'Spark' goes riding ! - Satyen Poojary
PART 2: The Return Trip (Chennai to Mumbai)
(read part 1 here)
I meet Anup. We start discussing about a zillion things, mostly about the bike, the trip so far, the plans ahead and the road conditions and some about bachelor hood.Though he flew down to Chennai, he still was keen to know about my journey. I guess like they say, "You can take the men away from their bikes, but you can't take the bikes away from them" We finally decide to call it a day after hopelessly failing in trying to find one hindi/english channel on the TV. Some time early morning, another friend, the Highway man - Dr. Arnob Gupta also reaches the Guesthouse. We avoid disturbing him considering he has barely had any sleep (ok that's a lie, we disturb him!)
Having reached Chennai, I knew I only had this day until evening to go sight seeing, and sight seeing we do. I mean whatever little we can. The sight seeing included the trip to a Pizza joint, as the preferred southie food joint didn't have adequate parking space.The sight seeing also included some shopping and a much needed shave! Before we knew it was time to do what we were here for. Attend the reception ceremony. While in the reception, I realize that the wedding is the next day at 8. But little I knew, it was 8 in the morning and not 8 in the evening. An ordinary man would crib about lack of sleep, but I sense an opportunity. An opportunity to make a run to Hampi! A place where I promised the sculptures, the magnificent ruins that I would be back. You see the last time I was here (as a teen) I had forgotten my camera. I had actually scouted the entire city to get something more than the stupid 36 pics restricted film camera.
We attend the wedding, come back, take some rest and I leave Chennai by 12.
I was warned about the bad conditions of the road, and was adviced to take the road via Bengaluru. Its a nice experience, taking the same road that you took a night before but this time in day light. If the roads were fantastic in the evening, the roads should be fantastic in day light too. But sadly every Indian metro is blessed with some superb administration, and consequently 'Traffic'. I reach Bangalore by late noon. Here I meet a long lost friend of mine near Electronic city. Its nothing short of amazing that with these old friend you can start a conversation right from where you had left it long long ago. Sadly we both were short of time, I was a man on a mission, he had taken a break from the challenges within the office cubicle. We leave for our ways, knowing very well that a lot has changed, but we still know where the next discussion would begin from (I certainly hope it won't be "You gained weight" again!)
This time, I take the NICE road and exit Bangalore. I get back to NH4 and starts throttling my way away from the city, towards my new destination. Its gotten dark, but a Hyundai Verna gives me good company till the bellary bypass. We both indulge in some brisk motoring, guarding each other from the perils on the road.
By the time I reach the bypass, I have a few bars of fuel left. This would last for some 60KMs I calculate. This is one errie strech for a lot of reasons. You see the moon rising, right from the horizon, the scary part isn't this. The scary part is the howling winds, and animals. You'd see tyre marks disappearing into nowhere and reappearing from no where. I so wanted to click a picture of the moon, I even stopped there. "You shouldn't stop here" said someone, I didn't bother finding if it was mind playing tricks on me or some thing else, I quietly tucked the camera away and proceeded. My hunt for fuel is as successful as Indias hunt for the football worldcup. I am told I can get loose fuel from the village. I reach the village but the people have little stock. I decide I'd rather move on. Not the smartest thing to do considering that in a spooky place like this, the last thing you would want is to be stranded with a big bike like this. I ride one, and finally get one bunk where I fill the tank up. India might be an over populated stretch but on these roads the habitats disappear with a twist of the throttle. I am back on the spooky roads, this time though am not stressed of being stranded for the want of fuel. I promise myself that I would eat something in the next stop. I end up skipping atleast a dozen stops. Finally hunger takes a priority and I stop at a small restaurant which is shutting down. I make do with a few cup of teas and some glucose biscuits.
I answer the never ending questions and proceed for hospet. The locals warn me against riding the hospet hampi stretch as there were some recent episodes of lootings. I continue my ride, and call it a day at hospet. I find myself the smallest possible room with the smallest possible bathroom and settle down. The bathroom just wide enough to allow entry to someone who wears less than 44" sized shirt. I kid you not. Its tricky entering this corner. I have a nice shower inform my folks about my plan and whereabouts. Tomorrow - Hampi !
The next morning I wash my bike and proceed for Hampi. The bike gets a bigger bathroom than its master!
Hospet to Hampi is a sad stretch, plagued with potholes. If not the looting, then the potholes definitely made the decision to stay back a very sensible one. A stop for some coconut water later, the familiar gates to the city greets me. This is also the first time in the journey that a cop asks me to pull over. Strangely the cop stopped me perhaps only because he is curious to know more about the bike and why does it have a Maharashtra number. He doesn't check my license, or any other documents. I answer him patiently, like I have to all those questions so far. I proceed near the heart of the city - Virupaksha temple.
Finding a lodge here isn't very difficult, a chap takes me to one place where another lady convinces me how her villas are much better thanks to the river view. I see the point, the place is very homely, and decently comfortable. It doesn't have a TV, but atleast it has a bigger bathroom! I dump my luggage, and transform into the tourist mode. I randomly scout places on the bike. You can rent a TVS XL50 here, I didn't. Behind the Virupakhsa temple, there's a hidden hotel called "Mango Tree"; its one of the better places to dine.
Its here that am offered the tourist map by another alien tourist. I was alien due to the warship, he was alien due to the tone of his skin. We chit chat about the journey so far over the delicious early lunch. His has been a much more interesting journey though. I pay for our food as a reciprocating gesture to his generosity. I know I have very little time to cover this vast Vijayanagar empire. I set out to accomplish the new mission objectives. See whatever little I can, honour my promise of capturing them through my lenses and leave the next day morning.
I spent the day trying to capture memories, trying to revive memories of my last journey. Ironically the monolithic structures might not have changed, but the city has. Its a lot more crowded as compared to my last visit. Blessed with the map, and super Paper Map processing abilities I ensure if not use it for directions, I would atleast use it as a checklist of things to see. I spend the evening with the ageless timeless beauties. The sculptures. Although I have a checklist, there have been places where I have spend a lot of time
in some select places. This in complex maths mean that I cannot cover all the places in the map/checklist. But worry not, as this is the perfect reason for a second visit. I stare at bounce of the glow on the rocks from the setting sun, pondering about the journey so far.. the place is just surreal. And the light fades into the carpet of darkness, I plan my ride back in the mind. Its simple: take the diversion to NH4 and stay put. I confirm from dad if the riots have now eased out. No way would I like another blow on my head. Luckily dad confirms that the issue is being resolved and the blockades have now been removed. On second thoughts imagine me reaching there and being stranded there again. That would also expose my fib about having gone to chennai to 'deliver' the bike!
Then my avid traveller dad sends a follow up message. Its another route. A route that pushes me a bit away from home, but he adds a disclaimer that the road conditions may not be top notch. The route is via Kushtegi, Aihole, Pattadanakal, Badami, if am lucky I would get to see the Golgumbaz as well, then via Sholapur I come to Pune, and then home. All this is too much for a day. Considering these are some very historic places, and as much I hated history in school, I just love visiting a place, understand its culture, its heritage, and even the diluted heritage that todays "well educated", "well informed" people cook up.
I take a chance, I send a SMS to my boss if I could extend the trip by one day. He would approves of it later in night. I jump of the bed, and pull out the map book and plot the return journey *cough*
So its set, the plan being executed is nothing like what it was originally supposed to be, but its getting better and better! I leave Hampi faster than I entered the city! Little did I know that the word "Kushtegi' is perhaps derived from the Hindi word "Kushti' (Wrestling) the roads are anything between horrible and terrible. Then suddenly you have some good patches which symbolises the modern Indian scientific way of laying roads. You see we believe in equality. So the driving/riding experience wouldn't be biased. They ensure that the road is laid on one side, and a few meters ahead on the other side. So you have to do the infinite S turns. Which on this bike mean, blip-brake-swerve-jump/hump/jump/hump-swerve-blip! This continues for a while. Finally on one such straight stretch I take a break for brunch. Curd rice. Am blessed with the same set of questions here as well, infact by now you can conveniently assume that every break so far and hereon will result into the same set of FAQs!
I answer them as quickly as I gobble up the only food for today. I bid a bye and am back on the road without wasting time. The roads however are still treacherous. Infact the roads here are even worse. They have been literally scrapped off for the process of laying the new spread. Have you ever tried peeling of scotch tape? Ever noticed how its traces of glue are left out occasionally, that's exactly how much of road was left over! And then there are these occasional speed breakers. Yes. Speed breaker. On those battered roads. Either its someones cruel sense of humour, or its perhaps a ancient relic that referred to the glorious past of the road when it did need a huge speed breaker like this! I take the diversion for Aihole. The roads narrower but better and traffic free. There's a stretch where you have the majestic sunflowers on one side of the road glaring at you. On a green bike, this is a sight to see! I mean its a sight to see anyway, but on a green bike its just more special. I reach Aihole.
Legend goes that its here that the great Parshurama had washed his axe after culling all the Kshatrias. I've also been told that this place is considered to be the primary school of sculpting. Infact its very evident as well. The place has sculpture mushrooming at every nook and corner. The village has some 125 temples. These have been divided into 22 groups by the Archaeological Department. One needs atleast a day here to do justice to the beauty of this place. Sadly time is at a premium.
I continue riding, stopping wherever I see something interesting. I take diversions only to see a point and come back on the main road. There is loads of sculptures to see here, some still in perfect condition, some broken, some which were never finished. Some of these are as old as early 5 century!
I continue my ride to Pattadakal which is 10KMs away from here. However, historically, I am also proceeding to the place which is considered the secondary school of rock cut architectures. I am time travelling to see the creations from the next century. Pattadakal. The place is named so for a reason, "Kal" means stone, and Pattada signifies Coronation. This is the place of Coronation of the ancient Chalukya kings. The structures here are very vivid. You would see the ancient South Indian style of architecture, and right next to it another temple which shows the sharp fierce Aryan style of architecture. I am no expert on this art and so I would not pretend to be one too, but notice the pictures and you would know. I am told that this temple is the exact replica of the Sun temple, and the legend goes that they practised the creation here before making the full blown model in Puri. Impressive nonetheless. Then there is a third temple, which benefits from both these distinct styles. No wonder Pattadakal is recognised as a world heritage site.
Apart from the sculptures of the King and his wives the carvings also show us the stories, the lifestyle and ofcourse the culture and cultural values of the place. On one pillar you will see a scene from Ramayana, and on another you would see the story about the Crocodile and Monkey. Something that we learnt in the elementary school, and conveniently forgot. What a way to ensure that these lessons would never be forgotten. And we think we have state of the art technologies. I spend some time here as I know Badami is a huge place and I might not be able to cover it in detail. Which is good considering that this too is a perfect reason to come back again.
I explore the place, have some refreshments and proceed for badami. By the time I reach Badami, it is only 15 minutes for the gates to the caves be shut. Considering the vast spread, they know 15 minutes are not enough to cover the place and hence don't issue me a gate pass. I plead, but they won't budge. They allow me to roam around however and pixellate. I click some pics, grab some tea and think if its wise to stay overnight here and then explore. The wise man there says that exploring the cave would mean atleast 8hours. Time. Which I don't have.
I proceed with a promise to come back. I aim for Pune. But the roads are now plagued with heavy vehicles. And the roads are as bad. This entire stretch is horrendous and mostly single laned. The traffic just makes it worse. I reach Solapur at the wee hours, and am told that I can take a detour toward Paithan where the roads are better. I don't. I proceed. This gives me enough times to gather my thoughts. I take the night halt near pune in a cheap cozy lodge. The first time I've seen someone who is not interested in the bike. He just sees it, dismisses it and offers me the room with hot water and a free wake up call.
The next day, I ride to pune, meet some friend, do some more biking and before the sun sets, I am back at home. Mumbai.
What was planned as a grand trip, but then executed as a mad run to Chennai has now turned into a pleasant surprise. Its weird how life teaches you lessons, whether or not you are willing to learn. This entire journey has been an epilogue of many such small, true but real lessons. Go ahead. Ride. Explore. Says the voice from inside.
- Author: by PTR