Category Archives: Kerala

Backwaters and boat races at Allapuzha

We alighted at Ernakulam railway station at the end of an overnight train journey, from where- another hour’s journey in a local train took us to our destination- Allapuzha or fondly called Alleppey. We were there to experience the festivities of ‘Vallamkali- The Olympics of Kuttanad’. It was the 2nd Friday of August 2012 – A day before the Biiigg sporting event of South India- “The Nehru trophy boat race”. This is an annual event held in the Vembanad lake- the longest lake in India spanning several districts of Kerala. The lake that’s known by different names in different parts of Kerala is refered to as the Punnamada Lake in the Kuttanad regional. It was noon by the time we checked into our hotel room. We freshened up and set out to explore the backwater villages of Alleppey.. We hired a ‘Shikhara- the boat which motored us through the narrow stretches of the canals. We cruised on the backwaters, passing through villages- where womenfolk were washing clothes, men were fishing, while few kids on some stretch were diving into the waters for a swim. We enjoyed our ride as we picked up some fresh lobsters and pomfret at the local market alongway and got them cooked in the local style at a fisherman’s house.

The Shikara cruise in the narrow canals of Alleppey
The Shikara cruise in the narrow canals of Alleppey

Further, we were oared across to the end of the canal which opened into the wide Vembanad lake where all the teams were practising  and the venue was getting set for the ‘Big’ event. The energy and enthusiasm was no less than the main event itself. Though we wanted to stay there till sunset, the government deadline for cruising in the waters forced us to return to the jetty before 06.00.p.m.

On returning to the mainland, we meandered through the lanes of Alleppey town searching for a heavenly dose of piping hot Kerala chai and palam-pori (Banana fritters). We passed across the once famous- now non-functional coir industries of Alleppey as we searched our way to the beach where we spent the remaining time until dark.

A stationed shikara enroute to the Alleppey beach
A stationed shikara enroute to the Alleppey beach

The town usually sleeps to silence after 7.00.p.m. in any part of Kerala state. But, we were there to make the most of the little time we had with us and not wanting to waste it sitting in the cosy of the hotel room. We happened to see a hoarding of a concert happening at a stadium and headed there hoping to capture some nice photos of the Theyyam show. We did enjoy theyyam.. But we were in for a surprise when we decided to stay for a little longer- we were smitten by something else.. MUSIC..!! A MIND-BLOWING show by the violin maestro- Balabaskaran and team.. We were LOST in dreamland..!!

The next morning, we had to reach the racing venue as early as 08.00.a.m. to get a seat. One by one, the snake boats arrived for assembly. Locally called as the Chundan Vallam (Beaked boats), these 100~120 feet long wooden canoes carry 90- 110 rowers and move like snakes through the channels. These boats are the world’s biggest water vessel used for sports . And soon.. The event started. Races took place in different categories with even the women rowers. All through the event, only one thing echoed in the atmosphere- Vanchipattu or the Boat song. Every single soul in the arena was singing songs of cheer.

The oarsmen '"Women"
The oarsmen ‘”Women”

We still had time to explore the town and so boarded a bus to Champakulam. As we passed through the waterlogged villages of Kuttand, we were reminded that the region we were passing is the ‘granary of Kerala’ or the rice bowl of Kerala and is one of the few places in the world where farming is done below sea level.

Soon, we reached the St. Mary Forane Church. Since it was a Sunday, we were lucky to take part in the mass. This waterside church, built in 427A.D. is a testimony for time with its finely maintained beautiful mural paintings. From there, we took a boat to reach the other end of the river: the place of the oldest market known as Kalloorkkadu angadi.

Champakulam St. Marys church
Champakulam St. Marys church

If not the race, we’d have some more time to explore Karumadi Thodu and Ambalapuzha Sree Krishna temple. The former is famous for the black granite idol of lord Buddha and the latter being known for the ‘Palpayasam’ or the milk porridge offered as prasad to the diety.

We then walked to the Latin church in the town from whose terrace, the entire town of Alleppey can be viewed during visiting hours. What particularly captured our attention was the cemetery where all members of a family were buried in the same pit. Hundreds of such graves laid within the church premises.

The premises of the Latin Church
The premises of the Latin Church

We then left for our lodge to check out as our return train was scheduled for the night. If at all, we had half a day’s time extra- We’d definitely make it to the church located at Kokkothamangalam- one of the seven churches founded by St.Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. And we’d want to visit the Ayyappan temple, in Mukkal vattam near Muhamma that’s known for the Kalari from which Lord Ayyappa learnt his martial arts. The hermitage where Ayyappan lived during the training period has been preserved in its original form by successive generations of the Cheerappanchira family.

Anyway.. We had to leave the place with a heart soaked and mind filled with beautiful memories of sailing afloat on a boat in the backwaters of the beautiful country of God and hope to return soon.

Treasure trove of wildlife- Valparai

It has been over a year and a half and this one was pending until now.. All thanks to our organiser cum photographer cum driver cum guide cum caretaker cum etc etc.. there was a delay in sharing the dropbox link to the photos..

We started from Bangalore on friday night.. We, on the rear seat dozed away to glory.. When we opened our eyes to the misty morning dawn, we were greeted by tree-lined roads, beautiful countryside with emerald fields of paddy, whispering palms and coconut plantations in the backdrop of the towering Western Ghats. We had reached Pollachi in Tamil Nadu.

We were nearing Valparai, a lesser known hill station in the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary(earlier known as Anaamalai Wildlife Sanctuary). Kollywood stars and burned out urbanites frequent this place to de-stress themselves and savour a slice of nature as it is not yet on the radar of mass tourism. If you amble past mud walled, thatched roof dwellings, granaries of farmers and tea estates fringed plateau,  don’t be surprised when you hear someone screaming ‘start camera’, ‘action’. This is a hot spot for movie makers with over 1500 movies and commercials having been shot here.. And we too got lucky when we happened to visit the sets and share our homestay with the crew of ‘Madras cafe’ 🙂

The drive ascended along the winding road by the backwaters of the Aliyar irrigation dam. About 32 hairpin curves lead to Valparai with every bend offering surprises galore. This being a protected wildlife reserve, we had our list of top 5 wildlife sightings to be done before we leave.

View of the Aliyar backwaters

Further up 4 kms from Aliyar park, near the forest checkpost, we reached the monkey falls, named aptly due to the many troublesome monkeys here, one which even entered our car and happily carried away from fruits from the rear seat 😉 Our drive continued.. Just as we approached the 9th curve, we were greeted by this gentleman who was calmly grazing on the edge of the steep rocks. We scored off the 1st member on our top 5 list- ‘The Nilgiri Tahr’. This is also called the Loam’s view point.

Nilgiri Tahr – Photo credits: Samson Joseph

Further through, we stopped at Carver Marsh view point adjoining the Kavarkal estate. On a clear day, one can see the Sholayar reservoir(2nd deepest dam in Asia) from here. We then cruised past the Tiger valley from where we caught a good view of the upper Aliyar reservoir.

Carver Marsh view point

We covered Congreve falls(located in the Nadumalai estate), Vinayagar temple(Jayashree estate) & Birla falls along the way up. We got good view of the Manopally forest & the grass hills of the sanctuary. However, we missed out on the visit to the ox-bow lakes situated in the protected areas without being able to get permission from forest authorities due to insufficient guidance. We visited the Balaji temple and the nearby Iraichalparai falls along way.

At the entrance to Sholayar / Kallyar estates

Being the breeding season for most animals, We happened to be there at the right time. The time to score off no.2 – Groups of the endangered ‘Lion tailed Macaque’ 🙂

Lion Tailed Macaque- Valparai

Even before we realised, we had reached the hill top 🙂 We stopped by and trekked through the tea estates to reach the ‘Seen god shrine’ at the Nallamudi Pooncholai view point. An old man, who claims to have seen god, blessed us with some prayers and turned out to be an encyclopedia of knowledge about the local culture and history. He explained to us about the various tribal settlements in these hills.. pointing out at colonies, he would tell- Kadars, Muthuvars and Malai Malasars. They are estimated to have 190 households in 8 settlements in the sanctuary. While we walked towards our car, the women picking tea shoots warned us not proceed.. We sighted a herd of 8-9 elephants at a distance, thus scoring off no.3 on the list 🙂

We then drove to ChinnarKallar for the hanging bridge trek.. Inspite of driving all the way, we refrained from shelling out 250Rs per head just for the entry which sounded to us more like a bribe at the forest checkpost. This place receives the 2nd highest rainfall in India. We reversed our car and then.. no.4: The giant flying squirrel(a young one and wasn’t flying though) crossed our road.. We were excited..!! After covering places in the Tamilnadu part of the sanctuary, we headed towards the Kerala border.. We saw a calm stretch of the Koolangal river and decided to spend some time there.. We could not compel ourselves from not taking a sip of the crystal clear waters.. And right there.. we saw this little creature on no.5: ‘The common map butterfly’

The Common map butterfly

We registered at the border checkpost and prepared to enter the Kerala land.. Thick rainforests on both sides accompanied us all the way till our destination.. We happened to drive through what I think is one of the dangerous roads I have driven through.. With the Sholaiyar backwaters on one side and a valley on the other side, only one vehicle can pass at a time.. Beautiful views for most of the stretch kept us in an awe.. Tunnels have been bored through the mountains to supply water to Parambikulam reserve from the Nirar dam.. We reached Athirapally reserve just after sunset… Got a quick glance of the beautiful waters cascading down to join the Chalakudy river.. It was soon dark and we checked into Maria cottage who made us feel at home and served some sumptuous Mallu food 🙂

Athirapally waterfalls

Next morning, we walked passed the palm plantations to reach the Chalakudy river to freshen up.. This place is frequented by elephants at all times, but we did not care. We enjoyed the clear but violent waters there.. We had a good filling Kerala breakfast and checked out. We went back to the falls.. We walked down to the base of the waterfalls and spent good time there.. We then continued our drive. A quick stop at the Vazachal falls (it is more like water flowing down a steep rock than a waterfall) and we decided to say good bye to Kerala..

The original plan was to drive through Ooty-Bandipur-Mysore-Bangalore. But, since we were behind schedule and could not reach Bandipur before the gates closed, we decided to drive back through Pollachi.. So, we did the curvy stretch of road again.. WOW..!! We further drove through Udumalpet which happens to be one of the windiest places in Southern India.. Thousands of wind mills dot the stretch on either sides which is a sight to behold.. It was dark in no time and we had to zip ASAP to reach for work the next morning..

Thus ended the 50 hours drive! – Covering 1000 kms across 3 states

The best of Trivandrum in a day…

May be the coconut trees lining the coastal line abundantly and the rhythmic beats of the infamous drums resonating in the air…. And maybe the SUVs & MUVs that underwent the brutal checkup by me during my so called ‘Business trip’….. These surely made my visit to this little silent capital city an AWESOME one 🙂

A city of Trees & Vans & Drums put together…… Trivandrum it is..!!

A morning flight from Bangalore landed at Trivandrum airport by 09.30 a.m. The car was waiting for us outside which drove us past a fishing hamlet enroute to our workplace..  Fishing dories anchored, fishermen carrying their day’s catch, the blue sea water reaching to the horizon and a lovely lady’s figurine sculptured by the Shangamughan beach.. Further, as we crossed the toll road and drove across a bridge through the by-pass road, we were greeted by the backwaters dotted by the houseboats..  Such a warm welcome to the city..:)

And ofcourse, we began working without wasting much time… And definitely did not miss a chance to drive around the city as a part of the check-up routine 😉 In the evening was the much anticipated part of the trip- Tagged as the richest temple in the country – Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple visit it was .. For all the hype and media space grabbed by this temple, I had expected a BIG crowd of tourists(Not Pilgrims), fussy Godmen, lot of petty shops dotting the walkway selling pooja items etc.- A common sight at any of the famous temples in India.. But, totally contrary to it- This is one of the BEST temples I have EVER been to.. According to me- ‘A temple is a place where one has to feel GOD with PEACE’. And this place stands out for just that..!! A strict dress code and prohibited entry for non-hindus, a stringent adherence to the temple rules, limited crowd, silent ambience, an eyeful of the darshan of the massive idol lit by mere oil fed lamps- The place has not given up its sanctity to all the attention its hidden wealth has grabbed.. I’m really not a pious or a temple person- But this place is truly commendable 🙂

Main gate - Padmanabhaswamy temple
Main gate – Padmanabhaswamy temple

Later, we visited the old wooden museum inside the Puthenmalika / Kuthiramalika Palace just outside the temple premises.. This was built by the erstwhile Travancore kings.. A damn nice place for the art lovers 🙂

Day 2 : We started work early hoping to finish it early so that we can do a little bit of city trotting before we board our return flight.. And as per schedule, we were done with work by afternoon.. We shopped for some local crafts at SMSM institute crafts emporium.. We walked through the narrow lanes to one of the biggest shops that is all for ‘CHIPS’ – ‘The Mahachips store’.. Edible chips of different varieties made to order and packed just then.. I picked up about 10kgs of banana chips & jackfruit chips- something that will be much awaited for back home in Bangalore, even more than my safe return 😉

SMSM institute crafts emporium
A wooden piece of art @ SMSM institute crafts emporium

Just before sunset, we reached Covalam beach.. We walked upto the Vizhinjam lighthouse for a good view of the beach- it turned out to be a treat to the senses 🙂

View from the Vizinjam lighthouse
The view from the Vizinjam lighthouse

A stroll along the crowded beach, beautiful view of the sunset, some yummy local chaats to munch on.. Indeed an awesome end to an eventful business trip 🙂

Kovalam beach @ sunset
Kovalam beach @ sunset
Don’t miss to try 3 things while you are in Trivandrum:
1. Fresh banana & jackfruit chips and halwa
2. Hot palam puri with a cup of burning hot Kerala tea
3. Frog thigh fry (available only in select places)

If not a business trip, one could cover all these places in a day and combine it with a day trip to Kanyakumari- the southern-most tip of mainland India.

Snake boating in L.O.L.

<11-Aug-2012>

After overcoming a lot of last minute hiccups, the planning of more than 3 months finally materialised.. And here we are……….. (For the flow of thoughts, I choose to use present tense :P)

At 10.a.m we are on the stands looking out for a nice place which will give us a good view of the race. The 60th Annual Nehru Boat Race is scheduled to start at 2.30.p.m. The crowd was pouring in as early as 6.a.m to get a good seat- we were told.

Pam and I were sitting in the last row (fortunate enough to get chairs to sit).. Sam had ventured out of our stands to capture some good photos and to find a better corner seat for all of us. Then this gang of 6 huge Malayali men dressed in their white Lungis came in.. They pushed our chairs in front so that they could accommodate few more chairs on the podium which was already crammed. We barely had space to keep our legs and without knowing the language- we just gave them wild stares. Pam belted out a few words in Kannada. Next thing we see is: each man placed a biiig hand bag in between their legs covered by their lungis and pulled out a bottle of local scotch (the tags on the bottle told us that it was pure-strong-local), poured it to a glass and gulped it all down in 2 seconds.(faster than one could drink water) and then… 1 of them started speaking something to us- From the fact that he just had a bottoms up (RAW) and his rude tone of speech, We knew for sure that he was abusing us. I understood a few swears but I told Pam not to react as we would surely be outnumbered by men here in God’s own country.

Like a call from God himself- Sam called us to inform us that he had found a better place to sit. We vacated in the very same minute. On the way, Pam walked upto a cop and said “Those men in the last row there, are boozing; Each man is carrying atleast a bottle which one is not supposed to possess in a public gathering”. The cop said “OK, OK Sir; We will look into it” and walked by as if Pam had just spoken to deaf ears. We met Sam and just as we were narrating the scene to him- We saw 2 more men who carried handbags and settled down right beside us. And soon they pulled out a bottle each, bottoms up, gulped down some minced beef and then started cheering at the water infront where the race was yet to happen. Before we reacted Sam pointed at the platform onto our left. More than 10men were repeating the same procedure- handbags covered by lungis- bottoms up-cheer out loud. And then we looked behind at the gallery- and we were like “What the F***” every lungi fellow has a glass in his hand..!!! And now we know that the reason for getting such a vague response from that cop. The Policemen are outnumbered by these drunkards and this is a normal phenomenon. And we learned to live with it..!! Soon, the crowd of drunkards increased and also the excitement.

Boat Race finals (49)

And.. The boat race had a roaring start with a lot of frenzy and madness.. We too were at the peak of our excitement.. And suddenly this scuffle started between 2 groups and the next thing we see is people were being thrown into the river… Typical to any Indian movie, the cop gives an entry after the fight end- cops arrived in speed boats and pulled out a couple of them from the water and sped away..

The below picture shows:

  1. A hard core fan who watched the match sitting on a coconut tree from 10.a.m to 7.00.p.m.
  2. A drunk fan standing on a pole and cheering for his team whose limbs finally gave way into the water after 5hrs.
  3. Another bunch of fans seated in the gallery who are supporting themselves by holding onto the electric lines.

Boat Race finals (36)

This is 1 hell of a maddening-superbly-awesomeness-crazy-experience I am going to cherish for life.“Land Of Lungis” truly God’s own Country… L.O.L. 😀