“So, have you decided when you want to go to Velankanni*?”asked Hubby. “I have just 2 days’ leave from office”, I said. “That’s alright. We can go during a weekend as a road trip. It will be fun”, said Hubby. I objected – “You know that I hate travelling long distance by car. I get car sick just to think of sitting for so long. Besides, we have never travelled from Trivandrum. Do you know the way?”
Car-crazy Hubby was buoyant at the mere thought of being able to drive his Honda Civic for so long. “The trip will hardly take 10 hours – from here (meaning Trivandrum) to Nagercoil is 2 hours, to Thirunelveli another 2 hours, then Madurai – 2 hours and from there to Velankanni via Thanjavur will take 3 hours. So, a max of 10 hours. Besides, we will make stops all along the way and turn it into a fun road trip.” Little did I know that my concurrence was going to take me through the scariest journey in my life.
And that is how we started out planning the Velankanni trip.
The trip started out well enough. We started around noon on a Friday, traversed the long stretches across Nagercoil and Thirunelveli districts and finally reached Madurai. There we stayed at the GRT Residency. The hotel was palatial and I have no complaints there. The next morning we opted for the in-house continental breakfast and started the next leg of our journey by 9am.
We aimed to reach Velankanni by noon, visit the various churches for 2-3 hours and then come back to Thanjavur to
see the Peruvudaiyar Kovil or Brihadeeswarar Temple (Tamil: பெருவுடையார் கோவில், peruvuḍaiyār kōvil). Unfortunately, plans are made to be broken. We lost our way while starting out from Madurai, and managed to drive around in circles in Madurai and lost around 1 hour there.
On the way to Thanjavur, there are roadside sellers hawking different fruits and nuts, “borrowed” from neighbouring fields. We met one such family selling cashewnuts. Actually, ‘met the family’ is not exactly true. It was our car tyres that met the cashews spread out on mats on the road. It is a practice of these roadside sellers to dry their wares on the road.
All hell broke loose – the family started wailing the loss of their wares (albeit ‘borrowed’) and we were forced to buy the smashed cashews. Well, atleast its cashew and I can always add it to ‘payasam’ or kheer.
We again continued our journey and we arrived at Velankanni by almost 2pm. Then, we whirlwinded through the churches and got ready to go back by 4pm. Around 6pm, we were again back in Thanjavur. I was dead tired by then and all I wanted was a clean and cool bed. However, the Brihadeeswar Temple in all its glory beckoned to us and we fell under its spell. It looked so majestic all lit up in the twilight. We spent close to 2 hours in the temple, roaming about in its huge grounds and snapping pictures and trying out the various modes of the camera. Finally, around 8 pm when we were all pooped out, I wanted to stay in Thanjavur and continue the journey the next day. But Hubby wanted to get to Madurai and was confident of getting me there by 9:30 or 10pm. After a lot of arguments, I finally agreed and we were off on the journey to Madurai.
If anyone has ever travelled the Thanjavur-Madurai route by night will know how lonely, deathly still and dark the road is. Add to that the absence of road signs and we have the perfect recipe for a disastrous trip. And guess what, we lost our way too. Hubby kept on driving and driving without reaching anywhere except to get further and further away from civilization. Once, we tried switching of the car’s headlights and what greeted us on the road was pitch-black darkness.
After driving around till midnight, Hubby finally decided that it would now be prudent to declare that we were officially ‘LOST’. Not a single house or shop was in sight and all we could see (in the reflected lights of the car) was a vast expanse of road and barren fields on either sides of the road. We were the solitary travelers on that forlorn road. If by any chance a vehicle passed us, we were terrified if they’d attempt to rob or kill us (our imagination fuelled by stories from movies and newspapers). After what seemed like an even longer time, we finally spotted a house with a light out front. Hubby ventured out in the darkness, bravely knocked on the door and asked for direction.
They pointed us in the right direction and within an hour we were in Madurai. Then came the next headache – we couldn’t find the hotel in which we stayed the previous day! After driving around in circles for another 45 minutes, we finally made it, and slept like babies that night (or at least what was left of the night)
Now, I have sworn never again to travel to Velankanni by car with just Hubby at the wheels.