Saturday, December 20, 2008

Trip Around North Kerala

One wonders how much Nature & Kerala are synonymous. Under the pretext of Advika's Annaprashan I got a chance to take a trip of North Kerala. For those who don't know Annaprashan, also known as annaprashan vidhi, annaprasan, or Anna-prasanam is a Hindu rite-of-passage ritual that marks an infant's first intake of Rice. Rice is the staple food for South Indians. The term annaprashan literally means "food feeding" or "eating of food". The ceremony is usually arranged in consultation with a priest, who arranges an auspicious date on which to conduct the ceremony.Commonly referred to in English as First Rice, the ceremony is usually carried out when the child is about 6 months of age.

Even before Advika's birth we had wished that the Annaprasan for our child happens in Guruvayoor. So did our parents. Having driven 400 odd kilometers at fairly high speed, I was assuming that a 200km odd journey will be piece of Cake. Soon I was proved wrong. Not only was the drive longer, but tiresome.

And so it was on Wednesday of Dec 08, we set forth on the journey to Guruvayoor. Guruvayoor is close to 200km from Kannur. We had booked four rooms in "Elite Hote" Kizhakke Nada (East Entrance), Guruvayoor. We started off at around 2pm and I was hoping to get there by 6pm and then probably have a calm darshan in the evening.

Our first physical stop was at Nandi Gate (Railway Gate), where we had to wait for 2 train to pass. All through the stretch between Kannur and Kozhikode, there are railway over bridges. Some of them are all ready commissioned, while some are yet to be completed. Nandi is one of them I remember seeing them from the past 8 years. There goes progress for you... I was told by someone that Jayalalitha had created 51 fly overs in her 5 year tenure in Chennai. Now I am not an Big Fan of Jayalalitha, but just showcases the fact that if there is conviction there is a way! Anyway so we were stuck at Nandi for quite some time and I took the chance to take a picture of the Fish Market.

Nandi Gate...

Fish Market at Nadi Bazar.

Now During this time of the season you will get a sea shell -mussel which is common in Malabar. Colloquial it is called "Kalluma Kayi", meaning Fruit or Eatable grown on Rocks. This is found along the shores of the Malabar. As you would be aware, the shore line is quite rough along the Malabar area and one of the reasons ships cannot come closer to the shore line.

One good thing along the way is that from Calicut town you can take a bye pass which will lead you to Ramanattukara. While you enter city, take left from West Hill Chungam. After 2 junctions, East Hill and Eranjipalam, you will get the next one that leads towards Collectorate. Take the road and if you proceed 2 km further you will get the Bye pass road on the right hand side. You will not miss the sign board. The toll is of 5km, But I bet you will feel it is worthy. Watch out though for the smaller roads that join. In any case I was not able to drive beyond 70km.

As I passed East hill there is a small house on the right hand side, and every time I pass by I think of the movie that is shot there. "Vellanakalude Nadu". One of the famous movies in Malayalam. I could find a few links in you tube from the movie. Mallus will never forget this movie! Anyway in the movie the house belonged to the heroine "Shobhana" and there is a sequence in which a Road Roller driven by Kuthiravatoom Papu (Comedian), rams into her house after loosing control.

Intersting thing to realize is that unlike the drive in the rest of the country, you will get a small town with a few shops every 1 km. So there is hardly a time when you take your feet off the break.

We took a short break of 10 minutes to feed advika just after Chelari to feed Advika. By night fall it was getting tough to drive.
a) Night Traffic within the cities
b) No Street lights
c) people travelling in High Beam
d) The Road from Edappal untill a few kilometers before Kundamkulam is bad. Now the question would be how bad is bad. Well reall bad. In some ares there are no Tar (Imagine this is a state High way). And in case you need to know, it is stopped due to payment terms and issues between the contractor and Kerala state. So much for Development. If you plan to travel, I would suggest you make it during day time and may be you hire a cab instead of driving. Barring this 10km stretch the roads were pretty fine except that I had to cope up with the City traffic every now and then. By the way the roads are narrow and suitable only for 1 late traffic, except in some places.

The Guruvayur Shri Krishna Temple is one of the most famous temples in India. It is located in the town of Guruvayur in Thrissur district of Kerala. The presiding deity is Shri Krishna, in the standing posture with four hands (Chaturbahu) that carry the Sankhu (conch), the Sudarshana chakram (a serrated disk), the lotus and the mace[1] . The Lord is worshipped in his many manifestations, the favorite with devotees being the 'Sankalpa' of the Lord as 'Unnikrishnan' (Infant Krishna). For devotees Guruvayur is "Bhooloka Vaikuntham" and Dakshina Dwaraka.

The idol of the deity is made of a rare stone known as Patala Anjanam. The hereditary Tantri (Head Priest) of the temple is from the Chennas Mana

Gurvayoor temple is also famous for Krishnanattam Kali, a noted classical performing art that was instrumental in the initial development of the world-famous dance-drama Kathakali. Also Narayaneeyam by Melpathoor Narayana Bhattathiri and Jnanappana by Poonthanam, both (late) authors being ardent devotees of Guruvayurappan. While Narayaneeyam is a brisk walk through of the Dasaavatharam (10 incarnations of Maha Vishnu) in Sanskrit, Jnanappana is in native Malayalam, observing the naked truths of life and preaching the do's and dont's.

Guruvayur is also a major venue for the south Indian classical Carnatic music, especially during its auspicious ekadasi day held in the memory of legendary vocalist Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, another ardent devotee of Guruvayurappan. The temple also holds the annual festival (ulsavam) in the Malayalam month of Kumbham (February-March) during which it hosts classical arts like Kathakali, Koodiyattam, Panchavadyam, Thayambaka and Panchari Melam. The place has given birth many noted percussionists of ethnic instruments like chenda, maddalam, timila, ilathalam and idakka.

By 8pm we reached Guruvayoor, we dropped the plan to have darshan in the evening, though it was Kuchela Jayanthi. The next day morning we planned to Advika's Annaprashan around 5am. We had dinner and I took the time to relax. Rachana and the rest of the members took some time to do shopping. I was expecting Elite to be really good, but strangely I could locate a few Cockroaches in the room as well. The flooring and other facilities seemed to be all right.

We got up early next morning and completed the Annaprashan and darshan by 7am, including small shoppings :). The temple was extremely crowded. The reason being Shabarimala pilgrims. The que was even beyond Elite's entrance. By 8 we were done and we decided to proceed towards Thiruvilwamala. On the way I stopped to take the picture of Garuda at the entrance of Guruvayoor.

Our next destination was the Thiruvilwamala Temple about 70km from Guruvayoor via Thrissur.

Thiruvilwamala, also spelt Thiruvilluamala, is a hilly village in the northern terrain of Thrissur district of Kerala state in southern India.The village, which is more of a temple town, is located on the banks of the Bharathapuzha river, with nearest towns being Shoranur and Ottappalam. The place is famous for the Vilwadrinatha temple, which is among the rare Sri Rama temples in Kerala. Niramaala is one of the famous festive events here.Close to Thiruvilwamala many other temples of ancient years and have more than four Shiva temples. Ivor Madom, the Krishna temple, is famous for the ceremonies performed in order to ensure peace for the soul of the dead. Other temples and groves of thiruvilwamala are:-Parakkottu Kavu, Cheruthrikkovil, the temples of Mariyamma in Aakkaparambu, Eravathodi, Pattiparambu, Kuthampulli, Soudeshwari Amman temple (Kuthampulli) and Poothanakkara Shiva Temple.

There were a couple of short cuts available from Guruvayoor to Thiruvilwamala, but in the end we decided to take the main road. From Guruvayoor to Thrissur and from then on towards the Wadakkanchery and Shoranur. From Mullurkara we took a deviation from the main road. While I did that I saw a board pointing towards Kerala Kala Mandalam in the other direction. We reached Thiruvilwamala via Chelakkara. At some points, you might miss the sign boards towards Thirvuvilwamala. I would suggest you keep asking people on the way to confirm the route. The temple closes by 11 am and reopens in the evening around 5pm. We reached around 10 and had darshan.

One of our vehichles had a small problem and I took the opportunity take some snaps. I also saw a Bullock cart.

There is a Sai Baba asharam (shirdhi) in thruvilwamala. I was told that there was a devotee from Palghat who had donated this land. There is annadanam every thursday. We had lunch from there and we were on the way for the 2nd leg of the journey by 2pm.

While returning we decided to take the the route via Ottapalam and outskirts of Shoranur, Pattambi and then to Valanchery. The road till Pattambi is good. From then onwards there is a diversion for about 30 km to reach Valanchery. The roads are fairly small. From Valanchery onwards to Kozhikode it is NH 17. We took a diversion at Vettichira towards (right turn) the Kadampuzha temple. The Temple for Sreeparvathi at Kadampuzha, dedicated to Goddess Vana Durga, is one of the most prominent Devi temples in Kerala. The term 'puzha' which in Malayalam denotes river is a misnomer here since the otherwise sylvan surroundings and verdant greenery around the location has no river skirting it. The idol in the Sanctum Sanctorum is abstract in shape but it is 'Swayambhoo' or natural manifestation. The temple is very simple in architecture without any imposing edifices or a gold-plated flagmast. There are no festival processions or drum concerts. But the multitude of birds nestling on the verge of the green belt provide a natural ambience with their non-stop chirping and it is fully in tune with Kerala's temple culture; Kavu as it was known in ancient times, an epitome of preservation of ecological balance.

Legend about the origin of the temple is associated with the popular episode in the Mahabharatha where Arjuna does penance to appease Lord Siva to obtain the divine weapon Passupathastra. Lord Siva approaches Arjuna as a hunter (Kiratha) with His divine consort Sreeparvathi escorting Him as huntress (Kirathi). Arjuna is challenged by the Lord in disguise to test the skills of the boon-seeker.In the fierce battle between Lord Siva (Kiratha) and Arjuna, the arrows that Arjuna showered on Lord Siva miraculously turned into Thechi flowers. Arjuna then recognises the Lord and prostrates before Him. Having found Arjuna worthy of the deadly weapon, the Lord obliges His devotee very soon, and here He is goaded by Sreeparvathi who hastened the process. Hastening is twaritha in Malayalam and Goddess at Kadampuzha is worshipped as Twaritha or one who is quick in granting blessings and favours. The shower of arrows-turned into flowers is symbolised here by a unique offering to the Goddess, Poomoodal, the Swayambhoo Sthanam being covered completely by flowers. Petals of Thechi flowers are mandatory since they resemble arrowheads. The quantity required is 12 Kutanna, one Kutanna being the capacity when two cupped palms are held together. During the divine couple's wandering in this forest, Sreeparvathi once felt thirsty and the Lord brought forth holy water from river Ganga through a well directed arrow ino the earth. This event is immortalised as KaatanAmbu-eitha-ala where kaatan is hunter, ambu is arrow, eitha is shot and ala is hole. This became Katanambueithaala which was later colloquialised as Kadampuzha. Devotees thus worship the hole through which river Ganga sprouted and this is the idol sankalpa. Shankaracharya during once of his frequent pilgrimages while traversing this forest area was attracted by an all pervading 'aura' emanating from the dense undergrowth. Finding it difficult to approach the spot due to the heat generated by the radiation, he meditated uponLord Vishnu as Narasimha and the Lord appeared. With the help of Sudarshanachakra of Lord Vishnu the great saint moved closer only to fmd the radiance shrinking and fmally vanishing into a hole on the earth's surface. Through deep meditation using the 'Divyachakshussu', the Aacharya discerned the nature of the phenomenon nothing other than the divine presence of Seeparvathi in the forest. The place was consecrated as a temple and in commemoration of 'showers of flowers' , Poomoodal gained prominence due to the inherent quality and power of flower petals to contain heat. Lord Narasimha and Sudarshanachakra are honoured through depictions in front of the Sanctum Sanctum. There are enclosures for Sree Dharma Sastha and Nagakanyaka as upadevaas or subsidiary deities. Modalities of worship are as prescribed by Shankaracharya.
Goddess here is worshipped in three forms viz., Vidya Durga (Saraswathi), Vanadurga (Durga) and Aadi Durga (MooladurgaLakshmi). As Durga, She blesses the devotees with health, early marriage and domestic harmony. Saraswathi is invoked for education and career. Lakshmi of course Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Another unique offering here is Muttarukkal where coconuts brought by devotees are broken by the Poojari in front of Devi's idol in the presence of the devotees themselves and this is to ward off hostile influences plaguing them. One coconut for every obstacle is the system followed. The popularity of this ritual can be gauged from the figure of more than thirty lakhs of coconuts that are brought to the temple every year by the stream of devotees. The other important sevas are Katinapayasam, Rekthapushpanjali, Choroon (Anaprasam),Dehapushpanjali, Thrimadhuram, Thrikalapooja, Kettunira,Vilakkumala,Malapooja, Neyvilakku, Ganapathi Homam, Niramala etc.

From Kadampuzha to Kozhikode it is close to 60km. & This time as well we took the bye pass at Ramanattukara.

The journey was physically tiring, but rejuvenated at intervals with Temples and the pleasant site of nature.

Courtesy : Mapmyindia, youtube

Monday, December 15, 2008

Road Trip to Kannur

Keeping My Promise.. Here is my Travelogue for my trip to Kannur. For more a month I have been thinking about the route and when to start(i.e. early morning, late in the evening etc). First it was the plan to start late in the evening on Thursday to Calicut, Halt there and travel to Kannur the next day early in the morning. Then there was the plan to halt in Mysore and then start early in the morning. And all through the journey it was the 3 of us, Me,my wife-Rachana and my daughter- Advika. Special care had to taken care of the baby food. (For expert opinion, consult My wife - Rachana). I believe she has been more active reading during pregnancy and birth than earlier :). Anyway so the logistics had to be planned in such a way that Advika's food could be taken care. She is 7 months old now and has started teething! She eats ragi, some kind of cooked vegetables and fruits and biscuits. We haven' t started her giving rice. That will be after her "Annaprasham" in Guruvayoor.
So finally we decided to start early in the morning. I started enquiring about route a month back. There are a few routes from Bangalore to Kannur.
a) The simplest route but for a 20km stretch is Bangalore-> Mysore -> Honsur -> Virajpet -> Kannur. For a 20km stretch from Virajpet to Makootam & infact until Kootupuzha palam (border of Kerala), there is virtually no road. For bikers and Bus it is still viable, but not by car or any 4 wheeler, unless you have a land rover. For the records it is close to 340km
b) the next route is Bangalore -> Mysore -> HegdedevanKotte(HD Kote)-> Bavali-> Manathavadi -> Kannur. Distance around 340km. Again there is a brief stretch of 20km where there are virtually no roads. I was told that Kerala State Road Transport Corporation runs a bus from Mysore to Kannur via this route. Some time back I had come in that bus and it is a beautiful ride via the Kabini reservoir. If I remember right, there is a bus that starts around 3pm from Mysore and arrives at Kannur at about 9pm, via HD Kote, Bavali, Manathavady, Thottilpalam, Nadapuram, Panoor, Koothparamba, Thalashery & Kannur.
c) The next route is Bangalore -> Mysore -> Gonikoppal (Coorg) -> Kutta -> Tholpatti -> Bavali -> Manathavady -> Kannur. Again there is a 10km stretch from Kutta till Tholpatti, where I was told there are virtually no roads. This is through the Nagarhole National Park
d) Bangalore-> Mysore -> Nanjangud -> Gundlupet -> Sulthan Bathery -> Meenangadi -> Manathavady -> Kannur. The road is fairly good, though the distance would be close to 400km from Bangalore city.

There is another way from Mananthavady to Kannur and that is via Thottilpalam, Nadapuram, Kallachi, Kakkat, Chokli, Thalashery and then Kannur. The distance is shorter but there are lot of small towns on the way, causing you to reduce the speed,
unless you are proceeding towards Thalasherry ,Mahe or Vadakara. Hence I would advice you to take the Manathavady - Nedumpoyil road, The descent starts from Periya untill Nedumpoyil.

In the end I decided to take the longest and the safest route. The day before the journey, I checked up the engine oil, the break oil, the coolant, air pressure and the spare tube. I filled up oil. BTW: Petrol in Kerala is cheaper than in Karnataka. So I had filled just enough :). The day before the journey me and Rachana decided to figure out what food to carry for Advika, and the rest of the logistics. Our plan was to leave home at around 4:30 am.

We got up around 4am and by the time we left home it was 5:15am. As usual before the journey I went to the Ayyappa temple at HAL and prayed. It was 6am when we reached Bangalore outer - Rajeshwari arch. By 8 we were in Mysore and by around 8:25 am we took the first break in between Nanjangud and Gundlupet. By then we had crossed 180km. Advika was up by then and we fed her with Ragi and Milk. We had a light breakfast "Bread Toast and busicuits" and juice. I took Advika around and showed her the fields and the trees.

At Gundlupet we took a right towards the Calicut Road. Before Bandipur Forest area, there are a lot of villages and strangely they keep their hay on the road for drying. Take care while driving in those areas, there could be nails around! During summer is really beautiful especially as you approach Onam August September. There are lots of Flowers grown in the area. Also there are a few nurseries on the way, just in case you have a mini Gardner in you! Also look out for small speed breakers on the road. There are few of them.
At the border one strange thing happened. The police check post was there to collect Mamul :), & yes Karnataka Police. They asked for 50Rs. Finally after so much of fight I gave off 20 Rs.
Driving past Muthanga among the tall trees!
By 10:45 we were in Sulthan Bathery. We drove down further for about 10km when we got to Meenangadi. At Meenangadi we took a right and proceeded towards Panamaram. The road has lot of pot holes so my speed got drastically reduced. Till Panamaram and even till Manathavady the roads have pot holes so on an average I could run at 45kmph. Fortunately there are very few vehicles on the road. We reached Manthavady at around 12 and I filled up my car. "Full Tank" :D.. As I was telling you Petrol is cheaper in Kerala! Gods Own "Petrol" Friendly Country. Till now we are almost at the same MSL (Mean Sea Level) as Bangalore. Now was the time to climb down via the ghat section.
From Manathavady towards Kannur the roads also had potholes and it was getting difficult to drive. On the way I saw a deviation towards "Boys Town" & Kottiyoor. For those of you who are new to the area, Kottiyoor is a very famous temple in Kannur and it is know for its Elaneer aatam close to the rainy seasons - June. There are two temples Akkare Kottiyoor & the main temple.
Kottiyoor is small town situated in Kannur district, bordered by Wayanad district. A very old Siva temple situated there attracts lakhs of devotees every year[citation needed]. The Bavali river, Paalukaachi hill, all are tourists places in kottiyoor. The temple festival (utsav) begins every year by mid May and lasts for 28 days. Ilaneer Veppu or submitting tender coconuts before the deity is an important ritual during the festival. Thousands of tender coconuts brought by hundreds of devotees from different parts of Malabar is submitted on a special day. The very next day is Ilaneerattam. On this day, main priest pours coconut water collected from the tender coconuts on the idol. This is the place where Daksha Yagam is supposed to have taken place.
Noticing the road ahead, I decided to take the road towards Kottiyoor. It is a steep descent and on the right hand side you can see a beautiful waterfall. Not sure which river or stream it is. But was an awesome sight. The road is very narrow, just enough for two vehicles & very steep. I was told that Christian Missionaries had made this road(small road I presume in those days) and the Government has made it large. Astonishingly I found a bus plying in the route - Iritty to Manthavady via Boys Town. Anyway I took a break and took some snaps, just to capture God's Sculpturing skills! Awesome. He and only he can do it! There are a few waterfalls in the area (un explored).

From Boy's Town the road leads towards Ambayathodu, Kottiyoor, Kelakam, Nedumpoyil and then towards Koothuparamba.Within the next 1 1/2 we drove down to Koothuparamba. My dad runs a small shop there. Advika got naughty on seeing him and pulled out his glasses :D. We drove down to Kannur via Mambram, Peralassery (approx 20km) and by 2pm we were in Kannur.
A Pleasant drive and I was let wondering what time it would have taken for me to reach Kannur had the Virajpet route been taken care! Weeks before the journey I was dreaming of the drive uncertain about the route and the way the logistics would work out. It gives me great satisfaction that the journey went on well and safe and that the 3 of use enjoyed the trip. No aches or pains for me either. Looking forward for the drive back to Bangalore!
Courtesy : MapMyIndia & my Small Family!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Trip to Fort Kochi

Queen of the Arabian Sea,Kochi. Many of us know Eranakulam, but people kept telling me that Kochi is different. And on 16th November we decided to take a small trip in the morning. On the previous day night we took a small trip of Eranakulam.Marine Drive, the Goshree Bridge and the Vallarpadam bridge & the Thattukada at Shenoy's. However Kochi was still unexplored .All of us were tired due to the Shabarimala trip, but we decided to go for it.

Getting up in the morning was not that tough, Deepak me and jithu were like good boys getting up out of bed and folding the blankets

View from the Flat.

By 6:30 we went out. Our First stop was the Jew Street in Mattanchery. The lanes leading to it are narrow and I was told that the Jews came to Kochi for spice trade. During the day time, spice trade is hectic in the area and it is really hectic. You cannot even take a cycle through the area due to the loading and unloading activities.

We moved ahead to the Jew Synagogue at Fort Kochi. Synagogue was constructed in 1568 and is the oldest in the Commonwealth countries. The synagogue was partially destroyed in a shelling during the Portuguese raid but was rebuilt two years later by the Dutch. I could feel the valor & pride standing outside.

The articles of interest at the synagogue are a clock tower, hand painted, willow patterned floor tiles from Canton in China, great scrolls of the Old Testament, Hebrew inscriptions on stone slabs, ancient scripts on copper plates in which the grants of privilege made by the former rulers of Cochin were recorded.

There are a lot of shops selling sculptors and ethnic items in the area.

Shops near the Synagogue

Kochi is also famous for Fishing Nets - Chinese fishing Nets to be precise.They are fixed land installations for an unusual form of fishing — shore operated lift nets.Each structure is at least 10 m high and comprises a cantilever with an outstretched net suspended over the sea and large stones suspended from ropes as counterweights at the other end. Each installation is operated by a team of up to six fishermen.The system is sufficiently balanced that the weight of a man walking along the main beam is sufficient to cause the net to descend into the sea. The net is left for a short time, possibly just a few minutes, before it is raised by pulling on ropes. The catch is usually modest: a few fish and crustaceans — these may be sold to passers by within minutes.

It is received wisdom that the nets are Chinese in origin. This is not as improbable as the 5,000 km distance from China might suggest — Kochi is a very important centre for the spice trade attracting traders from far and wide. Some suppose that the nets were introduced by the Chinese explorer Zheng He.In addition, catches can be purchased individually and need be taken only a short distance to a street entrepreneur who will cook it.

Market where the fish is sold.

We took a walk around the Shore line which was a great experience. Since it was morning, I saw a lot of people doing exercises along the shore line. To save from the shoreline from the tides, Rocks have been laid. There is only one small stretch where you can see sand. I also saw a few people swimming in the sea. Being a natural port, there is lot of silt that gets deposited. There are dredging ships that takes care of cleaning up the silt deposits. No wonder the British made Kochi a Port. Vembanad Lake is really beautiful as well.

I saw a lot of opportunities of development along the shoreline. I also saw a couple of places where the provisions for restaurants and other small shops were made by the governemnt, but not much has been done there after. I don't think they have been used at all.

Old Mattanchery Bridge

Church at Fort Kochi, there are few of them!!! But this one is special...
This is called the St. Francis Church.
Built around 1503, this is the oldest European Church in India. But the real speciality about this place is related to Vasco Da Gama. For those of you who don't know, Vasco Da Gama was the first European Sailor to discover India. Dom Vasco da Gama, 1st Count of Vidigueira was a Portuguese explorer, one of the most successful in the European Age of Discovery and the commander of the first ships to sail directly from Europe to India. On his first visit he landed in Kappad (near Calicut) in 1498. He died in Kochi in 1524 when he was on his third visit to India. His body was originally buried in this church, but after fourteen years his remains were removed to Lisbon. His Grave stone is still available in this church. The Church was declared a protected monument in April and thereafter it is under the Archieolgical Suvery of India but owned by the North Kerala Dioces of Church of South India.

Our Car parked near the Fort Kochi Market.

One of the Old houses in Fort Kochi.
The path way along the shores
Fishermen setting off for the high seas!
Old Gunnery at Fort Kochi
Boilers at Fort Kochi
Dredging ship at the Port
The anchor!!!

We started back around 8:00 am as we had to catch a train at 9:30am. Overall the experience was really good. Though a wish still remains of having a tea at the "Thattukada" on the Beach! May be in the evening !

Coming Soon : Drive to Kannur!