|State of Rajasthan|
Journey to Rajasthan
by K. L. Kamat
he journey spanned four days and demanded immaculate preparation even though I was to travel by myself. I had learnt that one has to travel very light in order to enjoy tedious journeys. I was to report for work at the Agricultural University of Rajasthan.
A bus which commences its journey at 5 A.M. from the small port town of Honavar (located on the shores of the Sharavati river and the Arabian Sea, topics - history - map - pictures) takes twelve hours to cover just 112 miles, and reaches in time for passengers to catch a train at the railway station in Hubli. It takes this long because of the poor conditions of buses and roads and un-bridged streams and rivers, where the passengers either have to periodically de-board and re-board the buses. The Haldipur village was the first stop for our bus. A marriage party was to travel by the bus but one of its members was untraceable. The furious master-of-ceremonies demanded to know the whereabouts of "Ishwar," the namesake of a Hindu deity. The driver of the bus mischievously commented "Ishwar has gone in search of Parvati, his beloved!" This infuriated the entire marriage party, who then took on the driver in a verbal war. It took half of an hour to work out a compromise and get the bus moving again.
Although Kumta is a small town, it has two bus stations to boast of! As the bus takes a good half hour rest at each one of them, the passengers have plenty of time to have refreshments, to renew old acquaintances, or establish new friendships. Passengers also serve as messengers to various destinations en-route. The bus driver delivers small packets and parcels and earns a little extra pocket money. After serving both stations, the bus just ran another mile and stopped again. This time it approached the Aghanashini river. All the passengers had to de-embark as the empty bus was to ride a platform fixed to boats (manual ferry). The boatman discouragingly suggested at the top of his voice that since there was not enough water in the river, the bus had to take a detour via the Hegde village. At the ferry crossing, the villagers made some money by selling tender coconuts, bananas, fruits, flowers and fish. When the ferry-boat finally commenced its voyage with a heavy load of a bus and its passengers, the boatmen started singing some old folk songs. The river water rushing by on all sides, the cool breeze and the sweet murmur of coconut palms gave the tired passengers a very refreshing change. The bus passengers had spent three hours in order to cover a distance of less than fifteen miles!
Now, the bus had to climb the hilly road of the Western ghats (a.k.a. Sahyadri, an important hill range). At Mirjan an old fort wished us bon voyage. As the gradient of the road was very large, the driver had a hard time negotiating the hairpin curves. However, the evergreen vegetation, the gorges and valleys, the beautiful hills and mountains, and the ever floating clouds kept the passengers entertained. Nature is very bountiful in this part of our country, but the people and the politicians have no time to use this renewable wealth for the welfare of the poor. Only a few exploit it, in order to make themselves very rich. The tired driver stopped the bus at a small village, Ragehosalli, where the passengers got treated to real home-made refreshments for a pittance. It was the weekly-market-day in a nearby village and people of the neighborhood were there in their best attire. They were chewing betel nut leaves and the ladies had adorned their hair-buns with hibiscus flowers. Bullock-carts loaded with areca-nuts, bananas and rice were also on their way to the fair. Our next stop was the town of Sirsi, which is the main trading center for spices in the area. Standing below a sign board that read "Beware of pick picketers," a farmer was shouting at top of his voice that he had been robbed of one thousand rupees. (Note: One thousand Rupees was roughly same as two hundred fifty U.S. dollars in 1965, and was a substantial amount – Ed.)
On the way to Hubli, the evergreen forest of Uttara Kannada gave way to the shrubs and bushes of Dharwad district. The midway town of Mundgod is the cultural link between the two districts. After passing through another town Tadas, our bus entered Pune-Bangalore highway, and hence gained in speed. The villagers on the side of the road hardly knew how to read, and as a consequence were requesting every bus to stop so that they could reach their destinations. As the rainfall in the area is sparse, the farmers grew jawar (a type of oats) in their fields. As a result, hand spread jawar-bread ("Bhakri") is the staple food of the masses. Bullock-carts are the major mode of transportation. However, the villagers unaware of the rules and regulations of national highways, enter into the jumble of speeding vehicles and are soon lost. They seemed especially concerned with trucks driven by north Indians. "They drive with their eyes closed!" one co-passenger exclaimed to me.
Although Hubli is an up-and-coming city of the Deccan plateau, one can see lots of filth spread all over the place. There are no public toilets, no sanitation or good sewage system. However there is a thriving business community, buying and selling commodities such as peanuts, jaggery, cotton, and red chilies from Byadgi. Hubli is the nearest railway junction to the coastal Uttar Kannada district. The bus passengers arriving from far away places have to struggle for hours to buy a connecting railway ticket. Getting into an over-crowded train is a nightmarish experience. Entering through a ventilator and traveling on the foot-board is a common experience! As usual, the rail screams, howls, jiggles, and crawls but scarcely runs! This gave me an excellent opportunity to look around and enjoy nature. The train made a brief halt at Dharwad, a seat of collegiate and university education. Later, we left behind Belgaum city, which contains both Kannada and Marathi speaking populations. At Miraj, it was time for supper and we retired for the day.
The Pune (a.k.a. Poona) train junction wished the passengers "Good Morning" and offered breakfast of idlis (rice cakes) and coffee. Here one had to change to the broad-gauged electric locomotive to reach Mumbai (Bombay).
Some office-goers travel daily from Pune to Mumbai and back. They have formed a sort of co-operative and have monopolized certain trains, which is why others have to stand while traveling. Hawkers were moving from one compartment to another in order to sell Maganlal Chikki (nutty sweets), Divadkar Chuda (deep fried snack of beaten rice), and fried vadas (a deep fried snack). Lonavala is a hill resort in the Maharashtra state and here an additional rail locomotive was attached to our train in order to climb the Khandala ghat. The train passes through numerous tunnels dug into rocky mountains. Chatrapati Shivaji and his Maratha guerrilla army trained in this terrain and won numerous battles. As the train approached Mumbai, the gateway to India, its dirty suburbs were placed on exhibition. Mumbai was teeming with people everywhere. From Victoria Terminus, I went to the Bombay Central Station and caught the train to Ahmedabad. The station was flooded with Gujaratis (people from Gujarat state). For each passenger there were ten others who had come just to say bon voyage.
Our train commenced its journey at a snail's pace, but soon picked up speed as it passed Dadar, and Goregaon stations. At the next junction, some passengers stepped off for a late night tea and Ghantia (salty preparation made from chick-pea flour.) It was very late at night when the train stopped at Surat station, but sweet mithai vendors were there waiting for us! Travelers bought barfi, petha, and phede (various kinds of milk-based sweets). Some got them packed as gifts for their near and dear ones. At sunrise we were in Ahmedabad. There was plenty of time to catch the train which was to take me to Rajasthan, hence I decided to have a glimpse of the textile city of India....
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