I finished the previous day’s report (a long time ago) on a note that this post would have an interesting beginning. Well it will, as that is the way the 15th day of our trip began. I brought out in my earlier post, that we were staying right across the Puri beach and this sparked some ideas in my brain. We had three of the best SUVs in India at our disposal, and not taking them for a ride on the beach seemed criminal.
So we woke up early and under my (not so able) aegis, drove the cars (sans the Innova ofcourse) on to the beachfront. Now since none of us were pros at this, we certainly drove with much trepidation, but then the supreme abilities of these vehicles, made it easier than expected. That encouraged much experimenting, with driving through shallow water and lots of shutter clicking.
Our antics had certainly attracted a sizable crowd, who were there as much for the cars, as to see the faces of the stupid people (or maybe celebs, it’s the same thing) fooling around with them. Our juvenile tendencies sated, we headed back towards dear tarmac, and this proved to be a different task altogether as it entailed driving over a small rise on the beach, which for added fun, had loose sand. Me being me, chose the LC200 and a different route from the rest two – well I am always hat ke from the rest you see.
Little did I realise that while I was indeed avoiding loose sand, I was also heading bang into populated territory and with an attractive brute, it only meant people blocking my progress to get a better view. Now anyone who has ever experienced or heard of driving on sand knows that momentum is critical, and once that is lost it does not take long for the car to sink into the soft surface. And I was maneuvering nearly a 3 tonne monster at that.
Bam! Tyres hugged the sand, threw up most of it as they spun, and all the electro-mechanic wizardry of the Toyota could not get it to move an inch. This seemed to press all the panic buttons in my brain, all at once. Various worst case scenarios started floating in my mind. We will have to call a crane and I’ll embarrass everyone, the expedition would come to a stupid halt etc etc. Thankfully it did not come to that as the people were extremely helpful – after being offered Rs 1000 for their services. A couple of heaves, followed with an unblocked way ahead, and the LC literally breezed out of the seemingly insurmountable terrain.
We were later told that such off-roaders on the beach are nothing new for the locals, and they were not attracted by any inquisitiveness, but very cunningly cornered the one away from the pack, to precisely block and get it stuck and make an easy buck! So much to their entrepreneurial abilities then, but I was mighty relieved to make it out of the sticky situation.
Normalcy restored, we continued on our journey towards Vishakapatnam, though before that we had a brief lunch halt at INS Chilka. This Naval Base is the basic training organisation of all the enlisted men joining the Indian Navy, and hence holds a major significance. Situated on the banks of the world’s second largest lagoon – from which it gets its name – it is a picturesque base and one full of surprises.
Sadly we landed on a Sunday afternoon, meaning we were far from the daily hustle bustle, with most people preferring a quiet siesta indoors away from the stifling heat (yes even during November). So we limited ourselves to some photography at the lovely watermanship training center of the base, with its views of Lake Chilka spreading out till the unseen, masquerading as the mighty ocean, only to be betrayed by its calm visage.
Roads in Orissa are nothing much to write about, and not fun to drive on either. Firstly there are no carriageways to let loose, neither the kind of twists to keep one involved, and the incessant cattle traffic is a sore to the eye and steering. Entering Andhra Pradesh then provided for a welcome change. One could notice the stark difference in the countryside which was much lusher despite being pretty much in the same environment.
Paddy fields stretched till far and there seemed to be a purpose about the place. This is one of the many disputed areas in our country with the battle on for the formation of a new Telangana from within the existing state, with Vishakapatnam as its capital. Thankfully we did not get any hint of trouble during our passage and infact it turned out to be a soothing last few hours before we entered the “city of destiny” – as the locals choose to call the coastal city of Vishakapatnam.
That may be a grand euphemism for what is a pretty regular port city, and I prefer to stick to the nickname Vizag. Nevertheless I had served here for close to two years during my first appointment on a warship, and it indeed brought back many memories. Not much had changed since I had left, either in the manic traffic culture, or the quaint “Beach Road” that’s a shining example of how a beach front should be developed and maintained.
The best part though was yet to come. We checked into Green Park, a hotel close to the beach, and might I say that among all the varied places we bunked during our trip (from the grand to the bare-bones), I never experienced the kind of personal touch and true Indian hospitality as this place. It was just perfect, from the food to the staff, with everyone attempting to make our stay that bit special. I know it’s not among the famed chain of hotels, but if any of you happen to visit Vizag, I would recommend this place with eyes closed.
We were being hosted by the Admiral Superintendent the next day and that meant some smart military turn out and a chance to meet old friends and colleagues after long. Vizag is home to the Eastern Fleet and probably the most important city after Bombay in context to our Naval might. Right from the best in gas turbine technology to the latest and meanest nuclear submarine, all find home here.
But the high point for the day was a drive up Dolphin’s cove. This place was still coming up when I was here last, and to see it near completion was a sight in itself. It’s on top of Dolphin hill that stands like a sentinel over the vast blue sea stretching till infinity – needless to say then that the visuals here are purely breathtaking. To add to my pleasure, the route is a spaghetti of tarmac draped across the mountain, curving its way towards the top – and on to automotive nirvana.
Evening was reserved to catching up with old friends in an unofficial atmosphere and taking the Landie for a spin on beach road with all embarked. Overall one of the best two days in the trip (definitely since Delhi) and a very rejuvenating halt. Next we headed to Chennai, covering the most kilometers in a day during our entire trip. But indications were that the road would be nice and scenic, so we were geared up for it.
I know this was long, but trust me I had to really trim it down. Mostly as the stay was nostalgic and the drive was proving the most enjoyable yet with the new crew being the most fun by a long way compared to the others. And this proved to be a precursor to the remaining leg, which only continued to get better. But that’s for future posts. So till next time adios and drive safe