Jan 27, 2015

Postcards From Wayanad - Part 3

And I swear this is the last part! I won't drag this out anymore :)

We began our last day in Wayanad at the Wayanad Cricket Stadium where some selection match was going on. The view from the back of the stadium is fantastic!
The Banasura Sagar dam on River Kabini is India's largest earthen dam, and Asia's second largest. The motorboat rides there are very popular, but you have to wait for ages to get your turn. We preferred to enjoy the view instead.
We went to the Kuruva Island next, but it was B.O.R.I.N.G. What was brilliant though, was the sadya at a tiny place near the island. I don't remember if it even had a name, but it was our best meal in Wayanad! I saw a rubber plantation for the first time that day, on the way back to the resort:
To harvest the latex, a cut is made on the bark of the trees. The latex that oozes out is collected:
We stopped at two stunning but ruined Jain temples near Sultan Bathery. One was right on the highway, and the other inside a coffee plantation



Jan 12, 2015

Postcards from Wayanad - Part 2

Last week, I shared pictures from my first day in Wayanad, when we visited the ancient Edakkal Caves. Here are some pictures from day 2.
Meenmutty Falls
The gorgeous Meenmutty Falls seen from the Neelimala View Point. Across the distance, we could hear the roar of the waterfall crashing down the hill. Getting to the view point is quite exciting. You can drive to a point about a km away, but only by jeep because the narrow path is rough and steep. And then you have to walk. Since a few spots are dangerous, a guide who is familiar with the terrain comes along in the jeep.

We were on our way to the Soochipara Waterfalls, when our driver said there was a lesser known one on the way, where there'd be almost no visitors. We happily took his suggestion and went to the Kanthanpara Waterfalls instead. It was my favourite place in the entire trip.
Ashwin shot a video of this place and you can actually hear the gurgle of the water.
My toes were still hurting from the climb to the Edakkal Caves, and dipping them in the cold water in Kanthanpara felt so good!

As with every place in Wayanad, the Kanthanpara falls involved a fair bit of walking and climbing too. None of it is too difficult, but it's something you should be aware of if you have older people in your group.

Wayanad is beautiful everywhere you look. A few random stops during our drives:
A tea garden on the way. Mountain air, blue skies and greenery all around.
We went to the Pookode/Pookote Lake, which turned out to be a mistake. The lake was pretty but the place was just too crowded and there's nothing to do unless you're into those boat rides. The only thing I found interesting was the pinkish cast on the surface of the water. Do you see it?
Here's why - the surface has some aquatic plant with a profusion of tiny pink flowers growing all over it. Any idea what it's called?
We began and ended the day at viewpoints - this was another one on the way back to our resort:

Jan 3, 2015

Postcards from Wayanad - Part 1

Happy New Year, guys! I hope 2015 is everything you want it to be, and more!

My parents, Ashwin and I spent some time in Wayanad last week. We couldn't have chosen a lovelier way to end 2014! We drove to Wayanad from Mysore. The 3 hour drive takes you through the lush Bandipur forest, that falls partly in Karnataka and partly in Kerala. The funny thing about this forest is, you can tell which side you're on, with your eyes closed! If the road has speed breakers, it's Karnataka. If not, you're in Kerala :) We spotted wild elephants, deer and even a cheetah!

In Wayanad, we stayed in a villa in a basic but gorgeous eco friendly resort.

It was so pretty, it's a miracle that we even stepped out. But step out we did, beginning with the Edakkal Caves, home to Stone Age carvings that date back to at least 6000 BC. Take a moment to process how old that is!

The caves sit at the top of a mountain, at a height of about 1000 meters. They are not really caves, but a fissure that was created when a part of the main rock split away. Legend has it that it was formed when Lav and Kush, the sons of Lord Ram, shot arrows here. The carvings are mostly of human and animal figures. Because of similarities between the motifs found here and those found in the Indus Valley, scholars think the Indus Valley Civilization probably had a presence here too. Maybe the civilization didn't just go extinct, but blended into other cultures instead.
If you want to see the petroglyphs (that's what such carvings on stone are called), you'll have to work for them. A pretty steep walk about 1 km long takes you to a ticket counter. And then you need to climb more. A lot more, actually. In most parts there are steps but in others, just boulders. It's not very difficult, but it is definitely tiring - my toes were hurting for a couple of days afterwards. Definitely carry water with you.

The mountain at the back of this picture is the one you need to go up:
A slightly tricky spot on the way up - tricky mainly because of the crowd:
The view from the top, just outside the caves:
It's very humbling to stand exactly where our ancestors must have stood thousands of years ago. The carvings in these caves are definitely the oldest man-made things I've seen in my life. Absolutely a must-visit while in Wayanad, and totally worth the effort of climbing up.

Stay tuned for more posts about Wayanad - I've got so much to show you!

Oct 28, 2014

World Heritage Site : The Great Living Chola Temples

As a kid, I'd go to Kumbakonam from Hyderabad almost every summer to visit my grandparents. But in those days, neither photography nor heritage interested me, so I never realized that three exquisite specimens of Indian architecture were so close by! They are collectively called the Great Living Chola Temples, because they were built by the Chola dynasty. The group is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Brihadeeshwara Temple in Tanjore (or Thanjavur, more correctly), the Brihadeeshwara Temple (not a typo - it has the same name!) in Gangaikonda Cholapuram and the Airavateshwara Temple in Darasuram form the trio. All three are dedicated to Lord Shiva. I posted about Darasuram a couple of years ago. I think I'll do separate posts about the other two soon and link to them here - this one is like an overview :)

A BIT OF HISTORY
The Cholas were one of the most powerful Tamil dynasties of South India. They ruled for a really long time - from the 3rd century BC to the 13th century AD. Raja Raja Chola I and his son Rajendra Chola I were two of the greatest Chola rulers, and built the temples in Tanjore and Gangaikonda Cholapuram respectively. The third temple in Darasuram was built by Rajendra Chola II, who came about 8 generations later. Read more about the Cholas here.

BRIHADEESHWARA TEMPLE, TANJORE
This temple is the grandest of the three and was built by King Raja Raja Chola  I in the beginning of the 11th century. It will make your jaw drop, I promise you - I'm not exaggerating even a teeny bit. It now has a small museum in it and the knowledgeable staff will tell you at least a million things that make this temple unique.
BRIHADEESHWARA TEMPLE, GANGAIKONDA CHOLAPURAM
This temple built in the 11th century is strikingly similar to the one in Tanjore. Not surprising, since they were built by father and son. This year marks the 1000th anniversary of the coronation of King Rajendra Chola I, the builder of this temple.
AIRAVATESHWARA TEMPLE, DARASURAM
This temple built by King Raja Raja Chola II in the 12th century is quite different from the other two, but every bit as stunning. The front of the temple is shaped like a chariot. Here's my post about the temple.
HOW TO VISIT:
The three temples are almost in a straight line. Darasuram in the middle, is practically in Kumbakonam - it's just 3 kms away. Tanjore and Gangaikonda Cholapuram are on either side, at 40km and 35kms respectively. You can go to Tanjore (310 kms) or Kumbakonam (270 kms) by bus/train/car from Chennai. Both have decent hotels and taxi services.

I took an auto rickshaw from Kumbakonam to Darasuram. To the other two temples, I went in a taxi. There's a bridge on the way to Gangaikonda Cholapuram on which they don't allow buses (as of Feb 2014).

The temples are closed approximately from 12 to 4 in the afternoon. Kumbakonam has many gorgeous temples that are totally worth visiting but pretty much all of them are closed in the afternoon. I think that's about it - was this useful? If you want any other details, feel free to ask in the comments or on twitter :)

Aug 6, 2014

Avudaiyarkovil

I had the opportunity to visit Avudaiyarkoil (or Avudaiyarkovil), a really small temple town near Pudukkottai in Tamil Nadu, some days ago. These parts are very close to the popular Chettinad region, which I unfortunately didn't visit. Some other time, I hope!

The Avudayairkovil Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva was built by Manikavasakar, a 9th century Tamil poet who was the Prime Minister of the reigning Pandya king. Apparently, he used money meant for purchasing horses for the army, to build the temple. And then Lord Shiva had to appear in the angered king's dream to sort things out! Additions and modifications were probably made over time, and most of the current structure is believed to date back to the 15th century. What's special about this temple is that there is no idol of the main deity - he is called Atmanatha, which means formless! Hot pulihora (tamarind rice) mixed with bitter gourd (karela) is spread out on a stone slab in the innermost part of the temple and the steam that rises from it is the only offering to this God.

The temple is a treasure trove of seriously intricate and gorgeous sculptures based on Hindu mythology, but for some reason, it isn't too well known. The temple is about an hour away from Pudukkottai, which you can reach by train or road from Chennai. You could also drive down if you are visiting the Chettinad region and have a few hours to spare. We were shown around by the very knowledgeable and well-read Mr. Manikam - do ask at the temple if he is available - he will show you hidden gems that you'll never spot on your own. Read more here.
This mural on the ceiling of a corridor is of a saree washed and spread out to dry! See the wet patches on it?