Tag Archives: East coast

Journey to the edge of India- Kanyakumari

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

A very pleasant journey in the ‘Nagercoil express’ took us to our first destination- Nagercoil junction, from where the rest of the itinerary was planned. The train route itself was so beautiful with lush greenery even in the peak of summer. As the train entered Tirunelveli district, the landscape took a different look. Thousands and thousands of windmills seemed like they were strewn around, until the horizon. Our train slowly chugged past the hills only to later reach its destination- ‘Nagercoil junction’, the next morning.

We freshened up at the station and hired a taxi for the rest of the day. I managed to explain our itinerary to the driver with my broken Tamil and he understood the jist- ‘To cover all the places listed down and ensure we make it to the Sunset point at Kanyakumari in time..!!’ That said, our sightseeing started in the order given below:

  1. The Nagaraja temple- The temple that gives its name to the city.
  2. We spent a good couple of hours photographing the BEAUTIFUL Padmanabhapuram palace in Thuckalay. It is by far, one of the beautiful palaces in South India. You don’t regret paying the entry fees as there is so much effort that has gone into the maintenance of this wooden palace. A surprising fact I discovered was that, although this palace is located in the state of Tamil-Nadu, it is maintained and controlled completely by the Kerala Government.
Padmanabhapuram palace (97)
The wooden facade of the Padmanabhapuram palace

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

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

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

Mathoor aqueduct (4)
Mathoor aqueduct

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

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

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

9. Pechiparai dam- We gave this one a miss anticipating disappointment with no water in the dam.

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

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

On day 2– we saw ourselves seated amid thousands of people who had gathered there for the same reason as us. The famous ‘SUNRISE of Kanyakumari’. We watched the sea change its colour from pitch black to different hues of the spectrum until dawn’s break. But we were EXTREMELY unfortunate again as a nebule of cloud sat adamantly blocking the rising sun.. adding much to all our disappointment from the previous evening.

We visited the temple and other mundane places in the city (There is enough written about the places to see in the internet- I don’t want to repeat the same stuff again!) The wait in the queue that was at least 3 furlongs, under the hot sun was a big turn off. My expectations of finding the calm I was told about across the waters (Read it- the Vivekananda Rock) was let down by the galling tourists who had thronged there in thousands on that weekend. Having been disheartened by the way things turned out on a much anticipated trip, we left Kanyakumari in the afternoon.

Kanyakumari (16)

The post Sunrise photo at Kanyakumari

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

Must dos-

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

Must sees:

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

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..!!

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. All said and done, we got a glimpse of the historic idol of Sri Ranganatha sleeping on a serpent after a long wait in the queue.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.

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 the 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 at 10.a.m. Hailing from a place where the holy river originates, it was a pity to watch the river bed 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- the Iyengar Brahmins.

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. 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 and the river bed 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 this river as a family diety). 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..!!

Kurusudai island- A new world off Indian coast :)

Fisheries, Coastal police, wildlife conservation NGOs.. We have dialed any random and all possible numbers to get clarity and the permission to go to the Kurusudai island.. Thanks to Madhu, with a struggle for over a month to get permission from the authorities- the right phone number struck,  and we finally pulled it off… 🙂 Kurusudai is one among the 21 islands in the gulf of Mannar and a site of importance in research due to its rich marine bio reserves.

Gulf of Mannar marine national park area
Gulf of Mannar marine national park area

So, our last day at Rameshwaram- Our destination ahead was fixed 🙂 An early morning bus from Pamban dropped us half way till Manimandapam. From there, a rickshaw ride took us to Vivekananda memorial hall where the 2 forest guides, the oarsman and the motorboat were all waiting for us 🙂 without wasting much time, our boat set sail.. We could see Kurusudai island at a kilometer’s distance across the clear blue waters of the Gulf of Mannar. We had to contain our excitement lest be quoted as psychos by the people who accompanied us.

We stepped on land in no time- we were briefed about the island in the information center and were also instructed not to use our cameras for any sort of photography. There are nearly 3600 marine species spread around 10,500sq.kms of the marine reserve. 117 coral species, 13 mangrove species, 460 molluscan species and 12 species of sea grasses are found here.. A haven for a bird watcher too with over 217 species of birds found here.. And then our guided tour around the island took wings.. or rather.. set sail 🙂

We first sighted a vibrant red star fish seated comfortably on a barrel coral.. But we soon realised.. that echinoderms were the highlight of the walk.. about 100 species of echinoderms are found in this marine reserve. Sea urchins, Sea potatoes, Sea cookies(sand dollar, snapper biscuit, pansy shell, sea biscuit, sand disc, sand cake, cake urchin and sea pancake are other common names given for these relatively shy invertebrates), sea cucumbers (of varying colours and sizes)  dotted the entire shoreline of the island.. Sea lotus of different colours was another highlight of the walk.. We saw the marine plant- Pemphis acidula- an endemic plant to this area. The sea grass(Enhalus acuroidus) is another plant endemic to these reserves found abundantly all around. However, we were more keen on spotting the  Balanoglossus(Ptychodera flura)- which happens to be the only living fossil in the world which links vertebrates and invertebrates; endemic to this area as well.. However, our guide could not understand what we were trying to ask due to the language barrier of Tamil:(

Since it was low tide, we could walk into the sea- all along the shore where an infinite range of sea weeds, multi-hued reefs and sea grasses spread over the shallow bed of the sparkling water brightened up the entire ambience of the place. From shades of violet to red, the raised coral reefs of the Islands are not only a special attraction of the place but also chart high on the list of marine biologists. We also spotted a notable array of algae, sponges, sea anemones, cowries, volutes, whelks, crabs, strombids, tonnids, sting rays, oysters among others too..

However, in high tides– this island is a good sighting place for the endangered Sea cows(Dugongs) and dolphins(bottle-nosed dolphin, the common dolphin and the finless porpoise). The land is also home to 3 species of turtles which includes the Hawksbill, Green and Olive Ridley turtles. No.. we didn’t sight them… We had to be EXTREMELY LUCKY for that and needed more time(which we were deprived of:( )

However, the main purpose of this blog post…. Tourism is prohibited here and getting permission for a genuine research itself is such a tough deal.. And we really hope that the general public behave themselves when they encounter such rarity of sightings, do not pollute and RESPECT mother nature for the immense amount of patience she beholds and admire the beauty of what she has to offer.. it really hurts when we find even a small candy wrapper sailing or flying up in the otherwise clean atmosphere where so many other genuinely interested people put in their hearts and souls in the conservation activities. What we give only comes back.. Give respect and take respect.. If not, nature has her own ways to take a toll on all the disrespect..!!

The enchanting Andamans.. Part 1

<07-Apr-13>

Words are not enough and pages needed are endless to write about this trip.. The much awaited, dreamt of and anticipated vacation was finally here.. For reasons galore, only Mom & I ended up going..

There are so many first time experiences that makes this trip so special..

* My first stinct with scuba diving happened here

* Feeding the fishes 15 mts down under water- Sea walk

* One of the best sunset views- off a ships’ deck- right in front of the navigator

* Spotting over 30 members of the Jarawas: A rare occult for many tourists 🙂

* A hospital visit and a tetanus shot right at the start of a vacation

* Snorkeling in a protected area like a marine national park

* A visit to the site where India’s only active volcano exists

* Getting surrounded by flying fishes making me live filmy moments from the ‘Life of Pi’

* A camera breakdown on the first day of the trip and no back-up

* A roll down the stairway and hurting both the knees to trek a deep jungle

* A cancelled flight and an extra day at the airport

* Every day had a unique experience to unfold. (Read detailed itinerary here)

I cannot make justice, but will sum up the entire trip with as less words as possible.. “White sand, Blue sea, crystal clear waters, lashing waves, spotting the flying fishes, sunset from the ship’s deck, diverse deep sea, ever mesmerising beaches, if ever I had a choice to choose my death, I’d love to get washed away by the waves right there.. @ the Andaman sea.”

Sunset point - Chidiyatapu
Sunset point – Chidiyatapu

An easy guide to the Andamans..

This should be an easy guide to anyone who wants to visit the Andamans.. I would say: please don’t plan your trip if it is not atleast a week’s holiday you are aiming at..

Day1:

10.20.a.m- Depart from Chennai; 12.45.p.m- Check-in @ Port Blair

2.45.p.m- Quick walk through the Science Centre and proceed to Corbyn’s Cove beach

4.00.p.m- Leave for the Cellular jail. Walk around the historic memorial of brave martyrs- the backbone for Indian freedom movement

6.00.p.m- Sound & music show at the Cellular jail

07.30.p.m – A brisk walk through the Gandhi park

08.00.p.m- Water scooter ride @ Rajiv Gandhi sports complex, a speedy walk through the Traffic police park in the same premises

Day 2:

8.30.a.m- Board the ferry @Rajiv Gandhi sports complex jetty for 3 island tour with a seven harbour view

10.30.a.m- Alight for delight @ Ross island– the place of erstwhile British settlement which is now a live museum.

11.30.a.m- Off to Viper island with the gallows of imprisonment established before the cellular jail.

12.30.p.m- Arrive at North Bay island– go snorkelling, walk upto the light house and go SEA WALKING..!!

05.00.p.m- Reach Port Blair

06.00.p.m- Freshen up and leave for shopping at Aberdeen bazaar– the local market.

 Day 3:

08.30.a.m- Arrive at Phoenix bay jetty

09.00.a.m- Aboard Makruzz(a Catamaran) to Havelock islands

11.00.a.m- Off to Radhanagar beach– Asia’s no.7 best beach.

12.00.p.m- Catch the ferry to Elephanta beach: one of the best dive sites in Andamans and home to world’s only snorkeling elephant- Rajan 🙂

02.00.p.m- Begin the explorations deep in the beds of the sea- SCUBA DIVING

04.00.p.m- Onboard Baratang- the government ferry from Havelock

Day 4:

07.30.a.m- Leave the confines of our nest for the day’s work- We’ve got lots to explore

09.00.a.m- Registration for the convoy at the forest checkpost. This is a must for anyone travelling on the Grand Trunk road through the Jarawa tribal reserve. Jarawas are one of the aboriginal tribal group out of the 6 tribes inhabiting in the island groups.

11.30.a.m- Aboard the govt. ferry at Middle Strait

11.45.a.m- Alight at Baratang island

12.00.p.m- Cruising on a motor boat through one of the best mangrove creeks I have ever been to.

12.30.p.m- End of the jungle trek- reaching the destiny. One of the 46 limestone caves in the Islands. A spellbinding experience..!!

1.00.p.m- An 8kms flight(read it jeep ride) to see the mud volcano

02.00.p.m- Back at Baratang jetty, ferry ride back to Middle strait.

06.00.p.m- Walk around Port Blair.

Day 5: 

07.30.a.m- Sippighat horticultural farm visit.

08.00.am.- A quick turn-up at Wandoor beach

08.30.a.m- Walk around the Mahatma Gandhi museum

09.00.a.m- Off for a ride- An un-expressible journey to the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park

11.00.a.m.- Glass bottom boat ride, sun-bathing & SNORKELING  in the crystal clear waters of Jolly Buoy island

01.00.p.m- A spicy walk through the Mongluton rubber & spices plantation. ‘Coconut Malai Sharbat’ is a must try drink there.

03.30.p.m- A super drive through a very different part of the Andamans- took us to ChidiyaTapu. We were the last people for the day to get entry into the mini zoo there.

04.00.p.m- I’m on one of the best beaches hitherto- backwaters of the tsunami affected area.. We did not even realise that we had walked over a kilometer deep into the sea- and the water level had not risen beyond our ankles.

04.30.p.m- Exploring the Chidiyatapu hills. An AMAZING place for the landscape photographers

05.00.p.m.- Sunset point – by far the BEST sunset I have witnessed on a seashore.

06.30.p.m- We are at Sagarika– the govt. emporium for shopping for souvenirs

Day 6:

09.00.a.m- Chawtham island– Asia’s biggest timber saw mill and forest museum

10.15.a.m- Samudrika– A museum maintained by the Indian Navy

11.00.a.m- Anthropological museum visit

12.00.p.m- Check out and arrive at Veer Savarkar airport.

Andamans from the air
Andamans from the air

This is the maximum number of places anyone could squeeze into the list for a Sunday to Sunday trip.. The islands has so much to explore that only a month long vacation can do justice 🙂 I’d suggest you take a 2hr motor boat ride from Havelock to South button island- the smallest national park in India for scuba diving known for its shallow waters Tropical coral reefs. You could add Mt. Harriet, Niel island, Cinque island, Barren island, Diglipur, Mayabunder, Rangat, Ross & smith island, Saddle peak etc. among the important places of Andamans. However, a trip to Nicobar islands has to be planned separately as it is special in its own way..

Words of caution:
1. Please adhere to your time schedule strictly because every ferry ride, every museum, every zoo runs/remains open only on a specified time frame. 
2. The city remains awake only between 8.00.a.m and 08.00.p.m. Plan your entertainment well to keep yourself occupied.
3. If you are planning to eat out or take a coffee walk, it has to be before 7.00.p.m. All shops shut down after that.