Tag Archives: Indian Architecture

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

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 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..!!

Celebrating 100 years of Pamban bridge at Rameshwaram

The weekend trip turned into certainty only when Madhu had the confirmed tatkal tickets in her hands after over an hour long wait in the queue at the station.. So the next day evening, the all girls’ trip started from cantonment station. We just had a small chit with a list up of places to see.. No room reservations, no other tickets booked.. Totally unplanned.. We wanted to explore 🙂

The train reached Madurai by 7.20.a.m and we freshened up at the station itself.. Left for Rameshwaram by TNSRTC bus which are quite frequent.. 3.5 hrs through and we passed Ramanathapuram- the last stretch of mainland India. We entered Mandapam, the entry point of the island town of Rameshwaram.. 15min further, we couldn’t contain our excitement as our bus was cruising over the bow shaped road bridge overseeing the infamous Pamban rail bridge 🙂 A very very warm welcome to the town that would host 100s of stories from the Ramayana in the next couple of days.. Once, we had safe landed at the bus stand, we registered ourselves at the tourist office that stood right opposite. We wanted to try our chance to get permission to the Kurusudai island. Our visit there did help us BIG time(indirectly though 😉 )

We walked towards the temple road, checked into a decent hotel, freshened up and headed to Sri Ramanathaswamy temple. Lord Sri.Ram is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Then, why is the city’s named after Eshwar? It is important to know atleast this while you are there in Rameswaram. Here goes the story.. Ravana, (a Brahmin) was a devotee of Lord Shiva(aka Eshwar). On performing prayers, he was blessed by Shiva such that- anyone who tried to harm Ravana would face Brahma dosha. During the war between Ram & Ravana, Ram(a Kshatriya) killed Ravana and happened to face the wrath of the dosha. He had to perform pooja to Shiva, the only one who could help him out of it.  Here, Eshwar helped Ram. Thus, the name to the town- Rameshwar. There’s a similar story for a town called Ravaneshwar in Lanka 🙂 The world’s fifth largest monolithic Nandi statue guards the entrance of this temple..  Ok, thus said- We were overwhelmed to walk across the longest temple corridor in the world and felt blessed after bathing in the water from the 22 sacred wells on the temple. It was quite a tiring day due to a lot of traveling. We decided to sleep early as we had a long day tomorrow. 

Next morning- it was Holi day- The festival of colours. We were sitting at the Agnitheertham beach at 4.30.a.m watching hundreds of devotees taking a holy dip in the sea. But, we were waiting for something else… We were waiting to welcome a day that would unfold with a palette of the best colours that nature could show.. We witnessed what is by far one of the best sunrises we had seen till date.

Sunrise viewed from Agnitheertham beach
Sunrise viewed from Agnitheertham beach

We boarded a bus from there to Dhanushkodi- The ghost city. Though this part was the most awaited part of the trip, it was a let down by the end.. 100Rs per head for a round trip of the deserted city can be done in 3hrs for a tourist. But, we wanted to explore.. This can be best done if you can drive down in a jeep all for yourself without having to abide by other fellow traveler’s convenience. The road stretch upto Dhanushkodi is to die for.. It is BEAUTIFUL….!! You can do and explore LOT MORE if you have a vehicle at YOUR own disposal..

Ruins of the old church
Ruins of the old church

A walk through the waters of the Bay of Bengal till the Kodandaramasamy temple is a must do.. The water level never goes above your knees. The Sethusamudram can only be visualised if you have a proper guide with you. On your way back, you can also cover Jada Theertham & Nambu Nayagiamman temple which are just a couple of kms before Dhanushkodi..

One hour down line the timeline.. We were back in the main town.. an auto guy charged us Rs.250 for a quick round of the places around the town. Gandaparvatham / Rama paadam is the highest point in the island town from where one can catch a good view of the scenery around. Also cover Sugreevar theertham(a small pond), Satchi Hanuman temple, Bhadrakaliamman temple, Rama theertham, Krishna temple, Lakshmana theertham, 5-faced Hanuman temple(The floating stones used for the construction of Rama Sethu can be seen here) are the other places of interest. Except the main temple, rest of the temples are all typically North-Indian in architecture.

Sri Rama theertham
Sri Rama theertham

And we enquired where Sita theertham was.. And to our dismay, the auto driver stopped at a small tank with stagnant green mosquito breeding water body.. “Damn..!! Male dominated Indian soceity…!!” I exclaimed. It was followed by a quick visit to former President, his honour; A.P.J.Abdul Kalam’s house which is now converted into a museum. We were done with local sight seeing by early evening. And we had a LOT of time till sunset.

We headed towards Pamban. Standing on the road bridge and peeking down at the train tug over the century old engineering marvel- Pamban is a sight not to be missed. Once done, we decided to stroll around the fishermen’s village just across. We got some good clicks of the Pamban from the boat jetty. My eyes fell on the light house a few mts across the village. We asked for directions and reached there in less than half and hour’s time while we tagged along some new friends- from the fishermen’s cove. The kids were excited to converse in English with us as we did look foreign to the. Once near the lighthouse, we further walked down to the sea shore from where we got a sight to behold. We settled down there under the shade of a mangrove tree until sunset.

The sunset from the fishermen's cove
The sunset from the fishermen’s cove

It was soon dark and we had to head back to the temple road for a safer crowd. We bought some peanuts masala from the vendor on the seahsore and found a comfortable seat for ourself to catch some peaceful time. It was a full moon night.

Full moon lit night sky as seen from the Agnitheertham boat jetty
Full moon lit night sky as seen from the Agnitheertham boat jetty

We saw the faint horizon emerge out from the pitch darkness of the sky that brightened into broad daylight with a series of colour change and then the white sky fade into the black of the night’s sky… And again the night’s sky being lit up by the beautiful full moon… Yes.. We witnessed one COMPLETE day… 🙂

Day 3: We had to check out early and catch the 8.00.a.m bus from Akka Madang to Vivekananda memorial hall. Our boat was waiting for us with the guide to take us to totally another world- World of exotic marine animals- ‘the Kurusudai island. This place needs a more elaborate presentation and hence, will be done in my next post. to sum up here- “A MUST VISIT”. From there, we got dropped at the Pamban boat jetty.. Our motor boat was anchored somewhere amid hundred other boats and hence, we had to walk across to the shore. This walking experience was unique in its own way as you don’t get such a sight in any other boat jetty. Also, every step had to be placed carefully so that you may not accidentally step on the in-numerous star fishes or sea cucumbers and kill them.

We walked further up to the Pamban railway station and bought our tickets to the 12.00.O’clock train to Madurai. And soon the train arrived. We boarded and our hearts were pounding hard with excitement.. And MY My… An experience of a lifetime.. the train journey over the historical Pamban bridge on its 100th year of existence.. couldn’t ask for more..!!!

View of the bow shaped road bridge from the Pamban bridge
View of the bow shaped road bridge from the Pamban bridge

In 4 hrs, we alighted at Madurai junction… But, yeah I was wondering how everything went so fine through the entire trip.. And the surprise was waiting for us at the station- our train to Bangalore would arrive 3hrs late.. and what followed is.. history.. 🙂

The best of Trivandrum in a day…

May be the coconut trees lining the coastal line abundantly and the rhythmic beats of the famous drums resonating in the air…. And maybe the SUVs & MUVs that underwent the brutal checkup by me during my so called ‘Business trip’….. All these surely made my visit to this little silent capital city an AWESOME one.. A city of Trees & Vans & Drums put together…… Trivandrum it was..!!

A morning flight from Bangalore landed us at the Trivandrum airport by 09.30 a.m. The car was waiting for us outside, which drove us past a fishing hamlet enroute to our workplace.. Fishing dories anchored, fishermen carrying their day’s catch, the blue sea water reaching to the horizon and a lovely lady’s figurine sculptured by the Shangamughan beach side… Further, as we crossed the toll road and drove across a bridge through the by-pass road, we were greeted by the backwaters dotted by the houseboats.. It was indeed a warm welcome to the city.. 🙂

And ofcourse, we began working without wasting much time… And definitely did not miss a chance to drive around the city as a part of the check-up routine 😉 In the evening, was the much anticipated part of the trip- A visit to what is called the richest temple in the country: Sri Padmanabhaswamy. For all the hype and media space grabbed by this temple, I had expected a BIG crowd of tourists(Not Pilgrims), fussy Godmen, lot of petty shops dotting the walkway selling pooja items etc.- A common sight at any of the famous temples in India.. But, totally contrary to what I had imagined, this has been one of the BEST temples I have visited till date. According to me- ‘A temple is a place where one has to feel GOD with PEACE’. And this place stands out for just that..!! A strict dress code and prohibited entry for non-hindus, a stringent adherence to the temple rules, limited crowd, silent ambience, an eyeful of the darshan of the massive idol lit by mere oil fed lamps- The place has not given up its sanctity to all the attention grabbed by it’s hidden chambers of gold.. I’m not a pious or a temple person- But this place has truly stood apart 🙂

Main gate - Padmanabhaswamy temple
Main gate – Padmanabhaswamy temple

Later, we visited the old wooden museum inside the Puthenmalika / Kuthiramalika Palace just outside the temple premises.. This was built by the erstwhile Travancore kings.. A damn nice place for the art lovers 🙂

Day 2 : We started work early, hoping to finish it early so that we could do a little bit of city trotting before boarding our return flight.. And as per schedule, we were done with work by afternoon.. We shopped for some local crafts at SMSM institute crafts emporium.. We walked through the narrow lanes to one of the biggest shops that is all for ‘CHIPS’ – ‘The Mahachips store’.. Chips of different varieties made to order and packed just then.. I picked up about 10kgs of banana chips & jackfruit chips- something that will be much awaited for back home in Bangalore, even more than my safe return 😉

SMSM institute crafts emporium
A wooden piece of art @ SMSM institute crafts emporium

Just before sunset, we reached Covalam beach.. We walked upto the Vizhinjam lighthouse for a good view of the beach- it turned out to be a treat to the senses 🙂

View from the Vizinjam lighthouse
The view from the Vizinjam lighthouse

A stroll along the crowded beach, beautiful view of the sunset, some yummy local chaats to munch on.. Indeed an awesome end to an eventful business trip 🙂

Kovalam beach @ sunset
Kovalam beach @ sunset
Don’t miss to try 3 things while you are in Trivandrum:
1. Fresh banana & jackfruit chips and halwa
2. Hot palam puri with a cup of burning hot Kerala tea
3. Frog thigh fry (available only in select places).
 
If not a business trip, one could cover all these places in a day and combine it with a day trip to Kanyakumari- the southern-most tip of mainland India.