The plan started a week before, after feedbacks from one of our friend’s successful venture. Shenandoah encompasses a cavern and a National park, and with the fall season reaching its end, it was a gamble to see if we could salvage the remaining beauty before the park becomes a vast land of haunted trees.
On Friday 29th Oct ‘04, we began counting heads that progressively increased from 5 to 8. Mugil was the only one with driving permit, and we were sure of not hiring a bus :). Shripad, one of our US counterparts wished to join us, and now it was 2 cars and 10 of us (he and his wife). Car renting was done on Friday evening as we planned to leave quite early the next day. Mugil got a Chevy Cavalier, a small fully manual car, and Shripad got a huge and sporty Pontiac Grand prix (Obviously the former was $30 less for the weekend).
The experience of the previous trips hinted us to take our own lunch. So it was going to be a long Friday night. At 9 PM we began preparing lunch for the following day. After deep thoughts we decided on our typical (default) desi types Tomato Rice and Tamarind Rice (better pronounced as Puliyodhari), along with Allo fry and peas masala. Work got over by 12:00 AM and we were anxious about waking up at 5 AM the next day.
Saturday, 30th Oct, 5 AM, I respected my otherwise snoozed alarm and awoke. We were all set at 6 AM. Shripad and his wife were there on dot. Me, Mugil, Balaji, Kishore and Prakash got ourselves packed into our tiny car, while Anand, Rajesh, Joshy joined Shripad and Saritha. Route maps were all ready the previous day and I as always was the navigator for our car, although we were piggy-backing the one in front. Our car was full of noise, either from the FM station or from within, while Shri’s car was relatively silent (well they can’t be boyish when there is a lady in the car). That was the first time I listened Hindi music on US FM stations.
Half past 8, we’d done 100 miles, and had 150 more to go. We halted briefly, finished our breakfast and soon we were on the hot-foot towards Shenandoah Caverns, Virginia. Clocking a maximum of 90 miles (145 Kmph) and an average of 75miles an hour, we reached the caverns around 11 AM.
From left to right, its Anand, Joshy, Shripad, Kishore, Prakash, Balaji, in second row, it’s Mugil, me and Rajesh
The entry fare was an exorbitant $17 per head. But Mr. Brilliant Balaji did his negotiation with the counter striking a deal at $11 per head for 10 people (Pretty good deal uh!!!).
The Caverns was first found in early 20th century by a father and son, who observed stream surfacing out of a small hole on the ground. Inquisitive to know what lied beneath, the duo began to widen the hole and moved inside. After progressing deeper and deeper for about 250 ft, and halted their expedition when rope didn’t suffice. This didn’t deteriorate their fascination for more adventure and they came back. Thought the caverns had few natural opening to give them enough air to breath, the only source of light was the small lamp as powerful as a zero watts bulb fully covered by our fingers. All these were narrated, some times even demonstrated by our 12 yrs old guide (12 is his age not experience).
The cave has so many distinct patterns carved meticulous by the master architect – Water. Mostly constituted of limestone, these caverns have a mixture of Iron, Manganese, Phosphorus, Sulfur and other minerals. There were many other crystalline substances glittering like diamonds falling from a height.
There are primarily three levels in these caves at 200, 250 and 300 meters below ground level. For our security and the cavern's safety only two levels are open to general public.
This limestone cavern is ever growing in all dimensions. An analysis states that the gap between these two formations (below) would ideally be closed in 25 years time (they can’t cheat me, I'll be back to see that).
Out there was a small pond with fresh water lying nearly 10 ft blow the standing level, and the only thing that captured my eyes were the countless ‘one cent’ coins that were inside making that a `wish` well, just proving geography is no barrier to human insanity.
The cavern is completely dark. Lights placed in every corner are switched on, only when we enter each section. This is not just to keep our suspense beats high, but also due to the fact that constant light fall on those formations, results in a white sodium/phosphorus patching over them.
As we moved deeper into the caverns, we found several marvelous patterns that were focused with multicolored lamps giving a spectacular view. With those humungous structures and haunting pathways, the caverns could have easily served as a natural set for all Vittalachariar’s (famous South Indian mythical movie director) movies.
At the second level, we found something really interesting, there was a formation like a three dimensional parabola, covered with glittering crystal, it looked so gorgeous that I wondered if only this was in India, we would call it Swayambu Lingum of Lord Shiva and start our regular pooja.(picture not available right now)
After our captivating tour of the caves, our next stop was the American Parade hall, also owned by the Shenandoah guys. This was a collection of all the huge structures that were built for the parades that take place in US during Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day and New Year.
The specialty is most of these structures were colored/covered using only naturally available materials.
Some notable pieces:
This colossal American flag stage was set for the oath taking ceremony of one US’s presidents.
And a massive Rolles Royes look alike that can actually move at 25 mph can be rented by public for a meager $50,000 a day.
It was time for lunch, to taste (test) what was frantically made last night. To our surprise the food came out really well, and we enjoyed our lunch sitting in a circle on the lawn with a picnic feeler.
We soon began our way back home, through the Shenandoah National park (paying $10 per car as an entry fee), to have last look at the changing colors of the fall season. But we were a little late, the reds, and oranges were gone, only yellows and browns were remaining.
From the left : Me, Mugil, Balaji
On our detour on the Interstate 76, at around 7 pm, we were as usual piggy backing Shripad on the right (slower) lane, when a police patrol car just zoomed by us in the left, Mugil was reflexive in removing the legs off the accelerator voiding chances of any speeding ticket. But the fun just began. Shripad was in the front for a while not too sure which lane to take and the cop was patiently following him (without his Doppler effects lighting). Soon Shripad unaware of this follower moved on to the left (faster) lane. Now to the left was Shripad, right was a huge truck both moving at the same (little more than permissible) speed, and our patient cop was growing otherwise. We were silent spectators to the whole hot (or should I say lukewarm) pursuit. Deliriously waiting for Shripad to recognize this, we were counting odds whether the cop will or will not switch his glow lights on, signaling – “Dai.. Side vanagu”(Step Aside). It was like he will, he wont, he will, he wont, he will he wont, and then it was an unanimous “HE DID”. Shripad had to move his car to the service lane, and our cop began his interrogations. We helplessly moved past them and stopped at the immediate emergency wait area for them to come. That was our first firsthand experience of a pursuit. We worried if he was fined for speeding, but luckily he was just warned not to block the traffic. We were back home by 12:00 AM and the day came to an end.
I must thank Mugil for not only driving us swift and safe but also for taking these wonderful pictures that say a million words themselves.