I came back from a 1500km round trip blr->madurai->rameswaram->madurai->kodai->blr
NH7 which goes south from blr to madurai and upto kaniyakumari is in pristine condition.
avg of 100 is easy to maintain with good margin of safety. our innova driver used that as the lower limit and went 130 in some stretches. since I was strapped onto the nosecone of his rocket in front seat, didnt manage to sleep a wink.
tolls worked out to around 200/- for 400km, which is very cheap for the quality of road.
only safety issue was seen @ dindigul which is between karur and madurai - people there including buses, trucks, down to cycles and bikes have the odd habit of proceeding happily
down the fast lane in the reverse direction
without batting one eyelid. there is a shoulder available for such heroics but they prefer the fast lane in those parts. quite scary as you round a sweeping curve @ 100+ and see a biker around 50m ahead.
Reliance petroleum retail having folded up, most of the A1 plazas for food are closed on
this route except one around 30km south of krishnagiri. good food on the NH itself is
hence hard to find unless one enters cities like Salem (extra time lost) or is happy with
basic "meals" - wife wasnt at all happy with the toilet at one such place we tried on outbound leg.
madurai municipal corporation collects 30/- in a toll gate as you enter but seems to have
not done much to beautify and clear up this 2nd largest city in TN except a bypass. highway in the eastern side and a couple of under construction flyovers. the sad part is
the VAIGAI river flowing through the city is now totally dry and looks to have been dry
for quite some time going by the sand and earth taking it over. in some parts its like a
dirty drain in 10% of width and dry land for 90%. This used to be a perennial river in
the time of the Cholas and Pandyas and fed the rich cultivation further east. our taxi driver claimed KT had kept all the water behind a dam.
madurai - rameswaram around 180km is a decent two lane highway that finally crosses the 2km long pamban bridge into rameswaram island in gulf of mannar. I have seen my share of ill kept and flea bitten towns but rameswaram is a new entrant in top5 worst ones. municipality takes 30/- and bridge takes 60/- but both are in poor shape. hordes of pilgrims have littered the place with plastic and debris on all sides. the bridge could do
with some serious refurbishing. there was one decent and clean std hotel where we grabbed a hurried lunch in a converted conf room. the temple itself is overrun with pandas, not tourist friendly, dark and confined
, and unruly queues and the place is very wet due to 22 wells where the faithful take baths one after another. some kinda bengali panda group is in there somehow, as I could see signs announcing their names. the sculpture quality in temple was poor and most looked quite new not old ** ,
only claim to fame is the temple outer corridor is 200m long and has hundreds of pillars.
I am not returning to rameswaram ever and would advise all but the most desperate to
in contrast madurai meenakshi temple is clean, orderly, no panda problems, free darshan line, 15/- paid darshan line, has good quality of sculpture and artwork plus a good collection of bronze statues and a market selling religious products. the old town around it
is very crowded but understandable considering its around 1000 yrs old minimum as a town likely older.
from rameswaram to dhanushkodi (rama setu) apparently in 1964 the cyclone wiped off
the road, railway and town itself , killing a train too. some ruins remain and a few fisher folks. only way there is in back of a jeep or truck across the sand dunes in blistering heat.
so we didnt attempt that. this was where sri lankan refugees and LTTE milled around
in the past per reports.
from madurai we headed up NH7 toward dindigul and forked off to kodaikanal road. the
road again was in great condition albeit two lanes (in sharp contrast to mysore-nanjangud-gundlapet-gudalur-ooty
). the climb up the palani hills was smooth and not bogged
by jams. the bus drivers show common sense and let smaller cars pass in the safe places.
Kodai in sharp contrast again to Ooty was neat and clean with no visible garbage problem
both due to civic sense and because the municipality really deploys street muscle to clean things up and service large plastic garbage bins. they have also banned plastic and all shops use paper bags. the lake is much larger and more scenic, so are the nearby old growth trees and viewing points are great on western side of town, dropping 1km straight down to ancient forests that proceed 100km further to munnar plateau.
full marks to the kodai town council for keeping things under control inspite of hordes of
day trippers in buses. the road to the viewing points need some widening to prevent
jams but they have thoughtfully made it one way.
a TN cop demanded a 50/- bribe from our driver near "pillar rock" viewing pt for not being in uniform (350/- fine he claimed). but he backed away and slunk off with a feeble "last warning" when my wife jumped out and confronted him to ask what was the problem
some industrialist/film types seem to have made lavish palaces around the lake which
is good because their estates are superbly maintained and large, as opposed to allowing
more shops. I saw one smaller villa that looked like owned by golkaldass exports. up in
the hills a closed HLL factory still had well trimmed gardens - probably they have some
holiday home cum retreat for employees on the premises.
trip back to blr via dingigul was again smooth, albeit quite tiring due to 500km distance
and lack of mcdonalds,pizza hut and hyderabadi biryani places enroute.
** I consider hoysaleshwara (halebid) and chennakashava (belur) to be the "gold std" among places I have visited for quality and form of sculpture.
between kodai, ooty, yercaud and avalanche(near ooty), I'd put kodai, avalanche, yercaud and ooty in that order. perhaps munnar is better - its the last one left to visit on my RTO (road tasking order). Eravikulam is
the Promised Land, perhaps the most beautiful national park in all India.
p.s. inspite of claims that neelakurinji flower blooms every 12 yrs and next one is 2018,
we could see fair number of blooming blue flowers near the kodai road. maybe in
munnar they have high density and follow that cycle.