Category Archives: Overnighters

Journey away from Bangalore that includes night journey and an overnight stay… Especially ones planned on long weekends with Saturday and Sunday off :)

Journey to the edge of India- Kanyakumari

How can the thought of standing on the edge of land be expressed? As a kid, I always wondered how we stood steadily on a round globe… My curiosity grew further when I was handed a world map for the first time. Now, the round globe looked flat. And on the world that looked flat on a map, India took the center position. And when carefully observed, I noticed that there is nothing below India but only water. On a closer look of the Indian sub-continent, Kanyakumari pops out in the edge as the southern-most tip of the Indian mainland. Then I made a wish- to make a journey to that end of land…

A very pleasant journey in the ‘Nagercoil express’ ended at the Nagercoil junction the next morning. The train route itself is so beautiful with lush greenery even in the peak of summer. As the train entered Tirunelveli district, the landscape takes a different look. Thousands and thousands of windmills seemed to have been strewn until the horizon. Our train slowly chugged past the hills only to later reach its destination- ‘Nagercoil junction’. We freshened up at the station and hired a taxi for the rest of the day. I managed to explain our itinerary to the driver with my broken Tamil and he understood the jist- Cover all the places listed down and ensure we make it to the Sunset point at Kanyakumari in time..!! That said, our sightseeing started in the order given below:

  1. The Nagaraja temple- The temple that gives its name to the city.
  2. We spent a good couple of hours photographing the BEAUTIFUL Padmanabhapuram palace in Thuckalay. By far, one of the beautiful palaces in South India, you don’t regret paying the entry fees as there is a lot of effort that has gone into maintenance of this wooden palace. A surprising fact is that, although this palace is in the state of Tamil-Nadu, the palace is maintained and controlled completely by the Kerala Government.
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The wooden facade of the Padmanabhapuram palace

3. Next was the Udayagiri fort. It wasn’t a great place as a traveler, but maybe a paradise for the bird watchers. It is converted into a mini zoo and houses the memorial of Commander De Lannoy- of the Dutch east India company.

4. The hanging trough / aqueduct at Mathur- The longest in Asia, is set amid a very beautiful surrounding of lush green cashew, coconut and rubber plantations.

5. Adi Perumal temple at Thiruvatturu- adorned with intricate sculptures (of the Cheras period probably). It was strange to know that the people of the Muslim community do not and cannot live in a radius of 6kms around this temple due to a curse by one of the rulers in history. Tippu Sultan had tried to steal the main idol with the help of the Nawab of Arcot. This is probably the only temple where a grave of a ruler is seen next to the main idol of the temple.

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Mathoor aqueduct

6. Jadeshwara temple and Mariamman temple are at a walkable distance from Perumal temple. It is here, Lord Vishnu had come to seek support of his sister- Parvathi to convince Goddess Lakshmi when the latter suspected Vishnu of being involved in an extra-marital affair while he had gone hunting in realty..!!

7. Chittaral jain temple at Vellomcode- is a part of the rocky hills. It is small but a nice place for the history buffs and the pilgrims alike.

8. Thiraparappu Mahadeva temple- This place was a turn off with very less to NO water in the waterfalls and being overly crowded with tourists(NOT pilgrims!!). I suppose it will be worth the while only if its monsoon, when the river flows with all its might down the gorge forming the beautiful waterfalls and the temple at the backdrop.

9. Pechiparai dam- We gave this one a miss as we had anticipated only disappointment with no water in the dam if we had visited there.

The entire drive was the highlight of our day as our driver took us through the remotest roads to avoid the traffic on the main road just so that we could cover all the places within the given time. These narrow and winding roads flanked by coconut trees on either sides were probably least exploited by a normal tourist and hence we could have a feel of the rustic part of an otherwise pilgrim city. The weather was another surprise which was extremely cool and supported the spices plantations in the otherwise hot and humid climate that Tamil Nadu is recognized with.

Suddenly, the weather changed and the dark clouds hovered over us. It was the southern-most part of the western coast of India, that we were planning to drive through to reach the end of land. As we were approaching the seashore, the clouds broke hell and we waited inside the car until the pounding rain paced down. Now we had lost an hour doing nothing and that meant we could only drive through without stopping anywhere. We drove past the Thengapattinam beach, Colachel port(it has a victory pillar to commemorate the victory of the Travancore king over the Dutch army), Mandaikadu temple, Muttom beach, Tekkurichi beach, Sanguthurai beach, Sothavilai beach, Manarkudi and we finally arrived at the Sunset point- Just in time. What awaited us was sheer disappointment in the form of clouds clouds and more clouds..!!! We spent some time with the waves and headed to the hotel in the city where we had booked our stay.

On day 2- we saw ourselves seated amid thousands of people who had gathered there for the same reason as us. The infamous ‘SUNRISE of Kanyakumari’. We watched the sea change its colour from pitch black to different hues of the spectrum until dawn’s break. But we had to be EXTREMELY unfortunate again- a nebule of cloud sat adamantly blocking the rising sun.. We visited the temple and other mundane places in the city(There is enough written about the places to see in the internet- I don’t want to repeat the same stuff again!) The wait in d queue under the hot sun that was at least 3 furlongs was a big turn off. My expectations of finding the calm I was told about across the waters(Read it- the Vivekananda Rock) was let down by the galling tourists who had thronged there in thousands on that weekend. Having been disheartened by the way things turned out on a much anticipated trip, we left Kanyakumari in the afternoon.

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The post Sunrise photo at Kanyakumari

We did a quick visit to Vatakottai fort- a small but a calm place away from the vexing crow. We then stopped at Suchindran temple that stood grand with its majestic tower, but remained closed when we arrived there. We spent some time sitting by the temple pond and feeding the fishes with puffed rice.. And we finally left back to Nagercoil to board our evening train back to Namma Bengaluru.

Must dos-

  1. So when you go to this particular spot at Kanyakumari- You can feel the waves touching your feet from 3 directions- left, right and center.. quite literally..!! That’s when you sense that you are standing in the end of land where the three seas meet- The Bay of Bengal, The Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. The feeling can only be experienced and not expressed.
  2. Lot of shopping… Shell crafts..!!

Must sees- The nose stud of ruby adorning the chief deity- Goddess Parvathi is believed to be shining so bright that many ships have been misguided due to its light. And that’s also the reason why the Eastern door of the temple that faces the sea is always kept closed except for a few special occasions.

An abode of the trio- Art, cuture and history at Kanchipuram

The first thing that hits your mind when you hear this city’s name is the style that defines gorgeous, elegance, classic, royalty- The Kanjeevaram or the Kanchi silk sarees. But what goes rather un-noticed is the fact that Kanchipuram is also called a ‘City of temples’. Although the city was an erstwhile capital of the Pallavas, the influence of Pandyas, Cholas, Hoysalas and Vijayanagaras can be observed significantly in the artistic structures constructed across Kanchipuram. The city is known to be a land of 108 ancient temples all of which are unique in its art, architecture and history. Obviously, one day wouldn’t be sufficient if I had to visit each of these temples and hence, had to choose the top 10 based on mythological importance and ease of commutation given that I’m mostly a public transport dependent creature.

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Mom and I were greeted with drizzling rain at the Kanchipuram bus terminus at the end of an overnight journey. We hired an autorickshaw for the entire day’s transportation around the city. Our auto driver Mr.Ravi took us to a travellers’ dormitory where we freshened up quickly so that we could reach the Kanchi Kamakshiamman temple before sunrise. This is one of the three Shakthi peethas of India and the prayers in the entire city’s temples starts only after prayers are offered here. Unlike the other temples, here an elephant and a cow are allowed inside the sanctorum to offer the first pooja to the goddess. We felt the positive energy filling us up enough to keep us going atleast for the next week ahead. Before I proceed with this write-up, please note that the City of Kanchi can be broadly classified into three- Shiva Kanchi-the holy land of the Shaivaites, the Vishnu Kanchi- the holy land of the Vaishnavaites and the Jaina Kanchi- the holy land of the Jains.

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The entrance of Shri Kaamakshiamman temple

Next up was a quick visit to Adi Kanchi temple. A relatively smaller of the 3 main temples dedicated to Parvathi in Kanchi. But, this place is considered a must if one is on a pilgrimage in Kanchipuram. Adjacent to the Adi Kanchi temple is the Kumarakottam- Murugan Swami temple where the Bramha is said to have been imprisoned by Murugan and later released after Shiva’s interference. The temple is known for the idol in the Soma Skanda posture.

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Shri Adi Kanchi- Kaali amman temple

From there, it was a holy visit to the biggest temple in the city- Ekambareshwara temple. I’d need a separate post altogether to write about the significance of this temple alone. First and foremost reason for this temple being in my itinerary is the fact that this is one of the Panchabhuta sthalas of Shiva’s manifestations. The linga here is made up of sand and hence represents Prithvi or the Earth element. This majestic temple complex houses a very sacred mango tree at its centre whose 4 branches are believed to represent 4 vedas which gives its name to the temple. Each branch bears mangoes of four different tastes(sweet, sour, bitter and spicy) in the 4 seasons. Ofcourse, I found what I was looking for. The special souvenir from Kanchi- a priceless green leaf that withered off from this holy tree right there as if the tree was communicating with me.. I was quick to pick it up and wrap it carefully to be kept in my handbag.

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Under the sacred mango tree @ Ekambareshwara temple

Next was the Varadaraja Perumal temple. We had to stand in a really long queue to get a glimpse of the main deity seated atop the elephant hill.. As if this wasn’t enough, another long queue to get to touch the sculptures of lizards that is believed to have been installed by lord Indra after he was released of the curse by goddess Saraswati. It is believed that people who have touched the 2 lizard idols in Kanchi (Golden lizard representing the sun and the silver lizard representing the moon) will be relieved of all sins that are associated with lizards. Another specialty of this temple is the fact that the wooden idol of lord Vishnu is kept deep down inside a 3 tiered well that in turn is in between a large pond at the temple entrance. The idol is taken out only once in 40 years for pooja offerings. I would recommend you to hire a guide at this complex so that you can get a better insight into the intricacies of the ornate pillars adorning a 100 pillared hall. You can find sculptures of vivid yogic postures, representation of usage of arms and ammunitions in ancient battles, musical pillars etc. which explains the rich heritage of Indian art, history and science.

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An ornate mural adorning the outer wall of the Sanctum at Varadaraja Perumal temple

Thus, with Kamkshiamman temple, Ekambareshwar temple and the Varadaraja Perumal temple, we had completed the mumurthivasam- or the abode of the trio in Kanchipuram.

Just a few meters away from here is the Ulagalandar- Chola temple. Here, Vishnu is celebrated in his Trivikrama pose or the Vamana Avatar. The main idol is a massive 30+ feet tall and the devotees can see only the legs of the Vamana moorthi. The temple itself is small but an important one for pilgrims on the Divyadesams circuit.

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The entrance tower of Ulagalandar Vishnu temple

Further from here, is the Kacchappa Eshwarar temple, where Vishnu is seen in his Kuruma avatar or the Tortoise form, worshipping Lord Shiva. We did a quick stopover at Vaikunta Perumal temple or the Tiruparameshwara Vinnagaram, another among the 108 divyadesams. The temple houses lord Vishnu in 3 different postures- sitting, lying and standing. The corridors are decorated with fine carvings from Ramayana and Mahabhartha and fine stone pillars around the sanctorum.

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All the action @ the Kacchappa Eshwarar temple

The Kailasanathar- Pallava temple needs a special mention. It is slightly on the outskirts and hence away from the regular tourists / pilgrims circuit. It is an entire complex of intricate artwork sculpted on limestone. Although a board claims it to be a protected monument, most of the statues have eroded owing to poor maintenance. Yet, this place has a very powerful force to draw art lovers and travelers looking for an offbeat experience. One really needs to spend lot of time here to appreciate the intricacies with which legends and mythological episodes have been carved out. Don’t miss to spot the statue of laughing Parvathi and Shiva performing the thandava here.

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The limestone walls of the Kailasanathar temple

There is also the Vijayaraghava Perumal temple at about 7kms from the city center. It is one of the 108 divyadesams of Rama where he is believed to have performed the funeral rites of Jatayu- The vulture friend. Since the vulture(Pul) was burried in a pit(Kuli), this place is also called Thiruputkuli.

Not only Hinduism, the city is an important place for the Jains too.. Last in the day’s itinerary of temple tour was Trilokyanatha & Chandraprabha twin temples dedicated to lord Mahaveer at Tirupparuthikkundram. It has inscriptions belonging to Pallavas, Cholas and the Vijayanagara periods. The place houses beautiful paintings of these periods but lies in utter neglect. The place is frequented by fewer tourists and more vandals, gamblers and hawkers.

Kanchi Kudil
The Kanchi Kudil – museum

Being in the city of silk handlooms and not shopping for sarees doesn’t not go down well.. and So.. Off we were… Our driver took us through the narrow bylanes of Kanchi to some of the finest weavers and their handloom workshops.. Enroute, we passed through ‘Kanchi Kudil’- an old house that has now been converted to a museum that exhibits the rich tamilian tradition. Coming back to Sarees… A spectrum of colours, heavy brocades, golden zaris , heavy pattu sarees… we were spoilt for choices… We thanked our driver Mr.Ravi heartily for taking us around the city and bearing with us so patiently as we hopped from one shop to another. We picked up some beautiful sarees in silk and cotton and returned back by an evening bus to Bangalore. Thus ended an eventful weekend…. 🙂

For a person familiar with the city’s name, his knowledge is mostly restricted only to the silk sarees. My visualisation of Kancheevaram has changed forever after this trip. For me, the abode of the trio is as an abode of art, culture and history. Sculptures, architecture, handloom, classical dance, music and all those traditional art forms of Kanchi puts up the city high up on centers of history and heritage on the map of India.

A Buffalo Valentine at Kambala

14-Feb-2016

The air painted red with romance and roses, the atmosphere illuminated with candles and balloons.. Couples holding hands out on dates- both young and old…. That’s the scene in rest of the world on that day.. But for me, Valentine’s day was an unusual form of celebration amid the Tulu-Naadu people. It was a celebration of folk culture and a celebration of earth’s gifts. While in some parts, it is the celebration post harvest, yet in other parts it is a celebration to commence the sowing season for the next crop. The Dakshina Kannada region, fondly called ‘Tulu-Nadu’ was a place where love and war co-existed on that day.. LOVE for a sport of thousands of passionate spectators and a WAR of prestige for hundreds of participating landlords. And amid all pomp and pride, a buffalo soldier fights it out in glory thus emerging as the showstopper..!!

A rickshaw ride from the Mangalore city centre traversed through some Kuccha roads, then across a highway and completely off-road to reach the banks of river Nethravati. Coconut tree lined mud road flanked with dozens of anchored fishing boats on the river bank ended straight at the arena where the big-event was set to take place. As I stood amid thousands of spectators in the gallery, the air felt heavy with anxiety. The show-stealers of the day walked down the ramp(Read it the slush pool) one-by-one to take their places and get set for their D-day. A day where all the effort and hard-work of hundreds of buffalo owners will be put to test. It was time to score off ‘Kambala’ from my bucket list when I decided to spend my weekend at ‘Joppinamogaru Kambala-2016’ in the coastal stretches of Mangalore.

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The ‘Raging bull’, the ’Buffalo skinned’ are idioms that we commonly refer to humans as expressions of exasperation. But when all the action brings forth the literal sense of these words- The event happens to be ‘Kambala’. Kambala is a sport where He-buffaloes are made to run on a mud filled slush track to reach the ‘Nishana’ or the finishing post. In the modern races, there are usually two tracks running parallel and thus called ‘Jodu Kare’ or ‘pair of tracks’. Each track is given a name so that it becomes easy to communicate in events where both the tracks are being used. In Joppinamogaru, the tracks are called Jaya kare and Vijaya kare. A coin is tossed for the team to choose the track. As loud drums beats and hoot sound of the timekeeper goes out, the whip lash of the runner crackles in the air before it hits the buffalo and the action finally takes off… The soldiers begin the battle..

There are different forms of kambala. Firstly, the Negilu category- Here, a representation of a plough is attached to the buffaloes which has evolved over period of modernisation. This is a race mostly for the younger buffaloes. Usually two pairs of buffaloes are made to run at a time and the fastest of the two is considered for the consecutive rounds.

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Negilu Kambala

Hagga kambala- This form is similar to the Negilu kambala, only difference being that the negilu or the plough is replaced by a hagga or a rope. Both these forms of the sport requires a great deal of stamina for the runner as he too is expected to run as fast as the buffaloes.

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Hagga Kambala

Adda halage kambala- This is a category mainly for the senior buffaloes(decided by age). A cross wooden plank is attached to the buffaloes on which the driver stands firmly and controls the speed and direction of the buffaloes to reach the Nishana. This is mostly a time based event where one pair runs at a time and the fastest pair is awarded.

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A pair of buffaloes getting ready to run the Adda Halage Kambala

Kane halage kambala- In this form, a round wooden plank with two holes is tied to the buffalo pair and the driver stands on it to control them. Two strips of white cloth are tied across the track which are used for measurement of the height of water spurt. One cloth is tied at a height of 7.5kolu(9.37mts) and the other at 6.5kolu(8.125mts). Faster the pair runs, higher the water spurts out of the holes on the plank. Here, one pair runs at a time and is specific to the senior buffalo category. It is very difficult to run at the expected speed and hence every team that spurts high enough to wet the cloth is awarded unlike the other forms.

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Kane Halage Kambala

With a history of over 500years, the event is a treat to watch the enthusiasm and the energy of the participants and the spectators. However, it is heart wrenching at the same time to see the welts and the swollen bruises on the buffaloes as a result of continuous whip lashing. For this reason, Kambala has been in the radar of seeing a ban for a while now as demanded by several animal rights activists. We don’t know what the future beholds, but one MUST experience the vibrance of India’s rich folk culture in all forms before its name joins the pages of history..

City of eternal bliss- Chidambaram

The people on the east coast are the God’s chosen ones to have a grand celebration of festivals.. Tsunami for Christmas.. Cyclones for Diwali..!! All does not go quite well for these innocent people. Almost entire city of Chennai is drowning due to the record breaking incessant rains.. and other districts along the eastern coast have suffered even worse losses.. People including patients, infants, veterans are suffering the worst among all- Travel is not a parking your butt and firing to glory setup like in Safaris. You need to move yourself to places to experience and explore. I realized this better on my recent trip along the eastern shoreline of India.

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It was a bright sunny day when we started from Kumbakonam. But, like I have already mentioned in my previous post, It had been raining incessantly over the last couple of days. The original plan was to take a bus to Cuddalore town from Kumbakonam from where we would head to Pichavaram mangroves. However, by travelling to Gangaikondacholapuram, we had already covered half way to Chidambaram(Through a different route) and so we decided to continue on the same route and then take a bus to Pichavaram.

Our parents had been trying to contact us to ensure our safety and not to venture near the sea coast. We were informed that a deep depression alert had been called by the Met. Dept. in Chennai, Cuddalore and Pondicherry owing to Cyclone-Roanu in the Bay of Bengal. When we checked the news online, we got to know about the weather conditions, but since the day was bright, we did not take our Met. Quite seriously and decided to take a chance by continuing with the plan. From GK cross, we got a bus to Mannarkudi from where we were supposed to take another one. However, the conductor told us that the road was blocked the previous night due to a tree that was uprooted. Although cleared, he wasn’t sure if the route was worthy for us to go. Without really understanding the seriousness of his advice, we boarded an overly priced private bus which ferried us to Chidambaram. Our road was flanked by the Kollidam until most stretch. The river looked beautiful as the sun rays sneaking from amid the thick clouds reflected on the brown waters while she was flowing in full spate leading into the Grand Anicut which was filled till its max.limit. From there on, started an eye-opening travel saga..

Little distance ahead, we saw that the river and the road met at their corners at most turns. Gradually, the river overflowed crossing the road at some places. Our bus crossed the river at these junctions. And gradually, the water level increased covering the road for stretches in kilometers. Our driver was a real super star- who could figure out exactly where the road lied in the ground where water was above the tyre height. A slight slip in the road meant fatal where the entire bus with about 25-30 passengers could get washed away by the strong currents of the spiteful river. I had only seen such things in the news.. Now I was right there, witnessing the scene first hand: Stretches of villages laid submerged ahead. We could see the utensils floating around while the water was filled above waist level. At some places, the thatched roofs and the hay huts had given way.. Hundreds of hapless people were standing by the roadside staring at the void that the rain had created in their lives. It was a heart rendering sight. However, our driver remained focused and drove us across to reach the safe harbor at Chidambaram in just a while. If a night’s rain could wreak so much havoc, I DON’T want to imagine the condition of Tamil Nadu (especially, such remote villages) when a month’s rain poured down in just a day..!!

The flooded villages enroute to Chidambaram
The flooded villages enroute to Chidambaram

It was around 03.00.p.m. and we alighted right infront of the Thillai Nataraja temple at Chidambaram which remained closed until 04.00.p.m. Hence, we decided to drop the luggage at the hotel that was booked online and look out for some food since we hadn’t eaten since morning except for a pack of biscuits. When we were shown our room- we were a little perplexed. The bedsheets looked extremely old, torn and dirty. I checked the bathroom which was a bigger turn off. The toilet floor was covered with a thick layer of algae, slush and mud that had accumulated over years and unwashed ever since it was set-up. The flush lever was broken, the taps rusted and unhygienic bucket & mug. My brother and I looked at each other’s face- and both knew what was running in each other’s mind. We were feeling so suffocated inside that room and opened a window to get some air.. And there, a nasty breeze smelling heavily of booze hit our noses.. I said, “Let us keep our bags here and go around the town to find another hotel, come back and check-out”. However, my brother was apprehensive about leaving our bags there too.. But, he nodded an OK upon insisting. We were too tired to walk around with our bags all over since we were extremely hungry. We started to walk down the stairs and as if the injury wasn’t enough- I happened to step on a large mess of barf, thrown up by some drunkard on the stairs and slip down a couple of steps. I have done innumerable budget travel and THAT was the WORST EVER experience..!!

I maintained my calm but my brother gave up.. He started to pester me to go back to Bangalore. I said, “Let me first wash my feet in some clean place and visit the temple which must have opened by now; find some food and then decide.” Somewhere in my mind, I still wanted to complete my trip. But, yet wasn’t sure.

The temple is an architectural marvel, having contributions from various dynasties of the south that patronized art. Each and every stone, pillar, strut, beam and tile has either a scientific or religious significance. This temple is spread over 40acres and has 9 gateways representing 9 orifices of a human body. We entered through the west tower which is the inspiration for the classical dance form of Bharatanatyam where all the 108 postures have been carved on. The 109th posture is reserved for the Sanctum where Shiva is represented in a dancing posture. Prayers are offered 6 times in a day and we had rightly reached there for the 4th one at 05.00.p.m. We witnessed the holy ritual of curtain parting and got a wonderful darshan of the Shiva in his three forms- The ‘Form’ as the anthropomorphic Nataraja in his Ananda Thandava posture-The posture of eternal bliss, the ‘Semi-form’ of crystalised Linga and the ‘Form-less’ as empty space representing the element ether/Akasha identified by a garland of 51 Bilwa leaves of gold adorning the empty space behind the curtain.

The Bharatanatyam postures sculpted on the walls of the west-tower of the temple
The Bharatanatyam postures sculpted on the walls of the west-tower of the temple

Legend has it that Shiva realized that he was losing a dancing competition to his wife Parvathi and scared of facing defeat to a women, performed the Oorthava thandava knowing the weakness of a women. This posture required Parvathi to lift her leg above her head level and so shied away from doing it in public. Having been frustrated with this attitude of Shiva, she decided to leave him. The furious avatar of Parvathi is worshipped at the Thillai Kaliamman kovil on the city outskirts where she is said to have been calmed down by lord Bramha and asked to stay. That is ALL there to see in Chidambaram.

Pichavaram, the second largest mangrove forest in the world lies 20kms away from this city. The thillai trees that grow here is the one that gives its first name to the Nataraja temple. It is believed that Shiva got his attire of tiger skin-moon on matt hair and serpent around his neck while he was travelling through these Thillai forests. But, due to the continued weather alert, we decided to forego the plan to continue the trip further. Then, we walked the WHOLE of Chidambaram town, and it was JUST CLOSED for Deepawali- with NO RESTAURANTS..!! The entire town was SOO DIRTY with garbage littered around everywhere.. We found only ONE supermarket open in the entire place and we got a cup of sweet corn to sate our tired souls. We decided to LEAVE the city the same night and NEVER return back. We booked our return tickets and checked out from the hotel.

One of the temple gopurams and the holy Sivaganga tank
One of the temple gopurams and the holy Sivaganga tank

Our city woes did not end there.. We had 3 hours more to kill and were told we’d find a decent restaurant near the bus stand. And so, we found this AC luxury restaurant- ‘Vandayar- Southern Spice’ serving only fried rice when we reached there at 07.00.p.m. After repeating our order thrice (for the only dish available) and 2hrs of waiting while some VIP guests were attended to with a feast of all the dishes on the menu, we walked out of the restaurant in frustration. As we walked out, there was power cut. In a dark and dingy bus-stand, we spotted the only stall that served tea and some biscuits. The little candle light was just enough for him to reach out to things in the kiosk. We were essentially scared of stamping some more muck that could’ve been laid in the path. And, then google worked- Pointing to another hotel- Saradharam right across the road. We were served tasty food quite fast and we returned to the bus stand. We were delighted with yet another surprise that our bus was delayed by 2 hrs!!! As we waited there in the dark platform of the bust stand, some drunk men started throwing glass bottles at the crowd there. Luckily no-one was injured but the downpour of bottles and splatter of glass pieces continued for a while.

Though we boarded the bus at 10.00.p.m. and caught up some sleep.. Only to be woken up at sunrise after the bus broke down. Although we were given an alternate bus in a while, we were quite anxious until we reached home with the rain that kept pounding continuously ever since the time we boarded the bus at Chidambaram. YES.. We reached home safely in the morning and the story had a HAPPY ending.. 😛

Summary:

My wish of covering the five main Shiva temples- Checked

Find a place that I swear by not to return back- Checked

Tracing the Cholan trail- Kumbakonam

At work, it was a week-long plant shutdown for Diwali. Taking this opportunity, I decided to close my travelogues along South India with the last 4 places left- Kumbakonam, Chidambaram, Pondi and Tiruvannamalai. On a Sunday night, my brother and I set out on the bus journey from Bangalore to Kumbakonam. This was part 2 of my exploration in Tanjavur district.

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It was raining cats and dogs when we alighted at Kumbakonam bus stand on the 9th morning from where we hired a rickshaw to the hotel that was pre-booked online. Though we had a confirmed room, only after reaching the hotel did we get to know that they were closed for festival holidays and we had NO information from the website. However, the caretaker at the hotel was courteous by giving us 30mins to use a room to freshen up and vacate. Meanwhile, the pounding rain was replaced by drizzle. Both of us decided to walk the town exploring and visiting all the temples that were all nearby and located in a cluster. After a neat South-Indian breakfast with Rava Dosa and filter coffee, we headed towards the first place of visit following the directions given on a map- The Nageshwaran temple. It was a pretty big temple from the Chola period dedicated to Adishesha who offered prayers to Shiva at this place. The kalyana mantap has been interestingly designed in the form of a chariot being drawn by life sized elephants and horses with the suspension technique even 1000 years ago.

The Kalyana mantap at Nageswaran Kovil
The Kalyana mantap at Nageswaran Kovil

Next, we waded through the flooded roads to reach Sarangampani- A Vaishnavite temple. Notable contributions have been made by Cholas, Vijayanagar, Madurai Nayaks etc. to the overall architecture of this temple and there is a temple tank located on the western side. Someshwara temple is located adjacent to the Sarangampani temple which we skipped after just getting some photos from the outside.

The Rajagopuram at the Sarangampani Kovil
The Rajagopuram at the Sarangampani Kovil

We continued through the busy shopping lanes of the town to reach Adikumbeshwara temple. The premise is vast and now used for commercial purposes with several shops and restaurants that have been setup. It is believed that Kumbakonam gets its name from this Shiva temple. Legend has it that lord Bramha’s pot (Kumba) containing nectar of worldly lives was rolled down and stopped at Kumbakonam after being hit by Shiva’s arrow. The sculptures at the temple are interesting where a 16 pillar hall built by the Vijayanagar kings has all the 27 stars and 12 zodiacs on a single stone. Also the piped instruments(nagaswarams) etched out of stone and the cattle-shed are noteworthy.

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After a detailed observation of the art, we proceeded towards the next destination: Ramasamy temple- A dedication to lord Rama. This is the only temple which houses the idols of Rama & Sita along with all his brothers inside the sanctum Sanctorum. The place requires atleast a day or two since the entire story of Ramayana has been painted on the corridor walls of the temple. Obviously we did not have more than a couple of hours to spend given the tight schedule we often travel with. We did a quick brush up of whatever we could understand of the images there. Meanwhile, my brother’s phone beeped on a receipt of a SMS. The website guys had given us an alternate stay option. We decide to locate the hotel which was round the corner and drop our luggage there. To our surprise, our room was upgraded to AC-luxury!!

The Ramayana painted on the corridor walls of the Ramasami temple
The Ramayana painted on the corridor walls of the Ramasami temple

We freshened up again and continued with our exploration without really thinking about our lunch. By noon, all temples in the South close down and open again only in the evening. So we thought a visit to the Mahamahan tank was a good idea to use up the time. The tank is spread across 6 acres and is believed to be created out of the nectar that was spilt out of Bramha’s pot. At the entrance of the tank, Kashivishwanathar temple is located. It is believed that the navakannigas or the 9 maidens of Shiva (Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Kaveri, Gidavari, Narmada, Krishna, Tungabadra & Sarayu) representing 9 rivers come to this tank for bathing once in 12 yrs. On this day, lakhs of devotees flock here. It is believed that people who cannot make it to Kailash / Manasa Sarovar visit this temple as an alternative to wash off their sins. Though the temple was closed when we reached there, we were very fortunate to get the prasadam that made a nice filling lunch.

We walked past Abhimukeshwara temple located on the other side of the tank and was closed too. From there, we boarded a bus to Darasuram, a temple listed in the UNESCO’s world heritage sites (1 of the great living Chola temples). Very few fortunate people (like US..!!) get this view of the Airavateshwara temple- This majestic structure was partially submerged in water owing to the heavy rains.. Ofcourse, it’s not a good thing to cheer about but then the reflection of the entire temple in the water beneath just doubled the beauty of the sight (quite literally!!) We climbed a ladder to walk up the corridor and then got down to wade across and reach the temple porch. It was BEAUTY up there..!! This temple is aesthetically different from the other 2 counterparts. We had a feast for our eyes soaked in the rain 😛 After getting some nice shots, we made our way out to the main road to catch a bus to our next destination.

Airavateshwara temple at Darasuram
Airavateshwara temple at Darasuram

Our umbrella flipped to the heavy winds and the pounding rain got us drenched till our bone by the time the bus arrived. The short journey thereon reminded us of Sebastian Vettel cruizing on narrow country side tarmac amid overflowing potholes and LOUD tapangucchi music at the background. With nothing to hold on to during the frequent braking by the driver to stop the bus for passengers to board/alight, got the bus to screeching halts from a revving speed. It was a fun ride that ended in few minutes as we alighted at the Pateeswaran temple. Originally a Shiva temple, the goddess has been given prime importance. It is said that the Cholas offered prayers to the goddess Patti(daughter), calf of the sacred cow kamadhenu here before proceeding for any battles during their time. However, the temple still remained closed till 05.00.p.m. Since the rain had taken a break, we decided to cover Swamimalai in the remaining time. Again the rain gods took over the sky and so, after waiting for more than an hour for a bus, we decided to head back to the city.

We found a place that served piping hot filter coffee near the city bus stand that helped us to warm ourselves to some extent from the chilling rain. It was only 06.00.p.m but dark already.. We then walked back to our hotel room to warm ourselves and continue the temple hopping after an hour’s rest. As planned, we set out finding our way out of the super crowded street of the city to find the other 2 temples that we had left out. We just had to close our umbrellas and stand amid the crowd and the crowd would pull us along to reach the exit of the street. The main bazaar street is a state highway- thanks to the shopping mela that was set there for Deepavali, people flocked to buy stuffs for festival not minding the heavy rain and the jam-packed road with not even an inch of breathing space. We somehow managed to get out without actually facing a stampede and reached the Chakrapani temple. Here, Vishnu is worshipped in his sleeping posture holding his ‘Chakra’ on one finger. We witnessed the last pooja of the day after which we were wondering if we had to continue to the next temple or not since the temples had started to close down. Anyway, we had a lot of time to kill and walked across to take a chance. Again, we were very fortunate that the preist was happy to greet us for the last pooja of the Bramha temple. There are very few temples for Bramha and this is 1 of the 2 in all of Tamil Nadu. We were happy to get the prasad which was unexpected. We then had a sumptuous supper at a restaurant called Dosa plaza- a must try while you are in this city. It took the same amount of pain to cross the crowded bazaar street to reach back to the hotel and catch some good night’s sleep.

Day 2: As planned, we woke up early and boarded a bus by 07.00.a.m. to Swamimalai. The temple is located on a small hillock and is among the six holy shrines dedicated to lord Murugan. We finished our prayers and had to head back to the city to get buses to the other places. We couldn’t locate a restaurant that was open for breakfast even at 08.00.a.m. We decided to have lunch once and for all as we would be back by noon.

Swami Malai- One of the six holy shrines of lord Murugan
Swami Malai- One of the six holy shrines of lord Murugan

Next on schedule was Gangaikonda Cholapuram- the 3rd of the living temples of the Cholas. There are other temples at Uppiliappan, Thirubuvanam, Thiruvalanchizi, Thiruvidaimaruthur etc. All located out of the city in different directions. They could be covered in half a day’s time if travelling by own vehicle. However, it still can be done as the local bus service in Tamil Nadu is very convenient, frequent and cheap. We decided to skip all of them.

We got a bus to Kork road / GK cross after an hour’s wait at the wrong bus stop from where we had to take another bus to reach this world heritage site and so we did.. The Brihadeeshwara temple stood right there adjacent to the national highway enchanting every tourist with all its might. A much wished tour of all the 3 Cholan temples enlisted by UNESCO was fulfilled right there (The 1st one being the Brihadeeshwara/Big temple at Tanjavur). Hmm Bliss..!! The architecture of all the 2 Brihadeeshwara temples is more or less comparable. The 3 living temples are together called so because the prayers, festivities followed thousands of years agon during the Chola period are still being followed religiously till date and have stood as true testimony of time and Tamil culture.

The Brihadeeshwara temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram
The Brihadeeshwara temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram

The next plan was to go back to Kumbakonam and take a bus to Chidambaram via Pichavaram. However, the latter was closed due to the cyclone alert that was issued in Cuddalore and Pondi. On some research, we got to know that GK-Cholapuram was indeed halfway to Chidambaram. Hence, we decided to continue on the same route although it required for us to change 2 buses. So, here ended our tour of Kumbakonam and Tanjavur district as a whole from where we began another new journey towards the Cuddalore district.

Summary:

Max. time to cover ALL temples with own transport- ONE day

Max. time taken to cover all temples with local transport- 1.5 days.

Food: the trademark Dosas at ‘The Dosa Plaza’- a must try

Buy: hmm.. Nothing really..!!

The silent whine of a valley at Khas Pattar

“Thank you very much for online registration to Visit Kas Plateau.” Read the auto-response mail from the Satara divison forest office. Our slot for the much anticipated trip to the South India’s very own valley of flowers was confirmed.

We reached Khas plateau by hiring a cab from Satara town as early as sunrise. One reason was to get good shots of the valley with different hues of sunrise; second was to enjoy the oneness with nature undisturbed by the senseless, rather ruthless people who would pour in later during the day in the name of tourism. Recognised among the world’s 39 natural heritage sites by the UNESCO in 2012, Khas has over 350 flower species including orchids, insectivorous plants and other herbaceous plants. There are plants whose flowers change their sex each year too..!! Atleast 20 species of plants are endemic to the Khas valley alone. Someone rightly called it the “Nature’s very own laboratory”. Since Khas is a part of the Koyna Sanctuary, the place is often frequented by animals like the barking deers, bears etc. in search of water. It is nature’s treasure in every sense.

Life is not a bed of roses, but at Khas- it is a bed of balsams.. Oops.. Bad one, I know..!! But that’s what came into my mind when I was finally there..!! The complete valley looked as if painted in pink with an endless stretch of balsam flowers, dotted here and there with small ponds like a bindi on a beautiful lass’s forehead that would complete her looks. These ponds dual as watering holes to the wild animals that visit here occasionally. A narrow stream flows silently on the other side over black basalt rocks until it plummets down into the Khas lake. Beauty of the Western ghats is beyond expression when one stands here at the edge of the Sahyadri ranges overlooking the Sajjangad fort and the Kanher dam.

The Mickey mouse flower
The Mickey mouse flower

It is a pitiful plight of the place when several plants are smashed under the reckless visitors who pour in there in thousands during the peak months of blossom. A well laid asphalt road cuts right through this protected land until the Khas lake. No entry tolls, no parking fees, no written commitments to gain entry- but just a nominal registration fee of 10Rs. per head is all it takes to get to this colourful patch of nature. It is just a place to hangout for the majority without actually knowing the ecological importance of the place. NO… It doesn’t have any restaurants, playgrounds, toy-trains for you to lunch over with your family and kids. And definitely, NOT a photo studio for you have NO rights to sleep over the flower bed to get those sexy hot babe-kinda photoshoots done. Be educated before heading there that this place is ONLY for the people who respect nature’s gifts. Infact, none-of us even have the rights to walk through the laid walkpaths for there is always a possibility that one can step on an endangered plant and therefore kill it. So think about visiting there ONLY if you’re genuinely into research or in quest of knowledge- NOT for anything else.

Cynotis tuberosa
Cynotis tuberosa

Be reminded, the acknowledgement mail from the forest dept. also read the following:

Please note that, Kas a plateau of flowers is a divine gift. Please observe carefully, enjoy the beauty of these tiny tots and convey others also but not to hurt.”

 Here’s a request to the authorities: Taking a cue from a protected island called ‘Kurusudai’ in Tamil Nadu, It is really the need of the hour to treat Khas at such level. My suggestions are:

  1. Do-NOT make the valley accessible to public and make the entry STRICTLY based on requirement from education/research institutions.
  2. Please increase the entry fees. A HEFTY fee (possibly in thousands) will make it possible to filter out only genuinely interested people visiting there for whom money does not matter against knowledge.

My visit to the Panchgani tableland also reflected a similar letdown. The vegetation at the tableland is very fragile & similar to that of the Khas. However, onslaught of exploitative tourism has left it in a state of pity. If the flow of tourists continues the same way at Khas, it won’t take more than just two years to lose this treasure and lose it FOREVER.

Backwaters and boat races at Allapuzha

We alighted at Ernakulam railway station at the end of an overnight train journey, from where- another hour’s journey in a local train took us to our destination- Allapuzha or fondly called Alleppey. We were there to experience the festivities of ‘Vallamkali- The Olympics of Kuttanad’. It was the 2nd Friday of August 2012 – A day before the Biiigg sporting event of South India- “The Nehru trophy boat race”. This is an annual event held in the Vembanad lake- the longest lake in India spanning several districts of Kerala. The lake that’s known by different names in different parts of Kerala is refered to as the Punnamada Lake in the Kuttanad region. It was noon by the time we checked into our hotel room. We freshened up and set out to explore the backwater villages of Alleppey.. We hired a ‘Shikhara- the boat which motored us through the narrow stretches of the canals. We cruised on the backwaters, passing through villages- where womenfolk were washing clothes, men were fishing, while a few kids were diving into the waters for a swim. We enjoyed our ride as we picked up some fresh lobsters and pomfret at the local market alongway and got them cooked in the local style at a fisherman’s house.

The Shikara cruise in the narrow canals of Alleppey
The Shikara cruise in the narrow canals of Alleppey

Further, we were oared across to the end of the canal which opened into the wide Vembanad lake where all the teams were practising  and the venue was getting set for the ‘Big’ event. The energy and enthusiasm was no less than the main event itself. Though we wanted to stay there till sunset, the government deadline for cruising in the waters forced us to return to the jetty before 06.00.p.m.

On returning to the mainland, we meandered through the lanes of Alleppey town searching for a heavenly dose of Kerala chai and palam-pori (Banana fritters). We passed across the once famous- now non-functional coir industries of Alleppey as we searched our way to the beach, where we spent the remaining evening until dark.

A stationed shikara enroute to the Alleppey beach
A stationed shikara enroute to the Alleppey beach

The town usually sleeps to silence after 7.00.p.m. in any part of Kerala state. But, we were there to make the most of the little time we had with us and not wanting to waste it sitting in the cosy of the hotel room. We happened to see a hoarding of a concert happening at a stadium and headed there hoping to capture some nice photos of the Theyyam show. We did enjoy theyyam.. But we were in for a surprise when we decided to stay for a little longer- we were smitten by something else.. MUSIC..!! A MIND-BLOWING show by the violin maestro- Balabaskaran and team.. It was there that we were LOST in dreamland..!!

The next morning, we had to reach the racing venue as early as 08.00.a.m. to ensure a place to sit. (Read about the madness of the event) One by one, the snake boats arrived for assembly. Locally called as the Chundan Vallam (Beaked boats), these 100~120 feet long wooden canoes carry 90- 110 rowers and move like snakes through the channels. These boats are the world’s biggest water vessel used for sports. And soon.. The event started. Races took place in different categories with even the women rowers. All through the event, only one thing echoed in the atmosphere- Vanchipattu or the Boat song. Every single soul in the arena was singing songs of cheer. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be a part of that enthusiastic crowd.

The oarsmen '"Women"
The oarsmen ‘”Women”

Post the event, we still had time to explore the town and hence boarded a bus to Champakulam. As we passed through the waterlogged villages of Kuttanad, we were reminded that the region we were passing is the ‘granary of Kerala’ or the rice bowl of Kerala and is one of the few places in the world where farming is done below sea level.

Soon, we reached the St. Mary Forane Church. Since it was a Sunday, we were lucky to take part in the mass. This waterside church, built in 427A.D. is a testimony of time with its finely maintained beautiful mural paintings. From there, we took a boat to reach the other end of the river: the place of the oldest market known as Kalloorkkadu angadi.

Champakulam St. Marys church
Champakulam St. Marys church

If not the race, we’d have some more time to explore Karumadi Thodu and Ambalapuzha Sree Krishna temple. The former is famous for the black granite idol of lord Buddha and the latter being known for the ‘Palpayasam’ or the milk porridge offered as prasad to the diety. You could include these in your itinerary if you are planning a drive to Alleppey.

We then walked to the Latin church in the town from whose terrace, the entire town of Alleppey can be viewed during visiting hours. What particularly captured our attention was the cemetery where all members of a family were buried in the same pit. Hundreds of such graves laid within the church premises.

The premises of the Latin Church
The premises of the Latin Church

We then left for our lodge to check out as our return train was scheduled for the night. The luxury of time with half a day extra would have allowed us to visit the church located at Kokkothamangalam- one of the seven churches founded by St.Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. And we’d want to visit the Ayyappan temple, in Mukkal vattam near Muhamma that’s known for the Kalari from which Lord Ayyappa learnt his martial arts. The hermitage where Ayyappan lived during the training period has been preserved in its original form by successive generations of the Cheerappanchira family.

Anyway.. We had to leave the place with a heart soaked and mind filled with beautiful memories of sailing afloat on a boat in the backwaters of the beautiful country of God and hope to return soon.

Must dos:

* Experience the madness of the Snake boat race

Must eat: 

* Freshly caught and cooked seafood while on a backwater cruise tour