I decided to go all alone. Going to a place you've never been might fill a sort of mixed emotions in you, but you never know to what emotion you hold on to when needed. So, with all things in place, I boarded the train, from Cuddalore to Kanyakumari, the first place on my wander-list.
Although the afternoon outside was bright and soothing, the vibe of an almost empty coach, heading towards an unfamiliar destination was giving little creeps to me.
I was working on a Science Train project. A Science on Wheels to be precise. The project was scheduled to cover sixty-two stations of India, all in seven months. All stations had almost every state to its list.
I was recruited to stand, interpret, speak…shout, and argue, for the whole seven hours. But things would go really worse when the crowd would flood in especially during the last few hours.
The work culture that felt fancy at the beginning turned out glitchy later. All in all, the routine was getting brutally exhausting.
I was desperate to run out somewhere, anywhere, probably into nature for a short nature-therapy. I even started daydreaming myself lying on a beach like a seal soaking up the sun till the dusk breaks in.
I made the train booking but it was the first time when I paid no attention to logistics as running out as soon as possible was my priority. Now that I was already on the train, my only concern was my arrival time.
It was 2013, and smartphones were just beginning to intrude into our privacies. I got my own reasons, skeptics to be precise, for not using a smartphone. One of which is it's an absolute time-killing invention.
I learned it long back when I was using an iPod touch. It had all the features of iPhone including App store but limited to WiFi connectivity only. No cellular network, and still I used to take it out from my pocket for a quick swipe and scroll for no underlying reason at all.
Well, I had a bigger and a bulkier alternative to a smartphone called Laptop, which too served the purpose of checking Google maps and train schedules well. Noted! The train was expected to reach by 3:30 AM. "Damn! That's too early."
There was a dead silence around. The train wasn’t moving. “Am I alone in the compartment?” The thought scared me a little.
I peeked around but nobody was there. All I could outside was a container train blocking all the possible light sources. Windows on the other side proved to be the only light source into the compartment.
I checked the time on my mobile. It was 3:35 of the Morning. "This is it!" I whispered. "My last stop", that was freakingly dark and scanty. And here I am, still lying on my seat, waiting to get robbed for I was damn unlucky to get the last coach of the train, that came to a halt right on the extreme other end of the station. Damn! The last person didn't even bother to wake me up before getting down.
I picked up my luggage and emptied the coach. Outside the coach, I was facing an empty track and a high wall next to it. I quickly made a move by taking the bridge to get over to the first platform.
As soon as I climbed down the bridge I was able to see my refuge, an entrance into a well-lit hall. I was freaking out while walking towards the hall. The place was poorly lit with only things in view were container trains and the overgrown grass on the wall beside the track.
There was a freshness in the air, I was able to sense in it the beauty of the place. The only bad, it was empty like a Post-Zombie apocalypse!
I stopped confronting two stone pillars painted in yellow and black. It was displaying the name of a town in three different languages.
I gave myself a moment, just to get over the excitement of standing at the southern tip of the gigantic landmass of Asia. Spending a few minutes there I made a move towards the hall.
Apart from one or two, there wasn't much movement going around. The time was 3 past 45 minutes. I simply had no guts to step out, so I decided to wait inside the hall till the dawn breaks out.
There was no waiting room. The metal chairs put in rows were the only recliners to rest upon. Keeping all my luggage on one chair, I closed my arms around my backpack and I started to struggle for a nap.
It was 4:30 now. The place saw little movement, a preparation for the day, and a sign that I can step out soon. My immediate concern was to see the hands lifting the shutters of the tea shop. There was another shop next to the tea shop that was selling Himachal Apples and Juice. Felt good to see that Himachal Pradesh found its spot right on the extreme other end of the land.
A cup of tea eased my body a little of the shivers due to the cold metal chair. I was done sitting at the place for more than an hour. It was still dark outside. The hotel I googled was just a few steps away from the station, but...still, it was dark outside, and there could be dogs out there. Those Hindi words to beat off the dogs accustomed to Tamil won't work here I was afraid.
Another half an hour, and more people were moving in and out. I picked my luggage and started marching towards the hotel.
The hotel person, like everywhere else, cramped himself to sleep on the inner side of the reception. A comfy tidy room was my need, but I also had to make sure that I in any way shouldn't upset the hotel person for pulling him out of his deep sleep. Still, I gathered all my energy and, in a softest of my voice, I called him to awake.
"Sir" I repeated for at least a minute with intermittent silence. "I need a room!"
He got up sluggishly and threw a word in his rough voice. "Yes!"
After a brief silence, he asked my father's mobile number. Now that's weird! He asked me to call my father to confirm that I am my father's son!"
Dad! I am sorry to call you this early. Actually, I am in Kanyakumari right now, in a hotel. Can you just confirm my identity to this person?"
I passed on the phone to the hotel person. He got his final word and disconnected the phone.
"Keys please!!!" I muttered."
No, I don't understand you, I don't give you room!" The hotel person replied.
I must have heard something wrong!
"I don't understand you!" His English with grammatical errors scared the hell out of me.
"But you just got your word from my father?"
"Yes! But I don't understand you!"
He made up his mind to not offer me a room at any cost. I started boiling in my words.
"What nonsense is this?" "I called my father this early, only to hear no from you?"
"I don't understand you, I don't give you room." I assumed he was done with his vocabulary.
"I don't understand you, I don't give room." He left me no choice left but to bang his head on the reception table. Lol! I cannot!
I made a last attempt by threatening him of a police complaint. A useless attempt!
"Aaa! Go, man. I don't understand you."
Helpless I walked out of the hotel in extreme disparity.
Now begins the real fun, an adventure of a lifetime I should say. It was 5 past 30. I was standing in the middle of the road, wondering what to do in a place like this, which speaks the language I don't understand, and a road was reminding the movies of 80s' as if it's going to end into a coconut farm.
I cannot lose hope so soon, I simply cannot. I turned left and started walking as it appeared a little crowded this way. The mind see-sawed between hope and uncertainty. My walk saw the place getting rid of the darkness over time.
I reached another hotel. This time I was very much polite and honest in my words than before. The hotel person without wasting a second passed a lightning bolt saying, "no room!"
Shattered, I begged for the room, or at least do something for me."I don't understand you, I don't give room." Those words were still ringing in my ears. Fortunately, I heard something nice this time. A rough voice spoke the nicest words since morning, "I trust you!"
He told me what happened around a few days back. I was shocked to hear what he told.
He agreed to help find a room in another hotel. I followed his steps, through lanes, to another hotel. He conveyed my urge to the hotel person for a room. They were speaking Tamil, but I sensed reliability in their conversation. He asked my ID for a Xerox which I handed it over quickly without a second thought. Phew!!!
The hotel appeared descent. People check the cleanliness, neatness of a room. What I check? Western toilet over Indian!
After all that happened in the morning, I shouldn't ask this, still, I did. "Can I just check the room?" He agreed. I rushed in, took a glimpse of the room and jumped over my priority! Yup! a creamy-tiled, well-ventilated, spacious, Western Toilet! I am in! I even ignored the bed-bugs on sight!
I got a room on the third floor. I still had no idea how far I was from the shore. The room had no balcony. There was a small window placed at an elevated level for ventilation, just above the bed. I climbed the bed to open the windows. What came in view was difficult to interpret. It appeared something greyish and was moving. I paid a little more attention. That wavy-greyish thing was nothing but the sea waves.
I jumped back to the bed in excitement and tried to get little sleep. I was more stressed than tired. Eventually, I tried and tried and went on to freshen up.
Outside the hotel, I stood facing the sun. The light was beautifully bright, soft, and inviting. It energised me a little. I decided to wander through lanes and discover the shore by myself instead of asking the direction.
I entered a lane that had shops on both sides one of which was serving Parathas. Parathas always make up the best breakfast. My friend once told me that if you are travelling to a new place, you should always try the local food or something that is a specialty of the region, which in Kanyakumari was all sorts of South Indian dishes. So without any second thought, I ordered Parathas, as I got further two days ahead to try the local food I assumed.
I finished my food and continued walking through lanes. Finally, my walk brought me close to a hotel named 'Sea view'.
To the right side of the hotel was a high wall stretched quite far away till it merged with a wall of a temple. I was able to feel the crash of ocean waves on the backside of the hotel. To its left were few shops, with the last shop being a ticket counter for the boat jetty.
The movement I stepped ahead of the ticket counter, I saw the most awe-inspiring nature thing ever. It was all blue waters, the view that was obscured by the tin shed of the counter, still, I could see the beautiful ocean, and the legs stoned in the middle of the ocean. I deliberately took small steps towards the coast. As soon as I came over the open ground, the stoned feet rose to a majestically tall statue.
It was a statue of a man sculpted and made to stand on a small island around 400 meters from the main coast. It was the statue of Thiruvalluvar, or the , a 133-feet tall stone sculpture of the Tamil poet and philosopher Valluvar, author of the Tirukkural, an ancient Tamil work on secular ethics and morality.
The view was magnificent. The sparkling blue waters and the clear blue sky above being mysteriously merged into one at the horizon. The waters taking over my view was named as Triveni Sangam.
The word ‘ Triveni’ means the confluence of three rivers. Here the term applied to the confluence of three different water bodies i.e. the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean.
It's quite a mystery as to why the very first view of the scenic nature such as the one I was witnessing at the moment never fails to enthrall. Possibly a lot of our time these days goes in and around those lifeless objects that somehow keeps us blindfolded from the real world. It is the reason why we literally have to spare time to pull ourselves out and get into nature to pump little life into our routine.
I spent three days in Kanyakumari, exploring almost every nook and corner around my stay. I even discovered a bench sitting over a cliff located far away from the hustle-bustle of the town, where I spent my remaining two days enjoying the large blue waters filling the view from this end to that end while reading the 'The Alchemist'.
Next stop, Alappuzha, better known as Alleppey - the land of backwaters located in the heart of Kerala. I book the train ticket to Allepey.
Toppling through the academics, I always worried about waking up early during examinations. There my mom's words would come as a sigh of relief. She would say that if you convince your mind that tomorrow is a big day and I must wake up early, you simply don't need alarm clocks to do the job.
Next day, the train to Alleppey was scheduled to leave at 7 in the morning from Kanyakumari station, and it was no less than a big day. To the safer side, I set an alarm of 5: 30. And going by the words of my mom, I woke up at 7:30! Well, the incident helped me learn the importance of setting multiple alarms!
I handed over the keys at the reception counter and gave a heartful of thanks to the hotel person for letting me in on the first day.
I reached the station and picked a ticket to Alleppey. Luckily, the train was scheduled to start its journey at 9. I boarded the train and it was nearly empty. It was 8:30 now! Another half an hour to go!
It would always come as a minor shock every time I recall the reason why I was helplessly roaming on the streets of Kanyakumari on the first day. There was another solo traveller like me who arrived in the town a couple of days before me, told the person who helped me to get a place to stay. He booked a room in one hotel and committed suicide by hanging himself to the ceiling fan.
He told me that the police released a circular into all the hotels specifying not to entertain any of the solo travellers into their hotels. It could be the reason why the first hotel person dropped his idea of giving me the hotel room.
What would I do if I don't get a place to stay! A cold wave rushed entire my body, and I shivered in no time. I was begging to trust me. It took a while for me to win his trust, and finally, I heard the unexpected, "I trust you!" That is where I decided I will never ever step into any new place until the stay is confirmed.
First Kanyakumari, then Alleppey, and then Kochi and unfortunately my next stop, Munnar, got dropped out of the plan due to the landslide that blocked the roadways in time that clashed well with my plan...😞...Anyways, no regrets, just hopes to revisit and explore the trails left unexplored.
I booked the train to Madurai on my fourth day in Kochi! The journey began with the chirping and whistling of birds that seem to have taken shelter inside the thick green covers of Kerala.