Hiking trips can best be described as exploratory in very simple and easy terms. However, when you are hiking around the villages or a village of Tamil Nadu, ‘exploratory’ takes a whole new meaning. Chennai had begun to lose its charm and the blistering heat seemed to push us through different phases of action and in-action! So in a mode and stage of action we planned a hike across the villages of Tamil Nadu.
It is said that if you want to see real India, head to the villages. This statement always seemed a little clichéd and corny, until one morning to we headed out to take an exploratory hike across the villages of Tamil Nadu. If you are one of those with a view that Chennai will give fill you with all the tradition, colour and melodrama needed for a lifetime… think again before you head out on a hike to the villages.
The villages have always fascinated me, and like every city bred person, I headed out on this hike with the myopic, stereotypical view of the villages. The skies were lighting up, an orange tinge started colouring the heavens. The dye was the cast and the journey had begun.One thing about Tamil Nadu, which can almost rival the Mumbai local trains, is the bus transport. There are all kinds of buses, A/C, ‘Deeeluxe’, Double Deckers, Multi-coloured, rickety, Volvo, fast moving, super-fast, slow; super-slow… there again is a trick to getting on a bus in Tamil Nadu… but once you are on it, the whole scenario changes.
One thing about Tamil Nadu, which can almost rival the Mumbai local trains, is the bus transport. There are all kinds of buses, A/C, ‘Deeeluxe’, Double Deckers, Multi-coloured, rickety, Volvo, fast moving, super-fast, slow; super-slow… there again is a trick to getting on a bus in Tamil Nadu… but once you are inside, the whole scenario changes.
The route was simple, and since hikes in Indian villages are rather unchartered and unplanned, we only had our gut and a faint idea of the region. The unchartered course of this journey was soon embarked upon. After a 3 hours or what seemed like more, we reached the village town of Gingee, a small town in the Villupuram District of Tamil Nadu. The city lanes had disappeared and though tarred and with vehicles, the village lanes had begun.
Though the lines between cities, towns and villages are fast disappearing, it is not very difficult to recognise a village in the state of Tamil Nadu. As soon as we entered the town with our backpacks and water bottles, we were welcomed by the hero stones and sati stones, which can be called as the identifying factors of villages in most of South India.
The village deity welcomed us into the village of Gingee. We were heading straight into the land of the Dravidian kings and proud people, the land where film stars were gods and temples were something of a norm. While I was happy in my fairy land, reality courted me stronger with blaring loud speakers and bullock cart in the middle of the road.
A little confused and yet clinging to my romanticised about my thoughts of the villages… not that by the end of the journey my ideas had changed and reality was different. It was all that I thought and more.
Though huts were no longer had thatched roofs, the lanes were no longer muddy, and tractors might have replaced many bullock ridden ploughs, but the essence still remained.
Paddy fields covered either sides of the streets, tarred roads were covered with husks and beautiful dark skinned women continued to draw water from the wells. The skies were darkening; we decided to stop for the evening at the village chief’s residence in the middle of Gingee. While the cynicism of the city has crept into the villages, the hospitality remains pure and open.
While we were more than willing to spend the night in the open courtyard, we were strictly forbidden to… apart from being an affront to the hospitality, the particular night, the streets were to be left free for the village deity parade. Apparently the village goddess patrols her village that night and humans are forbidden from seeing her.
My romantic thoughts and ideas of grandeur and kings was further fuelled, the fact that the hut we took refuge in was just opposed the famed Gingee Fort might have added further mystery. Tales of the magnificent Kon and Chola dynasty filled the sultry night air. The legend of the tragic tale of Raja Tej Singh or Thesingu Raasan (Tamil Slang) was retold.
Though I had heard this tale several times at different occasions, listening to over a fire told in the deep baritone of the village chief gave it a more enchanting and magical touch. The tale is the life story of Tej Singh and his general Mehboob Khan, has inspired plays and numerous poems. The skies were clearer, the taste of food much sweeter… maybe everything was the same, maybe it was the story, maybe it was my mind, but after a long time my mind knew what simple peace meant.
The morning raised us from our deep slumber with the cooing of the birds and opening of the clouds, our journey had just begun… While we walked out of the village of Gingee, we paid a small homage to the goddess who had welcomed us into her village.