Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Four Friends In A Car (To Say Nothing of the One at Home)

The Planning

If I must start from the beginning, which I propose to do, then I must tell you how and when the trip was planned. Well, it was planned on a late Friday night (or early Saturday morning, as the purists would like to put it, for the time was 5:30 in the AM) when a certain talkative Aishwarya suggested to a certain enthusiastic Neha about a trip to Sri Sailam on the following Sunday, to which the drunken I readily assented. Now, if you have ever decided to do something while being drunk or have witnessed someone decide to do something while he is being drunk (or have read this paper), then you would know that being rational and judgmental are usually not the characteristics associated with such decisions.

But, I am a man of my words - even if they come from my drunken lips. So, when the enthusiastic Neha later enquired about the trip I said that it was still on, provided we wake up early enough (read before 11 AM) on Sunday and then start on the trip right away. Aishwarya, on the other hand, apparently didn't believe in such gentlemanly niceties as keeping-the-promise (even though he was dead sober the previous night) and upon being entreated to join us on the trip blurted out a platitude of an excuse : "I have some work to do". I have never understood that excuse. I mean, shouldn't it be the other way round - you go on a 250 Km trip through a dense jungle with jolly friends and have a good time and then make up an excuse for not getting the work done. It makes more sense that way. Anyway, there are infinite number of things in the world that I do not yet understand and such misplaced priorities of otherwise sensible people are some such things.

On Sunday morning, the day of the trip, I somehow woke up a bit late - 11:30 AM to be exact. Now, there's nothing wrong with a well-into-the-day-sleep on a laid back Sunday morning, but when you have plans to execute and distance to cover then time, as they say, is of import - which in everyday English means that you should act quickly. And act quickly I did. Right from the moment I woke up, I started to mobilize the support of Abhishek and Amrita (my other two room mates and friends) for the road trip and their assent once secured, we, in a flash of inspiration, reduced the time for the trip to half just by the simple act of changing the destination to Chilkur Balaji which we all believed was only about 100 Kms from home - just about the right distance to have a long enough drive and yet return home before nightfall. So, not only did we make up for the lost time but we also gained some extra time. Smartness has its own advantages.

The Beginning

Once the plan was thusly frozen, the three of us (Me, Abhishek and Amrita) proceeded to get ready for the trip. (Enthusiastic Neha was already waiting for us). For me getting ready is quite a simple and trivial four step process - get into shower, apply soap, rinse and put on a clean pair of jeans and shirt. A 10 minute affair, at most. Abhishek and Amrita, on the other hand, belong to a different school of dressers altogether - there is a certain elaboration about their whole dressing thing. They, for instance have to iron at least two dressing articles and try at least four combinations and get approval for these articles from at least 2 different people. (I am included in the poll, only if no other options are available). Now, I would be lying if I say that such drawn out affair doesn't bother me - it does, and particularly so when we are leaving for some place in the evening and, well, the time is of import - but it being a Sunday and we having enough time for the shortened trip, I took it in good humor. By and by, all of us got ready and we left home. Once Neha joined us, we were an excited lot of four people in a black car - two in front and two at back. It's hard to imagine a more perfect beginning.

Now, if you know Neha then you probably also know that all that is required to get her laughing is a coherent sentence. So, I wasn't surprised a bit when she started laughing right away at the first opportune moment - which, if I remember correctly, was some mundane remark by Abhishek. The other thing about her laughter is that it is highly contagious - not unlike the famous Gabbar Singh laughter in so much that it makes everyone around feel obligated to join in. So once she got going - and rest of us along with her - the distance to the temple (which we overestimated by some 60 Km) seemed even smaller and we were at the temple in almost no time.

Here, a bit of background about Chilkur Balaji Temple is in order. The temple is also know as Visa Balaji Temple for the legend that anyone who prays hard enough here can get a foreign visa of choice. The finances for the foreign trip though are generally not covered in the plan. For it, I guess, you just have to work hard. (There may be a separate branch of temple that deals with finances but I am unaware of it.) We paid our respects to the deity by performing the regular rituals. I am not sure what visa everyone else prayed for, but if I were a believer in the organized religion then I would have prayed for a visa of some European or Latin American country, but being what I am, I didn't offer such prayers. The visas now have to be secured through other ways.

The Second Plan

Due to the little misunderstanding - we thought the temple was 100 Kms away, but it actually was only 30 Kms - we completed our road trip a lot sooner than we wanted to. And Hyderabad being located where it is, there are not many places nearby that are worth visiting. Now, in such a situation the majority of people would have simply said "So be it. Perhaps, next time we will plan something better." and would have gone home to their dull and boring lives. But not us. We are a determined lot and once we decide to have fun then fun we must have, no matter how inconvenient it gets.

So, with this in mind we all decided to leave for Nagarjuna Sagar dam, which according to an optimistic estimate was reachable before dusk. I called up Aishwarya to get the directions for the dam and the people who know him will vouch for it that asking instructions from him is like simultaneously listening to two news channels - you have to be extra alert to get the whole (and the right) story. The trick, as I have figured out, is to look for keywords. So, equipped with this knowledge I was soon able to identify "Airport", "Srisailam Road", "Left Turn", "Nagarjuna Sagar Road" and "150 Km" as the words of interest. Thereafter, it was a trivial affair to put the metaphorical two and two together and get the complete route from these keywords. But, as we were to later find out, following the route was definitely non-trivial.

The Long Drive

Having figured out the general route, we set out on the road with enthusiasm and cheerfulness of 10 year olds going to the grandma's during summer vacations. We followed road signs wherever they were present and guessed the route wherever required. By and by, we reached Srisailam Road. Just to be sure, we checked the route with three people and got three different answers in possibly three different languages - none of which was Hindi or English. The fourth person we asked however knew some Hindi and told us that this was the longer route and we should take the other shorter route. We straightaway called Aishwarya and let him know the availability of these new facts and asked for his more researched opinion. (He had access to net and maps at home). He assured us that our current track was the right one and we can ignore the other guy's suggestion. We took Aishwarya's words over the one's whose name we did not know. A very human characteristic - to believe someone whose name you know over someone whose you don't.The doubts about the route thus satisfactorily resolved, we relaxed and continued onwards.

The roadside soon turned to a pleasant shade of green which was pleasant to look at. A slight drizzle added to the overall beauty outside and we opened our windows despite the feeble protests from Abhishek about his hair being ruffled in the wind. He put some music (mostly of dhinchak variety) on and in between appreciating the scenery we cracked jokes about this thing and that and laughed ourselves out of our seats. In short, we had a jolly good time.

But, the law of averages is never too far behind- it always catches up. And especially so when you are having a jolly good time. So, just when things were going so smoothly we realized that the road had narrowed considerably and that milestones were now counting down to some obscure place. We promptly consulted a passing farmer about our whereabouts and through hand gestures he indicated that we had left the Sri Sailam road quite some distance back. We turned around and reached the right road 25 Kms back. By this time it was getting late and dark so we decided that instead of searching for Nagarjuna Sagar road we will directly go to Sri Sailam and spend the night there. The rest of 100 Kms were covered through dense, dark and hilly Nallamalai forest. Much to his credit, Abhishek drove us safely to Sri Sailam.

The Long Night

We reached Sri Sailam at around 9:00 pm. and after 300 Kms and more than 6 hrs in the car, all we longed for was a good A.C. room with a neatly made bed and an attached shower. Not too ambitious, you would agree. So, we again called up our old friend in need, Aishwarya Mishra, and he amidst the usual drivel managed to gives us name of two-three hotels which we promptly noted down. In addition, Neha and Abhishek - always so ahead in planning - gave me a list of articles that they thought must be bought for a convenient night's stay. The list consisted of toothbrushes and toothpaste, some soap and towels. Little did they know that we had bigger problems to confront than these minor inconveniences.

The task to inquire for vacancy in the hotels was assigned to me which, as is my wont, I immediately set forth to finish. First, I went to the APSRTC run Punnami hotel which from outside looked decent. But the lady on the reception desk said "No" even before I asked anything and she said it with such finality in her tone that nothing was left for discussion. Thus disappointed, I went to other hotels and inns on the list and met with the same response. Finally, I returned back to the car to report on my errand and then all of us went together in search of the room. While previously we wished for a room in an at-least-3-star hotel, we now inquired for rooms in ashrams and choultries as well. Of course, a room was no where to be found. One thing that I noticed about the people sitting on reception desks of all these places was their invariable lack of hospitality and politeness. I understand that places were full and occupied, but saying "No" with a smile would have taken almost same amount of time and effort. So, I filed this observation in my "World Not Understood" folder and moved on.

Unable to find a single room in whole of Sri Sailam, we finally decided to spend the night in the car. Even though we had never slept for a night in a car, we knew that it was not an easy thing to do. So we decided that the best strategy will be to go for a night-out. For night-out, we of course had to keep ourselves occupied and for that we decided to play cards. Only that we didn't have playing cards with us.

If you haven't done it then I must tell you that buying a deck of cards in Sri Sailam is like making one of those shady drug deals that they show in movies. The moment you mention playing-cards to the shopkeeper, he starts to talk in low voice and urges you to do the same. While pretending to do normal chores of his shop, he brings and hands you a deck of cards with his palm facing down in such a way that the deck is invisible. He then asks you to immediately keep it in your pocket and never mention the deal to anyone. Even the handwritten bill he gives you doesn't mention the name of this item against its price. We later found out that the selling cards is banned in Sri Sailam, but why it is so we could not find out.

We then whiled away our time by playing cards till 3:00 A.M. after which everyone started to doze off. Now, sleeping in a car with three other persons is like being a strand of noodle in a spaghetti. You regularly mistake some one else's leg for your own arm and start scratching it while half asleep. The owner of the scratched limb then indignantly scolds you for tickling them at such an ungodly hour to which all you can manage to do is issue a meek apology.

Much in this manner, we eventually got through the night and the day finally broke.

The Return

The new day brought a fresh set of problems with it. To begin with we needed to find some place where we could brush our teeth, wash our face (a shower, of course, was a luxury we could not afford) and, as the euphemism goes, freshen up. We were thinking of our options when Abhishek came up with a brilliant idea. He suggested that we go to some restaurant for a cup of tea and while we wait for our tea we can also use the washrooms in the restaurant. He had almost killed the proverbial birds with a single stone.

But, as you might know, any plan that works perfectly in theory also has very peculiar knack of going its own unexpected ways when it's put into practice. So, when we went into the only decent looking restaurant around, we found out that it did not have any attached washrooms. We then quickly altered our plan to match the ground conditions and while our tea arrived, we went in search of a washroom in the common area of the hotel. We eventually found one. But, of course, like most of the public washrooms at such places, it was so dirty and unhygienic that it looked like a sadistic joke. We somehow managed to make ourselves believe that we were 'freshened up' after using it.

A joke of a ropeway ride aside, we hurriedly started on our way back home. The atmosphere in the car on the return trip was markedly different. We were all jolly and enthusiastic while driving to Sri Sailam but now the drowsiness in the car was almost palpable. Everyone was dozing off on regular basis except for Abhishek - who was on steering wheel the whole time and only dozed off thrice. It was probably because of this somnolence that, on our way back, we missed the waterfall to which everyone was so looking forward to. We had already overshot the waterfall by more than 25 Kms, when we asked a local about it. This person, it turned out, had a particularly sadistic sense of humor and he sent us to a village, some 16 Kms away, telling us that we would find a great waterfall there too. He also added that we can even bathe there. On reaching the spot, we found a thin streak of water along a rock surface.

After this final disappointment we assumed a more fatalistic view and figured that it was not one of our day. We (actually only Abhishek) then singlemindedly drove back. We finally reached Hyderabad at around 4 p.m. and were so exhausted that even Neha could only manage a fleeting smile at some genuinely funny jokes.

Later we told the story of this trip to friends and realized that the trip in retrospect became more enjoyable than the actual one. I guess, it's true in general - adversities, once successfully overcome, become good stories.
Four Friends In A Car (To Say Nothing of the One at Home)SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

No comments: