I visited Russia last October as part of a tourist group. At that time, the biggest worry was if it would be safe to travel during the time of the Pandemic. But staying cooped up ‘safely’ in our own spaces were proving to be claustrophobic for many a travel enthusiast, and ultimately, I gave in to the urge. Thinking about it now, I feel I did good by grabbing that opportunity because, I wonder when it would become ‘safe’ for tourists to visit Russia again. War is insane. I wish peace reigns the earliest.
The places we visited and the people we met as part of the tour were truly beautiful. Kiril and Alyona, our English-speaking tour guides had met us at the Domodedovo International Airport where we landed, and had been with us till we left Moscow two days later to St. Petersburg. Kiril was eloquent about the history and culture of the great land, his words often revealing the pride he held for his motherland. All through the journey, it was a veritable class in Russian history, its buildings from each era, its monuments, the people, their lifestyle, politics, tradition, culture, and a lot more. Each time we boarded the huge tourist bus with big glass windows, Kiril who was seated next to the driver, would take up the microphone and enlighten us about the places we were going to visit. This soft spoken, smiling young man with light eyes and a pleasing countenance accompanied us throughout our stay at Moscow. The same went for Alyona, a young and experienced tour guide who also was an English teacher. Both of them had been utmost polite and professional in their behavior, often going out of the way to help us whenever required, and was one of the reasons why our limited days in Moscow ended happily.
Alexander was with us from the time we disembarked from the bullet train on a drizzling winter evening at St. Petersburg. A bespectacled middle-aged man, well-educated and a teacher by profession, he was very knowledgeable about Russia, its past history and present scenario, and mentioned eagerly that it was his dream to visit India someday. During our visit to the Peterhof Palace, he actually apologised for the behaviour of a rather rude attender, which was actually gracious on his part. This friendly man was with us till we were dropped off at the airport to board the flight to Murmansk.
There were others too. Susan, a friendly lady sitting next to me on our flight to Moscow who was an Armenian by birth, and worked in India. Her family had settled down in Moscow since long and she was on her way to visit them. Our brief meeting of a few hours led to a friendship so beautiful that she met us at our hotel on the night prior to our departure with a heart filled with love and a big bag full of chocolates.. On the flight from St. Petersburg to Murmansk, my flight companion was Viktor, who showed me pictures of his lovely daughter and wife, and spoke about their life in general in the Northernmost part of the world.
All these people are in my thoughts and prayers now as I keep wondering how the educated, friendly and progressive minded Russians like Kiril, Alyona, Alexander, Victor, and countless others like them would be managing the current war crisis that is threatening to explode anytime. Russia has always been an enigmatic and fearful communist country for the rest of the world, cold and shrouded in secrecy. But the younger generation was much influenced by the glitter and glam of the Western world, which could be seen in their choice in clothes, food, movies and outlook too. Perhaps jointly, their voice of dissent would help thwart an impending global disaster.
War is never easy for anyone. May peace reign in that part of the world soon.
“Coming on a small trip?”, my friend Bindu asked as soon as I picked up her call. We had been planning a small getaway to a quaint little homestay at Coonoor since ages, and somewhere between our tight schedules and the pandemic, it just hadn’t materialized. The utter boredom of an uninteresting day combined with the fact that I had been craving for a much needed break, hastened my reply. “Ofcourse, Bindu. I am in”, I replied excitedly as I conjured up images in my head of a beautiful drive up the Nilgiris and the relaxing weekend I might get to spend there. “In that case, get ready for a trip to Russia”, she said excitedly, leaving me agape.
Well, it was not Coonoor she was talking about, but a conducted group tour to Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Murmansk, which happened to be some place in the Arctic Circle… literally on the top of the globe! A Kochi based tour company, Benny’s Royal Tours was the organizer, and Bindu, an avid traveler herself, got interested in this due to the possibility of seeing the Northern lights or the Aurora Borealis at Murmansk. The trip would commence on 21st October, lasting for 8 days and we would return on the 29th.
Forget about an International tour, I hadn’t even imagined a simple Sunday drive… and this was going to be an 8-day foreign tour! How would I manage the home front? And what about my hectic work schedule? Would my family suffer in my absence? Moreover, the cost involved was huge. Am I wasting hard earned money? But my family would have none of it. My son, Varun, immediately started Googling up Russia. Without mincing words, he said, ” You are not getting any younger. A few years down, and you may find it physically tiring to do such a trip. Don’t miss out on this for God’s sake!” (The typical pragmatic Virgo that he is, Varun also added a few more choice sentences, which I’d rather not let the world know ). My sister, Deepa, who was planning to return to her house at Hyderabad offered to extend her stay until after I returned so that our mother would not be left alone. My octogenarian mother, an avid reader of travel related stories, found it exciting too. And that’s how the decision was made.
Like most people of my generation who loved books, my earliest introduction to Russia was through Mikhail Sholokhov’s “And quiet flows the Don”. The four-volume book stored in a brown leather box, along with a lot of other books belonging to my maternal uncle in our ancestral home had aroused the my curiosity since some time especially due to the pictures on the hardbound cover, but being all of 10 years of age at time, there was no way I could make sense of the small printed words stuffed into the pages. Every year, during the long Summer vacations, this became a sort of ritual and I would take great pleasure in opening the box to take out the musty smelling books which included thick hard-bound copies of Mein Kampf, War and Peace, Das Capital, the four volumes of ‘And quiet flows the Don” and some others, the titles which escape my memory now. Just as I got old enough to savor the printed treasures in the box, I found to my horror the whole cache, including my collection of precious Amar Chithra Kathas that my father had brought me over the years, destroyed by termites.
Later on, during my college days, I got an insight into the life of the Czar and Czarina and the effects of the revolution through Danielle Steele’s Zoya. A true blue romantic at heart, I literally cried, reading about the life of Zoya and the cruel fate of her cousins, the innocent children of the Imperial family. The grand palaces, the magnificent dresses worn by royalty, the precious jewelery, the horse drawn carriages, the angry mob of revolutionaries… everything became real and vivid in my imagination as I read and re-read the book word by word. I got a glimpse into food shortages in Russia and their tough life in freezing weather conditions. Moscow and St. Petersburg became places familiar to me after reading that book. Unfortunately, Zoya is no more part of my book collection since the time some unknown person ‘borrowed’ it.
Rasputin was another Russian character made familiar to the whole world thanks to Boney M in the late 70’s. But it was only much later that I became interested enough to read about that mysterious and enigmatic person whom Russians loved to hate. I started checking out documentaries and movies about Russia and its history in Netflix and my interest to visit the place started escalating.
I must say that the days prior to my travel to Russia were truly eventful. If we had a government spying on the activities of civilians, they would surely have noted the unusual interest in Russia from our IP address. While Varun was busy googling the places mentioned in the itinerary which Densal, the tour manager from Bennys Royal Tours had sent me, my sister busied herself researching on the various souvenirs available at Russia, Matryoshka doll being foremost in her list. Some of my other friends dropped not-so-subtle hints about Vodka being the National drink of Russia. Priya another friend who had visited Russia some time back, updated me about the delicious Georgian food available there. My son developed a sadistic pleasure in reminding me about the extreme weather conditions , which as per his words were, “a pleasant 2 to 8 degrees”. And to think that I actually freeze to death in movie theaters!
Conducted group travel was again, something new to me. I did have my reservations about traveling with a whole lot of strangers. But the advantage of such a travel, as I found out, was that the tour company would take care of all required documentation and legalities of traveling to a foreign land, leaving me totally free to worry about the clothing I need to carry.
Shopping for the trip was another experience. My friend, Rani, who had experienced a German winter, and my sister, Deepa who had stayed in London for a few years, gave me a lot of tips, the main thing being the importance of ‘layering’, the only way to combat freezing temperatures. Thermals, fleece jackets, layered jackets, ear muffs, caps, woolen socks, fur lined shoes… I was doubtful if I could get good ones at this part of the world, but Decathlon solved my problem. I must say, they have an amazing range of winter clothing depending on temperatures. I only wish their colour palette were wider to include some more feminine hues.
As our departure date neared, Bindu and I frequently started exchanging notes on the essentialsrequired. My sister insisted on my carrying basic medicines and prepared a medical kit complete with paracetamol, cough lozenges, antacids, bandaids, pain balms and what not. I also packed a few biscuit packs and some dry snacks just in case I found the food unpalatable, being the picky and choosy non vegetarian that I was.
There were 68 people in the travel group who were to travel in two different flights. While one group was flying Emirates from Kochi to Dubai, and then a connection flight to Moscow, the second one was flying from Kochi by AirArabia to Sharjah with a connection flight to Moscow. The groups would meet at Moscow. Bindu and I had opted to fly from Coimbatore to Sharjah and meet the Airarabia group there to fly to Moscow.
Excited like two school girls on their school excursion, we both boarded the Airarabia flight to Sharjah on the wee hours of the 21st of October 2021.
I really envy people with one of those spic and span homes. You know.. the sort where everything is just about perfect. Not a cushion out of place, framed family photographs on the side table with the mandatory plants in delicate miniature planters, newspapers and magazines in wooden racks, fresh fragrant flowers in the vase on the dining table no matter the time of the day, neatly made beds with fresh sheets and matching duvets, clothes ironed and stacked neatly in wardrobes, lampshades and ceiling fans sparkling clean, a spotless kitchen with pots pans and jars kept away out of sight and the best part of it all… an empty, shining kitchen sink!
Coming to the topic of kitchen sinks, I really cant help comparing mine to Draupadi’s ‘Akshayapathram’ these days. As most of you would know, this mythical vessel gifted to Draupadi by Lord Krishna himself solved the food problem during the exile period of the Pandavas in the forest. This blessed vessel would always have enough food for their requirements. By a sadistic turn of events conjured by a humour loving God, the said blessing seems to have been transferred to my kitchen sink! No matter the time of the day, no matter how hard I try, the fact remains that it is never ever empty. Just as I finish washing the last greasy pan with a song in my heart, and as I move my wet hands towards the gleaming stainless steel tap to turn off the water, there appears as though by magic, a plate or a couple of spoons! My ferocious glance at my grinning son is met with a sheepish grin and the culprit scoots away to safety.
Tonight, as I sit down with a sigh of relief after completing my washing up for the night, I gaze with absolute wonder at my mountain of a handiwork and can’t help thinking that this certainly is a curve which could do with a bit of flattening!
The heavenly aroma of freshly made dosas wafting out of the kitchen is familiar in most Malayalee homes. My earliest memories of childhood involves sitting down to eat dosa in the small dining room adjoining a tiny kitchen of our ancestral house in Palakkad. It had a tiled roof and one tile had been replaced with a glass pane through which sunlight filtered in, brightening up a small area on the wooden table.
For someone with a taste for spicy food right from childhood, it was very exciting to see the bowl of fiery red ullisammanthi or ullichammanthi ( Onion chutney) on the table, as an accompaniment to the dosa prepared by my mother. Laced with a bit of coconut oil that heightened the red colour (or sometimes green, if green chillies were used), I never ever imagined that this humble dish would remain a life long favourite. In fact, I had a granduncle whose eyes and nose used to water profusely while eating steaming idlies with this spicy and pungent accompaniment, but he actually couldn’t stop until he was full to the brim. I swear it remains as one of my fascinating childhood memories.
Ofcourse, I am talking of a period where kitchens were yet to be revolutionised by electronic gadgets. The grinding stone or the ammikkallu/aattukallu was an inevitable part of every household. Grinding the soaked rice and urad dal for the idly or dosa batter was a laborious task that the ladies of the house had to do on a daily basis. For me, it was a fascinating sight as a child.
The shallots ( button onions) for the chammanthi used to be peeled and washed. Sometimes it used to be sauteed in a bit of oil along with the whole dry or green chillies. Sometimes the sauteing part was omitted, bringing out a sharp sting to the dish. Either ways, I am sure it was living hell for the person grinding it. But teary eyes and burning hands were a small price to pay for the bowl of pure awesomeness accompanying the dosa or idly.
During my college days, a young lady named Bhama used to help out my mother in the household tasks. She was an expert at preparing ullichammanthi the traditional way by using the small grinding stone in one corner of our kitchen. But I guess as we entered the electronic mixer grinder era, like many other dishes, the ullisammanthi also took on a new avtaar. Moreover, the small button onions too got replaced by it’s bigger counterpart, the big onion, which I would say, brings in a different taste.
I must say, In the course of my travel to various places in kerala, I am yet to find the equivalent to the ullisammanthi that is generally found in Palakkad homes. The addition of tomato and garlic is something I have seen in other places.
Well…to end this lengthy monologue, I made some ullisammanthi today as an accompaniment to dosa. That is what actually brought about this whole train of thoughts. For those of you who would like to try out this ultra simple recipe, here goes.
Take a cup of peeled small onions and a few dry red chillies as per your level of tolerance. Saute them lightly in a tsp of coconut oil. Add in a few sprigs of curry leaves if you like its flavour. Cool and grind in the small mixie jar wothout any water to a smooth paste. Remove into a bowl and add some water and required salt. (Do not add salt or water while grinding as it makes the chammanthi bitter). The ullisammanthi is never ready without mixing in a few teaspoonful of fresh coconut oil. Enjoy it with piping hot dosa or idly!
“To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” – Anne Rice
I don’t know what made me sign up for that writing workshop. Perhaps it was the way the promos were worded – ‘Write by the river’. It reminded me of a scene from an old Malayalam movie, where the heroine, a middle-aged writer, takes a short break to stay in a cottage by the sea. That lovely picture of the pretty seaside cottage and the young heroine made to look older by a pair of oversized spectacles and a crisp cotton saree had stayed in my mind. Well… if not the sea, here was an opportunity to not just stay near the River Periyar, but also pretend to be a writer!
The day dawned bright and clear… well that sounds like a true cliché (my writing guru, Pramod Shankar had warned us against using clichés), but the sky was definitely clear with no trace of rains and in the darkness of the July morning, I strapped on the seat belt of my car and headed South towards my destination, The Big Banana Island Retreat at Chendamangalam in Ernakulam district, which as per Google maps was a drive of about three hours. All through the winding roads and awesomely green terrain, I was actually suffering from serious misgivings wondering if I made a mistake in registering for this workshop. It had been several decades since I left behind my classroom days and I was clueless as to how this would turn out to be. Would it be one of those boring lecture classes where I would struggle to stifle a yawn? Could I cook up some ’emergency’ and head back home? I was not even sure as to what I wanted from this workshop. How does one learn to write? Wasn’t writing a creative process and how does someone teach this creativity in a matter of two days? To be frank, it literally felt like going on a blind date (Not that I have ever gone on one). The only known face over there would be Radha, who was on the organizing side. She represented the banner Ekarasa, who was organizing this event. So in essence, I was literally going to walk into the midst of strangers and spend my next 48 hours with them!
As per Radha’s instructions and contrary to what Google Maps directed, in the last lap of my drive, I turned off the road into a narrow lane bordered by dense hedges and bushes, that was just wide enough for barely a vehicle to pass through. The rustic road took twists and turns and at one point I almost panicked at the thought of having taken a wrong turn. But suddenly the road widened and there it was… a small board on which was written, ‘The Big Banana Island Retreat’!
A few other vehicles were parked in the small space and I got out of my car wondering for the umpteenth time if it were a huge mistake. A pretty young girl and an attractive lady were walking by, and I hesitatingly clarified with them that I was indeed in the right place. Perhaps they too were participants! Anyway, with my bag slung over my shoulders, I walked in through a hibiscus tree-lined pathway to the reception area.
Registering formalities completed, a girl took me to my allotted cottage. A few people were scattered around in an open hall and somewhere, I could see Radha talking to someone. But what made me spellbound was the sight of the river. The Big Banana Island Retreat was practically on the banks of the majestic Periyar. The large hall that doubled up as a dining area too, as well as the quaint little group of cottages that accommodated the guests, were situated right beside the calmly flowing river and all I could do was gape with an open-mouthed wonder!
The beautiful cottage was large and well equipped with essentials. The decor was simple and maintained an eco-friendly approach. The doorway itself was painted traditionally. The best part of the cottage, I felt, was its small verandah where one could sit facing the river that was just a few steps away. Plants like hibiscus and a few others found locally, grew abundantly, bringing in a coolness that was certainly refreshing. Greedily, I drank in the pristine beauty of the surroundings.
It was time for the workshop to commence. A group of eleven enthusiastic students of all age groups led by a talented teacher goes a long way! Pramod Shankar, our ‘guru’ as we fondly called him, is a soft-spoken, dignified gentleman who has carved a niche for himself in the literary arena. He certainly knew how to sustain his students’ attention with enough activities and exercises. Assignments were fun and he made it a point to discuss each one of our literary creations. What I particularly found endearing in him was the fact that never did he put down any of our literary attempts or create fun of it in any way. On the contrary, each of us was made to feel as though our writings were worthy of the Booker Prize. Suggestions, if any, were given subtly without us feeling in any way incompetent.
The ‘student’ group itself was interesting in the sense, each of us belonged to different spheres of life. There were teachers, an architect, a poet, a graphic designer, students, corporate stalwarts, etc who just had one intention primarily… to have fun… and of course, to become better writers. Together we helped get rid of each other’s inhibitions and fears, and together we rediscovered our strengths. Together we laughed, together we read poetry, together we ate and together we talked and talked. There were no judgments, mockery or any sort of prejudices. We were essentially ourselves without any sort of embarrassment or fear, and that really meant a lot.
Night approached stealthily with all its beauty and gradually it was as though we were enveloped by a magical blanket. The trees and plants which grew densely and wildly on the riverbank, the beautiful river that stretched across miles with its waters that shimmered in the moonlit night, the hearty croaking of frogs and the incessant chirping of crickets were all rather enchanting in itself. A few fireflies were flying nearby emitting their fluorescent glow. I guess the last time I saw fireflies could have easily been more than two decades ago. Deepan, our host, was saying that there were a couple of owls too who came by every night as though to check out on the place.
Deepan and his French wife, Geraldine were truly wonderful hosts, simple in their tastes and attire. We were treated to delicious and wholesome meals and snacks which apart from being made with some pure ingredients procured locally, was also laced with a whole lot of love… and that perhaps brought out the lip-smacking taste that lingers on even now. Deepan related stories about the 2018 flood and how it had destroyed almost everything in the retreat. They had to redo all the décor from scratch. Here was a man who really loved this land and his people.
Partings are not exactly happy, but ultimately, we need to turn the page when we finish off a chapter. A significant part of my life had been lived in those two days, and I returned home very happy and extremely fulfilled with the knowledge that I have gained some priceless friendships for life.
When I entered the hospital room, she was lying on the bed, eyes closed, silently chanting the Vishnu Sahasranama. The elder daughter was seated on a chair, dutifully reading out the same to her from a book, while the younger daughter stood with a doting expression near her, trying to control her tears. Their father was sitting on the bystander’s bed, looking down intently at his feet, perhaps with ( I am sure) a million thoughts crossing his mind.
Hospitals were not new to this octogenarian and neither was her medical condition. Nearly two decades of being bedridden due to her illness had taken a huge toll on her body which was now reduced to mere skin and bones. A fighter to the core, she strongly and cheerfully faced every predicament that life had to offer, and today, was getting ready for a surgical procedure which was the last resort to help prolong her years on Earth. I sat on the chair that was offered to me watching her, pity writ large in my mind.
As the chant came to an end, she opened her eyes and looked at me… and then something magical happened. She smiled. It was not an ordinary smile. It was the beautiful smile of a toothless octogenarian which seemed to come straight from her heart. Like the innocent smile of a baby, it lighted up the whole of her withered face. Her smiling eyes shone, reflecting a kindness so powerful that it seemed to envelop her in a blissful glow. There was no trace of any pain, misery or suffering that she had endured all these years. All that she exuded lying helplessly on that hospital bed was pure, beautiful, unconditional love that surpassed any other emotion in that room.
Unwittingly, she had taught me a huge, humbling lesson. I am sure that her heavenly smile will remain with me all my life.
The planet Mars, or Chovva, is astrologically famed for its ability to negatively influence a person’s life, especially marriage prospects. This planet can delay a marriage uncertainly and generally bring about a lot of difficulties. Chovva forms part of the nine planetary deities or Navagrahas, which holds their own distinct position in a lot of temples in Kerala. They are worshipped diligently and appeased through poojas and mantras, to ward off negative influences leading to troublesome situations.
It was by chance, during a conversation with a friend that I got to know about the Veluthaattu Vadakkan Chovva Bhagavathy Temple. Situated in a small town called Kedamangalam at North Paravur in Ernakulam District of Kerala, this ancient temple dedicated to the Goddess or Bhagavathi, has been in existence since more than eight centuries! The powerful Chovva Bhagavathi takes in manifold forms here and is worshipped as Goddess Saraswathy, Parvathy, Durga, Lakshmi, as well as the fierce Bhadrakali.
There is a very interesting legend behind this temple which dates back to more than 800 years. The illustrious family of Veluthaattu Mana were renowned spiritual healers of the land, who followed strict and rigorous traditional rituals meticulously. The then Veluthattu Namboothiri had a pious and faithful assistant by name of Kummipilly Nair, who accompanied him everywhere and was well versed in all the rituals and traditions followed by Brahmins.
At that time, it so happened that a young girl in that land got severely possessed. Things took a terrible turn with her getting extremely violent and viciously attacking any healer who approached her with the intent of curing her. Ultimately, her family approached the Veluthaattu Mana Namboothiri with the problem. The wise Namboothiri, in turn, sent Kummippilly Nair to get rid of the possession and cure the girl. Kummippilly Nair identified the powerful spirit to be that of the Chovva Bhagavathi, which supposedly had two conflicting natures; one of which was extremely benevolent and peaceful, and the other that was fearful, destructive and troublesome. He got rid of the destructive part and carried the benevolent spirit with him back to Veluthaattu Mana, where it was accorded a place of prominence with the other gods and goddesses, to be worshipped regularly.
Over time, a period of intense internal strife forced the Veluthaattu Mana family to flee the land and establish their base at Tirur in Malappuram. The Namboothiri handed over the Mana along with all its Divine spirits and possessions to Kummippilly Nair. Subsequently, Chovva Bhagavathy became the ‘Upasana Moorthy’ of the family. Her benevolence and divinity very soon spread across the land, and people started thronging the temple to seek her divine grace.
The temple attained name and fame, especially since the Chovva Bhagavathy had powers to quell the impediments posed on a person due to ‘chovva dosham’ or unfavourable influence of the planet Mars, that could result in delayed marriage or severely troubled times. Even today, devotees from far and wide flock over to seek her blessings and pray for her mercy in removing unfavourable obstacles from their life due to the evil influence of ‘Chovva’ or Mars.
The temple provides a list of offerings which can be done by the devotee to appease the Bhagavathy and gain her grace. Accordingly, various Pushpanjalis, Para Nirakkal, Guruthi, etc are done as per the specific requirements of the devotees. All poojas are done as per Brahminic traditions, by the lineage of Tanthris from the Manappad Mana. The Chovva Bhagavathy is believed to go all out of her way to grant the wishes of her sincere devotees.
The temple is also graced by the presence of various other equally powerful ‘Upadevatas’. like Vettakkaran Swamy, Kalladikodu Neeli Bhagavathy and Vellayam Bhagavathy, who are worshipped with much reverence. Sree Dharmasastha can be seen in the South West corner of the temple while Sree Muthappan Swamy sits facing the temple. Chathan is also worshipped here. The Navagrahas are placed in the North-East corner of the temple and the Nagadevathas consisting of Nagaraja and the Nagayakshi along with other Serpents are worshipped in the sacred groove outside the compound wall of the temple. There is also the Dampathy Rakshas and Durga Bhagavathy who are worshipped with much reverence. Regular poojas and offerings are made to all the Upadevathas to appease them and invoke their divine blessings.
Chovva Bhagavathy or Veluthaattamma as affectionately addressed is extremely fond of jewellery and adornments, and true to her desires, is covered in gold and finery. The sanctum sanctorum is lit up with oil lamps which shed a glow so very magical and beautiful, totally enthralling the devotee who stands transfixed to the spot. I had heard a lot about this powerful Bhagavathy, but nothing had prepared me for the absolute divine radiance that emitted from the deity, engulfing me in a spirit of blessed love and belonging. It was as though I had come home. I stood mutely before her with all humility for a long time, spellbound and unwilling to take my eyes off her for fear of losing out on that glorious sight!
It was an ordinary clay flower pot. A few years back, someone had brought it home, filled it up with some soil, and planted a Lilly bulb in it. And there it stayed since ages, among other pots in our garden.
I don’t know when or how this pot broke. When I noticed it recently, it had broken vertically and just half of it remained, with the other half missing. The bulbs inside were exposed and most of the soil had been washed away. Survival was tough!
And then, a miracle happened. Notwithstanding the harshness of the situation, one of the bulbs sprouted life. A beautiful flower bloomed, exuding hope and optimism.
But this is not a story about the die hard plant or the delicate flower. It is a story about the half flower pot who never ever felt it was incomplete in any way just because half of it broke away. In spite of all odds, it stayed put, loved and believed in itself, and helped create a beautiful world…like many of us.
A beautiful cloudy afternoon, three young passionate bikers with a thirst for travel, and a super-enthusiastic me! It has been a long standing desire of mine to go pillion riding on a rainy day, feeling the caress of the wind and raindrops falling on my face. Without a second thought, I accepted the invitation to join my son Varun and buddies, Sachin and Praveen on a biking trip.
Off we went all the way through rain and shine, on wet roads lined by lush green paddy fields, majestic trees and thick bushes amidst a backdrop of towering mountains which were resplendent with silvery lines of flowing rivulets all the way down. Our destination was the Meenvallam waterfalls situated at the foothills of the impressive Kalladikode mountains, that are a part of the magnificent Western Ghats. Interestingly, folklore vouches on the presence of the legendary forest goddess, the fiery Kalladikode Karineeli, in these mountains.
The picturesque bike ride to Meenvallam water falls
An awesome view of the Kalladikode hills which forms part of the Western Ghats in Palakkad dist of Kerala.
Rubber plantations that could be found enroute
For those of you who would want more details about the route, Meenvallam waterfalls is situated about 30 Km from Palakkad town. Go along the Palakkad – Mannarkad road and turn right at the Thuppanad junction that is about 2 Km from Kalladikode town. From there you need to travel roughly 8 Km through a narrow, picturesque route lined by rubber and banana plantations, and you reach the main entrance of the Meenvallom hydroelectric project, which is the gateway to the Meenvallam waterfalls. Tickets to this highly sensitive eco-tourism spot are at Rs. 20/- per head, that is collected at the forest check post, enroute. The entry timings are from 9 am to 3 pm, and the officials mentioned that we need to get back before 5 pm. And very obviously, the best time to visit this eco-forest area is during the monsoon season.
“Green is the prime colour of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.” This was a place which was totally green in every aspect. From the minute we entered the gates, it was a different world…a world of silence, a world of calm and a world of pristine, natural beauty! And the best part was that being a weekday, tourists were conspicuous by their absence, and we had the whole place literally to ourselves! How much more lucky could we get!!!
The main entrance of the Meenvallam hydro electric power project. Vehicles are allowed until this point only.
Green as green can be!
A short walk and a trudge downhill through a rocky pathway brought us to one of the most magical of places.. it was a wooden makeshift bridge across the swelling choppy waters that has made its way high up from the Kalladikode hills and was on its way to the Thuppanad river that later joins the Thoothapuzha. There was a narrow, makeshift bridge across the stream that led to a secluded shack on the other side. The waters were very rough and choppy and we made our way carefully down slippery rocks and stood near the stream, totally enticed with the ‘poetry of the earth’ as John Keats had said. The water that flowed through was very cool and sweet to taste, and felt simply divine!
The makeshift wooden bridge across the stormy waters that came thundering down all the way from the Kalladikode mountains.
Happy Praveen poses for the camera!
Varun is all smiles to have accomplished the balancing act!
After a while of taking in this blissful scene, we made our way back to the main path and walked in the direction of the waterfalls. A friendly stray dog came up to keep us company much to our delight, and stayed with us wagging its tail until we came up to a stream that had to be crossed. The water was so very cold and came up literally up till our thighs. It was definitely an awesome experience to wade across to the other side of the stream, holding hands and gingerly stepping on stones that were not slippery or were firm to the step. Somewhere midway, we stopped for a while, enjoying the steady force of the icy cold water and drinking in the freshness and beauty of the surroundings. I must say, it was truly a humbling experience too with the realization dawning that there is nothing more healing that Nature’s own hands! Some precious moments make you feel so very happy and peaceful, and this was certainly one of them. It felt literally like a soul connect.
A friendly stray decides to keep us company
We had to wade across this stream to reach the other end
The water flowing steadily through the stream was really cold and refreshing.
The heavenly sight of the water flowing through rocks and pebbles through the forest
Its celebration time for Sachin
We continued our walk across the stream, and took the path upwards that led to the small Hydel power sub station. It was from there that we got the first glimpse of the majestic waterfalls. The stormy waters were falling straight down with a great deal of sound and fury, and we carefully got down the rocky path to reach the flowing stream. The rough waters of the stream and the thunderous sound of the waterfall nearby made me slightly hesitant in following them, i soon found myself holding on to Sachin’s hands and going down the muddy, slippery, rocky path to feel the refreshing water flowing by. I am truly glad i did, because how else would i have been a witness to such beautiful moments! What could be more blissful than sitting on a rock, feet in the flowing cool waters, and drinking in the amazing calmness of the surroundings !
The first view of the magnificent waterfall through the bushes
Nature at its very best!
The fabulous trio – Sachin, Praveen and Varun posing happily atop a rock
Overwhelmed at the beauty of Nature, we started our walk towards the waterfalls. From the thundering sound of the waters, it was clear that we were getting closer to our destination. A narrow path with security railings guided us to an amazing and unforgettable scene. I have never witnessed such a breathtaking waterfall before that too at this proximity! Words certainly cant do it justice. All i could do was to watch this magnificence of nature with awestruck wonder. There was this huge cascade of water that beat down the rocks below mercilessly, creating a rhapsody of thunderous music which belonged only to the thick forest surrounding it.
The narrow path that leads to the waterfalls
An awestruck moment witnessing Nature at her best!
The captivating Meenvallam waterfalls
A moment of absolute bliss
Mother Nature never fails to amaze us with its rich treasure trove, and we were lucky enough to capture some of its finest nuances on camera!
The remnants of a tree that had seen better days.
A mushroom growing on the a tree trunk.
The various hues of a fallen leaf
What a colour combination! Nature’s unparalleled creations!
A moth which caught our eye
The delicate balance between life and death
Another one of God’s beautiful creations!
I guess the meaning behind Thoreau’s words, “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth”, gets more profound. To me, nothing else mattered at that point.
The joyful memories of this beautiful trip will stay with us for a very long time to come. There was a deep contentment within us as we made our way back to civilization, with a song in our heart.
Some days, I wake up with an innate urge to travel.. to go on a long drive into the lap of nature. So, when a beautiful Sunday coincided with a strong desire to get away from the daily grind, I could only think of Nelliampathy.
I had visited Nelliyampathy earlier too, but never during the monsoons. And being a person who absolutely loves the rain, and having a companion who shares my love for Nature, as well as a long drive equally… my son, Varun, we decided to take off without any definite plans.
Nelliyampathy is about 60 Kilometers from Palakkad, and one can reach the place in less than two hours. The drive itself is very pleasant, as it takes you through lush greenery and a breathtaking view of mountains and fields. You pass small towns and villages with their ponds, temples, and trees to reach Pothundy Dam, which lies at the base of the Nelliyampathi hills.
The road from Pothundy. Lush greenery to be seen everywhere.
There are about 10 hairpin bends to maneuver as you take off from Pothundy, which is at the base… another picturesque tourist spot with its magnificent dam.
The magnificent Pothundy reservoir. The view of the mountains is really amazing.
There is a forest office just after Pothundy, where you are required to enter your details on their log book. The officer in charge cautioned us about the mist and rainfall up in the hills and instructed to get back by 4 PM, if not staying back.
Took a picture of this monkey as we stopped at the forest check post. Monkeys abound in this place.
The view of the Pothundy reservoir from a spot higher up
And suddenly, out of nowhere, it got really misty.
Tourists thronging the view point from where an awesome view of the cloud capped mountains and the reservoir below could be seen.
One of the viewpoints. The mist was so very thick that nothing could be seen, practically.
It was well past lunch time, and hunger pangs were striking fast. Suddenly, as the road took a bend, we saw a couple of makeshift shacks on the side of the road. Each shack had a few tables and chairs inside, and served food to the tourists. We stopped our car and a lady from this eatery came out and enticed us with their menu which consisted of Kappa (tapioca) and fish curry or beef curry, bread omelette, Chappathi, Porotta, and meals.
It was a clean place, and she served us delicious Kappa and fish, which i found to be really tasty. It was followed by an omelette. I started a conversation with her and she said their men folk were tea estate laborers, and they lived in the estate quarters. While the husbands worked at the estate, a few of such enterprising women made food from home and brought it here to cater to tourists. judging by the quality of the food and the large number of tourists who had stopped by, she certainly was going to be having a busy day.
The food shack which served a variety of dishes
Kappa and Fish curry
Huge trees with orange blooms were to be seen on either side of hte road. At first, i thought it was the Gulmohar, but when one flower fell on our windshield, i realised it was another tree altogether. The sight of the orange flowers on the roadside was indeed beautiful.
The orange bloom
Isn’t that a picture perfect view?
Trees enveloped in mist
By now, a light drizzle had started
By the time we reached the parking lot, where we had to leave behind our vehicle, and do a small trek to Seetharkundu, it started raining heavily. People who were coming in after the trek informed us that visibility was very poor due to the heavy mist, and hence we decided to do that trek some other day.
The parking area at Seetharkundu. From here, tourists need to go by foot to Seetharkundu, where one can have a fantastic view of the valley, as well as a waterfall.
Monkeys taking shelter from the rain.
Nelliampathy has a vast expanse of Tea estates which belong to private companies like AVT, Poabs, etc. There do allow plantation visits on weekdays with prior permission, it seems.
Bovines can get curious too!
It was indeed a beautiful trip, and Nelliampathi was looking its greenest best, all fresh and pure with the rains. It definitely recharged our spirits and i am sure the memory of this would remain with us for a long time.