificate, Tamil Nadu’s e-pass and other formalities boarded the flight to Chennai. I was setting my foot at Chennai airport for the first time, it was vacant and peaceful owing to the pandemic situation. At the baggage belt, there was one beautifully arranged Golu- a festive display of dolls and figurines. Picked up the luggage and the journey started. The journey was memorable in more than one way- dynamic itinerary due to COVID protocols and weather changes, food I had, people I met, and most importantly experiences I had.
I was at the bus stop waiting for Chennai to Kanyakumari travel. From the pleasant Pune to irksome Chennai weather change was drastic. For a moment I thought did I make the correct decision of TN backpacking? I mean who does it?? As some of my friends had said. To ignore that thought I started a conversation with a lady in her mid-50s sitting next to me. So used to Hindi, that I forgot I’m in TN she’s like ‘No Hindi Kuncham English’. I asked her where is she from? And with a broad smile, she narrated her story- born and brought up in a place near Colombo Sri Lanka, married to a Tamilian, and settled in Chennai. How they coped up with being childless for years after marriage and how they made the courageous decision for that time and adopted a son, educated him, he has a stable decent job, married, and has a daughter now. Her husband passed away a few years back it was roughly 35+years of companionship. I can only imagine how much she must be missing her husband. Upon being asked how she’s finding life without him being around, she took a pause probably to swallow a lump or so, and the next moment her smile was back she said memories with him and time with granddaughter give her strength to go on and her daily work keeps her busy. I didn’t know what to say so just smiled back. She held a “mogra gajra” (garland for hair) in front of me and said have this from me as a gift and before I could say anything she took out a hair clip from her bag and helped me fix it in my hair. Not sure was that her smile, conversation, her gesture of gifting, or all of it, that brought a feeling of wholesomeness. I knew for her that amount she paid for gajra was material but probably the pleasure of giving it was invaluable to her. Blessed she was to have that level of generosity in her heart. The journey later didn’t feel like annoying and the subtle fragrance of mogra accompanied me throughout my bus journey. And when I woke up the next day looking at the clear blue sky through the window I realized even if the flowers dried the fragrance of this human I met, the conversation we had will continue to lit my heart.
My stay at Kanyakumari was quite peaceful and relaxed. Witnessing sunrise and sunset; were the itinerary highlights amongst visiting Swami Vivekananda Rock memorial, Padmanabhan palace, Triveni Sangam, etc. The day I reached I could cover almost all things except sunrise and the memorial. The next day when I woke up for a sunrise view, the rain decided to cloud my hope due to some cyclone effect. However, it couldn’t beat my belief so I decided to go. My hotel manager asked me to carry an umbrella, but I found it ironical. I mean if you so much want to see the sunrise at least believe in your heart that it will come and when it is time for the Sun to come up rain will stop. Isn’t it? Then by carrying an umbrella wouldn’t I would be doubting my own belief? There I was at the sunrise point at 5am dark, cloudy, and drizzling weather without rain-cover or umbrella waiting for the sun to rise. I had heard and read about the sunrise view from Kanyakumari how the orange-colored round pops up in the sky; so was waiting with childlike eagerness. Well, He didn’t come up like that on that day. However, He didn’t totally disappoint me either. The Sun continued playing hide and seek behind the clouds it was more like “chhup gaya badly mi ja k..” moment. As a backstage artist, he continued to hold the cyclone and rains effect until I could check my itinerary; for this, I’m grateful to Him. With regards to “round wali mooh dikhai”, guess he has given me something to back for in Kanyakumari!
Later in the day I visited Swami Vivekanand Rock memorial paid my respects to him, his wisdom, vision, and work. While I was there a memory of visiting Ramkrishna Paramhans Matha in Kolkata peeped in; it was the late 90s. That time I couldn’t comprehend the importance of Guru Ramakrishna’s presence in Swami Vivekananda’s life. Now after these many years I can say how important it is to have the blessings of such Guru who not only quenched the urge for knowledge but also shaped up young Narendra’s mind in such a beautiful way that helped him become Swami Vivekananda and to deliver that iconic speech in Chicago. There is Devi Kanyakumari’s temple on the same premises. Amidst the sea the memorial stands still; the waves bang the rocks with noise and force – that stays outside and inside the memorial all you can hear is silence. I guess at some point in time these waves will also be surrendering to the calmness of this structure. Isn’t it the same with the human mind? If the mind is at peace no matter what chaos is going outside all one can feel is parmananda.
I headed to Rameswaram with a halt for a couple of hours in Madurai. As it was backpacking so opted for local transport. Rain delayed my arrival in Madurai from Kanyakumari had limited time to visit Meenakshi Amman temple, have dinner and come back to catch a bus for Rameswaram. But before that had to check on bus timings and book a ticket too!! Yes, I couldn’t pre-book it due to COVID issues had to rely on on-spot State Transport booking. So as soon as I reached Madurai central bus stand, I looked for Rameswaram bus departure. Trust me it was not easy to locate- with the boards are written in Tamil script looked more like jalebis to me; me being Tamil illiterate, people there not knowing Hindi and few knowing bit of English. Our communication English would go without much usage of auxiliary verbs like this:
Me (to anyone in uniform conductor/driver): Anna, Rameswaram bus?
He (pointing randomly somewhere): There
Me (pointing at my watch): What time?
He (looking puzzled): No time (meaning he doesn’t know the time); go there (again pointing some random direction)
After a couple of re-takes of the above dialogue with different people, I finally reached to correct spot, and thankfully the person there knew a bit of Hindi. He looked like a private tour operator. I recalled my conversation with an auto driver earlier he said “sister, go by state bus, private bus no safety”. I told him I want to go by state bus and was about to leave. He assured me he will keep a seat for Rameswaram in the State-operated bus ‘through his contacts’ additionally he offered to let me keep my rucksack there and visit the temple even helping in calling an auto ride. Just about when I was thinking why he is doing all this, what’s in it for him? He said, ‘madam darshan le lo. Rameswaram sightseeing ke liye cab book kar lena yaha’ Aha… so this was the catch. Considering the time at disposal, I decided to go with his offered help noted his number, took a picture of his office board, noted the auto number he had called, and left for the temple.
Madurai – is called the cultural capital of TN-like any other big city in India it was densely populated, roads were already flooding with vehicles and recent rain has added to the traffic jams. I have heard about the veg food tours in the city but there was no time my mind was focused to visit the temple, dinner, and catch the bus. Even after “dauda dauda bhaga bhag sa” stunt I couldn’t get a view of the main idol as they closed the main temple as per COVID protocols. Never the less whatever I could see of the temple the view mesmerized me with its intricate work, huge gopurams (towers), temple complex – an astounding monument art and architecture combined. Again, with a reason to come back trying to cut through city traffic and to catch a bus for Rameswaram I left the temple premises with a heavy heart. And now wondering… is my luggage safe?? Will I get the bus?? (to be continued…)
Join the journey in the next blog post of the series “Tamil Tales”.
© 31.10.2021 The copyright and other intellectual property rights of this content and pictures are with the author and Soulसंवाद .