Tag Archives: architecture

A roadtrip in the coffee land- Karnataka

There’s a proverb in Kannada, “Hitlu gida maddalla” meaning ‘We don’t recognize the medicinal value of plant that’s lying in our backyard’. True to this, I have been traveling and writing about beautiful places from across the country.. And suddenly I felt that I had left out to explore places in my home state itself..!! We just wanted to have a rough theme before we hit the road. What was fitting well in the time available was the coffee tour!

Karnataka produces about 51% of India’s coffee and it is all on the southern stretch of the Malnad region. The coffee grown here is highly priced in the international market owing to its better flavor as it is grown under the shade. That’s it, my brother and I pulled out dad’s bike from our cellar and decided to hit the road for a long weekend covering the entire stretch of coffee belt in Karnataka. Unlike cars, we won’t have the luxury of having a spare wheel in a 2-wheeler. Inorder to get our 125CC, 4-stoke, single cylinder, 10 year old boy running smoothly, it was necessary to give him a fine pair of CEAT tyres that could sustain our long ride on different terrain. So finally, here we go.. Our road trip along the coffee belt on the western ghats.

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On a January weekend, we rode through the finely maintained NH- through Nelmangala and Kunigal. Our first coffee stop was to sip on some caffeine from the Hassan plantations. A simple hot cuppa at a petty shop before a deviation to Shettyhalli was all that we wanted. At a distance of about 20kms from Hassan, the Rosary church at Shettyhalli stood testimony to time and silently narrated a story of a painful past. This church emerges out when the water levels in river Hemavathi recede as if playing a game of hide and seek. We spent some time admiring this architectural beauty and trying to reconstruct it’s glorious past through our imagination. We left Hassan after a sumptuous lunch at a friend’s house located in the middle of a coffee estate.

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The Rosary church at Shettyhalli. Clicking credits: Samson Joseph

As we passed through the winding roads of Chickmagalur, we were reminded that the hillstation is the birthplace of Indian coffee. Bababudangiri range is the place where coffee was first brought to India and the plantations flourished. Mullayangiri, the highest peak in Karnataka is a hotspot among trekkers. Also, being the native of the famous chain- Café Coffee day, we couldn’t help but stop over for a cup of cappuccino.. After having our dose of caffeine, we continued on the road for our night’s stay at Sringeri.

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Enroute to Chickmagalur

Next day, we set out to explore the pilgrim town of Sringeri. The Sharadamba temple is one among the 4 main Mutts established by Sri.Adi Shankaracharya. The Vidhyashankara temple on the same premises is a beautiful structure built in a combination of Hoysala and Vijayanagara style of architecture. After a small ride, we stopped by at Sri Rushyashrungeshwara swamy temple in Kigga, locally called as the God of rains. The route to our next destination- Sirimane waterfalls was a pleasant one passing through thick jungle on either sides, once notoriously famous as a haven of dacoits. Narasimha Parvata and Meghebaile waterfalls are other places of interest for the forest bums. However, we decided to spend the remaining time whiling away on the banks of river Thunga feeding the school of fishes with puffed rice.

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The Vidhyashankara temple at Sringeri

We started early the following day as we had a long route to cover and the BEST stretch of our roadtrip. We arrived early at the Kalaseshwara temple and enjoyed the serenity and oneness with nature that Kalasa town had to offer. The Breakfast served at the Annapurna temple happens to be one of the best prasadams and there was no way we were going to miss it. So we had to speed our way towards Horanadu, before the food counter closed. We then had to do a small off-roading which took us to a place of Ultra Calm- Javali in Mudigere Taluk, the birthplace of river Hemavathi.

After a refreshing break, we headed towards the next coffee hotspot. It had been an awesome ride so far and time to get our caffeine fix. We parked our bike at one of the stalls put up with a bare table and a stove serving banana fritters and our dose of Sakleshpur coffee. We then climbed up the stairs to reach the beautifully located and strategically built armoury of Tippu Sultan- Manjarabad fort. It is a multi-walled star shaped fortress and worth photographing for an aerial view. Having Shiradi ghat and Bisle ghat in the viscinity, the view from the fort is amazing!

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The Manjarabad fort

The ride has been brilliant so far and we stopped by for a picture of this solo tree standing in a serene place.

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As we continued to enjoy our ride further, god decided to add in a tinge of adventure. We lost our way and we missed a deviation.. So that’s when our CEAT tyres were put into real test. We were scared of having lost our way and running on low battery on our mobile phones. So, the video pretty much sums up our offroading tryst. However, we were fortunate to reach the main road that ran parallel to our wrong road. Astonishingly, we later got to know that the official name of that road was ‘Kundu-Rasthe’ which literally means ‘Pot-hole road’ in Kannada.

The sun was already setting and we were the last and the only people in the middle of no-where, walking down the stairs towards Mallalli waterfalls. The place was drop-dead deserted by the time we reached there. We hurriedly clicked some photographs and rode for a short coffee break at the last part of our coffee trip, entrance to Coorg or Kodagu district. Interestingly, we passed through several small towns named after the days of the week when the weekly shandy is held. Shukravarapete, ShanivaraSanthe and Somwarpet were among them.

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The Mallalli falls

So it was past 07.00.p.m. when we finally reached our ancestral home at Madikeri town. And there was no better way to be greeted at home and end the long trip than having a sinful brew of Bella kaapi of Coorg. That said, our ride on the coffee belt had come to an end.. We rode on excellent national highways, state highways and stretches with no roads.. I must mention that coffee kept us awake and the tyres kept us on track and it was a wonderful experience.

Summary: It is not an expensive car / bike you need for a wonderful trip. An efficient engine and a pair of reliable tyres is all that is required if you have a zeal to conquer the roads.. Bring it on and enjoy the ride!

‘I’m chronicling my road trip adventure for CEAT Tyres in association with BlogAdda.’

Request to all riding & driving enthusiasts:

I myself work for an automobile manufacturer and my roles include attending to quality issues of seats & airbags. I have seen tests performed on dummys for evaluation. Trust me, it is insane to imagine the impact of not wearing seat belts.

1 .Seat belts alone can reduces the risk by 60% in case of a collision. In most cars, the airbags don’t deploy unless the seatbelts are worn as they are inter-connected for the electrical system to identify the seat occupancy. So buckle up and ensure all your co-passengers too have!

2. Helmets on the other hand reduce fatal accidents by upto 60% avoiding severe head injuries. So, please invest on a quality assured helmet and strap it properly for your own safety and DO NOT look out for any cash savings by picking the one’s sold on roadside.

You may be a safe rider/driver. But you don’t know that stranger on the road.. Remember, someone is waiting back at home for your return. Please follow safety rules for their happiness. This is the least you can do!

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.

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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.

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 sculptures, 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 decided 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 while the temples remained closed. 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 that 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 that remained closed on the other side of the tank. 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 when we had arrived.. Ofcourse, it is 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 in 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 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 through 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 and the preist was happy to greet us for the last pooja of the Bramha temple. There are very few temples dedicated to 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 restaurant before we called it a day. 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

There are other temples at Uppiliappan, Thirubuvanam, Thiruvalanchizi, Thiruvidaimaruthur etc. All located out of Kumbakonam 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. Next on schedule was Gangaikonda Cholapuram- the 3rd of the living temples of the Cholas.

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 3 Brihadeeshwara temples is more or less comparable. The 3 living temples are together called so because the prayers, festivities followed thousands of years ago, 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..!!

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

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.

Click here for more offbeat tourist places in Tamil Nadu

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………