Ms. Saroja Ratnam had graciously hosted me when I had been to Singapore in April 2015 by car. Not only had I parked myself in the house I also had the entire garage to myself for the Champion. Accommodation and parking are extremely costly in Singapore. Thanks to Sreekanth Nair I got acquainted with his landlady Ms. Saroja Ratnam and was her guest for four days. Despite keeping track of her wellbeing through Sreekanth I was not prepared to receive her phone call last evening. She called up to wish me luck for the expedition. I was floored and moved to tears. I can never forget her gifting me a new Singapore Dollar after hugging and blessing me on 15 April 2015, which happened to be the auspicious day of Vishu. The prized possession is always on me wherever I go. It is connections like these that make me believe that our life is just a means to discover fellow souls who travel with us through time and space.
Last evening a few members of HVK, led by Arun Raveendran, sought an appointment for a chat about the expedition. Accordingly, after dinner in Mr Pius Joseph’s house and a grand farewell we met at Donut House on OMR. The short exchange of views and experiences ended with selfies and photos.
Sleep is never easy when it is time for a new adventure. It was not any different this time. Less than three hours of sleep and I got ready for the 5 am start that I had scheduled. I anticipated over fourteen hours on the road. The distance to be covered on the first day of the expedition was estimated to be the maximum I would cover in a day over the entire trip.
I had calls from Preteesh Nambiar and a couple of other Facebook friends wanting to know if they could come to see me off. I was more than flattered, to say the least, but requested them to be in time so that I could meet the 5 am start deadline. They were there on the dot at the House of Hiranandani with bouquets, smiles and wishes. Akash and Surya, two students of the IMU, waited at the Sholinganallur signal for a few words and photos. The enthusiasm amongst the youngsters for travel and adventure is what was on display.
I had done 892 km from Chennai in slightly over 14 hours when I switched off the engine in the Mahindra service station in Visakhapatnam. The drive from Vijayawada to Visakhapatnam had been smooth. The same, however, cannot be said about the Chennai to Vijayawada segment. Traffic was heavier, road use was most indisciplined, road surfacing was dodgy and diversions due to road works were many till Vijayawada. To add to the woes, the travel from the entry point of Vijayawada to its exit consumed in excess of 45 minutes. The transit through Vijayawada has remained a nightmare for long. I suppose a bypass is being planned.
Joseph Thomas, based in Hyderabad, has been a Facebook friend for some time now. He asked if we could have a short meeting in Visakhapatnam. Instead Thulasiram suggested that it would be more convenient for us to meet in Vijayawada – he could avoid a long trip and hotel stay. Joseph finalized the trip and we met at the exit point of Vijayawada with his friend KC Kolli and their wives. It was a wonderful meeting. They had made a road trip to Morocco last year and are looking forward to many more. In fact, Joseph’s wife has begun a consultancy to guide those wishing to make overland tours. The meeting could not be prolonged since I had almost six more hours to drive that day. We promised to meet again sometime before we took leave.
Thulasiram had identified a new Mahindra service station just off the highway to get the Champion serviced. I detailed a couple of issues to be attended to besides the first service. I also told Suresh, the supervisor who accepted the car, that I would need AC filter for the 10,000 km and spares and oils for the 20,000 km services. He warned me that the warranty would be nullified if services were not done in Mahindra authorized service stations. I may have to deal with this after I get back. Suresh promised to take up the car first thing in the morning.
After a heavy dinner, and predictably super tasty, we sat down to small talk and waited for Vijayan and Manoj with his family. Thulasiram had arranged a gorgeous cake with caps et al to celebrate the 58th birthday. At the midnight hour the candle was lit and the Happy Birthday to You was sung. While relishing the cake the conversation turned to Kerala and her politics. I did not have an early morning start the next day and that kept the ‘party’ going till 1 am.
It had been a perfect start to the path breaking expedition.