CONNECTING THE ‘GHATS’
……. Road trip across Western & Eastern Ghats
“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”
– Jennifer Lee
Fed-up and tired of the confinements and stream of depressing disruptions, we (Runa & I) decided to get out of our confinement and break away from the constraints imposed, and leap on to a nomadic life away from the comforts of the concrete jungle. Thus during Oct 2020 – Feb 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, we set out on a 10,000 KM journey … Connecting the Ghats!
To set the expectation .... First - this travelogue, in its later episodes, recounts our journey through lesser known tracts of the Eastern Ghats. Since much has been said and written about the Western Ghats, we decided to avoid detailed description of our Western Ghat adventures herein; Second - it would be a pain to read the entire story at one go. I have thus split the whole story into 5 episodes; Third - this Episode in particular covers the first half of the journey, it briefly provides a glimpse of our travels in and around the Western Ghat region.
Armed with sanitizer lotion, masks, gloves and visors we set out from Kolkata at 0500 hrs on 05-Oct-2020 morning on our Maruti Vitara Brezza (ZXi – 1.5L Petrol) with a goal to reach Pandavpura (Karnataka) our hub for the Western Ghat exploits. We also were adequately loaded with maggi noodles, cup-o-noodles, crate of mineral water and basic survival items, just incase we had to rough it out. A distance of 2300 kms to be covered in 3 nights and 4 days. On all our drives the regimen has been to start early and reach the day’s destination well before sunset, giving adequate time to handle hiccups, if any. The outward journey from Kolkata, was without any glitch, other than a commonly encountered navigational error, a consequence of blindly following ‘Google-map’. The brief run-down of the drive are –
Day 1 - 05 Oct 2020
Dep: Home (Kolkata) - 0500 hrs; Arr: Puri (Victoria Hotel) – 1420 hrs;
Duration - 9hrs 20mins; Distance - 512 Kms.
Day 2 – 06 Oct 2020
Dep: Puri (Victoria Hotel) – 0454 hrs;
Arr: Visakhapatnam (Taj Gateway Hotel) – 1315 hrs;
Duration – 8hrs 21mins; Distance – 465 Kms.
Day 3 – 07 Oct 2020
Dep: Visakhapatnam (Taj Gateway Hotel)
– 0440 hrs; Arr: Hyderabad (Novotel Airport) – 1530 hrs;
Duration – 10 hrs 50 mins; Distance – 648 Kms.
Day 4 – 08 Oct 2020
Dep: Hyderabad (Novotel Airport) - 0500 hrs; Arr: Pandavpura (Sharadindu) – 1415
Duration – 9hrs 15mins; Distance – 687 Kms.
Total distance – 2312 Kms (Kolkata to Pandavpura via Hyderabad)
It was perhaps the best of times on Indian highways. Being the peak pandemic period the traffic was significantly low. We used to
depart early with a thermos flask filled with hot water for tea / coffee and
packed brunch. Due to the pandemic, the choice of overnight hotels was restricted to those
considered to have convincingly confirmed compliance with COVID protocols, in
addition, it also came down to hotels that could ensure delivery of packed brunch at that early hour
of our departure. It was a pleasant experience to be able to find
a spot off the highway, under a shade, where we could relish our packed edibles
and hot coffee, apart from the hygiene breaks. This became a routine, except
that the brunch changed based on what the hotels could muster varying
between aloo paratha, veg sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, muffins, fruits and
juice ... simply loved it .. 😋
|Roadside brunch break ... became an important part of the journey |
|Out of bound - Jagannath Temple, Puri|
|Victoria Club Hotel, Puri ... our first halt|
I must highlight a general observation! .... in comparison to previous trips we noticed that in many places along the highway one could see pockets of commercial activities building up. Neighbourhood traffic that tends to exploit the highway as a local thoroughfare seems to be increasing exponentially. Easy access has also led to mushrooming of shops, tea stalls, bus stops, etc.. right on the highway. While it is a fact that a highway brings about development, uncontrolled buildup is a serious concern. There is no restriction on any kind of vehicle such as scooters, motor bikes, three wheel tempos, bullock carts, tractors, including pedestrian, you name it, all are allowed to use the highway at such localized pockets. They come on to the highway without care and eventually create bottlenecks or accidents. The ever increasing speed breakers and similar barriers are a testimony to such incidents. A risky trend, quite contradictory with the objective of a smooth and free highway.
|Deserted beaches at Vishakapatnam|
|Taj Gateway Hotel .. our night halt at Vishakapatnam|
Arrival at Sharadindu (Sree Senior Homes – www.sreeseniorhomes.in), was a big relief, not for the distance driven, but for not
having faced any hindrance on the way. Before commencing our journey,
there were conflicting reports on the need of COVID epass, permits etc.. Thus a fear
always loomed that if we get
stopped for a COVID pass or otherwise the scrutiny and
the hassles that follow, could
have hazardous consequences. Having heard of other traveler stories,
a constant apprehension. Luckily, we
passed through five states (three among them amidst rapid infection
spread) with much ease. Except for the border of Odisha and Andhra
Pradesh, there was no police check-up. At the Andhra border, it was more
to do with the region being sensitive to Naxal insurgency than anything else.
|Sharadindu - a birds eye view|
|Sharadindu - a tranquil commune|
Sharadindu, in Pandavpura, was our new base, and it is always a great feeling when you get to a home-base. We had been planning to get there much earlier but for the pandemic and the lock-downs. There were multiple reason behind choosing Sharadindu as our 2nd residence. Prime among those was the ability to reach out into the wilderness of western ghats with much ease. Sharadindu is 300 metres off NH 150A (just 30 Km from Mysuru) on the road that connects to Kere Thonnur (Thonnur Lake). It is thus away from the city. The NH150A links NH 75 to the North and NH 275 on the South as it meanders across these two highways. From Sharadindu, all major destination within Karnataka, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were within a day’s driving distance. Sharadindu is located in Mandya district, with five rivers flowing through, is perhaps the greenest district of Karnataka. The land is fertile and well-watered by the perennial rivers. The greenery & beauty around Sharadindu is simply too compelling.
|Sharadindu - neighboring fields|
|Sharadindu - towards sustainable surroundings|
|Sharadindu ... how green is my valley|
|Sharadindu ... garden fresh neighbourhood |
|Path to tranquility .... Sharadindu|
|Sunset at Kere Thonnur ... Sharadindu neighbourhood!|
|Dancing Frog of the Western Ghats - Agumbe|
Should the reader be interested, you can watch a video clip about the Dancing Frogs here ...https://youtu.be/eL6BekRvHdo
|Asiatic Elephant - Elephas maximus (endangered)|
The routine we followed was to spend a week on the road, return to Sharadindu, recharge and once gain set out on the next exploration trip. With excellent weather and strict adherence to Covid protocols, this was an experience of a life time, witnessing a wide spectrum of bio-diversity and pursuing some of the endangered species that are endemic to the region.
|Dhole - Cuon alpinus - IndianWild Dog (endangered)|
Should the reader be interested, you can watch a video clip about the Dhole here ... https://youtu.be/1vvf1vjrhm0
|Lion-tailed Macaque - Macaca silenus (endangered)|
I have written separately about our wild encounters in different social media posts, hence not repeating it here.
In the next few episodes, I wish to
share our experience on our journey driving through some of the remotest
regions of the Eastern Ghats starting from the tri-junction of Chattisgarh –
Telangana – Andhra Pradesh into South Odisha
considered as the 'Red Corridor' ... Naxalite active
regions. Stay tuned!
Feel free to share your views, comments, critique.
...... contd.. EPISODE 2 of 6