Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Snapshots of ECR

A bunch of us caught the East Coast Road being vulnerable.

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Alambara, again

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Travel morgue

I have always professed a great love for traveling with a cultivated fascination for visiting places seldom explored by archetypal tourists. I am rather predictable in my vociferous dislike for visiting national monuments or botanical gardens tucked away a little too neatly under the foul armpits of polluted hill stations. Having been a land scout for nearly six years, I have explored ethereal places such as Yellagiri Hills, Top Slip in Pollachi and exotic parts of Kathmandu. Having spent close to three years in the company of guys who rightfully should be restrained with sedatives and leather straitjackets, I have journeyed to nether regions of Kodaikanal, serene rivers in Kottayam and also taken photographs and collected skeletal remains of exotic starfish as erstwhile souvenirs in sleepy coastal villages en route to Pondicherry. Most of all, having befriended my favourite cousin sister’s hubby (an obsessively adventurous chap) for the greater part of 1997 – 2001, I was willfully led astray to strange jungles near the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border, Malai Mahadeswara hills and ghostly stretches of dense vegetation in the Western Ghats.

It’s been nearly a year since I had a proper trip. My business trip to Singapore was a nightmare only rivaled by kidney stone surgery I had to go through the year before. My last visit to Kodaikanal was when I was switching careers and henceforth even consumption of copious quantities of magic mushrooms could not lift the realistic distractions that kept annoyingly fluttering in my mind. I am pretty sure that I have lost a considerable amount of interest in getting out of the city and into the tender arms of quiet destinations. Maybe life has caught up with its gentle worries or perhaps I have simply grown tired of such indulgences. Maybe I just don’t like taking such trips anymore. Whatever it is, one thing is for sure. I am going to do this one more time, if not for reclaiming a distant memory then at least for hitting the pause button on life to send a gentle reminder to self that I once was a traveler.

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The hills have no sighs

The last time I visited Coonoor, both time and space were conspicuous by their absence in my memory. A few weeks ago, I merrily scaled an altitude of 2000 feet to drench a weekend in her love. The train from Chennai gathered steam slower than a sloth on medication and as usual, I was grumpy. These train journeys were always tedious but never wanton. Thanks heavens for that. I spent hours in the train, counting seconds before the dawn breaks through the sky and sketches portraits of her reflection on my face.

Upon reaching Coimbatore, I met her and a few chutney sandwiches that she had bought to keep us company as we headed out to Coonoor. The taxicab climbed up the cold hills, surrounded by wet greenery silently serenading the sound of warmth. Holding her hand with much aplomb, I let the beautiful pictures painting themselves atop the hills skid past her cheeks and fall into my eyes. Everything appeared more peaceful than they actually were. The clock struck 11 a.m. as the disappearance of signal on my cellphone was greeted by fluffy, moist waves of mist floating effervescently through the hills. It was an invitation to sink slowly into an abyss of serenity. I held her hand tighter than I normally did, hoping to feel the warmth she carried in her fingers in my own.

Taj Gardens was nothing short of quaint. And for a few extra bucks, we munched on chicken sandwiches and sipped on hot chocolate while the world around us moved at a pace that is normally reserved for cocoons and war veterans. The room was non-deluxe and everything that we had hoped for. Far from the madding crowd and comfortably nestled next to a lush, green lawn. The bed looked like it jumped straight out of a pre-war literature and straight into our weekend and the pillows…ahh let me tell you about the pillows…they were soft like melting cheese, often caressing the flesh to move without a sound.

In the evening, we walked. Into the local cemetery, out of the church and back on the streets of Coonoor. In the cemetery, we found lost love, Anglo-Indian names, grand epitaphs, and even a tombstone which read, “In here lies, my love who left me in 1876”. We held hands and continued further, seeking out each hidden corpse now only identified as the way their loved ones used language to portray how much they were missed.

While taking a short walk uphill, we stumbled upon orange bulbous tulips that strangely looked quite in tune to a red Getz car parked nearby. We made connections that weren’t there. We found peace in obscurity. The hills and the ghostly mist that gracefully glides above its shoulders made summer special once again. As special as it is, but never close to how pretty it could be.

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Alambara again

Sun swims for our viewing pleasure
Sun swims for our viewing pleasure

Prepare and initiate

The preparation for the trip to Alambara backwaters was both necessary and perhaps a tad too long. At about 6 in the evening, Reuben, the HR guy whom insects and people disgust to no extent, and I started recording an Mp3 music compilation. We called it ‘Road Tripping’ and exchanged at least three high-fives before sobriety kicked in and so did the feeling that we were doing something lame.

I brought Iggy Pop, White Stripes, Meat Puppets, King Crimson and others. Reuben was armed and presumably dangerous with Megadeth, Alice In Chains, Pink Floyd, Skid Row and Pearl Jam. But the song, which was almost as crucial as the trip itself was ‘Lie Without A Lover’ by newcomer Robi Dracos Rosa. The guy looks like Ricky Martin and wrote lyrics that didn’t require too much assistance from the brain. The music however shone like a cracked mirror. It was an incredibly catchy pop song, sounding almost futuristic in its recognition of subtle harmonies.

Last week, an accidental viewing of VH1 introduced me to this song. And after the others heard it, it was settled that we needed to take that trip to Alambara.And the rest avoided history by being a culmination of awkward planning and wishful thinking. Yuvraj, the resident chink, was on his way down to our not-so-friendly neighbourhood reporter Gopu’s place and Deepu had already (gleefully too) started initiation of stage two.

Rinse and Repeat

Pass the smoke
Pass the smoke

Coffee was being served haphazardly and just the way we liked it. The apparatuses came out of hiding and so began our hazy journey into the long night. It was 9.30 pm, Yuvraj and Gopu were still missing and the three of us were halfway through the process of passing out of our collective senses.

Several hours later, the three of us moved farther from sobriety; latecomers Yuvraj and Gopu were drunk and excessively smiling respectively.

Kickstarting another memory

It was 3.15 am when we hit the road. We had to fill up petrol and check the air, both of which took more time than what was bearable. It was almost 4.20 am before the ECR highway greeted us with much kindness. The intro bass riffs of ‘Lie Without A Lover’ kickstarted a refreshing drive down memory lane. I previously had found the lyrics to be quite corny but all of sudden the words “Hey these nights are fashioned around you / I guess the path of love is no longer haunting you” seemed rather poignant. Art, I tell you.



I had been to Alambara twice this year. Gopu had accompanied me during the second visit. Yuvraj, Reuben and Deepu were as clueless as bats on sweltering afternoons. Now, where the hell was this place? Wait. Stop. Turn around, man. “Anna, where is Alambara?” “Oh ok, thanks anna”. Take this left. Let it rip, man. We are here!

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The night before Sunday, I hit the Star Rock pub with some strange fellows. And we drank like fishes out of water. The music was loud. Loud, I tell you. The other morons in the pub were dancing to guitar riffs and headbanging to thrash metal. It was as though they existed in a parallel universe. The four of us, surrounded by vodka, beer, French fries and lamb dishes, had to message each other in order to carry out a reasonably coherent conversation. The music was fuckin’ loud, man.

Early Morning Blues

I had to catch the early morning flight to Coimbatore. At the ungodly hour of 2 am, my body finally accepted the fact that I was drunk. My mind had some catching up to do. The cellphone display clock struck 2.30 am and my head started to feel unnecessarily heavy. Oh yes, I was going to have a hangover in just over an hour.

The Inconsequential 30 Minutes

The trip to the airport was forgettable. I felt groggy and the air-conditioning was just too cold. I was on the verge of frowning.

I Hope You Crash

I really wish that Air Deccan ran itself out of business. It’s a terrible flying experience. It is terribly cheap but still, fearing for life and limb in mid-air is ridiculously scary. The Wright brothers would eat crap and die if they had lived long to see this atrocity. Adding to this miserable feeling, most of the other passengers were first-time flyers. Most of these in-bred dickheads were either ogling at the hapless airhostess or gaping at the passing clouds. The hangover just made things worse.

You Better Google Stockholm Syndrome

The flight landed…er, unceremoniously skidded on the landing strip at 7.15 am. For some odd reason, I frantically reached for my cellphone and eagerly switched it on. I just wanted to sit down and sleep for some time. I think it’s the Stockholm syndrome.

Almost Perfect

It felt nice to walk along the Avinashi road in Coimbatore. The weather was nice and the coffee served at one of local stores was just as refreshing. The hangover persisted but then the coffee started to work its magic.


She didn’t look the same for a while. For a good half-an-hour, she looked like her own doppelganger. Maybe one year is a long time. Maybe my brain cells have been fried. Either way, it was unnerving. But like I said, only for a while. Soon familiarity kicked in. And so did the nice old feeling.

Culinary Fright

I have eaten a lot of dosas in my lifetime. Butter dosas. Masala dosas. Cheese ones. Heck, even chocolate dosas. But the one I had to consume at Hot Kitchen on Avinashi road was like none other. Despite her warning that the food sucked at this restaurant, I never expected to eat tamarind-tainted breakfast. More unfortunate was the fact that I had ordered for ordinary dosa.

One Hour And Still No Coffee

Our one-hour tryst with the coffee shop at Nilgiris was cute, to say the least. We sat there and chatted away to glory, completely oblivious to the fact that we were defiling social decency by not ordering anything. Oh what the hell, it felt good to be indecent.

A Refreshing Sigh

It was 11.30 am and the weather was still beautiful. She said it was rather hot. I said, oh my fuckin’ god, I am from Chennai. The Race Course Road was not what I had expected. It was better. The greenery looked picture perfect and the tar gleamed on the road. And no matter what she says, I thought the intricate designs on the pavement were stunning!

Killing Killjoy

Normally, I don’t like coffee shops. The ones in Chennai have harbored my loathing. However the Barista coffee shop on Race Course Road had an ambience, which was soothing to the senses. The cafe-something-with-whipped-cream-choco-chips-something fell short of my expectations. But the lovely wind chimes and dreamcatchers hanging on the ceiling were to die for.

My Friend In Misery

Time flies when misery is amongst pleasant company. All said and done, I had a lovely Sunday. I don’t think she would disagree. If she did, I have bamboo canes waiting to be brandished.

Seriously I Hope You Crash And Burn

The return flight was worse than any other. The plane had a bit of turbulence when it went through a storm cloud. The airhostess was a guy, who smiled too often. Scarily enough, a few of the passengers were ogling at him too. I don’t think gender matters to these nincompoops.

An Uncomfortable Sigh

After landing in Chennai, I felt at home and terribly uncomfortable. I really don’t like where I live and whenever I do leave, it’s just too brief. The Sunday ended on a bit of a sour note. On a melancholic feeling that I belong to a place, which does not deserve to accept me. What can I say? Without company, misery feels left out.

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And Then There Was Naan

Like I said, most of the streets were dead clean and calm, but also more than a few reeked of fried seafood. That was pretty much the staple diet of Singaporeans. For every person gobbling a bowl of plain rice and squid meat, there was another one nearby digging his chopsticks in unrecognizable parts of some poor fish’s anatomy. The corner shop near my block was a restaurant called Suo-Kee. They mostly served noodles, a variety of mean-looking soups and fish sticks dipped in masala sauce. Spicy masala collected from hell’s fire and brimstone. The sickening part of eating in such restaurants was that the food seemed more alive than cooked. Little pieces of squid were wriggling on the plate and one time I actually wondered if one of these sea-bound critters was frowning at me.

Apparently other options solely included of a chain of Indian restaurants, which served only non-exotic Indian dishes. Anandha Bhavan, Saravana Bhavan, Chettinad and the rest. I didn’t enjoy the food at all; the rice was basmati by breed and rough by texture. The side dishes were tiny in quantity and odorless.

The worst dining experience however was at Mushroom Park. It was an ethnic Taiwanese restaurant where the menu had four black words. Vegetable. Chicken. Mutton. Bacon. Apart from these, all they had were mushrooms. The waiters were devastated when I made it clear that I was neither amused nor impressed by their variety of mushrooms. Only at the end of the meal, which included tedious traditional serving methods, the bacon finally arrived. It just sat there on the plate, terribly upset that it was being shabbily treated. I bet it knew how I felt at this goddam restaurant.

Thoroughly irritated by the evident culinary nightmare, I wandered into a place called Upper Thompson Road. And slyly tucked away behind the pavement was a restaurant known as Banana Leaf. It seemed liked one of those places where people seek to socialize rather than fret about the lack of sauces. But it didn’t matter. If I had the fortitude to walk into Chennai’s Mocha Coffee Pub where IQ points dare to drop beyond sane levels, then Banana Leaf should be a walkover. Right? Well, 45 minutes later, I was munching away at the best dam Naan I have ever tasted. The potato curry didn’t do any harm either!

After my first trip to Mocha, I swore on every dead man’s grave that I would rather stomp on a litter of sick puppies than go there again. Standing outside Banana Leaf, still holding on to the paper tissue…I patiently waited for a moment to let the feeling of doing something right sink in.

Fear Factor

In a country brimming with South Asians, Little India rests uneasily across Chinatown, which is the only other another place capable of vague depravity. Of course, the roads are wider. Little India lies east to the Singapore River and has the dubious distinction of being the most polluted part of the country. Originally this place was a division of colonial Singapore where Indian immigrants would reside under the British policy of ethnic segregation. Now it has become an abode for xenophobic south Indians and paranoid north Indians. The street corners are filled with garbage, saliva stains are liberally found on the walls of nearby buildings and people cross the road without a care in the world.

Several Hindu temples, mosques, and other places of worship can found here without much fuss. The star attraction is however, Mustafa Shopping Centre. It is a gigantic shopping mall, which is open all day, all night and all week. You can buy 56 types of shaving lotion at the stroke of midnight. You can get an aqua massage at 3 in the morning. Russian art-house movies, Robert Plant’s Road To Timbuktu album, skull necklaces, herbal cough syrups, professional cameras, plasma screen television sets, leather belts, nutmeg chocolate syrup, ‘I Love Singapore-Lah’ T-shirts and so much more.

I visited the shopping centre every other day. If not to see what other Bill Murray DVDs I could buy, then at least to take a break from whiskey & cigarettes.

Chuck That And All Those

I did a lot of things in Singapore that would have cured insomnia if given a chance. It was actually a business trip. I had to do make deals with fat men, drink their stupid herbal tea and sign papers. Basically doing things, which didn’t did not fit into my overall scheme for life. But I don’t want to write about it. An uncle also accompanied me for the trip. I stayed in his apartment and he left after 3 days. I also don’t want to write about him.

Finally I saw a Chuck Norris film on a local channel. I definitely don’t want to write about that.

Little Man In Big China

Chinatown is located in the larger district of Outram. Since the largest ethnic breed in Singapore is the Chinese (75% of the population), Chinatown is considerably less crowded than it previously was. But it still

bears the most frequent resemblance to all things weird and Chinese. It is also here where I tasted for the very first time – snake meat. It tasted like chicken.

It has several sub-districts, most of which are sprinkled with shopping malls and more shopping malls. The sheer size of the consumer market here is beyond huge, it is scary.

Evidently each shopping mall looked as though it was cloned from the fabric of the one next to it. All of them were so dam similar. After walking for a good 3 hours and exploring the place to death, I stumbled upon two stores, which would have kick-started a puberty revolution in Chennai. Condom Fantasy was one, which sold…er…condoms.

The other store was XXX Store For Adults. And if you look below the store sign, there is banner, which proudly proclaims “No Porn Magazines, X-rated Movies or Sex Service”. A couple of kids were standing outside this store and exchanging high-fives and nodding their heads in glee. Minutes later, it sunk in. No X-rated films. They ran like the fucking wind.

Routines Amidst Ruins

I hate Chennai because of all the routines that I have to physically and mentally go through. Funnily…actually sadly enough, routines were what saved me from Singapore’s clutches. None of my routines clashed with the ones of locals. Not on any level. They did their thing and I did mine. I would normally wake up from reading at around 8.30 in the morning, get freshened up, go to 7/11 and drink copious amounts of cold coffee, go back to the room and smoke a cigarette, walk out of the door once again and visit places where I have never been before. Most of the places disappointed my sense of adventure, but that did not stop me from doing it again and again. Mostly I missed lunch and had a softy chocolate ice cream instead.

Evening coffee would be replaced by that golden liquid gently spilling from Mr Johnny Walker and more often than not; dinner would solely consist of butter-smeared bread slices accompanied by more whiskey. Then came the promenade into unknown regions of Ang Mo Kio as several cigarettes were puffed away on cue. 7/11 again for more coffee and then back to reading until the next morning. Not exactly a schedule packed with eagerness but certainly a package deal, which stopped me from committing multiple acts of self-mutilation.

Hell Awaits

The return flight to Chennai was scheduled to take-off at 8.25 am. I got up at 3.30 am, took an uncomfortably cold bath and rushed to the airport at 4.30 am. I was the first passenger to check-in the baggage and also on the first line at the immigration counter. And then I shopped for liquor, beads and books. In-between I found ample time to sit at their lounge and guzzle down three Screwdrivers.. Vodka and orange juice did wonders to the bright colours of the Changai Airport.

The waiting lobby was filled with irate businessmen, enthusiastic families still clicking photos and lots of foreigners wondering how the rest of the world would treat them.

After 45 minutes of delay, the flight took to the skies. I closed my eyes and knew what I was going to do when I reached Chennai. I smiled a bit and wondered what effect it might have on me after 12 days.

Upon arriving at the Chennai Airport, I took a taxi back home. The taxi driver was a chatty sort of a fellow, so I told him a bit about Singapore and how clean and boring it was. He heard all of this with great intent and eventually distracted himself thoroughly with a little help from a few ladies standing at the bus stop.

Somewhere along the way near the Ashok Nagar Pillar, a speeding ambassador car crashed into a biker, sending him head first onto a lorry parked at the corner of a crowded road. In what was probably the biggest mistake in his life, the driver reversed the car and tried to make a getaway. A mob of people ran towards the car, pulled the driver out and proceeded to beat the living hell out of him.

The taxi driver turned back to look at me and he said, “Saar, nambha ooru kaete poghidhe saar, neengo Singapore kay poidingo, Saar ” (“Our city is going down the drain, you should go back to Singapore”).

A tiny voice briefly echoed inside my head…I really fucking cannot-lah.

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