BuffyFish Coastal Diaries, January 2016

It was August 2014. It was raining. I was cogitating over a cup of coffee when an idea occurred to me. I wanted to drive a car, along the entire coastline of the Indian Peninsula and meet interesting women along the coast.

Then started the journey towards making this dream into a reality! The maps were the first thing I worked on. There were 20 halts and it was only in these places like Thiruvananthapuram, Puducherry, Puri and Kolkata that a halt for more than a day really made any sense. Since, it was just a road trip and we constantly had to be on the move, the other places would deserve only a night’s halt.

Now this was an expedition where I wanted to travel along with an all-women team, in a 4×4 vehicle, along the coast of the Indian peninsula, for 5000kms. I would call it the BuffyFish Coastal Diaries.

It was only many plans later, after dropping Gujarat, did I decide, that the trip would start in Mumbai and we would go all the way to Kolkata via Kanyakumari in 28 days across 5000kms.

Travelling was also about meeting interesting local people and talking about their lives. I wanted to interview these wonderful women and publish the stories of their lives in the form of a blog.

I approached Mahindra and asked them if they were willing to sponsor the vehicle. They agreed immediately and told me that it was an ambitious plan and I couldn’t agree more. They decided to give us one Mahindra Scorpio 4×4.

It was going to be a low budget trip. The budget per head per day was as low as 1500INR where 400INR, was for food, 400INR, was for fuel, and 700INR was for accommodation. I was not going to charge any commission or facilitation fees and that meant, keeping track of all the expenses and collecting all the receipts.

I approached my closest women friends and got a few takers. They spread the word among their women friends and some of them signed up for the trip. The word was out. We were going on this epic journey together.

Eventually, we had a real team of 7 women raring to go! There would be 5 at any given point in time. Some joined us on the west coast and some on the east coast. There were 3 of us who were going to travel for the entire duration.

The team mates were

Subhadradevi leela from Bangalore, Prerna Dangi from Delhi, Vanita Kariappa from Mumbai, and Sayali Pandkar, Sumati madiman and Sejal Waghmare from Pune.

I had assigned a few tasks to all these women. This got them talking to one another and the ice was broken well before the trip. There was a lot of excitement in the air. The women met up once before the drive. They all jelled well with one another. There was a WhatsApp group where I posted almost every day. There was a Facebook page where all the updates were posted.

A few of us attended a first aid workshop with Anish Menon from Pune.

Mahindra conducted a car maintenance workshop for us, where we learned the basics of different components in the front bonnet and also learned how to change the stepney.

We started booking hotels early in December 2014. Train and flight tickets were booked. We were all set to leave by mid-december.

The final plan, of going 5000kms from Mumbai in the west coast to Kolkata in the east coast via Kanyakumari, over 28days, was the one that eventually materialized, because of the time constraints that everyone had and it was affordable financially.

And then even before we realized, it was 4th January 2015, and the participants for the west coast met up at the airport. The event was flagged off by 2 of my closest friends.

So we set off. Day 1 and 2, we checked the entire konkan coast off our to-do list. Beautiful skies, lovely people, delectable food made the first two days worthwhile. However, the first two days turned out to be grueling and tiresome. I wanted to stick to the true coast and not the highways. However, because of the conditions of the internal state highways and the roads that were badly maintained and even though the distance from Mumbai to Dapoli was only 268kms, we ended up driving for 9 hours that included a 15min chai break and a 1.5 hour lunch break. It was harsh. We decided to then stick to the national highways. That sort of eased a little bit of pressure and we were able to stop by and see places. We stayed at places like Saloni village where the owner had made us a sumptuous meal consisting of some yummy sea food dishes. Malvan was the next stop. Here the girls let their hair down. We decided to go to the beach at night and swim. The local village women were really helpful and assured me

On Day 3, we stayed at a beach shack in Agonda in Goa. We ended up eating a lot of delicious pancakes in Goa. We also tried our hands at Chicken Cafereal that was a famous Goan dish. One of the girls decided to get a haircut at a local barber shop and she let go of her lovely hair that had beautiful curls. Way to go girl we said to her!

Then we then made our way to Udupi. The Karnataka stretch is really pretty lined with rivers, bridges, seas, coconut trees, tiny villages, the fields and nothingness which is so full of mystery. We stopped for fruits and some gajaras “flower necklaces” that we wore on our hands and necks. We stopped at mirjan fort for a cuppa coffee and we were served tea at that local shack. There was an amma (an old lady) who was really keen to speak to us but didn’t know our language and we didn’t know hers. Very affectionately she served us everything  we asked for and also smiled and laughed at everything we said. We then went to the so called time pass fort (the locals called it that) called Mirjann fort. It was well maintained. We spent about 40mins exploring the fort (which apparently was a 16th century fort and was built during the reign of Adil shah!) We left and stopped at Murudeshwar for lunch, which was a pilgrim site. When we reached there we saw many people from Kerala who were clad in black loincloths. We guessed they were headed for sabari malai. The big shiva statue and the facade of the tallest temple i’d ever seen were the highlights of this place. We then headed for lunch at a kamat’s restaurant. Had some veggie food. There were some Americans who walked in for beer. They were politely were pointed to another restaurant out of the city. We had ice cream post lunch. Temperatures were soaring and it was quite sultry too. Thank fully on this trip we have had good loo experiences as far as Indian standards are concerned. (Not everywhere though!) Then we headed for udupi. It was about a 100kms from Murudeshwar. We found ourselves reciting some poetry by Pablo Neruda and backing this poetry recital was instrumental music. We had some good laughs at the corny lines and ended up recording the poetry seession. We stopped at Marawande beach for a bit. It was a tiny shore but a long beach. We had some coconut water and bought us some groundnuts. 20 mins later we were in Udupi.

In Udupi, we tried every local dish that we could get our hands on, at a famous restaurant called the Woodlands, which was in the heart of the city.

The next day we entered Kozhikode. Here we were welcomed by the warm couple, who ran Krishnaleela Homestay. Kerala is full of these homestays. For breakfast the next day, the lady of the house had made us some local Kerala style puttu and we had that with bananas. It was one of the most pleasant homestays I had ever lived in and would recommend it to anyone halting for a couple of nights in Kozhikode.

In kerala, whenever we called the hotels for directions, we would get “Please give the phone to the driver”. They assumed that the driver would always be the stereotypical male and that women could not understand directions. After telling them that we women were the driving ourselves, they were taken aback and meekly gave us directions. We had achieved what we had set out to achieve.

Kochi was next on the list. The biennale was on. We got to see some art at a café, called the Kashi arts café, which was in the one of the by-lanes in the heart of the city. It was quiet at night and not too many people were out on the streets. From the looks of it, Kochi was a pretty little town. Dinner was at Oceanos, another famous restaurant and we had some tasty, local Kerala style chicken curry, with coconut rice. We ended up ordering all the 5 desserts on the menu for 5 of us. We stayed at a dormitory called Rampart Homestay tonight.

The next day we were going to stay at Shirleys beach resort at Kovalam beach, near Thiruvananthapuram, and we stopped en-route at Varkala beach which was quieter than Kovalam. The latter was crowded with locals and outsiders. Kovalam had 2 beaches, the light house beach and the Hawa beach. We caught the sunset and then walked around the beach. It was much quieter after the sun set and one could walk next to the shops. We headed for a restaurant called The Coconut Grove and spent the evening there gossiping. We all shared a chicken sizzler, Kerala friend macaroni, seafood fried rice and some red-sauced pasta. The ambience at Coconut Grove was lovely too and it reminded me of German Bakery in Anjuna, Goa.

Since it was a rest day, the girls woke up late. Breakfast, was Appam and veg stew, omelette and toast-butter-jam. Some coffee along with it just made our day. We had decided to eat a heavy breakfast every morning. We also ensured that we were well hydrated. It was extremely hot here. But we are chilling nevertheless! It is time to rest awhile before we hit the road tomorrow! Some of us went to the city of Thiruvananthapuram to visit the Raja Ravi Vermas museum, while some of us, including me, spent all day learning new juggling tricks at the German bakery. We sipped on wine and had some delicious food like pancakes and the other local dishes. It also happened to be my birthday. One of the girls decided to go bald on the same day which she did and another friend who was from Thiruvananthapuram and had temporarily joined us at the German bakery, shaved off the former’s hair. After going bald we asked her what it meant to her – she said it was letting go off her vanity and was a liberating feeling.

A rest day here helped. Although the girls did wish that had one more night in Goa!

On the 12th Jan, we were headed for Kanyakumari and we reached there in 3 hours. The roads were far far far better than the roads on the east coast. We stopped at Poovar beach which was a fisherman’s beach. There were no tourists. Reached Kanyakumari in the afternoon! The girls went to visit the Vivekananda Memorial.

The next day was going to be a hectic day and we knew that this drive was going to be a long long ride, but thanks to the roads in tamil nadu, we made it there in 6 hours. We saw some sun flower fields. We checked into the hotel, stepped out in the evening and headed for a coffee shop. We then headed for the beach behind the temple! It was super crowded. Dinner was parotta and some chicken kheema at a local road side dhaba. It was not the best but it was authentic.

Rameshwaram to Velankanni – Hats off to the roads! We made it to Velankanni by 230pm. We left early at 830am from Rameshwaram. We drove and it was a pleasant drive. Scenic throughout! It was beautiful. Velankanni turned out to be a pretty little town. It was a clean town as compared to Rameshwaram. t had the prettiest basilica I had ever seen in India.

Next day we left for Puducherry. Enroute was Tranqeubar. We stopped there for a break and headed for “Bungalow on the beach” that was run by Neemrana hotels. There is an old fort from the 1600s that stands on the shore. We left there after coffee and some caramel pudding at Bungalow on the beach

Reached Puducherry at 230pm. We partied hard that night in Puducherry and it was a rest day the next day.

2 of the girls had emergencies back home and had to leave the trip midway. Now it was down to 2 of us. We decided to continue nevertheless as we were going to pick up the last participant of the drive. She was 2 days away

The next day we had to wait at a railway crossing for almost 40mins because 6 trains had to pass before us. We had to reach Sullurupeta. We reached there around 330pm and freshened up and headed for Nelapattu bird sanctuary. Saw some Herons and Pelicans and some storks and some monkeys too. It was crowded, the bird sanctuary. We came back around 630pm. Had an early dinner and tucked in early into bed.

Every day on the trip, we reminded ourselves, that we were here only because of Bijoy and his team at Mahindra. They had been wonderful and kind to let us have Mahindra Scorpio Adventure 4×4 vehicle for the journey.

Sullurupeta to Nellore

It was going to be a short day today.93kms from Sullurupeta to Nellore. We woke up early and headed for Pulicat Bird Sanctuary. Pulicat lake is the second largest brackish water lake in the country. We saw in the distance pink Flamingoes. My day was done. My trip was done. This was one of the reasons I was on the trip, to see the exotic side of nature.

We then went to Sriharikota, where we thought we would be allowed inside to see the rocket launching pad. However, we were not allowed inside.

We along with the Mahindra Scorpio, had now completed more than 3500kms. We felt awesome after having achieved so much. This was only the beginning for BuffyFish and I knew there were many miles more to go. We slept through the afternoon and were up at 630pm. We freshened up and headed for dinner to the Food Studio. Dinner was some chettinad chicken with some rotis.

Also, Sumati, the last participant was on her way to Vijayawada. We were ready to crash now. It was going to be a long 293kms day.

Nellore to Vijayawada

We drove from Nellore to Vijayawada to pick up Sumati, our final joinee. Today’s highlight was the interview with Mrs. Mythri, the daughter of Gora had who set up the Atheist Center in Vijayawada.

We drove for close to 184kms today and reached Kakinada. The river godavari was everywhere in sight as we made our way to visit the forest of Koringa. We later also went to Puducherry-Yanam where we stopped for a coffee at the restaurant of Hotel Regency. Tomorrow we leave for Vizag, the last stop in Andhra Pradesh.

We reached Vishakhapatnam.

The submarine museum was shut for renovation, because the cyclone Hud Hud that had devastated it.

We walked along the beach for a bit and then headed to the restaurant at the PARK HOTEL known as “BAMBOO BAY”, a super expensive place.

We stayed in Gopalpur, a small village I had never heard of. The girls slept through the afternoon. I rested. In the evening, we went to the beach and caught the sunset just in time and the colors were really dramatic. Dinner was chicken burger, at Mayfair hotels followed by cream caramel, which I thought was the best I’d ever had.

The car was given for servicing the next day. We visited the Jagannath Puri temple where non-Hindus were not allowed. The women were ululating and the men threw their hands up in the air. The main deity was colorful and beautiful. Half the temple was painted white, while half of it was beautifully clad in the colors of the old stone. Puri is the only beach where you see the sunrise and the sunset on the same beach.

We were beckoned by the priests to go with them. All they wanted was money. One of the priests approached us and told us that for 10 rupees you could visit the shrine; this offer also had underlying terms and conditions, one of them being, we were not allowed to talk to anyone. If we did, then the gods would be angry. If we hadn’t gone with with them, then the gods would’ve bewn angry. If we hadn’t done something else the Gods would’ve been angry. We decided to explore the area ourselves.

The next day we visited the Chilikha Lake, rented a boat and saw some exotic birds. For a sum of 2700 INR we got to see the red crabbed island which was one of the more popular rides. We were told that there were no birds at the Nalbana bird sanctuary. I really wonder how true that was. To me it was just one of their tricks to ensure that they got as much money as possible.

In Puri, incessant honking is what people who drive do for a living.

On the last day in Puri, we visited the Konark temple, in Konark the next day. It is magnificent temple. We stopped by at the Lotus resorts for lunch. The sea breeze chilled us down after the bitter experiences.

En route we stopped by at a handicrafts village called Raghurajpur. It was nice to see everyone from different families work towards a common cause – art.

Chandipur beach is elevated. It is called the vanishing beach because twice in a day water recedes for 3kms. It is beautiful and there are not many people on the beach.

We reached Kolkata on 27th jan, and handed over the car to Mahindra. It was the end of a beautiful road trip.

We still had 3 more days in Kolkata. We walked around a lot and clicked random street pictures. We visited the legendary, 100 year old, India Coffee house. We also saw the Rabindranath Tagore museum in Old Kolkata.

28 days of adventure and exploring came to an end as we sat in the Duronto express that led us back to pune.

Some of the things we experienced as women were that we were more careful and cautious on the east coast than the west. Each one of us at every given point carried a pepper spray. Women were still expected to not drive. Belinda Mueller, the first Goan woman that we interviewed on the trip had told us that we were doing a wonderful job. She said “Don’t let fear restrict you. But don’t do anything silly and stupid.” I agree with her. The whole drive was about staying safe and staying safe is only when one applies common sense.  Men had to be more accepting of women. We wanted to be the seeds of change. We had done that!

To read more, open the blog link here