Road travel from Tamil Nadu to Kerala in times of COVID: masks off !

It is only when one actually hits the roads that one gets a clear picture of movement nine months after lockdown. Travel restrictions have been mostly lifted for trips within states and between states

Road travel from Tamil Nadu to Kerala in times of COVID: masks off !
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Shiv Kumar

Road travel in Covid times

It is only when one actually hits the roads that one gets a clear picture of movement nine months after lockdown. Travel restrictions have been mostly lifted for trips within states and between states in the South. The vehicular movement is not regulated, except for Kerala.

On paper, the state requires that visitors register with the Kerala Covid Jagratha portal, which demands full particulars of every passenger coming into the state: name, age, ID document number, port of entry etc. Visitors are permitted to stay up to eight days; if anyone wants to stay longer, they need to get a Covid test done (and clear it). So, this writer – based in Chennai – on deciding to travel to the Idukki district of Kerala, complied with the requirements before setting out by car.

Goodbye to masks

Leaving Chennai at the crack of dawn, the route to Theni in the southwest of the state, from where one can cross into Kerala’s Idukki district, is straightforward. Tiruchi, Dindigul and onwards across tolled access highways, a distance of some 550 km. You don’t actually go through any of the major towns, because the highways bypass most of them. Some 125 km from Chennai, a huge crowd is gathered in a nondescript village by the side of the road, with a big posse of policemen in attendance. The throng is celebrating ‘Shani Peyarchi’ – the transit of Saturn from one planetary house to another, celebrated every 2.5 years. It is interesting to see that masks are almost non-existent and so is social distancing. Many policemen wear the mask, but not many of them don’t care to wear it correctly.

The inter-state border

The usual route from Theni to Idukki district is through Kumily, about 10 km of forested ghat road; but we are turned back at the first forest checkpoint after Lower Camp, a village from where the climb begins. The guard points to a notice across the barricade which says bridge repairs are being carried out; the road is out of bounds for 10 days until Jan 5. He helpfully asks us to take an alternative route to KambamMettu [Kambam Height/Top],which we duly locate and take. Again, there is a short, steep climb of about 8 km, on a narrow road with traffic both ways, and 18 hairpin bends [switchbacks in US parlance] and vehicles coming down at reckless speed. But the destination, KambamMettu is reached soon; one last curve and that’s it.

Crossing into Kerala

KambamMettu is a tiny town (village?) lying half in Tamil Nadu and half in Kerala. We hit the border checkposts, mentally prepared for a grilling by overzealous officials and policemen, but the crossing is open, unguarded, the barriers down on both sides. There’s a Tamil Nadu cop too busy writing something to even give us a glance; his Kerala counterpart too seems to have no interest in a car carrying a TN number plate. That’s it, we are across the border in a flash, and heading towards Kattappana on our way to Upputhara, about a couple of hours away. No fuss, no frills, no bother… can’t believe this, but we’ll take it. A friend in Theni district had earlier reported the same thing at the border crossing in Kumily, the gateway to Thekkady, about a week earlier. In fact, he said it was in contrast to a trip a month ago, when it was a 2-hour ordeal before getting across. So, regulations on paper, but the ground reality is something else!


Another airline lands at KIA

Kempegowda International Airport, aka Bangalore international airport, which has been growing by leaps and bounds, added another feather to its cap on Dec 27 with another airline beginning operations to Karnataka’s capital city. Flydubai, the governmentowned carrier of the emirate of Dubai, sent its first flight to the city on the Sunday, arriving at 12.30 pm and taking off for the return leg an hour later. Before the lockdown in March, Dubai was the most popular destination for passengers flying out of Bangalore. KIA has more destinations in sight now: 2 direct flights to San Francisco [Air India and United Airlines] are due to commence shortly. BangaloreMunich and Bangalore-Seattle flights are also on the cards for this year [2021].

KCR’s adopted daughter

Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao’s adopted daughter, C Pratyusha got married in a Christian wedding ceremony in Hyderabad on December 28. Pratyusha, 24, who works as a nurse tied the knot with Charan, a software techie, in the presence of ministers and other dignitaries. Pratyusha was adopted by the CM from a home for abused children and young women in 2015; she had been admitted there after facing abuse from her stepmother, reports said. She was found with cuts and burns when she was rescued by the state family welfare authorities. KCR had visited her in the hospital after her rescue and adopted her as a second daughter. He and his wife K. Kavitha helped the girl get admission in a nursing programme and find a job after her graduation.

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