An ode to the Palakkadan Ullisammanthi

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!

Write by the River

“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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Happy Soul

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.

images

 

 

Veluthaattu Vadakkan Chovva Bhagavathy Temple

 

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!

slide1

The Unbreakable Spirit

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.

img_20190412_071812-017174172674445946844.jpeg

Meenvallam Waterfalls

Tags

, , , , ,

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.

IMG_20180727_162302_576x768

The picturesque bike ride to Meenvallam water falls

IMG_20180727_162048_576x768

An awesome view of the Kalladikode hills which forms part of the Western Ghats in Palakkad dist of Kerala.

IMG_20180727_161822_576x768

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!!!

IMG_20180727_143805_1024x743

The main entrance of the Meenvallam hydro electric power project. Vehicles are allowed until this point only.

IMG_20180727_144010_1024x768

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!

IMG_20180727_144719_576x768

The makeshift wooden bridge across the stormy waters that came thundering down all the way from the Kalladikode mountains.

IMG_20180727_144550_576x768

Happy Praveen poses for the camera!

IMG_20180727_144542_576x768

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.

IMG_20180727_145344_576x768

A friendly stray decides to keep us company

IMG_20180727_145710_576x768

We had to wade across this stream to reach the other end

IMG_20180727_150521_576x768

The water flowing steadily through the stream was really cold and refreshing.

IMG_20180727_150128_576x768

The heavenly sight of the water flowing through rocks and pebbles through the forest

IMG_20180727_151217_576x768

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 !

IMG_20180727_150751_576x768

The first view of the magnificent waterfall through the bushes

IMG_20180727_151134_1024x768

Nature at its very best!

IMG_20180727_151302_1024x768

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.

IMG_20180727_153754_576x768

The narrow path that leads to the waterfalls

IMG-20180727-WA0048_576x768

An awestruck moment witnessing Nature at her best!

IMG_20180727_152900_576x768

The captivating Meenvallam waterfalls

IMG_20180727_153025_576x768

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!

IMG_20180727_153604_Bokeh_1024x768

The remnants of a tree that had seen better days.

IMG_20180727_153523_Bokeh_576x768

A mushroom growing on the a tree trunk.

IMG_20180727_154517_576x768

The various hues of a fallen leaf

IMG_20180727_154248_Bokeh_576x768

What a colour combination! Nature’s unparalleled creations!

IMG_20180727_150437_Bokeh_1024x768

A moth which caught our eye

IMG_20180727_150710_576x768

The delicate balance between life and death

IMG_20180727_153927_576x768

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.

Pictures courtesy: Sachin & Praveen

Beautiful Nelliaympathi

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.

20171015_115608_1024x576

20171015_120203_961x768

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.

20171015_120914_1024x529

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.

20171015_120508_1024x654

Took a picture of this monkey as we stopped at the forest check post. Monkeys abound in this place.

20171015_121644_1024x570

The view of the Pothundy reservoir from a spot higher up

20171015_122420_1024x576

20171015_122809_1024x604

20171015_124407_1024x513

And suddenly, out of nowhere, it got really misty.

20171015_124655_1024x670

Tourists thronging the view point from where an awesome view of the cloud capped mountains and the reservoir below could be seen.

20171015_124827_1024x627

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.

20171015_133624_1024x576

The food shack which served a variety of dishes

20171015_132418_1024x576

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.

20171015_134723_1024x576

The orange bloom

20171015_135019_1024x576

Isn’t that a picture perfect view?

20171015_135211_1024x576

Trees enveloped in mist

20171015_135329_1024x576

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.

20171015_135722_1024x526

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.

20171015_140105_1024x587

Monkeys taking shelter from the rain.

20171015_141318_1024x576

20171015_141421_1024x553

Tea plantation

20171015_141652_1024x501

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.

20171015_141657_1024x642

20171015_141704_1024x633

20171015_141728_1024x623

20171015_141806_1024x576

20171015_142405_1024x576

Bovines can get curious too!

20171015_144037_1024x576

20171015_145820_1024x601

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.

Kerala sure is God’s own country!!!

Sankalp – A Website Makeover

I still remember the excitement of getting an online address for Sankalp, a few years back… the process of hunting a suitable domain name, collecting photographs, writing the content, and impatiently waiting for the final outcome which was being created by a friend.  And no amount of words can express the thrill I felt when the site was uploaded, as I keyed in www.sankalpevents.net in the address bar of my Google chrome.  It was with much elation that I announced that Sankalp had made its presence in the world wide web.

Finally, here was a space where I could document every activity of Sankalp. So far, such a web presence was not a necessity, since our activities were just confined to a small town called Palakkad. But 2014 saw Sankalp branch out its wings and launch its ambitious women empowerment program in the big city of Kochi. Suddenly, everything became much bigger and it became essential to connect with a wider audience.

It has been a continuing journey of over seven years now, and come November, Sankalp will reach its 16th Edition at Palakkad. What started with a tiny bit of conceptualization and a whole lot of unsure steps, have now become a way of life, with active involvement from family and friends. Kochi was followed by Kozhikode as well as Kottayam, where we have managed to make our mark felt, and God willing, we hope to cover more places in the coming years.

Change became inevitable as the Sankalp family grew, and we decided to give the old website a makeover, replacing it with a new responsive design, that includes more information and detailing, and gives prominence to a whole lot of cherished memories in the form of pictures and stories of each of our events so far.

Do check out www.sankalpevents.net, and leave behind your comments and feedback which would help us to move forward in a constructive manner.

Just a li’l something…

The car stopped at the traffic signal for a few minutes. Slightly irritated at the short wait, and for nothing else to do, I looked around impatiently. It was a hot Palakkad afternoon, and next to me, two ladies in a red scooty were talking animatedly. Another youngster stopped by my car on his cycle, and started admiring his reflection on the adjoining shop window. People were walking about on the narrow pavement, most of them bent over their smartphones, totally oblivious to their surroundings.

And then I saw her. A frail, bent, dark, old woman, walking with the aid of a crude bamboo stick. She was wearing a faded green saree which had definitely seen better days. A forehead drenched in sweat revealed the heat outside my air-conditioned car and I noticed that she wiped it with the ends of her tattered saree, before heading towards one of the glitzy kids wear shop situated on the side of the road, filled with all things pretty and nice.  Enter she didn’t, and waited with an outstretched palm and beseeching look outside the door, only to be shooed away by the burly shopkeeper inside, who might have been worried that her presence would thwart other potential customers.

I guess she was used to such treatment, and without a word, she turned back. But at that moment, her eyes rested on the small child-mannequin outside the shop, which was kept to entice customers, and involuntarily, she affectionately fondled its chin with her fingers, and brought them up to her lips to kiss them lovingly. A spark  of pure love and joy illuminated her tired eyes for a fraction of a second, and then she quietly turned around and walked away from the shop.

It was just a lifeless mannequin. Wonder why she did it. Perhaps she was recollecting some vague memory involving her own children.. or perhaps she may have been missing her grandchildren who she may not have seen since long…. I don’t know.

The signal turned green and I resumed my drive.

The Unsung Heroes Behind Sankalp

I believe in the power of team work. Today, as Sankalp steps into its 15th edition at Kottayam, I can proudly say that we are scaling up the ladder in a steady manner only due to a fabulous teamwork, of which I had written before. Follow this link to read about the wonderful Sankalp team.

But we also have another team which always remains unseen in the background… a team of hard working, enthusiastic guys who silently do their job, and stay hidden from view. They come the previous day of the event, silently transform the drab venue to a beautiful place, and leave quietly as soon as their designated work is over. This is the team which is responsible for the décor of all Sankalp events.

Sankalp exhibitions are not just about providing a venue and a few stall spaces to participants. Its about creating an environment which is aesthetically pleasing and maintains a particular identity throughout. We are certainly blessed to be having a team which is adept at transforming dreary halls to amazingly wonderful spaces. Rain or shine, day or night, these boys work hard for hours together, and create a beautiful space for our exhibition.

I call them Tony’s boys, since the man who leads them is Tony, of Models decoraters from Palakkad. A very unassuming and creative personality, he heads this team of youngsters who diligently works in unison to create beautiful venues for various events.

This is how they have transformed the plain and empty Mammen Mappilai Hall at Kottayam to this beautiful space…