Saturday, July 14, 2018

Life on the slow track …


Life on the slow track …

After ‘How I got those bloodsuckers off my A*s*’ went viral and got me a lot of flattering as well as a few not so flattering feedback, the pressure to continue to post on my travels has been very high.

That trek up the Kumara Parvatha was undoubtedly the highlight of my experiences.  Actually, it was meant to be a post talking about a very deep spiritual encounter but turned out to be some kind of a thriller and veiled corporate bashing.  

Perhaps I have not been able to convey what I actually set out to convey. Some other time, I will attempt to elaborate what a profound spiritually uplifting experience it was. 

For now as I am settling into this ‘Life on the slow track’ mode there have been a lot of amazing learnings and experiences that I am waking up to. 

Of course, It is not all that hunky dory.   

I know there a’int going to be another fat pay check at the end of the month into my bank account.
I know I need to keep track of the income and expenses diligently.
I know Amma and Appa are not exactly proud of having me home every day.

But of course, there is so much that I have enjoyed in this short time, that I wonder why it took me this long.

The travel bug had bitten me and I was on this unplanned trip travelling Dakshin Karnataka region making much use of the Konkan railway network. 

Sitting by the ‘Aapatkaalin khidki’ – the emergency window on the Karwar express on a nearly empty train on a weekday morning and watching the lush greenery and the stations pass by was a pleasant experience by itself. There were about a dozen people in all in the entire compartment meant for seventy two.  Most of them had alighted at Mangalore.

Every time the train passed through a tunnel and darkness engulfed the entire compartment, some naughty kids (or perhaps adults) let out that shrill shreiky noise indicating joy and horror at the same time. The noise amplified as it echoed through the tunnel.  It would stop when the train emerged out of the tunnel.  It happened every time we passed a tunnel.

That brought back the child in me.

With no one to watch or judge anywhere in the near vicinity I too joined them in gay abandon and shrieked my throat and heart out.  By the time we had passed the fifth or the sixth tunnel, my throat was hoarse and my heart was light.

The last time I did this I was perhaps nine or ten years old. That time we were passing the long tunnel at lonavala / khandala enroute to Pune.  

The Mumbai – Pune expressway was not built then.  

Neither was the Konkan railway. 

Konkan railway – the one legacy that we did not inherit from the British is one of its true 'Make in India' engineering marvel through the nineties. And a true delight to travel in and experience the beauty of the Western Ghats especially in the monsoons.

As the train stopped by at almost every station with station names that I did not know doubled up as surnames, I learned that the Bijoors and the Bhatkals, the Padubidris and the Moodbidris, Hattiangadis and the Hemmadis that I have known in my life had ancestors who belonged to this place. You learn something new everyday. 

The train slows down and stops at the station. An elderly couple who are the inhabitants of my compartment prepare to alight the train.  As I help them with their luggage, I peep out of the compartment door to see the name of this quiet and quaint train station. 

Udupi.

For being such an iconic restaurant brand and being the temple town of Udupi Sri Krishna , it is surprising  that its railway station is so unassuming and quiet.  I began humming ‘Krishna ne begane baaro’ without being conscious of it. A composition made famous by the singer Hariharan (and  many others before him), dedicated to Udupi Sri Krishna. 

On a whim, I made note of visiting Udupi on my way back from Kodachadri which was the destination  I was travelling to on that day. 

Two days later, after a visit to the Kollur Mookambika temple on the foothills of Kodachadri and a jaw dropping jeep ride followed by a trek to the Kodachadri mountains, I check out of the hotel and ask for the way to the Kollur bus stop. 

My next destination is Udupi.

It is about 1.30 in the afternoon and the sleepy town of Kollur has gone into a siesta mode. 

Dark clouds pregnant with rain pass by the hills as well as the plains.  A soothing silence and peace has engulfed this little town. The only irritant is the noisy wheels of my luggage that I am wheeling down to the bus stop on an uneven and pot hole filled road.
‘Shall I arrange for an auto to the bus stop madam’, asks the hotel security guard, perhaps irritated by the noisiness of the wheels disturbing the siesta time of Kollur town. ‘Twenty-five rupees only’ he adds. 

‘I am in no hurry’, I tell him and wheel my luggage noisily through the next 500 metres to the bus stop. 

'I am in no hurry' - somehow saying that loud, feels so liberating.  

I walk up to the Kollur bus station and sit inside the only bus that was to leave for all places outside of Kollur which included Udupi.  The driver is having a siesta on the long front seat and the conductor is out smoking a cigarette.  For now, I am the only passenger on-board.

The conductor welcomes me into the bus as though I was a first class passenger on an international airline and then he quickly disappears to gather any other passenger that is travelling out of Kollur.

Sadly, he does not find any.

I have a lovely window seat and the seat beside it to spread myself out. I tug my luggage safely to the iron railing and sit comfortably cross legged occupying both the seats. I open a pack of masala nippattu (a local snack item) and start noisily munching it. 

As I am taking in the view of the lush green mountains and the slight nip in the moist air of Kollur, the bus takes off.  

The bus stops. Not at designated bus shelters but anywhere where a potential passenger has put out his or her hand for the bus to stop. 

Burkha clad ladies accompanying their little daughters and sons back from school get into the bus and get off at the next stop. 

From there on it is a steady change in demographic profile of passengers. I am probably the only long-distance passenger seated on the bus.  
  
I take in the lazy experience of watching from my window seat the landscape as it changes from the greenery of the mountains to the barrenness of the plains especially when the bus takes the route on that recently constructed National highway - NH44.  The freshly felled trees are an indication of the newly built National highway that pierces through this place that would be expanded into an eight-lane highway.  

On the yet to be expanded national highway are huge billboards advertising gold and diamond jewelry showrooms, neo-rich educational institutions guaranteeing 100% job placements and infertility clinics with 99.8% success rate of producing children for infertile couples.

The traffic gets dense as the long vehicles from the Mangalore port, the trucks, the tourist buses and the plush cars whiz past at dizzying speeds.

The landscape of the coastal plains is a complete contrast to the mountains. The weather is warm and humid. There is a saline tinge to the air. It does not do much to soothe my nerves. I have been travelling for a good four hours on a rickety KSRTC bus when I arrive at a noisy, busy bus station. That is when the conductor calls out for passengers alighting at Udupi to hurry up.

Udupi bus station was the exact opposite of the train station that I fell in love with, a couple of days before, when I started humming ‘Krishna nee begane baaro…’ a composition on Sri Krishna, the reigning lord of Udupi when my train halted at Udupi railway station.  

There was no song humming in my mind when I arrived at the bus station. The traffic, the noise, the crowd, the billboards and the pollution hit me hard. Messily handling my heavy back pack and hip pouch, I alight at the bus station and ask a school girl, the way to Udupi Sri Krishna temple.  Without uttering a word, she walks a few steps ahead and points out to the auto rickshaw stand behind the building. I thank her and take an auto rickshaw to my destination.  

I have never been here before.  I do not have any bookings or reservations and in general no agenda, except to see and experience the place. 

For someone who until recently was driven by a calendar full of meetings invites, inbox overflowing with emails and notepad full of ‘things to do’ list, this feels revengefully liberating.

‘Arriving at a new place with no agenda and with nothing to do’… this was a longtime dream come true moment.     

After the auto rickshaw driver drops me till the drop off point besides the Sri Krishna Mutt, I do not know what to do.

I have arrived at my destination for the day. 
  
I spot a tourist information center nearby. They are about to close for the day, when I stop a man, probably a high ranking official in Karnataka tourism. For some reason he starts the conversation with me in Hindi and I merrily carry on.

I let him know I am a solo traveler and would like to look at a simple accommodation for the night while I visit the Udupi temple.

He does give me the same skeptical look that others have given me when I tell them, I am a single woman travelling alone. He asks me if I have proof of identity and if I am a ‘Hindu’. 
After a brief conversation he gives me the reference of Uttaradi mutt, which is just round the corner, where there may be rooms available.

I thank him, note down his name and title and wheel my back pack along to Uttaradi mutt.  A ‘China Bazaar’ shop selling cheap plastic items and fake Puma track suits for 200 rupees camouflages the entrance to the Uttaradi mutt.     

However, as you enter the Mutt, a different aura engulfs you.  The front yard is decorated with   Tulsi alcove. (Basil – shrub considered to be Sri Krishna’s consort). A woman renunciate, a Krishna devotee is arranging the flowers and the copper vessels that would be used to offer the evening pooja to the Tulsi Alcove. 

Inside the mutt is a big hall and on the first floor are rooms available to rent. As I approach the person at the Mutt’s office, he asks me the same questions as the high ranking official at the tourist information center, before handing me the keys to the room. 

It is a rather spacious room with freshly laundered bedsheets on the double bed, and a spotlessly clean bathroom.  All for a pittance. That is all I need for the day. No frills like air conditioning, bottled mineral water, a flat screen television with a thousand channels, a stocked up mini bar or room service.  

I have had my fill of them in my previous life.

I am apologetically told that the hot water service is from 4 am to 8 am and then later in the evening from 5 pm to 8 pm. In this humid sweltering heat of the coastal plains, hot water is the last thing I need.  I take a shower in the cold water and feel fresh like a flower. 

This is ‘Krishna’ land.  In keeping with the tradition, I decide to dress up and flaunt my feminity. To the temple, I wear a handwoven Bengal cotton white and red saree. On the way to the temple I buy myself some Champaka flowers whose heady fragrance can actually trigger  a headache, if you are not particularly used to that fragrance.

As I step out of Uttaradi Mutt, I take in the grandeur of the Vaishnavaite temples and their architecture. Around the temple are various institutions run by various ‘Mutt’s who are headquartered in Udupi, one of the top five Krishna temples in India.  

Intricately carved wood work, delicately designed entrances and grandly lit facades speak of an ancient culture that must have once thrived in this temple town giving artistes and art forms prestigious platform to express and showcase their art.   



…. Life on the slow track will continue as I ramble on with my travel …
Stay tuned for the next one  scheduled for next friday ... .   

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