“Thank you very much for online registration to Visit Kas Plateau.” Read the auto-response mail from the Satara divison forest office. Our slot for the much anticipated trip to the South India’s very own valley of flowers was confirmed.
We reached Khas plateau by hiring a cab from Satara town as early as sunrise. One reason was to get good shots of the valley with different hues of sunrise; second was to enjoy the oneness with nature, undisturbed by the senseless, rather ruthless people who would pour in later during the day in the name of tourism. Recognised among the world’s 39 natural heritage sites by the UNESCO in 2012, Khas has over 350 flower species including orchids, insectivorous plants and other herbaceous plants. There are plants whose flowers change their sex each year too..!! Atleast 20 species of plants are endemic to the Khas valley alone. Someone rightly called it the “Nature’s very own laboratory”. Since Khas is a part of the Koyna Sanctuary, the place is often frequented by animals like the barking deers, bears etc. in search of water. It is nature’s treasure in every sense.
Life is not a bed of roses, but at Khas- it is a bed of balsams.. Oops.. Bad one, I know..!! But that’s what came into my mind when I was finally there..!! The complete valley looked as if painted in pink with an endless stretch of balsam flowers, dotted here and there with small ponds like a bindi on a beautiful lass’s forehead that would complete her looks. These ponds dual as watering holes to the wild animals that visit here occasionally. A narrow stream flows silently on the other side over black basalt rocks until it plummets down into the Khas lake. Beauty of the Western ghats is beyond expression when one stands here at the edge of the Sahyadri ranges overlooking the Sajjangad fort and the Kanher dam.
It is a pitiful plight of the place when several plants are smashed under the reckless visitors who pour in there in thousands during the peak months of blossom. A well laid asphalt road cuts right through this protected land until the Khas lake. No entry tolls, no parking fees, no written commitments to gain entry- but just a nominal registration fee of 10Rs. per head is all it takes to get to this colourful patch of nature. It is just a place to hangout for the majority without actually knowing the ecological importance of the place. NO… It doesn’t have any restaurants, playgrounds, toy-trains for you to lunch over with your family and kids. And definitely, NOT a photo studio for you have NO rights to sleep over the flower bed to get those sexy hot babe-kinda photoshoots done. Be educated before heading there that this place is ONLY for the people who respect nature’s gifts. Infact, none-of us even have the rights to walk through the laid walkpaths for there is always a possibility that one can step on an endangered plant and therefore kill it. So think about visiting there ONLY if you’re genuinely into research or in quest of knowledge- NOT for anything else.
Be reminded, the acknowledgement mail from the forest dept. also read the following:
Please note that, “Kas a plateau of flowers is a divine gift. Please observe carefully, enjoy the beauty of these tiny tots and convey others also but not to hurt.”
Do-NOT make the valley accessible to public and make the entry STRICTLY based on requirement from education/research institutions.
Please increase the entry fees. A HEFTY fee (possibly in thousands) will make it possible to filter out only genuinely interested people visiting there for whom money does not matter against knowledge.
My visit to the Panchgani tableland also reflected a similar letdown. The vegetation at the tableland is very fragile & similar to that of the Khas. However, onslaught of exploitative tourism has left it in a state of pity. If the flow of tourists continues the same way at Khas, it won’t take more than just a couple of years to lose this treasure FOREVER.
It was the 2nd Friday of August 2012, a day before the Biiigg sporting event of South India: “The Nehru trophy boat race”. After a long haul of planning, two of my friends and I had alighted at our destination- Allapuzha, a popular little town on a tourist circuit in Kerala. Fondly known as Alleppey, we were there to experience the festivities of ‘The Olympics of Kuttanad’- Vallamkali or the boat race. The Nehru trophy boat race is an annual event held in the Vembanad lake, in the Kuttanad region of Kerala. Vembanad lake is the longest lake in India and spans across several districts of Kerala. Depending on the region, the lake is known by different names. It is called as the Punnamada Lake here in Kuttana, of which Alleppey is a part. Along with the boat race, we wanted to explore the backwaters that’s a popular haunt of the tourists in this region.
Day 0: Leave from Bangalore to Kochi (Overnight train); Day 1: Kochi to Alleppey (local train), Shikara ride in the Vembanad lake, Sunset at Alleppey beach. Day 2: Nehru trophy boat race, Champakulam St. Mary Forane Church, Kalloorkkadu Angadi (local & oldest market in the region), Latin church. Return from Alleyppey to Bengaluru (Overnight Train)
Other Places of Interest: • Karumadi Thodu- famous for the black granite idol of lord Buddha • Ambalapuzha Sree Krishna temple- known for the ‘Palpayasam’ or the milk porridge offered as prasad to the deity. • Kokkothamangalam church- This is one of the seven churches founded by St.Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. • Ayyappan temple in Mukkal vattam (near Muhamma)- known for the Kalari from which Lord Ayyappa is believed to have learnt his skills in martial arts. The hermitage where Ayyappan lived during the training period has been preserved in its original form by successive generations of the Cheerappanchira family.
It was noon by the time we checked into our hotel room. We freshened up quickly and set out to explore Alleppey. We walked around a little bit and reached at a small boat jetty. We hired a ‘Shikhara’, a local motorboat to cruise around the narrow canals, passing through several fishing hamlets. While the womenfolk were washing clothes, the men were spiralling their fishing nets into the water and a few kids were diving into the waters for a refreshing swim. It was a nice experience of seeing local lifestyle of the people for whom, the backwaters are a lifeline. Along our ride, we picked up some fresh lobsters and pomfret at a local market and got them cooked in the local style at a fisherman’s house.
Further, we were oared across to the end of the canal which opened into the wide Vembanad lake where all the teams were practising for the boat race and the venue was getting set for the ‘Big’ event. The energy and enthusiasm in the atmosphere was no less than that of the main event itself. Though we wanted to stay there till sunset, the government deadline for all activities in the waters forced us to return to the jetty before 06.00.p.m.
On returning to the mainland, we meandered through the lanes of Alleppey town searching for a dose of Kerala chai and palam-pori (Banana fritters). We then decided to settle down by the beach until dark. While finding our way to the beach, we walked past the coir industries that Alleppey was once known for, and now remained shut and non-functional.
While walking back to the town area from the beach, we happened to see a hoarding of a concert happening at a nearby stadium. Post sunset on normal days, most towns in Kerala sleep to silence after 7.00.p.m. and there will be not many options to see or do after that. Since we did not want to waste the remaining evening by sitting inside our hotel room, we decided to head to the stadium to kill the rest of our evening. ‘Music never disappoints’, all the three of us had the same thought. Upon arrival at the stadium, we enjoyed the on-going performance of ‘Theyyam’, one of the colourful, traditional & spiritual dances of the state. But after some time in the audience gallery, is when we experienced a surprise on the stage. A MIND-BLOWING show by the violin maestro- Balabaskaran and team.. It was there that we were LOST in dreamland..!!
The next morning, we had to reach the racing venue as early as 08.00.a.m. to ensure that we had a place to sit. (Read about the madness of the event). The snake boats are the world’s biggest water vessel used for sports. One by one, they arrived for assembly. Locally called as the Chundan Vallam (Beaked boats), these 100~120 feet long wooden canoes carry 90- 110 rowers and move like snakes through the channels. And soon, the races started under different categories. Every single soul in the arena was singing songs of cheer. All through the event, only one thing echoed in the atmosphere: Vanchipattu or the Boat song. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be a part of that enthusiastic crowd.
Post the event, we still had time to explore the town and hence boarded a bus to Champakulam. As we passed through the waterlogged villages of Kuttanad, we were reminded that the region we were passing through was the ‘granary of Kerala’ or the rice bowl of Kerala. It is one of the few places in the world where farming is done below sea level.
Soon, we reached the St. Mary Forane Church. Since it was a Sunday, we were lucky to take part in the mass. Built in 427A.D., this riverside church is a testimony of time with its finely maintained beautiful mural paintings. From there, we took a boat to reach the other end of the river: the oldest market in the region known as Kalloorkkadu angadi.
With a local bus ride from there, back to the town, we then took a walk to the Latin church in the town. The entire town of Alleppey can be viewed from the terrace of this church (permitted only during visiting hours). What particularly caught our interest was the cemetery where all members of a family were buried in the same pit. Hundreds of such graves laid within the church premises.
We then checked out our lodge and headed to the railway station for our return, scheduled for the night. It was time for us to depart with a mind filled with beautiful memories of sailing afloat on a boat in the backwaters of land that is called ‘God’s own country’ and hope to return soon.
Must dos: Experience the madness of the Snake boat race Must eat: Freshly caught and cooked seafood while on a backwater cruise tour
So well, thank you for dropping by. This post is an elaborate impromptu itinerary we came up with when we were stranded in Leh, sometime before Ladakh became a separate Union territory. If you’d are interested in planning an itinerary, stick around this post. But, if you’re keen to know the fun story behind our plan going haywire, I recommend you to also read my brother/ co-traveller’s perspective. (Click here to read his story)
Stick around a little more, to know my side of the same story. Then tell me what you liked 🙂
What was supposed to be an once in a lifetime experience of trekking on a frozen river- ‘The chadar trek’, rather turned out to be a wonderful experience in its own way.. Thanks to a landslide on the Zanskar, a natural dam had been formed stocking up water for over 5 kms. If incase this natural dam collapsed due to the built up pressure, the stored water would wash away the nearby areas causing flash floods. Hence, citing safety reasons, the goverment had issued ‘section 144 – Shoot at sight’ to anyone attempting to go anywhere close to the river.
We decided to break away from the trek organiser and explore Ladakh on our own.. Oh yeah, before I forget to mention- None of our phones were working(No connectivity via phone or internet)- Thanks to all our pre-paid connections. Only postpaid connections work in this part of the country due to security reasons (given its proximity to disputed border areas). Thus started our lifetime experience of the mind-numbing winters in Ladakh.
Day 1: It was noon by the time our early morning flight took off from Delhi airport, thanks to bad weather conditions. Just 20minutes after take off, a small but prominent layer of cloud seemed to appear at the horizon.. But within no time, we realised that we were approaching the Himalayas. In just few minutes, the GPS indicated Shimla on the map in the TV infront of our seats. A never-ending stretch of deep gorges, ravines, formed the beautiful landscape below. Few minutes further up.. Yes..!!! we couldn’t contain our excitement of flying over the snow covered mighty Himalayan peaks, we were jumping for a spot at the windows taking turns.. It was the first time we were seeing snow! Click click click…. The cameras went on and on… It was as if we were in an enclosure which was floating up in heaven.. It was absolute FEAST to the senses.. all the way… till touch down🙂
The day went by just making an alternative plan for the trek that could not happen. Also, it was necessary to get acclimatized to a scary combo of High altitude + low temperature(It went upto -25deg on some days of our trip). So we just had to stay bummed to our rooms(without heaters..!!) and warmup ourselves 😛 We shopped for a lot of thermals in Leh market (we got cheap & good quality stuff..)
Day 2: It was the last day of the Gustor festival – the annual fair at the Spituk monastery– Enroute we visited the ‘Hall of fame‘- the war museum. We happened to be there at the right time when an Indian airforce carrier was about to land. With the Sham valley & other mountain ranges all around the airstrip, it called for the exact photo that had inspired me to visit Ladakh more than a year ago.. We later headed to the monastery where the day long festivities and mask dance was going on.. We walked up the stairs to the holy abode of Kali(which is open for public viewing only during Gustor festival) before we comforted ourselves by finding a seat amid the chaotic crowd that had assembled. After the event, we did a bit of souvenir shopping at the mela that was put up and a lot of binging on Ladakhi food. We took a cab to Shanti Stupa which is best for sunset viewing. After the sun was down, we took the stairs down which we were told was a shortcut to reach Leh town by foot.
Day 3: Drive through Changla pass(the 3rd highest pass in the world) at a nerve freezing temperature: Get a quick grab of food at Karu town. Here one needs to get the Inner Line Permit to proceed towards Pangong Tso- the controversial border between India & China. The lake was partially frozen- where we could drive over most part of it and experience the chadar partially 😛 If one has an extra day, they could head to Tso Moriri, a salt water lake and camp there overnight before returning to Leh. But, we took back the same route so we could cover the Shey Palace, Thikse monastery & got a glimpse of the Rancho school of the ‘3 Idiots’ fame. Hemis monastery- the wealthiest monastery in India remained unreachable by road since it was winter.
Day 4: It was a lonng day.. A wonderful drive on a roadless route which seemed to have been carved all out of ice and sprinkled with snow.. A small slip of tyre could get deadly as beautiful as the valley seemed to appear. We couldn’t ask for more when it began to snow just when we alighted at the end of the highest motorable road in the world- the Khardungla pass.Continue on the road that leads to the cold desert of Ladakh- The Nubra valley. With minimal vegetation, and sand dunes all around, you should not be missing out the ride on the Bactrian camels which are endemic to this region and is a critically endangered species. Visit the Diskit monastary- where a 32 feet statue of Maitreya Buddha looks upon Pakistan. Towards the end of the valley is the Siachen glacier- the highest battleground in the world and the glacier forms the source to the biggest irrigation system in the world-The Indus. Catch a good night’s sleep at a traditional homestay there and experience authentic Ladakhi hospitality.
Day 5: Start early cuz the day will be short with too many places to cover on a single stretch from Leh. We took the Kargil road- a drive through Sham valley. First stop was at Nimmoo where we filled our fasting tummies. The next quick stopover was at Pattar Sahib Gurudwara. The straight stretch of road looked as if it was peircing right through the horizon. We were driving through the magnetic hill. The road which is believed to have defied gravity where a car with ignition off and neutral gear moves uphill- against gravity..!! We were not quite convinced with our experience though, which made us agree to the scientific explanation of it being an optical illusion. We arrived at Chilling- The confluence of the Indus and Zanskar. The partially frozen stretch was intimidating to walk over.. But we were warned by a cop not to go near the banks.. all thanks to section 144 😛
We continued our journey through rustic Ladakhi villages, monasteries dotting the distant hillocks, frozen waterfalls, bare poplar trees, narrow truss bridges, army barracks, hot water springs, ice hockey fields, etc. We came across wild deers, yaks, pashmina sheep, wild horses and other fauna endemic to this high altitude region.. Likir monastery was beautiful with the Buddha statue smiling in between the snow clad mountains all around. Our last destination was Lamayuru monastery– The start point for many treks in this region.
Unfortunately, we did not have the luxury of a few more hours and safe conditions at the border to go further upto the Kargil border. We wanted to drive back through Drass valley- The coldest inhabited place in India and the second coldest in the world. Again, If I had an additional day in hand, I would have loved to get an inner line permit to spend a day at DhaHanu valley: home to the endangered community of the Dard people. I would love to go back ASAP atleast to document their customs, traditions, photograph their intricate jewellery and costumes before their numbers further deplete. Had I been blessed with a couple more days, I would want to do the Markha valley trek andand experience the tribal life in its raw & purest form.. And spot a snow leopard in its natural habitat at the Hemis national park- the largest national park in India and the highest national park in the world.
During winters, most of the town is shut for the season. The few places that are up, open after 11.00.a.m and close by 5~6.p.m. We missed out on some fine shopping of souvenirs, local handicrafts and dry fruits.. Probably, some form of connectivity of phone or internet could have helped us to cover more places and organise our trip in possibly a better way.. But, NO REGRETS..!! We’ve still done what most people don’t dare to- Experience the bitter winter of Ladakh. That’s all the time we had for.. We had to pack our bags with a super heavy heart to carry back home..
Day 6: It was a rare phenomenon that we had woken up with that day, early at 6.a.m. It was snowing in Leh. There usually is no snowfall at Leh town… But that day I guess the town had started to miss us… the sky was crying heavily.. We reached the airport by 07.30.a.m. The security measures are very stringent for those leaving Leh which easily needs about 2hrs. 2 rounds of passengers’ frisking and 2 rounds of baggage screening. And then, you have to individually identify your baggage until which it will not be loaded to the flight..!! Quite a strenuous task for the security personnel… While it is considered as a fun trip for the touristy people like us.. It’s a salute to the bravehearts : The Indian army.. Who bare all odds like extreme climatic conditions and unpredictable threats to their lives, strive day and night to ensure that we are safe.. The flight took off over the mountainthat said ‘Touch the sky with glory’.. in the true sense…
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
St. Lourdes’s church
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
This is a pick from old memories of exactly a year ago, in August 2013. My mother was away in Belagavi for a month-long business trip and I had decided to catch up with her over the weekend. We then got together, and explored the places around Belgaum, fondly called Belagavi. This time, it was only a day trip around Belgaum with a quick visit to the widest waterfall in my state, the Niagara of Karnataka.
Our Itinerary: Friday: Overnight journey from Bangalore to Belgaum Saturday: Explore Gokak (waterfalls, hanging bridge & Tarakeshwara temple), Godchinmalki waterfalls, Savadatti Yellamma temple)- Return to Bangalore by night journey.
I boarded the bus to Belgaum from Bangalore and my mom was there to receive me when I alighted there the next morning… We freshened up at the place where mom was put up and then headed straight to Gokak. The little town known for its cotton mill, is also famous for the nature’s treat- the mighty Niagara of Karnataka. The bubbling, roaring and crashing waters of the Ghataprabha river creates steady patterns here with endless rhythm while it leaps down from 52meters between two tall, craggy cliffs to form the Gokak falls.
The century old hanging bridge, the only mode for the textile workers to cross the river allows the public to enjoy the breathtaking vista of the waterfall as the gushing water plummets down. The presence of turbines dating back to 1885 stands testimony to the electricity generation station established here which still provides power source for the cotton mill across the street. The 11th century Shiva temple dedicated to Lord Mahalingeshwara (Locally known as Tarakeshwara temple), built in the Kalyani Chalukyan style, faces the cotton mill and flanks one side of the gorge.
Meanwhile, I called a friend of mine who hails from Belagavi district to enquire about other places that we could visit around his hometown. He guided us to a small village named Godchinmalki where river Markandeya cascades down amid a scenic backdrop forming another beautiful waterfall called by the same name. Mom and I walked down for 2kms through rolling green pastures, fields of maize and banana plantation to reach this waterfall that plummets down in 2 tiers. Once we reached the place, it was a thorough treat to our senses to watch the waterfalls racing ferociously through the deep gorge.
On our way back, we took a little longer route from where we got a complete view of river Markandeya snaking through the greens. A 9kms long underground canal carries water from the river across which can be seen emerging out of the hill from this viewpoint. The snaking roads with beautiful views of the valley was a wonderful drive to the city.
After all the waterfall hopping was done, it was time for some temple visit. We headed to Saundatti a.k.a. Savadatti. This place was the capital of the Ratta / Rastrakuta dynasty from 820, until it was shifted to Belgaum in 1230. There is a fort here also called the Parasgad fort. But the most famous is the Renukadevi temple located atop the Yellamma gudda. This is an important place for devout followers of Goddess Shakthi and also for the devadasis- or the servants of god. We had a good darshan during the evening pooja time.
With that, it was a quick wrap for a short weekend and time for me to head back to Bangalore for another long and boring work week ahead…
Must eat while at Belagavi/ Belgaum:
Karadantu at Gokak– it is a sweet made with dry fruits rolled into balls with jaggery.
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’.
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 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.
Let me get you going directly from where this trek to Kumara parvatha or KP peak is actually supposed to start. We reached Kukke Sri kshetra and checked into the lodge(a meagre 100Rs. Per day) run by the temple trust, freshened up and feasted on some sumptuous Mangalorean food for breakfast. Without wasting much time, we started the much hyped- one of the toughest treks in South India.. to the Kumara parvatha peak in the Pushpagiri wildlife zone.
The original plan was to start from the base by 7.00.a.m and camp at Bhatru mane. Then, leave Bhatru mane by 3.00.a.m the next morning and reach the peak to witness the sunrise, what is supposedly one of the best.
As planned, we entered the trekking trail.. It starts off with thick forest around and steep climbs uphill.. There was NO water sources along the way (We didn’t know that there was a perennial stream, with a small deviation after 2.5km) and a possibility of occasional encounters with elephants. We took frequent stops before taking a longer halt at Bhima’s rock. This stretch of 3km had oozed the fluid out of us..
Once this 3kms stretch was covered, we got our first view of Kukke town.. The thick canopy of forests made way to the grasslands after walking 1km further from there.. It was well past noon and the sun shined at its hottest.. We were running out of water already.. We started to wonder if Bhatru mane really existed and literally pulled ourselves to reach there. Or rather say, we pushed ourselves to walk the small distance that seemed never ending.. Finally… we were overjoyed at the first glimpse of Bhatru mane…
We ran down to his nestle amid a small piece of green land.. I find NO words to express the joy of finding water.. That too, clear and cold water from the stream that ran through his farm.. We had a simple, yet the tastiest lunch served by Bhatru and rested under the shades of his arecanut farm..
We then made a small change in the plan and decided to continue the trek until it was dark. We feared the pace at which we were climbing up and did not want to return late on the following day.. We halted at a view point along the way for some photographs, before reaching the forest checkpost. We continued our hike up after registering our names at the forest office.. We stopped again at yet another view point.. The sun was coming down by the time we reached kal-mantapa and hence we decided to pitch our tent near the stream that ran by..
I don’t remember which sane person in the group chose the place.. I agree that we got a place which became every other trekker’s envy.. The place was for sure, a top rated spot for sunset viewing.. But we girls, who stayed inside the tent know what we went through that night.. The tent was pitched on a slope, on the edge of a rocky cliff which seemed like the place where the earth ended.. It was soon dark and we ate the little food that we had carried and hit the bed (Read hit the rocks)..
The boys comforted themselves in their sleeping bags and threw the poor girls inside the tent.. The entire night went by like this: ‘Our respective backpacks were used as pillows inside our tent. We all would slide down with our bags inside the tent.. again we would push back everything and move up.. Slide down.. Slide up.. Phew..!!’ And a while into midnight.. The intensity of the wind also increased.. The cover of the tent started to fly.. We hoped for it to be 3.00.a.m soon so that we all could start our ascend.. But another surprise was awaiting us.. Madhu heard the cracking sound of the tent support and scared all the girls inside to vacate the tent. We carried our luggage from inside and jumped out of the tent, one by one.. The last girl just came out and the tent crashed down to a flat.. The guys woke up and one of them attempted to slowly remove the pegs.. One peg was removed and then… The tent flew.. away from our reach.. off the cliff.. down the valley.. We had borrowed the tent, on hire.
Everyone woke up and sat wondering why this had to happen. It was still dark at 4.00.a.m. and with the wind that continued to blow ruthlessly, our ascend to the peak seemed impossible.. We stayed back until sunrise 😦 We decided to compromise on one of the main agenda of our trek- Watching the sunrise at KP peak.
After there was dawn,one of the boys dared to go down the cliff. He had a thrilling feat with adventure and managed to bring back the tent that had settled on a boulder in the middle of a water body, down below in the valley.. More than getting excited about finding the tent, we were all celebrating his safe return.. It was around 7.00.a.m by the time we started our ascent.
Inspite of missing the sunrise, the views post that period were equally spectacular, all along the way. The climb was pretty smooth. It was around 11.00.a.m. by the time we reached the first peak/ false peak- Shesha parvatha.
The view from the base of Shesha Parvatha
After just a few photo moments, we decided to continue our journey.. We descended the steep rock and waded through super cool, thick jungles.. And then, climbed up another steep rock. This rockclimbing with bare hands and legs reminded me of our monkey ancestors.!! A small walk further up took us to the actual end of the earth. Right there, we had conquered our destination- Kumara Parvatha..!!
Shiva temple atop Kumara parvatha
Thanking the diety with a small bow in the temple on the peak, we set our return journey.. Getting down the rocky slope of KP seemed tricky with one of my friends ending up with torn trousers when he decided to sit and slide down on his butt 😉
The descend from Shesha Psrvatha was no easy task either. The loose gravel all along the trail made walking difficult without slipping. It was 4.00.p.m by the time we reached Bhatru mane.. We realised that we had covered only half the distance and had very less time left with sunlight.. We had to complete the remaining distance before it got dark because that was the toughest stretch with thick forests and wild animals. We had a quick lunch at Bhatru mane and got some rest in fast forward mode and started our descend by 5.00.p.m..
We knew we had very less time in hand and a LONG way to go.. We all walked as fast as we could. Our legs had given up already.. I was preparing my mind to stay back in the forest and make a feast of myself to some wild animal at night.. I ran down the slope at times.. My knees seemed like they would part away from my thighs.. We saw the sun coming down.. We continued to walk fast.. We saw the sun going down the horizon.. We paced up.. Suddenly we all halted.. There was pin drop silence.. We realised that some wild animal(mostly elephant) was somewhere around.. It took us a few minutes to feel the sound move away from us.. Then, we resumed our walk. We saw the bright day fade into darkness and every shade in this process. The toughest and the last stretch was almost coming to an end.. We had FINALLY reached the KP gate… And the last ray of light too waned into darkness.. Thus came an end to the KP trek- a mission….. accomplished..!!
We all then freshened up at the same lodge and did a quick visit to the Kukke temple before hitting the roads on our return journey.
NOTE: The above story is written based on my trek back in 2013 when there was no restriction on camping in the entire trail. As on 2019, camping is allowed only around the forest checkpost and Bhatru mane. So, it is wiser to plan the distance, hiking time and camping accordingly.
Must do things/ Highlights of Kumara parvatha trek:
Bhatru mane is the ONLY place you will find food and it is an experience in itself to get your turn in the queue to have your meal served. The same basic rice and sambar is served for all 3 meals and nobody complains. Not tasty, but finding food after a long day is LUXURY here. Bhatru has a fixed time for serving food and very punctual. The crowd is huge especially on weekends and the wait for your meal can take longer if you dont have your own plate.
The sunset from the view point enroute forest checkpost or Kal-Mantapa
To watch the Sunrise from Kumara parvatha is like going to a different world. Try to make it there in time.
The sky is in its clearest form and star gazing at night is a whole different experience. You see so many stars, bright and clear that it feels as if the sky has moved closer to earth. We got lucky as it was also a night of a meteor shower, so we saw many shooting stars.
Drinking water from the stream felt like nectar. So clean and tasty. You can fill your bottles at 4 places along the way. First after 3kms, near the Bhimas rock. Second, at Bhatru mane. Third, at the forest checkpost. Fourth, at a stream just before kal-mantapa.
It is that time of the year when the entire hill station awakens with the fragrance of the blossoms.. On the ninth day after the 1st pre-monsoon showers, the coffee plants around the hills of Kodagu will be in bloom..
It is an annual spectacle of nature whose occurance is unpredictable and is wholely dependent on the pre-monsoon showers. If the rain fails, it creates some sort of panic among the growers who then resort to artificial sprinkling sytems.. Be it rain showers or irrigation, in either case, what follows is something that one must experience atleast once in a lifetime..
White bunches of coffee blossoms adorn the trees as if some one has strewn cotton all over the hills.. And these flowers last for a maximum of 24 hrs which makes it even more special.. And like the saying goes.. You HAVE to be at the right place at the right TIME to see the right thing happen..
Have you experienced the fragrance of coffee flowers?