Monday, May 11, 2015

Subbu Travels - A trip to Rameshwaram

I have so frequently watched vehicles like this and wondered at the people in it.  Wondered why they would get into something that looked a little precariously balanced, almost as if a wheel was off the ground.
And so, what was I doing in that kind of a bus?  Well, for one, it was recommended by the Tourism Department.  And secondly, there was not much of a choice in Madurai.  Either you had to take a cab and we could not find anyone else who wanted to make the same journey, and this was the only other option.  The guy at the travel desk tried his best to dissuade us. Not for you folks, he seemed to say.  But this was another impulsive trip - to Rameshwaram-  and there we were....

The bus arrived half hour before schedule at 6.45 am.  We hurriedly had our breakfast and boarded.  It went around to a couple of other hotels and picked up more people and there we were, a total of 22 people in that contraption. A father and son.  A group of young boys.  And another family with a little baby.  We had a couple and their two children behind us.  The woman was incessantly complaining at the top of her voice.  The husband egged her on when she stopped.  We wondered what we had let ourselves in for. Maybe, the travel desk guy was right after all.  This was not for us.   After half hour of a rickety ride the bus pulled into a wayside hotel and we were all told that it was a breakfast stop and we had to leave in 10 minutes.  We tumbled out a little tired, looking warily at fellow passengers and them at us.

We boarded a good 25 minutes later.  As soon as we all settled, the driver walked in to the front of the bus.  He spoke in Hindi.  Except for four of the passengers, I think the rest were all from the South.  But that did not deter him. He was matter of fact.  Look, I am your guide.  We have to rush.  We should reach Rameshwaram by 12 noon.  The temple closes at 1 pm.  You can have a priest to help you find your way quickly and finish the darshan.  It will cost you Rs 100.  If you do not wish to use their services you are welcome not to, but then remember you will not be able to do anything without them.  And we have a lot of other things to do.  And as a guide my charge is Rs 20/- per person.   ( Now, that was not mentioned anywhere in the ticket) .  You will have to pay me right now. In minutes he was richer by about Rs 400/- plus the commission from the tea stall owner.

With his wallet full, we were ready to leave once again.  I was glad I did not have the view of the road.  Because the one time I craned my neck to look at why the driver was creating a racket with the horn, I realised he was overtaking a truck and that frightened the wits out of me.   The mini bus was not air conditioned, but the roof was padded and there we were driving at a good speed and there was overall circulation of air through the windows.  I also noticed there was no door. And so another gust from there kept us all reasonably cool.

Fortunately, after the breakfast, the couple behind us had also quietened down.  About two hours later, the breeze seemed cooler and we could see the sea alongside.


Our 'guide' informed us this was the confluence of the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal.  It was a very pretty sight.  And he told us we would shortly arrive at our destination and that we should be prepared for a half kilometer walk.  

As we neared the temple, perhaps that is why there was no door, we had four hefty priests who jumped into the bus.  It reminded me of how railway porters got into the train as it pulled on to a platform.  As the bus stopped, the driver came in with a bag and collected all our mobile phones and cameras and then told us to pay the priest.  Of course, he once again told us it was optional, but it was for our good and we had hardly anytime before the temple closed for the afternoon.  So, really we had no choice.  We rushed through what seemed a maze, tiny lanes that finally led us to the entrance to the temple, and an enclosure where we kept our footwear and got in.  

We were led by our priestly guides to enclosures where there were people who poured water over our heads from different wells.  I couldn't go through a total dousing but watched with awe while the others had no qualms including the little baby passenger who took it in good stride.  Not a whimper out of him ! The floor was wet and slippery and  I was so scared I might slip that I had my eyes down watching my step and rarely looked upward to appreciate the beauty of the temple.  Finally we made it to the sanctum sanctorum.  It was time for the temple to close.  And the priests then tried to extract a little more from our small group.  Rameshwaram, was for most people the last stop in their pilgrimage and many had run out of funds.  So it was a rather disappointing day for the four priests.


                     
By then, we all were tired.  The humid heat was finally getting us down.  And we went and had a nice simple hot lunch at a small restaurant.  A so called north indian lunch which tasted quite south indian.  It was hot, not greasy and quite like home cooked food.  

We were given a little time to wander as the driver had his lunch.  We went to the sea front where most of the religious ceremonies are conducted.  It saddened me to see the filth.  And absolutely no effort to clean up.  All it would take is a little effort ! And some civic sense.                                            


 We stopped by at a few other places before we got on to the Pamban bridge.  The beautiful cantilever bridge over the Palk Strait.  We also had a train that just came by and this made it all the more worthwhile.  It is ironical that there are boards all along the bridge that state  No Parking, but every vehicle made a stop to let the passengers troop out to pose and take pictures.  


                                     

And finally we were on our way back to Madurai.  By then we had made friends with the father and son, and the young men who I suspect had played hooky from work and had no confirmed tickets to get back and were beginning to look worried.  The noisy couple resumed a bit of their banter from morning, but we were more accommodating by then and it did not bother us any more.  It seemed like one big family with one common goal.  And we had not allowed the driver or the priests take us totally for a ride.  
We had another mini stop again at a hotel for tea.  And some nice hot plantain bajjis that were just off the pan.  There was this guy outside the hotel who had a little whistle and would wave about his arms  to get people to stop by 

We reached at about 7 in the night.  A good twelve hours since we started out.  The travel guy looked anxiously at us as we walked into the hotel with a I told you this was not for you kind of look.  He looked surprised to see us quite happy and relaxed.  Our mission accomplished.  Within a reasonable budget.  With less discomfort than anticipated and a thoroughly enjoyable trip with strange company.  

 

I was puzzled by what was on the windscreen of another bus.  It said 'Our life in once make. Our generation to live '  There didn't seem to be any words missing. I am still figuring it out.  And once I do , I will step into another mini bus for another ride.  Till then, this will remain in my memory as a totally entertaining experience with Subbu Travels. 
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