Half measures don’t seem to exist in India. If it rains, it rains with purpose; if the roads are good, they’re very good or if they’re bad, they’re incredibly bad; when you eat, you either have a snack or an absolute feast; if they’re going to build a temple to the gods, boy will you know about it. In our morsel of Indian experience, there’s no middle ground.
Their driving style is much the same way. Either you timidly pootle along without a care in the world or you rocket along without a care for the world. Our driving technique since arriving in this hearty, semi-chaotic country has converged on the latter.
The slightly nervous, careful driving has been replaced by that employed by the majority of drivers. An “I’m in a hurry, so the quickest way is the only way” temperament. This isn’t to say that drivers are actually reckless, because they aren’t. It simply means that weaving, beeping and squeezing through apparently impractical gaps in traffic are useable tools in their, and now our, diverse repertoire of highway advancement. The genius of an auto-rickshaw is that it can squeeze through apparently impractical gaps in traffic and it swerves and weaves like the best of them.
Once you embrace the system in place, you learn to love it.
The great quality roads (no sarcasm intended) have continued all the way down the east coast to Vijayawada and west, inland to Hyderabad. We’ve been able to tear down the country at speeds often exceeding 55 km/h. Incredible, I know.
When we’re not rushing along the motorway with our accelerator jammed to the maximum, we have taken the time to explore different parts of this incredible place.
After the beach resort in Chandipur we made for Puri and the Sun Temple in Konark, one of the most outstanding religious temples in the world. Pictures may say one thousand words, but these won’t confirm that it was, in fact, the whole temple that was covered in Karma Sutra sculptures of an explicit nature and not just a small part. I was quite taken aback. 800 year old pornography to entice Hindus to reproduce. Were they not inclined before? I missed the guide’s talk here so any facts on the matter would be great.
Baring your teeth to monkeys (a smile for example) is not advisable. This loveable-looking creature was strutting up to me – posing for the camera – until about two feet from me it reared and snarled and was probably going to rip out my jugular if I hadn’t taken the appropriate action and hit it on the nose with my camera, or is that just for sharks? Instead I jumped backwards and hid my slightly terrified surprise under a layer of ‘that was a close one‘ bravado.
Talking to the security-looking person afterwards they have been known to take a liking for tourist flesh before, so I wasn’t wrong to take evasive action, but probably should have taken it earlier. . .
Unfortunately photos really don’t convey the splendour of this monument, so you’ll have to visit yourself, but that didn’t stop us and every other tourist – mostly Hindu – from flashing away trying to best capture it’s grandeur. What I wasn’t expecting, although I probably should have, was that for some it appeared an incredibly ancient temple wasn’t the focus of their camera’s interest. We were.
In preparation for this trip I was vaccinated, medicated and equipment-ready but what I didn’t realise I’d need, were my anti-paparazzi disguises. I’m over-stating this a little, but a photo with a caucasian seems to be of immense value. We oblige with a smile and don’t actually get annoyed by it – we mostly love it – but it does seem odd that we’re so photogenic when there’s a huge statement to the gods all around us. Maybe they’re just killing two birds with one stone and capturing us with the temple in the background, who knows. Metaphorical killing obviously, they’re Hindus after all.
After re-joining our lost colleagues we found ourselves at a surfing lodge with a private beach and chilled, hippy mentality. As always the staff and people around were amazing company and we swam, ate and talked to our way to a relatively early night. Driving for hours on end can do that to you. I have to mention the couple we met there who were looking to buy a tuk tuk, one of whom had cycled a tandem from England to China. . . Maybe my next adventure? Probably not but who knows.
We decided that instead of rushing back up north to the main motorway and then coming back south, we’d cut off the corner and take a ferry across Chilika Lake, the largest saltwater lake in South East Asia. Of course after a couple of hours drive we discovered that one of the ferries had a broken engine, so we’d have to wait three and a half hours, turn back the way we came or take a local boat a across.
To me, there was only one option.
They seemed to know what they were doing and so after reassurance that we wouldn’t see our rides plunging into the salty depths, some haggling of prices and lots of loud pushing of tuk tuks onto an aesthetically ill-suited craft, we were off. Sadly there was not a dolphin in sight but we crossed within an hour to a land filled with attention-seeking monkeys and ambitiously coloured temples and carried on towards Srikakulam, Hyderabad and on to Goa!