Category Archives: Tamil Nadu

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..!!

Thally- The little England of Tamil Nadu

In what was meant to be just a ride to kill time on a weekend, turned out to be a discovery of a new hideout to escape the frenzy of the city.. A small ride through Jigani past Chandapura town lead us to a small barricade that marked the Karnataka- Tamil Nadu border. There was a sudden drop in temperature leading to a rather pleasant ride than expected in an otherwise hot Tamil Nadu.

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The colourful brick making kilns
The colourful brick making kilns

Brick making kilns and artistically constructed cottages of raw bricks and tiles dotted some stretch of the bordering village. We proceeded through the serene greens of vegetable farms and yellow blossomed mustard fields to reach the junction of Thally town where the temple fair seemed to be happening beside the huge Thally lake.. We thought of giving it a miss owing to the village crowd and proceeded towards our next destination: ‘Devarabetta’.

View of the Twin Devarabetta  hills from the farm lined road
View of the Twin Devarabetta hills from the farm lined road

We spotted the twin hills from a distance and our excitement was at its peak.. We passed through rough countryside terrain and kaccha road that finally lead us to the temple at the foothill.

The stairway to Devarabetta :P
The stairway to Devarabetta 😛

It wasn’t a strenuous climb with mere 100+ steps leading us to the top (Read about scaling the second highest monolith in Asia- A day trek in Bangalore) where an ancient temple exists. We took a 360 deg view around and it looked beautiful.. Surrounded by the Anchetty /Bannerghatta forest range on one side, the rocky hillock on another side and green pastures all around.. And a very pleasant weather: This could be why this place was once called ‘The Little England’. This can be a haven for botanists as we could see the rocky hillock covered with very rare and colourful wild flowers. We spent sometime soaking in some pure air of the forests cover around. We decided to head back to the city since there were no hotels nearby to sate our hunger.

The Vishnu temple enroute to Devarabetta from Thally
The Vishnu temple enroute to Devarabetta from Thally

But on our way back, I found an interesting piece of architecture, I wanted to explore more. We parked our bike and walked into this old temple complex. The door to the sanctum was closed. There was no one around who could throw some light about this place. However, the design looked liked a scaled down version of the temple at Tirupathi suggesting that it was dedicated to Lord Vishnu. There was an old well, a wooden temple car and a dilapidated mantap adjacent to the temple. Further, with my little knowledge of temple architecture, I recognise that the art had some relevance to the Chola style of architecture (the stairs had resemblance to the Varadaraja Perumal Temple at Kanchipuram & the Big temple at Tanjavur). Click on the link to read further

Inside the temple premises
Inside the temple premises

I have some sweet memories to keep with me for life in the form of some wild pink flowers gifted to me by my friend from the temple porch. However, I would be really happy if someone could help me out in knowing the actuals about the art & history of this temple. The map of the temple is shared below.

The forgotten Chola temple- Google maps
The forgotten Chola temple- Google maps

Thereafter, we continued our return journey to the city. This place makes for half a day’s outing if you are looking for some solace with nothing much to do at a stone’s throw away distance from the city. You can make a full day outing if you combine it with a tour to hosur, Denkanikottai fort in Tamil nadu or the pearl valley in Karnataka.

Summary: Not a great place to plan an exclusive trip, you can consider it only if you’re planning for a random ride on a weekend to get away from the Bangalore chaos.

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A confluence of south Indian architectural styles- Thiruchirapally

After a long day exploring Tanjavur.. We boarded an evening bus to Tiruchirapalli (earlier called Trichy). We checked into a lodge infront of the central bus stand. Had a sumptuous meal and retired early..

Day 3:
We got ready early next morning and boarded a local bus to Srirangam- the abode of Sri Antya Ranganatha Swamy. This is the Tamilian counterpart of AdiRanga at Srirangapatna and MadhyaRanga in Shivanasamudra, All 3 being island towns formed by river Kaveri. This is an important place of worship to the vaishnavites sect of Brahmins or the followers of Lord Vishnu. The majority population in the town is the Iyengar Brahmins. Nevertheless, we got a glimpse of the historic idol of Sri Ranganatha sleeping on a serpent. But, pilgrimage aside, we were there to enjoy the architectural marvels of the city. The main temple itself is atleast 2-3 hrs of tour for the legs. To start of with, The main Gopuram or the outermost temple tower is the largest in the world and the latest among the towers in the temple complex. With a spread of 156acres, the temple complex itself is the largest functional one in the world.

The Antya Ranganathar swamy temple at Srirangam
The Antya Ranganathar swamy temple at Srirangam

The temple consists 7 rounds of walls before you reach the sanctum sanctorum. Each wall was added by the then rulers who reigned in this town including the Pandyas, Cholas, Hoysalas, Vijayanagara, Pallavas and the others. The art specific to each of these eras can be noticed in the complex. After entering the main complex, a ticket of Rs.10 per head took us through narrow stairs leading to the roof of temple. This is called the temple view point since you can spot all the 21 temple gopurams from this single place, lest you would get lost in the vastness of the complex. There is also a 1000 pillar hall which was once used to host dance events, now remained locked. We admired the fine sculptures on these pillars through the bars of the closed gates and continued our walk further.

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We walked towards the rear door of the temple towards the river bank. It was more of a run than a walk as we were barefoot and the asphalt road and the sand was already heated up even at 10.a.m. Hailing from a place where the holy river originates, it was a pity to watch the river bed laying TOTALLY dry in this place. But, after talking to the localites, I cheered up a bit as they were looking forward for a good monsoon in the coming month, where the river would flow almost in spate (Even submerging the very place that I was standing at). We came back to the temple again where my mom was waiting, had some fresh fruit juice in one of the stalls outside, wore our footwear and took a walk around the temple. Oh yeah..!! It was BURNING hot and I was pretty sure I’d go back home as a grilled chicken after this walk, but then, we wanted to make the most of the visit because we never knew when we would be visiting again.

Big houses, with very small entrance, compactly built next to each other, allowing no or very less ventilation inside was the trademark style of Srirangam. These streets take pride in being home to one of the highly educated community of the country.

From there, we boarded a bus to Thiruvannaikaval. Though the population mainly comprises the Iyengars(the Vishnu followers), the then rulers have also built temples for the Iyers or the Shaivites(the followers of Shiva). This temple is as beautiful as the Ranganatha temple, however, the history behind the latter has made it more prominent. Though many people visiting this city give a miss to this temple, it should be noted that this is one among the five temples built for Shiva representing the five elements of life and this one represents water or Jala Linga. One of the residents in the complex noticed our interest in exploration and suggested us to visit the Amma or Parvathi temple housed right behind the Shiva temple.

The entrance to Thiruvannaikaval Shiva temple
The entrance to Thiruvannaikaval Shiva temple

From there, we headed to a hotel for a nice south Indian thali. After a filling meal, we headed back to Trichy. We visited the St. Lourde’s church in the city. We did a bit of shopping in the bylanes and the Trichy market around the Teppakulam(Temple tank) before we started to ascend the Rock Fort.

St. Lourde's church
St. Lourde’s church

This single projection of land in an otherwise low/Flat Trichy town dates back to the pre-historic era. It is beyond words to describe how in those days, could someone create such beautiful structures out of a hard monolith. What appears to be just a random protrusion of earth from outside, is infact a haven for the art lovers in the inside. There are stairs, numerous temples, artistic pillars and idols carved out of the same rock all the way up. There is a Ganesha temple at the summit from where one can enjoy the view of the entire Trichy town, the Kaveri river flowing around Srirangam, The temple gopuram, the rail lines traveling in and outside the city. The fun was doubled by the cool but strong winds that blew taking away all the tiredness from our minds.

The view of river Kaveri from the summit of Rockfort
The view of Srirangam from the summit of Rockfort

After a while, we decided to descend down.. But we realised that a door that remained closed during our ascend was now wide open. There were some beautiful paintings peaking out of the door intimidating us to go see what was there. We stepped inside and it was amusement that followed. It was a vast hall carved out inside the same rock with beautifully sculptured pillars and amazing paintings adorning the walls. A poojari noticed our interest and started explaining each painting and the story it depicted. It was amazing.. He then told us to hurry up inside another door.. There, the maha Mangalaarthi (Sorry I don’t know the technical word for the last pooja of the day.!!) for Parvathi amman was just about to begin. Just as we reached there, they unveiled the curtains for us to get an eyeful of the beautifully decorated goddess. We sipped the holy water and again we were asked to rush through another door, cross a narrow chamber leading to the Shiva temple. The deity was getting ready for the final pooja of the day..Pooja is offered only thrice a day, During sunrise, at noon and before sunset. And we were lucky for being there for the last one. They removed the curtains and I could see my mom in tears. It was a very huge idol being bathed in the pancha-Amruthas. Then, he was neatly dressed in dhoti, decorated with fresh flowers and the pooja culminating with Arathi. The curtains were back signalling us that the god would go to sleep for the day.. We felt truly BLESSED..!! We witnessed an event that was so unexpected. We thanked the Poojari and took leave to descend the stairs leading to the market below.

Again, the presence and strong hold of almost all major south Indian dynasties is felt here with the designs present exquisitely in the art form here..

At the exit of the Cave temple / Rockfort
At the exit of the Cave temple / Rockfort

A final destination to our tour: Evening chai at GR restaurant. It is housed in an old building in the heart of the city(enroute to Rockfort). The valliappam is a must try here. The interiors of the hotel is commendable which has rock pillars, structures & collectibles that reminds one of the grandeur of temple architecture that this region is renowned for. It was a grand ending to our 3 day trip with a cup of piping hot filter coffee..!!

There are many lesser known temples around Trichy and equally artistic which takes up another full day.. But that was all the time we had with us.. So, I shall come back soon..

A secular pilgrimage along the Coramandel coast..

Destination 1- Poompuhar

The name reminds one of the arts and crafts of Tamil Nadu while Cauvery emporium strikes a similar bell back home at Karnataka. The link for both the names is common.. While the latter relates to Tala-Cauvery, the birthplace of river Cauvery at Karnataka; the former marks the end of the same river at Tamil Nadu. Both being a holy place for the Hindus of South India.

We were welcomed by a stretch of fishermen selling salted/seasoned & dried fish at the shore of this historic beach. There is an sculpture art museum towards the right at the entrance. To the left is Ilanji Mandran, a bathing place said to have had mysterious powers of curing health ailments during the Cholas. A kilometer’s walk along the roaring sea leads us to the river mouth. One can actually see a spectacle- Cauvery (a female) running towards the sea (the man) quite literally. The rapid river rushing towards the calm sea who is lashing her back to the land with his waves side by side. A dip at this juncture is believed to be holy (is what I have grown up listening to, being from a community that worships nature). This place is also called Kaveripoompattinam as called by the Cholas and is a place of importance to the archaeologists. There is nothing much to do otherwise (The Kethu & Budha sthalams among the Navagraha temples are closeby- I will save them for another article). We boarded a bus to our next destination- Tharangambadi. Then from there, to Karaikal Beach.

The Ilanji Mandran at Poompuhar
The Ilanji Mandran at Poompuhar

Destination 2- Nagore

The little town of Nagore is known for the Hazrat Syed Shahul Hameed Dargah of the Islam faith. We were welcomed warmly by the priests there who helped us with the procedures of offering our prayers. Going by history, this dargah stands as a symbol of peaceful co-existence between the Hindus & the Muslims as people from all faiths come here for worship. There are 5 minarets out of which the tallest one was built by the Marathas of Tanjavur for being cured of his ailment by the miracles of Shahul Hameed. The sacred tank within the premises looked dirty however. From there, we headed to the last destination of the day..

One of the 5 minarets at the Nagore dargah
One of the 5 minarets at the Nagore dargah

Destination 3: Velankanni

It was sunset time when we arrived at the Catholic shrine of Our Lady of Good Health. We walked through the lines of stalls bustling with activities, pilgrims, tourists, hotels and other urchins to reach the sea shore. It is an utterly crowded pilgrim centre all through the year where the crowd takes you forward.. We walked back to the Basilica of the Arokya Matha as she is fondly called to offer our prayers. The history dates back to 3 events occurring from 16th century onwards where mother Mary appeared to a milk vendor, a buttermilk vendor and the Portuguese sailors who survived a severe sea storm. There is Matha Kulam / the holy pond and 2 chapels built at the respective places of the above occurrences.

We took a brief walk at the donations library where all the gold, silver & other expensive offerings made by the devotees are kept for exhibits.

The shrine of Our Lady of Good Health at Velankanni
The shrine of Our Lady of Good Health at Velankanni

With that, a tiring, yet a pleasant journey in quest of god ended in a peaceful slumber at a Church run lodge….

Feeling blessed…!!! sllzzzzzzzzz………

The hub of Cholan culture- Tanjavur

When from a distance, we spotted the monolith- that seats gracefully atop, with a weight of 800 tons, we knew we had arrived at the rice bowl of South India – located on the fertile delta land created by the river Kaveri- Tanjavur.

There are three Chola temples of Southern India representing an  architectural conception of the pure form of the dravidian style- These temples are the Brihadeesvara Temple at Thanjavur, the Temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram. Our bus came to a screeching halt infront of the ‘BIG temple’ and a passerby guided us further. We stood right there in awe- gazing at the vast premises of the mighty- Brihadeesvaran temple.

The entrance at the Brihadeesvaran temple
The entrance at the Brihadeesvaran temple

Rajaraja named this temple as Rajarajesvaram and the deity Shiva in Linga form as Peruvudaiyar, the temple is also known in the deity’s name as Peruvudaiyarkovil.

The Brihadeeshwaran temple at the backdrop
The Brihadeeshwaran temple at the backdrop

The tallest temple tower in the world stands testimony to the Cholas’ love for art and fine engineering skills even in the iron age. It is believed that a ramp was laid from about six kms to facilitate the erection of the monolith Kalasa atop the tower. The walls of the corridor are adorned by fine paintings that were done with mixture of limestone and organic extracts. The temple walls have sculptures of numerous mythic animals which is the highlight of the Cholas’ temple architecture.

The Tanjavur paintings adorning one of the roofs
The Tanjavur paintings adorning one of the roofs

From there, we took an auto ride to Saraswathi Mahal. This is a very old library patronised by the Tanjavur rulers(functional even today). One can find some very old, rare & original copies of important manuscripts, scientific research publications etc. here.

The Saraswathi Mahal Library
The Saraswathi Mahal Library

Adjoining it, is the palace of the Marathas of Tanjavur. The palace is partially used as the residence of the descendants and remaining is converted into a museum.

Behind this building, is the art museum which houses the rare and the infamous bronze idols created during the Cholas. Cholas were the earliest people to use the lost wax technique to create the bronze idols.

The Maratha Palace & the Tanjavur doll
The Maratha Palace & the Tanjavur doll

Just outside the museum, we picked up a pair of Tanjavur dolls from the souvenir shop. These are colourful handcrafted models where the head is suspended on a pivot which gives a dancing/swinging movement to the doll.

An epitaph at the  Grand Anicut
An epitaph at the Grand Anicut

From there, we took a local bus to Grand Anicut / Kallanai- the standing example of the engineering marvels constructed 2000 yrs ago by the Cholas(later modified by the British) which is the oldest functional water regulation structure in the world. It is a dam constructed with uneven stones / random boulders across the Kaveri with a desperate intention to divert the water before joining the sea so that it can be used for irrigation of the delta region. This dam divides the river into four streams known as Kollidam Aru, Kaviri, Vennar and Puthu. Later, the Lower Anicut/ Kollidam was constructed by the British before the water actually joins the sea.

From there.. Our journey continued… to another town of history………

The land of the singing waves – Tranquebar

East coast road: Destination no.3 for the day.

We alighted the bus at a small junction which seemed like any other fishing hamlet. The bus conductor pointed to a small road to the right and guided us telling “one kilometer ahead is the fort”, and blew the whistle indicating the driver to proceed. My parents looked at my face blinking and I could sense that ‘Where are you taking us?’ question in their eyes.

We walked about half a kilometer and an old arch with finely done Danish art welcomed us to- The land of the singing waves- Tranquebar, the Danish port town also called as Tharangambadi in Tamil.

The entrance arch
The arch at the entrance of Tarangambadi/Tranquebar

Super empty & super clean roads lined by old Danish buildings on either sides made us feel like we were walking in a different country..The Zion church, the Teresa’s convent school, the Danish governor’s bungalow etc.. finally lead us to the fort peacefully nestled on the calm shores of the Bay of Bengal. The moment we got a glimpse of the beach from the fort entrance, we got the link to the name of this quaint little place- Land of tranquil waters (air, land- read it anything that you want) – Tranquebar.

Tranquebar is still unconquered by the tourist radar. Since, the bungalow turned resort run by Tamil Nadu hotel is the only place to eat or stay for kilometers around, the place is not crowded at any point of time. Except for a handful of fishermen and couples countable on finger tips, it is all you strolling along the calm beach 🙂 This is by far, one of the BEST beaches I have been to along the east coast.

The well maintained fort is now converted into a museum where we got good information about the old port days. An important port between 1600s to early 1900s, the port walls now lie dilapidated, mostly washed away by the tsunami. There is Masilamaninathar temple on the shore, to which some mythological reference is made. The sculptures on the walls and the minaret have been damaged due to sea erosion.

The serene shoreline at Tranquebar
The serene shoreline around the Tranquebar fort

There is nothing much to see around but being there for a few hours fills one’s mind with peace and tranquility. But, I must admit- It is THE PLACE to cuddle up and enjoy the pristine waters on a cool evening. Since, the visit was just a stop over in a long journey, we could not even get a place at the resort there in such short notice. All of us HAD to leave the place with a very very heavy heart asking for some more peaceful time 😦

This place is a DEFINITELY COME BACK for MORE – place on my list.. and I WILL go back for a long weekend. Just lazing around and getting lost in tranquility. Do nothing else..!!

Treasure trove of wildlife- Valparai

It has been over a year and a half and this one was pending until now.. All thanks to our organiser cum photographer cum driver cum guide cum caretaker cum etc etc.. there was a delay in sharing the dropbox link to the photos..

We started from Bangalore on friday night.. We, on the rear seat dozed away to glory.. When we opened our eyes to the misty morning dawn, we were greeted by tree-lined roads, beautiful countryside with emerald fields of paddy, whispering palms and coconut plantations in the backdrop of the towering Western Ghats. We had reached Pollachi in Tamil Nadu.

We were nearing Valparai, a lesser known hill station in the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary(earlier known as Anaamalai Wildlife Sanctuary). Kollywood stars and burned out urbanites frequent this place to de-stress themselves and savour a slice of nature as it is not yet on the radar of mass tourism. If you amble past mud walled, thatched roof dwellings, granaries of farmers and tea estates fringed plateau,  don’t be surprised when you hear someone screaming ‘start camera’, ‘action’. This is a hot spot for movie makers with over 1500 movies and commercials having been shot here.. And we too got lucky when we happened to visit the sets and share our homestay with the crew of ‘Madras cafe’ 🙂

The drive ascended along the winding road by the backwaters of the Aliyar irrigation dam. About 32 hairpin curves lead to Valparai with every bend offering surprises galore. This being a protected wildlife reserve, we had our list of top 5 wildlife sightings to be done before we leave.

View of the Aliyar backwaters

Further up 4 kms from Aliyar park, near the forest checkpost, we reached the monkey falls, named aptly due to the many troublesome monkeys here, one which even entered our car and happily carried away from fruits from the rear seat 😉 Our drive continued.. Just as we approached the 9th curve, we were greeted by this gentleman who was calmly grazing on the edge of the steep rocks. We scored off the 1st member on our top 5 list- ‘The Nilgiri Tahr’. This is also called the Loam’s view point.

Nilgiri Tahr – Photo credits: Samson Joseph

Further through, we stopped at Carver Marsh view point adjoining the Kavarkal estate. On a clear day, one can see the Sholayar reservoir(2nd deepest dam in Asia) from here. We then cruised past the Tiger valley from where we caught a good view of the upper Aliyar reservoir.

Carver Marsh view point

We covered Congreve falls(located in the Nadumalai estate), Vinayagar temple(Jayashree estate) & Birla falls along the way up. We got good view of the Manopally forest & the grass hills of the sanctuary. However, we missed out on the visit to the ox-bow lakes situated in the protected areas without being able to get permission from forest authorities due to insufficient guidance. We visited the Balaji temple and the nearby Iraichalparai falls along way.

At the entrance to Sholayar / Kallyar estates

Being the breeding season for most animals, We happened to be there at the right time. The time to score off no.2 – Groups of the endangered ‘Lion tailed Macaque’ 🙂

Lion Tailed Macaque- Valparai

Even before we realised, we had reached the hill top 🙂 We stopped by and trekked through the tea estates to reach the ‘Seen god shrine’ at the Nallamudi Pooncholai view point. An old man, who claims to have seen god, blessed us with some prayers and turned out to be an encyclopedia of knowledge about the local culture and history. He explained to us about the various tribal settlements in these hills.. pointing out at colonies, he would tell- Kadars, Muthuvars and Malai Malasars. They are estimated to have 190 households in 8 settlements in the sanctuary. While we walked towards our car, the women picking tea shoots warned us not proceed.. We sighted a herd of 8-9 elephants at a distance, thus scoring off no.3 on the list 🙂

We then drove to ChinnarKallar for the hanging bridge trek.. Inspite of driving all the way, we refrained from shelling out 250Rs per head just for the entry which sounded to us more like a bribe at the forest checkpost. This place receives the 2nd highest rainfall in India. We reversed our car and then.. no.4: The giant flying squirrel(a young one and wasn’t flying though) crossed our road.. We were excited..!! After covering places in the Tamilnadu part of the sanctuary, we headed towards the Kerala border.. We saw a calm stretch of the Koolangal river and decided to spend some time there.. We could not compel ourselves from not taking a sip of the crystal clear waters.. And right there.. we saw this little creature on no.5: ‘The common map butterfly’

The Common map butterfly

We registered at the border checkpost and prepared to enter the Kerala land.. Thick rainforests on both sides accompanied us all the way till our destination.. We happened to drive through what I think is one of the dangerous roads I have driven through.. With the Sholaiyar backwaters on one side and a valley on the other side, only one vehicle can pass at a time.. Beautiful views for most of the stretch kept us in an awe.. Tunnels have been bored through the mountains to supply water to Parambikulam reserve from the Nirar dam.. We reached Athirapally reserve just after sunset… Got a quick glance of the beautiful waters cascading down to join the Chalakudy river.. It was soon dark and we checked into Maria cottage who made us feel at home and served some sumptuous Mallu food 🙂

Athirapally waterfalls

Next morning, we walked passed the palm plantations to reach the Chalakudy river to freshen up.. This place is frequented by elephants at all times, but we did not care. We enjoyed the clear but violent waters there.. We had a good filling Kerala breakfast and checked out. We went back to the falls.. We walked down to the base of the waterfalls and spent good time there.. We then continued our drive. A quick stop at the Vazachal falls (it is more like water flowing down a steep rock than a waterfall) and we decided to say good bye to Kerala..

The original plan was to drive through Ooty-Bandipur-Mysore-Bangalore. But, since we were behind schedule and could not reach Bandipur before the gates closed, we decided to drive back through Pollachi.. So, we did the curvy stretch of road again.. WOW..!! We further drove through Udumalpet which happens to be one of the windiest places in Southern India.. Thousands of wind mills dot the stretch on either sides which is a sight to behold.. It was dark in no time and we had to zip ASAP to reach for work the next morning..

Thus ended the 50 hours drive! – Covering 1000 kms across 3 states