It has been two full months without a long bike trip from Vellore. I always wanted to visit Ramnad and Siva Ganga districts in Tamil Nadu where my father served in mission hospitals in the late '70s. As a 3-year-old in 1979, I spent the best of my childhood in this remote arid villages. I was happy to know the hospital in Kilanjini is still functioning. It compelled me to visit the CSI mission hospital at Kilanjini and also serve my passion as a biker to reach Dhanushkodi which is among the favourite biker's destination in south India.
Vellore to Manamadurai via Tiruvannamalai, Tirukoilur, Asanur , join NH 45 to Trichi, and then to take a diversion from Melur, to Siva Gangai to reach the destination.
Visit to Kilanjini Hospital Stay at TLM Hospital guest house, Manamadurai.
Manamadurai to Dhanushkodi via Paramakudi, Ramnad, Rameshwaram and back to TLM Hospital Guesthouse
Places planned to visit: pampan bridge, Dhanush Kodi and Ramnad palace.
Return to Manamadurai.
Manamadurai to Vellore return journey via the same route.
It brings me all fond memories of my childhood in kilanjini hospital. My schooling was taken a back seat as I was shuttled between my grandparents in Chennai and to kilanjini where my parents lived. Because of my father serving in remote villages I had poor schooling until I entered my 2nd grade and I mostly spent my childhood spending around my parents. I witnessed here my father helping a pregnant woman to deliver a stillborn (born dead) in an open field with women around making a temporary screen with sarees. What more?! I hated grannys hugging me as they always apply that bitter smelling Neem oil all over their body to ward off insects. I believed completely that the paper boats I made and floated in the waters will bring back wheat, milk powder and quilts from America. I was scared of a leprosy patient Mr Sengol with a disfigured face who was living in the hospital as a long-time chronic patient. He tried to be friendly by offering me something from fields but I was too scared to even go near him as a kid. We had a helper called John who was from Burma. He carries me on his shoulders to take me around. He used to tell me the stories of how he survived walking to reach Calcutta from Burma when Indians were driven out from that country. The village people bring us rabbits, varieties of birds as the hunting was common in those days. We had two willy's jeep with the four-wheel-drive which was our only connection to the outside world. The shortest distance to the bus stop was seven-kilometre. I remember starting the jeep when accidentally left with the key by the hospital driver. after that, he was too cautious never to leave the keys in the jeep. The drinking water for us is another issue. The "Oorni" or pond was with murky water where we get water for drinking and washing purpose. the drinking water is made pottable by making circular movements using a seed (Thethankottai) being rubbed at the bottom of the pot by dipping the hand inside. The clear water is then drawn in tumblers on top of the pot. After this process, the sedimented muddy water is thrown out. My mother further boils it to make it safe to drink. You never knew what were all the purposes the Oorni was used for !!!
In that time around there, my mom was expecting the second baby. As my mother had poor follow up check-up as we were living for away from a gynaecologist in Madurai, she was diagnosed with anaemia in the late trimester and was infused with blood. The blood was not properly screened and was taken from a person who had jaundice. So, both my mother and my newborn brother were infected with jaundice. My brother, to be named Joplin Santhosh did not live to see the world beyond thirteen days. After that tragic incident, my dad moved to CSI St.Martins mission hospital Ramnad and was on the move till we settled in 1992 in Chennai. Now at 43 years, in 2019, I'm extremely nostalgic to visit and relive those days.
The day before the ride
The day before the ride, I was excited and restless as usual. I brought my mother in law to home to help my wife and kids as we are otherwise a nuclear family. Kids were in quarterly holidays and were happy. Though my wife was not happy but she allowed me to carry on with my passion. Of course, I do pace out family trips which are equally beautiful but limit to share not beyond a few Fb posts. Made arrangements for grocery purchase and other household routines, so that I was less remembered and cursed for my absence!
I was excited to use a new geeky hydration bladder which I filled and placed in my backpack. I was wondering how I would operate that with my bulky trg2 full gauntlet gloves. The tank bag was filled with DSLR camera with two lenses. This time I carried an extra raincoat to wear over my riding jacket. Packed my via terra claw bag with clothes placed inside the polythene covers, as I don't have a rain cover for my via terra claw bag.
The alarm was set for 3 am and went to bed.
Got up sharp 3 am. Took bath and got ready. My wife got up and we prayed together. I left home at 4:10 am and was on the road.
The GPS was on in mobile holder and my ears were plugged with earplugs. The earplugs give great comfort reducing the noise pollution and do not hinder the needed alert sounds. I change to Bluetooth headset only when I require voice navigation along with maps which are very useful in crowded streets or in flyover exits.
Riding in the dark reminded me of the ghost stories that I heard and it haunted me all the more when I saw a circle with X mark and case numbers on the roads. That enabled me to pray all the more for a safe ride.
Just after Tiruvannamalai, the clouds were getting darker and I could feel the smell of the rain and I know its approaching. I stopped when it was drizzling and cover the tank bag with rain cover and also I wore the rain jacket over the riding jacket. Great! The rain cover was providing added protection and kept me dry. The boot, however, was getting wet with water seeping through the zipper. Now my boots were like water container as it has got hipora membrane. Soon after half an hour, the rain stopped and I stopped near an ESSAR petrol bunk after hitting the NH45 at Asanur. Filled 10 litres of petrol and after using the restroom started riding again.
I find myself like Mr.Bean with riding pants when I use the restroom. Planning, re-planning and in the end clumsy!!! I need someone to enlighten me on this issue! Another equipment I was trying to master was my hydration pack. Initially, I found the tube was short and later I recognised it was coming around my body. Till then I was trying to bend forward to drink water missing the view of the road. Funny! Yes, it was! Throughout the trip, I still couldn't put enough pressure to suck the required water. I was comfortable to drink from water bottle by stopping the bike than sucking and sipping it while riding.
Again there was rain, a bit heavy downpour as I was approaching Trichy and I have to wear the rain cover and also put the rain cover over the tank bag.
The broken road of the highway was carved with metal lines in order to lay a new layer of tarmac. whenever I encounter that patch I had difficulty turning the bike as the tyres were forced to follow the ribbed lines on the road.
I was searching for a place to eat my favourite Pongal and Vadai in the morning close to Madurai but I couldn't stop as I either whisk passed a good shop or I didn't find one suitable to leave my bike parked with luggage on it.
I stopped for 5 min break just before Melur in Madurai. the small hills around were beautiful in rain.
I took the mobile and switched on the google maps and wore the Bluetooth headset for voice guidance to Sivaganga and to the leprosy mission hospital, Dayapuram, Manamadurai. The map said that I have to turn left just beneath the bridge where I have been standing. so I took a U-turn and rode in the right direction.
Finally, I reached at 11.40 am in Dayapuram where the Leprosy mission hospital was situated. The guest house was booked for two days for me by my UG classmate and friend Mrs Preethi. She works as senior Physiotherapist and her husband, Dr Herbert as Medical Superintendent.
The guest house was neat and packed with all the essentials like inverter, RO water, geyser, fridge, and Air condition.
I heard the strange noises and came to know that it is the sound of the peacocks that roam freely around the campus. But I couldn't spot any at that time.
I went around to eat in a restaurant called Al Nizam. Had parotta and omelette. It was a brunch for me. Anyone visiting Madurai and its nearby districts will get a shock when you order parotta
Because the waiter will place your parotta and in front of you will peel it to pieces with both of his hands. Being a native of Madurai, I wasn't surprised. Also, you are expected to take the banana leaf in which the food was served and put it in dust bin near the hand washbasin. 3 parrotas and 2 omelettes cost only Rs 60
Went back to the guest house and rested for a while. Then around 2 pm, I went around to see the hospital and PT department.
Preethi's husband Dr Herbert provided us with a Tata Sumo to visit the remote CSI Kilanjini hospital which was around 40 km from Manamadurai through interior rural roads.
Around 3.30 pm we started from Manamadurai to Kilanjini. The roads and the landscapes did not change much in these 40 years. Particularly, people remain less literate. I Heard the female infanticide rate is still higher in these districts. Also, I heard the people here prepare and give delicious food mixed with poison for very elderly and sick during No Moon day. It is the folkway of relieving one from their misery. Euthanasia for the modern world.
On the way, I spotted peacocks roaming like country chickens. Preethi told the peacocks were attracted towards the black beetles found around that season.
It took us some time to find the roads through villages to reach Kilanjini Hospital. I was nostalgic and extremely emotional to see all the old buildings on the campus. The hospital only has visiting doctors who come once a week. Nursing students from Jayaraj Annabakiyam Nursing college were posted there for their internship to serve the rural community. They were quite enthusiastic. Knowing our medical background and my association with the hospital they were overwhelmed and made tea for us. An old lady who is still working as a nursing assistant remembered my father and our family. She told most of the names I uttered were passed away. She told that the leprosy patient Sengol whom I was scared as a kid, passed a few months back in the hospital.
This is the hospital block where my dad used to see patients and I used to carry coffee from our quarters. And after giving him, I get a prescription from him for a multivitamin which was chewable capsules comes in red, golden yellow colours and in small colourful granules.
This block was for in-patients.
The quarters where we lived is now uninhabited and in a dilapidated state. But I insisted and went inside to see the hall, room and kitchen.
This picture shows the back yard. The only modification was the water tank and an asbestos cover over the bathroom.
This used to be the living room and on the other side would be the bedroom.
The verandah with a front hall where we entertain our visitors.
The back yard was filled with bushes now. The Tamarind tree behind was still there. I used to play around chasing butterflies.
Another view of the back yard
The bedroom window. From here we could see the "OORNI" or village pond. I remember an incident of the village man who murdered his wife and buried the head at the banks of this pond. Just an example for the native's temperament.
I don't remember my mom using firewood in this kitchen. If I am right, she was using a kerosene stove.
With Preethi in front of our old quarters.
The jeep shed remains unchanged
An animated conversation with Preethi! The superstitious beliefs, illiteracy, poor health education and restricted access to health still prevails in these British era princely states as was 40 years back.
The CSI Kilanjini hospital needs a full time dedicated Medical doctor. I wish my people come out of the safe and secure zone to serve this underprivileged. I wonder how much dedicated would have been the European medical missionaries who ventured into this parched landscapes and served the unknown people of this land. The interested people can financially support this hospital through contacting CSI Madurai Ramnad diocesan office.
Before returning, we went inside the village to visit the church that was built in the 1800s.
We returned back around 6.30 pm to TLM hospital campus, Manamadurai. I had a few grapes which I bought in Manamadurai in the evening to avoid constipation during the travel.
For dinner, we packed parrotas from Ilayankudi. I was given dinner at Preethi's house. She made mutton curry for the parrotas. Delicious dinner. Dr Herbert was sharing his difficulty in getting NABH accreditation for the TLM hospital. He said the staff doesn't want a change from their routine and improve the standard of service delivery through NABH accreditation. Hence he was doing all paperwork all by himself to get the accreditation.
Went to the guest house and slept around 9.30 pm. Had few phone calls that disturbed the sleep. But was able to wake up at 5.40 am the next day.
The 1964 Dhanushkodi cyclone (Excerpts from Wikipedia):
The 1964 Rameswaram cyclone (also known as the Dhanushkodi cyclone) was regarded as one of the most powerful storms to ever strike India on record
On December 23, an estimated 7.6 m (25 ft) storm surge struck the town of Dhanuskodi on the south-eastern edge of the island, submerging the town and overturning the Pamban-Dhanuskodi passenger train killing all 200 passengers on board. The town, an important transit point between India and Ceylon, was completely destroyed and has not been rebuilt since.] Prior to the cyclone, the town had been an important commercial centre with a railway station, a customs office, post and telegraphs office, two medical institutions, one railway hospital, a panchayat union dispensary, a higher elementary school and port offices. A port had been functioning since 1 March 1914. At least 800 people were killed in Dhanushkodi alone.
Four radio operators remained in Dhanuskodi and risked their lives to continue broadcasting during the storm. They were ultimately caught up in the storm surge but survived by clinging to the Pamban Bridge for 12 hours. The government later honoured and rewarded them for their dedication.
My plan was to visit Dhanush Kodi and Ramnad palace on the way back to Manamadurai. Dhanush Kodi was around 150 km and google map calculated the time duration to reach would be close to 3 hours.
I crossed the railway gate in front of TLM hospital around 7.30 am and started riding towards Dhanush Kodi via Paramakudi, Ramnad and Rameshwaram.
In 2km from Manamadurai, I joined the Rameshwaram highway which was a lane road. The road was beautiful till Ramnad. After that, it was two-lane with head-on opposite side traffic. Yet, the road was beautiful throughout.
Parched lands typical of Siva Ganga and Ramnad districts with 3 months of rain and 32 degrees of cold followed by 9 months of scorching summer in a year. But definitely should appreciate the district officers for well-maintained water bodies all around for effective water management.
As I was approaching Rameshwaram the landscaped changed with more greeneries by tall palm trees. The palm trees remain the livelihood of many families in these parched land.
The future of palm trees was a question at large as its importance recognised the least. You can see in the below picture where the palm trees were cut down.
Petiole of palm leaf with its serrated tip was used for fencing the farmlands in this region.
The roads now were mostly lined with palm trees on the sides.
I reached Mandapam, the place which is the end of the mainland. This place is known for Srilankan Tamil refugee camp.
I suddenly noticed the beautiful sea on my right side.
A little further few kilometres to Pampan bridge.
The Pampan bridge was beautifully surrounded by greenish-blue sea. Pamban Bridge is a railway bridge which connects the town of Rameswaram on Pamban Island to mainland India. Opened on 24 February 1914, it was India's first sea bridge and was the longest sea bridge in India until the opening of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link in 2010.
The road bridge is called the Annai Indira Gandhi Road Bridge which connects the National Highway (NH 49) with Rameswaram on Pamban Island.
The Tamil phrase on the bridge translates that "a place where passengers are dropped". But Why?!
A man was busy with his fishing line on the railway track. People from road bridge shouted and cautioned him from road bridge about the approaching train.
The water under between the rail and road bridge is mostly shallow except where the rail bridge opens for the ships.
My silver bullet on the road bridge connecting the mainland to Pampan island.
The sky and the sea beneath reminds us to praise the magnificent creator
This rail bridge was constructed in 45 days after the old bridge was washed away by 1964 cyclone. One can still see the remains of the old bridge pillars on the sides of the new bridge.
I was happy to be there when the train was passing over the bridge.
Funny. Auto and the Train separated by sea.
A click of me by the bystander on the Annai Indira road bridge adjacent to the railway bridge.
The sea is deeper beneath this bridge at this point allowing ships to pass through the bridge
On the other side of the bridge, one can view a lot of fishing boats.
In Rameshwaram, the former President APJ Abdul Kalaam Memorial present. I did not venture inside due to lack of time. I took some photos from the outside.
I hit the reserve just before Rameshwaram and seeing a petrol bunk in Rameshwaram which was not aesthetic enough to attract me, I went passed. Huge mistake for which I would repent later.
I saw this signboard which said Dhanush Kodi is 15 km away. I made a rough calculation and found that I wouldn't make it to petrol bunk on return. The GPS showed no petrol bunk other than the two pumps at Rameshwaram. I earnestly prayed and went ahead to Dhanush Kodi.
The road in Dhanush Kodi was so beautiful like a straight line taking you through the clouds with the sea on either side
Arichal Munai in GPS.
A bystander clicked a picture of me
After a few minutes there, I headed back to Rameshwaram. i enquired an auto driver for loose petrol in shops. He said there no other petrol bunk other than the one in Rameshwaram which was 28km away.
I felt it a long road ahead and was in no mood to enjoy as I was scared of pushing my bike. Just kept praying and started riding at a speed of 50Km/Hr.
I stopped at the old remains of the buildings that were hit by the storm of 1964.
The remains of the church.
By God's abundant grace I made it to the petrol bunk. My bike ran in reserve for 75 km. I never had an average beyond 39km/litre even at optimum speed.
After filling 10 litres of petrol at Indian oil bunk, I went in search of a hotel to eat my favourite parrota. It was strange that many hotels there, provide only breakfast, night dinner and will remain closed in the rest of the day.
I went into this hotel which was shutting down and they provided the last 5 parottas and an omelette. the cost was Rs.65/-
On the way, I visited Ramnad palace. The place was still occupied by the King Sethupathi's descendants. Due to approaching pooja holidays the palace remains closed. Took some photos from outside. In the Google maps, search for Ramalinga Vilasam for the original King's palace or else the GPS would direct to a hotel and a banquet hall.
The present descendants of King Sethupathi were in posters.
The bricks and clay pottery are very famous in Manamadurai due to the unique soil. In fact, the musical instrument called Kadam which is a clay pot is used to specifically made from this region.
Below are the pictures of a brick chamber.
I reached around 3 pm to TLM Hospital guest house. After resting awhile and eating the leftover grapes which i bought yesterday, went to the administrative block to pay for the guest house. Came back and rested a while. In the evening I went to a hotel called Priya hotel in Manamadurai and had Kudal gravy and Kothu Parrotta. My stomach said "you'll feel sorry!!! but my mind did not hear it."
My friend Preethi came and we had a chat. she bid bye and wished for a safe journey tomorrow. I slept around 9 pm.
It was 3am and I woke up with alarm. Oh boy!!! I had a severe stomach upset. loose motion, yes because of my yesterday wild venture into the delicacies of the land.
Just prayed about it. Took a shower and started my journey at 4 am towards Vellore. Around 6am near Viralimalai I went for a leak and resumed riding. my stomach was making all acoustic sounds.
Viralimalai - break of dawn
Reached Trichy and the bike hit the reserve. Good amount of water flow in Kaveri. Thank you, Karnataka.
I filled 10 litres of petrol and decided to use the toilet. Carefully removed the jacket and left it on the bike. Taking in hand, the tank bag with mobile, DSLR and wallet went inside the toilet and placed it over a washbasin. Then carefully used the toilet without soiling my riding pants. It was a hell of a crash course on what to eat and what not to eat during travel and also mastering the art of toileting with riding pants. HaHaHa!
Started again and did stop for every one-hour bum break and reached Asanur diversion to Tiruvannamalai at 8 am. Stopped for breakfast. I asked for a thick dosa and ate with sugar. The sugar was refreshing and replenished my energy levels. I know I was undergoing dehydration.
Rest of the ride was uneventful but I was extremely tired and was feeling the heat of the day.
With the bland breakfast, I was able to reach home to use the toilet.
My ride for today on GPS
Odometer Reading at the end of the trip
Trip duration: 3days
Total Distance: 1270 km
Fuel stops: 3
Fuel quantity: 30 litres
Total Fuel Cost: Rs 2355/-
Bike Repairs: Nil. Chain spray twice in the trip
(Later was advised by my mechanic to tighten chain every 1000km)