Monday, October 21, 2013

Mega Kerala Drive Through

I had a 1 week shutdown at office last week. A few weeks prior, my mom called me and asked why don’t we do a week long drive through Kerala during this time? And even my dad was ready and started planning for it! I felt like the school kid who goes to collect his participation certificate after a competition. Hence, I decided to buckle up and really play an “active” part by reading Srinath’s Truewanderer blog (which was inaccessible on that day but had been cached in Google repository by good fortune) and I called him afterwards to check out some good places in Kerala. My folks had a long list of temples to visit in Kerala.  In any case I was looking forward to the drive more than anything else.

Since this was a very casual trip, we didn’t plan hotels or route too specifically but knew the overall set of places to cover. With the entire luggage packed and a car charger added as the “innovative” add-on for the trip, we started off on our i20 from Puliampatti after finishing the Saraswati Puja ceremonies at home.


Day 1
Reached Thrissur by 3pm and visited Vadakkunathan temple, one of the oldest and grandest temples in Kerala. Afterward reached Guruvayoor by 8pm and stayed at the devasthanam resthouse.

Day 2
Woke up early in the morning for a 3am darshan at the Guruvayoor temple. Though this temple is really famous drawing large amounts of crowd, I was really happy to be in a very organized and non-chaotic environment for a simple darshan after a 2 hour wait in the queue.  Went back to the lodge for a short nap and woke up by 8am. We then drove to Kodungallur Bhagavathy temple and I really got the feel of driving in interior Kerala roads and it was really laid back and smooth. By this time, I had come to understand the standard template of Kerala temple architecture and layout and I was kinda super-full of holy spirits within J.

Went to Athirapilly falls, which was again a fabulous drive from Chalakkudy. Being a Vijayadasami holiday, it felt like the entire kerala was at the falls. However crowded, it was not a bother at all.
Spent some time there and proceeded to Kalady for the night stay.


Day 3
Kalady being the birthplace of Adishankaracharya, has a small ashram and a sthampa mandapam. We visited these places and drove to Chottanikkara temple and Aluva before halting at Tripunithura for finishing lunch and visiting the Hill Palace. I was really saturated with temples by this time even though I didn’t mind going to so many of them in a day. In a way, it was a nice break between driving sessions.

From here, I went online to book a homestay near Fort Kochi and proceeded to drive to Fort Kochi and halt for the day.

Day 4
Fort Kochi was the welcome break from the temple over-dose I was looking for. As Srinath rightly put it, it did remind me of Gokarna in the same manner that town has the residential part and tourist spots with cafés along the beach. Really beautiful! It was good to visit the Jewish town, see the Chinese fishing nets in action and walk to St. Francis church.

I also witnessed Kerala filmstar Dileep in a movie shooting. In the scene, he just has to get out of a car and smile at the camera… that’s all! And there were so many takes for this simple scene, with the director telling the actor on loudspeaker to show his expressions and timing, or so I understood. Hard work indeed.

After spending some time at Fort Kochi, we drove to Vaikom. We went for a water ride across the backwaters in the ferry (which felt just like going in MTC bus) and visited the Shiva temple. This temple is really an old and grand temple with perfectly well preserved murals. And being a nearly desolated one (compared to all the crowds that I witnessed till now), I found this the most special amongst all Kerala temples. This reminded me of Thiruvalanjuli temple in Kumbakonam, one of grandest yet completely desolated temples, a very peculiar and rare combination.

We then drove to Kollam to halt for the night. Unfortunately, all the hotels and homestays were booked and we had to do a drive-n-search to check out any hotels. Fortunately we came across a huge hotel which was not listed anywhere online, which saved our day.  


Day 5
We went to Munroe island, located an hour from Kollam town to experience the backwaters. Ideally, Allepey is a very good location to do the same, but this proved to be a nice non-crowded location for canoeing.

After coming back from Munroe island, we drove to Trivandrum to visit the Ananthapadmanabha temple. This temple is really grand and has a tamilnadu style architecture. Because this temple became famous after a gold mine of treasures was discovered underneath, it started attracting huge amount of random crowd from across the country like Thirupathi. We halted at a nearby hotel for the night.

Day 6
We planned on reaching Peraiyur by evening. This was the longest drive during all the seven days, covering 320km in a single stretch. My cousin has a small farm there and it was finally possible to visit it after many years. As compared to Kerala, today's drive was completely dry from Thriunelveli - Peraiyur route. But the monsoon finally started around this part making it green and cool. And continuing the streak of temple visits, we visited a small temple and ashram nearby on the auspicious day of a Full moon.

Day 7
We finally left for home which was a long 2900km drive. Since swami Chidbhavananda ashram in Theni was nearby, we combined this along the way...that was the temple of the day! This was located on the bank of Mullai river (of Mullai-periyar) and it had a super strong current owing to rains.

Finally reached home around 4pm and watched a few episodes of Breaking Bad and a few chapters of A Dances with Dragons to get out from my super dazed holy-spirited state. This trip was a much needed mind refresh to get out from the frame of the set of impassive months that went by. Back to the grind now!

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Bangalore - Nagarhole - Kutta Bike Trip

I was really looking forward to this bike trip, since it was about 8 months since the last bike trip to Ooty and Munnar. With a lot of madness starting in office and lot of things stirring at my personal end, I really needed to rekindle the spirits within me.

With Velakku’s (Srinath) rides and efforts on the True Wanderers ( coming to a close, it was great timing that a bike trip to Kutta was planned within 3 weeks. The size of the gang was huge, just like last year’s gokarna trip. Me, Hari, Vandana, Velakku, Vivek, PK and Sandhya had already been in the previous bike trips. Joining us afresh were Pratibha, Divya, Prabha and Prabhu.

So we started on the morning of Saturday, December 22nd from Hari’s house. Our riding platoon consisted of 1 Enfield Classic350, 1 Hyosung GT650, 3 Yamaha FZ and 1 Indica car. Though we planned to start by 6am, PK’s bus arrived late to Bangalore and we ended up leaving at 8am. Due to the traffic we were delayed and reached Kadambam “The Iyengar Restaurant” on Mysore road by 10:30am. After finishing breakfast we quickly moved on.

The rest of the ride was really smooth till Mysore where we took right at the outer ring road to bypass the city traffic. The roads from here on were under construction so our riding pace was reduced. At 3pm we stopped at Café Coorg at Nagarhole. It was a total rip-off of Café Coffee Day and seemed like someone drove the CCD people away at gun point and renamed all the stickers. After having a not to great lunch along with a “Blue Cooler” granita, we made a move to Kutta which was 80km ahead.

At the point when I (and for sure the rest of the riders) started getting bored with an otherwise eventless ride till that point, the road ahead was laughing right back at us. With a thousand potholes and “surprise” speedbreakers in an insanely narrow width of road our riding speed was reduced to 20kmph or so. We rode through some nice landscape of fields and plantations but the bad road stretch ended only after an hour of riding, leaving our butts sore. After reaching the town of Kutta, the road ahead was really smooth that all the desperately hungry riders raised their throttles. All of us rode fast through the curves uphill, until we spotted Hari and Vandana lying in the bushes by the road.

Hari had tackled a curve at high speed but went off road into the bushes after finishing the turn. Though fortunately there was no permanent damage to the bike and Hari, Vandana suffered a direct impact on her shoulder and was in shock. Since the doctors were on strike, we took her directly to a doctor’s house. All of us were affected by this unexpected turn of events but the situation was completely diluted with jokes and pokes from Velakku, Vivek & PK on Hari. Fortunately Vandana only suffered swellings on impact without any lasting damage and so she got an “L” board on her elbow for the rest of the trip. (Not to mention that Hari later took a video in the style of an episode of Sony Television’s C.I.D. to track how he actually fell and he wasn’t “as much” at fault as was blamed on him). Finally we reached Vimala home stay by 7pm in pitch darkness. Narendran, the owner of the homestay, gave us numerous choices on what we could do in the next 2 days within the constraints of riding distance, road conditions and time. So we decided to go the Wayanad wildlife sancturary, a waterfalls and a dam nearby. We had a nice dinner and slept by 10pm.

The homestay is in the middle of a 20 acre coffee plantation on a slope so only the morning light revealed the true beauty of the place. The winter sunshine in the morning chill is an experience in itself.

So we reached the Wayanad sanctuary and went on a Safari in a minibus consisting of 11 of us and a loud gang of gult college guys. Though the driver was asking everyone to remain silent, these guys for sure had an impression that the wild animals would be keen to pay us a visit during safari. People learn the hard way that safaris such as these would never show us a tiger roaming in the jungle. We spotted lots of deers, pigs, birds and squirrels.

We headed back to the homestay to freshen up, have breakfast and leave for Irpu waterfalls just half an hour away. The waterfall was a small one and was filled with lot of people. After spending a reasonable while there we came back by sunset. 

Me, Hari and Sandhya went to retrieve Hari and Vandana’s sunglasses from yesterday’s accident spot and we found out that mill worker who was living closeby had kept at her home safe. So we thanked her and got back to the homestay. After an hour or rest the owner of the homestay set up a bonfire for us. Sitting around the bonfire all the girls entertained us by beautifully singing lot of songs along with PK’s mellifluous flute. After dinner we slept in sometime.

We decided to have a good sleep and get up comfortably next morning, but me and PK were up by 7am. As we decided to take a morning walk around the estate, soon people started getting up and joined us. 

After hogging the morning breakfast, we decided to go to Banasura dam in Kerala, the largest mud dam in South Asia (build up). Since our Indica driver didn’t get the original papers, which was a prerequisite at the state border, we decided to hire a local jeep. We went on the jeep and 3 bikes and the Kerala roads were an absolute pleasure to ride on. We stopped on the way for taking X-ray (a.k.a. Xerox in Divya’s terms) of Vandana’s hand. We reached the dam, roamed and took snaps to our hearts content. The sunshine and dry heat sapped our energy and we decided to head back by 2pm. Mr. Narendran was kind enough to arrange and pack us our lunch, so we stopped on our way back and had lunch by the roadside… a la “picnic style”.

After coming back, I developed a headache which persisted till dinner time. We had some entertaining dance performances by Prabha, Divya and Hari. It was bonfire time yet again and we played “Mafia Wars” which could never stop getting better at any point. After dinner, we went indoors, played a few rounds of cards and dumbsheraz before ending the night.

The next morning we had a yet another awesome breakfast before starting back for Bangalore at 9am. We decided to take another route to Mysore, as suggested by Mr. Narendran, through Peenyapatna and Hunsur to avoid the bad stretch of road. This turned out to be a good decision and the return journey was really smooth. We stopped for lunch after Mysore at 2:30pm and reached Bangalore at 5pm.

A really amazing trip, simple and beautiful!

The Gang: Vicky, Divya, Prabhu, Prabha, Hari, Vandana, Velakku, Pratibha, PK, Sandhya, Me