15-Dec-2003 -- We reached Vijayawada at about 2330 hrs on 14-Dec-2003 after attending my cousin's wedding in Machilipatnam. It was long, exciting day; we got meet a lot of the family, had successfully visited 16°N 81°E near Avanigadda and also attended all the ceremonies that constitute a typical Andhra wedding! That confluence was the toughest yet for me. As we drove back to Vijayawada, it started to rain in patches, though Vijayawada was still dry.
We asked our driver Srinivas to come and pick us up at 0730 hrs on 15-Dec-2003 as I was keen to attempt yet another confluence; 17N 81E. According to the map, this one lay very close to the road between Eluru and Chintalpudi which were to the north-west of Vijayawada. The first thing I did when I woke up at 0600 hrs to take a peek out of the window. A cold, overcast and wet day greeted me. It was raining steadily at that time. My uncle Anand and I made a telephone call to yet another uncle Ramachandra Rao ("Raji") who lives in Eluru to ascertain what the weather was like out there. The report we got was that it was raining in Eluru too. All the rain in the region was due to the cyclonic storm that was off the Andhra and Tamil Nadu coasts. There was a report of heavy rain expected in and around Vijayawada and Machilipatnam. We decided to wait a while before embarking on the trip. The other factor we had to contend with today was that I had a train to catch at 1620 hrs in Vijayawada which would take me back to Bangalore. So, whatever we did, I had to get back in time to catch my train!
Finally, we decided to give it a shot as the rain seemed to abate a little. We started off at 0910 hrs and headed towards Eluru on NH5 (National Highway 5). This is a very nice wide, smooth road that would take us to Eluru from where we would have to take a road going due north towards Chintalpudi. It started to rain again, but then the die was cast and we aimed to reach 17N81E anyway.
We reached Eluru at 1045 and drove up to Raji's house to pick him up as he was interested in going with us. We left for the confluence at 1100 hrs. I fired up the GPS and found we were heading towards the confluence in almost a straight line. It continued to rain as we drove through Dharmajigudem. The confluence seemed to be just off to the left of the road between Dharmajigudem and Chintalpudi. But as we neared the point, we found that the GPS was pointing to the right of the road. We kept moving ahead till the GPS pointed a full right and indicated that the point was about 500 meters from there. As I've come to experience, it is almost a certainty to find a road or path or track near where we were and this was no exception. We found a bumpy cart track leading right in the direction of the confluence. The distance to the point came down to 330 meters before we ran out of road (cart track), so we decided to park and walk the rest of the way to the point.
The scenery was quite different from the ones I'd seen in the last two days at 17°N 80°E and 16°N 81°E. The soil was red and the undergrowth was rough with a lot of shrubs and thorny bushes. And it continued to rain! Both Anand and Raji joined Srinivas and me for a few meters and then prudently decided to head back to the car. Srinivas, who was already a veteran of one confluence the day before (16°N 81°E), and I pulled out an umbrella and headed towards 17N81E. We had to walk through a mango orchard and then cross into a palm plantation (Palm trees are grown for their oil which is used as a cooking medium). We then scrambled through a hedge into a tomato farm. This was the tricky part. It was tough to walk in the slippery mud and avoid stepping on the tomatoes. But we did it and then climbed a meter-high bund and squeezed through yet another hedge to wind up in another mango orchard. The GPS indicated that we were 10 meters away. It took us less than a minute to locate 17N81E in the middle of the plantation. It was 1205 hrs and the altitude recorded by the GPS was 125 meters.
It was quite gloomy and raining steadily as I took photographs and readings from the GPS before Srinivas and I started back to our car. This time, we found a faint path through the mango plantation which led in a slightly different direction. We decided to take it and we found that it slowly curved back to where we had parked our car. On the way, Srinivas pointed out a tobacco farm. The path was slight roundabout but we did not have to squeeze through hedges and get burrs on our clothes! The rain had stopped by the time we reached the car. I now had to find some village folks to tell us the name of the nearest village. In a few minutes, we saw someone riding a bicycle down the track. We stopped him and asked him where we were. His name was Appa Rao and he told us that we were about half a kilometer from the village of Velagalapalle. I requested him to take a picture of all of us and he obliged us.
We then climbed aboard and headed back to Eluru. The rain started again and continued to right up to Eluru. We had a delicious, spicy lunch at Raji's home and started off without delay towards Vijayawada. We reached Vijayawada at 1545 hrs, quickly piled my luggage into the car and headed to the train station. I boarded the train on schedule after a thoroughly enjoyable few days visiting family, friends and three confluences. I sat in the train and catalogued all my photographs and completed my notes of each location before turning in for the night.
Note: I understand that the cyclone crossed the Andhra coast a few hours after I left Vijayawada, bringing heavy rain and high velocity winds with it. My train was possibly the last one that escaped the storm before services were disrupted as we headed south-west, away from the coast. The storm devastated parts of Krishna district and places like Avanigadda (which we visited to reach 16°N 81°E) were hit badly.