I’ve read this about hyper dimensions a long time ago (I’m paraphrasing freely, of course): If you are a species that cannot perceive the dimension of height, then if I slip a hula hoop on your head and place it around your feet, you will be my prisoner forever, because you wouldn’t know how to step over it.
I never learned to ride a bicycle or a scooter or drive a car because way back when I was a teenager, girls were not allowed to learn such things. By the time I was no longer in small town India, the diffidence was overwhelming. “Terrible sense of direction,” I said. “Such a bad sense of space that I’m lethal with the airport cart,” I joked. But really, it was just a hula hoop that imprisoned me.
I am driven everywhere, mostly by men—drivers, friends, and relatives. Even our all-girl trips by road usually has a male driver. Off late, a small percentage of rides are with my girlfriends, but these are strictly within city limits.
So when A suggested a 2000 kilometer road trip, although I concurred excitedly, the “all girl” part of the trip had much bigger significance in my head.
Of course there was enough reinforcement from our environment to make the hula hoop look like a fortress. Wherever I turned, people cautioned me about the safety of it. Making women obsess about safety and crime against women are really the two sides of the same coin, aren’t they?
So it was A who was going to drive the entire distance, with me being the navigator and entertainer, it was decided. She figured out the route and itinerary. She picked up Wai near Satara as the first stop, because you know, how could one pass up a place with such a unique name! The second stop was to be Davangere, a city in central Karnataka, for no other reason than the fact that it was at the two-third point. Our third stop was to be Tiruvannamalai, a holy temple town south of Chennai, only because we had never visited it before. We were to make the short trip to Chennai as the tail end of this journey.
What is Wai?
Although we started two hours later than our ETD on the D-day, we cruised comfortably all the way to Wai due to great roads. We even had to negotiate a hill road after sun down, but it was alright.
Our board for the night was the Ritugandh River View Resort, an idyllic resort on the banks of the Krishna river. There weren’t many guests other than us at the resort on that Wednesday night. We had decent food at the restaurant and retired cozily in our cottage, with the plan of doing some bird watching in the morning.
Morning dawned, sharply cold and misty. The river (not very big there) looked enchanting and pretty. There wasn’t much of a walk really. Still, we hung around for a while, sighting the usual suspects such as coucals, sun birds and king fishers.
We set out to the Dhom dam after a lovely breakfast of poha and eggs (go figure). We found the sluices quickly enough. We got out, walked around a bit, wondering how to get to the top. We spied some narrow and steep granite steps and decided to scamper up although it was behind closed gates.
Well, we wandered into a restricted area and more than that, shocked the dam keepers thoroughly. They made a short work of sending us back down.
We then discovered a beautiful but dilapidated temple dedicated to Narasimha at the foot of the dam. A village school picnic arrived after us. We followed them and found a thoroughfare approach to the dam. The kids literally ran up and down and left even before we reached the top.
The huffing and panting was well worth the effort, for the Dhom lake was breathtaking! It is vast, surrounded by hills and untouched by tourism. We then drove into the heart of the town, where the river ghat is dotted with temples. There wasn’t much of a crowd, so we quickly visited as many as we could manage.
Lavangi Mirchi Kolhapurchi
We left Wai and decided to stop over at Kolhapur for some authentic local food. Zomato suggested Patlacha Wada, a nice restaurant in what seemed like the cantonment area. There is also a stuffed jackal in the restaurant (not on the menu of course)!
Alas, the local food turned out to be far too spicy for me and I was able to eat only the rice and curd on the meals plate. A had more gumption and was more successful.
We had plans to visit the Mahalakshmi temple of Kolhapur, but it was already 3:00 p.m. and we had another 300 kilometers to go. So we decided to drive straight ahead and see whether we can hit Hubli and Unakkal lake by 5:30 p.m.
The highway continued to be fantastic. We were making good time on it, enjoying the sights of prosperous looking towns that passed us such as Karwad. The sugarcane flowers sure are beautiful!
Suddenly, outside Karwad, we heard a weird flapping sound. Turned out that our rear fender had come unstuck (the lock was broken), which made the fender and left mud guard flap ungraciously and loudly in the wind.
We decided to get it repaired in Belgaum. We held the offending fender in place with a couple of kicks and drove slower than desired, lest it should come unstuck again.
Alas, Belgaum did not sport auto mechanics on the highway. We stopped at several places only to be directed to the next one. Finally, one guy told us to get Kwik Fix and stick the fender back on!
We had lost about 45 minutes in this pursuit so Unakkal lake and Chandramouleswara temple seemed unattainable. We decided to keep on driving until Davangere—we had driven after sun down the previous day, so we were feeling confident.
Halt and Hubli
The drive towards Hubli was made interesting by the SuvarnaVidhan Soudha or the legislative building which comes upon us on the highway itself. It is humungous and looks a little incongruous, sitting on a hill amidst fields.
Unfortunately, the road after Hubli suddenly narrowed down to a two-lane, no divider, old trunk road. The winter sun set in a hurry and suddenly, we were on one of the trickiest driving challenge. While heavy truck traffic on the other side nearly blinded us, the shadows on our side held lurking pedestrians and cyclists. It was nerve wracking driving on the road, so we decided to halt at Hubli.
We booked a hotel from the road, but the drive to it was again stressful, as the old roads of the town were terribly narrow, uneven and super crowded! We sweated and swore and finally reached our destination.
Hotel Ananth was a clean little hotel near the railway station. The food was heavenly. We slept that night to the faint background of trains and the general hubbub that usually surrounds Indian railway stations.
The Long Haul
The stressful last hour of the previous day made us determined to reach Tiruvannamalai as quickly as possible the next morning. It was a 620 kilometer stretch, so we decided to drive non-stop through the day.
We started at 7:00 a.m. from Hubli (escaping the roads from hell of central Hubli was an added motivation) and hit the highway soon enough. Surprisingly, the terrible road that preceded Hubli again turned into the wondrous six lane highway right after the town!
But we wouldn’t have driven more than 30 kilometers, when our rear fender started flapping again, with loud noise. We needed a wire to hold it in place—A was quick thinking and used an old iPhone charger to do the job. We are happy to report that our handiwork was so neat that it held for the rest of the journey, under very trying circumstances later!
We set out happily on what turned out to be a bloody long drive. But until 5:00 p.m. that day, it was great fun because we played old and new songs (yours truly being the DJ) and sang loudly along with it. Nothing cements a sisterhood as strongly as driving on the highway and singing old songs together!
We had breakfast at the redoubtable Kamat Upachar outside Davangere and then lunch at another Kamat Upachar somewhere near Tumkur. Very happy to report that the food was simple and tasty, the environment was hygienic and the restrooms were clean (bless them!)
The highway of course was excellent. But the most remarkable stretch was the NICE road that runs between Bengaluru and Mysore. It wounds its way through the hills as a silken stretch.
A Hairy, Scary Ride
We made a filter coffee pit stop at Soolagiri at around 5:00 p.m. Google map indicated that we had to get off the highway soon after to get on to NH 77 to drive to Tiruvannamalai. It was 150 kilometers away, so we reckoned we should reach by 7:30 p.m.
We found the exit easily enough. However, right after getting on to the road, it became an old trunk road that was barely held together. Worse, it seemed to pass between hills and jungles (made famous by Veerappan) and tiny hamlets.
As we drove on, hoping for the road to get better (we were under the false impression that state highways in TN are all uniformly good), sun set again, plunging us and our environments into pitch darkness.
And to our great panic, we discovered the roads in fact got worse! Human inhabitation continued to be sparse. I was also wary of asking random people on the road lest our “two girls and a car” status might expose us to any nefarious activities.
We reached a little village with a busy market street, where we stopped and asked a woman whether we were on the right track. She confirmed it, but gave us no other big hope.
We still had about 100 kilometers to drive at that point! Turning back was not a choice, so we decided to press on.
It was the scariest drive of our lives! We couldn’t see a thing around us except for what was illuminated by our headlights. We seemed to discover terrible potholes and breaks in the road only by falling into them.
We tried following other vehicles, but they were few and far between. At one point, we came upon a mound about four feet high so suddenly that the car almost went sideways. At another point, we were interrupted by a bridge construction which had left a 15-ft hole in the ground.
The ride required nerves of steel, A’s quick reflexes and a whole lot of gumption. A and I go a long way back—our association has been characterized by many perilous journeys (metaphorical and physical) together.
We got through with this one too, supporting, cheering and depending on each other.
The Tail Ender
We reached Tiruvannamalai at around 9:00 p.m. We stayed at Hotel Arpanaa—a lovely place with fantastic food!
The next morning, we abandoned our earlier plan of walking 14 kilometers around the hill (which is the deity) as is the tradition. We were too tired and rattled by our experiences the previous day. We hired an auto and went around. Tiruvannamalai is a pretty little hill town and the weather was balmy that morning.
The medieval temple at the base of the hill was beautiful and imposing. We finished our darshan quickly and set out to Chennai.
The treacherous NH 77 towards Chennai turned out to be fine. We made good time, crossing several interesting places such as the Gingee fort.
We reached Chennai by 4:00 p.m. A’s mom received us with thick, strong filter coffee, which made up for a lot of things!
A tells me that her mechanic admired her quick fix with the iPhone charger and did something similar to fix the fender problem.
So our 2000 kilometers journey has given birth to our own AP’s razor: “Is there an iPhone charger that will fix this problem?”