“Kerala’s only drive-in beach, the Muzhappilangad beach which stretches across four kilometers of sand where one can drive down the entire length.”
Driving on a sandy beach for four kilometers! Which dyed-in-the-wool driver-traveler can resist such a purple passage posted on the Kerala tourism website?
So the moment I spotted the board ‘Muzhappilangad’ by the National Highway -- somewhere between Kannur and Thalassery -- I didn’t think twice about changing gears to veer the car off the main road amidst loud protests from a carload of people, my family.
I wanted to see how rubber would take on sand and salt water. Moreover, the picture of a speeding car splashing out water all around was etched deep in the blood, an image I inherited from a childhood that liked to plunge into puddles of rain water on the way back from school.
Wikipedia claims even Goa doesn’t have a drive-in beach! Only Muzhappilangad in Kannur has one! Kerala rocks!
There it was, stretching to infinity, a broad patch of light yellow sand, shimmering in the noon sun. We screened our eyes and looked out of the car. One might dismiss those tiny dark figures quivering in the hot air at the far end of the beach as a mirage. But far up the sand bank a deserted fishing village seemed every inch real, even though one had to wade through the sizzling sand for minutes to get to one of those houses.
Clinging to the beach lay an ocean in cobalt blue attire, embroidered with frills of white froth billowing in from a heaving bosom, deep and brooding. My wife looked out apprehensively at the desolate beach and asked whether we should really go on.
You could easily guess from the ambiance. Muzhappilangad comes alive only in the evening. The cafeteria on the road that led to the beach showed no sign of life, its doors and windows closed. We saw an old ice-cream vendor lazing in the shade near his bicycle. Too tired to shuffle up and brave the sun to sell his wares, he shut shop by pulling down his eyelids on us. Further out on the beach in the shade of a stunted coconut tree, a shaggy grey dog pried open its eyes with great difficulty and peered on for a while, but with its chin still pressed to the sand so that those tiny beads of slumber percolated in its eyes would not tumble out and dry up in the harsh sun.
Before the general torpor could catch up with the car, I revved up the beast, stepped on the oil, and in one shot, took it boldly down the road, negotiating a sharp decline and landing it straight on the beach. This is it, I told myself! As I shifted gears and began riding, I could feel a beanbag cushioning the back of the car as the resilient sand held firm against the arrogance on wheels.
I wanted to stride that ever-shifting line where the elements - water and earth - meet! For a moment I felt like a cowboy on horseback out to lasso his cattle. As I planned to take it head on, the foxy sea -- which had suddenly receded -- fell back on itself, ruminating its next move. Here it came again; I swerved the car right to catch the fury on my side and my family shrieked part with ecstasy, part with fear, as the wave lashed hard on us. Only I was found suddenly not in the game. Uh oh! I sensed trouble the moment I swerved sharply away from the approaching sea.
Instead of zipping on, the front tires burrowed in to the earth, pulling the car into an abrupt halt. I shifted the gear frantically from first to reverse and reverse to first again, before another bout of wave emptied its wares all over us.
“We are stuck,” my wife and daughter heard the pilot announce.
Two minutes later we found ourselves hobbling up the sand bank leaving the car behind, which was stuck exactly at the point where I’d wanted to be, at that line where the elements meet. What to do now! We waited for almost fifteen minutes, watching the car still out there, having a ball at its first date with the sea. Living out my dream. All alone!
To our relief, we saw a couple of men approach from the far end of the beach on a scooter. Soon they were all at the boot of the car, my fuming family included, pushing the car out of the deep pit, with me at the cockpit. If only cursing oneself could be converted into kinetic energy! The car didn’t budge a bit. “This happens to many. You will get help from the village, but only at an exorbitant price. They may even ask you half the price of the car,” the scooter rider said, evidently exaggerating, but enlightening indeed. “Some of them have grown a lucrative business out of this,” he said pointing at the desolate village far up the beach. “But you don’t have any other choice. The tide may come in.” With that they left us with a helpless smile.
With the tide upping the ante every minute, I looked up at the village, screening my eyes with my hand. Hmm… there could be no other way now! I thought I would be the first driver in the country to contribute a car to the Arabian Sea so stupidly. As I began hauling myself dejectedly up the sand bank to fetch help from people who could now be chuckling to themselves seeing my approach, I heard my wife calling me. I looked at where she was pointing. Hurray! An army truck! I ran down like a crazy man calling out to them, waving my hands frantically, until the truck finally came to a stop. “Kya, bhaiya?” asked the officer sitting at the front. I pointed at my car still bashing out at the sea.
The rest went like clockwork. The officer called out to his boys who emerged from the back of the truck. It didn’t take a minute for them to lift my car off the deep pit it was caught in. So relieved were we, but before we could thank them fittingly, the boys had all leapt back on to the truck, waving good bye.
Muzhappilangad is the longest drive-in beach in India. As you go from Thalassery toward Kannur, take the unpaved road on your left after Moidu Bridge. There is a cafeteria at the end of the road, but it was closed at noon when we were there. Remember there is a beach festival every April. Though I have a harrowing memory of driving on the beach, the majority of people I met later told me they had great experiences driving. Still, watch out! Do not make any sharp turns while you’re driving on sand. And you don’t need rocket science to realize that salt corrodes metal. So note it down as a one-time-experience.