Road trip to the land of temples – I – The “fun” of an unexpected plan !

Before we start writing about our recent road trip to Tamil Nadu, we would like to apologize to the Indian Railways ! We love Indian Railways as much as the highways !

If you are wondering what the fuss is all about, then here goes the story:

The background

We hit upon the idea of a road trip with family to the famous temples of Tamil Nadu and Kodaikanal in June this year. This idea was fixed after several deliberations on a Kerala trip, booking train tickets for the trip and canceling them the very next moment, because we realised it would get too hectic, considering our troop included a toddler and a 5 month old baby. So, we decided on Tamil Nadu because it was closer and we would have ample time to go about. The idea was to go to Chennai by train and then join the family on the road trip to Trichy, Thanjavur, Madurai and Kodaikanal in the brother’s Vento. Figo could take some time off at home.

The planning

Train tickets between Hyderabad and Chennai vanish within minutes when bookings open and if it is a long weekend time, you don’t even have to make an effort to login to the railway website ! Our trip plan was scheduled for a whole week during the Ramzan week and tickets were booked atleast 2 months in advance. Around 15 days before the trip, the brother dropped a bomb that we would have to push the trip by a week and so frantic efforts were made to re-schedule the tickets and we managed to get tickets to Chennai on RAC by the Grace of God (getting train tickets these days is nothing short of that) !

Several calls to hotels, booking, re-booking and cancellations, re-working on travel plans (we dropped Rameshwaram from the original plan) later, we were good to go.

The result

We were scheduled to leave to Chennai by the Charminar Express on Ramzan. A cab was promptly booked with Dot Cabs to drop us at the Secunderabad railway station at 5 PM, home cooked meal for dinner was to go with us in the train, all was packed and ready. When there was no sign of cab till 4.45 PM, we made frantic calls only to have Dot Cabs coolly tell us that there was no available cab and the booking was not even registered ! This after we received an SMS confirming our booking !!

Just as we were about to panic (you would, if you lived in an area where buses and autos are a rarity), our friend and neighbhour came to our rescue. He offered to drop us at the nearest main road area, 10 kms away, from where we could find transport to the station.

Thanking our friend and apologising for disturbing him on a holiday, we got into the car, all the while looking longingly at our puppy-faced Figo, who was going to stay back at Hyderabad. Even as we got into our neighbour’s car, Figo’s boss was already wondering if we should simply take the car ! The point was, while driving back home from work, the ORR looked too tempting !

No, we told ourselves, we were not taking the car this time, train tickets had been booked and we were going to take the train. With that resolve, we teared ourselves away from our Figo and left in our friend’s car.

Half way to the main road, goaded by our friend, with the Figo separation pangs getting too much to bear and the road looking too inviting, we did the unthinkable – asked the friend to turn around, went back home and ran into the open doors of our Figo ! Train tickets? What train tickets? Why fear when Indian Railways ticket cancellation process is there?

15 minutes later at 6 PM, we were on the ORR. The revised plan was to drive to Nagarjuna Sagar hoping to catch a glimpse of the open dam gates, stay there for the night and head to Chennai via hometown Nellore. We informed our parents (with fingers crossed) about the change of plans and were prepared for a long lecture on being sensible but even our parents seem to have got used to our madness and told us to “drive carefully and reach safely” !

Wait ! There is more !

In our excitement, we did not consider the fact that it was a long weekend and with the dam gates open at Sagar, there would be crowds thronging the place. While driving to Sagar we must have noticed atleast 500 cars returning to Hyderabad ! We told ourselves who would want to stay in Sagar when Hyderabad was only 150 kms away. How naive of us !

It took us 3.5 hours to reach Sagar, the usual travel time is about 2 hours or less ! We non-chalantly walked into one of the hotels to check-in and they very casually told us, there was not a single room available in the whole of Nagarjuna Sagar that night ! We went to almost all hotels in the place only to get the same answer.

As for the whole reason to drive via Sagar – the dam gates were not open either !

Madness in Macherla

Our only option was to drive to the tiny town of Macherla, 20 kms away and find an accommodation or sleep in the car for the night. We did not want to drive all the way to Nellore/Chennai at night. We desperately drove to Macherla only to find the spill over crowd from Sagar attacking the town. No rooms were available anywhere. We tried to look for hotels in Macherla on our smart phones ! We were asking for too much, yes, we know !

It was 10.00 PM by then and we decided to try the only remaining hotel at the edge of the town, Annapurna Lodge.

Macherla has about 3 hotels where you can find accommodation. Two are near the APSRTC Bus Stand road and Annapurna Lodge further where the town limit ends.

As we reached the hotel, a family of about 20 people alighted in 2 cars, they too were looking for accommodation  and there were just 2 rooms available in the hotel. It was a nail biting wait, hoping the family wouldn’t take both the rooms. Looked like there was some luck remaining in our booty that night because the 20 member family, after half an hour of arguments with the Hotel Manager, who was an angry old man, they finally agreed to take the only remaining AC room.

When our turn came, the Manager relaxed a bit when we told him we were only two. He gave us a dingy, badly maintained, non-AC room, which did not even have a proper bolt and had cobwebs galore ! Yet, the room was our saviour and we imagined it was a Presidential Suite (there was no way you could stay in that room if you didn’t have a great imagination) ! Our home packed dinner had turned cold when we sat down to eat at 11 PM. We forced ourselves not to look around the room or we wouldn’t have been able to eat !

We decided to leave as early in the morning as we could. We did manage to sleep well inspite of a fan whose speed could not be regulated !

In honour of Macherla that was kind enough to give us shelter, we have a tag  “Hotels in Macherla” in this post, hoping some traveller like us would find it useful !

At 5 AM, the next day, we hurried out of the hotel, reached Nellore to a delicious lunch at home, with parents making fun of our “wise” decisions, refreshed ourselves and drove to Chennai.

It’s not over yet !

We started to Chennai at 2 PM and had a fun drive, stopping for tea at Mandakini Food Plaza near Gudur on NH5. The hotel is a nice place to stop by for a break, it is very close to the train track and you can watch trains pass by while sipping your tea. We also stopped by at Chengalamma Temple at Sulurpet to pray for a smooth trip.

And then, 50 kms from Chennai, we got stuck in chaos ! We reached Chennai outskirts by 4 PM only to drive right into the middle of traffic jams, road constructions, bad roads, crowds, pollution, dust and heat, ran into trouble with a traffic police because of our “AP” number plate (he insisted it was because of the sun film on our car windows, though the visibility was 100%), he let us through after we spoke to him in Tamil and paid him a fine of Rs.100 ! We lost our way inside Chennai and by the time we reached the brother’s home, it was 7 PM – 175 kms and 5 hours drive to Chennai from Nellore !

Lessons learnt !

– Never book a cab with Dot Cabs, if the cab doesn’t turn up you would end up having “fun” like we did !

– Never offend Indian Railways, you might just end up with a story long enough to write a blog about ! Our only redemption was that some noble soul must have slept comfortably in the berths reserved for us !

So, now you know why we apologised to Indian Railways at the beginning of the post.

PS: There are no pictures in this post, not after the sorry picture we cut during the entire drive !

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