Over the last couple of weeks of vacation , I have made two fairly long road trips across South India. First I drove with my friend from Bangalore to Ooty and back . Next I drove with my family from Trivandrum to Rameswaram and back .
The first thing I noticed was the quality of roads – they are quite good . Gone are the potholes I remember from childhood . There are long stretches of good quality highways which are well maintained . This is one area where Kerala could do a lot better . The slowest stretch on my way back to Trivandrum was from Kerala border to my home in Vellayambalam . That is rather embarrassing . Most stretches were toll roads – and that is one thing Kerala could do better . It is high time to let go of the resistance to toll roads and couple it with a strong will to hold the toll collectors responsible for quality of roads .
The shade of blue that colors Bay of Bengal at Rameswaram was the most beautiful I have ever seen an ocean . And the drive back through coconut groves , organic salt farms , mountains with thousands of wind mills and so on was breath taking .
The two things that need attention along the scenic route are food and bathrooms . Actually the food is pretty tasty – there just aren’t enough signs on the road to direct you to the restaurants on the service roads . Bathrooms need urgent attention – there just aren’t enough of them along the highway and most are not kept clean . It’s high time we fixed that .
I was also pretty amazed that google maps proved to be totally accurate on these roads . They estimated time to drive almost to the minute and many a time , saved us from taking wrong turns . But I should add that big signs along the highway are a must have in these national highways . Highway signs are smaller than the street signs in most of western world today .
The trip to Ooty was the first time I stayed in Masinagudi , in the thick Neelgiris forests bordering Karnataka , Tamilnadu and Kerala .
This land is home to 7000 wild elephants , as well as large populations of Tigers ,leopards etc. I spotted maybe 500 deer , and a few wild boars . No elephants or leopards were sighted unfortunately despite hearing the warning cries from langurs early in the morning indicating that big cats are nearby.
This picture was taken from a watch tower in our forest lodge . The bamboo trees form a thick canopy over trails that the tribals take to cross the forest . My friend warned me that it is also the place where lone tuskers take the most lives .
The lodge had two beautiful dogs – I suspect they are a mix of Great Danes and dogue de Bordeaux. They were quite friendly and partially filled the void of leaving my own three fur kids back in U.S.
The road on Karnataka side of the forest is a lot wider and better maintained than the one on Tamil Nadu side . However , as I saw some idiots drive recklessly on the good roads , I started wondering whether it is such a good thing to make good roads in the forest .
I also saw a spectacular sight of four monkeys beautifully timing a jump through open windows of a moving car in front of us , and jumping back with a packet of cookies . It was even more funny to see the guy get out of car , chase the monkeys and take it back . I wonder if he actually ate those cookies after all
Ooty was great in terms of meeting old buddies and their beautiful dogs .
But it broke my heart to see tasteless construction making the sleepy old town a concrete jungle . I have been to Ooty several times – but this was the first time I remember sweating profusely there . It was hot – not the Ooty I knew growing up . I hope they rein in the development to responsible levels . Local government should also spend more attention to preserving historic buildings . It was sad to see the iconic old Spencer building near collapse .
Just one foodie picture this time – in case you need one more reason to visit India . This is the traditional Kerala feast called Sadya , with thirty odd dishes spread across several courses . The fried “karimeen” is not part of traditional Sadya , but it’s my mom’s special dish 🙂