It was one of my dream trips and had to make so many tough decisions before getting on board the trip. First in the list was informing my manager that I will not be available for a probable onsite assignment in December. Unlike my colleagues I chose to give a frank reason that I have already booked for a trip thru Youth Hostel Association of India(YHAI). It's really tough to balance between professional and personal life !
Other decisions were not so significant. I had say no to my regular trekking friends for other trips/treks. There was request from Tassa, Seena to conduct some trip during Christmas. Rohit(Roti) tried very had to get me on board for his North Canara trip. I had to say no thru straight face :) ‘Life is not a popularity contest’.
Usually YHAI trips don’t get cancelled but this was almost on the verge getting cancelled. The reason was the ship on which we were supposed to make return journey was going into maintenance. So the only option left for the return journey was flight. Since it was holiday season, the air-ticket prices were at peak and we had to shelve out 4000/- extra to materialize the trip. Since I was mentally prepared for the trip I said yes, so do Anil, Suhas and Raghvendra. One way it was matter of prestige for us, as we had told about the trip to many people. However, other people Yeshwanth and Jatin decided to drop out.
Bangalore to Chennai.
20th Dec, I came from office taking 5.30 pm cab and surprising I didn't face traffic jams which I usually face before going for a trip.
Packing the luggage didn’t take much time since I already had made the checklist. But some of the clothes I couldn’t carry as they were very wet, because of two days incessant rain in Bangalore. Thanks to my mother she literally dried some clothes with iron box.
Our tickets to Chennai were reserved 11.45 pm Kaveri Express. I left home at 10.30 pm and by taking an auto managed to reach Bangalore City Station well within departure time. The train starting from mysore was supposed to arrive on platform-5. 11.30 pm anil, suhas came and introduced myself to Raghvendra. The train arrived within 15 minutes, but there was a small confusion we couldn’t find our S13 bogie. Then we came to know thru announcement that our S13 bogie will be attached in Bangalore. Within10 minutes five bogies including our S13 bogie were attached. We were on board, the train departed and we slept.
Day-1: 21st Dec 2007
Morning 8 am we were at Chennai Central railway station. We were supposed go to Royal Lodge, Pycrofts Road. At the exit we were approached by several taxi and auto drivers. Anil who knew Tamil discussed with an auto driver. The driver agreed take us to Royal Lodge for 100 Rs. But just before starting the auto the driver increased the fare to Rs. 120. It was very unfair, we kept quite and thought of arguing with him when reach the destination. By calling subramani(our guide of YHAI) we reached Royal Mansion Lodge.
Subramani asked us to get ready and come for breakfast. We were late by 15-30 minutes. For breakfast he took us to a nearby hotel. The breakfast was usual Idly, vada and Pongal. After breakfast we withdrew money from the ATMs and paid the extra balance amount (18570) to Subramani. We got ourselves introduced to other members of YHAI trip. Incidentally all other groups were families. Uncles, aunties and kids. We were bit disappointed as we were expecting a young crowd. Anyway, it didn’t matter as our G-4(group of four) was big enough.
Then we went to nearby Marina beach. This beach was one of the major victims of 2004 Tsunami. The beach was in very dirty condition. We just walked for 10 minutes and came back. On the other side of the beach, we saw Chidambaram stadium. We also saw prestigious Presidency College of Madras University. Then, we came back to the lodge, had bath and had lunch at 12.30 pm. The lunch was typical plate meals with a tomato soup.
2 pm we were ready to leave to the Chennai Port. All of us (including other groups) went to the port by a maxicab arranged by YHAI. We were taken till gate 7. Before entering the port, a security stopped us and asked me to get a custom letter for my camera. Come on man, get a life. Andaman is part of India, I am not going out of India. After some argument we were allowed inside. I feel the security was supposed say that photography is not allowed inside the port. He was able to articulate it properly.
A km walk took us to the passenger terminal, next to which our ship majestic M. V. Swarajdweep was standing. In the terminal, we had to take stamping of medical check up on our tickets, for formality sake. Then, security people scanned our baggage for the explosives. Everything done, we came out of the terminal and stood next to the ship. Here thankfully photography was allowed. The scenes of Titanic movie lingered and lingered. After waiting for a while, at 4.30 pm we got on board the ship. For me the feeling was equivalent to 'stepping foot on the moon for mankind'. The cabin crew guided us to our first class cabin. The first class cabin was just amazing. It had four beds with bedlamps, attached bathroom, wardrobe for each individual etc.
At 5 pm, the ship was supposed to depart. We went to the canteen deck and went up further near the crow nest, as there was no barricade. A crew member approached us and told that the passengers are not supposed enter near crow nest area. We said sorry and had a small chit-chat him. He was a trainee crew member, originally from Port Blair and had done some diploma course.
Then we waited and waited for the ship to depart. Surprisingly, I met my colleagues Bhupathi, Senthil and Sudhagar with whom I had been to Tirupathi in Nov 2006. They were going on their own to Andaman, were traveling in bunk class. Since there is no plug point in bunk class, they plugged in their camera battery charger and portable dvd in our cabin.
Again we went out to the canteen deck to see the ship departure, but it was still attached to the terminal. We lost patience and went to the dinner. At the cafeteria one of the staff was explaining the code of ethics to a person wearing shorts - no shorts or lungee in the restaurant. Initially, the restaurant appeared like a sophisticated place. But for eating there were no spoons in the restaurant. There was no hand wash, we had to go to a lavatory nearby to wash our hands. I feel facilities in the dinning hall facilities could have been better.
While having dinner the ship departed. We experienced continuous left and right motion of the ship for the first time. After having dinner we came back to the cabin. We thought of watching a movie, saw Dus kahaaniya. Within 10 minutes we got irritated like anything and stopped watching the movie. At 10.30 pm, we went to sleep.
More in Part-2.