Sunday, November 21, 2010

Travelogue - A 1900 km drive (Part deux)

The earlier portion of the travelogue can be found [here]. Be forewarned that this post is longggg. :-) All the images can be clicked to see a larger view.

The trouble with the car being over, we headed towards Kanyakumari from Madurai with a short detour at Tirumangalam for lunch. Food was okay and I noticed that the hotels there and beyond kept 'kothavarangai vaththal' (dried and salted cluster beans, roasted in oil) which I liked immensely, and snacked on it exclusively rather than as an accompaniment to food (usually with curd rice). NH-7 (or NH-44, according to the new national highway numbering plan, of numbering East-West highways with odd numbers and North-South highways with even numbers, similar to the North American way, but with numbering swapped) is a joy to drive on. 99% of the road from Bengaluru to Kanyakumari is 4-laned. I could only recollect 4 bridges where work is still in progress. All the 650 kms of it can be traversed in around 10 hours with 2 or 3 short breaks and no need to get into any town.

Windmills of the Gods!
The landscape is literally nothing to talk about beyond Madurai until you come close to Tirunelveli. Dry and harsh, with nothing but vast empty land and short shrubs, tall thorny shrubs on river and lake beds and the glaring sun came along with us as we passed Virudhunagar, Sattur, Kovilpatti and Kayathar. The landscape slowly changed near Tirunelveli (the place famed for its halwa and its traders) with some hills and lots of greenery coming up. As we drove past Tirunelveli, we saw one of the examples of a formidable alternate green energy source, wind. Well, do I call this place the Netherlands of India? Maybe! Hundreds of windmills, of all sizes and shapes, dot both sides of the highway, spinning with a whooshy sound to the breeze from the sea which was probably around 30-40 kms from there towards the east, and connected to the power grid. Now I understand where all the huge 100 feet blades which are transported in 18 wheeler trucks near Bengaluru on NH-7 are headed to. For some time, I had thought they were the wings of aircraft, but was suspicious about it since there were no ailerons or wing flaps, on those huge turbine blades.

Sunset at Kanyakumari
It was evening when we drove into Kanyakumari. Went to the Vivekananda Kendra at Vivekanandapuram, where we found a decent with no-frills accomodation, freshened up and headed for our rendezvous with the sunset at Cape Comorin. There is a sunset beach (the beach is not like the Chennai Marina, but does have a few metres of sand with rocky outcrops), around 2-3 kms west from the Gandhi Mandapam, where we watched the sun go down blazing and mellow into the Arabian Sea, standing in the water even as La Niña and El Niño were busy picking up shells of different shapes and sizes. It is always soothing being washed in the feet incessantly by the waves and the mild feeling of sinking in the sand as the the sand is washed over.

Gandhi Mandapam with the ocean and
the moon as a backdrop
Sunrise at Kanyakumari
La Niña, El Niño picking shells
The evening was spent at the Gandhi Mandapam, the Kanyakumari temple and just walking around the shops close to the shore and watching probably what may be the lights of distant ships circumnavigating Cape Comorin. Came back to Vivekananda Kendra, where the canteen has awesome tiffin (minimal choice, but great taste). Woke up early the next morning and walked to the private beach there for the sunrise watch. Waited and waited for the sun to be up and it was already day break and we were told that the sunrise would not be at the horizon because of clouds, but fairly above it. Slightly disappointed, but then we waited there till the sun was up between the clouds. The sand at this beach is different in texture and colour than the one we were in, the previous evening. Went to the Vivekananda Rock memorial on a short trip by boat and we were enveloped in the sun's blazing glory by the time we were back ashore. The contrasting colours of the seas were nice to see from the rock memorial.

From the Vivekananda Rock Memorial
Padmanabhapuram Palace - One view
We had decided to go to the famed Padmanabhapuram palace, then to Thirparappu Falls, maybe the Pechipaarai dam, the Mathur aqueduct, the famous Sucheendram temple and then head towards Madurai to be there by 8:00 PM. But what we had not reckoned with is the typical Keralaesque narrow roads all the way out of Kanyakumari towards these places. I was joking while driving towards Nagercoil about the absence of the famed Kerala Road Transport Corporation killer buses, but other forms of slow transport had their laugh at us. Had lunch at Nagercoil and was tired by the time we reached the Padmanabhapuram palace. The palace (fully constructed with wood) was very good to stroll around. I could only sigh at the Rajas who ruled the place. Opulence and vanity were their keystones probably. Wrongly took a country road (nothing, but huge potholes as a road) to go to Thirparappu Falls (most of the folks speak Malayalam only and what we understood was probably not what it was) and by the time we reached there, it sapped us of all energy. This waterfall is called an alternate Courtallam.
Thirparappu Falls - Mini Courtallam?
Skipped Pechipaarai dam and headed towards the Mathur aqueduct, which connects two hills to move water between them which was once, one of the tallest aqueducts in Asia. Spent around half an hour there amongst the greenery and headed back towards Sucheendram and the traffic on the National Highway (Trivandram to Kanyakumari) was flooded with college buses reminded me of Bengaluru. It was bad, real bad. Went to Sucheendram for a quick darshan and by the time we were on the road to Kanyakumari, it was already dark. The plan was to halt for the night at Madurai, visit the Meenakshi temple and then head to Thanjavur.
Mathur Aqueduct - The bridge goes
on and on ...

After finishing dinner again at the Vivekananda Kendra canteen, started for Madurai. We were delayed by almost 3 hours and we were still in two minds whether to stop-over at Tirunelveli for the night or head towards Madurai. Took the latter option, as it was a dual lane highway and hence night driving would be easier and it was close to midnight by the time we were in a hotel at Madurai. The next morning, had a darshan of Meenakshi Amman and Sundareswarar, and since it was Navarathri, a lot of the sannidhis were decorated pretty well. By a quirk of fate, had to make a full circumambulation of the temple in the hot sun on the Chithirai streets looking for a promised 'crystal' at Kodaikanal to El Niño, in vain. Maybe some 'punyam' at least should have accumulated. :-)

West Gopuram

Headed back post lunch to Thanjavur. Drove by for a visit of the place where I stayed with parents and siblings till I finished college. Driving before the house slowly in the college's staff quarters where we lived, elicited some curious glances from some kids going back to their homes, post school. The place was almost the same, save for the fact that a lot of families living there currently own cars which were parked in makeshift sheds or under trees where we used to play street cricket. The place abounds with trees, especially neem, and is very close to a towering wall of granite, around 100-150m high, which is a section of a hillock shaped like a elephant and at least 4 kms long. I used to tell Señora/kids that they could see peacocks as common as crows around there and yes, there they were, crowing around.
Spot the Peacock
A lot of things had changed on the main road, however. There was now a 4-lane tollway to Trichy, where there was once 2 lanes. Took a different route to Thanjavur after squabbling about the best route and reached there in the evening, possibly late by an hour, at least, due to a wrong decision. :-)

There was one tubeless tyre causing trouble from the time we were driving to Kanyakumari as there was a leaky puncture. Got that fixed at Thanjavur. There is a cascading story of this tyre causing severe trouble on a succeeding trip later (subject of another travelogue :-)). After unwinding for a day and a half (eat-sleep-watch TV-snack-do nothing routine, no questions asked, isn't that great? :-D) at Thanjavur, headed back to Bengaluru with a short detour to Srirangam, on the way, to buy a 'portable ammikkal' (அம்மிக்கல்/flat grinding stone) from shops inside the temple premises. These shops (கண்டா முண்டா சாமான் கடை :-)) sell these and a variety of kitchenry like knives, choppers and similar weapons :-), spatulas of all kinds, shapes and sizes, tawas in iron, cast iron etc, leaden vessels (rasam tastes heavenly when made in this. ஈயச்சொம்பு ரசம்) and 'once upon a time, traditional game-boards and accessories' like பல்லாங்குழி, சோழி, தாயக்கட்டை etc (pallaankuzhi-14 hole board game with shells [ಅಳಿಗುಳಿ ಮಣೆ in Kannada], sozhi-cowrie shells [ಕಾವಡೆ in Kannada], dhaayakattai for playing dhaayam-Four faced dice, usually metal, for rolling (ಪಗಡೆ ಆಡ in Kannada, ಚೌಕಾಬಾರ is a variant)). I love the sound of the shells being dropped one by one into the pallankuzhi cups and the grab of the shell collections at the end of a turn. Hmmm...La Niña and El Niño play it at times, with their own rules and end up with a fight, taunts and a huge racket.

Perumal Saevai (salutation) at Srirangam had to be from the outside as it was a Saturday and getting into the temple meant crowds and delays. Off went the chance to have scrumptious authentic Iyengar puliyogare or vadai or any prasadam from Srirangam. (Slurp! Vada Poché) Will have a go at it next time, after a proper darshanam, maybe. :-) Headed back to Bengaluru from there, uneventful, after a break at Adyar Ananda Bhavan at Salem for lunch. Home, sweet home, it was!

The car's trip odometer read 1900 km at the end. It was time well spent. And until I find time to write my next travelogue, a road trip to Jog Falls and Karwar, which was as adventurous as it can be, ciao.


zeno said...

Sometime back yesterday, was thinking I should definitley borrow the virtue of patience from you! Now the zest for travel!
Dint know sucheendram was famous! [I am not such a big fan of temples that asks guys to be topless. If i am right sucheendram does asks that rite!]
Padmanabhapuram palace is the place where they shot "varusham 16" kushbu's debut movie!. Though the big pots that were used to store food hints at the opulence, never came across as magnificient,May be it was built in wood![even had an odd feeling that it is more like someone's grandma place in a village rather than a palace][may be because of the forementioned movie]
In that stretch, seems you have visited all places except for Thiruchendhur :)

Too bad you did not say Hi to Sriranganadar, You could have gone in just had prasad and come back! Was that not possible? It is a defn must visit along with few other temples nearby[samayapuram and the birth place of Sir C.V. Raman, it also has a famous Shiva temple]
A long post deserves a long comment!

Ramesh said...

Great sequel to the superb travelogue earlier. Much to comment about. Trust you to find kothavarangai vaththal !!! True foodie. Great description of the temples and the Tamil Nadu countryside. What on earth will Senora use the ammikal, other than to probably bash you on the head - I thought such quaint kitchen items of yore are gone ! And forget all lead poisoning - nothing like ஈயச்சொம்பு ரசம் I agree.பல்லாங்குழி, சோழி, தாயக்கட்டை etc bring back nostalgic memories.

Once again a top notch post.

RS said...

Lovely, lovely photographs. I was staring at the pic of the sunset at Kanyakumari. You know what, this post almost made me cry for I felt so very nostalgic :) :)....The colors of sea in Kanyakumari, the vivekananda rock, the windmills- everything about. I shall treasure this post. Thank you, I wouldn't have minded even if it is longer....

Did you see the end of India??? From the Vivekandanda rock???

Oh, the பல்லாங்குழி, சோழி, தாயக்கட்டை-- We have one at my parent's place, and I lovvvvve the clinging sounds. Somethings cannot be told, it has to be experienced :P.
I wish you visited Rameswaram. You must view the sea from the Pamban bridge. Oh, such a heavenly feeling, as the brackish air sweeps past you in the midst of a colorful,majestic sea with little tides....Dhanushkodi with its remains and the hill top on which is the supposed stamping of Rama's feet ....Please plan once. La Nina and El Nino will thank you for the trip :P

I stop here, for I've rambled a lot :D :D

@Ramesh :Rightly said about the ammikal. We use it rightfully!!:P :P

RS said...

BTW, the pic of your kids picking shells- rightly timed! The shadows looks great!!

RamMmm said...

@zeno-:-D :-D That shirtless darshan is something that might have been influenced from Kerala. :-) Kanyakumari temple also asked for the same. Sucheendram's fame is because of the Sthanumalayan temple as it has sanctums for Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, all in the same temple premises. Unfortunately didn't get enough time to test the musical pillars. :-(

Those Rajas at that time had enough money to live their lives in luxury. The palace was not magnificient, as you say, and it can't hold a candle to the Mysore Maharaja's palace. :-) Last year I visited it with my mouth wide open. :-D

Tiruchendur was further east to go to. I had already seen it once long time back and maybe when I make it to Rameswaram sometime, I'll give it a shot. ;-)

Will go sometime to Srirangam, Thiruvanaikkaaval and Samayapuram. I do not recollect visiting the last one and even for that matter Thiruvanaikkaval (I know I have passed by it).

RamMmm said...

@Ramesh-:-D cha cha. I am, maybe a junk foodie. I have not seen it in any of the restaurants that I have been (not that I eat out too much) north of Madurai. :-) The occasion happened and therefore recorded. But, whatever I say, it was heavenly munching the vaththal while waiting for the others for finish their meal. :-) Neither hot, nor bland, Neither chewy nor baked black, just right. :-)

I have no clue on what Senora will use it for, but trust she'll use it for something good. :-) I think Trichy and Thanjavur, Kumbakonam belts still hold lots of these quaint little shops selling all and sundry.

Nostalgic, it definitely is for those games of yore. It reminds me of my grandmas and aunts who used to play those at home and engrossed in those counting, taking out other's coins and talking stories/gossip along the way.

And thanks for your presence here. :-D

RamMmm said...

@RS-Thanks that outpouring of compliments. :-)

There is a video of it, the sky aglow and the sun slowly sinking to a harmless circle and then disappear. I'll see if I can post. :-)

Oh! Yes, the colours of the sea were beautiful and contrasting and looking out from the "lands' end" from the rock memorial was exhilarating. El Nino was the most excited and asked umpteen queries on which side is the Arabian sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal and if we keep on going south, if we land up in Antarctica and why we could not go to the Thiruvalluvar Statue (because of harsh waves) etc etc. :-)

:-) Agree, certain things are experienced the most. :-)

Rameswaram has been there for a long long time on my itinerary. Have to find time to go there. Would love that train ride on the Pamban bridge. Definitely all of us would like it. :-D [There is already some impetus to go to Andamans or Lakshadweep, as well. Let's see]

And thanks for the compliment on the photo. And, it was never a ramble from you after all. Thanks. :-)

RS said...

Pl mail me the video, if you are not able to post :D.

Just noticed the kothavarangai bit. I have unfried kothavarangai vathal at home (home-made, packed and sent over by amma). Come home and you can try!!:P

RamMmm said...

Sure RS. I shall send you a link into Picasa or any other portal, once I upload.

Enticing me with vaththal to land up in Singapore? :-) :-) Maybe when I (rather we, kids will kill me if I take a Singapore trip alone) come there, we shall land up at your place for some sumptuous lunch/dinner. :-) :-)

Anonymous said...

U are always welcome.....:):)

Swaram said...

Luv luv luv the sunrise and the Gandhi Mandapam pic.

I want kothavarangai vathal too :P :P

RamMmm said...

@RS-Thanks. :-) I'll let you know if we come there. :-)

@Swaram-:-D Thanks. I am more and more convinced at the need for a DSLR, have slipped to indecision now (Nikon, for sure, and which D3100, D5000 or maybe D7000!)

Let me know when you come to B'luru and I'll see if I can get you some to snack on. :-) :-)

chennaigirl said...

I really want to go on vacation to all these places now :) I love travelling with 80's music.

RamMmm said...

:-D :-D You could. Catch hold of Aathukaarar to have a vacation when there is enough leave for P and then go places. :-) I've a huge collection of 80s music, predominantly Ilaiyaraaja on a MP3 player to last a week of continuous play. :-)

R-ambam said...

nice picture and stories .. !!
DSLR .. I too want one.. paakalaam:))

RamMmm said...

@R-ambam-:-) Thanks. Idhu kadhai alla, nijam. :-) DSLR vaangunga. And use pannunga. (use pannaama store panna koodaadhu!) naanum romba naala idhai thaan sollittu irukkaen. Kadaiku poyi DSLR ellaam paththuttu vandhaen. Then the idea went into a sink-hole. paakkalaam! :-D