Tag Archives: travel

A roadtrip in the coffee land- Karnataka

There’s a proverb in Kannada, “Hitlu gida maddalla” meaning ‘We don’t recognize the medicinal value of plant that’s lying in our backyard’. True to this, I have been traveling and writing about beautiful places from across the country.. And suddenly I felt that I had left out to explore places in my home state itself..!! We just wanted to have a rough theme before we hit the road. What was fitting well in the time available was the coffee tour!

Karnataka produces about 51% of India’s coffee and it is all on the southern stretch of the Malnad region. The coffee grown here is highly priced in the international market owing to its better flavor as it is grown under the shade. That’s it, my brother and I pulled out dad’s bike from our cellar and decided to hit the road for a long weekend covering the entire stretch of coffee belt in Karnataka. Unlike cars, we won’t have the luxury of having a spare wheel in a 2-wheeler. Inorder to get our 125CC, 4-stoke, single cylinder, 10 year old boy running smoothly, it was necessary to give him a fine pair of CEAT tyres that could sustain our long ride on different terrain. So finally, here we go.. Our road trip along the coffee belt on the western ghats.

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On a January weekend, we rode through the finely maintained NH- through Nelmangala and Kunigal. Our first coffee stop was to sip on some caffeine from the Hassan plantations. A simple hot cuppa at a petty shop before a deviation to Shettyhalli was all that we wanted. At a distance of about 20kms from Hassan, the Rosary church at Shettyhalli stood testimony to time and silently narrated a story of a painful past. This church emerges out when the water levels in river Hemavathi recede as if playing a game of hide and seek. We spent some time admiring this architectural beauty and trying to reconstruct it’s glorious past through our imagination. We left Hassan after a sumptuous lunch at a friend’s house located in the middle of a coffee estate.

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The Rosary church at Shettyhalli. Clicking credits: Samson Joseph

As we passed through the winding roads of Chickmagalur, we were reminded that the hillstation is the birthplace of Indian coffee. Bababudangiri range is the place where coffee was first brought to India and the plantations flourished. Mullayangiri, the highest peak in Karnataka is a hotspot among trekkers. Also, being the native of the famous chain- Café Coffee day, we couldn’t help but stop over for a cup of cappuccino.. After having our dose of caffeine, we continued on the road for our night’s stay at Sringeri.

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Enroute to Chickmagalur

Next day, we set out to explore the pilgrim town of Sringeri. The Sharadamba temple is one among the 4 main Mutts established by Sri.Adi Shankaracharya. The Vidhyashankara temple on the same premises is a beautiful structure built in a combination of Hoysala and Vijayanagara style of architecture. After a small ride, we stopped by at Sri Rushyashrungeshwara swamy temple in Kigga, locally called as the God of rains. The route to our next destination- Sirimane waterfalls was a pleasant one passing through thick jungle on either sides, once notoriously famous as a haven of dacoits. Narasimha Parvata and Meghebaile waterfalls are other places of interest for the forest bums. However, we decided to spend the remaining time whiling away on the banks of river Thunga feeding the school of fishes with puffed rice.

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The Vidhyashankara temple at Sringeri

We started early the following day as we had a long route to cover and the BEST stretch of our roadtrip. We arrived early at the Kalaseshwara temple and enjoyed the serenity and oneness with nature that Kalasa town had to offer. The Breakfast served at the Annapurna temple happens to be one of the best prasadams and there was no way we were going to miss it. So we had to speed our way towards Horanadu, before the food counter closed. We then had to do a small off-roading which took us to a place of Ultra Calm- Javali in Mudigere Taluk, the birthplace of river Hemavathi.

After a refreshing break, we headed towards the next coffee hotspot. It had been an awesome ride so far and time to get our caffeine fix. We parked our bike at one of the stalls put up with a bare table and a stove serving banana fritters and our dose of Sakleshpur coffee. We then climbed up the stairs to reach the beautifully located and strategically built armoury of Tippu Sultan- Manjarabad fort. It is a multi-walled star shaped fortress and worth photographing for an aerial view. Having Shiradi ghat and Bisle ghat in the viscinity, the view from the fort is amazing!

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The Manjarabad fort

The ride has been brilliant so far and we stopped by for a picture of this solo tree standing in a serene place.

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As we continued to enjoy our ride further, god decided to add in a tinge of adventure. We lost our way and we missed a deviation.. So that’s when our CEAT tyres were put into real test. We were scared of having lost our way and running on low battery on our mobile phones. So, the video pretty much sums up our offroading tryst. However, we were fortunate to reach the main road that ran parallel to our wrong road. Astonishingly, we later got to know that the official name of that road was ‘Kundu-Rasthe’ which literally means ‘Pot-hole road’ in Kannada.

The sun was already setting and we were the last and the only people in the middle of no-where, walking down the stairs towards Mallalli waterfalls. The place was drop-dead deserted by the time we reached there. We hurriedly clicked some photographs and rode for a short coffee break at the last part of our coffee trip, entrance to Coorg or Kodagu district. Interestingly, we passed through several small towns named after the days of the week when the weekly shandy is held. Shukravarapete, ShanivaraSanthe and Somwarpet were among them.

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The Mallalli falls

So it was past 07.00.p.m. when we finally reached our ancestral home at Madikeri town. And there was no better way to be greeted at home and end the long trip than having a sinful brew of Bella kaapi of Coorg. That said, our ride on the coffee belt had come to an end.. We rode on excellent national highways, state highways and stretches with no roads.. I must mention that coffee kept us awake and the tyres kept us on track and it was a wonderful experience.

Summary: It is not an expensive car / bike you need for a wonderful trip. An efficient engine and a pair of reliable tyres is all that is required if you have a zeal to conquer the roads.. Bring it on and enjoy the ride!

‘I’m chronicling my road trip adventure for CEAT Tyres in association with BlogAdda.’

Request to all riding & driving enthusiasts:

I myself work for an automobile manufacturer and my roles include attending to quality issues of seats & airbags. I have seen tests performed on dummys for evaluation. Trust me, it is insane to imagine the impact of not wearing seat belts.

1 .Seat belts alone can reduces the risk by 60% in case of a collision. In most cars, the airbags don’t deploy unless the seatbelts are worn as they are inter-connected for the electrical system to identify the seat occupancy. So buckle up and ensure all your co-passengers too have!

2. Helmets on the other hand reduce fatal accidents by upto 60% avoiding severe head injuries. So, please invest on a quality assured helmet and strap it properly for your own safety and DO NOT look out for any cash savings by picking the one’s sold on roadside.

You may be a safe rider/driver. But you don’t know that stranger on the road.. Remember, someone is waiting back at home for your return. Please follow safety rules for their happiness. This is the least you can do!

My hotel nightmares in India.

The long list of places I’ve travelled to and stayed at have given me a new insight to life and a new outlook at seeing life through.. The journeys have been enriching and the stays have added a new dimension to the travel. From five-star luxury to shoe-string budget hostels- I’ve stayed there all. While the pleasant ones were many, there is its own share of hopelessly aweful places. So here are a few ghastly and horrendous stays I have opted for during the course of my Indian discovery.

1. It being a pleasant season in the holy town of Rameshwaram, we had checked into a decent non-AC lodge at noon. After freshening up, we went out for sightseeing and returned to our room post dinner. We unpacked all our girly goods and let most of our wet lingerie strewn out for drying. It was around mid-night and I was just about to fall asleep and my friend Madhu screamed out loud. HECK! I jumped out asking what had happened. She switched the light on and started to pick up 1,2,3.. Bedbugs! She was allergic to them and the rashes had spread across her body. We spoke to the hotel manager and he arranged for an alternate room which he claimed would be good due to A/C facility. While we moved in our luggage and shut the doors, my friend lifted the bed to just reconfirm that everything was alright. Alas! More bedbugs were partying around the hemline.. We ran to the reception and asked them to give a permanent solution. They somehow managed to arrange a room in a nearby hotel after having themselves confirmed the room quality. So the next thing we were found doing was- Two girls walking the empty streets of Rameshwaram at well past midnight with half zipped backpacks, untied shoes in our feet, wet lingerie hanging out of the luggage, random plastic bags on both hands and anxious faces searching for a place to spend the night.. It was almost dawn by the time we settled down in the alternate accommodation provided.

2. We can’t blame anyone for this one- there was nothing else for us to expect while being stranded in the middle of a winter trek and the night temperature at 25 below zero!! We were at Leh town in Ladakh. No plumbing would work in that part of the world in that season for obvious reasons. We found ourselves in a homestay where we had to fetch water to do our daily chores. We had to break through the frozen layer of ice just so, that we could get half a bucket of hot (warm) water from the bottom of the same drum placed on fire. The bathroom waste was collected in containers which would overflow now and then making us want to throw-up very often.

3. The overly broken plumbing of the Chidambaram lodge is something that tops the list. It was a place that changed my mind to cutting-short my week long trip on just the 2nd day and making me want to go back home ASAP.. As if the stench from the nearby gutter, the smell of alcohol from the adjacent rooms and the super dirty bed covers weren’t enough, the washroom was moss covered and the faucet rusted as if it would break if operated… And to top it all, We stepped on someone’s barf that was spewed up on the stairs.. YUCK!! This has really given me strong reasons to have apprehensions towards online hotel booking based on guest reviews..

4. This one was a highly recommended budget stay option at Panchgani. It used to be a school hostel until being converted to a hotel which has hosted several movie shoots in the past. After hearing positive reviews, we two girls were surprised to find that the property seemed rather deserted when we arrived there. We were the only guests and that too on a weekend.. Although the room seemed decent for the tariff quoted, we still had some apprehensions for being the only people and our safety.. Just when we were in the process of decision making, both our eyes were caught by some strange thing just a little outside our hostel room.. Some white fur like stuff hung out of a large boiler sort of an equipment. We kind of panicked and asked the warden what that was. He told us it was a water boiler and the hard water had deposited along with some insulating material on the top. It definitely looked strange and scary. We did feel that it was a dog inside the boiler and it was their long furry tail hanging out of the barrel.. If it was our imagination, it is so not possible that both of us had the same thought.. We stared at each other and rushed out of the place without any further discussion..

5. So after a nightmare-ish pursuit of an accommodation, we finally checked into a hotel that evening at Panchgani. Everything was fine until my friend came out running from the bathroom. When asked what happened, she anxiously pointed out at the bucket placed under a running tap with a blood red liquid! The bucket was half full already with what seemed like blood.. I ran down to the reception and they came upstairs to check for facts from our bathroom :p They realized that it was rust particles from the overhead metal tank and pipes due to hardwater being constantly heated. We were somehow convinced with the explanation given, but I had no courage to continue to bathe in that water. However, to our rescue the water from other taps seemed to have a normal colour and we completed our basic chores…!!

Summary:

Do not suggest hotels, places and dishes/food to anybody. The choices and preferences vary from each person based on their character, mood, budget etc. Avoid being blamed later!

Experiencing the warmth of Khasi hospitality in Cherrapunjee

I could not express better than these lines picked up from a website, “If the Raindrops elevate your mood, clouds stir your senses and rainbow brings out childlike pleasure in you, then don’t hold yourself back. We are taking you to the abode of clouds-Meghalaya; where rain weaves a magical spell, spellbinding beauty haunts your senses and you witness nature at its best. Witness the monsoon magic, majestic waterfalls, live root bridges and more…” and one can go to no better place than Sohra fondly called Cherrapunjee to experience all of that Meghalaya has to offer in a small place.

This post is part of my fortnight long road trip across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had tagged along with two other travelers and drove around the state of Meghalaya in a self-drive car hired at Shillong. The places visited in Meghalaya include Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong.

Our Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive from Shillong / Smit; Wahkabah waterfall, Arwah or Lumshynna caves, Nohkalikai waterfalls, seven sister / Nongsthiang falls (Night’s stay at a local homestay)
Day 2: Tyrna village, Nongriat trek (Double decker rootbridge & Rainbow falls), Mawsmai cave/Krem Phyllut, Ummunoi root bridge at Laitkynsew village (Night camping at Nohkalikai)
Day 3: Dianthlen waterfall trek, Sohra market, Ramakrishna mission, Mawkdok valley, Thangkharang park, Moktrop rock; journey towards Mawlynnong.

The Details:

Like most tourists, we started our day early from Shillong via Smit. To differ from the rest, we had a self-drive car at our disposal so that we had the liberty to stop whenever and wherever we wanted. The drive route was mostly untouched and its rustic charm kept us excited all through as this route is less treaden by the tourists. Pine plantations, lesser explored waterfalls nestled away from the main road, well groomed vegetable farms, hay shacks were a common thing for us while we had stopped atleast 100 times for photos.

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A reservoir enroute to Cherrapunjee

As we approached Sohra, we stopped at several view points, Wahkabah waterfall being one among them. India’s longest cave and the most numbers of limestone caves in one place happens to be in Meghalaya and hence Meghalaya is a haven for cave explorers. Our first stop at Sohra was at the Arwah or Lumshynna caves. Relatively smaller compared to the other caves in the viscinity, but is tucked away in a gorgeous location overlooking the deep valley with the Nongsthiang waterfalls.

After a brief visit, we headed towards our next stop: Plunging down from a height of over 1100 feet, Nohkalikai is the highest waterfall in India. We trekked down the steps and a little beyond into the bushes and enjoyed the rare views of the waterfall away from the reaches of normal tourist. There is an option to camp at the Eco park, over the seven sister / Nongsthiang falls. But we decided against it as the place is filled with backpackers and would’ve been too clumsy for us, we were someone who wanted a peaceful place away from the crowd.

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The Nohkalikai falls

Pitching a tent in Sohra requires prior permission from 4 different authorities: the land owner, the Siam of the village, the local government body and the police. In search of a nice place to pitch our tents, we took help of one of a local Khasi friend. With the local connect, our quest to find a piece of land to pitch a tent ended up more like an exploration of Sohra. We could go to some of the untouched places and sunset views that was completely out-of-reach from typical travellers. We were taken to remote places like banks of a small river, a cliff off-a-small hillock, plains overlooking massive gorges, cement factory backyards among other places. With the sun-going down early in this part of the world, we had very little time in hand and insufficient preparation for the night’s camping.

We finally ended up staying with a Khasi family in a local homestay located amid a serene location. The stay however was the highlight of our day: the warm hospitality of the Khasis is something that will never let one regret their choice of stay. Our host at the homestay, accompanied us for dinner and for a drink as we got discussing everything from Khasi culture, ceremonies, politics, sports, tourism et all under the sky, a clear night’s sky. With no pollution in the atmosphere, my friend helped me to identify several constellations from the place that was brilliant for star gazing. It was an unforgettable night for us with the Khasi family.

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The village settlements around our homestay

Next day, we drove to places around Cherrapunjee including the villages of Tyrna, Nongriat, Mawsmai cave/Krem Phyllut, Laitsynkew to explore the living root bridges which was an activity from dawn to dusk! We got in touch with a local guide ‘Mr.Paradise’, who then arranged for our camping in the Nohkalikai village for the night. It was yet another wonderful night spent with new Khasi friends, as we enjoyed Khasi music, the enriching conversation with Paradise and his friends about the Khasi culture. We gained insights about their customs, religious practices, respect for people, nature’s love among many other things. It was a long night under the starry sky with only my friends, Paradise’s friends, myself and the campfire! Suddenly, while the last bit of the firewood was being lit and just before the night broke into dawn, the skies of Meghalaya had shown their power. It poured cats and dogs for the rest of the night, with thunder storm and lightning. We sheltered ourselves inside our tents while I continued to shiver with cold.

At dawn’s break on the following morning, the skies had seemed to have mellowed down and we stepped out of our tents only to be awed by the beautiful sun rising over India’s highest waterfall! Yeah, Meghalaya has been wonderful to us all this while and this was another new day in this ‘land of clouds’. While we had planned a short trek across the Dianthlen falls, the rain gods continued to lash throughout the day.
Cherrapunjee is the wettest part of the world. So, what’s the whole point if one doesn’t experience the rains here, right? We walked in the places around Dianthlen falls and enjoyed the rains for some wild fun but getting drenched till our bones.

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One of the suspension bridges on the way to Dianthlen falls

It was already noon and we couldn’t cover the other few places as planned in Cherrapunjee because of the poor visibility due to heavy rains. Anyway, speculating no possibilities for any improvement in the weather conditions, we decided to drive to our next destination- the Jaintia hills district.

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The rain fed roads of Cherrapunjee

While the warmth of the very hospitable Khasis has still left me in awe and amusement, I’d like to end this note here with these lines:

Even then, goodbye dear Cherra, and your rain goodbye.
For my life is yonder, though my love is here.”

-Karavan, Stokholm, Sweden

A walk in God’s own garden- Mawlynnong

“The Soul of India is in its villages”.

-Gandhiji

Sometimes, it is not about the place.. It is about the people that brings you closer.. And that’s precisely my take on this little quaint village called Mawlynnong.. After a refreshing drive through some breathtaking views and best roads of India, we had alighted at ‘God’s Own garden’ nestled deep in the East Khasi hills of Meghalaya. Although it is being largely promoted by the Meghalaya Tourism Department(MTD) as Asia’s cleanest village after being awarded so by the ‘Discover India Magazine’ in 2003, I feel it holds a different charm in it with the warmest people I have met so far!

This post is part of my fortnight long road trip across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had tagged along with two other travelers and drove around the state of Meghalaya visiting Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong.

Tourists flock to this place in large numbers just because they have heard about it in MTD handouts. These senseless creatures litter the place extensively with chocolate wrappers, chips sachets etc. all strewn around this supposedly cleanest village they have come to see.. But, the humble villagers watch on with a smile and pick up these wastes themselves and put them in the cane trash bins places visibly infront of every household in the village, thus keeping up to its reputation of being clean!

Things to see in Mawlynnong:

• Inside Mawlynnong village: The old church, floating stone, the water shed and the Bangladesh view point.
• 1 kilometer away: Riwai village (Living root-bridge)

The Details:

I walked around the laid back lanes of the village exploring the old church, the floating stone and the water shed maintained by the villagers. The flowers lining the fences of each household added myriad hues to the green village and grey of the cloudy sky.. I climbed up the skywalk laid up with bamboo and cane that threw up a nice view overlooking the plains of Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh view point at Mawlynnong
The Skyview bridge at Mawlynnong

Finally, I settled down at a locally run restaurant for a cup of chai to beat the chills of the cloudy weather. I caught up on a conversation with a pretty Khasi lady draped in her Asiangyake (the traditional dress of the Khasi women also called Dhara). While she helped me to memorise a few words in her dialect, I learnt about the Khasi culture and customs. Being a matrilineal society, women are respected and are given the preference to choose her husband-to-be. It is considered a bad omen, if a man proposes to a woman.

While she was attending to other customers at the restaurant, I called out for ‘Oikong’ (Khasi alternative for addressing ‘Didi’ in other parts of northern India) to help me with some Soh (Khasi for fruit). “Ohhhh” A voice filled with humility came in response… She then sat down with me and prepared a plate of pineapple seasoned with salt and flakes of the ‘Bhut Jholokias’ (the spiciest chilli in the world). It was one of the best snack I had in years!

I then walked down to the playground where some local kids were playing. They seemed excited to meet me, talk in English and pose for a few candid photos. It was a warm and a very pleasant evening for me. There is nothing in particular in this village to see or do.. Yet, the nomad in me strongly intended to stay there for an extra day. There are homestays that are available where the warmth of the Khasi hospitality can be experienced.

Kids playing on the lanes of Mawlynnong

I would recommend an early morning walk to Riwai village that helps you avoid the chaotic tourists who flock in later during the day. At a distance of about 1km before Mawlynnong, is the most easily accessible living root bridge and hence, a lot of visitors throng down. So after a nice walk, savouring a nice Khasi breakfast and lemon tea, it was time to pack bags to head out to my next destination- Dawki: the last village of Meghalaya on the Indian border!

The church at Mawlynnong
The church at Mawlynnong

Request to tourists:

Please remember that the sole reason that you are at Mawlynnong is to see how ‘Asia’s cleanest village’ looks like. How on earth will you ever feel like littering such a place? Do you want to see if you can take off the ‘Cleanest’ tag from the place? Or do you want to just prove that you are only an uncultured educated rich person who could afford enough money to tour the North-east India? Ask yourself… Be sensible and responsible!

A day out at the Khasi cultural centre- Smit

This post is part of my fortnight long road trip across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had planned to visit Shillong – Smit – Cherrapunjee – Mawlynnong – Dawki – Ribhoi- Shillong during my weeklong stay in Meghalaya.

I had decided to explore some places all by myself and Smit happens to be one of them. After seeing some spellbinding photos on the internet, I wanted to visit the Laitlum valley as well. Although there are public buses from Shillong to Smit, the connectivity further to Laitlum isn’t great. This is where one needs to have a travel arrangemtn of their own, or in my case: to hitch a ride to reach Laitlum. Since it was my first day in the state, I did not want to get too adventurous for being alone. That’s why, I hired a taxi from Police bazaar (in Shillong) to Laitlum.

This drive was very refreshing for me, whose mind was cluttered by all the madness of traffic, pollution and work tension back in the metropolis (Bengaluru). I was requesting my driver to stop the car after every other kilometer to capture the seducing beauty of the place with my not-so-good camera. The bamboo trees and terrace lands with potato farms, all added charm to the landscape that was very beautiful even otherwise. To add to the pleasure of the drive, I was having a good conversation with the driver as well. Althiugh I had hired a personal taxi, I did not mind to let a few locals into the car when the driver asked me if I could allow them. Given the remoteness of places and the scarce connectivity through transposration, I had absolutely no problem with offering a ride. The next thing I experienced was that there were atleast 50 passengers hopping on and off at every stretch for their ride. And would you know what was exciting for me? All locals who boarded the car used to get overly excited about meeting a foreigner (Yeah… That’s what they called me!).

Smit is an old rustic town and the cultural centre of the East Khasi hills, but there isn’t much in this town apart from the Siam’s house. A road flanked with well groomed pine trees lead to the Khasi Raja’s palace. The Raja or the head of the clan is called ‘Siam’ and he lives in the same premises. However, the wooden palace is used only on special occasions when there will be large tribal congregations, like the Nongkrem festival for example. This typical Khasi styled wooden house is said to have been constructed with zero iron nails and only wood for all joints. Although I met the Siam, he did not seem to be a photo friendly person when I asked for permission to photograph his little children.

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The Siam’s house at Smit

We then drove to Laitlum valley, located at about 5kms ahead of Smit. It was an offbeat drive through the rarest stretches of countryside. We passed by a lot of school kids who were on their way to school. Few were happy waving at me while a few were busy pranking at their pals as they walked. Having been born and raised in a small town myself, it was a flashback of typical childhood days in a rural setup. There were a couple of school teachers in my backseat, chatting happily with me and patiently waiting in the car while I would get down to take photos. Overall, it was a very pleasant drive until we reached the Laitlum gate. While the driver wanted to sit back in the car, he asked me to enjoy the view and return.

I was the only person amid the green scintillating valley until I walked down and saw 2 local boys cleaning the pristine place. They had already parked aside 4-5 sacks full of waste. When I spoke to them, they told me that they came there every morning before leaving for school, to pick up plastics left behind by the previous day’s tourists. While it was a heartfelt respect for these boys for doing their bit to save earth without having any expectations of monetary gain, it was a subtle slap on my face because I too represented the tourists who unmindfully damage the same earth in the name of travel and enjoyment.

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The Laitlum valley

I walked down to the cliff and stood in amazement at the beauty that the place beheld. While I was standing on the brink on a large flat rock, it felt like I was the only person in the whole wide beautiful world. The gentle winds kissed my cheeks and the chirping bird was a welcome guest. There were several waterfalls flowing down the valley gracefully at a distance… Then there were a few villagers who appeared to be popping out of the deep valley beneath. They seemed to be friendly and told me that their village was located far down the valley and they had to climb up each time to meet their basic life requirements, trade their farm products etc.

There is a cable car made of bamboo which will be dropped down and pulled up for old people and goods, but their daily commutation is by foot most of the time. I grew curious and my feet dragged me down the stones that were laid on the path to the village. The beauty of the 360 degree greenery and the fresh air had already cleansed my mind off half my worries and tension by the time I clocked the distance to the village. There is a small stream, a church and a few huts in this little fairy tale village nestled deep down the valley. And the villagers I met on my way enriched me with the simplicity and contentment in life. After a good walk down the beautiful valley of Mawkeynrew, my tummy had started to call out for me. I savoured the plantains offered to me by the villagers and unwillingly decided to climb back.

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The bamboo cable car and the village below

Once I reached the top, I finally sat down at a small hut like stall at the valley gate that had opened by that time. It was run by a lady who couldn’t understand what I was trying to communicate in English. her little son helped me with a cup of lemon tea in English before running to school. The lady there could not understand anything other than Khasi language and I didn’t know that. In spite of the language barrier, we both soon became friends and managed to communicate with hand signs. She cooked maggi noodles and Jadoh with chicken curry for breakfast while I was eagerly waiting for my first Khasi meal. Jadoh is a traditional Khasi meal where rice is cooked with chicken blood instead of water. It was one of the most relishing and sumptuous maggi noodles I had eaten before! What made the meal so special was not that I found it in a no-man’s land or at an extremely low price. It was something that I would travel back again all the way for the humility and dollops of warmth with which the meal was served to me.

She cut a pomello fruit and mixed it with chilly powder and packed it for my road.. With a heart full of gratitude, I bid goodbye to this new Khasi friend of mine!

Kublei Shiboon,
Hitha.

Tracing the abode of celestial congregation- Kollur

While I was flipping through old photos of my college days, I was taken back in time to this so-called ‘Industrial trip’. This class trip consisted of trekking, pilgrimage, beaching and lastly, not to forget our industrial visit (only If time permitted, that was!). Basically, it was less of industries and more of place hopping. So here goes the first part of the so called ‘Not-so-Industrial-Trip’.

Although I had walked for miles to reach places during my school days, this was my first ‘Official’ trek! A trek in the ‘Kodachadri hills’ in Malnad region of the western ghats.. After a really long bus journey, we alighted at the Nittoor forest checkpost late in the evening. We got the permits at the forest checkpost for the night’s camping ahead, at the old forest guesthouse. We parked our bus there and got into the 4WD jeeps that were waiting for us since early evening. There is NO road from Nittor to the guest house and is only a muddy pathway. And in monsoon, it makes way for a deep trench kinda massive slush pool. This stretch can be covered by various modes based on each person’s interest. You can walk up or drive or ride.. The more adventurous people choose the latter; cycling comes with the greatest challenge. We chose the safest- The 4WD. But, driving through such terrain calls for great skill of steering control, lest have at least 7-8 people thrown off the road. That said, it was a crazy drive up the hill, until we reached the guesthouse in the darkness of 10~11.00.p.m.

After reaching the guesthouse, we could barely stand because of the strong winds. So, you can only imagine our next task of pitching tents.. We called off the idea of camping under the moonlight as we struggled to even hold the tents firmly in our hands. The winds were so strong. That’s when we had to camp indoors, at the guesthouse 😛 We had only a roof above us and no mats or sleeping bags. So we decided to pitch the tents inside the guesthouse hall for the rest of the night.

We woke up early next morning and started our hike up the Kodachadri hill. Our hike mainly consisted of two target activities- one was to reach the Shankaracharya mantapa at the peak, for sunrise and the second was to take a shower in the Hidlumane waterfall. We did not hire a guide as the organisers claimed their familiarity with the route. The sight all the way till the mantapa was beautiful and the sunrise and the Arabian Sea at the distant horizon just added up to the view! The climb was great, giving us an eyeful of the valley that was in all bloom with colourful wild flowers. After a brief walk, we reached the Mantapa. After spending some time at the peak, we readied ourselves for the descent.

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The Kodachadri hills- Overlooking the Arabian sea

The descend was towards the waterfall. With the descending gradient, we slipped, jumped down, clung onto wild creepers in the event of finding our way to the waterfall amidst the thicket of the forest. Somewhere, we had already started to realize that we were lost in the forest. The thumb rule of finding the way out of a forest is to follow a flowing water body. The organisers followed the sound of flowing water and we followed the organisers. We stopped by at a small cave like structure enroute, where someone had installed an idol of Lord Ganesha and offered some flowers. We prayed for our safe exit out of the forest and continued with our pursuit of the waterfall. So we finally reached at the source of the flowing water!

Sure it was a waterfall.. But ain’t the mighty one that we had thought it would be. It was a stream that was directed to a storage tank by the localites and the tank was overflowing forming a waterfall!! Neither the organisers nor the others knew how to react at our misadventurous pursuit. But we were all happy that we had found some pure water where we could fill our water bottles and ease ourselves out of the tiring hike that we had been through so far! We were now sure that the tank was there for a purpose and the pipe attached would lead us back to base point. And the descent continued, along the same stream to the base.

There is a small temple dedicated to Mookambika Devi at the base. It is believed to be the original temple that is tagged to the legend of Shankaracharya’s installation of the idol at Kollur. We reached the priest’s house near the temple where we had a simple-wholesome breakfast. After packing our stuffs from the guesthouse, it was time for us to head out to our next destination: Kollur.

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A view of the Arabian sea from the Kodachadri peak

People who prefer to trek further, can cover the Agnitheertham waterfalls enroute to Kollur Mookambika temple. But, having had enough in the quest of a waterfall, we decided to take the bus route. The bumpy drive continued until we reached Kollur, the small temple town known for the Mookambika temple, one of the Shakti peethas. This temple is said to have been developed by the Keladi rulers later in time so that pilgrims don’t have to trek up the overlooking Kodachadri hills to worship the goddess. Another legend has it that Lord Shiva appeared before Sage Kola and agreed to be present there in the form of Linga with his consort Devi. Along with Shiva and Parvathi, all other gods and goddesses are believed to be residing in a non-form in the Linga. Hence, Kollur is referred as ‘an abode of the entire celestial congregation’. We took a little time to offer our prayers and admire this beautiful little temple built in the typical Kerala style of architecture. Post that, we proceeded to the forest guest house where we had our stay booked for the night.

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The forest guesthouse

The forest guest house is located in a serene location in the middle of the ‘Mookambika wildlife sanctuary’ and on the banks of river Sowparnika. With banks I mean, just a couple of steps lie in between the guesthouse and the river. This river is frequented by spotted deers & leopards to drink water. And we were told that just the previous morning, a tiger was spotted on the same steps that we were standing on, at that time! The river flowed gracefully with the crystal clear water and the school of fishes enjoying their swim in between the tree roots that grew beneath. It was a SPECIAL place to go back again indeed! We cherished every moment of our stay there while being in harmony with nature in its purest form.

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The Idol of Mookambika being taken out as a part of the daily ritual

Soon, the dawn broke the next morning awakening us to another day reminding us of our journey to the next destination- Bhadravathi. It was the last day of our tour and that meant we had to do the most important part of this trip ‘Our Industrial visit’! That’s for another story altogether…

Kanchipuram- Beyond its sarees

The first thing that hits your mind when you hear this city’s name are its Silk sarees. The Kanjeevaram or Kanchi silk sarees define a sense of style, gorgeousness, elegance, classy and royalty. But what goes rather un-noticed is the fact that Kanchipuram is also called as a ‘City of temples’. Despite, being the erstwhile capital of the Pallavas, the influences of Pandyas, Cholas, Hoysalas and Vijayanagaras can also be significantly observed in the artistic structures constructed across the city. Also, it is noteworthy that the influences in temple architecture are across different sects of faiths. The City of Kanchi can be broadly classified into three- Shiva Kanchi-the holy land of the Shaivaites, the Vishnu Kanchi- the holy land of the Vaishnavaites and the Jaina Kanchi- the holy land of the Jains. Kanchipuram is known to be a land of 108 ancient temples, all unique in their own way. Beyond its world-famous handloom, the sculptures, architecture, classical dance, music and all those traditional art forms of Kanchi puts up the city high up on centers of history and heritage on the map of India. That’s why I like to call Kanchipuram as ‘an abode of the trio- Art, culture and history’.

When my mom planned to buy some drapes from the local weavers of Kanchi, I chanced upon the opportunity to explore this city, beyond its sarees and handlooms. Obviously, one day wouldn’t be sufficient if I had to visit each of these 108 temples and hence, made a list of 10 temples based on their mythological importance. Given that I’m mostly a public transport dependent creature, the ease of commutation was also a factor considered while making my list. We boarded on an overnight bus from Bangalore to Kanchipuram.

As we alighted at Kanchipuram bus terminus, we were greeted by the drizzling rain. Usually, the autorickshaws work this way in this city. You tell them the purpose of your visit and they will plan and handle the entire itinerary for you. Thus, we hired an autorickshaw and that sorted our transportation for the entire duration of our visit around the city. Our auto driver took us to a travellers’ dormitory where we freshened up quickly and then headed to the first temple on my list.

1. Kanchi Kamakshiamman temple: The timing of our visit was important and we wanted to reach there before sunrise. This is one of the Shakthi peethas in India. The prayers in all other temples in Kanchi starts only after prayers are offered here. Unlike any other temples in India, the first pooja to the presiding deity is offered by an elephant and a cow in the sanctorum here. The positive energy we felt in witnessing the ritual was enough to keep us going for at least another week ahead.

The entrance of Kanchi Kamakshiamman temple

2. Next up was a quick visit to Adi Kanchi temple, a relatively smaller of the 3 main temples dedicated to Parvathi in Kanchi. But, this place is considered a must if one is on a pilgrimage in Kanchipuram.

3. Adjacent to the Adi Kanchi temple is the Kumarakottam- Murugan Swami temple. It is believed that Lord Bramha was imprisoned by Murugan at this place and later released with Shiva’s interference. The temple is known for the idol in the Soma Skanda posture.

4. Ekambareshwara temple: This is the biggest temple in the city. I’d need a separate post altogether to write about the significance of this temple alone. But, the primary reason for me to include this temple in my itinerary is the fact that this is one of the Panchabhuta sthalas of Shiva’s manifestations. The linga here is made up of sand and hence represents Prithvi or the element ‘Earth’. This majestic temple complex houses a very sacred mango tree at its centre, whose 4 branches are believed to represent 4 vedas that gives its name to the temple. Each branch bears mangoes of four different tastes(sweet, sour, bitter and spicy) in the 4 seasons. The special souvenir that I take back from Kanchi was not a saree, but a priceless green leaf that withered off from this holy tree right there, as if the tree was communicating with me.. I was quick to pick it up and wrap it carefully to be kept in my handbag.

Under the mango tree at the Ekambareshwara temple

5. Next was the Varadaraja Perumal temple. We had to stand in a really long queue to get a glimpse of the main deity seated atop the elephant hill. As if this wasn’t enough, another long queue to get to touch the sculptures of the holy lizards. These metal lizards are believed to have been installed by lord Indra after he was released of the curse by goddess Saraswati. It is also believed that people who touch these 2 lizard sculptures (Golden lizard representing the sun and the silver lizard representing the moon) will be relieved of all sins that are associated with lizards. Another specialty of this temple is the fact that the wooden idol of lord Vishnu is kept deep down inside a 3 tiered well that in turn is in between a large pond at the temple entrance. The idol is taken out only once in 40 years for pooja offerings. (The latest, this festival was held was in 2019). I would recommend you to hire a guide at this complex so that you can get a better insight into the intricacies of the ornate pillars adorning a 100 pillared hall. You can find sculptures of vivid yogic postures, representation of usage of arms and ammunitions in ancient battles, musical pillars etc. which explains the rich heritage of Indian art, history and science.

A mural at Varadaraja Perumal temple

Thus, with Kamkshiamman temple, Ekambareshwar temple and the Varadaraja Perumal temple, we had completed the mumurthivasam- or the abode of the trio in Kanchipuram.

6. Just a few meters away from there is the Ulagalandar temple, primarily constructed by the Cholas. Here, Vishnu is celebrated in his Trivikrama pose or the Vamana Avatar. The main idol is a massive 30+ feet tall and the devotees can see only the legs of the Vamana moorthi. The temple itself is small but an important one for pilgrims on the Divyadesams circuit.

7. Further from here, is the Kacchappa Eshwarar temple. Here, Vishnu is seen in his Kuruma avatar or the Tortoise form, worshipping Lord Shiva.

8. We did a quick stopover at Vaikunta Perumal temple or the Tiruparameshwara Vinnagaram, another among the 108 divyadesams. The temple houses lord Vishnu in 3 different postures- sitting, lying and standing. The corridors are decorated with fine carvings from Ramayana and Mahabharatha and fine stone pillars around the sanctorum.

9. The Kailasanathar temple needs a special mention. This temple dating back to the Pallava period, is located slightly on the outskirts and hence away from the regular tourists / pilgrim circuit. It is an entire complex of intricate artwork sculpted on limestone. Although a board claims it to be a protected monument, most of the statues have eroded over time and needs maintenance. Yet, this place has a very powerful force to draw art lovers and travelers looking for an offbeat experience. One really needs to spend lot of time here to appreciate the intricacies with which legends and mythological episodes have been carved out. Don’t miss to spot the statue of laughing Parvathi and Shiva performing the thandava here.

The Kailasanathar temple

10. There is also the Vijayaraghava Perumal temple at about 7kms from the city center. It is one of the 108 divyadesams of Rama where he is believed to have performed the funeral rites of Jatayu- The vulture friend. Since the vulture(Pul) was burried in a pit(Kuli), this place is also called Thiruputkuli.

Not only Hinduism, the city is an important place for the Jains too.. Bonus for your temple tour, if you have some more time left with you. You can include the Trilokyanatha & Chandraprabha twin temples dedicated to lord Mahaveer at Tirupparuthikkundram. It has inscriptions belonging to Pallavas, Cholas and the Vijayanagara periods. I’m told that the place houses beautiful paintings of these periods but lies in utter neglect. The place is frequented by fewer tourists and more vandals, gamblers and hawkers.

Enroute, we passed through ‘Kanchi Kudil’- an old traditional house that has now been converted to a museum that exhibits the rich Tamilian tradition.

But well, Saree shopping was why the entire visit to Kanchipuram was prepensed at the first place. Hence off we were, on a handloom ciurcuit. Our driver took us through the narrow bylanes of Kanchi to some of the finest weavers and their handloom workshops. A spectrum of colours, heavy brocades, golden zaris , heavy pattu sarees… we were spoilt for choices… We thanked our driver Mr.Ravi heartily for taking us around the city and bearing with us so patiently as we hopped from one shop to another. We picked up some beautiful sarees in silk and cotton and returned to Bangalore in an evening bus.

Thus, ended an eventful weekend…. 🙂

A Buffalo Valentine at Kambala

14-Feb-2016

The air painted red with romance and roses, the atmosphere illuminated with candles and balloons.. Couples holding hands out on dates- both young and old…. That’s the scene in rest of the world on that day.. But for me, Valentine’s day was an unusual form of celebration amid the Tulu-Naadu people. It was a celebration of folk culture and a celebration of earth’s gifts. While in some parts, it is the celebration post harvest, yet in other parts it is a celebration to commence the sowing season for the next crop. The Dakshina Kannada region, fondly called ‘Tulu-Nadu’ was a place where love and war co-existed on that day.. LOVE for a sport of thousands of passionate spectators and a WAR of prestige for hundreds of participating landlords. And amid all pomp and pride, a buffalo soldier fights it out in glory thus emerging as the showstopper..!!

A rickshaw ride from the Mangalore city centre traversed through some Kuccha roads, then across a highway and completely off-road to reach the banks of river Nethravati. Coconut tree lined mud road flanked with dozens of anchored fishing boats on the river bank ended straight at the arena where the big-event was set to take place. As I stood amid thousands of spectators in the gallery, the air felt heavy with anxiety. The show-stealers of the day walked down the ramp(Read it the slush pool) one-by-one to take their places and get set for their D-day. A day where all the effort and hard-work of hundreds of buffalo owners will be put to test. It was time to score off ‘Kambala’ from my bucket list when I decided to spend my weekend at ‘Joppinamogaru Kambala-2016’ in the coastal stretches of Mangalore.

Click here for weekend destination for you

The ‘Raging bull’, the ’Buffalo skinned’ are idioms that we commonly refer to humans as expressions of exasperation. But when all the action brings forth the literal sense of these words- The event happens to be ‘Kambala’. Kambala is a sport where He-buffaloes are made to run on a mud filled slush track to reach the ‘Nishana’ or the finishing post. In the modern races, there are usually two tracks running parallel and thus called ‘Jodu Kare’ or ‘pair of tracks’. Each track is given a name so that it becomes easy to communicate in events where both the tracks are being used. In Joppinamogaru, the tracks are called Jaya kare and Vijaya kare. A coin is tossed for the team to choose the track. As loud drums beats and hoot sound of the timekeeper goes out, the whip lash of the runner crackles in the air before it hits the buffalo and the action finally takes off… The soldiers begin the battle..

There are different forms of kambala. Firstly, the Negilu category- Here, a representation of a plough is attached to the buffaloes which has evolved over period of modernisation. This is a race mostly for the younger buffaloes. Usually two pairs of buffaloes are made to run at a time and the fastest of the two is considered for the consecutive rounds.

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Negilu Kambala

Hagga kambala- This form is similar to the Negilu kambala, only difference being that the negilu or the plough is replaced by a hagga or a rope. Both these forms of the sport requires a great deal of stamina for the runner as he too is expected to run as fast as the buffaloes.

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Hagga Kambala

Adda halage kambala- This is a category mainly for the senior buffaloes(decided by age). A cross wooden plank is attached to the buffaloes on which the driver stands firmly and controls the speed and direction of the buffaloes to reach the Nishana. This is mostly a time based event where one pair runs at a time and the fastest pair is awarded.

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A pair of buffaloes getting ready to run the Adda Halage Kambala

Kane halage kambala- In this form, a round wooden plank with two holes is tied to the buffalo pair and the driver stands on it to control them. Two strips of white cloth are tied across the track which are used for measurement of the height of water spurt. One cloth is tied at a height of 7.5kolu(9.37mts) and the other at 6.5kolu(8.125mts). Faster the pair runs, higher the water spurts out of the holes on the plank. Here, one pair runs at a time and is specific to the senior buffalo category. It is very difficult to run at the expected speed and hence every team that spurts high enough to wet the cloth is awarded unlike the other forms.

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Kane Halage Kambala

With a history of over 500years, the event is a treat to watch the enthusiasm and the energy of the participants and the spectators. However, it is heart wrenching at the same time to see the welts and the swollen bruises on the buffaloes as a result of continuous whip lashing. For this reason, Kambala has been in the radar of seeing a ban for a while now as demanded by several animal rights activists. We don’t know what the future beholds, but one MUST experience the vibrance of India’s rich folk culture in all forms before its name joins the pages of history..

A Not so Blissful Trip to the City of Eternal Bliss- Chidambaram

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

As per this, we left Bangalore on a Sunday night in a bus and decided to explore further at our own pace, using public transport and staying at places with bookings made on the go. Plan was all set. But well, with a small glitch. We assumed that the monsoon season was the same in the entire southern India. But what we hadn’t taken into consideration was the fact that Tamil Nadu doesn’t come under the south-western monsoon. Hence, the monsoon peaks (with north-east winds) after the season ends in its neighboring states. So, we were now on an exploration of Tamil Nadu in October, during the peak of its monsoon season! Anyway, with its share of travel miseries, poor planning gave us the benefit of experiencing a different kind of backpacking.

Firstly, we explored Kumbakonam, a place which is often spoken less about on a typical tourist’s circuit. It was a wonderful experience to explore a place that is soaked in history and RICH architectural heritage, mostly from the Chola era. (This is elaborated in a separate post, click here to read). From Kumbakonam, our next planned destination for a major halt was the place that’s is often referred as ‘a city of eternal bliss’. But our experience was as unblissful as it could get, even as we wished to get a glimpse of the deity of a temple whose manifestation is revered to be as one of the five elements of life- ‘Space’. I would like to elaborate this trip for my readers to get a wholesome idea of our visit to this city was like for us!

With incessant rains, our mobile-phone network had been patchy. On day 2 at Kumbakonam, we received a call from our parents who had been trying to get in touch with us since the previous night. They informed us about the alert issued by the Met. Department. We checked online and confirmed the news about the weather forecast of cyclone- Roanu and a deep depression in the Bay of Bengal. We were asked not to venture near the seacoast. Our intended trip itself was supposed to be along the Coromandel coast- including Cuddalore and Pondicherry. Since the day was bright, we did not take our Met.dept. seriously and decided to take a chance by continuing with the plan from Kumbakonam.

With a visit to the Brihadeeshwara temple at Gangaikondacholapuram (another of the three living Chola temples), we boarded a bus to Mannarkudi. From Mannarkudi, we were supposed to take another bus towards our next planned destination: Chidambaram. However, the conductor informed us that the road beyond Mannarkudi was blocked since the previous night due to an uprooted tree. Although the tree was cleared, he wasn’t sure if the route was worthy for us to go. Without really understanding the seriousness of his advice, we boarded an overly priced private bus which ferried us to Chidambaram. Our road was flanked by the Kollidam until most stretch. Last time we had seen this part of the state was with our family, during our quest to see the end of river Kaveri. The dam was empty and dry back then. Today, she was flowing in full spate and the Grand Anicut was filled till its maximum limit. Kaveri looked beautiful with her brown waters reflecting back the sun rays that sneaked from amid the thick grey clouds. That was the point from where, the real saga of our road trip started.

As we covered a little distance ahead of the dam, the river began to touch the road around the corners at most turns. Gradually, the river started to spill over the road at some stretches. Instead of plying on the road, it seemed like our bus was driving over the river at these junctions. Further into the journey, the water level increased. Several stretches (in kilometers) of the road was submerged by the river. Our driver was a real super star- who could figure out exactly where the road laid in the ground in spite of the water being above the tire height. Even a slight slip in the road only meant death and nothing less. The entire bus with about 25-30 passengers could have been washed away by the currents of the spiteful river. I had only seen such things in the news. Now I was right there, experiencing a flood scene, firsthand.

The flooded villages enroute to Chidambaram
The flooded villages enroute to Chidambaram

Stretches of villages laid submerged ahead. At some places, the thatched roofs and the hay huts had given away. We could see utensils floating around on the road, helpless villagers wading across the (once existent) streets, even as the flood water stayed above their waist level. Their plight was heart rendering to see, even as the rest of us inside the bus continued to wonder if we were going to see a safe arrival at our destination at all. The rain of just one night had wreaked so much havoc across the state of Tamil Nadu. However, our driver remained focused and drove us across to reach the safe harbor at Chidambaram by around 03.00.p.m.

My brother and I decided to drop the luggage at the hotel which we had booked online and find some food for ourselves. We hadn’t eaten anything since that morning. On arrival at the hotel, we were a little perplexed to see our room. The bedsheets looked extremely old, torn and dirty. The bathroom was a disaster. The toilet floor was covered with a thick layer of algae, slush and mud, all that had accumulated over years without washing it. The flush lever was broken, the taps rusted and a crazy layer of deposits on the bucket and the mug. The nasty smell of alcohol hit our noses from outside through the opened door even as we continued to feel suffocated inside that room. My brother and I looked at each other’s face- and both of us knew what was running in each other’s mind. In spite of being exhausted and hungry, we decided to leave the place and find some other place to stay. Just when we started to descend the stairs and as if the injury (of finding a bad room online) wasn’t enough, I happened to step on a large mess of barf, thrown up by some drunkard on the stairs and slip down a couple of steps.

Until this moment of our day, I had managed to keep my calm, but my brother gave up. He wanted to end the trip right there and return to Bangalore. While he found no buses that would leave Chidambaram immediately to Bangalore, I managed to convince him to stay calm until we boarded a night bus at least. I found a place near the ‘Nataraja temple’ where I could clean myself and headed to get the darshan of the lord. The visit was peaceful, maybe I will write about in another post someday.

The Bharatanatyam postures sculpted on the walls of the west-tower of the temple
The Bharatanatyam postures sculpted on the walls of the west-tower of the temple

After finishing the evening prayers, my brother booked our tickets to Bangalore for the same night. Since my holidays were still not over, somewhere deep in my mind, I still wanted to complete my trip. I didn’t want one bad experience of the day ruin the entire holiday for us. But, given the weather condition further ahead in our planned route, I couldn’t rule out my apprehensions of getting stranded in the cyclone at Pondicherry as well.

But right now, our priority was different. We had been starving since morning and had to find something to fill our stomach. In spite of walking the WHOLE of Chidambaram town, we couldn’t locate a single place where we could find food. Thanks to the day of Deepawali festival- there were absolutely NO eateries open! Also, the entire town was SOO DIRTY with garbage littered everywhere. After a long search, we finally found ONE supermarket in the entire town. And what did we get to eat there? Just a cup of sweet corn to sate our hungry bodies.

Our city woes did not end after eating the steamed corn. It was still 07.00.p.m and we had three hours more to kill. On enquiring with a few locals, we were told that we would find a decent restaurant near the bus stand. And so as per the recommendations of the local people, we found this AC luxury restaurant called ‘Vandayar- Southern Spice’.

When we arrived there, the waiter informed us that they served only fried rice for the day. The waiter came to our table thrice to take our order (for the only dish available) and after two hours of waiting for food, there arrived a convoy of VIP customers at the restaurant. Bonus for waiting: A feast was set for this VIP family that comprised of all dishes from the menu. Even while all the tables were occupied with middle-class customers including my brother and me, there was no one from the restaurant that cared for our existence that day. Wondering if we were waiting for any free food to be served at 09.00.p.m. several customers grew furious and started to walk out of the restaurant. It was also time for us to board our bus. As we too walked out of this VIP restaurant, there was power cut in the town.

In a dark and dingy bus-stand, we spotted the only stall that served tea and some biscuits. The little candlelight was just enough for the tea-stall guy to reach out to things in his kiosk. We were essentially scared of stamping some more muck that could’ve been laid in the littered path. As we dunked the last biscuit into our chai, we had yet another surprise for us. Our bus to Bangalore was delayed by 2 hrs.!!! As we waited there in the dark platform of the bus stand, some drunk men started to throw glass bottles at the crowd there. Luckily no one was injured, but the downpour of bottles and splatter of glass pieces continued for a while. Our bus arrived after a while and we boarded at 10.00.p.m.

With all the crazy stuff that happened that day, we fell asleep quickly… Only to be woken up at sunrise. That’s when the rain was battering outside, and our bus had broken down on the highway. Although we were given an alternate bus in a while, our anxiety continued until we reached home.

The temple Gopuram at Chidambaram Nataraja temple

Conclusion Remarks: The people on the east coast are god’s chosen ones to have a grand celebration of festivals. Tsunami for Christmas. Cyclones for Diwali…!! One cannot sit in a place, hear stories and imagine of places and people. You need to move yourself to places to experience and explore. This trip was one such experiences where I got a first had experience of braving a flood and starvation of food. Also, this is a trip where I managed to find a place in India that I wouldn’t want to return.

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.