Sunday, October 08, 2017

QUIT 2017 - Day 9.

Started from Vizag at 06.00 AM and reached Chennai by 8.48 PM. With an hour's lunch break at Vijayawada.

Three States. Nine days. Three thousand Two hundred and Thirty Seven kilometers. From Buddhist stupas to oldest Shiva Lingam to awesome waterfalls - it was fun.

One is never fully satisfied with a trip. There's so much that could have been done, there's so much that one has missed. But there's always another day and another road.

If possible, get on the road. It enriches your life.

Friday, October 06, 2017

QUIT 2017 - Day 8

After yesterday's wild goose chase we decided to head back to Chennai by the same route we came. Started at 6.00 AM from Jagdalpur. Roads were clear and the drive till Jeypore was good. I will reiterate once again, monsoon time Chattisgarh is one of the best sights you will see in your life.

Panoramic view of Jagdalpur - Jeypore road

Jeypore Ghat road was even worse than what it was two days ago. To be honest there was only Ghat, no road.  Road work is going on the entire stretch so it was full of gravel and mud roads. Overnight rains had left the whole road slushy. Taking a hairpin bend in a slushy road was tricky.

Once we got down the ghat road, we took the Jeypore - Araku road. With overcast sky, the road was even more beautiful than two days ago. So many shades of green, so much beauty that it hurt the eyes. Stopped for a quick photoshoot after Lamtaput and drove on.

Scene near Lamtaput

Good place for a photo shoot

The skies opened up soon afterwards and it poured non stop for nearly an hour. The lake near Paduwa was now a raging river. Driving was a little difficult, but there were no other vehicles on the road, so it was ok. Roads were good except the bridges were work was going on. After yesterday's experience, I was doubly careful while driving through the bridge diversions.

Lake  that turned into a raging river, near Paduwa

Rains let up as we entered Araku. From a deserted road, we suddenly found  ourselves in the midst of a crowd of 500 people after a turn in the road. It was the friday tribal market, I think. Fresh produce was being sold in bulk. We inched our way through the market.

It was 10.30 AM by the time we reached Araku. All the hotels were closed. So our plan of a late breakfast was shelved and we drove on to Vizag. Breakfast was just snacks and biscuits we had packed. A word here about my son. He coped admirably with the change  in plans and haywired eating schedule. Most of the days breakfast was just cup noodles or biscuits as we  always start early in the day. He didn't complain at all.

Reached Vizag at 02.00 PM and checked into the hotel. Had a hearty lunch. I was so famished that I finished an entire plate of Veg Dum Biriyani (Andhra level serving size). In the evening took son to the Kursura Submarine museum in the beach. INS Kursura, a 1969 vintage submarine was decomissioned in 2001 and converted into a museum in 2002. It is in Ramakrishna beach in Vizag and you get a guided tour for Rs. 40.00. Doesn't take much time, hardly 10 minutes.

Beautiful Vizag sky
 I waited till I got out of Chattisgarh to post this. The day I entered Chattisgarh, I was stopped at a check post.

The Police inspector saw the papers and said "Your licence is expired. Cheep licence we need".
I didn't understand what he was saying. He showed a licence of another person standing next to me .
"Aah, Chip licence. But officer, Tamil Nadu doesn't issue smart card driving licence yet"
"Arre, this is all India practice. Your licence won't be accepted. See this fellow (lorry driver standing next to me), he is from Karnataka. He too has cheep licence"
"But Sir, our government hasn't issued it yet"
"No no. You pay fine"

I wasn't going to argue for USDR with Chattisgarh Police. So paid the Rs. 600.00 fine and proceeded. Last year I was checked in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat. None of them had any problem with the licence. I need to check on what is the status with Smart card Driving Licence in Tamil Nadu. The tender was cancelled some years ago and haven't heard much about it after that.

Tomorrow's plan is a long drive to Nellore. Total distance travelled so far : 2400 kms.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

QUIT 2017 - Day 7

Today's plan was to drive from Jagdalpur to Warangal via NH 63. We spent a lot of time on deciding this route. For one, it passes close to Dhantewada, the epicenter of Maoist violence. Though there have been no reports about any violence in recent times, it left us a little queasy. Another reason was that there was no clear information on whether the bridge to Godavari via Bhopalpattnam was open. Google maps showed NH 63 completely connected. There were reports of Bhopalpattnam bridge not being open, but there were also youtube videos of the new bridge across Godavari. In face of conflicting information, anyone with common sense would have taken the safer option of alternate route. But no one has accused me of having common sense. So we started at 8.00 AM from Jagdalpur. NH 63 was completely devoid of cars going towards Bijapur - Bhopal Pattnam. It is a real stunning road with beautiful scenery on both sides. There were only occasional lorries and buses, and kids walking to school. Just before Geedam, the government has built a huge educational city with the tag line "Education is for all. it is beyond ideological clashes". There was visible investment in schools and we could see lot of children walking to schools. There seemed to be a school every 20 km or so. And we saw kids walking to school for the entire time we travelled from Geedam to Bijapur. Wonder what the school timings are here. The drive through the forest road upto Bijapur was easy and pleasant. Though we felt a slight tremor of fear everytime we saw CRPF men patrolling the roads, reminding us of the insurgency we keep reading in newspapers. We were stopped at a check point and the CRPF constable couldn't believe that we were tourists travelling in this rod. We reached Bijapur by 10.45 AM and proceeded towards Bhopalpattnam. The road started deteriorating and we had to cross a series of broken bridges. At every point we had to take a diversion on the side and climb up again. Road laying work was going on and we had to navigate gravelly roads too. We proceeded thinking it is only for a short while. At the last diversion before Bhopalpattnam, I followed a cyclist going in front of me and drove straight into slush. The front wheel settled nicely and refused to move. There was a diversion of the diversion that I had missed. I got out and realised that I had made a rookie mistake and the car had to be towed back. Further acceleration only pushed the car further into the slush. I flagged down the vehicles coming behind me. One share auto guy stopped and along with other passengers tried to push the car back. It wouldn't budge. A tractor came along and I asked him to help. He asked if I had a towing rope. I didn't. Then we found a road roller with a towing rope. Another car stopped by and the person got down to help us. With the help of these good Samaritans we pulled the car back. I couldn't thank them enough. The whole thing took just about half an hour but I died many a time in that half an hour. Getting your axle broken in the middle of nowhere would have been a disaster. Then the person in the car dropped a bombshell. "Where are you going?" he asked. "To Warangal" I replied. "But there is no bridge" he told me incredulously. "But I saw videos of bridge over Godavari" I said panic creeping into my voice. "That bridge is open for two years. But the small bridge after Bhopalpattnam is yet to be built." "Oh, can we take any diversion like we did in previous broken bridges" "Two days back my men only made the diversion path, but after yesterday's rains I don't think it will be holding. Anyway you check and see, I doubt it" So we drove on to Bhopalpattnam and heard from another contractor that the diversion path has been washed away and there is no way the car can cross there. "What's the alternate" I asked. "Either go via Dantewada - Sukma - Badrachalam or back to Jagdalpur" So all our plans for Warangal - Hyderabad - Gandikota went for a toss. Started driving back sullenly from Bhopalpattnam to Jagdalpur. After a silence of twenty minutes, she said "Come on, don't brood too much. Atleast we got out safe without any damage to the car. And we were lucky that we got stuck closer to the town instead of somewhere in the middle" "Yeah, yeah. So what do we do now" "First get back to Jagdalpur, check in to the hotel and then decide" After a gap, she said "I even clicked a couple of photos of the car stuck in mud" "ரொம்ப முக்கியம்” So we drove back via NH 63. Many people warned us not to take NH 63 fearing Maoists. We of course travelled twice on that route in a single day. 400 kms of travel to realise that there was no bridge at the end of the road. Now back in Jagdalpur and planning to drive back the same way we came. As they say some days you are the bird, some days you are the statue. Total distance travelled so far : 2060 km

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

QUIT 2017 - Day 6

Today's plan was to drive from Araku valley to Jagdalpur in Chattisgarh. Started early at 6. 30 am from Araku and took the Araku - Jeypore road. Early morning start meant Ready to eat MTR Upma for breakfast. There were hardly any vehicles on the road. Early morning fog ensured poor visibility and we had to drive slow. The magical scenery on both sides of the road more than made up for it. Winding roads, misty hills and a river on the side, no other vehicle on the road - it was a pleasant drive.

Early morning fog makes the roads appear magical
Is that a fishing net? Never seen one like this before

Green fields on the side
The road was decent to drive except for a couple of places where bridge work was under progress. Araku - Padua - Lampatput stretch was good to drive. Just before Jeypore we had to climb up a hill and get down on the other side. Road work was going on the entire stretch. We had to drive 6km on gravels with a couple of hairpin bends to boot. Finally made it to Jeypore at around 8.40 am. From Jeypore to Jagdalpur roads were spotty at Orissa side. Once we entered Chattisgarh, roads were pretty good. A word of caution though. It is a National Highway but a 2 lane road with no median. The fields on both sides of the road mde it a cheerful drive. Our original plan was to check into the hotel in Jagdalpur and go to Chitrakote waterfalls, the main reason for this trip. But as we entered Jagdalpur, decided to visit Tiratgarh falls first. It is a 35 km drive from Jagdalpur on NH 30 through the Kanger Valley National park. The last 3 kms is on a Ghat road. There was decent crowd in the waterfalls, but not as bad as we feared. To reach the falls you have to climb down 200 steps and the first view of the falls is amazing. Almost every one is there to take a selfie or a photo, not many people opt to bathe in the falls. Ani and me took a bath and came out refreshed.

Tiratgarh water falls.
There was a moment of panic when we found that my spectacles were missing. I had given it to her before going to the falls, but she found it was not in her pocket. I was thinking, "I can drive without spectacles for a short distance, but 1600 kms is a stretch." Finally found them behind a rock, miraculously unbroken. Went back to Jagdalpur and checked into the hotel. After a quick lunch set off to Chitrakote water falls. We had been planning to visit Chitrakote water falls for years now. Some how or the other things never worked out. Finally this year we were ready. As we started it started raining. It was clear from the overcast skies that the rains won't stop anytime soon. Yet we drove on to the falls. The road from Jagdalpur to Chitrakote is well maintained and easy to drive. As we entered the falls view point, the rain had settled into a steady drizzle. We weren't going to let something trivial like a rain to stop us from visiting the falls, especially after driving 1600 kms. The first view of the falls is jaw dropping. After the monsoon Indravati river is in full flow and sheets of reddish water gush forth over the horse shoe shaped falls. The mist from the fall rises almost halfway up the falls. It is India's widest falls and is seen in its full glory after the monsoon.


Without bothering about the rain we went to the view point and started clicking photos like crazy. Because of the rain there was very little crowd. After an hour or so of drinking in the beauty of the falls, we started back to the hotel. It looked like the steady rain had let up for a bit. But it was deceptive. Suddenly the skies opened up accompanied by thunder and lightning. Nature's spectacular sound and light show was thrilling and scary at the same time. The 30 minute drive to the hotel seemed to stretch for eternity. Finally made it to the hotel. It has been steadily raining for the past 8 hours now. Monsoon time Chattisgarh is magical and one of the most beautiful sights I have seen in India. If you get a chance don't miss to visit Chattisgarh. Total distance travelled so far. 1598 km

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

QUIT 2017 - Day 5

Today morning we had a rocky start. Just as we were ready to leave, son said he had an upset stomach. Then found the car being washed when we were ready to start. I had asked the hotel security to clean the car early, but he had started cleaning just as we were settling the bill. So started half an hour later than planned. There was a frosty silence in the car.

But all that vanished once we started climbing the hills. Today's plan was to go from Vizag to Araku valley after a detour to Borra caves. The drive to Borra caves was slightly tricky with hairpin bends and Z curves. The mountain views were just fabulous.
Misty mountains

There was continuous traffic of cars, buses and vans going to Borra caves. So we expected some crowd at the caves. We reached the caves at 10.00 AM and were greeted by a queue of atleast 30 families waiting to get tickets to enter the caves. Took us half an hour to just get the tickets and enter the cave. I was wondering whether it was worth it.

It really is. Irregular shaped stalactites and stalagmites provide an eerie experience , exaggerated by psychedelic lighting by the tourist department. The caves are one of the largest in India. There is continuous water dripping inside the cave and you have to be careful with your footsteps.

We came out of the caves after an hour. The parking lot was a mess, like a tetris of cars. Getting out of the parking lot was the scariest part of today's drive. If you are planning to visit the caves, plan to be there by 10.00 AM when they open. Crowd just keeps piling on and on as the day goes by.
Bamboo chicken is part of the Araku valley experience. Chicken and spices are packed in bamboo tubes and cooked slowly. We had placed an order for bamboo chicken before entering the cave. We were given a token by the vendor so that chicken was ready when we came out of the caves. She said it was really really good. Bamboo chicken is available all over the place in Araku valley.

Araku Valley's famous Bamboo Chicken being cooked

Cooked chicken taken out from Bamboo tubes

There was a slight drizzle and the weather turned amazing. Misty mountain views, valley with various shades of green, decent road snaking around the hills - today's drive was the best so far in this trip. This was the first mountain drive for my son, and he enjoyed it a lot. After a short stop at the Galikonda viewpoint, reached Araku by 1.30 PM.
Road to Araku Valley

Had lunch at Andhra Pradesh tourism hotel Harita. There are two Harita hotels at Araku. The Haritha Mayuri resort has an amazing view of the hills. Unfortunately both the resorts were full. So we had to settle for one of the private hotels along the Jeypore road.

Clouds hanging over hills in Araku valley
After checking in, visited the Coffee museum and Tribal museum in Araku valley. Coffee museum has a short display of the history of coffee. More importantly, it sells Araku valley coffee, assorted coffee chocolates and brownies. The coffee was highly recommended by friends. I had a double espresso and can confirm that it is really good.

Double espresso shots
Tribal museum has life size displays of various tribal customs and habits. For some one from South Tamil Nadu, seeing திருகை, உலக்கை, மரப்பாச்சி பொம்மை et al displayed as Tribal utensils was amusing. We have seen these in use a couple of decades ago. As wife  said, " They might even declare us as tribals"
Dinner was at one of those nondescript multi cuisine restaurants that are the bane of Indian towns. Indian Chinese Tandoori Meals types.
All in all a refreshing day of travel. Another early start tomorrow.

Total distance travelled so far: 1355 km