Tag Archives: Souvenirs

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.

What’s that ONE souvenir to buy from Bangalore?

Travelling to a new place? What do you carry back as souvenirs to friends and family? This is a common scenario that all of us are put into almost everytime. While there are regional specific things that you can pick up, there are common dilemmas associated with each of them.

  • Traditional clothes- might not fit well or the design and the colour might not be liked by the receiver.
  • Local delicacies and sweets- It may not be a good idea if the receiver is dealing with some health conditions or certain diet restrictions. And then, food items may have a shelf life that would not stay fresh until u reach back.
  • Local handicrafts- Again, needs to suit the choice and budget of the giver and the receiver.

Check out these offbeat things to do in Bengaluru

Well.. The reasons and dilemmas may be several but it is easy to find options when travelling anywhere regional. But, the metro cities have usually evolved as an amalgamation of cultures. Be it culture, traditions, craft, food, lifestyle etc., they represent variety. Hence, what you might pick up as a souvenir may actually be soemthing that represents a larger region or soemthing very generic.

If you are someone travelling to Bangalore and would like to take back something that is an authentic piece of Old Bengaluru- here is my pick. This is exclusive to Bangalore and does not have influence from any other regions of Karnataka. While several local products can be bought even at a crafts fair at your very own city/town of stay, this is something that can be bought ONLY in Bangalore. These are something that are sold only at authorises showrooms that are located in this city alone. Take them back and you will be loved!

HMT watches: In 1969, it was a subsidiary started by the Government run ‘Hindustan Machine Tools’ with technical collaboration with ‘the Citizen watches co. Japan’. Soon, these watches created some kind of a time revolution (literally) with the HMT watches being mostly recognised as a possession of pride. HMT clocks adorned all major clock towers and railway stations across the country and can be seen ticking in good health even till date. HMT’s seven signature clocks like the tower clock, solar clock, population clock, master slave clock, display clock, the International clock and the floral clock that are symbols of innovation, are placed at different places across the nation. Although HMT watches’ connection with Bangalore is strong because its factory was located here, these timepieces are a representation of a bygone era of not just Bangalore but of an India of the yore. These are masterpieces of Indian craftsmanship and something that was fondly called as the ‘Timekeeper of India’. This iconic factory was shutdown in 2016 due to severe financial and political reasons.

Although the manufacture of the clocks has become obsolete, the last few pieces of their wrist watches are being assembled on a small room above their showroom in Jalahalli. These are valued as prized possesions by several watch collectors and can be bought from a range of handwound mechanical watches, quartz jeweled watches, skeletal watches, automatic and chronographs ranging in the price bracket of Rs.500 to Rs.15000. While these watches are on their way to go out of production (they will be produced only until the stocks of childparts last), they can be a truly meaningful souvenir to take back that could be handed over to the next generation who might never have an opportunity to live through the real era of HMT watches.

Do you agree this is a nice gifting idea? What other things do you think represent Bangalore aptly?

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Above: The seven signature clocks of HMT placed across different cities in India Below: Floral clock at Lal Bagh, Bangalore