‘How much farther?’ I scowled, clenching my jaw, my butt protesting in pain. Who would have thought that sitting pillion for so long would hurt? But it wasn’t just that. It was my first time on a bike, on a distance this far, and whoever said it was about the journey, not the destination, was clearly nuts.
Ours being an arranged wedding, we (after all the trials and errors) had our own checklists that we quizzed each other about on our very first date. From lighting the house yellow to checking if I would be okay with a liquor cabinet, we got all the tiniest details sorted. One such detail was travel. Of course- I said I enjoyed traveling but had to look sheepish when his list out-did mine. So it was no surprise that soon after our wedding, N decided he needed to test all those vehement assertions I had stated about adoring travel. Within a couple of months, he got very skeptical when I gave excuses for plans twice. So one Friday night, when he threw open a plan to ride to Pondicherry, I took it one step further and upgraded it to a ride to Tranquebar aka Tarangambadi making N’s eyes glisten with happy tears.
It is surprising how quickly one can get to Pondicherry from Chennai when the sun is just about rising. We reached the Union Territory in 90 minutes and sat twiddling our thumbs, waiting for somebody to open shop for breakfast. The promenade was chilly yet welcoming, teeming with folks jogging or walking. We watched the sun rise and quickly made our way out to beat the traffic.
(Nongu and tender coconut water vendors on the ECR/ Breakfast by the beach in Pondicherry)
Riding on the ECR is always smooth- towns pass you quickly and we stopped for intermittent breaks to stretch ourselves. I was just done with Ponniyin Selvan (a book set in the era of the Chola dynasty) and we were riding by towns mentioned in the book. All was fine until we crossed Cuddalore, and the roads started getting worse. We crossed Chidambaram and I was very excited, waiting to cross the Kollidam river (as one of the protagonists in Ponniyin Selvan dramatically swims across this river in spate at one point) My disheartenment knew no bounds as we rode over a bridge built across a barren river bed. I was picturing a river in all its glory in my head- and well, it stayed that way.
In my head, I have little rooms where I box different types of people. It is my head and these are my rooms, so judge me all you want. The point here is, had I not married N, I would have boxed him in the room marked ‘Peters’ (Non-Tamil folks would not get this but you could take a guess) This is good because we have a plethora of things to talk about. Like for instance, the Silappadikaram as we crossed Poompuhar. As we drove south, there was a change in our breaks as well. From stopping for some coke and chips, we started halting when we saw someone selling tender coconut juice or fresh, juicy nongu (the Borassus flabellifer fruit)
By the time we took our fifth break, we had been on the road for a good five hours…and had crossed a whopping 280 kilometres. It was around this time that I caught my reflection on the rear view mirror, and saw a red faced, frizzy haired baboon under my helmet. ‘How much farther?!!’ I croaked and N’s voice reached my ears, along with the whistling wind, reminding me that I was handling the GPS and shouldn’t be so lax and did I want us to reach our destination safely or not. I swallowed my anger but kept my baboon face. After all, it was my idea riding to Tranquebar.
It was around 2 pm when we reached Tarangambadi. You find the beach, reassuringly familiar; the Tranquebar fort, and the Bungalow on the Beach, which was previously the residence of the Danish Governor (later the residence of the British Administrator of the colony). As you would have understood by now, Tarangambadi was a Danish colony. The Bungalow on the Beach is now a luxury heritage hotel (the rates are on an average Rs 6500 a night plus taxes). We chose not to halt there for the night and instead only had lunch (fish, prawns and some rice- very good). The Bungalow has a colonial feel- as we walked around it, I could imagine an evening ball, with men and women in their finery dancing through the night. The rooms are also aptly named- after counts and princesses, presumably of that era.
We sauntered to the fort, it is more of a local haunt than anything else. It is small for a fort (I am comparing it to Golconda here) and with not much history, I found it disappointing. I love forts that I can weave a story about, with walls that have seen romance, treachery and war. Some fort walls appear pregnant with untold stories, looking like all they want is for somebody to sit near them and listen to their tales. More about such forts soon!
(Clockwise- top left to bottom left: The Tranquebar beach, some areas cordoned off with brick walls/ The Bungalow by the beach as viewed from the fort/ Dining area with the colonial pillars in the Bungalow by the beach/ View of the Fort from the entrance)
With nothing much else to do in Tranquebar, we decided to head back before the sun set. We rode another 120 kilometers back to Pondicherry for the night, and drank to our record 400 kilometers in a day at Le Club.
Our version of The Motorcycle Diaries has thus officially begun!