Tag Archives: Tamil nadu tourism

Tracing the Cholan trail- Kumbakonam

This was part of a backpacking trip by my brother and me with an original itinerary to cover Bangalore- Kumbakonam – Gangaikondacholapuram – Chidambaram – Pichavaram – Pondicherry – Tiruvannamalai – Bengaluru

Although being located in the same district, soaked in history and RICH architectural heritage from the Chola era, Kumbakonam is a place that is mostly overshadowed by its counterpart at Tanjavur town. Hence, it is a place that is often spoken less about on a typical tourist’s circuit. I was curious to cover this city and absorb as much of it as possible. While I embarked on a weeklong backpacking through some parts of East-coast road, I had enlisted the temples that seemed culturally important and hoped to visit them while I passed through the city of Kumbakonam.

Getting around:

As you may know, most of my trips are by availing public transportation. During this trip, all the places within the city were covered by walk. (you can alternately hire an autorickshaw to show you around and save some time). All other places located on the outskirts were explored through public/ local buses that are very frequent and extremely lighter on the pocket. If you are using this blog as a reference to explore this ancient city of the Cholas, you can plan your commutation accordingly. Places to visit in Kumbakonam city largely comprise of temples and can be broadly grouped into three categories depending on their location and proximity of accessibility.

a. Temples within a cluster within the city (temples 1~5 and 11~12 in my list)
b. Temples within a cluster on the city outskirts (temples 6~8 in my list)
c. Temples located on separate locations on the city outskirts (9~10 and 13~18 in my list)

Accommodation:

It was raining cats and dogs when we alighted at Kumbakonam bus stand in the morning. We had pre-booked a hotel in Kumbakonam city through an online portal. But after reaching the place, we realized that there was a mistake from the portal and the hotel was closed for Deepawali vacation. We sat there and browsed through websites to find alternate accommodation options. Meanwhile, the pounding rain had mellowed down to a drizzle. We finally managed to find a hotel nearby where we dumped all our baggage, freshened up and ventured out to explore. Bonus for the online goof up by the website: We had a room upgrade.

So, here are the places we visited during our short stint of 2 days at this historical city of Kumbakonam in the order of our travel.

Day 1:

  1. The Nageswara temple: A sizably big temple dedicated to the Snake king Adishesha who is believed to have offered his prayers to Lord Shiva here. An interesting part in this vast 1000years old temple premise is the kalyana mantap. The Cholas have sculpted this stone structure in the form of a chariot being drawn by life sized elephants and horses with the suspension technique.
The Kalyana mantap at Nageswaran Kovil
The Kalyana mantapa at Nageswaram kovil

2. Sarangampani: We reached this temple that follows the Vaishnavism cult after wading through a flooded road. Notable contributions have been made by Cholas, Vijayanagar, Madurai Nayaks etc. to the overall architecture of this temple. A temple tank is located on the western side of this temple.

The Rajagopuram at the Sarangampani Kovil
The Rajagopuram at the Sarangampani Kovil

3. Someshwar temple: This is located adjacent to the Sarangampani temple. We skipped an exclusive visit to this temple after getting some photos from the outside of the temple. From there, we continued through the busy shopping lanes of the town to reach our next landmark.

4. Adikumbeshwara temple: It is believed that Kumbakonam gets its name from this Shiva temple. Legend has it that lord Brahma’s pot (Kumba) containing nectar of worldly lives was rolled down and stopped at this town 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 sculpted on a single stone. Also, the piped instruments(nagaswarams) etched out of stone and the cattle-shed are noteworthy. Today, this vast temple premises are also used for commercial purposes with several shops and restaurants setup in this complex.

5. Ramasamy temple: A place dedicated to lord Rama; it is believed to be the only temple which houses the idols of Rama & Sita along with all his brothers inside the sanctum Sanctorum. The entire story of Ramayana has been painted on the corridor walls of this temple. And hence, for someone interested in art and beyond just checking places, it would require at least a day or two to observe the murals here.

Obviously, we did not have the luxury of more than a couple of hours to spend, and hence our visit was limited to just a quick brush up of whatever we could understand of the images there.

The Ramayana painted on the corridor walls of the Ramasami temple
The Ramayana painted on the corridor walls of the Ramasami temple

6. Mahamahan tank: We timed our visit to this place around noon, when all temples in South India usually close down. This mythologically important tank is spread across 6 acres and is believed to be created out of the nectar that was spilt from Brahma’s pot.

7. Kashivishwanathar temple: This is located at the entrance of the Mahamahan tank. It is believed that the navakannigas or the 9 maidens of Shiva (Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswathi, Kaveri, Godavari, Narmada, Krishna, Tungabhadra & Sarayu) representing 9 rivers visit and bathe in this tank once in 12 years. A day when 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.

8. Abhimukeshwara temple: Located nearby, on the other side of the tank, we only walked past this place as it too remained closed. From there, we boarded a bus to our next major landmark on my ‘to visit’ list.

9. Airavateshwara temple at Darasuram: We visited this temple, on the outskirts of Kumbakonam (one of the three living Chola temples) when No-one else would! By the time we walked from the bus-stop to the temple, our umbrellas were flipped by the heavy winds and the pounding rain had battered and gotten us drenched till our bone. The entire temple complex was FLOODED (with knee-deep water). It was an insane visit where my brother and I both decided to go ahead, wade through the water, and have the entire place for ourselves. We climbed up a ladder (placed by the temple priest to perform the daily rituals) to reach the temple corridor. It was BEAUTY, up there! Bonus: The sight of the entire temple complex in a reflection in the accumulated water. (I know this photo is not its best, but still the best memory that our mobile phone camera could capture to for our grandkids when we would tell them about this place!).

Airavateshwara temple at Darasuram
Airavateshwara temple at Darasuram

After getting some nice shots, we made our way out to the main road to catch a bus to our next destination. The short journey thereon reminded us of Sebastian Vettel cruising on narrow countryside 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 our next planned landmark.

10. Pateeswaran temple: This is originally a Shiva temple, but the goddess has been given prime importance here. It is said that the Cholas offered prayers to the goddess Patti(daughter), calf of the sacred cow Kamdhenu here before proceeding for any battles during their reign. However, when we arrived here, it remained closed only to open again at 05.00.p.m.

As the rain gods again took over the silent skies, we decided to head back to the city. After reaching Kumbakonam city, we looked out for a place that served the trademark ‘Kumbakonam degree coffee’, our piping hot cuppa filter coffee to warm ourselves to some extent from the chilling rain. It was only 06.00.p.m but dark already. As planned, we set out to find our way through the super crowded street of the city to find the remaining two temples from our list.

The main bazaar street is a state highway- All thanks to the festival of Deepawali, it seemed like the entire district had come down to one street in Kumbakonam for shopping. The street was jam-packed with not even an inch of breathing space. We somehow managed to get out without actually facing a stampede. Albeit the heavy rain, we closed our umbrellas and stood amid the crowd. The crowd pulled us along to reach the exit of the street from where we walked to the next temple on our list.

11. 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 all the nearby temples had started to close down. Anyway, we had a lot of time to kill and walked across to take a chance.

12. Brahma temple: We considered ourselves to be fortunate to have decided to take a chance and arrive here. The temple was still open, and we had made to the last pooja at this temple as well. The priest was ecstatic to greet us who went on narrating us stories from mythology and depicting the importance of this otherwise small temple in Kumbakonam. We were told that it was 1 of the only 2 temples in all of Tamil Nadu that are dedicated to Lord Brahma. We were happy to savor the prasadam, which was very unexpected.

We then had a sumptuous supper at a 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:

On the following morning, we were early risers to catch up with our planned itinerary. We boarded a 07.00.a.m. bus to our first destination of the day, situated on a small hillock on the outskirts of Kumbakonam.

13. Swamimalai: Abode of one of the six important murugan temples in Tamil Nadu, Swamimalai is also an important destination of idol making in India. A limited number of artisans who all live in clusters around the temple here, have carried along a science and art of bronze idol making from the Chola period. The technology used in the ‘lost wax method’ of metal casting is practiced as per the Vedas and is something that needs a more elaborate citation, in another post.

After offering our prayers, we decided to head back to the city to get buses to the other places on our list.

Swami Malai- One of the six holy shrines of lord Murugan
Swami Malai- One of the six holy shrines of lord Murugan

Meanwhile, we couldn’t locate any restaurant that was open for breakfast even at 08.00.a.m. Hence, we decided to have lunch once and for all at wherever we would reach. If one had the convenience of an own transportation, there are several other ancient temples that I would recommend for visiting. It would be ideal to have an additional day in hand and make Kumbakonam the central place as all these recommended places are located in different directions, forming somewhat a radius around this town. Local buses are available from Kumbakonam to each of these places, but it would be very time consuming to come back to Kumbakonam to change a bus to every time. Hence, we decided to skip the below places and head to our last major landmark.

14. Uppiliappan

15. Thirubuvanam

16. Thiruvalanchizi

17. Thiruvidaimaruthur etc.

18. The Brihadeeshwara temple at Gangaikondacholapuram: We reached this yet another magnanimous temple after changing two buses (A change of bus at Kork road / GK cross). The biggest (of the three-great living Chola temples enlisted by UNESCO), this structure stood right adjacent to the national highway enchanting every tourist with all its might. 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

From here, we continued our backpacking into another territory within Tamil Nadu. From Tanjavur district, we were thereon heading towards Chidambaram via Pichavaram. Backpacking trips and road trips always carry elements of surprise and they are supposed to be like that. They can never be planned precisely. These trips always carry scope for making impromptu changes in the itinerary and taking on new adventures. That’s what was awaiting us on the next leg of this weeklong trip, far away in the southern-most state of India. Click here to read more on my journey to Chidambaram.

Thally- The little England of Tamil Nadu

I had seen the name of this place on the boards of inter-state private buses plying in the roads of Bangalore. On a little bit of research, I came to know that it was a popular summer destination of the British which has twin hills called Devarabetta, with a good view point.

One day, when my friends and I were looking for a destination for a random ride to kill time, Thally popped up in my head. In what was meant to be just a ride to kill time on a weekend, turned out to be a discovery of a new hideout to escape the frenzy of the city..

We used google maps for navigation. A small ride through Jigani, past Chandapura town lead us to a small barricade that marked the Karnataka- Tamil Nadu border. There was a sudden drop in temperature leading to a rather pleasant ride than expected, in an otherwise hot Tamil Nadu.

The colourful brick making kilns

The colourful brick making kilns

Brick making kilns and artistically structures built with raw bricks and tiles dotted some stretch of the bordering village. We proceeded through the serene greens of vegetable farms and yellow blossomed mustard fields to reach the junction of Thally town. The temple fair seemed to be happening beside the huge Thally lake. We thought of giving it a miss owing to the village crowd and proceeded towards our next destination: ‘Devarabetta’.

View of the Twin Devarabetta  hills from the farm lined road
View of the Twin Devarabetta hills from the farm lined road

We were excited as we spotted the twin hills from a distance. We passed through rough countryside terrain and kaccha roads that finally lead us to the temple at the foothill of Devarabetta.

The stairway to Devarabetta :P
The stairway to Devarabetta 😛

It wasn’t a strenuous climb with mere 100+ steps leading us to the top (Read about scaling the second highest monolith in Asia- A day trek in Bangalore) where an ancient temple exists. We took a 360 deg view around and it looked beautiful.. Surrounded by the Anchetty /Bannerghatta forest range on one side, the rocky hillock on another side and green pastures all around.. And a very pleasant weather: This could be why this place was once called ‘The Little England’. We spent sometime soaking in some pure air of the forest cover around and chatting up for a while.

Since our stomachs were growling and there were no hotels nearby to sate our hunger, we decided to head back to the city. (This update is as on Jan-2015. Current condition might be different as the rapid urbanisation and expasion of Bengaluru city limits has reached Thally)

The Vishnu temple enroute to Devarabetta from Thally

The Vishnu temple enroute to Devarabetta from Thally

But on our way back, I found an interesting piece of architecture, I wanted to explore more. We parked our bike and walked into this old temple complex. The door to the sanctum was closed. There was no one around who could throw some light about this place. However, the design looked liked a scaled down version of the temple at Tirupathi, suggesting that it was dedicated to Lord Vishnu. There was an old well, a wooden temple car and a dilapidated mantap adjacent to the temple. Further, with my little knowledge of temple architecture, I recognise that the art had some relevance to the Chola style of architecture (the stairs had resemblance to the Varadaraja Perumal Temple at Kanchipuram & the Big temple at Tanjavur).

Inside the temple premises
Inside the temple premises

I would be really happy if someone could help me out in knowing the actuals about the history of this temple. The map of the temple is shared below.

The forgotten Chola temple- Google maps
The forgotten Chola temple- Google maps

Thereafter, we continued our return journey to the city. This place makes for half a day’s outing if you are looking for some solace with nothing much to do, at a stone’s throw away distance from the city. You can make a full day outing if you combine it with a tour to hosur, Denkanikottai fort in Tamil nadu or the pearl valley in Karnataka.

Conclusion Remarks:

Not a great place to plan an exclusive trip, you can consider it only if you’re planning for a random ride on a weekend to get away from the Bangalore chaos.

Places to Visit in Trichy in a day

This visit to Trichy was a part of our family’s backpacking trip, mainly conceptualized to cover a portion of the Coromandel coast during this trip. Our itinerary for this trip was Bangalore – Mayiladuthurai – Poompuhar – Tarangambadi – Karaikal – Nagapattinam – Velankanni – Tanjavur – Trichy – Bangalore.

After a long day exploring Tanjavur, we boarded an evening bus to Tiruchirappalli. Trichy is a name given by the British, perhaps the shortened version of the original used for the ease of pronunciation. After reaching the town, we checked into a lodge in front of the central bus stand, had a sumptuous meal and retired early.

  • It was day 3 of our backpacking. The places covered in our Trichy day trip were:
    • The island town of Srirangam
    • Thiruvannaikaval
    • St. Lourdes’s church
    • Rock Fort

The visit in detail:

Since this was not the first visit to Trichy for my parents, this plan was just a Trichy day trip. They wanted to just go around the major landmarks that are typically frequented on a traveler’s circuit. But Trichy is beyond just pilgrimage and ours is a family of explorers. So, in spite of covering these popular landmarks, we still added a few elements of history and architectural explorations into it to make it more meaningful than just going around these places. In fact, as someone who views places from a historian’s perspective, places are usually recognized by a specific dynasty that had an influence in its overall culture. For example, Mahabalipuram is associated with the Pallavas, Tanjavur or Kumbakonam is a major territory of the Cholas, Madurai with the Pandya and so on. But, when it comes to Trichy, this town was never a capital of one particular kingdom. However, it has remained a very important place throughout history and across timelines, thereby picking up influences of all major dynasties that ruled over this region. Hence, it is safe to say that Trichy represents a confluence of all south-Indian architectural styles.
I would like to elaborate on the places we visited to give my readers a brief idea of these places when they plan their trip to Trichy.

Landmark 1: Srirangam

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 Shivana Samudra (All three are island towns formed by river Kaveri). Srirangam is an important place of worship for the Vaishnava sect of Brahmins or the followers of Lord Vishnu. When we arrive there, there was a long queue and we managed to get a glimpse of the historic idol of Sri Ranganatha sleeping on a serpent after a long wait in the queue. (There is a long history of how this idol came into being, worth a read).

But pilgrimage aside, we were there to enjoy the architectural marvels of the city. If you are someone who loves to walk and explore a place by foot, it would take a good 2-3 hours to simply walk around the main temple complex. Although the main gopuram or the outermost tower is the latest among all the towers in this temple complex, it is the largest temple tower in the world. With a spread of 156 acres, the temple complex itself is believed to be the largest functional temple premises in the world.

The complex consists seven rounds of walls/fortifications before you reach the sanctum sanctorum. Each wall was added by the successive dynasties that reigned in this town including the Pandya, Cholas, Hoysala, Vijayanagar, Pallavas and the others. The art specific to each of these eras can be noticed in the complex. The entire complex has 21 temple gopurams where one could easily get lost in the vastness of the complex if attempting to see each of them individually. 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 viewpoint, from where all 21 temple towers could be seen from a single spot. There is also a 1000 pillar hall which was earlier used as a venue 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.

The Antya Ranganathar swamy temple at Srirangam
The Antya Ranganathar swamy temple at Srirangam

The banks of river Kaveri is just behind the temple, which can be accessed by walking through the rear door of the temple. With blazing sun even at 10.00.a.m, the sand and the asphalt road were already heated up. Hence, our barefooted attempt to walk to the riverbank was less a walk and more a run. Hailing from a place where the holy river originates and flows gracefully with water all through the year, it was unexpected and disappointing and to see her riverbed running TOTALLY dry in this part of her journey. But after talking to the localites, I cheered up a bit as they were looking forward for a good monsoon in the coming month. We were told that the river would flow almost in spate during the monsoons (Even submerging the very place that I was standing at). We came back to the temple again, had some fresh fruit juice from one of the stalls outside, wore our footwear and took a walk around the temple.

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 communities of the country- the Iyengar Brahmins.

Oh yeah…!! It was BURNING hot and I was pretty sure I’d go back home like a grilled chicken after this walk. But then, we wanted to make the most of the visit because life is uncertain, and no one knows for sure when we would be visiting again.

Landmark 2: Thiruvannaikaval

Though the population of Srirangam mainly comprises the Iyengar (the followers of Vaishnavism), the then rulers have also built temples for the Iyers (the followers of Shaivism). Hence, our next destination was to see the temple built for Lord Shiva. We boarded a bus to Thiruvannaikaval. 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, another beautiful ancient temple usually missed by visitors. It is located right behind the Shiva temple.

The entrance to Thiruvannaikaval Shiva temple
The entrance to Thiruvannaikaval Shiva temple

Landmark 3: St. Lourdes’s church

From the temple, we had a nice south Indian meal at a nearby hotel after which we headed back to Trichy town. We visited the St. Lourdes’s church in the city. The Gallo-Catholic design of the church architecture and the neo-Gothic spires are beautiful in this early 2 centuries old heritage structure.

St. Lourde's church
St. Lourde’s church

We did a bit of shopping in the by lanes and the Trichy market around the Teppakulam (Temple tank) before we started our ascend to our next destination.

Landmark 4: Rock Fort

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 has created such beautiful structures out of a hard monolith. What appears to be just a random protrusion of earth from outside, is in fact 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

As we decided to descend down, we realized that a door that had remained closed during our ascent was now wide open. There were some beautiful paintings peeking out of the door intimidating us to go inside and 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 priest noticed our interest and started explaining the story depicted by each painting. He then told us to hurry up and walk inside through another door. There, the maha mangalaarthi (the last pooja of the day.!!) for goddess Parvathi 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.

Just while we were sipping the holy water, we were again asked to rush through another door, cross a narrow chamber that led to the Shiva temple. The deity was getting ready for the final pooja of the day. Prayers are offered only thrice a day: During sunrise, at noon and before sunset. And we were lucky for being there for one of these (the last one). The curtains were parted from the deity and the huge idol was being bathed in the pancha-Amrutha. Then, he was neatly dressed in dhoti, decorated with fresh flowers and the pooja culminating with Arathi. The curtains were back signaling us that the god would then go to sleep. We felt truly BLESSED…!! by the end of this, I could see my mom weeping in joy for being lucky to witness this Pooja. We had witnessed an event that was so unexpected.

At the exit of the Cave temple / Rockfort
At the exit of the Cave temple / Rockfort

Again, the presence and strong hold of almost all major south Indian dynasties could be felt there with the exquisite designs present in the art there. We thanked the priest and took leave to descend the stairs leading us down to the market.

Landmark 5: GR restaurant

A final destination to our tour: a local recommendation for an evening chai. GR restaurant is housed in an old building in the heart of the city (enroute to Rock fort). The Valli appam is a must try here. The interiors of the hotel are commendable which has rock pillars, structures & collectibles that reminds one of the grandeurs of temple architecture that this region is renowned for. A cup of piping hot filter coffee was a grand ending to our Trichy day trip!
There are many lesser known temples around Trichy and equally beautiful with rich artwork which takes up another full day. But one day was all the time we had with us before wrapping up trip in Trichy to Bangalore. So, I shall come back soon.

A secular pilgrimage along the Coramandel coast

This was a family backpacking trip, mainly conceptualized by my dad and had been long due. He wanted to see how the end of River Kaveri; our family deity looks like. Accordingly, we made an itinerary and a route map. Our family of four backpacked with the below itinerary:

Our Itinerary:

Day 0: Depart from Bangalore (Travel mode: Overnight train to Mayiladuthurai)
Day 1: Visit Poompuhar, Tarangambadi, Karaikal, Nagore and Velankanni (Travel mode: local bus; Stay: Church run lodges at Velankanni)
Day 2: Explore Tanjavur (Travel mode: local bus; Stay: Hotel at Trichy)
Day 3: Explore Trichy (Depart to Bangalore by overnight bus)

The first day of our backpacking is presented here, which took us across three important landmark destinations along the east-coast, covering all three prominent faiths in India. That’s why I call this part of the trip as a ‘secular trip’ with of course covering the intended destination: Poompuhar, the end of the River Kaveri or the point where this Holy river meets the sea.

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 holy places 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 a sculpture art museum on to the right side, at the entrance. To the left is Ilanji Mandran, a bathing place said to have had mysterious powers of curing health ailments that dates back to the Chola era. A walk for about a kilometer along the roaring sea leads us to the river mouth. It is believed that river Cauvery (a female) runs towards the sea (a male) at this point. If one stands and watches the river mouth at this point, the rapids of the river joining the calm sea can be seen quite evidently. The calm sea lashes her back towards the land with his waves side by side. A dip at this juncture is believed to be very holy (Hailing from a community that worships this river as a family deity, at least this is what I have grown up listening to). This place is also called Kaveripoompattinam as called by the Cholas and is a place of importance to the archaeologists.

The Ilanji Mandran at Poompuhar
The Ilanji Mandran at Poompuhar

Apart from the river mouth and a walk through the historical monuments mentioned above, there is nothing much to do at Poompuhar otherwise. The Kethu & Budha sthalams among the Navagraha temples are close by- I will save them for another article.

With that, we boarded a bus to our next destination- Tarangambadi. Then from there, to Karaikal beach.

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 a Maratha King of Tanjavur for being cured of his ailment by the miracles of Shahul Hameed. From there, we headed to our 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 seashore. This place is so crowded almost all through the year, that if one just stands in the crowd, the crowd will take you forward without you actually having to try to walk. We walked back to the Basilica of the Arogya 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 then took a brief walk at the donation’s 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… The following morning, we board another TNSRTC bus to our next destination: Tanjavur.

Offbeat Places to See in Tanjavur on a daytrip

This visit to Tanjavur was a part of our family’s backpacking trip covering the route: Bangalore – Mayiladuthurai – Poompuhar – Tarangambadi – Karaikal – Nagapattinam – Velankanni – Tanjavur – Trichy – Bangalore.

Following a long day of a secular pilgrimage in the Coromandel coast, we boarded a morning bus to Tanjavur. Tanjavur, the cradle of Dravidian culture and a hub of the Chola art and architecture needs no introduction. There’s no dearth for information on the internet. A visit to this land was on my parent’s ‘bucket list’ and this was a trip planned for its materialization. With a day’s time at our disposal (VERY short for a slow traveler like me), we decided to cover the major landmarks that a typical tourist would want to see in the capital of the Cholas.

It was the second day of our backpacking. The places covered in Tanjavur were:
• BIG temple (Brihadeesvaran temple)
• Saraswathi Mahal complex
• Grand Anicut / Kallanai dam

The details:

As in case of every other civilization, a river holds all the life. In this case, Tanjavur was born on the fertile delta created by river Kaveri. This is the land that has nurtured and held on to the Dravidian culture till date. Apart from this, its local economy has largely been agrarian based ana is rightly called as the rice bowl of South India.

Landmark 1: The Big temple

The iconic monolith of this land was spotted even as our bus was still pulling off at the bus station. The monolith seated gracefully atop the ancient temple with a weight of 800 tonnes was still far away. As we reached, we stood there in awe, gazing at the vast premises of the mighty temple. The temple tower is the tallest in the world and 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 kilometers to facilitate the placement of the monolith Kalasha atop the tower. The walls of the corridor are adorned by fine paintings that were done with a 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 entrance at the Brihadeesvaran temple
The entrance at the Brihadeesvaran temple

‘The Great living Chola temples’ is a group of three Chola temples located across Tanjavur district. Together, these three temples represent an architectural conception of the pure form of the Dravidian style. The Tanjavur Brihadeshwara temple is the most easily accessible of them all and is located in the heart of the city. (The other two temples are the Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram and Gangaikondacholisvaram). Although the Brihadeshwara temple is fondly called as the Big temple, it has multiple names. With a simple translation of the name into local language, it is called Thanjavur Periya kovil. The great Chola king Raja raja named this temple as Rajarajesvaram and the deity Shiva in Linga form as Peruvudaiyar. A few people also refer the temple with the name of its deity as Peruvudaiyar kovil.

The Tanjavur paintings adorning one of the roofs
The Tanjavur paintings adorning one of the roofs

Landmark 2: Saraswathi Mahal complex

We took an autorickshaw ride from the Big temple to Saraswathi Mahal. This is reckoned among the oldest functional libraries in the world and was patronized by the Tanjavur rulers. One can find some very old, rare and original copies of important manuscripts, scientific research publications etc. here. Adjoining it, is the palace of the Marathas of Tanjavur. The palace is partially used as the residence of the descendants and remaining portion is converted into a museum.

Behind this building, is the art museum which houses some rare and famous bronze idols created during the Chola era. The Cholas were the earliest people to have used the lost wax technique to create the bronze idols with a very scientific approach (as per the documented procedures in the Vedas).

The Saraswathi Mahal Library
The Saraswathi Mahal Library

Just outside the museum, we picked up a pair of Tanjavur bommai from the souvenir shop. These famous Tanjavur dolls are colorful handcrafted figurines where the head is suspended on a pivot which gives a dancing/swinging movement to the doll. Hence, they are often referred as the Tanjavur thalayatti bommai or the dancing headed dolls. Another artform you cannot ignore or miss while in this city are the Tanjavur paintings. Considered as a divine artform, with gold embellishments, Tanjavur paintings are considered as a symbol of royalty.

Landmark 3: Grand Anicut / Kallanai dam

From there, we boarded a local bus to reach Grand Anicut (as called by the Britishers) or Kallanai (the local name). This is a standing example of the engineering marvels constructed over 2000 years ago by the Cholas (later modified by the British). This oldest functional water regulation structure in the world is a dam constructed with uneven stones / random boulders across river Kaveri with a desperate intention to divert the water before joining the sea so that it can be used for irrigation around the delta region. This dam divides the river into four streams known as Kollidam Aru, Kaveri, Vennar and Puthu. Later, the Lower Anicut/ Kollidam was constructed by the British before the water actually joins the sea.

An epitaph at the  Grand Anicut
An epitaph at the Grand Anicut

With this, our time in Tanjavur had almost come to an end. On the other end of the dame, we sat inside a local bus and waited for it to start to our next destination on our trip: Trichy.

The land of the singing waves – Tranquebar

This visit to Tarangambadi was a part of our family’s backpacking trip, mainly conceptualized to cover a portion of the Coromandel coast. Our itinerary for this trip was Bangalore – Mayiladuthurai – Poompuhar – Tarangambadi – Karaikal – Nagapattinam – Velankanni – Tanjavur – Trichy – Bangalore.

This post is about destination no.3 on the first day on the east coast road. I had read about this place in one of the history texts about the Colonial empire in India. I had visited Portuguese, British and the French settlement towns during my earlier travels. The Danish colonized in India for over 200 years with three important settlements. Serampore (in West Bengal), Tranquebar (in Tamil Nadu) and Nicobar Islands (in Andaman & Nicobar Islands, all along the Bay of Bengal. To read about the existence of these places in modern day’s context, there was barely any information available online from a traveler’s perspective. Since we were anyway doing the ECR tour, my curiosity to know more about a Danish settlement motivated me to add Tranquebar in our itinerary. ‘Tranquebar’ as the Scandinavians called it, is a humble town known as ‘Tarangambadi’ in present times.

As we continued our secular pilgrimage, I bought tickets to a destination that was unheard of to my family until that moment. I requested the conductor to inform me when we arrived there. Accordingly, we alighted the bus at a small junction. The place looked very laid back, simple, untouched by any major developmental investments, just like any other fishing hamlet on the coasts of India. 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 me with a blank look on their face. I could sense that ‘Where are you taking us on this hot afternoon?’ question in their eyes. Although with the first look of the place, I too had similar apprehensions running in my mind, I wanted to walk further to see what was really there!

We walked for about half a kilometer and an old arch done with Danish art welcomed us at the entrance of the town. A board by the side of the arch read: ‘Welcome to- The land of the singing waves- Tranquebar’.

The entrance arch
The arch at the entrance of Tarangambadi/Tranquebar

As we walked through this town welcome gate, the feel of the place transcended us instantly to a different country, or a different era- perhaps. The roads were super empty & clean and old Danish buildings stood tall on either side of it. The Zion church, the Teresa’s convent school, the Danish governor’s bungalow among several other structures that tell tales of an era bygone finally led us to a fort. ‘Fort Dansborg’ as it is called, is a structure peacefully nestled on the calm shores facing 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- Tranquebar: the land of tranquil waters. The place had tranquility overloaded not just in its waters, but in its air, land and whatever we saw around. I’m usually not a beach person, but this place was magical!

Since there are just countable properties (heritage bungalows turned resorts) in the town, Tranquebar is still unconquered on the tourist radar. Also, the unavailability of affordable food in a long stretch of kilometers, the budget hoppers are those who just drop in for day trips. Hence, except for a handful of fishermen, evenings and early mornings are idyllic with you being your only company if you choose to take stroll along the calm beach. This is by far, one of the BEST beaches along the east coast that I have been to.

The serene shoreline at Tranquebar
The serene shoreline around the Tranquebar fort

The fort is well maintained and converted into a museum. An important port between 1600s to early 1900s, the walls of the port now lay dilapidated, majorly battered by the tsunami in the year 2004. A stroll along the beach take you to the Masilamaninathar temple. It dates back to 13.C.E. and is believed to have mythological importance. The sculptures on the walls of this temple and the shikara have been corroded by the salts.

Although there isn’t much to see around in Tranquebar, it was a place that filled our mind with peace and tranquility even with just a few hours spent there. My parents too, were equally excited about the place where I had brought them to. I must admit that Tarangambadi is a place that I would COME BACK soon. Then, with more time and a hotel reservation at one of those bungalows on its beaches. But for now, it was a hard but a helpless option for us to pull ourselves out of this place. Unsatisfied with the quick visit, we promised ourselves to come back exclusively to stay here as we left for our next destination- Nagore.

Explore the Best of Valparai on a Weekend

My friends and I had heard sufficiently about the rich wildlife of the region surrounding Pollachi, its beautiful sceneries and perfectly trimmed tea estates. Valparai is a lesser known hill station in the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary (earlier known as Annamalai Wildlife Sanctuary). Kollywood stars and burnt out urbanites frequent this place to de-stress themselves and savor a slice of nature. Here, as one ambles past mud walled, thatched roof dwellings, granaries of farmers and tea estates fringed plateau, don’t be surprised if you happen to hear someone screaming ‘start camera’, ‘action’. This is a hot spot for movie makers with over 1500 movies and commercials having been shot here. And we too got lucky when we happened to visit the sets and share our homestay with the crew of the movie- ‘Madras cafe’ during this trip of ours.

A weekend itinerary was primarily planned by one of my friends and a few must-see items were pushed into the plan by me. Since this place falls on the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, we decided to make it a three states’ drive including Karnataka. Accordingly, five of us started from Bangalore on a Friday night. Since it is also a bio-diversity hotspot, I had listed 5 animals on my ‘to-spot’ list while at Valparai. Valparai is the end destination after driving through 32 hairpin bends. Being a hill station, Valparai weather is specifically delightful with a cool climate throughout the year. It is usually the road leading to Valparai that is enjoyable with scenic vistas and photo-points. I had enlisted them with day 1 in the Tamil Nadu side of the sanctuary and then spending the second day on the Kerala side of the forested land.

Itinerary:

Day 0: Leave from Bangalore by night (Own car)
Day 1: Reach Pollachi before sunrise. Backwaters of the Aliyar dam, monkey falls, Loam’s viewpoint, Carver Marsh viewpoint, Congreve falls, Vinayagar temple, Birla falls, Balaji temple, Iraichalparai falls, Nallamudi Pooncholai viewpoint, ChinnarKallar hanging bridge trek, Sholaiyar backwaters (night stay at a homestay in Chalakudy)
Day 2: Athirapally falls, Vazachal falls and return to Bengaluru via Ooty.

The details:

Part 1: Tamil Nadu

During the night journey, I had dozed away on the rear seat of the car. When I opened my eyes to the misty morning dawn, our car was greeted by beautiful countryside with tree-lined roads, emerald fields of paddy, whispering palms and coconut plantations in the backdrop of the towering Western Ghats. We had reached Pollachi in Tamil Nadu. We waited near Aliyar park until 06.00.a.m. for the forest check post to open.

a. We registered our entry into the wildlife sanctuary there and proceeded on our journey. Our drive further towards Valparai, was an ascent along the winding road by the backwaters of the Aliyar irrigation dam.

View of the Aliyar backwaters

b. Four kilometers further from the forest check post, we reached the monkey falls. The waterfall is aptly named due to the many troublesome monkeys here. One even entered our car and happily carried away a bag full of fruits from the rear seat. Our drive continued…

c. Just as we approached the 9th curve (the Loam’s viewpoint), we were greeted by this gentleman who was calmly grazing on the edge of the steep rocks.
We scored off the first member on our list of top 5 wildlife to see- ‘The Nilgiri Tahr’.

Nilgiri Tahr – Photo credits: Samson Joseph

d. Continuing our drive, we stopped at Carver Marsh viewpoint adjoining the Kavarkal estate. On a clear day, we were told that one can see the Sholayar reservoir (2nd deepest dam in Asia) from there.

e. We then cruised past the Tiger valley from where we caught a good view of the upper Aliyar reservoir.

At the entrance to Sholayar / Kallyar estates

f. We covered Congreve falls (located in the Nadumalai estate), Vinayagar temple (Jayashree estate) & Birla falls along the way up. We got good view of the Manopally forest and the grass hills of the sanctuary.

g. Ox-bow lakes situated inside the protected area is supposedly the highlight of this region for those who can manage to get permission from the forest authorities. We failed at it since we didn’t have insufficient information on the channels for the permits.

h. We visited the Balaji temple and the nearby Iraichalparai falls along way.

Just along our way, it was time to score off no.2: groups of ‘Lion tailed Macaque’ were walking all over the road and around. Even before we realized, we had reached the hilltop.

Lion Tailed Macaque- Valparai

i. We stopped by and trekked through the tea estates to reach the ‘Seen god shrine’ at the Nallamudi Pooncholai viewpoint. An old man, who claims to have seen god, blessed us with some prayers and turned out to be an encyclopedia of knowledge about the local culture and history. He explained to us about the various tribal settlements in these hills… pointing out at colonies, he would tell- Kadars, Muthuvars and Malai Malasars. They are estimated to have 190 households in 8 settlements in the sanctuary.

While we walked towards our car, the women picking tea shoots warned us not to proceed further. She pointed at a herd of 8-9 elephants feasting around at a distance, thus scoring off no.3 on my list.

j. We then drove to ChinnarKallar for the hanging bridge trek. In spite of driving all the way, we refrained from shelling out 250 Rs. per head just for the entry which sounded to us more like a bribe at the forest check post. This place is among the highest rainfall receiving areas in India. No doubt that the Valparai weather is pleasant all through the year and is an upcoming weekend destination among the urban crowd of the nearby metro cities.

We put our car in reverse and just then… no.4: The giant flying squirrel (a young one and wasn’t flying though) crossed our road. We were excited…!!

k. After covering places in the Tamil Nadu part of the sanctuary, we headed towards the Kerala border. We saw a calm stretch of the Koolangal river and decided to spend some time there. We could not compel ourselves from not taking a sip of its crystal-clear waters.

And right there. we saw this little creature on no.5: ‘The common map butterfly

The Common map butterfly

Part 2: Kerala

We registered at the border check post and prepared to enter the Kerala land. Thick rainforests on both sides accompanied us all the way till our destination. We happened to drive through what I think is one of the dangerous roads I have been through. With the Sholaiyar backwaters on one side and a valley on the other side, only one vehicle can pass at a time. Beautiful views for most of the stretch kept us in an awe. Tunnels have been bored through the mountains to supply water to Parambikulam reserve from the Nirar dam.

We reached Athirapally reserve just after sunset. We got a quick glance of the beautiful waters cascading down to join the Chalakudy river. It was soon dark, and we checked into Maria cottage (a local homestay) where we were made us feel at home and served some sumptuous Mallu food.

Next morning, we walked past the palm plantations to reach the Chalakudy river to freshen up. This place is frequented by elephants at all times, but we did not care. We enjoyed the clear but rapids of the water there. We took a refreshing dip before returning to our homestay. We checked out of the place after having a good filling Malayalee breakfast.

Post this, we went back to the Athirapally waterfalls. We walked down to the base of the waterfalls and spent good time there. We had to then continue our drive, as our target was to reach Bangalore by night. After a quick stop at the Vazachal waterfalls (it is more like water flowing down a steep rock than a waterfall), we decided to say goodbye to Kerala.

Athirapally waterfalls

Part 3: Karnataka

The original plan was to drive through the route covering Ooty-Bandipur-Mysore to reach Bangalore. But, since we were behind schedule, we could not reach Bandipur before the forest gates closed (the forest gates are open only between 06.00a.m. to 06.p.m.). So, we decided to drive back through the curvy stretch of Pollachi road again.

We further drove through Udumalpet which happens to be one of the windiest places in Southern India. Thousands of windmills dot the stretch on either side which is a sight to behold. It was dark in no time and we had to zip ASAP to reach our offices on the following morning.

Thus, ended our 50 hours’ drive, covering 1000 kms across 3 states!

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..!!

Offbeat Places to Visit in Rameshwaram on a Weekend

This was a destination that my friend and I had been contemplating to travel for some time. The trip turned into certainty only when my friend had the confirmed tatkal tickets in her hands after a wait of over an hour in the queue at the railway station. Then on the following evening, the two of us commenced our weekend journey towards Rameswaram by boarding our train from Bengaluru cantonment station to Madurai. We had a few important things to check-off on our small list for places to see and things to do at Rameswaram. Since the travel tickets were confirmed in the last moment, we had barely any time to make hotel reservations. We decided to go there and find something for ourselves.

Our Itinerary:

Day 0: Evening train to Madurai from Bengaluru Cantonment railway station.
Day 1: Arrival at Rameswaram and visit to Ramanathaswamy temple (TNSRTC bus from Madurai to Rameswaram)
Day 2: Visit to Dhanushkodi (Local bus from Rameswaram to Dhanushkodi), Rameswaram local sightseeing (hire an autorickshaw for half day), Sunset & Beach walk near Pamban bridge.
Day 3: Visit to Kurusudai islands (Local bus to Vivekananda Mandapam & hire a local boat from there to reach Kurusudai islands), Return to Pamban boat jetty; Return to Bangalore (Train to Madurai & change train from Madurai to Bangalore).

The details:

Day 1– Arrival at Rameswaram and visit to Ramanathaswamy temple

The train reached Madurai by 7.20.a.m. After freshening up at the station itself, we left for our main destination. The TNSRTC buses are quite frequent and it took us a journey of 3.5 hours to reach Rameswaram. Enroute, we passed through Ramanathapuram- the last stretch of mainland India. Once we reached Mandapam, the entry point to the island town of Rameswaram, we had our excitement running at its peak. For the next 15minutes, our bus was cruising over the bow shaped road bridge that oversaw the famous Pamban rail bridge. Pamban bridge is an edifice of engineering that is still standing strong on its 100th year in commissioning. This is a bridge that would connect us to the other side of the land, to a town that would host hundreds of stories from the Ramayana during our stay there, over the next couple of days.

After arriving at the Rameswaram bus stand, we noticed the tourist office that stood right opposite. We wanted to try our chance to get permission to the Kurusudai island and hence, registered our names as tourists in their logbook. This island is a protected area and we had tried hard to get permission for our visit even before starting our trip. Though indirectly, our random chance visit to the tourist office in fact helped us BIG time (Click here to read the story in detail).

Lord Rama is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Then, why is the city named after Eshwar? It is important to know at least this while you are there in Rameswaram. Here goes the story… Ravana, (a Brahmin) was a devotee of Lord Shiva (aka Eswaran). On performing penance, Ravana was blessed with a boon by Shiva such that- anyone who tried to harm Ravana would face Brahma dosha. Further, during the war between Rama & Ravana, Rama (a Kshatriya) killed Ravana who then happened to face the wrath of the dosha. Rama then, had to perform pooja to Shiva, the only one who could help him out of the dosha. Here, Eswaran helped Rama. Thus, the name to the town- Rameshwar. I was told that there is a similar story for a town called Ravaneshwar in Lanka.

We walked towards the temple road, roamed around a bit and finally checked into a decent looking hotel close to the main temple. After freshening up, we headed to the main landmark of this pilgrim town, Sri Ramanathaswamy temple. The world’s fifth largest monolithic Nandi statue guards the entrance of this temple. 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. Since it was quite a tiring day due to all the traveling, we decided to sleep early as we had a long day of exploration on the itinerary, next.

Day 2: Exploring Dhanushkodi and local sightseeing at Rameswaram

On the following day, it was Holi: The festival of colors. 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 colors that nature could show. Although the wait was long, it was only by 07.00.a.m. when 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. Although a visit to Dhanushkodi was one of the most awaited part of the trip, it was not our best. From all the stories and experiences, we had imagined of Dhanushkodi, we had expected to need at least one full day there. It is a place that we wanted to explore and not run through which can be best done only if one had a vehicle at his / her own disposal. However, we were at the mercy of public transportation on this budget trip. Like all visitors or “tourists” who had come down there, we too had to settle for a tour of this deserted city in one of the local tourist buses. A round trip was completed in about 3hours with a cost of 100Rs per head not satiating our need to see more of this abandoned town.

  • Apart from the few main structures and temples (old railway station, church, temple of the floating stone, etc.) that you would see during your tour package(local bus), a few other things that you can do during your trip to Dhanushkodi are:
    • 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 Ramasetu or the Sethusamudram is something that can be visualized if you have a proper guide with you.
    • A drive on the asphalt road that stretches up to Dhanushkodi is something to die for. With the calm Bay of Bengal on one side and the rough Arabian sea on the other, the drive is every traveler’s delight.
    • On your return, you can cover Jada Teertha & Nambu Nayagiamman temple (both located at just a couple of kms before Dhanushkodi.
Ruins of the old church
Ruins of the old church

One hour up on our watches and we were back in the main town. We settled a deal for Rs.250 with an autorickshaw guy who would take us on a quick visit of the major places around the town. Some of the places thus covered include:

• Gandaparvatham / Rama paadam- the highest point in the island town from where one can catch a good view of the scenery around.
• Sugriva Teertha (a small pond)
• Saatchi Hanuman temple
• Bhadrakali Amman temple
• Rama Teertha
• Krishna temple
• Lakshmana Teertha
• Five-faced Hanuman temple- The floating stones used for the construction of Rama Sethu can be seen here as well.
• The house of former President of India, his honor: A.P.J. Abdul Kalam- It is now converted into a museum.

Sri Rama theertham
Sri Rama theertham

An interesting thing we noticed in the architectural style of all the structures in Rameswaram was that with the Ramanathaswamy temple being an exception, all the other temples that I have mentioned above are typically built in the Nagara style of architecture. Having covered Rama, Sugriva and Lakshmana teertha, we were curious to enquire if there was a ‘Sita Teertha’ too. Our guide cum autorickshaw driver nodded and brought us to a place on the highway. And to our dismay, he pointed to a small tank by the roadside. It was filled with green stagnant water and a good mosquito breeding ground. “Damn…!! this patriarchal Indian society…!!” I exclaimed.

We were done with local sightseeing by early evening, and still had a LOT of time left until sunset. Standing on the road bridge and peeking down at the train tug over the century old engineering marvel- Pamban was a sight not to be missed. So, we decided to head towards Pamban bridge.

Once we saw a train pass over it, we decided to stroll around a small fishing hamlet that we just across the street. We got some good clicks of the Pamban from the boat jetty in this fishing hamlet. While straying around there, my eyes fell on the light house that was located a few meters across the village. We asked for directions and reached there in less than half and hours’ time. While we waited for the gates to the lighthouse to open, we tagged along with a few kids, our new friends at the fishermen’s cove. With the kids excited to converse in English with us, we did so while taking a walk further down to the seashore. With a magnificent view of the sun setting in the backdrop of the Pamban in the distant end, we settled down under the shade of a mangrove tree until the sun went down completely.

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 seashore and found a comfortable seat for ourselves to catch some peaceful time. It was a full moon night.

On that wonderful day: We had seen the faint horizon emerge out from the pitch darkness of the sky that brightened into broad daylight with a series of color change and then the white sky of the day fade into the black of the night … And again, the night’s sky was lit up by the beautiful full moon… Yes… We had witnessed one COMPLETE day…

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

Day 3: Visit to Kurusudai island and return to Bengaluru

Based on some local contacts, we had got a last-minute permit to visit the Kurusudai island. As per the directions given, 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 another world- A world of exotic marine animals- ‘the Kurusudai island ‘. (A more elaborate article on this visit can be read by clicking here). To sum up- “We were lucky to get there”.

From Kurusudai island, we got dropped at the Pamban boat jetty. Our boat was anchored somewhere amid hundred other boats and hence, we had to walk across through knee deep sea water to get to the shore. This walking experience was unique in its own way as one doesn’t get such a sight in any other boat jetty. We had to place every step of ours’ so carefully that we did not want to accidentally step on and kill the in-numerous star fishes or sea cucumbers that were lying on the shore bed.

We walked further up to the Pamban railway station and bought our tickets for the 12.00. O’clock train to Madurai. And soon the train arrived. We boarded and our hearts were pounding hard with excitement. We had bought tickets for a train…. A train to Madurai which would actually ply over the Pamban bridge, an experience that we were waiting to live through. It was an even special ride since it was a journey over the historical Pamban bridge on its 100th year of existence. We 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 hours, we alighted at the Madurai junction… But yeah, even as I was wondering how everything went so fine through this entire trip, the surprise was waiting for us at the station- our train to Bengaluru would arrive 3hours late. And what followed is… history.

Have you visited Rameswaram? What was the purpose of your visit, Pilgrimage, family vacation or backpacking? What is your story from your visit? I would be excited to hear from you!

An Offbeat Guide of Best Things to do in Ooty

While considering Ooty to Bangalore distance, the Ooty is one of the favourite haunts for Bangaloreans, along with the people from nearby cities like Mysore, Coimbatore, Chennai etc. Popular for its well-groomed tea estates, the pleasant Ooty weather although the year has earned it the title of ‘Queen of Hills’. We were nine friends in two cars on this monsoon weekend trip to explore Ooty district. But this trip was planned by skipping all the tourist places of Ooty and exploring the lesser known corners of the district. We started from Bangalore on a Friday night at 2.00.a.m. hoping to reach Bandipur by 6.00.a.m. That’s when the forest check-post opens, and we hoped that could spot some wild animals along our way. But, due to frequent pit-stops, we made it to the check-post only by 7.00.a.m. Nevertheless, we spotted a good number of elephants, peafowls, fox, deer, sambars, wild boars etc. With so many sightings, it was quite a good start for a trip, I must say! The itinerary for our weekend is as given below.

Itinerary:

Day 0: Leave from Bangalore by night
Day 1: Explore Avalanche forest reserve, explore Ooty, stay at Masinagudi
Day 2: Trekking and other activities at Masinagudi, Wildlife safari at mudumulai forest or Bandipur range, drive back to Bangalore through Bandipur. (Visit Himavad Gopala Swamy temple, if time permits)

The details:

Part 1: Avalanche and Ooty

First in the visit list was the Avalanche, a steep & breathtaking climb of 35 hairpin bends with deep valley covered by thick white snowy clouds on one side led us to Udhagamandalam a.k.a. Ootacamund a.k.a. Ooty. Without wasting much time amidst the maddening crowd of tourists there, we drove down another set of 34 hairpin curves- 25 kms further from Ooty to reach the forest check post of Avalanche. Thick rainforests on either side, bumpy waterlogged potholes and scenic view of the Emerald dam backwaters at every turn, accompanied us all the way till the start point of the eco-tour. Once there, we hired the forest jeep for a 24 kms drive through the Shola forests- A place that was BEAUTIFUL.

Enroute to Lakdi spot @ Avalanche
Enroute to the Bhavani temple at Avalanche

On a clear day, one can see the dam from this place. If one is lucky, he could spot a leopard or an elephant on the way, we were told. Since we were there during monsoon, the thick fog made the visibility poor adding onto the adventure of our jeep ride. On this eco-tour, we visited a century old Bhavani temple, innumerous waterfalls and ended at a beautiful spot called as ‘Lakdi spot’. It had a small stream cascading down in full fury and then running through the shola grasslands surrounded all around. After spending some time there and getting all drenched, we realized that we were all wet till the bones and chattering with cold. Thus, decided to head back to our cars at the entrance.

One of the many waterfalls tucked away in the Avalanche forest
One of the many waterfalls tucked away in the Avalanche forest

From Avalanche, we commenced our drive towards our next and the main destination of the trip: “Masinagudi. Masinagudi is a part of the Mudumulai forest range, the extension of Bandipur National park (in Karnataka) towards the state of Tamil Nadu. Since Ooty is the only and the last town before heading towards the forest area, we decided to take a short break there. We filled our cars with fuel, withdrew cash from the ATM and bought some Ooty chocolates along with other essentials before heading towards the cottage we had booked for our stay. Our stay was in a private estate adjoining the forest fringes or rather say it was located within the reserve forest itself. It was late evening (already dark) by the time we reached our cottage. (NOTE: The forest check-post closes by 06.p.m)

A view of the valley from one of the hairpin bends of Ooty
A view of the valley from one of the hairpin bends of Ooty

Part 2: Masinagudi

We parked our cars at the Singara check post, beyond which the roads are drivable only with a 4WD/SUVs to reach the cottages. Two Mahindra Jeeps were arranged by the cottage guys itself. This 3 km ride from the Singara check post to our cottage was a GRAND welcome in itself: Our road was blocked by herds of elephants, bison and deer. These encounters took our excitement to a soaring high…!!

After a quick round of dinner, we all got ready for the highlight of the trip- The night safari: at 00.00 hrs. in the night, who can believe if we say we drove in an open jeep into the heart of the national park in search of a tiger that was feasting on its latest kill..?? Our safari guide and his clients had been lucky to get this rare sighting on the previous night. And once we were there in the middle of the forest, the screeching engines of our jeep halted, lights were switched off. It was a new-moon day. So, there was no moonlight even, only the open sky with the twinkling stars guided us through. The only 2 sounds we could hear were that of the orchestra of the cicadas and the pounding of our anxious hearts. What we all discovered right there, in the middle of nowhere was “ETERNAL BLISS”. Even after a thorough search through the remotest corners of the grassland, we could not find the tiger until 2.00.a.m. Although we spotted a few other animals, we were definitely sad about the fact. But the bumpy ride to the forest and back was an experience in itself that was all worth it!

Next morning, we were greeted by the excellent view of the Blue mountains (Nilgiris hills) through the window glasses. We all jumped up for the guided walk along the stream, lining the boundary of the reserve area. We captured some rare fauna like the Nilgiri langurs, Malabar grey hornbill, Malabar giant squirrel, peafowl etc. in our machine-gun-sized cameras. The climb to the tree top house is also worth a mention that gave us a good view of the forest around. It was afternoon already by then and we had to pack up for our return journey towards Bangalore.

At Bandipur National forest
At Bandipur National forest

Contrary to the normal boring return journeys when all are usually exhausted and silent, all the 9 of us were jumping off our seats every now and then, until we crossed Bandipur: We encountered at least 24 elephants including a herd with a new born, at least 20 peacocks all set to open up their feathers as it had started to drizzle, sounder of wild boars etc.

For someone who finds peace in nature, this was a magical trip! This is that ONE trip that I would love to do all over again and that time, it would be for a longer stay here… in the cradle of mother nature.