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.
DAYS 1 - 3 ROUTE MAP
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.
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.
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.
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.
DAYS 5 - 7 ROUTE MAP
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.
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.
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!