South India Road Trip - Karaikal to Thanjavur
We woke up early in Karaikal and performed what was now fast becoming our morning ritual - using 90% of our morning time to pack the last 5% of our kit. Yet still, we were out in the street readying our jackets and helmets just as the little shop of Kandaas was opening up for coffee. We had two delicious cups the fancy way - in real glasses - and then waved our goodbyes to the owner before hitting the road. It felt exhilarating to start a trip in the coolness of the morning, and so we made mental notes that real riders ride in the wee hours for a reason.
One of my favorite things about India is how life is always transpiring on the road. Activities that in the US we would consider either entirely private or at least "backyard" affairs generally take place within a few feet of the Indian road. At dawn some sit up in their doorways, taking in the sun's first light. As we start riding, local Tamilians are performing the morning rituals of teeth brushing, grooming, and getting the fire going. The women walk along the road to the village spigot, carrying their colorful plastic pots to fill for the day's activities. While the water collects, they take the time to chat together in the coolness of the morning.
As the sun rises, the kids begin to congregate in groups by the bus stops in their matching uniforms of mint green, lavender or maybe deep blue. The girls huddle in circles in their salwars, giggling as we pass. Each one's hair is neatly brushed into plaited pigtails that loop down past their shoulders and back up before being fastened by white bows. The boys usually stand opposite, trying to look cool and unaffected in their bellbottoms and striped shirts.
In the villages, many homes can be found within 10 feet of the winding, local roads. Throughout the day people sit in the doorways, using the sun's rays to do their daily chores. The older generations socialize, drink chai, and sometimes nap in the dusty shoulder of the road. The shoulder transforms itself as the living room, kitchen, bathroom, dining room, and playground.
Just beyond, the plains of eastern Tamil Nadu open up into the real work of the day. Men break through the silt left over from rice production with their picks. The women, bent completely at the waist, stand in line in the vibrant grass of the paddies to plant rice bundles. At lunchtime they chat in the shade of large palms and take their meals.
It's one of the main reasons we wanted to take a road trip in India, and one of primary reasons we chose to do so on a motorcycle - to see life as it happens. We really wanted to be outside, level with people, on a bike.
So on day two of our journey, these two Traveling Monkeys and our bike road through rice paddies and salt flats. We stopped by small villages to say hello to people and admire their homes. We drove all the way to the most southeasterly corner of India, Kodiakkarai. Then we headed inland, to the temple town of Thanjavur and we said our goodnight to the road.