As I slid into the driver’s seat at 4:30 in the morning, I could not believe that we are finally on our way to Wayanad. A month back we had started
planning for this trip and 2 weeks back our chances of making this trip seemed so slim. Hectic work schedules and us falling sick had dampened our spirits. But finally, here I was driving through the city and towards Wayanad. This was our fourth visit to Jungle Retreat at Thirunelli. Every visit to this beautiful place had given us memories to cherish for a lifetime. I believe it was a visit to Jungle Retreat in 2016, that brought me closer to nature and the Indian Jungles.
After a quick breakfast from a restaurant near Srirangapatna, we continued towards Nagarhole. We were stopped at the Nagarhole entry for the usual formalities Once we enter the gates we have to exit at the other side within an hour. I handed over the wheels to my brother-in-law. I pulled out my camera and waited in anticipation. It was around 10:30 in the morning and with the hot sun above our heads, chances of any sightings were slim. Despite the heat and the reports regarding the meagre monsoons, Nagarhole looked green. It was a treat to the eyes to see the different shades of green on both sides of the road. And intermittently there would be a tree mostly with shades of red, that will stand as the odd one out. Those trees, of which I do not know the name, looked like the work of some master artist.
We soon checked into the Jungle retreat and on our way to the room, a small creature caught our attention. It looked like a squirrel and if this incident had happened a few years back, I would have walked on without taking a second look. But over the last couple of years, I developed a curiosity towards nature. I have learned not to underestimate any creature that I come across. And that curiosity has paid off on several of my trips. And today at the Jungle retreat I saw one of the most elusive animals of the Indian jungle – a mouse deer. These are tiny shy creatures and on several of my previous trips, I have heard several naturalists speak about this amazing creature.
We had started early in the morning and everyone was a bit tired after the long drive. My daughter who had slept for the entire duration of the drive was fully rested and was ready to explore. As we were proceeding to the dining area Manu had just come back from a trek with several other guests. We had a lot of catch up to do but the first thing he said as soon as he saw me was that they have been seeing the tiger for the past 11
days during their return trip from the campfire and he was so
optimistic that we might see Snow white and her cubs today as well.
With our hopes rejuvenated by Manu’s words and our spirits rekindled by the tasty food that was being served, we enjoyed our welcome at the Jungle Retreat. Soon after, we left for Nagarhole for our evening safari. The next two hours was one of the most disappointing experiences I have ever had in Nagarhole or any other wildlife sanctuary so far. We had a driver who did not know anything about the jungles. He just drove around the game tracks without ever stopping unless we requested him to stop. Neither did he show interest in showing us anything.
The campfire experience in Jungle retreats is something worth mentioning. We left the resort compound and drove towards farmland that is on the banks of a stream. The other side of the stream is a Jungle. There is a small area by the stream where our hosts had arranged a few stones to sit on and a small circle in the centre to light the fire. The main star of the campfire is ‘Chathettan’ a local tribal man from that area. He comes with a tomato soup that he warms up on the bonfire and then we also get a serving of tapioca with a chutney that is made of onions, green chilies, and salt. It is amazing to see the magic that ‘Chathettan’ does with these simple ingredients. And in the darkness of the night with just the bonfire providing light, ‘Chathettan’ looks like a wizard brewing magic potions.
Picture this, sitting under a starlit sky, by a gently flowing stream. A cool breeze that blows carrying with it the smell of the Jungle, crickets, and frogs croaking in the background and a fire to keep you warm. I don’t think anything else in the world can relieve my stress the way this can.
After almost an hour of chit-chatting around the fire and listening to Manu’s stories around the campfire, we headed back. Unlike the promise that Manu had made nothing happened on our drive back to the resort. We drove slowly keeping watch for the tiniest of the movements on both sides of the road. The closer we got to the resort the more dissapointed I got. I tried to convince myself that, the mouse deer sighting from the morning was worth more than a tiger sighting. But deep down I really wanted to see snow white.
The dinner was again delicious. With our stomachs full and hearts empty we decided to call it a day and went to bed.
I could not get myself to sleep so I went out on the balcony of our room and I was enjoying the cool breeze and the starry night. Have you heard the saying that ‘silence is deafening’, well the silence in the jungle can be scary as well. I would have spend a good 20 minutes out on the balcony before my mind started playing tricks on me. I started hearing all kinds of eerie sounds nearby.
The trees seemed to be moving, They might have been talking to each other I am not sure. I could hear an elephant trumpeting somewhere nearby. Well, that was all I could take for one night and I decided to go back and force myself to sleep.
The next day I got up early as Manu and I had decided to go for a bird walk. So we stepped outside the compound wall of the resort and started walking towards the Jungle. Manu saw elephant dung on our way and he said “It looks like this is from yesterday night. Anil sir mentioned that he did hear elephants at night.” We moved into the Jungle and found a sweet spot on a rock. We waited there for a good one hour. In that one hour, we were entertained by the show of a golden fronted leaf bird pair. A Malabar grey hornbill that came to gather food for its family that might have been waiting on a tree far off from human sight. We had Malabar barbets and chestnut tailed starlings, fighting for the same perch on the tree. Minivets were flashing there bright orange colors.
By the time I came back, my folks had gone to the Tiruneli temple. They were supposed to be back by 10 AM because that is when we go for the ‘Jungle Trek’.
It was 10:30 AM when every other guest was ready for the trek and my wife had not returned. I knew that I would be walking into my death if I decided to go ahead without her.
Anyway, I decided to go. We started with the same route that Manu and I took in the morning. We walked past the water hole near the resort. So before we started the trek, Manu had informed us that 2 days back there was a kill located near the resort. So there is a high possibility that Snow White might be guarding that kill. So we were at all costs to avoid that part of the jungle. Instead, we would go around the property close to the property’s border and come back.
Once we crossed the open field. We literally had to walk through thick lantana bushes. I realized that pulling my camera out might not be the brightest idea and instead I kept my binoculars close. The forest floor was littered with dry teak leaves and with 8 of us walking on those dry leaves any animal in a 1-mile radius would have fled. Occasionally Manu would stop to check if there were any signs of elephants. Out of nowhere suddenly we saw two black eagles circling an area. Manu confirmed that it was there that the dead carcass of Snow Whites feast was lying and as per the plan we were to avoid that area. And we did avoid that area. After all, no one wants to walk into a tiger who has cubs and is guarding her kill. Soon we were walking behind the Jungle Villa and I could hear my wife talking. On any other day, I would have been happy to hear her voice, but at that particular moment, it reminded me of my impending doom once I reach back. So far we had nothing interesting that happened during the trek and I was hoping that I could use that to my advantage to convince her she had not missed on anything. While I was thinking about how I was going to save my ass, Manu stopped all of a sudden and pointed into the bushes. What happened for the next few seconds I do not know and I do not know how to describe what I felt.
All I remember is seeing an orange surface with black stripes on it. The few folks who were just behind had taken a 180-degree turn and had started walking back. A few skeptics in the group wanted to see before they turned back, and then there was me, very slowly pulling out my binocular and focusing in on the cat that was lying maybe a 100 meters in front of me. I remember Manu trying to convince us all to turn and walk back.
By the time I regained my senses, I could only think about what Jim Corbet had written about tigers in his stories. “The tiger indeed is a large-hearted gentleman”.
PS: If any of my readers feel that this is an over-hyped narration, you are free to believe so. But for the other 7 folks who were on the trek, they know the truth.
Travel is one of the greatest stress busters, that I have ever experienced and that too there is nothing like a trip out into the wild. My wife and I never missed an opportunity to travel until our little angel arrived in 2018. Since then we were on a break from travel and was patiently waiting for the day when she will be ready for adventure. Finally we decided to get back on the roads. Our destination, the Bheemeshwari Jungle Lodges and Resorts’ adventure and nature camp, on the banks of river Kaveri.
We started of from our home in Bengaluru at around 7:30am on a Saturday morning. We had a reservation made at the Jungle lodges and our check in time was 12PM. This meant we had plenty of time to reach. The drive from Bengaluru to Bheemeshwari was a 3 hr drive with approx 130Km to cover. We took the Nice road and then from there hit the Mysore road. Google Maps was trying to re-route us through the Kanakpura road as that was a shorter route.
But having traveled on Kanakpura road in the past, I preferred the Mysore road as that had more options for a pit stop.
We stopped for Breakfast at A2B in Bidadi, which was our regular breakfast spot for all our travels on this route. After a quick breakfast we moved on. From Chanapatna we took a left turn towards Malavalli. From there we simply followed Google Maps.
The villages in Karnataka have a special charm. They are the typical Indian villages from R.K Narayan’s writings. A small lane with small houses on both sides, with open drains running in front of the house. The houses themselves had a homely feeling. The houses are made of brick and cement, but yet their structures are quite interesting. Small houses with a verandah in the front. The roof supported by two pillars.There will be a main door and a window on each side.
We passed several such villages. The village center will be a bazaar with a bus stop and with vendors selling all kinds of fruits, vegetables flowers and other items.
After one such village we saw the entrance to Kaveri wild life sanctuary. There were two guards and we had to make an entry in the register before we proceeded. There was a govt. bus in front of us and we had to wait until the guards finished inspecting the bus.
This sanctuary does not have safaris and hence there are very few tourists that visit this place. The activities provided by the Jungle Lodges are the only attraction over here.
The Jungle Lodges was 6 kms from the sanctuary entry gate. By now my daughter had woken up. She had slept for almost the entire duration of the drive. In anticipation of seeing some wild life, I drove slowly. The road was full of monkeys which amused my daughter. We could see people from the bus in front of us throwing food to the monkeys. Ironically there were boards every few yards with a warning that feeding the wild animals was a punishable offense and so was littering the place.
We were received at the jungle lodges by Muthaiyya, a Jungle lodges staff and our guide. We were escorted to the Manager’s office for a briefing about the rules of the sanctuary and for other formalities of our stay. The entrance to the Manager’s office had a small garden which was full of Red Pierrots and Crimson Roses. I wanted to pull out my camera and sit there for the whole day. Soon after, we were allotted our tented cottage and were served with a very refreshing lemonade.
After settling in, we took a walk around the camp. It was an area sprawling with trees. There were information boards at random locations, explaining various flora and fauna found in the place. We had to walk to reach the dining hall which was located close to the banks of river Kaveri. The lunch was sumptuous with a very beautiful view of the Kaveri. Soon after lunch our activities were to start.
The first set included some adventure sports like Burma loops, parallel walk, zip lining and that sort of things. This was followed by a coracle ride. Which I found more interesting. Coincidentally our boatsman was also called Muthaiyya. He was showing us the forest and how high the water gets during the monsoons. He did an amazing job of giving an interesting conversation.
I was watching the river terns that were flying all around the place. Every few minutes there were formations of cormorants that flew over head. The Kingfishers and lapwings were calling in rhythm. Occasionally a darter would also fly by.
And then Muthaiyya started pointing to a rock at a distance. I tried to follow the direction in which his fingers were pointed but all I could see was rocks. He started rowing closer and still all I could see was grey colored rocks with lichen on them. And then as we got closer a part of the ‘rock’ started moving and it is then that we realised that Muthaiyya was pointing at a crocodile.
I cursed my fate for not having carried the right lens. All I was expecting was a scenic ride in the river and hence all I had was a wide angle lens. Soon after there was another movement and that was a second crocodile.
It is quite fascinating to see true camouflage at work. And it was even more impressive how Muthaiyya was able to spot them even from a distance.
I also happened to see a Fish Eagle fly onto a tree. I lost site of it after that. After our coracle ride, the next item on the list was Kayaking. Now this was a two man kayak and we decided to drop it out as we could not carry our daughter with us. But then Muthaiyya told us to try out everything and that we could go one by one. So I took the first turn. There was one life guard along with me. On the Kayak, the area we could visit was restricted and I believe it is the crocodiles that were the reason.
After the kayaking we took a stroll along the banks. The sun was setting and there was a breeze. It just felt so good to walk there. There were a few other guests who were going on about their activities. We made way back to our cottage. I spent some more time capturing the scenes around the river and hoping to see a few more birds in the area. It was getting dark soon and I went back to freshen up for dinner. When we came out it was pitch dark except for the small lights that were along the walk ways to the dinner hall.
As soon as we passed the canopy of the trees surrounding our cottage. I looked up into the sky. The view was so breathtaking that even my daughter who was restless till then calmed down for a couple of minutes until she started singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle little star’. She was so ecstatic that a few of the guests who were passing by also stopped to see what the whole commotion was about. I went back and brought my camera gear to try my best to capture the sky. Because such a moment comes only rarely and for city dwellers like us, seeing a clear night sky is nothing but a dream come true.
By the time I returned I realized that the frogs in the puddles of water nearby had taken up where my daughter had left the song. As the night sky revealed, more and more with the symphony of the frogs and crickets. It seemed as if the stars were dancing in tune to that symphony. What a better way to end the day.
The next day morning I got up early. We were told that there would be a wake up call at around 6AM and then there would be a trek to a nearby hill by 7AM. I was up by 5 in the morning, excited about the events that were to unfold and mainly because the excitement from the previous day.
By 7AM Muthaiyya our guide who had welcomed us at the camp, came to our cottage and we started on the trek. We started walking towards the main gate of the camp and then out. The roads were empty. The monkeys we had seen on the previous day were not there. Maybe it was too early for them. We followed Muthaiyya as he took a detour from the main road and walked into the shrubs. There were several pairs of gray hornbills flying around. Bulbuls, parakeets, bee-eaters all the usuals were going on about their daily chores. The path started getting steeper and I had to put my camera away and carry my daughter. It was not a difficult trek but carrying my camera gear and my daughter and the fact that I am not in my best shape(never have been), it seemed like a really tough trek. We forgot to carry water and thankfully the sun was still not beating down on us.
We had to leave the place not because we wanted to but because we had to make space for the other guests as well and due to the fact that we had to checkout soon after this. We started our descend back. All the time while I was climbing my worry was about how I will descend this peak carrying my daughter because the path was very steep with very little to hold on to.
But Muthaiyya had an alternate route which was a bit longer but had a very gentle descend. All the while I was wondering why we had not taken this path while climbing. We started hearing langur calls at a distance. We saw wild boars running parallel to us in the bushes. We reached the main road and were relaxing a bit. I was making a checklist of all the birds I had seen on the way, which were not many. I should say that I was a bit disappointed at not having spotted any serious wildlife.
As we were about to reach the gates of the camp, Muthaiyya pointer his stick to the tall grass on the other side of the road. I could see something moving and was not sure on what I was seeing, and then from the grass it came out in the open, It was an Indian Jackal. The jungles in Bheemeshwari are known for the Indian Jackal population. It was interesting to meet the most talented trickster of the Indian jungles as per the folklore.
As I struggled to setup my camera back and get a shot, this guy had disappeared back into the grasses. We soon returned back and thanked Muthaiyya for that wonderful trek. All good things must come to an end and so was the case with our trip to Bheemeshwari. But we left the place content and happy.
The first time I saw the name Munroe Islands was almost a decade back. It was during a train journey from Kottayam to Thiruvananthapuram, that I noticed a small railway station called ‘Munroe Thuruthu’. It might have been the name that fascinated me. I used to wonder what was outside that railway platform. What the lives of the people there would have been like. I had imagined a place with British era bungalows.
Some where in 2019 after the one year anniversary of the devastating floods in Kerala, I happened to read a editorial article about the plight of the residents at Munroe Islands. The article went on to say that the residents live in water clogged houses through out the year and that many families have left behind their land and are looking for better living opportunities. And how the authorities have completed turned a deaf ear to the remaining people of Munroe Islands.
During one of my recent vacations to Kerala, we decided to visit this exotically name place called Munroe Islands.
We started of from our relative’s place at Kollam after a 1 hour drive the townscapes started giving way to the typical Kerala style villages. With narrow tarmac roads with foliage on both sides, interspersed with houses. And after every few kilometers there would be a junction, which had a handful of shops.
Then came the Ashtamudi Lake and now homes were replaced with ‘Home Stays’. There were canoes, ready to take tourists for a ride.
It was a little past lunch time so everyone in the group was hungry and we were on a look out for a decent place to eat before we continued further. We stopped to ask for a good suggestion and the a few local folks said that either we could drive to one of the home stays or they could take us on their canoes. After much thought and bargaining on the rates we decided to try the canoe ride.
We got on one of the boats one by one with the canoe shaking at each movement that we made. We almost were about to rethink our decision about getting on to the canoe, given the fact that my 2 year daughter was with us, but our boatsman Mr. Shiju assured as that the canoe was capable of handling even larger crowds and that there was nothing to worry. For some of us his assurance was not good enough so we enquired about life jackets, to which Shiju responded with a smile and told us that the water was not too deep.
The canoe moved through the canals. I have to admit that although I have been on boat rides in other parts of Kerala, like the famous backwaters of Alapuzha and Kumarakam and the likes of it. This was unlike any of those rides. There was a homely feeling to those narrow canals and the mangrove forests. The place was indeed beautiful. It was like on of those places right out of the travel guide pictures. It might not have been the English colony that I had once imagined but this was far more better. It really felt like God’s own country. Some of the Islands had houses. Yes they indeed were beautiful and might be perfect for visitors to enjoy the waking up to a cool breeze and the view of back waters, but one can only imagine the struggle of the every day people over there.
Mr. Shiju took us along those canals and tried to add in some adventure as well, there were areas where the mangrove branches were low lying and one had to lie down inside the canoe to cross them.
The whole place looked like scenes from postcards. After around 30 minutes of the ride. We approached a shack. Shiju docked the boat close to the shack. It was more like a small house with an extended shed. There was seating arrangement “inside”, as well as an outdoor seating arrangement. I couldn’t make much difference between the two.
We were served the regular Kerala rice with all sorts of fish and chicken curries. Maybe it was the hunger but everything seemed delicious to me. Although the shack was on the canal there was nothing out of the ordinary to see, It was just water on all sides. So I gave rest to my camera and concentrated on the food. Things were disappearing as soon as they were being bought to the table.
After lunch we got back on the canoe and we took a different route this time. We saw the infamous Perumon bridge. This railway bridge once
collapsed and caused on of the greatest railway tragedies in the history of Kerala. Shiju recollected the memories, he was small boy and some of his neighbors were on that train. We also saw the spot where the elephants cross the river for the Pezhumthuruthu temple festival. After dropping us at our car parking spot, The local men there asked us to take the traditional route that connected Kollam town to the Munroe Island, which involved crossing the lake on a ferry. Driving our cars onto a ferry was an exciting experience. And these ferries are no modern machines, They are old shaky boats, chugging through a 500m distance in about 10 minutes.
If any of my readers ever plan a trip to Kerala. I would suggest that they drop the regular touristy spots from their itinerary and try to include Munroe Islands as a replacement. You will not regret it and for the shutter bugs out there, you will thank me later.
For those of you who are wondering how the place got it’s name. After coming back from the trip I did search the internet and found that the place was named after Colonel John Munro who served as the Deewan of the King of Travancore.
Let me take my readers today to a hamlet called Talakadu. Once a capital city of the Ganga dynasty, now reduced to a ‘heap of sand’. There are many legends, folklore and mysteries surrounding Talakadu.
Legend says that aeons ago in the Jungles of this area lived two brothers (some stories say they were demons, others say they were hunters). One day they were chopping trees in the jungle. One tree started bleeding as soon as it was struck by the axe. The brothers panicked and tried to cover the wound on the tree with the leaves and fruits of the tree. And magically the tree cured itself. It is believed that the tree was a manifestation of Lord Shiva and since he had cured himself a temple was setup in that area. The deity is known as Vaidyanatheswara ( which means god of healers). The place came to be known as Talakadu because the the brothers were ‘Tala’ and ‘Kadu’.
I believe this legend has a deeper meaning to it than the literal meaning. It shows that trees are divine beings. They not only provide the rest of the world with all necessities but are capable of self sustaining themselves.
Now back to my story. I started from Bangalore at around 7am in the morning. Took the nice road to get out of the city and got on to Mysore road. This almost took me an hour and stopped for breakfast at Malgudi Vatika. The place has a nice theme that resembles with the India of 1900s, some antique pieces of furniture add to the ambience. At the entrance there is a large stone engraved with A quote by R.K. Narayan ( but that quote does not belong to R.K.N it was by Marcus Garvey).
After the breakfast I continued on for almost and hour to reach Maddur. From there I took the route to Malavalli. The road ahead looked like a black serpent laying on a green velvet carpet. There were lush green farms on both sides of the road. The traffic on these roads consisted of bullock carts carrying loads of sugar cane.
I reached Talakadu by 12PM. There were buses and cars parked on both sides of the road. I could see the Vaidyanatheswara temple. I went a little further and parked a little away from the crowd. As I mentioned earlier this place was the capital of the Ganga dynasty and was later taken over by the Hoysalas and later by the Wodeyars. This place was a bustling city once and as per a folklore, Talakadu was submerged in sand after the curse of Alamelamma. I would not be getting into the details of this story at this point because, the internet is full of references to that story with different versions. The Archeological Society of India very recently excavated parts of a temple from the sands of Talakadu.
We started our ‘pilgrimage’ from the opposite end (Typically people would start from Vaidyeshwara temple). There is a covered walkway that takes you all the way round the area. We first visited the Maraleshwara temple. This is a small temple with the diety as Shiva. It is located in a trench. This is because the temple was excavated from under the sands. The temple in itself is small. Photography is prohibited inside the temple.
This is followed by the Pathaleshwara temple, which looks very similar. We then continued our walk and we reached the back side of Kirti Narayana temple one of the most beautiful temples in the area. Unlike the other temples of the area Kirti Narayana temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. This is a huge temple the carvings on this temple is not as detailed as the ones on the Vaidyeshwara temple but still. It is an excellent piece of architecture marvel by the medieval Indians. This temple was built by the Hoysalas to mark their victory over the Cholas. The temple has a “Mahadvara” (main entrance) made fully of granite, which adds to the beauty of the temple. All these parts were recovered from under the sand in recent times.
And finally we have the Vaidyeshwara temple which is full of intricate carvings depicting stories from the Hindu Mythology. The temple is built in a star shaped platform which is quite common with many temples in Karnataka. The star shape gives more surfaces for the sculptors to work on with more details and carvings.
Our final stop was at the river Kaveri. The river was gently flowing. It was a witness to all that has happened at Talakadu. It was there when the Hunter brothers were cutting down the trees. It was still there when the Ganga dynasty came and established a city and with a subsequent conquerors it was a witness to the creation and destruction that occurred on its banks. Kaveri has seen Talakadu changing from a capital city to a heap of sand.
It was a fine Sunday morning. The past week Bangalore witnessed intermittent spells of rains and the the days were overcast and gloomy. In the past few weeks some of my birding trips to the lake was cut short by spells of rain.
Today was different. There was a cool breeze and the sun was fighting vehemently with the clouds. The sky looked like a battle ground with the Sun piercing through the clouds and making its way to the beautiful waters of the lake. As the rays touched the water it shimmered like diamonds. Pelicans swam across this water scooping in to catch fish. Herons stood in meditation, as if they were also thanking the Sun god for shining upon them. Swamp hens were pecking around searching for something they lost. The cattle grazed lazily whilst there shepherds sat under on the ground basking in the warmth of the sun and puffing a beedi and occasionally accompanied by a dog that would bark at anyone passing by. There was a lapwing calling out in the distant.
Drongos and Shrikes were performing their acrobatics. Each time it flew to the ground it picked up something went to a nearby perch to gulp in the morning catch. A bee eater was perched on a nearby tree, and in a swift movement it spread its wings and tails, shot up like a missile and returned to the same perch with a dragonfly between its beaks. Larks kept shooting out from the low bushes, it was a beautiful sight to see them glide effortlessly back to where they launched from.
But I was on the look out for the Baya Weaver. This is the breeding season for the weavers and on my previous visits I had seen the weavers cousins – the Indian Silver bills, tri-colored munias and even the scaly breasted munias. The weavers are not a rare species but its just that I have not been fortunate to see them during the breeding season.
My usual walk starts near the farm fields near one end of the lake and then I keep walking to the other end and back. I had walked for almost an hour and had almost lost hope of spotting the weaver, when I suddenly saw a weaver’s nest hanging at a distant. This brought my hopes back and I was also cautious so as not to disturb the birds during their breeding season. I walked past the tree and found a wonderful spot at a safe distant from where I could see the nest and its weavers. It seemed as if the nest was still being built as I could see a male Baya weaver weaving the nest. The females gave occasional visits as if inspecting the quality. They would fly in through the bottom opening of the nest and after a few seconds would come out and hover around the nest. Sometimes they would hover around the entrance, as if they were wondering whether to go in or not. Another male weaver happened to drop by the nest, but was immediately chased away by the first bird. Watching these birds gave me an immense sense of gratification. I had spend quite some time watching these birds and I failed to notice that the Sun had lost the battle to the clouds and the sky was overcast. And just when I was about to pack up and leave, a cool breeze blew caressing the tall grass around me. Like a shower of flowers falling from the skies a flock of Red Avadavats flew and perched on the grass and bushes around me. wept across the tall grass around me. I was pleasantly surprised by what was being offered to me after several weeks of disappointing birding trips. The lighting was not good enough for a clean and clear shot but, I wanted to capture this record moment. And as I was aiming my camera the Sun shone brightly for a moment, giving me a window short but long enough to get one shot of the bird.
I start my day by seeing the newspaper boy fling the paper as I watch its different pages landing all over the place. He has almost 10 seconds between the opening and closing of the lift at each floor, to fling papers to 4 different door steps. He is always in a hurry. I wonder why?
I get ready for office and leave, as usual the Bangalore roads are choked. I see drivers honking incessantly though they see that the poor chap in-front of them is as helpless as they are. At the traffic signals some drivers are impatient and race off even before the signals turn green. Everyone is in a hurry I still wonder why.
I reach office, and as I walk away from the parking lot I receive a call, It’s my mother. I pick up and reply, ‘Amma I’m on my way to office and I’m in a hurry…’
With another Onam round the corner, all Kerala restaurants are flaunting its customers with the promise of a Kerala feast or the Onam Sadya as it is more popularly known. I thought it appropriate to decode the Onam Sadya ( and no, Onam Sadya does not include beef and liquor).
The ‘Sadya’ is not specific to Onam, for a culture that believes in ‘Annadanam Mahadanam’, a feast is the part and parcel of all celebrations.
It is a time where kith and kin join together and have atleast one meal, which is prepared and savored by the entire family together.
The sadya is served on a plaintain leaf, that is laid on the floor where you sit with legs crossed( also known as Sukhasana in Yoga) infront of it. There is lot of information avaialble that explains the benefits of sitting in the Sukhasana posture while eating.
The items on the leaf are arranged in a particular order as in the picture below.
Pickles, chips and pappadam take the left corner, the side dishes or kootu curry takes the top row and the rice on the bottom row. This order is maintained so that the people who serve can identify what might be missing on a leaf and what needs to be served.
To really enjoy a Sadya one has to do a bit of planning in advance and has to be displined in sticking to the plan. The aroma of the steaming rice on a plaintain leaf makes it really difficult to stop yourself from over-eating. You have to decide on how much rice you are capable of eating. Divide this into three portions and during the first serving ask for only the first portion. One half of this portion of rice is to be enjoyed with parippu curry (dal), ghee and pappadam. The second half with Sambhar. The side dishes can be used to add more flavour to each scoop of rice you take.
Once you have savoured the taste of parippu curry with ghee followed by the taste of the moderatly spicy sambhar, with a touch of side dishes like olan, kichdi etc. Its time for your digestive system to get soem aid in digestion. This is where the second portion of the rice comes in. This portion is to be had with rasam or puliserry ( curry made from buttermilk). This gives a soothing effect to your tongue as well as your entire digestive tract.
Then comes the most favourite part of any meal, the deserts. For Sadya the desserts are the payasams. Sometimes you may have multiple varieties of payasam, but traditionally the Ada Pradhaman ( made from Ada, jaggery), followed by Palpayasam ( made with milk, rice and sugar). The payasams are to be had in the same leaf where you had rice. The sweet payasam mixed with the salt, sour and spices of the curries takes you on cloud nine. Usually a modern day meal ends with the desert, but for a sadya, the last part is the last portion of rice which should be had with curd. Ask any Tamilian and they will tell you how a meal is incomplete without curd rice. Having curd which is rich in lactobacillus, is like taking probiotics. This aids in digestion, prevents acidity from all the Payasam that you had. The sadya is usually served for lunch, and noon time in South India can be really hot, curd acts as a coolant to the body.
And then as a climax the guest folds the plantain leaf from top to bottom which is a gesture that he is happy with the food served. In a way it shows that the guest is grateful to the host for providing him with a meal and the host is grateful to the guest for having blessed him with his presence and well wishes. So the next time you are invited for a Sadya keep these in mind, enjoy the food and most importantly make it a point not to waste any of it. Happy Onam to all my readers.
On the 7th of May 2017, I woke up to the morning rays hitting me through the windows of an Airplane. I looked down and saw waves, brown in color and not the usual shades of blue. It took me a few seconds to realize that I was looking at the sand dunes and not the ocean. I was flying over the Arabian deserts to one of the marvels created by Man – The City of Dubai.
In the last 27 years of my existence on this planet I have never seen a desert and all I know about it is from the books, photos or videos that I have seen. The picture painted by all these media were quite dull and melancholic. Those sand dune patterns looked as if some one had painstakingly arranged them to form wavy pattern there was a symmetry and the contours were almost parallel.
As soon as we landed in Dubai the entire landscape had changed. The brown sand dunes gave way to skyscrapers made of steel and glass. The suns reflection was glaring from each of those glass panes making them even brighter. I was travelling with my family and my uncle was there with his friend to receive us at the airport. Unlike my usual trips the next seven days of this trip was well planned and charted, thanks to my uncle and his friend, Mr. Nawas. Being the beginning of summer ‘Arabian Days’ were hot. So all our activities were planned for the evenings and from the information I gathered that’s when the city of Dubai really comes to life.
During lunch time I realized that although I had crossed one sea and a couple of international borders, I was not going to miss Kerala cuisine. Dubai had more Kerala cuisine hotels than the Arabian ones. After lunch we set of to see the Dubai mall and the aquarium that spanned over three floors of the mall. All those creatures in an artificially created habitat miles away from their real habitats. Although I despise such places, it made me think about the educational value such places hold. It is one way of educating the younger generations on the wide variety of life forms that share this planet with us.
After spending almost 2 hours in the aquarium, we were all mesmerized by myriad life forms under the sea. The surprises for the day was still not over, next we headed to the Dubai Miracle Garden.
This was a real ‘Wonder’ for me, how on earth could all these flowers remain so fresh and colorful, in the scorching heat of Dubai. I should admit that I have never seen such a well maintained garden, ever. And the fact that this is located in the one of the most water scarce landscapes on earth adds to the beauty of the place.
We walked through the garden and by then it was dinner time and we headed back. We all went back to the hotel tired but exited about the days ahead.
The next day everyone woke up at lunch time and post lunch we were all geared up for Day 2 of Dubai. This time we headed to the Dubai Marina we took a boat trip around the Palm Jumeirah. I witnessed one of the most breathtaking view of the sunset. The sky was painted Orange and setting seemed magical from that boat.
Day 3 was the best of all. We were to witness the real Dubai. The desert safari was the most awaited event of the trip. We were instructed not to have a heavy lunch as the ride was going to be bumpy and there would be amazing food at the end of the ride for which we had to keep a good appetite.
Our guide was Mr. Allah Baksh, a fine gentleman from Pakistan who could speak malayalam. He was a very good host and kept us entertained through out the evening. We started off around 2:30pm and soon the city landscape gave way to the barren desert land, with a couple of Palm tree plantations on the way. We stopped at one of the highway supermarkets to freshen up. Due to the immense pressure from my cousins we stopped at a Quad biking place and spent half an hour driving those crazy machines in the sand. Most of the time we would either bump into each other or get stuck in the sand ricocheting sand onto whoever was behind us. We then headed for the sand bashing. Mr Baksh expalined to us how the tyre pressure of the vehicle had to be reduced to almost 50% to drive through the sand dunes. The next 1 hour of the ride was like a roller coaster. And there was nothing but sand visible in all four directions as far as our eyes could see. We stopped on the way to click some photos.
We then went onto one of the camp sites where food and the shows for the night were arranged. It was an awesome evening with a blend of food, adventure and tradition. The ‘Tanoura’ a traditional Sufi dance where the performer continuously keeps spinning to a psychedelic music, was mesmerizing to witness.
The next day was the set aside for Burj Khalifa. A Dubai trip would not be complete if you have not seen the Burj Khalifa. It is truly a remarkable feat that the Dubai Government achieved when it constructed the tallest standing man-made structure. But while on our way back from Burj Khalifa we happened to pass in front of the Ras AlKhor Wildlife sanctuary. I saw a flock of birds and in a split second I realized that I was looking at the ‘Lesser Flamingoes’. There was no way I was going to leave Dubai without clicking a few shots.
We then went on to visit the LED glow garden, another man made spectacle. The whole place was decorated with colored lights and there was a Dinosaur park, with Dinosaur models that looked real-life. They even mimicked the movements of a live creature. The attention to detail given by the architects of the Dinosaur park is truly remarkable.
Day 5 was less hectic as we spent a day at Dragon Mart, the largest Chinese bazaar in Dubai. We had dinner cruise in Dubai Marina. The Dubai skyline looked really wonderful with the Burj Khalifa standing as an odd one out.
On day 6 we left early in the morning for Abu Dhabi. We spent an entire day at the Ferrari world, A Ferrari branded theme park, It had some amazing and thrilling rides. This park houses the fastest roller coaster in the world. It was almost 5-6hrs of pure fun and adrenaline rush.
We then went to visit the The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The carpet in the main prayer hall is considered to be the world’s largest carpet. The chandeliers in the mosque have been imported from Germany.
The sheer will power of the rulers of a barren land has transformed it from a desert to marvel. There is nothing that you will not find in Dubai, they have artificially created natural habitats for animals and they have created modern technological wonders as well. The entire city and the sights there are truly miraculous, they seem like a tale from the Arabian Nights.
It was peak summer time in Kerala, but I was determined to check out one item from my Bucket list and that was to witness ‘Thrissur Pooram’ in all its glory. Our Journey this time was on the chariots of Indian Railways. For an overnight journey I believe trains are the best option if you are in India. You get food sleep and a comparatively safer journey. The journey began on the evening of 3rd May. Next day early morning we stepped out from the comfort of the AC coach of the train onto the hot and humid platform of Thrissur railway station. But this discomfort was short lived. From the day I landed in Thrissur I had decided that I will reserve a few lines in my blog post for the good natured people of this beautiful town in God’s Own Country.
Unlike other major cities and towns in India I have found the people of Thrissur more polite, and tolerant towards outsiders. Right from the auto rikshaw and taxi drivers to the road side vendors are people willing to help and guide you. We took an Auto from the railway station to our hotel. The driver was kind enough to give us a quick tour of the city and informed us of the major attractions there and what timings were apt for each place. At the end of the journey he charged us a fee which I felt was reasonable (this happens rarely in Kerala as taxi and auto drivers never miss and opportunity to loot you). He even gave a breakup and an explanation of how the rates were decided.
Soon after freshening up we decided not to waste a single minute. The next action item was to visit the ‘Vadakumnatha Temple’ and then have an authentic Kerala breakfast. We took a bus from our hotel to the temple, it was a short fifteen minute journey with the loud devotional songs typically played in these kind of small private buses in Kerala. You will have a conductor with a whistle in his mouth leaning at the doorstep of the bus swaying with every rash turn the driver takes, which will throw some passengers off their feet, who were not fortunate enough to get a seat. These buses are the lifeline of many villages and towns of Kerala and for people who are willing to be a bit ‘adventurous’ this can get you to a place in time without burning a hole in your pocket.
The bus had a stop right in front of the temple.
It looked very calm and quite. We saw people putting up bamboo structures that would serve as support for platforms for the media to cover the event. There were some smaller structures also, which were meant for the street vendors. We saw a couple of stalls being setup. Without wasting much time we went into the temple. This is by far the largest temple compound I have ever seen in Kerala. Legend says that this temple was built by lord Parasurama to atone for the sins of killing Kshatriyas. There are many stories associated with this temple. Since I am no expert on legends and folklore , it is better that my readers obtain these information from the right sources. But one thing that I can say for sure is that this is a marvel, it boasts the skill and craftsmanship of the architects of Kerala. The area around the temple once used to be a teak plantation which was cleared by Shaktan Tampuran to conduct the Thrissur Pooram. The place is still called ‘Thekinkadu’ which translates to forest of teaks.
After a stroll through the rich history of the temple we went on to have breakfast in one of the nearby hotels, since it was still early in the morning we had limited options. After this we roamed around the city for some more time.
Before I go into the details, I believe I should give my readers a quick introduction to ‘Thrissur Pooram’. Thrissur Pooram is a relatively young festival compared to other festivals in Kerala. Before the Thrissur pooram the largest temple festival in Kerala used to be the the ‘Aratupuzha Pooram’. Many of the temples participating in ‘Thrissur Pooram used to be a part of the Aratupuzha pooram. Once due to heavy rains some temples got delayed to participate and they were denied entry to the Pooram. Thrissur Poorma was a retaliation to that insult. The Maharaja of Kochi His Highness Rama Varma Raja also known as Sakthan Thampuran is considered to be the architect of ‘Thrissur Pooram’. He unified ten temples of the region and they were to participate in Thrissur Pooram making it the largest temple festival in Kerala.
The major attractions of the Pooram are the processions by the constituent temples, the Elanjithara melam, Kudamattom, and the fireworks display. The 10 temples split themselves into two groups- some side with the Paramekavu Bhagavathy temple and the others with the Thiruvambadi Sri Krishna temple. The rest of the activities are like a competition between the two sides. Its an opportunity for both sides to show off the unity and determination of their devotees in making the Pooram a huge success.
One of the major attractions of the pooram is the ‘Kudamattom’ where beautifully colored and decorated parasols are displayed. On the day before the pooram both teams put the parasols for public display. This is called the ‘Chamaya Pradarshanam’ which means display of decorations.
We went to see the Chamaya Pradarshanam of Pramekavu Side.
The next day again we reached Thrissur town in the morning. Processions from the constituent temples had started, the roads were free of Motor vehicles and Elephants had taken their place. Huge male elephants with long tusks and decorations carrying the idols of the temples. Though the whole setup looks magnificient, I felt pity to these large animals who seemed to be undergoing discomfort and were in great pain standing on the hot road under a burning sun with a large load on its back.
These processions continued throughout the first half of the day. The famous Elanjithara melam that happens inside the temple compound started at around 3PM. We were just lucky enough to gain entry into the temple. The crowd was so large that at some point I even gave up the hope of getting in.
I do not have words to describe the grandeur I saw there, the joy and excitement I saw on every face on that street. There were people from different parts of the world, from different walks of life. I was glad to be a part of the Pooram. I was impressed by the way the organisers of the Pooram were able to coordinate so many aspects. The way the Police, the people and the tourists cooperated to make this the largest temple festival in Kerala. I cannot claim to have witnessed the entire Pooram, I am yet to witness the Fireworks display. Afterall whats the fun if you finish off everything in one go its always good to leave something behind for later. Because that will serve as a motivation to come back again.