Tag Archives: Kerala Architecture

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.

img_20190531_1320012544330379495427061.jpg
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.

img_20190622_2343003929859773219572362.jpg
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.

img_20190601_1301236968219467911473755.jpg
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.

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’ ended at the Nagercoil junction the next morning. The train route itself is so beautiful with lush greenery even in the peak of summer. As the train entered Tirunelveli district, the landscape takes a different look. Thousands and thousands of windmills seemed to have been strewn until the horizon. Our train slowly chugged past the hills only to later reach its destination- ‘Nagercoil junction’. 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- 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. By far, one of the beautiful palaces in South India, you don’t regret paying the entry fees as there is a lot of effort that has gone into maintenance of this wooden palace. A surprising fact is that, although this palace is in the state of Tamil-Nadu, the palace 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. 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..!!

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 its monsoon, 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 as we had anticipated only disappointment with no water in the dam if we had visited there.

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 infamous ‘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 had to be EXTREMELY unfortunate again- a nebule of cloud sat adamantly blocking the rising sun.. 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 d queue under the hot sun that was at least 3 furlongs 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 crow. 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.

Backwaters and boat races at Allapuzha

We alighted at Ernakulam railway station at the end of an overnight train journey, from where- another hour’s journey in a local train took us to our destination- Allapuzha or fondly called Alleppey. We were there to experience the festivities of ‘Vallamkali- The Olympics of Kuttanad’. It was the 2nd Friday of August 2012 – A day before the Biiigg sporting event of South India- “The Nehru trophy boat race”. This is an annual event held in the Vembanad lake- the longest lake in India spanning several districts of Kerala. The lake that’s known by different names in different parts of Kerala is refered to as the Punnamada Lake in the Kuttanad region. It was noon by the time we checked into our hotel room. We freshened up and set out to explore the backwater villages of Alleppey.. We hired a ‘Shikhara- the boat which motored us through the narrow stretches of the canals. We cruised on the backwaters, passing through villages- where womenfolk were washing clothes, men were fishing, while a few kids were diving into the waters for a swim. We enjoyed our ride as we picked up some fresh lobsters and pomfret at the local market alongway and got them cooked in the local style at a fisherman’s house.

The Shikara cruise in the narrow canals of Alleppey
The Shikara cruise in the narrow canals of Alleppey

Further, we were oared across to the end of the canal which opened into the wide Vembanad lake where all the teams were practising  and the venue was getting set for the ‘Big’ event. The energy and enthusiasm was no less than the main event itself. Though we wanted to stay there till sunset, the government deadline for cruising in the waters forced us to return to the jetty before 06.00.p.m.

On returning to the mainland, we meandered through the lanes of Alleppey town searching for a heavenly dose of Kerala chai and palam-pori (Banana fritters). We passed across the once famous- now non-functional coir industries of Alleppey as we searched our way to the beach, where we spent the remaining evening until dark.

A stationed shikara enroute to the Alleppey beach
A stationed shikara enroute to the Alleppey beach

The town usually sleeps to silence after 7.00.p.m. in any part of Kerala state. But, we were there to make the most of the little time we had with us and not wanting to waste it sitting in the cosy of the hotel room. We happened to see a hoarding of a concert happening at a stadium and headed there hoping to capture some nice photos of the Theyyam show. We did enjoy theyyam.. But we were in for a surprise when we decided to stay for a little longer- we were smitten by something else.. MUSIC..!! A MIND-BLOWING show by the violin maestro- Balabaskaran and team.. It was there that we were LOST in dreamland..!!

The next morning, we had to reach the racing venue as early as 08.00.a.m. to ensure a place to sit. (Read about the madness of the event) One by one, the snake boats arrived for assembly. Locally called as the Chundan Vallam (Beaked boats), these 100~120 feet long wooden canoes carry 90- 110 rowers and move like snakes through the channels. These boats are the world’s biggest water vessel used for sports. And soon.. The event started. Races took place in different categories with even the women rowers. All through the event, only one thing echoed in the atmosphere- Vanchipattu or the Boat song. Every single soul in the arena was singing songs of cheer. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be a part of that enthusiastic crowd.

The oarsmen '"Women"
The oarsmen ‘”Women”

Post the event, we still had time to explore the town and hence boarded a bus to Champakulam. As we passed through the waterlogged villages of Kuttanad, we were reminded that the region we were passing is the ‘granary of Kerala’ or the rice bowl of Kerala and is one of the few places in the world where farming is done below sea level.

Soon, we reached the St. Mary Forane Church. Since it was a Sunday, we were lucky to take part in the mass. This waterside church, built in 427A.D. is a testimony of time with its finely maintained beautiful mural paintings. From there, we took a boat to reach the other end of the river: the place of the oldest market known as Kalloorkkadu angadi.

Champakulam St. Marys church
Champakulam St. Marys church

If not the race, we’d have some more time to explore Karumadi Thodu and Ambalapuzha Sree Krishna temple. The former is famous for the black granite idol of lord Buddha and the latter being known for the ‘Palpayasam’ or the milk porridge offered as prasad to the diety. You could include these in your itinerary if you are planning a drive to Alleppey.

We then walked to the Latin church in the town from whose terrace, the entire town of Alleppey can be viewed during visiting hours. What particularly captured our attention was the cemetery where all members of a family were buried in the same pit. Hundreds of such graves laid within the church premises.

The premises of the Latin Church
The premises of the Latin Church

We then left for our lodge to check out as our return train was scheduled for the night. The luxury of time with half a day extra would have allowed us to visit the church located at Kokkothamangalam- one of the seven churches founded by St.Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. And we’d want to visit the Ayyappan temple, in Mukkal vattam near Muhamma that’s known for the Kalari from which Lord Ayyappa learnt his martial arts. The hermitage where Ayyappan lived during the training period has been preserved in its original form by successive generations of the Cheerappanchira family.

Anyway.. We had to leave the place with a heart soaked and mind filled with beautiful memories of sailing afloat on a boat in the backwaters of the beautiful country of God and hope to return soon.

Must dos:

* Experience the madness of the Snake boat race

Must eat: 

* Freshly caught and cooked seafood while on a backwater cruise tour

The best of Trivandrum in a day…

May be the coconut trees lining the coastal line abundantly and the rhythmic beats of the infamous drums resonating in the air…. And maybe the SUVs & MUVs that underwent the brutal checkup by me during my so called ‘Business trip’….. These surely made my visit to this little silent capital city an AWESOME one 🙂

A city of Trees & Vans & Drums put together…… Trivandrum it is..!!

A morning flight from Bangalore landed at 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.. 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..  Such 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- Tagged as the richest temple in the country – Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple visit it was .. 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 it- This is one of the BEST temples I have EVER been to.. 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 its hidden wealth has grabbed.. I’m really not a pious or a temple person- But this place is truly commendable 🙂

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 can do a little bit of city trotting before we board 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’.. Edible 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.