This holiday has been all about the car, the road, the driving. We’ve clocked up around 2000 kms already, and we’re not even home yet. And while the back is suffering, the yoga is helping, and the sights along the highways are well worth it. It’s not the extraordinary that we witness, although we have witnessed the bizarre, but it’s the everyday life of people living “out there” on the lands. While we now have four and six lane highways in India, my father in law once said that to us it is a highway, but to the villager it’s his toilet, to the farmer it’s where his wheat is threshed, to the little boy it’s his cricket pitch. Undoubtedly this collection of images will grow and plenty more that we have failed to capture but here’s a few for now.
Here’s a man transporting his goat in what we call “share auto”, sort of like car pooling between villages along the highway. We tailed this auto for a while just watching the man and his goat wondering where they were going and why they were going there. He was petting the goat with such love and tenderness, they would look in to each others’ eyes and at one point, the goat laid his head on the man’s lap while the man gently stroked its temple. It did not look like this goat was going to be this afternoon’s mutton biryani.
Then there were the men with many goats. These were surely on their way to a tasty heaven – undoubtedly mutton biryani. It was amazing how calm these goats were, on what must have been a frightening mode of transportation, with cars whizzing by at 100 Kms an hour…although the one in front looks like he’s trying to make a break for it.
This was one of the bizarre that we saw – only in India kind of things. We called it the Push Me Pull You as it reminded us of Pushmi pullyu from Dr. Doolittle: “gazelle-unicorn cross” which has two heads (one of each) at opposite ends of its body. When it tries to move, both heads try to go in opposite directions. Dr. Dolittle meets it on his voyage to Africa to save monkeys and I think it features briefly in the Eddie Murphy movie. The Indian highway version of the pushmi pullyou is trucks with their bums tied together trundling along the highway.
On the drive down the Nilgiris we heard a man shouting out “Thein!, thein!” which means honey in Tamil. The honey collectors of the Nilgiris are famous for their death defying acts of honey hunting. The tribals or adivasis of the region scale steep mountains and cliffs to capture honey combs. Their methods and preparation for these daring feats are loaded in superstition and myth. So we couldn’t resist the man by the waterfall and his bucket of honey combs dripping pure natural sweet honey. He filled up a litre bottle – an old whiskey bottle – of pure natural freshly squeezed honey. But first to show us that it was unadulterated honey, he poured some in a glass and then filled the glass with water. He placed his palm over the mouth of the glass and turned it upside down. The honey floats as one viscous blob to the top. Apparently this shows it is pure honey. I haven’t yet looked up whether there is any science to this or tested out the technique with some adulterated or sweetened honey but it made for a good convincing act.
We had booked ourselves in to a precious little homestay near Dindigul, about 160kms from Coimbatore, called Cardamom House. On route we drove past the Coimbatore Marine College. And this was their college building! TS (Training Ship) Clarissa. Not a real hull but one built out of cement, I’m assuming.
Before Dindigul we pass the towns of Pollachi and Palani. In between them is a vast expanse of land in an industrial area called Udumalaipettai filled with wind turbines as far as the eye can see. There must have been thousands of them. The Palghat valley or Palghat Gap as it is called aids in the tunneling of wind through this area making it perfect for wind power generation. I felt very proud to see these Goliaths at work, plodding along, doing good things, taking no credit for it. Although gigantic they looked so peaceful spinning away.
Finally, on our way back in to Coimbatore on NH 209 at a railway crossing, we passed this ayurvedic “clinic”.Perhaps they thought that while waiting for the train to pass one might want to have one’s “pulse checked for only Rs.10” or better still sort out your “wide, small or thin male organ” or “ladies secret diseases irregular periods” with Mr.Vaidyaraj. Please notice the spelling, grammar and the “camp” set up.
The art of long car journeys (a subject for another post I’m sure) I feel is being lost. So many more people take planes to get to their holiday destinations as quick as possible. While airports may provide good enough fodder for “people watching”, the conversations that the sights and sounds of everyday life in India stimulate is priceless. Recently on a family car journey we watched a DVD on the car’s built in DVD player. It definitely kept the kids occupied but we never once looked out the window at life along the highway or played those boring car games that you remember car journeys for years later. I hope we don’t forget that life is also about the journey, not just the destination. Car journeys are about seeing India from the ground up and it’s pretty entertaining stuff.