So, I was just into a few months of my marriage and everything was still fresh and new and happy to me. And then, this happened. I don’t quite know what to call it, but you know the tumble of the ride is necessary to make you feel alive. And this was a big tumble!
Hubby and I were in Hyderabad for his training and the plan was to push to Chennai to join his mum and sisters for a trip to the famous Tirupati Temple. I was apprehensive about the journey’s arduousness since visiting Tirupati meant a long serpentine walk into the temple, enough to make a normal person who brisk walks daily, pant for breath. But since the plan was made and the arrangements were done, I decided to go with the flow.
We reached Chennai around nine-thirty in the evening and headed to the guest house to meet up the rest of the family. After a quick bite, we booked a cab and went for an evening out in the city. About an hour and a half after, in a Cafe Coffee Day at the shores of Adyar Beach, we learnt that our VVIP booking for Tirupati darshan was made for 5 am the next day and we were four hours away from the venue, idling around with coffee and pastries. We rushed back to our guest house, trying to decide what to do on the way. First sign: wrong time to set out. By the time we reached, we had decided we would head out at night since this wasn’t Assam and travel by night wouldn’t be hazardous. Bad decision!
Back in the guest house, we decided to call another cab agency for a Tirupati booking. Dumping our luggage and the cab driver’s promise, we headed off in the new cab to Tirupati at midnight. A few kilometres outside Chennai, the cabbie drove into a narrow lane, only to realise he was wrong and came back to the national highway. That was our second sign. The guy didn’t know his roads too well. We still gave him a chance, thinking that evening might have blurred his road mapping and he would figure out the rest soon. A few kilometres further, he said he had to fill his tank up and entered a gas station. Refilling his tank, he realised a car tyre was punctured and had to be replaced. Our third sign: we should have ridden back home. By then, I suppose, wrong decision-making had clouded our brains and we still chose to go ahead without thinking about consequences. After fixing the guilty tyre for what seemed like ages, our pesky driver rammed the doors shut and set sail again.
It was one-thirty am when we left the gas station and everyone else, except my mom-in-law and I, slept off soundly at their seats, while the driver zoomed off with Tamil songs playing in his system. Lesson: Never put a sleeping person in the front seat. Definitely not, if it is night-time! My sister-in-law was dozing in the front seat with her earphones on when the driver decided he has to get some tea to pull through this journey. So he stopped at a tea stall and vanished into it. After an hour, he turned up and said he had to relieve himself after tea and was, therefore, late. We bought what he said.
We were 30kms away from the highway that we left when we were stopped at a toll booth that crossed you over to Andhra, now closed for some official reason. We didn’t have passes and to get it, we’d have to head back to the highway and take another route. Hubby woke up at the commotion and took the front seat, getting mad at the driver for not informing about this. After wasting 60kms, we were again on the national highway and well past our patience. It was already nearing dawn when we got the passes at some highway Regional Transport Office branch (that resembled a paan shop), an hour later.
We started looking for signboards pointing towards Tirupati. A left turn and we were driving into a narrow lonely road, with closed shops and loitering stray dogs. Leaving a dusty town, we entered a dark stretch of road (the ones which are shown on crime shows), flanked by paddy fields. The roads were unlit and there was no signboard since the last one that pointed towards Tirupati. We were nowhere close to Tirupati, nor in a position to return to Chennai. So we decided to go along. I was chatting with my mom-in-law when the car suddenly strayed left and then took a strong right to get back to balance. The cabbie was dreadfully sleepy and was in no position to drive. Furious, hubby took the wheel and put him in the shotgun seat!
It was pitch dark, with nothing except our headlights for help. I took the navigation duty since others were already tired and sleepy, and embarked on what was our most memorable (!) journey since marriage. We had crossed into Andhra and our driver was Tamil. Telugu was neither our strength nor his! We drove for about two hours like that, asking the occasional early riser in Hindi and English, which way went to Tirupati. Towns woke up to dawn, street lights were switched off after last night’s guard on the streets, morning joggers hustled out of homes and lungi-clad chaiwallahs dotted the street corners. We had been driving for ages now.
It was already six o’clock when we reached the Tirumala toll booth and the colourful gates opened up to Tirupati. As we drove up on the hilly route, looking at the spectacular view of the mountain, the fresh morning breeze kissing our faces, the journey seemed worth it. The driver was up by then, shamelessly clicking pictures with his phone. My elder sister-in-law, a martial arts instructor shared our common passing thought aloud, “Iyaak mariye pelaun niki! (I think we should kill him)” We could have done that and easily thrown him down the cliff for all the pain he had caused us, but we stuck to being human and being analytical of our own decision about taking this journey in the first place.
But the ordeal hadn’t ended yet. The officer-in-charge who had booked our visit was fidgeting and told us that we had missed our VVIP booking and were managed into the next VIP booking. What he didn’t mention immediately was that wearing traditional clothes inside the temple premises was strictly important! My elder sister-in-law, the coolest in our gang, was comfortably dressed in a short, waist-length kurta and pyjamas, sporting a cropped haircut and rather tomboyish demeanour. The moment the temple authorities spotted her, they gave her a dhoti. Not understanding the purport of the message, she casually folded it on as a dupatta. The instant reaction of the temple people: No sir, this is a dhoti and has to be worn like a dhoti.
If I was her, I would have definitely stepped out and insisted that I be kept away from such restrictions. She, on the other hand, wrapped the dhoti like a dhoti and moved on in the queue comfortably. It was as hilarious as it was unsettling, at least to me. People stared at her and passed smiles, but she joined in the humour and smiled back. And when the checking counter neared and the woman-in-charge asked if she was ‘Ladies-a’, my sister-in-law nodded and went over to get frisked, smiling.
The queue was still a kilometre long. Sometimes the floor got wet, sometimes carpeted and sometimes sticky. We were in and there was no getting out, even with children crying, possible perverts feeling around and our bellies knocking with hunger pangs. When we did reach the sanctum sanctorum, the priests allowed just two seconds of communion with the god and pushed our elbows to move the line. Tirupati was a busy god, I noted.
After the darshan was over, the sun literally loomed large on us as we stood, waiting for ‘the laddoo’, outside the temple kitchen, for another hour. By the time we got out, it was scorching hot outside. Hubby did not take a chance this time and took the wheel immediately. And if it wasn’t for my sister-in-law’s phone GPS we would’ve wandered even longer. We still had a tyre to repair and had crossed two towns with no signs of any repairing shop. The only relief was that we had a good count of daylight hours left. After what seemed like the verge of our hope, we found one corner shop, tyres of all sizes hanging on its bamboo pillars. It was a godsend!
It isn’t over till its over, they say… and truly so. There were still miles to go before we could plunge into our bed and sleep off like dead people. Every time my eyes tried to shut, I woke up with a start and began talking. When we finally reached the guest house, we got rid of the moronic driver after payment and ate something unmindfully, before hitting the bed.
This was a trip, never to be forgotten. Later that evening when we ordered dinner and gorged like hungry bears, the only positive thing I could feel was that my new family had just got closer. Trying times test your bonds. I looked at everyone, falling a little more in love with hubby, as I appreciated our team effort and thanked god for getting us back safely.
Researchers say that we do not use 75% of our brains in our daily life. I do believe this Tirupati visit made me spend 10% more than my usual count. As much as I am proud of it, I do not want to repeat this experience ever. Like, ever!!!
Do not travel after midnight. The body gets into sleep mode and it’s unhealthy and difficult to keep it up.
If the cabbie looks doubtful, change the guy or change the agency. Even if the agency insists, do check if the fuel meter shows full and the spare tyre looks ready.
Make sure your phone or car has GPS installed when you’re travelling. Saves a lot of trouble!
Dress appropriately for the venue you are visiting or carry a change of clothes with you. You cannot ensure patience after a long journey.
Finally, do take someone who knows driving. You never know when that might come handy.