Tag Archives: Hillstation

A Land where Art is Divine- Pathanamthitta

Dense canopy of trees, swaying coconut palms, houseboats cruising through the pristine backwaters, wooden canoes of the locals fishing in narrow canals- Well, does this paint a picture of Gods own country? When opportunity struck, I decided to give the usual things a miss and explore a region that is least spoken about in the tourist circuit. A land where art is considered divine and celebrated in all its form- Pathanamthitta.

First thing I did while approaching Pathanamthitta was lowering all the windows of my car, to breathe in some clean air. With almost two third of the district comprising of forest cover, it is no wonder that Pathanamthitta is the least polluted city in India. The remaining one third is a combination of the city and plantations. We were heading to the homestay we had booked, not very far from the city centre. It was nestled in what the locals call as a residential area that was far from imagination of a city soul. The narrow roads were flanked by rubber, tapioca and banana plantations for most stretch and marsh lands for the rest. Bunches of jackfruits hung down from tall trees among several other tropical trees like litchi, rambutan etc. that had the fruit lover in me all drooling. My stay was at a traditional Kerala house nestled amidst a huge garden. Its wooden portico with clay tiled roof had me fancy struck.

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Enroute to the homestay

Surprisingly for me, Pathanamthitta hosts some of the largest annual religious congregations in the world. The Sabarimala yatra and Maramon convention are next only to the Haj. Giving a pass to the famous backwaters of Kerala, I had driven this far to explore its vibrant and divine culture and art. My plan for the first day was to visit two of the 108 Divyadesams, both located in Pathanamthitta. I had arrived at the Aranmula Parthasarthy temple, particularly for a tour of a foundry that makes the historical ‘Aranmula Kannadi’ (Click to watch the video). This GI tagged handicraft is culturally important in the state of Kerala. The know-how of making it is endemic to Aranmula and limited to the descendants of only one family who now live around this temple. Unlike the familiar glass mirrors, these are finely polished metal sheets. Watching these men toiling in their workshop to bring an alloy to life, which is integral in all Malayali celebrations was like living a dream for me.

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Left: moulded metal sheet before polishing; Right: Polished & finished mirror

A short drive away from there was my next destination: Thiruvalla Srivallabha temple. With its ancient wooden architecture, this beautiful temple sprawls on a huge area. Here, the prayers are offered five times a day and the last prayer was specifically that interested me the most to visit here. Kathakali is performed inside the temple premises everyday as a form of prayer to put the deity to sleep. I was like a little child in wonderland who lost track of time watching this performance that went late into the night.

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A traditional Kathakali setup at the Kochi international airport

An early morning drive to Gavi or Konni elephant camp is what I was recommended for finding a piece of nature. Charalkunnu, Kakki reservoir, Perunthenaruvi waterfalls are few of the other nearby places that tourists usually visit. But I decided against it all and while away some time exploring the neighbourhood of my homestay before checkout. It was as calm and peaceful as anywhere else. While sipping a cup of Kattan chai, I was reminded of my previous trip to Alleppey. Hundreds of wooden canoes measuring over 100 feet, long enough to be called snake boats, gather from across Kerala to compete for the coveted title. Each boat carries at least hundred oarsmen, all singing the Vanchipattu in chorus. Breathing the heavy air filled with anxiety of the spectators, it was a lifetime experience. Like Alleppey, Aranmula too hosts one of the largest boat races in Kerala. The Aranmula race is held on the last day of Onam as a celebration of Lord Krishna crossing river Pampa.

Boat Race finals (22)
The oarsmen ‘”Women” from Alleppey

I had planned my return route to Kochi such that I could cover some of the interesting landmarks along the way. The first stop was at Kalloppara, where an ancient Hindu inscription exists inside a church. I had read about how two faiths co-exist under the same roof that houses a Bhagavati temple and a Mary’s church. But my drive through the streets of a residential area ended at a bridge that connected Kalloppara. It had collapsed during the floods that ravaged Kerala last year. Having three rivers flowing through it, Pathanamthitta was one of the worst affected.

I hit the main road again and headed to Thiruvalla. Since it was dark the previous night, I was there again to have a look at the famed mural paintings on the altar of the Paliakkara Church. The church at Paliakkara and Niranam (my next destination) both have their history dating back to the arrival of St.Thomas in India in 54.A.D. This trip was all about an amalgamation of art and tradition. Be it wildlife, religion, architecture, history, art or culture, I believe Pathanamthitta has something for everyone.

(P.S.: I’m against the idea of taking photos inside any place of worship, as a form of respect to its sanctity. Hence, I do not have any pictures from the interiors of any place of worship)

Fact File:

  • How to reach: The nearest airports are at Kochi and Trivandrum. Kottayam and Alleppey are the nearest Railway stations. KSRTC buses and taxis are available from these places to reach Pathanamthitta by road.
  • Get around: local buses are quite frequent; Taxis can be easily availed.
  • Best time to visit: September to May (Anytime apart from monsoon)
  • Stay: Luxury hotels are sparse. Cheap and Budget hotels are available in plenty considering the pilgrims who come here for Sabarimala yatra. Homestays are available to experience the true essence of Kerala.
  • Must do: Attend a Kathakali performance, visit a mirror foundry, Bathe elephants at Konni.

A throwback to the growing up days at Madikeri

After having a travel-ful 2018 with atleast one long travel a month, I have decided to have a more relaxed new year. Hence, I have my theme for travel in 2019 tweaked a bit. I have no major long distance travel goals for the year and would like to settle down exploring the surrounding places at Bangalore and my hometown and spend little more time on writing, something that was overlooked in the past couple of years.

So, to start off the year, my January of 2019 had me traveling to my hometown almost every weekend due to several personal commitments. And, amidst all the mayhem that life had for me at Madikeri, I found time to sit back once in a while and travel down the memory lane. Having born and spending my childhood almost entirely in my hometown, there are scores of undocumented memories associated with almost every corner of this hill town. So, would be the case with thousands of those other kids from the 90’s who lived there at some point too… Don’t we all have memories from our growing up days associated with those small places and things? Often in the rat race, we tend to forget to cherish and be thankful for those golden memories from childhood. Here are five things that I re-lived during my last visit to Madikeri and I’m sure all who grew up in this quaint town will reminisce with me.

1. Government hospital– The year started with doing the dutiful rounds at this hospital with a amily member who was sick. It was the exact place where this big grown up body came into existence; This hospital is the exact place where I was born. While a lot of things have changed about the hospital as it has been upgraded from being a district hospital to a specialty hospital & medical college, yet there are a few things that are still left unchanged. Like the labor ward where I was born for instance…! Two generations of my family members and the whole line-up of models (Brother & all my cousins summing up to a dozen of them😉) were born there and we all look forward to having our future generations born there as well 😛 There I was, traveling back in time to the earliest of memories…

2. Paris Hotel– The internet has spoken enough about the mutton cutlets of the ‘East end hotel’, masala dosas of the ‘Hill top hotel’ or even a meal with a view at the ‘Valley view hotel’. There is yet another hotel that is older than me which is located right in the heart of the town, the M.G.road of Madikeri. Ooops, read it college road! It is now called the ‘New Paris hotel’ after its renovation. I make sure to grab their signature dishes- Palam pori (Banana fritters) and Masala vada every time I’m in town. These popular snacks of kerala are so good that they run out of the shelves in less than a couple of hours of being stacked. Complimenting it with a nice cup of Malabar tea is a mandate for me and I try my luck to find some stock to pack for Bangalore.

3. Kuppu’s beauty parlour: With almost the third generation of professional barbers of this family that I know, I have very fond memories of getting my regular hair-cuts at this gent’s salon. Today when I go back there for a haircut, I feel like ‘Yeah… times have changed. I have graduated from the baby’s seat to a push-back adult’s seat. And the cost has gone up ten-fold, from Rs.10 to Rs.100 for a lady’s hair-style. The shop too has moved from the ground floor 10 seat something to a single seat salon on the first floor. But somethings never change! There is a bunch of loyal customers (Both Men & women) who travel down from other cities/towns to Kuppu’s just for their haircuts. Such is the popularity of his services. But, reducing the salon size was inevitable says Mr.Ganesh, the present owner and main-man at this popular salon. With age, managing such a big place was getting hard and he prefers the next generation to run nuclear business.

4. Basappa theatre and Kaveri Mahal: The lifeline to all the movie buffs of Madikeri, for not just the 90’s kids but several generations, how can we not give credits to these two single screen cinema halls? From playing the latest Kannada movies and English movies once in a while, these were (probably still are!) the favourite haunt for most native residents of Madikeri and the nearby villages who seek some kind of entertainment after the sun goes down in this silent hill-station. I remember standing in long queues to get the tickets when a movie in the local languages (Kodava Thakk or Are Bashe) are showed. Or do you recollect memories of being taken in batches from school to watch a mandatory documentary at these cinema halls? Weren’t those fond memories? When was the last time you watched a documentary in a big screen? When was the last time you watched a feature film in a single screen movie hall? Was it a Gandhi class or a balcony ticket?

5. Madikeri fort– We had days of marching in the Independence day parade at the fort courtyard and standing through the pouring rain until the chief guest was done with his address. What were we thinking while doing a peek-a-boo down, to the former district jail from above the parapet? Were we hoping to see the inmates..? or did we expect to get back some waves and ‘Hai’s from them? May be! Or even for some of those who would climb up the narrow ladder to get a view from the big bell near the court hall.. Does any of these ring a bell???

Which is your favourite memory of growing up in Madikeri? Share them with me…

 

Clockwise from top: 1.Madikeri government hospital; 2.Snacks at Paris hotel; 3.A nameplate outside Kuppu’s salon