Attukal Pongala – one of the largest women gatherings in world

It was in 2016 when I witnessed Attukal Pongala for the first time and didn’t know the importance of this mega-event at that time! In 2017 I couldn’t attend it as I was away and this year, I made a point to not miss this festival. But why? Coz this ritual had made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest religious gathering of women on a single day in 2009. The festival falls on Karthika star of the Malayalam month of Makaram or Kumbham, which usually falls in February of March, and is celebrated for 10 days. The Attukal Pongala takes place on the 9th day when women offer Pongala – a sweet dish to the Goddess.

According to a legend, the Attukal Pongala festival commemorates the hospitality accorded by women in the locality to Kannaki, the divine incarnation of the heroine of the Tamil epic ‘Silappadhikaram’ while she was on her way to Kodungalur in central Kerala after destroying Madurai city to avenge the injustice to her husband Kovilan. It is said that she stopped at Attukal for a day’s rest where the local women offered her rice and jaggery for lunch. The temple, located in the heart of the city, is dedicated to Attukal Bhagavathy, believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki.

The Attukal Pongala fell on 02nd of March this year. One week before the commencement of this Annual festival, streets of the capital city of Kerala were lined-up with make-shift shacks selling mud pots, bricks, wooden ladles, the loud-speakers of all temples came alive, and many miniature shrines were erected at almost all the junctions. People from all parts of Kerala arrived into Thiruvananthapuram days in advance to secure a hearth close to the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple and mark their spaces to have their make-shift brick stoves on which they would prepare ‘Pongala’.

It was 05.00 hrs in the morning on 02.03.2018 and I started stirring up in my bed when the women downstairs started making their preparations. Almost all the men will be hooked up to their homes while the women would be on streets in their new golden bordered Kerala Kasavu sarees. When I stepped out of my home, a long row of brick-stoves with mud-pots and bronze vessels neatly placed on top of them caught my eye. After making my visit to the nearest Goddess temple, I made my way to my office by-passing the many women devotes who are waiting patiently on either sides of the road braving the hot sun.

I could see some of our staff along with other women ready with their hearths near to the Ganesha temple. All were busy with washing rice, grating jaggery and crushing cardamom while the temple authorities were keeping a check on their wristwatches and waiting earnestly for the auspicious time. The rituals actually begin when the chief priest lights up the main hearth of Attukal Bhagavathy temple with fire brought from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. Finally at around 10.15 hrs, the chief priest of the Ganesha temple lit the temple’s hearth and the fire has been passed on to the other hearths by the burning fronds.

The women were into immediate action. Soon the roads were covered with the smoke from the brick-stoves, women turned into a shade of pink due to the hot sun, heat emanating from their stoves and coughs stirred up. I myself found to have a running nose and eyes because of the smoke. Though the sun was blazing like hot molten lava, it couldn’t break the determination of these women devotes. As if pleased by their devotion, the sky was filled with clouds and a cool breeze started to flow. Breaking away from the temple road, I walked towards the junction.

Here too, the situation is more or less the same – women were cooking, volunteers were helping, police personnel were overlooking the activities. Few women started ululating when the contents of their pots were overflowing and praying silently. When asked a lady she went onto say that when the contents in the pot boil over, it marks prosperity and they ululate to thank the Goddess for that. Most of them started to rest after preparing Pongala, which is rice cooked with jaggery and coconut while few others went onto prepare few more delicacies like the Manda Puttu – a green gram delight, Therali Appam – a dish that is steamed in aromatic bay leaves and Aravana.

It’s time for them to go home. It was 14.00 hrs and I could still see the anticipation in everyone’s eyes as the time for the final ritual for the day was approaching. It’s the Nivedhyam (offering ceremony). When the signal came at 14.20 hrs, the chief priest sprayed some holy water over the temple’s utensil containing the Pongala and thereby making it into a holy offering which would be distributed later to the devotes. Later, he went onto spray the holy water over all the pots of the devotes marking the end of the ritual. I too took my share of ‘prashad’(holy offering) before I left to my home 🙂

Advertisements

Padmanabhapuram Palace – The Travancore heritage in Tamil Land

Off to Mathur Hanging Bridge – We reached Kanyakumari Bus Station and inquired about the route which we need to take to reach Mathur village. Some of them suggested us to go to Nagercoil as we could get more number of buses from there and we followed the same. After reaching Nagercoil, they suggested us to catch a bus to Thuckalay and catch another bus to Mathur Village from there. Thuckalay is about 25 kms from Nagercoil and it took us around 30 minutes to reach this place. We sought the help of few people to guide us to reach Mathur bridge but could see people being confused either because of the language or the place about which we are asking. No idea what’s going in their minds!

After a long wait of about 45 minutes, we started feeling frustrated as we were not able to get even a single bus which could drop us off at our destination. In the mean while, my friend got busy surfing the internet when I was about to tell her that we would go back to Trivandrum as it’s getting late. It was at this point of time that she showed me her mobile pointing out the Padmanabhapuram Palace, which is like just 5 minutes from the bus station. That’s how we ended up at this place instead of the Mathur Aqueduct! 😀 😀

What will be one’s expectation will be like when heard of a palace? The Mysore Palace, The Falalknuma?? Here is a different one from the routine. The Padmanabhapuram Palace located in Padmanabhapuram Fort against the backdrop of the Veli Hills that form a part of the Western Ghats in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu. A magnificent wooden palace of the 16th century, this is a fine specimen of Kerala’s indigenous style of architecture. Though this palace is located in Tamil Nadu, the palace and its surroundings are owned and governed by the Kerala state.

The palace was built by Iravi Varma Kulasekhara Perumal, the ruler of Travancore in 1601 AD and was also called Kalkulam Palace. At a later point of time, the King Marthandavarma rebuilt this palace to its current state. Spread across some 6.5 acres of area, the palace enthrall its visitors with intricate wooden work. Lavish use of wood can be seen in this palace; thanks to the rich forest cover of Kerala! 🙂 Also one can witness the defining aspects of Kerala structure in this palace, like the high steep sloping roofs, often covered with tiles, copper plates or thatched palm leaves supported on a roof frame made of hard wood or timber.

 

The first structure we encountered after entering the palace complex, is Poomukkham with images of horse riders on both sides of the entrance, showing exquisite wood carvings. There are few people who guide us inside the palace and explaining the history. The main attraction of this structure is the wooden ceiling which is ornamented with almost 90 lotus medallions and each one is different from the other. It was here that the erstwhile king used to entertain his special guests. Yet another attraction is a chair presented to the former king by Chinese merchants and Onavillu presented as a tribute by landlords and chieftains.

On the first floor of this structure are the Mantrasala, the King’s Council Chamber and the main attraction of this part of the palace is the bed used by the erstwhile king. It is said that the bed is made of sandalwood and is layered with a mix of 400 different kinds of medicinal herbs which are available abundantly in the state of Kerala. One can also see the Dining Hall which can accommodate 400 persons at a time!

Next structure is Thaikkottaram (Mother’s Palace), built of finely decorated and carved wooden pillars. The other structures include the Navarathri Mandapam, built by King Marthandavarma in 1744 AD which is breathtakingly beautiful and mesmerizing with it’s exquisite architecture. We came across a temple inside the palace which is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, but it was closed at the time we visited!

There is a long corridor in the first floor of the building bordered with small balconies on the sides called Ambari Mukhappu (bay window). It is said that the kings and queens used to view chariot races during festivals and make public appearances from this very place.  A significant feature of this structure is the lattice work on the sides of the pathway. Once out of the palace, we walked towards the southern side of the palace called Thekkekottaram. It has a heritage museum now which shows the younger generations the old palace articles, belongings of the royal family like kitchen utensils, easy chair, swing etc.

Another antique piece of this palace is the Manimalika (Clock Tower), which is believed to be some 200 years old. This tower contains a rather unique clock as its movement is regulated by two weights made up of disc-shaped blocks, that is raised every week by a 1.5 meter pendulum. This can be see from the entrance of the palace.

There is no spectacle of pomp and show about the palace and looks understated when compared to other royal palaces of India.

But what truly makes this palace outstanding is it’s rich architectural grandeur, indigenous craftsmen ship of Travancore artisans and royal splendor of erstwhile Travancore!

In the Jew Town of Kochi

img_1338-cr2

After few minutes of walk among the streets of Fort Kochi, I ended up in the Burgher Street where one of the most famous cafes of Kochi is located. Yup, the Kashi Art Galley! Located in an old house built in the traditional Kerala style, it welcomes the tourists with it’s collection of paintings and arts created by local artists. As I passed the front hall which is full of wall-posters and paintings, the house transformed into a beautiful cafe filled with rich aroma of coffee and what impressed me were the huge art pieces fixed in middle of the pathways and the walls.

img_1351-cr2

Kashi is best known for its Continental and British menu, and also for its coffee. But, it’s too hot out and I don’t want to add a hot cup of coffee to it. So, I opted for an orange juice as it was the exact way how I like to drink, no sugar and no water 🙂 . I clicked some pictures of the cafe and left for the Indo-Portuguese museum. This museum is situated in the garden of the Bishop’s House and is a confluence of Indian and Portuguese art and architecture. And sunday, it’s closed :(. Though the watchman allowed me to go around the Bishop’s House, I couldn’t see what’s there in the museum 😦

img_1419-cr2

I took an auto from here and reached the Dutch Palace in Mattancherry, another must-visit place in Kochi. The palace doesn’t resemble any royal palaces like the Mysore Palace or the Palaces of Rajasthan, but is unique in it’s own aspect. The Palace is a two storied building and is currently under the Archaeological Survey of India and the entry ticket is just Rupees Five.

img_1421-cr2

This palace was actually built by the Portuguese colonizers of Kochi in 1555 and gifted to the local ruler Veera Kerala Varma. This was later renovated by the Dutch in 1663 and hence the name Dutch Palace. This is now a museum which houses the royal memorabilia, weapons, the family tree, furniture and many more. The walls are adored with striking murals depicting the scenes from the epics Mahabharata and the Ramayana and represent the finest of traditional Hindu temple art. The palace also has a temple of the Goddess Bhagawati.

Jpeg

As I walked away from the Dutch Palace on to the roads, I entered into another different world, the world of Jews right in the heart of Forth Kochi. Kochi’s connection with the Jews dates back to a thousand years ago. I walked towards the famous Synagogue, one of the few remaining relics of the city’s Jewish past, and this Synagogue is known as the Paradesi Synagogue to the locals. The first thing that attracted me is a 18th century working clock tower just infront of the Synagogue. It is said that this is one of the oldest Synagogues among the commonwealth of Nations and the chintz, chandeliers and the Chinese hand-painted tiles are well-preserved.

img_1427-cr2

The area is full of art galleries, museums and heritage restaurants and one of the famous being the Jew Town restaurant. This is not only a restaurant, but an antique shop which also sells books and some jewelry. One can pick up jewelry, wooden pillars, wooden and metal figurines, carved wooden furniture, antiquities and clothes, but we just need to bargain hard. Have a sip of coffee or a bite of Italian Pizza or taste some other cuisines in any one of those cafes and restaurants.

img_1433-cr2

It was at this time, I remembered that there is a market dedicated to spices. How can one forget these exotic spices which were the most sought-after commodities once upon a time and made Cochin an important hub of trade and commerce in the earlier days. The Jew Town has a lot of spice shops and warehouses. There is also a market called the ‘Old Spice Market’ from where one can get good quality spices like Cinnamom, Cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander and many more. But again, the market will be closed on Sundays.

I had my lunch at a vegetarian restaurant called the Krishna Cafe and took an auto to Veli ground, from where the Kochi carnival’s procession starts. On the way, I came across another land mark the ‘Santa Cruz Basilica’. This church was also constructed by the Portuguese and in the 19th century, the British demolished the old structure and commissioned a new building. Subsequently in 1984, it was proclaimed a Basilica by Pope John Paul II. The architecture of the Basilica is an impressive blend of the Indo-European and Gothic styles.

img_1452-cr2

14.30 hrs – The people at Fort Kochi told me that the procession would start at 14.00 hrs. But now they told me that it would start only at 16.00 hrs and I got no other choice rather than skipping it as I have to leave to Trivandrum (can’t skip the office 😦 ) . Took a bus to South Railway Junction and around 19.00 hrs, I was back in Trivandrum to enjoy my favorite Mushroom Biryani with fresh Pineapple juice at the Hyderabadi restaurant ‘Haveli’ 🙂 🙂

And that’s how my New Year Started 🙂 🙂

 

My New Year Celebrations..

The last day of the year 2016. The second time in my life, I was going to be away from my family for the New Year. Yup, it was a routine ritual for me to be at home on the last day of every year to welcome the New Year. By evening, be with my mom and aunts to send wishes to everyone on the roads by having some sort of rangolis welcoming the new year, watch a movie with dad later, and a cake cutting ceremony @ 12.00 hrs on the first day of the New Year.

But 2015 was the year which brought a change in this family tradition and for the first time, I worked on the New Year Day. And though this year i.e. 2016, the New Year Day was on a Sunday, I weren’t able to be home as I don’t have so many leaves. So, what am I going to do?? Luckily, few days back, a friend of mine invited me to his wedding on 31.12.2016 at his hometown ‘Mala’, which is 35 kms from Aluva, Kerala. So, I decided to attend his marriage. But, what about 01.01.2017??

31.12.2016:

05.00 hrs – I woke up, got ready, packed my backpack, took my camera and left my home to reach the Trivandrum Railway Station. 05.50 hrs – I was at the Railway station walking towards Platform No. 3 to get into the train Jan Shatabdi. The train was already there and I got into the compartment and made myself comfortable. Thanks to my friend Kiran, who booked my ticket in Tatkaal the other day 🙂 . The plan is to get down at Aluva and reach Mala by a bus. 10.05 hrs – The train reached Aluva and I remember the instructions of my friend Jeff about getting a bus to Mala.

10.30 hrs – I reached the Kerala Transport Bus Depot in Aluva, which is some 500 mts from the railway station. After quick inquiries, I got into a bus which heads to Mala. 12.00 hrs – I was at Mala bus Depot waiting for Jeff’s cousin to pick me up. 12.15 hrs – I was dropped at the St. Stanislaus Forane Church which is the marriage venue. Mala is a small township which is quiet beautiful with lush green coconut groves, beautiful houses and churches. The marriage rituals were ongoing. But, what after the marriage? When should I go home? Should I go back to Trivandrum or stay back here for a night and start the next morning?

13.20 hrs – The marriage was over and we headed to the reception hall, where I wished my friend and his wife a happy married life! And told him that I would be leaving in another couple of minutes as I have to travel a long way. But then, I changed my mind. After all, it’s New Year, and I was away from my family, and if I go back to Trivandrum, what am I going to do? Sit back in my room all day?? Too bad for a new year day. Isn’t it? So, it’s decided. I will go Kochi! A perfect New Year Destination 🙂 🙂

14.40 hrs – I was dropped at the Mala Bus Depot where I got into a bus to Kochi. In the meanwhile, I called up my office to make arrangements for my stay at the Office Guesthouse. The bus would be going to Vytilla Hub in Kochi, and they asked me to get down there and take an auto to the Ernakulam South Railway Station where my Guest House is located. It is a 2 hour journey from Mala to Kochi and I thought of going around the shopping malls for the rest of the evening, as Kochi is famous for it’s shopping malls.

img_1219

17.50 hrs – The bus bypassed the Lulu Shopping Mall at Vytilla and then it clicked in my mind that it’s better to get down here, check these out and then head to my Guest House. Lulu Mall, located in Edappally is said to be the biggest mall in India and one of the biggest in South Asia. With it’s hypermarket, fashion store and one of the biggest food courts and with the maximum number of brands (around 320), Lulu is perhaps the most happening market place in Kochi.

img_1244

A quick bite in the Mc Donald’s and a hot coffee from the Costa Coffee.. watching the hanging Santa clauses from the ceiling at the center, the giant snowmen and the twinkling and shining jingle bells and stars all over the mall is fascinating. Though I didn’t shop anything, this place is a must-visit for any tourist 🙂 . Out of the mall, I took another bus to the South Railway Station. One thing I didn’t like about Kochi was that the Ola Cabs weren’t serving in all places, Uber is not able to mark the locations, auto-rickshaws don’t want to come where we want to go, if they are willing, they charge way too high and the transport buses – too crowded 😦

img_1215

It was only at 20.00 hrs I reached my guesthouse. A quick shower and I drifted deep into my sleep.

Backwater Beauty – Alleppy

A weekend in Alleppy..

Who will miss the famous houseboat ride when they are in Kerala? And that too when a person like me who is based in Trivandrum which is just 3 hours away from Alappuzzha? And that too when a friend like Mythri who will be ever ready to join me? 🙂 🙂 . It’s time to soak in the beauty of the backwaters and lush green and palm fringed landscape while on a houseboat in Kerala. I called up my uncle and aunt who stays in Alleppy and told them that I am gonna visit them and we wanna explore the city a little. As planned Mythri and I landed there a night before and enjoyed a good meal prepared by my aunt.

Jpeg

The next day we started off around 8.00 hrs in the morning and headed towards a jetty from where we can get onto a houseboat. A friend of my uncle has arranged the boat for us and we set on our boat ride at 9.00 hrs. As it was only me, my uncle and aunt, and Mythri we hired a boat of small size and we cut short the ride to only 5 to 6 hours. One can move around in traditional thatched roof houseboats in the backwaters of Alleppy, one of the best places to hire a boat in the state.

Jpeg

Known as Kettuvalam, these boats were traditionally used to transfer rice and spices from the hills to the market towns and have now been converted into floating hotels made by tying huge planks of jackwood together, great amount of skill and precision is required to make these houseboats. Interestingly, not a single iron nail is used in their construction (they say so, I didn’t observe it so keenly ;-)). Earlier, an entire clan of artisans was dedicated to make these houseboats. But today, these have become an innovative way of holidaying and very proudly represent the unique culture of the southern state.

Jpeg

Uncle started us explaining the various things about Alleppy and some facts about the backwaters of Kerala which are a crisscrossed network of lakes, lagoons, canals and rivers. Generally a private houseboat travels around 40-50 kms through the backwaters in a single day. As our boat passed through the canals we got to experience the local life and laze around while gazing at coconut palms, jackfruits, papayas and mango groves. The fisher-folk catching the fishes in their small boats and going around the canals to sell those and the women washing their clothes or the fish for the lunch, the ducks and gooses swimming around, it’s a must visit place to know how well the people’s lives were in-glove with the vast stretches of waters around them.

Jpeg

We were about to enter the lake Vembanadu. My uncle showed us the way to reach Kottayam and Cochin which were connected by these backwaters. Vembanad is the most accessible backwaters where the Vembanad lake opens to sea at the Cochin Harbor, dotted with interconnected islands that adorn the Queen of the Arabian Sea. The southern Vembanad Lake is known for its large expanse of water, sandwiched between districts of Alappuzha and Kottayam.

Jpeg

It was noon when we stopped at a toddy shop with a food joint, which are one of the common sights along the backwaters. By the time we stopped here, there was another big houseboat which is full of youngsters, who were probably on a weekend trip and stopped at this toddy shop to enjoy some toddy and were dancing to the hilt. Though I couldn’t read what was going in my uncle and aunt’s mind, I was happy to see so many happy faces enjoying in middle of no-where and as if they were not connected to this world anymore 🙂 😀

Jpeg

Though you can’t get a large variety of food items here, the list of fresh sea food items is long. The interesting thing is that one can choose the kind of fish or prawns from the display list and they cook it and serve hot on your plates 🙂 . As we row along the small villages on the coast, we came across some resorts, houses and churches. We can anchor our boat somewhere on one of the banks and take a stroll among the white-washed homes and churches. But what I noticed is that a house-boat ride will be too good and enjoyable when there is a large group of people especially family and friends and trust me the fun will be unlimited 🙂 🙂

The ride came to an end at 15.00 hrs just when it started to drizzle a little and then started to rain heavily :). Typical Kerala’s climate! The boat dropped us at the jetty where we started and we really enjoyed this cruise of a lifetime!

KL01 – Band with classical touch..

Today’s band is KL01. It is a band from Trivandrum and was set off in 2009 as a collaboration of two extinct bands. The line up consists of Anand Amarnath – Vocal/Guitar, Sharat Menon – Lead Guitar, Bass – Brian Fernandez and Drums by Ananthapadmanabhan. They are into progressive rock, folk and metal too.

2

It’s more crowded than yesterday, might be because it’s a local band and many might have already known about it. I could see that the crowd is more cheerful than yesterday and the youngsters were shouting in support of the band. The band started the day with a progressive rock number and moved to a Malayalam song which was their own composition.

Jpeg

The crowd cheered up as it was in their native language and later they continued with few more Malayalam songs which were again their own compositions. What I could see is that it’s mostly a fusion; a fusion of classical music, progressive rock and sometimes folk. The music was soothing, not so heavy yet not so low. But, as we progressed, the music got a bit heavy with “Open Car” a song by the band “The Porcupine Tree”, which they said that it’s the band’s most favorite one!

Jpeg

Although all the members of the band gave their best performances, it is the drummer Ananthapadmanaban who won the most number of hearts among the crowd. He really nailed few songs with his breathtaking performance and at one instance the crowd shouted for a solo performance from him. The most unique feature of this band is they didn’t leave behind the origins of music and they carried the classical touch forward.

Jpeg

While yesterday, the Segments sang some English tracks, the KL01 sang some Malayalam, English and a mix of both the songs, mostly their own compositions and which are of the themes like getting lost in love and choosing music as career or going in search of music. And I guess this is one of the reasons, why the band has got so much following among the youngsters. The once more shouts are enough to say how their music was and I would really love to see more of their performances in the near future.

P.S : Can watch the live stream @ http://www.seaindia.in from 07.00 pm.

Time for some music…

After a hectic day back at the office, on my way home, I spotted a poster on the roadside. It says Sound Engineering Academy presents “SEA MUSIC BAND FESTIVAL 2016” @ 7.00 PM on 11.08.2016. And luckily, it’s going to be in Bharat Bhavan, Trivandrum, which is pretty much near to my residence. No other thoughts, I simply rushed home and got ready for the music fiesta.

There were lot of young champs making their way to the venue and I could see that most of them are from the Sound Engineering Academy of Trivandrum. As I was one among the early visitors, I was able to grab a seat in the first row. There came a quick introduction of the SEA Music Band Festival 2016. It’s an annual music festival dedicated to the most creative music arts. From fusion rock to pop, electronica to metal. This is unique in its nature and 2014 was their first foray into the music festivals.

1

What I could see from the fest is that, most of the performers are upcoming musicians, Music bands and artists. It’s going to be a four day festival and the first day performers are “Segments”. Segments is a progressive rock act based out of Kochi, India. Segments began as ‘counterclockwise’ in Sept of 2014 and after a few changes in their line up, they decided to rebrand their direction and style of music.

Jpeg

This band comprises of Nikhil J Menon, the vocal; Ajay George Joseph, the lead Guitarist; Chris “The Beast” Paul, lead Guitarist; Bass by Lesly Rodrick and Drums by Ritwick Wilfy Bivera. They started with some light music and the song “Let it Go”. And there came the number “Say that am in love with you” which is a bit heavy, and then the segments own fusion of songs and which has been named as “Sacrifice”.

Jpeg

Suddenly they jumped into some slow numbers but not keeping it that low like the wicked game and again caught up slowly with heavy music. All the guys carried the same levels of energy throughout their performances and it was so live. In all, that was a nice performance from the “Segments” and I enjoyed it thoroughly and was an evening well spent with music.

Looking forward for KL01..

P.S : Can watch the live stream @ http://www.seaindia.in

World Environment Day – Gone wild!!

Jpeg

On this June 5 – World Environment Day, the Kerala Forest Department along with WWF India organized a rain walk from Kallar to Ponmudi, a hill-station located at a distance of 61 kms from Trivandrum. Luckily, as it was a Sunday me and my friends decided to go on this trip, though we don’t know whether it rains or not.

Jpeg

We chose the route to Nedumangad-Anad-Vithura-Kallar. We set on our bikes around 6.15 hrs in the morning from Trivandrum to Kallar (42 kms). Truly an adventurous and thrilling drive as the roads were pretty narrow and curvy. And the lush green surroundings full of rubber plantations and coconut grooves, along with the early morning breeze enhanced its charm. As this is my first drive on a bike in Kerala, and has no experience on such roads, I struggled a bit at the beginning, but soon caught up my speed. We reached Kallar around 7.30 hrs.

Jpeg

Quickly completed the process of registration, and watched around to see our group which comprised of some 35 people from different age groups (youngest – 11 yrs and oldest – 60 yrs). I was quite excited. The WWF representatives and the Forest Division Officer, Kerala Forest Dept gave us a quick introduction to the World Environment Day and its theme this year. Once done, they flagged off the walk around 8.00 hrs.

The first one to welcome us is the Kallar river, after which the place Kallar has been named. A bird watching spot. There is the Meenmutti waterfall nearby, but didn’t get a chance to visit it this time :(. This is solely a road trek as they are very much concerned about our safety, but still got good chance of trying the off roads wherever possible.

Jpeg

Ponmudi is situated at about 3000 feet and is home to mountain flowers, butterflies, spiders, springs and rivulets. The way from Kallar to Ponmudi comprises of 22 hairpin bends, probably one of the highest compared with rest of the hill stations in Kerala. The foothills of Ponmudi has few rubber plantations and I was lucky enough to see how the trees secret the latex and how it is being collected in the coconut shells or polythenes that were tied around the trees. The thing which attracted me the most is the down-hill view. It was almost as if the Mother Earth is wrapped up in a thick blanket of lush-green trees and forests.

Desktop3

The cloud-kissed mountains, hills with tea plantations, mountain flowers on the road-sides and giant spiders and web right beside the trees, neat and clean roads, the green canopy, sun-rays playing hide and seek, it is simply one-hell of a beauty! Though the first few kms of distance was tiring, coz of the hot sun, it started to rain in mid-way and all of a sudden the climate changed into a pretty cool one. There was a temple dedicated to Karuppaswamy, a friend of Lord Ayyappa, a tea factory and a PWD Guest House on the way up.

Jpeg

Though it’s a road trek, we tried the off-road ways at the hairpin bends, and trekking through the tea-gardens wherever there were possibilities. It took us around 4 hours (around 13.00 hrs) to reach till the Government Guest House located on top of this hill. We had a good Saadhya (Malayali Lunch), which consisted of the local variety of rice, Aviyal (mix veg curry), Poriyal (a fried stuff), Sambar and the Pepper Rasam with a Papa, provided by the staff there.

Jpeg

The Government Guest house is good enough and very clean. It has a balcony from which we can see the panorama of Western Ghats. Kudos to the forest department people for maintaining the roads and the surroundings so neat and clean! This environment day turned out to be a memorable one for me, as I was really entwined with it. Started our way back around 15.30 hrs and reached Trivandrum by 16.45 hrs. A good week off 🙂

 

My Golden Beverage (TEA) Tours

IMG_2135

Chai (tea) has always been the maiden choice of people across the world to reduce stress and fatigue. At present India is one of the largest producers of tea globally and has it’s own tea story as one can see a wide range of flavors and varieties of tea here. More than 60 % of people in India would prefer Tea to a coffee and it’s the common man’s drink. Tea tours in India have gained popularity in the recent times and became an important part of the travel itineraries. Here comes mine 😉

Kerala:

Jpeg

My first tea tour is of Munnar, an important tea region of Kerala. This region is dotted with lush green tea plantations. The tea journey must start with a visit to the country’s first Tea museum at Nallathanni estate to have a look at the history of tea production in the region. The Kerala Tourism Development Corporation established a Tea County wherein which we can stay and soak in the aroma of the fresh tea leaves. The entire trip of Munnar is in midst of the huge tea plantations spread over several hills. The best time to visit this place is from August to May.

West Bengal:

DSC_0392

One of the most popular hill stations in the state, Darjeeling is surrounded by tea gardens that produce the famous Darjeeling Tea (called the Champagne of Teas). Around 25% of India’s total tea outcome is from Darjeeling. There are few famous tea estates in Darjeeling and some of the large estates like Thurbo and Gopaladhara owns tea mountains on the way to Mirik (check my post on Mirik) from Darjeeling. Best time to visit would be from March to November.

The Happy valley Tea Estate is a well-known estate located at 3 km north of Darjeeling and is one of the highest tea gardens in the world. In fact, this is the place, where I came across a tea tour. The estate organizes tea tours to give the tea-lovers and travellers a closer understanding and the concept of tea-making. We can have a tour around it’s factory, pluck some tea leaves and have a complementary brew from the wide range of Darjeeling tea of different flushes and with distinct flavors like Orange and Tulsi.

Looking forward to brew some more from the other two important tea regions – Tamil Nadu and Assam…

NEYYAR – A dam within the wildlife sanctuary

Jpeg

Located about 32 km from Thiruvananthapuram or Trivandrum, Kerala, is a popular picnic spot with a lake and a picturesque dam site. The lake formed by the dam across the Neyyar river has boating facilities for the tourists. Boating is irresistible since the greenery adds to the lake’s beauty and one will not be ready to lose the chance of boating in it.

IMG_20151002_160457390_HDR

The Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary of which the dam is a part is the habitat of various species of fauna like the Asian Elephant, Tiger, deers etc. A crocodile breeding center, deer park and a lion safari park are also located here. Since Neyyar is not a tiger reserve, nature lovers can walk through it. One can do easy hikes along the foothills.

Desktop2

The sanctuary is part of the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve that was recently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The sanctuary is open throughout the year. November to March is the most pleasant time to visit. June to October brings heavy rain which makes trekking plans unpredictable. But, adventurists who are interested in Monsoon hikes can definitely try this place.

So, backpackers.. Why late? The monsoon already arrived in.. Move on.. 🙂

Jpeg