Monday, February 02, 2009

Pulicat a.k.a Pazhaverkadu

I went on a trip to Hampi for 2007's new year. I spent the new years' eve on a train from Hospet to Bangalore, talking to a middle aged Bengali woman, a young English cartoonist and a businessman from Hospet who found it weird that the three of us had come to Hampi on our own for no specific reason. It was a fun trip and i thought i should do something like that every year for new years', unless i had something better to do. I promptly did nothing in 2008. Ermm i think i watched putthaandu sirappu nigazhchigal ('new year special programmes' for the tamil challenged) on sun tv and saw people burst crackers on TV. I switched to DD Podhigai and saw a woman sadly doing the lots for a new year special game show. She seemed truly bored with the proceedings. Very exciting it was.

This year i decided to go to Pulicat lake. That's the second largest salt water lake in India (the largest being Chilka lake in Orissa), and is a Bird sanctuary. So i started driving down to Pulicat on 31st evening. Got lost. Asked a couple of parotta shop guys on NH5 where Pulicat was. They had no clue. Then i asked for Pazhaverkadu, and they gave me precise directions. Reached Pulicat at 10 pm. The only lodge there would be ready for occupation by March 2009! A tea shop guy asked me to sleep in my car. He said that that would ensure safety for the car and myself. That didn't sound too encouraging, so i backtracked to Ponneri (a village 17 km from Pulicat). Ponneri had a lodge but a murder had happened there a couple of days before and they wouldn't let me stay ('Police order sir'). Plus they kept asking me who was in the car (even after i had told them there was no one else). I wouldn't blame them. Guys stay with parents. Girls stay with parents. So guys and girls usually go all the way to Pulicat or Mahabalipuram to just make out, and some hotel owners are very uncomfortable with the idea. Anyways one saviour told me about this motel on NH5 near the check post. 'Chaitanya' it was called, and it was a welcome sight. They had rooms available, and they even had a bar. After checking in i headed to the bar. When i entered four drunk lawyers were arguing loudly about something. I had a beer sent to my room. I didn't want to welcome the new year from a 10ft x 7ft room. So i walked out to NH5 to welcome the year from a highway tea kadai there, a tea and the only cigarrette for the year in hand. Random guys were getting off cars and launching rockets from the median of NH5 at midnight to usher in the year. The highway suddenly wore a festive look and it was nice to be in the middle of all that as an onlooker. I messaged K wishing her more of Himalayas and other mountains and less of confusions for the year, and headed back to my room.

The drive to Pulicat early next day was beautiful. It was amazing to drive through vast expanses of fields dotted with birds early in the morning. I saw more birds en route to pulicat than in pulicat.

I hired a boat from the first guy who approached me. Boatman Khalsa has 3 daughters, and wants to make enough money to marry them off. For this part of the story i parted with 50 rupees more than the agreed amount. But he was a generally happy guy, and was thankful to the tourists because that's increased his income multifold. And he was thankful to mobile phones which, he says, is a big plus in his business. He gave a mouthful to the government and some environment protection agencies though, for stopping a bridge construction across the lake that would have helped kids attend school during the rains. And helped vehicular traffic scare birds off from that part of the sanctuary permanently probably. Now, the kids wade through knee deep water to get to school so that the birds can stay.

I wanted to see a lot of Flamingos in all their pinkness. I spotted 5 million fishermen and 1 Flamingo. I did see quite a few grey and white and black birds whose names i didn't know. But they weren't pink. There was this one trip i did with a bunch of random school kids, to Perambikulam wildlife sanctuary. We were at a place full of birds, where Salim Ali had apparently camped, and there was this sciene teacher who went 'Sir, inga evlo kuruvinga paarungalaen' ('Sir, look, there are so many sparrows here!'), unmindful of what birds they really were. I felt as ignorant as that science teacher.

Once we were done with standing in mostly birdless island patches, and were back in proper land, Khalsa asked me not to leave without eating Pulicat's Prawn biryani. He said, with sufficient notice, he could even prepare a grand sea-food meal if i came there with friends sometime. He was truly distressed when i told him i was a veggie. 'Verum soru kaay ela mattum saaptu eppdi sir irukkeenga? Naakku sethudaathu?' was his genuine concern :). ('How can you survive on just rice and vegetables and leaves? Won't your tongue die?'...ok, all this translation is very tiring)...

Then there was this Dutch cemetery, rather obscure in it's presence. The Dutch controlled Pulicat between the 1600s and 1800s. The cemetery, which is maintained by ASI, was locked, so i had to jump over it's gate to get in. I feel a sense of peace when i see cemeteries. Maybe it is the finality of the place. There was an old man in white, sleeping in the shade of the grandest tomb there. Most tombstones had metallic tops that shut the dead tight. I was reminded of Rachel from 'The unbearable lightness of being', who hates the idea of being pressed to the earth and being shut. Instead she wants to be burnt and wants her ashes thrown to the wind...

I'll have to go back to Pulicat sometime to get my eyes' fill of Flamingos. But despite the birdlessness, i thought the trip had enough moments to make it totally worthwhile...