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 🙂

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48 hours in Jaipur

My official trip to Delhi in October was fixed and I had to be there by Monday i.e. 23.10.2017. I planned to leave to Delhi from Trivandrum on Friday evening. Well, what would I do in Delhi on the weekend? Shopping in Chandini Chowk? Lazing around Connaught Place?? Or just relax in a cozy book café in Khan Market??? Naaah… (-_-) It was then I decided to visit the neighboring city of Delhi – Jaipur! Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan is about 300 kms from Delhi, the capital city of India :-J

20.10.2017:

19.15 hrs – I was on board the Air India flight to Delhi from Trivandrum and reached Delhi around 22.30 hrs. I pre-booked my seat on a private bus service which runs daily in between Delhi and Jaipur. As it’s only a matter of 5 to 6 hours, I found this option better than catching a train at that late hour. I boarded my bus at Dhaulakuan around 12.30 in the night and quickly wrapped myself under sheets to have a small nap as I was about to have a long day. I was dropped at the Sindhi Camp Bus stand at 05.30 hrs in the morning 🙂 Ola and Uber services are good in Jaipur and I chose Uber to reach my hotel ‘FabHotel Dior Pink City’.

Sindhi camp was full of activity even so early in the morning. While vendors were offering cups of hot tea to those passengers, drivers and conductors who alighted the buses; rickshaw-pullers, auto-wallahs and cab-drivers were going about offering their services to drop their customers at the doorsteps of their destinations. The sun had not risen yet; the street lights were still on; and I am here gazing at this beautiful city through my cab’s windows, while the gentle morning breeze caress my face! I got the first glimpses of the great Ajmeri gate and the Hawa Mahal on my way to the hotel!

06.30 – The reception at the hotel was warm as my brother had already left some instructions to them 😉 The room was cozy, cool and elegant with a small wardrobe in one corner, a king-size mirror into the other and a foamy bed with white sheets, a study table and a chair neatly tucked under it, a 42 inches TV and an Air-conditioner – what more could I ask for! =^_^= I have fallen in love with the room almost in an instant and fell fast asleep! 08.00 hrs – My dad woke me up with his phone call while I answered lazily and when he announced that it was 8 o’ clock in the morning, I thought I could rest no more and I got to go!

By the time I was ready, even my breakfast was ready – two hot aloo parathas with a cup of fresh curd and pickle! I relished every bit of them as the other day’s dinner on board was pathetic and I didn’t get a chance to eat anything at all during that night 😦 I quickly got down to the reception to inquire with the chaps about how to go around the places in the city! They gave me an idea about which all places I should visit and from where I should be starting my solo expedition! 🙂

My first visit for the day would be to the Amber Fort and though I thought of booking an Uber, I found the fare quite high (350 approx) for a distance of 6 kms. So, instead of Uber, I opted for the local tuk-tuk (the battery cars) which costed me only Rs. 50/-. The mantra while choosing a tuk-tuk is check with two or three drivers. The local ones would offer you the best price while the others would simply demand two or three times the normal fare! While the first one I stopped had demanded me a sum of Rs. 250/- to take me up to the Amber Fort, the second one simply told Rs. 50/- as a matter of fact! 🙂

Gajar Ka Halwa

Helva (later halwa) was an import from the house of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566). It arrived in India as a dried, grainy mash that was rehydrated with rosewater, sugar and ground pistachios to get creamy, velvet-like rich texture when the traditional mixture of ghee-sugar along with mewa was added to it.

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: Around 1.5 hrs

Serves: 2-3

Ingredients:

5-6 tender juicy carrots – yields around 2-3 cups of grated carrots; 2-3 cups of full fat organic milk; 3 tbsp ghee/clarified butter; 8-10 tbsp organic unrefined cane sugar or regular sugar or as required; Cashews, almonds, pistachios and golden raisins; 3-4 green cardamom crushed (I like it this way, or else these many be powdered too) and a pinch of saffron strands.

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Method:

Rinse, peel and grate the carrots. In a deep thick bottomed pan, combine milk and grated carrots. On low to medium flame, bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer. While the mixture is simmering on low flame, keep stirring in between. Grated carrots will cook in milk and the milk will start to reduce and evaporate. When the milk was reduced by around 75%, add ghee, sugar and cardamom to the mixture. Stir well and continue to simmer and cook on a low flame. Keep stirring in between. Towards the end, add cashews, crushed saffron and raisins and simmer till all the milk is evaporated. Switch off the burner. Serve gajar (carrot) halwa hot, warm or cold 🙂

If you are in Trivandrum, do visit the Haveli Restaurant, Vazhuthacaud to taste this yummy dessert! 🙂

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.

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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.

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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 😦

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

Adieu Goa..

26.12.2015:

@16.00 hrs – Time to bid an adieu to Goa. While Guneet and Mythri have to catch their bus to Bangalore from Panjim, I have to board my train to Trivandrum at Madagaon station, which is like 49 kms from Calangute. We hired a cab from our resort and reached the bus station to drop Mythri and Guneet there and I proceeded to the station.

@18.00 hrs – Our cab stopped at the railway station and I entered the station which is pretty crowded with people who were returning to their places after their Christmas celebrations or the Weekend parties in Goa. While my train was at 19.00 hrs, soon there was an announcement that my train was delayed by an hour, and then two, and three.. and it came only at 12.00 hrs in the midnight. 😦

I started loitering around the station after sitting for a while and went to the only restaurant in the station and ordered a Goan Veg Thali. Though I didn’t notice much difference between a usual North Indian Thali and Goan Thali, the food was tasty and cheap too 🙂 . And the waiting continues….

27.12.2015:

@12.00 hrs – I boarded the train. Though I have only a waiting list ticket and adjusted here and there for a while, soon I found an empty berth and comforted myself. Time to plan another one 😉

Will catch you soon with another adventurous trip 🙂

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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!!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 🙂

 

NEYYAR – A dam within the wildlife sanctuary

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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.

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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.

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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.. 🙂

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Kappil – the confluence of sea, river and the backwaters

About 53 kms from Trivandrum and 7 kms from Varkala, Kappil beach is one of the most picturesque destinations of Kerala. It is not just another tourist spot, but a must visit place.

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On the west is the true blue Arabian Sea and the east is Edava Narayan Lake. The true confluence of backwaters and sea with some lush green coconut grooves.. Road runs as such for about 1 km. Kappil has its own fishing community, and the true fun is the backwater ride.

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Ponnumthuruth Island:

Situated about 12 km south of Varkala. Have to board a country boat from Neduganda and take a tour through the backwaters for about 30 minutes to reach Ponnumthuruthu. Ponnumthuruthu, the name literally means Golden Island. This lush island is a perfect gateway for those who seek a break from the hustle and bustle of the urban life.

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This island is known for the Shiva Parvathi temple, which is more than 100 years old. A royal family owns the island and the temple.

In all, this place is for a good drive and fits in for a short trip.. 🙂 🙂