As I explained in my last mail, where I reviewed the Skoda Fabia, my friend and I had been to Udupi to get his grandmother back to Mangalore for the weekend. I tagged along to make sure Cronin didn’t get the jitters while navigating through the mining trucks and the Mangalore-Manipal buses. It had been nearly three years since I got back on this route and the new highway, NH 17, was smooth except in patches.
Nothing much has changed on either side of the highway. The dhabas remain and so do the age old shops with their soda bottles and coconuts lining the sides of their premises. The traffic was not that heavy as we moved away from Mangalore. There were a few of the usual suspects – mining trucks, ambassador taxis, milk vans, fish trucks and of course the buses.
I was just making a comment about how things haven’t changed around the highway when Cronin stops the car just after Padubidri and tells me to look at the right, somewhere in the distance. I got down from the car and turned my head to look past the palm trees and the dried up fields that were just in front of me. In the distance I could just about make out a huge reactor-like building and an even longer tower next to it.
‘That’s the Nagarjuna power plant that’s just coming up’, Cronin said. The company had been provided land to set up a thermal power plant. I had read somewhere about it being a fly ash plant and that the entire region would be covered in ash from the huge chimneys, once the plant was operational. For me, the huge thermal structures always looked like some concrete monsters. I had only seen this on TV and to see it live over here was a bit unnerving.
Unnerving, because the scenery around me was the typical South Canara fields and coconut trees with tiled roof picture perfect scenes. To have this traditional visual spectacle shaken up with the anomaly of a thermal plant was not pretty. People have vouched for the plant saying it would solve all our power problems in this region. At the same time many families who relied on agriculture in this region were displaced by the plant and the people of Padubidri and surrounding villages were fighting to have the plant removed. As I saw the solid structures in the distance I knew that fight would be in vain.
Progress at the cost of environment is always a ghastly sight but to see it up close made me slightly despondent. In a few years this area would be a fly ash wasteland. I could almost picture an apocalyptic landscape here. I am not much of an environmentalist, but I do not completely turn a blind eye to what happens around me. I can only imagine how the Arundhati Roys and Medha Patkars would feel about this – another round of shrill screams and sound bytes I guess.
We got back on the road and made it past the green nurseries that dotted the highway. As we approached the village of Pangla, known for its jasmine flowers, we came across our second (or was it third) accident. Now, the Mangalore-Udupi highway is known to be one of the most dangerous highways in the state with accidents lurking around virtually any corner. The Pangla corner features a bridge built at an awkward curve. A 16-wheeler lay smashed in the middle of the highway just after the curve with its front totally mangled. A lone cop manned the traffic at this point. I snapped a picture of the accident which perhaps had taken place early in the morning.
The rest of the ride and the return was uneventful. Thoroughly enjoyed this ride and plans are afoot to make it to Goa the next time.