4 day trip

A Cool Kodaikanal Christmas

Early the next morning, we drove towards Kodaikanal just over the state borders. Its quite a long drive at all of 5 hours but it’s ridiculously picturesque. Set aside time to enjoy it and take enough breaks to make the best of the drive.IMG_6530.jpg

Streams gurgling over boulders sprinkled over their path, sunrise streaming through the lush greenery, there’s a postcard view at every step of the way.

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The misty roads had a wall of jagged rocks on one side and numerous pink blooms softening the view of the sheer drop on the other. Amongst the sight of the green cover, one could see the Anayirankal dam – a turquoise blob in the distance.IMG_6541.jpg

Another stop at yet another spot leads us to a view of the Thalaiyar waterfall through the greenery- though narrow, the sight of it still tears through the foggy view of the forest around.IMG_6578.jpg

Just 8km before reaching Kodaikanal- conveniently right beside the highway are the Silver Cascade Waterfalls. It holds the overflowing water from the man-made Kodaikanal lake and is a good spot to stretch your legs and even buy some of the local garlic sold in bunches! The waterfall is truly picture perfect and munching on some corn with chilly and lime while watching it, only makes it better.IMG_6592.jpg

At the end of the long drive, was our reward, Kodaikanal– The Gift of the forests. Unfortunately, the whole great country of India with all its population seemed to have had the same idea that weekend and had landed there too- so our first view of the town when escaping for a bit from the bustle of Bangalore was – hold your breath- a traffic jam!

So we decided on plan B- that was less of a plan and more of a spur-of-the-moment decision- to head to the tourist spots in descending order of popularity. And it turned out to be the best decision ever- it instantly took us away from the crowds and breathe in what’s truly gorgeous about this little plateau on the Palani hills.

Tip: Kodaikanal is insanely convenient for the average tourist. All you need to do is get to the centre of the town and there are rows of taxis and jeeps offering to cover different sets of around 10 places for a fixed amount of money. Personally, I hate bargaining, so this is fantastic if you don’t want to be bothered by the local travel.

We first decided we wanted to stretch our legs a bit and made our way to the Bryant park despite the drizzle. Sticks of airy cotton candy accompanied our meandering stroll around the park with gorgeous, misty views of the town and the Kodaikanal Lake too.IMG_6608.jpg

From here we headed to the evocatively named Fairy falls, the source of the Pambar river. After parking, we entered with some trepidation into a gate that looked like it opened up to a Govt facility but a gentleman directed us right inside to a view of the lovely Fairy falls. It’s a relatively small waterfall but it perfectly delightful. It wasn’t bad at all that we were pretty much the only visitors during our time there.IMG_6636.jpg

Peeling ourselves from there we headed to what was called the “Liril falls” on the map. We’d strongly recommend skipping it (especially during winter) since its not much more than a not-very-clean stream unless perhaps you’re visiting during the monsoons. It’s surrounded by stalls selling all kinds of spices and oils with very talented salesmen so be aware of prices outside before deciding to pick up your favourites.IMG_6680.jpg

It was getting dark early due to it being winter but we weren’t ready to end our day as yet, so we decided to just drive further away from the centre of the town without realising we were heading towards the Palani Hills Forest Conservation Area.IMG_6687.jpg

We had to stop and park just to catch our breath at the stunning beauty of the place. A Christmas evening, an endless forest of pine trees with raindrops just dripping off the tree leaves- it was simply magical. We had to just wander around with smiles pasted on our faces- picking up pine cones and feeling blissfully lost in the green wonderland.

Tip: As often as “popular tourist places” are popular for a reason it’s also worth your while to take a step away from them, and take a bit of a detour, to make memories that are so much your very own- a snapshot of time for yourself without the world trying to burst in to your moment of calm.

Later that evening, we made our way back into town for dinner and the restaurant walked into was right in the middle of the vegetable market that was wrapping up for the day. We did get our seat but unintentionally, we had dropped into a popular choice that quickly had people walking in. Some chatter with a group of girls playing Jenga in the neighbouring table and we made our way back to our stay to get to sleep reminiscing about the day that was and looking forward to the one that was to come.

The next morning, we headed away from the chilly Kodaikanal to the warm embrace of the 2500-year-old city of Madurai with a 3-hour drive. While there’s plenty to see in Madurai, on this trip we wanted to take it slow. We headed to the iconic 6th century Madurai Meenakshi temple. I’ve been there just once before and find more joy in the markets around the east side of the temple. They are still very much housed within an ancient pillared hall- the sheer variety of items found in the narrow lanes is mind-boggling. From fabrics of all kinds, iron utensils and knives to ghungroos with rows of tinkling brass bells made from scratch.IMG_6729

IMG_6737.jpgWrt the temple itself, one can easily spend hours just wandering even from outside the temple to admire its 12 pillars in all the 4 directions. The mythological significance of this temple is that it’s believed the Goddess Parvati (Meenakshi) married Lord Shiva(Sundareshwar) in the location of this temple.  You can spend a whole day and not be done strolling around the mandapas(pillared halls) and shrines. The shrines are dedicated most notably to the 2 main deities and their son, Lord Shiva.IMG_6764.jpg

Of the mandapas, there are 4

  • Ayirakal mandapam: The one with 1000 (945 precisely) pillars with detailed sculptures of mythological creatures. Large colourful blooms grace the ceiling.
  • Kilikoondu Mandapam – believed at some time to have housed parrots trained to say the word “Meenakshi”
  • Ashta Shakti Mandapam – with shrines dedicated to 8 Goddesses.
  • Nayaka Mandapam– a hall with 100 pillars and an idol of Lord Nataraja (the dancing form of Lord Shiva)

The last is a personal favourite.

If not particularly religious and eager to stand in the endless queues to see the deities in the various shrines, what we’d recommend is that once you go in buy some prasadam (we like the puliyodarai) , sit on the steps of the Potramarai Kulam(the pond with the golden lotus) and enjoy the sheer level of artistry that has gone into every inch of the mammoth temple complex.

Note:

  • Photography is not permitted inside the temple. You are also not allowed to take in phones – so stick to your group once inside the temple or it’s easy to get lost in its vast interiors. However, they have a cloakroom kind of area at all gates where you can leave your belongings just outside the temple. Ensure you remember which gate you parked kept your things at.
  • Food (including offerings to the deity, like oil for the lamps) is not allowed inside the temple.
  •  Parking is not easy once you come very near to the temple. However, you can search for parking spots on google maps and it shows up some paid parking options a short walk away from the temple.

While my personal favourite is the panneer soda when in Tamil Nadu- you may want to try some of the numerous sodas sold in the stalls around the temple, to cool yourselves too.IMG_6753.jpg

We realised that the next place we wanted to visit-  the Thirumala Nayakar Mahal was just a short walk away from our car parking spot. So we decided to take to the streets on foot even passing a couple of men who were painstakingly dying thread by hand to be used in sarees.

The palace itself is relatively recent ie., from the 17th century and its pillars are definitely the memorable part of the structure. It consists of the Swarga Vilasam- that enclosed space that housed the throne and perhaps even court meetings and the Ranga Vilasam – the large open hall with high pillars that was built for performances.IMG_6801.jpg

After the hills and the plains, for some reason, we had an urgent wish to see the beach! And so a short detour later, we landed in the city of Chennai. We polished off our lunch at a charming Sri Lankan restaurant – that I promised myself I’d visit again just for their yummy seeni sambol.

Even though the sun was at its peak by now, we couldn’t resist walking up to the Besant Nagar beach and just taking a minute to mentally capture the scene of the endless waves, so we could revisit it when back in good old Bangalore. Topping off the day with some fun ice cream flavours from a place by the beach we decided it was just the right end to another lovely little journey.

5 day trip

A winter trip : meeting Munnar

During a winter weekend we decided to search for the cooler parts of the tropical south India- while my colleagues at Canada will pooh-pooh the temperature in winter here, we’ll still consider it cold enough!

We started off in search of the hills in Munnar through winding roads and waterfalls ever so often making an appearance it almost feels like you’re taking a peek into an unspoilt wonderland. For those feeling like they just need the water to shower on them, there are plenty more just by the side of the road too.

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The drive takes us through the Annamalai tiger reserve with the Amaravathi river, the longest tributary of the Kaveri river, providing an occasional view through the foliage. Our first waterfall of the trip was a distant view of the Thoovanam waterfall,  which even in the winter, was quite impressive through the lush green cover of the Chinnar wildlife sanctuary.

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Thoovanam waterfall

 

While we had stopped there mostly to have a bit of tea from the stall right at the entrance, the next waterfall, was much more accessible Karimutty falls which as we learnt later, supposedly passes over medicinal herbs and is believed to cure ailments.  The location of the waterfall is also amidst what’s known to be Kerala’s only natural sandalwood forest so we have plenty of stores selling sandalwood products ahead.

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Karimutty falls

 

Our next unplanned stop at Marayur was towards a board that called out the “Rajiv Gandhi Nature park” which is a relatively small park but under the canopy of a single large banyan tree with monkeys to keep us entertained with their antics. While smaller than a the big banyan tree in Bangalore, it’s still a pleasant pitstop to stretch your legs and take a break during the drive.

 

We had actually reached Marayur,  searching for the dolmens( table shaped stone structures which functioned as tombs) with rock paintings dating back to the Iron age but weren’t able to get directions from the locals while the ticket seller at the park simply said it wasn’t accessible (it was unclear whether that day or no longer accessible to the public). Maybe one of you will have better luck and let us know.

 

A little ahead and the ubiquitous tea gardens of Munnar began to make an appearance with tender shoots of green covering the hillsides with more views of waterfalls flowing into the Pambar river.IMG_5854.jpg

 

We actually got to the Lakkam falls just a few minutes before the staff’s  time of closing (5pm) , still being graciously allowed in as long as we came back in 10 minutes! Wading into the clear water and with the pebbles and rocks polished smooth by the stream over it made for quite a lovely spot to let the water droplets occasionally shower over us.

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We hope to return someday to the guided trekking they arrange by the side of the Eravikulam stream by the waterfall.IMG_5874.jpg

 

While it was getting darker now, we followed maps and wandered into a tea garden on Gundumalai road (where thankfully some workers were kind enough to stop us and inform us we were lost since it only got to a dead-end through the tea gardens). A few more gaffes due to the not-so-uncommon name of our Airbnb and some atrocious roads and we finally got there grateful for a warm bed and a whimsical space with antique cars and scooters displayed at the entrance! Mercifully a local hotel delivered food as long as we paid the autorickshaw fare – we gobbled it all and fell into a relieved sleep after some talk with the chatty care taker.IMG_5957.jpg

Early next morning, we were gently lulled out of our sleep by the chirping of birds and realised our stay was also amidst a tea garden. Our morning stroll around the neighbourhood let us see that the atrocious roads from the previous night, were now just meandering paths perfect for a walk on foot! We had our dose of interaction with the locals too – with a tiny grocery stall owner insisting we get a pic of me in front of his stall covered with brilliant orange creeper vines and Anand’s camera as always garnering the interest for the local kids.IMG_5939.jpg

 

A view of the Attukad waterfall in the distance and we drove to “The blossom international park ” for a healthy dose of Flowers. IMG_5965.jpgWhile manicured and curated, the place is admittedly beautiful with blooms in a riot of shapes and colors. After a stroll there we picked up some seeds for the green thumbs in the family and made our way to the Mattupetty dam.

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Despite the volume of tourists, Mattupetty dam makes for a lovely view of the calm water while munching on some fresh pineapples with salt and chilly powder. A short walk away to the Echo point, and one can get to another view of the lake.IMG_6037

A little away is the Kundala lake that shows up in an opening right through the grove of eucalyptus trees with their fragrance wafting through the air.IMG_6057.jpg

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On our way back through the tea gardens we stopped for a minute at the Honey Bee Tree– popular being the lone tree housing numerous bee hives in beautiful shades of brown , though there are none on any other trees nearby. It is easy to miss this one unless you’re looking for it so you’ll only have the odd informed tourist stopping for a bit to stop and stare.IMG_6068.jpg

More than 10 years ago, we had visited Munnar as part of a college trip and Anand could actually recognize the place we had stayed at. We remembered vaguely there was a hill in front of it , where our gang of friends had taken a walk and even visited a church atop it. There was also a waterbody by its side, with a ridiculously perfect reflection of the gorgeous trees around it. The hotel itself had developed to become a fancy restaurant  but unfortunately the beautiful hills in front of it had been razed to make way for more shops and hotels. I’ve always been conflicted about the prettiness of the tea gardens since they’ve only been possible with significant amounts of deforestation. We were getting late for our next stop but we had to take a moment to have some refreshments at the hotel just for nostalgia’s sake.

We rushed quickly to just get in time for the much awaited highlight of the day – a performance of Kathakali and demonstration of Kalaripayattu.

The Kathakali performance was a humorous depiction of a demoness attempting to woo a king. The spot-on expressions, colorful costumes, accompanying vocals and instruments were all a complete joy to experience as we laughed along and marveled at the energy and work that went into it.IMG_6110IMG_6124

The Kalaripayattu demonstration was a riveting performance of a martial art that’s rooted in tradition and still manages to stay relevant and have us at the edge of our seats. IMG_6192From the prayers before starting to the displays of strength and expertise to the jumping through hoops of fire every moment had us cheering on the hard work that had gone into it all.IMG_6352

An exciting finish to a calm day we could not wait to see what the next day would bring- this time in the town of Kodaikanal.

2 day trip

Alleppy : And the snake boat race!

Kerala is always a treat to visit- and this time we had to visit for what is probably the most popular event there – The snake boat race. We decided to take a day more and see Alleppy while we were at it.

We drove from Thrissur on the morning of the race since it was recommended to reach early. We dropped him to the boat pick up point for the race attendees and headed back to the hotel to watch the event from the comfort of our rooms on TV!

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The place is loud- the commentary like any sports event is fast paced and keeps you at the edge of your seat- if you understand the language. The best part of the event for me is actually the energetic singing in tandem with the rowing – however, that is mostly drowned out by the sounds of the crowds cheering their favourite local team and the commentary on the loudspeakers.

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IMG_1096.jpgEither way, you can’t be unmoved by the sheer strength, skill and beauty of watching a 100 men/women rowing in unison on a narrow boat across those placid waters bordered by the boisterous crowds and the waving coconut palms – both seeming to cheer their every gasp for air.

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Tips for the snake boat race attendees:

  • Carry water and food. There is none at the event.
  • Tickets vary from Rs. 200 – Rs. 3000. While the pricier tickets get you a better view point it doesn’t necessarily guarantee comfort unless you are booking a whole house boat which is a couple of thousands per person over the ticket price.
  • The higher priced ticket options will have chairs but in the excitement of the crowds, sitting is simply a suggestion and you’ll have whole crowds up on their feet almost the whole time.
  • If you think you can take the effort of standing/sitting on the ground for long, go early to the event – the finals this time started at 2:30 but Anand got there at 11 AM on the advice of the locals. There are qualifying races and those with smaller boats before the final event- those are fun to watch too and you’d be relegated to the back of the crowd if you aren’t early.
  • Take someone to speak to or take along a book to read since there is a time gap between races where you will be left doing nothing unless you’re into people watching.IMG_1204.jpg

Meanwhile, we happened to walk around the hotel area for lunch and completely by chance had a meal at what was the best restaurant in Alleppy according to many sites. A hearty meal later uncle and aunt continued to watch the race while I chose to catch up on my sleep. After that nap, we picked up Anand. Incidentally, a jewellery store had arranged for local artists to have a performance of the Chenda Melam that is quite foot tapping and maybe some nodding along if you like strong beats.

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Tip: If you want a hint of the local culture, the best time to visit Kerala is around Onam – the date of this festival varies every year since it depends on the Malayalam calendar month Chingam. It is however around Aug-Sept. Ask your local contacts for the smaller scale local boat races, the poorams (temple festivals), the puli kali (dances in tiger outfits), kottu (the traditional drum beats), Kummati Kali (dances with masks).

A couple of minutes there and we then went to the Alappuzha beach. The long flyover getting constructed right next to the beach (currently the nearest vehicle parking is just below it), seems like quite an aberration of concrete monstrosity just next to what is usually a peaceful spot for people to spend an evening. Nevertheless, there it was.

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The Alappuzha beach is crowded but it’s also a long beach so if you’re not into jumping into the water alongside the huge groups you can always walk by the water watching people and kites dotting the sky in the backdrop of the gently falling shades of the evening skies.

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Note: Food in Allapuzha was amongst the least expensive and most satisfying we’ve had in our south Indian trips. Try the local food and you will not be disappointed. You cannot go wrong with appam, puttu or idiyappam for breakfast.

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Puttu made within a coconut shell

The next morning we first dropped into a temple that we’d noticed just behind our hotel. It happened to be a several centuries old Sree Lakshmi Narasimhaswamy Temple. IMG_2040.jpgIt has quite a dramatic legend associated with it that says a devotee who was denied the temple offerings came upon sculptors who turned into the idols of Gods that were then installed in this temple.

Its walls were covered with frescoes of different deities and heavenly figures.

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The place is surrounded by structures with beautifully tiled tall roofs that make up both the temple offices and some residences.

The most unique aspect of the space I found was that this was the first time we had seen a dovecote in a Hindu temple. The only other South Indian place in recent memory that had one was the Dariya Daulat Bagh in Srirangapatna

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Note: Many temples in Kerala have a dress code. The safest thing to wear would be a sari or a long skirt for women and a mundu or similar garment for men. The next best thing would be a salwar for women and long trousers for men- still not ok in some temples. Men will sometimes be required to take off their shirts before entering the temple. This one allowed us in but not very near the deity, some will not allow entrance into the temple itself if you don’t adhere to the dress code.

Alleppey is one of those places in Kerala where taking a house boat is definitely something one could try. We, however, had to reach Thrissur by the end of the day and so instead opted for a smaller boat like the Shikara in Kashmir except on the Vembanad lake. This was the same lake where the Snake boat race was held the previous day so Anand got an opportunity to give us an idea of where different arrangements had been made. This also happens to be the longest lake in India.

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We spent only 2 hours on our boat but one could easily spend a day revelling in the sheer luxury of doing nothing. IMG_1470The backwaters of Kerala are the perfect place to be to disconnect.The eyes easily relax on seeing the placid waters, the lovely purple flowers blooming amidst the seaweeds, the cormorants easily diving into the water to catch their fishy meals, the boats in different sizes lined along the waterside and the locals going about their day.

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Just by the backwaters are the Kuttanad rice fields you’d be able to see from your boat. It’s one of the very few places in the world where farming is carried out 4-10 ft below sea level. Our boatman informed us that the biggest expense is just pumping out water from the fields back into the backwaters. However, the land is otherwise very fertile and requires relatively lesser effort for cultivation. The farmers’ ability to undertake Biosaline farming in such situations has led to the area being declared a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System.

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Note: Costs vary for different boat sizes, the number of passengers and durations. The only way to know for sure is to ask around. We paid Rs.1000 for 4 people for a 2-hour ride because we weren’t in the mood for bargaining and signed up the first boatman who approached us.

After our ride, we drove to our next stop –  Pathiramanal Island. Anything with “island” in its name can’t help but sound intriguing add to it a name that means “Sands of the night” and your interest is piqued for sure. Our earlier boatman, however, warned us we’d probably not enjoy it as much as foreigners do.

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The island is known for mangroves, aquatic creatures and migratory birds. The birds are expected to be seen more often during summer or they just weren’t around because of the small but noisy tourist groups that had landed on the small island. Someone with at least a cursory knowledge of plant and bird species would definitely enjoy the island. Even to the untrained eye, there are a large variety of plants not very commonly seen elsewhere.IMG_2077

To someone living in the rural areas of Kerala, we would, however, find the greenery commonplace since our backyards look somewhat similar albeit with different plants! Despite being surrounded by the cool water, it is quite sultry inside the island since the thick vegetation doesn’t let much breeze in. On the flip side, it is quite a delight to step out into the spaces at the edge of the island towards the water for a welcome gust of cool air.

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Note: One has to take a boat to the island that cost us Rs.500 (there are only a couple of boats around) though it was a short ride and there are no boards on standard rates. So one can only hope you’re being charged a fair price.The boatman, however, will let you stay on the island as long as you need to and you could call him once done to pick you back. We spend around 40 mins on the island just walking around.

We went over to the Marari beach next though it was mid-day and therefore not the best time. This is significantly less crowded than the Allapuzha beach and the more ideal of them to relax and enjoy the water. Anand spent 20 minutes trying to feed a crow off of his hands but the crow persevered in just waiting from afar and we had more of a journey ahead of us. We enjoyed the beach for a while longer and moved on.

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Our next stop was the Periyar river. Following the map dutifully we reached an absolute dead end. The river was something one would see as one passes over the numerous bridges on the route. However, we were hoping for a space to sit by the water and enjoy its beauty. All we got was a shady deserted building and walking through the shrubs around it a peep at one edge of the river. Ah well, not all adventures are meant to be. So that was that.

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1 day trip

Kerala – Kochi: On the beaten path

When you have all of one day to see a place, and the need for surety on time Vs value for your fellow travellers, you do the popular spots. Though this is not typical of us on this site, that’s what I did when taking my uncle and aunt around Kochi from Trichur. So in the peak of monsoons, off we went. We took it slow and only left Trichur by 8 AM. The rains decided to roar and pour over the entire way up there with all the fury it could muster, almost making us regret the choice of time to make this trip, almost. Since just as got there, it decided to bless us with clear weather all of the day.

We planned the route such that we didn’t have to go back and forth within the area- so first headed to the Ernakulathappan Shiva temple. The diety is considered the guardian of Ernakulam- hence the name.

I’ve to admit I’d been misled by a picture online of a humongous Shiva statue that I figured my co-travelers would enjoy. We got there just a moment after the sanctum santorum closed for the morning. Our view of the outside was that it was a nice but pretty typical temple in Kerala with lamps covering the walls and the gold flag staff in the front of the temple. IMG_3302.JPGIf you haven’t ever seen a temple in Kerala it will be worth dropping in. Since we missed it I’m not sure how the main sanctum sanctorum looks/is designed. Just outside and beside it is a Murugan temple in Tamil style- it too was closing just as we got there.IMG_3301.jpg

Note: Temples in Kerala often close the main areas with the deities twice a day. If you want to visit them for prayers you may want to check before you get there.

Our next stop was the Mathhanchery Palace. The first thing one would see would be the calm pond just outside the palace. IMG_3305.jpgThere are 2 temples just outside of the palace but both were closed- not sure if they are open for the public to visit- the Pazhayannoor Bhagavati temple and the Azhithrikovil Mahavishnu temple.

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The top of the Azhithrikovil MahaVishnu temple

The palace by itself is more the size of a large home than a mammoth structure one would expect a “palace” to be. And it is converted into a heritage museum of sorts. This structure was gifted by the Portuguese to the Kochi King. It was renovated several years later by the Dutch and somehow the name “Dutch Palace” stuck. Photography is not allowed inside so not much could be captured. However, I’d highly recommend it for a peek into the lifestyles of Kerala royalty. Their clothes, ornaments (I didn’t know one of them was called pulinakham or tigers nail for its shape),  and pretty palanquins.

It’s interesting to see how the children in the royal family were dressed in a loin cloth or small pieces of fabric only distinguishable as the royalty due to a single necklace each. It also has images that represent the evolution of women’s clothing in Kerala across the ages till the saris of today.

The room one first enters into has the most lovely designs carved of wood on the ceiling. There are stunning frescoes in intricate details beautifully painted on the walls of the room where the ladies of the house lived, and the area called the “bedchamber”. The murals depict the entire story of Ramayana and several deities – Ganapathi, Vishnu, Durga, Shiva-Parvati et al. They were the most well preserved of the murals I’ve seen till now in India. My favourite little detail in the palace were the seats right by the window where 2 people could sit facing each other gazing at the waters of the pond or just the city going by their day.

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The deceptively plain exterior of the palace

We next headed to the Jewish Synagogue also called the Paradesi(Foreigner) Synagogue. It’s the oldest Synagogue from the then British Commonwealth nations built in 1568. To explain it to Uncle and Aunt I had to look up the word for Jew in Malayalam- it was Yahuda, so that’s that bit of information for you. While I had heard of the Portuguese in Kerala, I’ve to admit I didn’t know of the Jews. The synagogue is at the end of a street in the area simply named Jew town. Apparently, there are only 5 Jews currently living there one of them being our ticket seller, while the rest have returned to Israel. The Synagogue itself shares a wall with the Mattancherry Palace temple and the land for the Synagogue was gifted to the Jews quite literally under the protection of the King since their earlier Synagogue in Cochin was destroyed by the Portuguese because of Jewish persecution.

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Yet again, a very simple exterior for the Synagogue

The clock tower outside the Synagogue has letters imprinted in Hebrew, Malayalam and Roman. As one enters the main area, you’d immediately notice the numerous chandeliers and Belgian lamps in different colours and shapes, hanging low from the ceiling. The Synagogue has hand-painted Chinese tiles each tile with its own unique twist to one of  4 landscapes repeated on all of them. Apparently, the prayers require 10 Jewish men of age greater than 13 and since there aren’t sufficient here the prayers require Jews from elsewhere to come over if prayers are to be held.IMG_3323.jpg

If one can afford it, the Jew town is quite the place for interesting antiques. The homes on the street have small torches attached to the door frames that are touched before entering the homes as per Jewish beliefs.

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The cat seems to approve of the cushion

Note: The Synagogue closes for lunch between 12 pm – 3 pm so plan your day accordingly. Also no pictures were allowed in both the Synagogue and the Palace but both are quite nice inside.

If interested, this is an interesting short documentary on the life and times of the last few Jews in Kochi(It is in Malayalam but has English subtitles).

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant with a pretty ambience and 2 gorgeous birds sitting casually at the entrance. However, they took 45 mins to get the first item we ordered which was a bit of a letdown.IMG_3329.JPG

After lunch,  we headed to Fort Kochi. I had not looked up too many pictures and I went here expecting an actual Fort. However, it is simply the name of an area with charming homes and pretty structures reminiscent of those in White town of Pondicherry. The beach walkway is the highlight of the place with a huge number of people spending the afternoon there. It’s saddening to see a huge amount of trash washed over from the sea onto every piece of land on the edge of the water.

After passing by the shops selling enticing fresh catch from the sea, we decided to head in the opposite direction of the tourists to the boats. Apparently, the fish come nearer to the beach in the rain and go deeper into the water when it’s too sunny.

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An earnest fisherman trying his luck

Just beside it was the first Chinese fishing net I saw. It’s quite a contraption- seemingly simple and yet elegant.IMG_3345.JPG

We decided to spend some time walking along the path munching on ice creams and random eats from the vendors along the way. Just as we walked to the end and headed back we saw multiple industrial looking ships up close and admired them from afar.IMG_3355.jpg While we considered having some seafood after the lacklustre lunch, Uncle, however, wasn’t convinced at the prices for the seafood we make regularly at home, but it’s something one could try during a visit there.

Note : If you’ve more time we’d recommend strolling along the bylanes of the area with beautiful old houses and quaint remnants from the times gone by.

Our last stop for the day was the Cherai beach where we decided to watch the sunset and end the day. We first stopped for some tea and pazhampori (batter-fried sweet plantain) that I’d highly recommend you try during your time in Kerala and that’s a tea time staple. This beach is a small stretch filled to the brim with people in the water so we decided to instead sit at the edge of the walkway and while the time watching the waves slowly form from afar and roar on to the edge with sheer power and grace. As riveting as the view was, it was 6 pm already and the sun showed no signs of wanting to set. I checked and realised the sunset was at 6:50 PM that day. Since it was a cloudy day with high chances of no clear sunset view + we had a long drive back home we decided to call it a day and head back.IMG_3369

We followed maps and came to a spot with a huge number of bikes, a crowd of people and a queue of cars. Only then did I realise we had to take a ferry on the way back! We enquired and it was the easiest way or we’d have to take a circuitous route by road and spend a long time at it. It was the first time for all of them taking a ferry and the first time for me taking a car into a ferry. The tickets were incredibly inexpensive at just Rs.35 for the car with its passengers!  After a short time in the queue, we drove into the ferry. Our view of the sea was almost completely covered by people on all sides having conversations about their day as they headed home from work while we had a fun time finding magic amidst their ordinary, rocking gently inside the car to the rhythm of the sea.IMG_3358.jpg

 

4 day trip

Kerala and Karnataka : Kasargod and Coorg

Shravanabelagola -> Doddagaddavalli -> Chikmagalur -> Ayyankere -> Mangalore -> Kasargod ->Coorg

Continued from here.

Next morning had breakfast at a place nearby where I had neer dosa (I preferred the ones made by Anand) and he had kotte kadubu which was not too bad. Unfortunately, his favourite ice-cream place,Pabba’s, wasn’t open as yet so we made our way to Bekal fort without it.

We were only 5 km away from it, and following our maps led us to a road completely blocked at multiple points ahead too. Anand,determined as ever, decided he just had to see Bekal on this trip and we headed back onto a parallel road hoping it merged at some point. At one point we got lost and stumbled upon a mangrove! A few locals were fishing there with rudimentary gear and seemed to have had some success. The bright green of the groves, the 2 tiny boats with fishermen made a serene spot to be lost at. A few minutes later we continued trying to find our way.

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The surprise mangrove

We first saw a board for Kumbla fort and decided to stop and explore it. It was lovely, green and deserted. Some time  there and then on to the next fort Chandragiri- again just on our way. Neither of the forts had people around, so made up their place in our preferred list of idyllic pitstops.

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Kumbla fort
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Chandragiri fort

We finally reached Bekal and I was famished. The 2 neer dosas long digested, we hunted for restaurants but found none around. The lady collecting the parking fee directed us to a modest house that she said, served ghee rice. A satisfying meal of ghee rice, vegetable curry, chicken curry later we had enough in our tummies to admire the fort at our leisure. It was vaster than either of us expected. However, we were less interested in the manicured lawns and gardens and more in the view of the sea 🙂 Luckily it was not too hot to stroll around the huge space. We had a blissful time transfixed at the powerfully hypnotising waves crashing into the boulders, tirelessly putting up a show for us. Just as we were on our way back, the rains decided to make an appearance and how! Mercifully there was a small store inside the fort and we enjoyed ice-creams and salted-raw-mangoes to our heart’s content while waiting for it to be done.

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Bekal fort
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The furious sea

When the rain took a breather, we broke into a gentle run to make our way out and it  gave us just enough time to reach our car with only a little drenching. We drove on to the very scenic Coorg and back into hill-station weather after the slightly humid Kerala.

We stopped by a Coffee day just because it was in a scenic, green location and due to lack of warm tea options, I decided against my better judgement to have half a cup of Irish coffee. We had an idyllic conversation on poetry and lyrics that was lovely. However, this seemingly innocuous break had repercussions later!

There was a constant drizzle the whole time we were in Coorg. After we checked-in to the hotel, Anand insisted we go to a place he’d been to before that was inside a traditional house (the kind I love :)) called the East End Hotel. However to his surprise the place had changed from a quaint restaurant to more of a bar, or at least the crowd when we got there was more there to be drinking than for the ambience or the food. So my entry to it made the waiter uncomfortable enough to request us to move few tables away from a guy who was having a drink 😀 Anand insisted that I try the local Coorg chicken curry and he had dal with roti and some rice. We headed back for a good night’s rest except I didn’t get any! The coffee had been a terrible mistake and kept me up the entire night with every noise beginning to sound annoying after a while- the guy in the room above incessantly moving furniture, the sound of rain that had long stopped sounding calming. When in that state, even the sounds of silence are enough to drive one insane.

Much to my relief, day did break at last, and my energy levels were still high! The Dubare elephant camp was a place both Anand and I had missed despite multiple trips we’d made to Coorg separately. We went straight there and this time without any delay took the boat across the river to the sanctuary. Just as we arrived, we saw endearing little pachyderms happily walk right into the water. We could also purchase tickets to bathe them and just as I was about to do so, this happened – There were some people in the water who were looking away when surrounded by those majestic creatures. And a baby elephant playfully approached them to be petted, they didn’t look at him till he was too close and then he playfully pushed them to the wall. This led the kids herding the elephants to beat up this little one for the foolishness of the human animals , and it completely turned me off the experience of bathing them.

We wandered sadly around and were instantly cheered up by the option to feed them instead. I was beyond delighted to pet them as they munched on their treats. Anand was thrilled by my delight and kept paying the guy to let me feed them too! 😀 A happy time there later we got back to the car munching on peanuts ourselves. The drizzle was just gentle enough for us to walk around without an umbrella.

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Just look at his little trunk! 🙂

We next headed off to the Tibetan monastery at Bylakuppe just because it was on the way, though both of us had been there before.

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I spied a restaurant serving Tibetan food and quickly decided that we’d lunch there.  A ramble around the spacious temple later, we treated ourselves to hot thupka and momos. After shopping at the market we headed back satiated, to our dear home.

Coming up : Exploring of Udupi, minus the flexibility of our car