My father was passionate about books, of which i have written before. He was also fond of traveling, but I suspect that the times and affordability would both have been factors that did not let him do as much as would have liked to.
I remember with great nostalgia, the road trip he took us all on in the summer of 1960. I was just 13 and my brothers were 8 and 4 and we had never done anything like this. Vava, as he was called by everyone who knew him, including his wife and children) had meticulously planned a tour around South India, with a Fiat car and driver borrowed from a friend. He loved driving and drove almost all of the 1800 km or so himself, the driver was mainly for changing the tyre etc… I suspect. Vava was one if the least mechanical people I have known.
I can’t remember exactly how many days we took, but it was close to 3 weeks. The progress was leisurely and the stops were dictated as much by availability of place to stay ( friends and guest houses) as by the distance to be covered. So, I remember stops at Bangalore, Wellington, Coimbatore, Trivandrum, Cochin, Munar, Kottayam, Tirunalveli, Madurai – each of variable length.
We were in Bangalore for 2-3 days, staying with the Franklins, an Army man who had been our neighbors in Delhi, before they were posted to bangalore. Their 2 sons were the same age as my brothers. I remember their old colonial bungalow, typical Cantt accomodation, which had enough rooms to host a family of 5. It had a separate kitchen connected by an open verandah, a pantry and large verandahs and the typical Syrian Christian family must have struggled to feed their vegetarian gursts! Even today when I hear Bangalore being mentioned as the ‘garden city’ (where are the gardens?), it the Bangalore of that visit that comes to my mind.
In Mysore, we found the Brindavan Gardens absolutely fascinating – during my next visit about 2 decades or more later, the crowds of jostling tourists made it a not so pleasant experience! Or was it that the cynicism that creeps in with age, also dims the charm of a place which itself has probably changed little over the years. On subsequent visits to Mysore, I have not felt motivated to even go there.
Of the 1960 visit to Mysore, I also remember the palace vividly but even more so the art gallery which housed the splendid Ravi Verma collection of the Maharaja of Mysore. My father was a great admirer of the artist. When I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Mysore in the 1990s, I had to hunt down the gallery – and the collection was there intact – but in what a state!! They were hanging haphazardly in a dark, poorly lit room and when I tried to talk to the Curator, got some spiel about a court case on the ownership etc… and when I wated to write something in the Suggestion Book, it could not be found!!!
We drove through the elephant country, (I don’t think these protected areas were demarcated yet) and watched the herds crossing the road, on to Ooty. Of Ooty I remember the lake and the famous flower clock which showed the actual time. I wonder if it is still working – it is a place I have not visited since. I remember little of Cohin (maybe we did not stop there) – but the stay with another friend of my father in his rubber estate near Munar is vivid. It was the first time we had seen a ‘modern’ house – not the colonial bungalows we were used to, but a linear, elegant house on the hill side – with lovely full glass windows overlooking the estates. We also spent time visiting various relatives in that part of the world.
Of Trivandrum, I remember little beside the lovely building which houses the museum, and it has been as impressive on every subsequent visit. The Cape Comarin of that time was this lovely beach with its many colored sand and the beautiful temple where the Devi is legendarily supposed to serve as a beacon for sailors. There was very little else (it was the pre-Vivekanda rock era) most people did a day trip from Trivandrum. There were no hotels, or guest houses and as far as I can remember, very little except the Dak bungalow. It was long before the Government LTC (leave travel allowance) tamasha had been introduced!!
From there we meandered northwards, through Tirunalveli, to Madurai where the visit to the Meenakshi Temple was the highlight. Madurai is one city I had occasion to visit on many times through the 80s and 90s and even as recently as a few years ago. And although the jostling crowds are more in the streets and the temple itself is far more crowded that it was then, there has been essentially little change!! And that is somehow comforting. On the last leg towards Chennai, we climbed up to the rock temple in Tiruchi, which I have not been able to do again.
As I recapitulate, it strikes me how many of these places have changed names (Benagaluru, Kochi, Thiruvnanthapuram, Kanyakumari, Chennai) and how most of these cities have become unrecognizable from that time. How much simpler everything was! Most of the people we visited had no phones and all the arrangements must have been made by letters. And we don’t have a single photograph to record the event – in fact, my father probably never took one in his life! The roads were uniformly good and except for a small mishap on the way down form Ooty when a calf jumped form the hill side and hit the radiator of the car, it all went so smoothly.
In the late 90s, we did do part of this route (the Kerala bit) by road – but by then along with the nice bits (good food, the lovely padmanabapuram palace, old Kochi, the boat ride at Thekkady…) the chaotic traffic, patchy roads, the chaos at Kanyakumari , the miles of power harvesting wind mills around Tirunalveli bore testimony to the progress we had made in the intervening 3 decades or more. We were still in the printed camera image age and since I don’t have a scanner heady, these will have to wait for another day! But, I still harbor hopes of doing the full route some time – let us see!!!