During my routine phone call home this morning, my sister mentioned that work is all set to begin on the Nagercoil-Trivandrum Highway in a couple of weeks. Flyover at Parvathipuram, Flyover at Marthandam… I think I heard a host of angels burst into song at that and the rest was lost in the music. Or maybe it was just my heart going into an overdrive of joy. Whatever that may be, it brought to mind this old post I had written five years ago for my column Kochu Varthamanam on Yentha.com.
Reposting here in the hope that during my next trip home, I will not be put through the same torture.
Have you ever travelled on the Nagercoil-Trivandrum stretch? Unfortunately this is the route I have to take most frequently anytime I am in India and it has gone from being a pleasant ride watching the quiet life pass by, to one of pure, unadulterated torture. On my last trip home, I was left with the nagging feeling that I had spent more than half my vacation on the road. When you are in India for just three weeks, time is at a premium. You do not want to spend that precious time looking at random drivers trying to prove their one-upmanship, cutting in lines, all on the wrong side, and generally making a bigger mess of what is already there. The number of wheels under them matters not. They are all at it.
Believe it or not! One day the journey took me 4 hours and 50 minutes. I do not exaggerate. I left home at 3.10 and when I walked into my husband’s home in Trivandrum, it was 8 o’ clock. It took me every trick in the book to keep calm and stop myself from screaming and totally freaking out my nephew who had the miserable job of being the driver that day.
Maybe I had chosen a bad day to travel. It was the 23rd of December and negotiating the Marthandam stretch at this time of the year is one tough job. It seems the norm these days, in these parts, to celebrate the Birth in Bethlehem, out on the streets. Everyone is out there in various states of inebriation and it is they who control the traffic. You just sit in your vehicle and wait for a guy, sloshed to the gills to give you the ‘Go’ signal. And God help anyone whose vehicle accidentally bumps into someone. Although there is no question of causing any harm at the speed you are moving in and it is absolutely immaterial whether it was your fault or theirs, you are done for!
As I sat counting backwards from 1000, alternating each number with a deep, deep breath, I saw a couple of Sabarimala buses from Andhra Pradesh heading the other way. Probably ‘rushing’ to catch the sunset at Kanyakumari. At the rate things were moving, they’d be lucky if they caught the next day’s sunrise! Swami Saranam!!
Once you have negotiated the Marthandam stretch, if you are lucky enough, you might have smooth sailing for a short time… Until you get to the mother of all bottlenecks on that route. Balaramapuram! The place ought to be renamed ‘Bottleneckpuram’. I think by now I know the names of all the shops lining the road from Neyyattinkara to Nemom. I had to do something as we crawled along, besides looking at traffic policemen indulge in the greatest pastime of all times… Vayinokkal. Maybe they aren’t totally to be blamed after all. There is only so much they can do. When you have a road being forced to accommodate hundred times the traffic it was built to handle, how much can a few policemen do?
Ok if that was a bad day, what about other days? The accepted time for the trip which once used to be a matter of one and a half hours is now three and a half hours. People are talking about travelling before 5 am or after 10pm to ‘beat the traffic’. To hear them talk, you would think they were talking about the Brooklyn-Manhattan commute! I don’t mean to get all snooty here, but come on …
Everyone knows that this is a highly travelled route. For personal and professional reasons, people seem to be travelling on it all the time. Hundreds of lorries cross over every day, carrying agricultural products from Kanyakumari district into Trivandrum, both public and private transport buses crisscross the route, not to speak of cars and motor bikes. And there are thriving, bustling businesses lining the road, adding to the chaos. It is one of the busiest roads and ever since I can remember, it has stayed the same. No widening, no bypasses, not even proper maintenance. Only the hustle and bustle around it has been growing.
A much needed bypass road connecting Kanyakumari and Trivandrum, one which could easily serve as a scenic seaside route too has been pending for too long.
At this point, I cannot help but mention another trip I made. This time to Chennai. We left Nagercoil by road at 6 am. By 2.30 pm we were crossing Melmaruvathoor and cruising into the outskirts of Chennai.
We had no qualms about handing over the almost Rs.500 in tolls along the way. It was worth every paisa to travel on that beautiful four-lane highway that completely bypasses every town and city on the way.
The Ngl-Tvm ‘highway’ also has a toll-booth. A pathetic one at Neyyattinkara that collects Rs.2 for one way and Rs.3 for a round trip. Pray, what for? Even that is too much for that ‘road’. And the powers that be in charge of the roads in Trivandrum are too busy with other things. Yes, other things like cutting down big, old, beautiful, banyan trees, for example.
Where is the urgency they exhibited in doing away with a tree ‘raykku raamaanam’, while the jury on it was still out and serious environmentalists were actively looking for alternatives to chopping it down? Where is this sense of duty when it comes to laying a few good roads or making the existing ‘roads’ (yes, I use the term broadly) travel worthy?
Meanwhile, the tale of the two roads only leaves me with an unsolvable puzzle.
PS: Sorry, I have no pictures of the highway at hand. Google did not help either. If anyone could help me with pictures, I would be very grateful.