What was the last exciting thing you did?
I often felt embarrassed and secretly ashamed by this question because I often had nothing to say. There was a job I had. I stayed at my home, did some things on the weekends. But nothing more. There was a routine, a pattern that emerged without realizing it. This predictability and naivety often repulsed me.
You might tell yourself, I came here for a travelogue, not a depressing story!
There is a book called “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller (Click here for the review and summary) which speaks of engineering your life to make it interesting. An exciting life is not an accident, it is a conscious choice.
The beginning of it all came when I made a job switch because of which I got a 15-day break. Fifteen days of freedom without begging for it. The possibility of waking up every day realizing that you can do whatever you want is addicting. I had no assigned tasks, no one to report to, nothing to worry about for the first time in 2 years. I knew this was a rare moment, and I needed to act now because it didn’t come often. My biggest push was a friend who told me to travel if I can because once this break is over, you won’t have time to do it.
The Grand Plan
On the seventh day, I made a plan. A friend of mine suggested a road trip plan. A plan that starts with Suryanelli in Munnar and ends with Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu. Sounded just fine to me and so I had a plan to put in motion. I had to arrange a bike and on the ninth day of my break, it began, my journey!
You might think that I’m all pumped up and excited about this. I think this might be a good time to toss in the fact that I have never gone on a solo road trip before. My knowledge of motorbikes is also limited specifically to driving them. If anything else is to happen to that bike in those foreign lands, it is obvious that I’m screwed big time. All I could hope for was that my bike would be in good condition because everything depends on it. I was pretty disappointed with the bike when I got it, and the starting trouble with the bike was the icing on the cake that I dreadfully feared. I can’t go back now, so took the risk and went ahead with it.
So if I were to describe how I felt when I began my journey, the most pungent one was the discomfort from all this incongruity, then would be the fear of what could go wrong, then somewhere in the corner a little part of me that is exciting about going on a road trip.
On the evening of my first day of the ride, I reached the Suryanelli base camp. This trip happened so quickly that I never had time to picture how things might be, so I didn’t know what to expect here. They said there is an evening trekking, a campfire, dinner. My biggest doubt was about doing these alone. How can that be any fun?
When I reached Suryanelli camp, I saw a tourist bus crowded with college students packed with excitement and some cameras dying to click their next Instagram DP. After taking a couple of moments to sink into this new reality and the noise that went unfamiliar to me after my college days, I walked into the base camp.
We were about to go to an evening trekking, and I got company. They were my peers, and they kindly welcomed me because I was alone. They were a fun lot, and it was effortless to gel with them. Calling that evening stroll trekking would be far-fetched. Then again, the only thing I was enthusiastic about climbing by the end of the day was my bed, so it didn’t matter. We came back to our base camp, settled down, and then at night, the campfire started. There was also loud music for us to dance to. With all those college kids, I thought we might all just keep aside, maybe groove a little and let the kids have the floor. To give you the context, there were three age groups: the college students, then us, the young adults, then some middle-aged men.
So naturally, I expected the kids would take the floor, we maybe move a bit on the sides and the senior bunch would sit back and relax on their chairs. To my complete surprise, what happed was the exact opposite. It was those college kids who sat on the chain, we and the senior bunch were dancing like crazy. Look, I don’t want to be judgmental and I don’t know if it is a millennial thing or just them, but they were lame.
The latter night was all about me trying to go to sleep because we had to rise early for the Kolukkumalai trekking, which is the highlight of Suryanelli. Thanks to the constant chitter of those college students throughout the night, waking up was easy. Then we boarded a jeep from the camp base to take us to the hilltop, which is 7 km away.
Just some info on Kolukkumalai: It is a small village which is in the Theni district of Tamil Nadu with an altitude of over 7000 ft. It is one of the highest tea plantations in the world. The route to this village is from Munnar, in Kerala. If you don’t know how high 7000 ft is, it means that the clouds will be below you. Don’t trust me? See for yourself.
Kolukkumalai has a heart-melting view and an ambiance so serene that you keep hooked on that hilltop. The sunrise there is one of the most beautiful you can find in Kerala.
There is also a peculiar tiger-shaped rock towards the edge.
What made this sunrise so special wasn’t just about the irreplicable beauty, it was also about the people I shared it with. Despite coming to that place alone, I never felt alone. I had friends, the people I met from the base camp, the people I met at the hilltop, though we have never met before and probably never see each other again. It was special.
We left that place half-heartedly, to the base camp for our breakfast and then to leave. It was one of those places you have to leave without thinking too much because you know you will be upset.
The Infinite Road
I then hit the road again to continue my trip. I was to Theni, then Madurai, and then Rameswaram. My initial idea was to stay at Theni and visit the waterfall there.
Let me tell you this, the Munnar-Theni route is the most beautiful routine I have seen. The mountainsides with trees and flowers are a vivid sight that keeps your eyes off the road. The views are truly breathtaking.
You can also see the terrain changing as you enter Tamil Nadu. The colors shift from green to desert orange. All I could see after a while was the empty road lying ahead. I realized things are rather quiet now. There were no more laughers or small talk. That is when I started feeling uncomfortable because I realized that this is how the trip will be from here on out.
Here is the rabbit hole for you. When you become uncomfortable in a place, then things will look rather scary, which makes it even more uncomfortable. Suddenly, all those fears that I had forgotten started coming back. Things were so uncomfortable for me I dropped the plan to stay in Theni. All I want to do was to go as far as I can and finish this trip as soon as possible. Before noon I reached Theni, I didn’t stop. I rode to Madurai. A few hours later, I reached Madurai in the afternoon. I was thinking of visiting someplace and staying there, but that fear just kept pushing me ahead. Then I went to Rameswaram, which is 200km away from Madurai, and thought I would stay wherever I have reached.
In the evening, after 300kms of fright, I reached Rameswaram. It was a moment where I could let out a sigh and tell myself it was okay.
What is waiting to welcome you into Rameswaram is the Pamban bridge.
A little background on Pamban bridge: This is a sea bridge that connects Rameswaram with the Indian mainland. It is a 2km long rail bridge and road bridge (Annai Indira Gandhi Road Bridge) running in parallel. The 1964 Rameswaram cyclone destroyed this bridge and the repair and strengthening work was done under the supervision of E Sreedharan.
What you need to know about this bridge is that it is a beautiful bridge with a cold breeze brushing against you that can make you stay there for hours.
It was 6 pm when I reach my room and by that time, everything has closed and there is nothing to visit in Rameswaram.
If you ask what are places you can visit in Rameswaram?
- Dhanushkodi View Point
- Pamban Bridge
- Ramanatha Swamy Temple
- Former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam House
- Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Memorial
Thankfully, all I could do at the end of that tiring day was to relax at a beach, then go to my room and sleep. A very satisfying plan, if you ask me.
The next day morning I left for Dhanushkodi viewpoint which is 20km away from Rameswaram.
Dhanushkodi is a place that has a historical and geographical peculiarity. Apart from the reference in the mythological book Ramayana, this south-eastern tip of the Pamban island is just 24km away from Talaimannar settlement in Sri Lanka.
I guess this is the closest I have been to another country. But what truly captivated my mind was the beauty of this place. A straight road surrounded with caramel sand and then blue seawater is not your usual sight.
Despite all this beauty, despite this being my final destination, it was rather short.
I strolled through the beach, picked up some shells, ate some pineapple, talked to some Keralites, took some pictures, and finally when I felt I had enough, I left.
I was back on the same road again, but it didn’t feel the same anymore. It is surprising how much can change in 24 hours. A day before, this was a completely alien place filled with danger. Now, after talking to these strangers and spending time with them and with this place, seeing how much they have helped me and how kind they were to me, it wasn’t foreign anymore. I felt safe, like at home.
Remember a waterfall that I skipped in Theni because of my mania? This is that one. Suruli Falls near Cumbum in Tamil Nadu. You need to walk through a forest to reach the waterfalls at its heart. The biodiversity of this place is just mesmerizing.
The peacefulness and quietness of the forest instantly connected with me. I walked in the shades of these all-mighty trees. You will reach the waterfall after a few minutes. It is a cascading type waterfall from the Suruli river.
When I first saw this waterfall gushing over the heads of people standing below it, I knew I had to go in. Let me tell you why this waterfall is memorable to me.
- Last night I was drooling over my phone looking at someone walking through a dense forest and getting wet in a cold river and all I wanted to do what just that. Then the next day, to my surprise, got a splendid chance to do precisely that.
- I spent some time with a young Keralite couple with their kids. It was short but honeyed sweet. The water was too cold for the little one and it was fun getting her in the water.
It was these subtle and unprecedented reasons that made me fall in love with this place.
This wasn’t a trip that I fancied going, the places that I went were far-off from my place and my mind. I could truthfully say that I wasn’t ready for this trip. I wasn’t prepared and there was no plan. It was a reckless move, an impulsive one. But the significance of this journey comes from just these reasons as well.
This journey put me in a space well beyond my comfort zone. A space that tested all my fears, a place of uncertainty. I never realized why people would go on a solo trip, how they handled the solitude that comes with it? How to live in a place you don’t know with a language you don’t speak? How to trust when your cynicism flashes horror?
The answers to all these questions are not something you can read, teach, or formulate. We forge it from our experience. I now know that I could go on a solo trip without being frightened of solitude because I know I will find a friend there with whom I could converse. There are commonalities across humans that go beyond culture and language. The strangers that frighten you can also offer kindness without asking.
But the foremost realization is the confidence that experiences like these give you, to know that you will survive no matter the odds. So stay strong.