Oct 31, 2011

Dinner at Athai Veedu

"Are you in insti?", Deepak texted me. I checked my watch to see if it's already time for dinner.

"Yes", I texted back to him waiting to see if he has an alternate plan instead of having in the insti mess. Ever since my insti had signed a contract with a new private caterer, I have been dining at the restaurants nearby the insti most of the times!

"Sub in Ascendas?", I asked him. That is the only place we haven't been to in recent past.

"Sub is fine", he replied. I rang Prasanna to find if he would like to join us. We fixed a rendezvous in front of Gurunath departmental stores and I told him that I would meet him there in ten minutes.

I shut down my work computer, picked up my cell phone, locked the lab, and started walking towards the parking lot when I saw Manoj, my colleague who was working on his thesis at the research scholar's room. After exchanging pleasantries, I asked him about his dinner plan to see if he could join us. 

"I am planning to have my dinner at Adyar", he said. Thinking he might have made plans with his friends, I asked him the place where he was planning to dine at.

"I will have it in Athai Veedu", he said. "Athai Veedu? Sounds like a new place. Where is it?", I asked him.

It took me some time before I realized that he was going to have his dinner at his Athai's (Aunt) house!

Oct 30, 2011

Day2: Athirapalli falls

"You have just enough time to see the falls and race to Chalakudi station to catch the Venad express", Jijo was saying to me.

We were having our lunch at Hotel Saravana Bhavan near the Kalady shrine. "If you choose not to go to the falls, you have to kill about 2 hours in the station", he continued.

"What if we get caught in a traffic on the way to the station?", I asked him not wanting to take a risk of missing the train. "I would rather spend the remaining time in the station", I thought.

"Why are you hell-bent on catching the train?", my friend asked me. "Should we miss the train, we can catch a bus to Mavelikkara", he suggested. Jijo did a quick calculation in mind and said, "Don't worry. You wont miss the train". Saying this, he asked us to get into the cab in a jiffy and started to drive towards the falls.

He drove us through the shortest possible route, reaching the falls in 40 minutes! "Try to make it quick. I will be waiting near the entrance", he said.

We paid money at the counter near entrance, bought the entry tickets for our camera and ourselves, and excused our way through to the falls.

pathway leading to the falls

We reached one of the view points from the top and had a good view of the water flowing towards the falls.

on its way to the falls

 Athirapally falls

"Move in this direction to get a better view of the falls" a sign board said. Not satisfied with the current view point, we started to walk towards the indicated direction, only to find that the other view point is at the bottom of the falls!

We rushed through the path taking short cuts to reach the bottom in shortest possible time, took a few snaps, ran up again and went back to where Jijo had parked the cab, panting heavily.

a view of the falls

"We saw the falls from both the view points in twenty minutes! I think its a record!", I said to my friend. As soon as we got into the cab, Jijo started to race towards Chalakudi railway station. Sitting on the passenger seat, I checked the running status of Venad express using the Indian rail android application. I could finally catch my breath when the Indian rail said "Venad express is delayed by twenty minutes".

Oct 29, 2011

Day2: Kaladi - Crocodile Ghat

A view of Periyar river from the Crocodile Ghat

"This is the place where Sankara's leg was bitten by a crocodile about a millennium ago, forcing Aryambal to permit Sankara to adopt sannyasa", explained a display board at the Kalady shrine. Since then, this place is named as the crocodile ghat. The ghat section is located on the banks of Periyar river flowing in front of the main shrine.

"A lamp post made of black stone near a place where Aryambal attained samadhi helped us to locate this spot with precision", explained another board in the shrine. The display boards are an effort by the Sringeri mutt to popularize the legends of the shrine.

I walked up to the sanctum sanctorum of the main deity, Goddess Saradamba, stood in front, closed my eyes and prayed for peace. After accepting the prasad, I reached Aryambal's samadhi, stood in awe looking at the black stone installed ages ago, believed to be by Sankara himself! Standing in front of Aryambal's samadhi, my mind went on contemplating 'enna thavam seidanai' song, written about the motherhood of Krishna.

After paying my due respect, I moved on to Sankara's deity. The age of this holy man is perhaps one of the most debated topics by the scholars from religious schools across India. Googling for "the age of sankara" says the best guess is about 1223 years (as of Oct 2011).

A sense of achievement overwhelmed me when I stood in front of Sankara's deity, for I had come to see the man who existed in flesh and blood centuries ago, whose name is pronounced by everyone's lips at least once praying for a better afterlife. For some inexplicable reason, I moved away from him, without making a prayer.

Oct 21, 2011

Day2: Kaladi - footprints (of Lord Krishna)

"Mother, I have prepared this herbal soup for you. It will make you feel much better", Sankara said, handing over the cup of soup to his mother Aryambal.

Aryambal looked at her son, smiled warmly and took the cup of soup. Sankara touched her forehead to note that her temperature had dropped and she would be out of fever in a couple of days.

"Would you like to go for a walk Mother?" Sankara asked her politely, recollecting his younger days when she would take him for a walk along the banks of river Periyar, and would tell him spiritual stories one after another till they reached a small temple shrine of Lord Shiva. As he grew up, her old age caught up with her and confined her indoors.

Sankara helped his mother to her feet, supported her arm around his shoulder and took her for a short walk outside their hut. Slowly they reached the banks of river Periyar which flowed close by. Sankara assisted his mother to sit on the banks of the river on an elevated platform, and sat next to her on the muddy ground.

A view of Periyar river flowing through Kalady

"My son, I have grown older and have become a burden on you" Aryambal said to her son in a regretful voice. "Mother, please! Do not say anything like that. Is it not my duty to serve you?", he asked.

"With each passing day, my end is getting near, my son. I am afraid of my death. I am worried about the fact that I still have not found the purpose of my life", she said. Sankara observed that his mother was struggling to talk continuously, and she panted after every few words.

The conversation with his mother put Sankara  in  a meditative mood, contemplating on the purpose of life. His eyes fixed gazing at the flow of Periyar river.

"Mother, look at this river!", Sankara pointed towards the flow of water, to distract her from disturbing thoughts about her end.

"We do not know where the water originates from, nor do we know where it ends up. But have a look at the water mother! Doesn't it look so happy to be a  part of the big thing called the 'journey of a river'?", he asked.

Reciting a sloka from Bhagavad Gita, Sankara continued, "my mother, Sri Krishna says the true purpose of one's life is to enjoy the journey called 'life' without worrying much about our destination. My mother, is it not true that, to attain salvation one should follow the footprints of Sri Krishna?".
Legend is that Aryambal was growing old, and found it difficult to go to the banks of the river for her daily chores. Seeing his mother's difficulty, Sankara prayed to Sri Krishna. Krishna appeared before Sankara and promised him a solution.

Krishna asked Sankara to lead him to his place. As both of them started walking, the river took a new course. Following their footprints, it flowed through Sankara's garden, and went on to join the mainstream ahead after a distance. 

Oct 15, 2011

Sunrise at Bessie Beach

"Chennai has three seasons, hot, hotter and hottest", says some of the reviews about the capital city of Tamilnadu on the web. I cannot agree more with the reviewers, for in the past 29 years of my life, I had never seen the mercury dropping below 20 degree Celsius!

Chennai's typical sunny days characterized by the hot and humid weather is a turn off to most people. Even so, there are times when we feel to sit back, relax and wonder "what a beautiful sun!". Today, I had that moment!

 people enjoying the sun rise at Elliot's beach

 how i wished to travel in that boat!

 Silhouette of a fishing boat at sunrise

Sun peeking out of the clouds

If you happen to be in Chennai, set your alarm to wake you at 5 AM (stay near Besant nagar or Santhome) to enjoy your moment of wonder!

Oct 10, 2011

Day 2: Kodanad Elephant Kraal

"Did you go to Thekkady?", a guy from Kollam whom I friended yesterday at Indiblogger meet, asked me when I said to him that I visited Kerala about a couple of weeks ago.

"No", I replied.



I could almost hear him asking "where the hell did you go then?", when I told him the places we (Winnie and myself) visited. He gave a surprised grin, of the same kind which Jijo, the cab driver, expressed when we said "take us to some interesting place nearby" after coming out of Kallil Bhagawati temple.

The best part about going on a trip without having any plans ahead is that you get to talk to local people and find about many places that are interesting, but usually do not find any mention on the web, or through word of mouth. After all, for both of us, since journey is more important than the destination, we were enjoying every moment we spent in and around Ernakulam, with no intention to boast "I too went there"!

It must have been a different kind of an experience for Jijo as well, because he was always called to drive a cab, and (I think) never before was he called to guide a trip! "Have you been to Elephant Kraal?", he asked with an enthusiasm reflecting the feeling you are my guest now and its my duty to show you around!

When we asked him to tell us more about the Kraal, we quickly recognized that that was where we wanted to go. We drove out of the Pulavazhi Kallil Road to reach the elephant kraal in less than 15 minutes. "The Kraal is the only place in Kerala where they rescue and train adult and baby elephants, captured from forest", he said while driving.

a cute baby elephant taking its mid-day nap

The elephant kraal is also famous for the elephant safari, which we could not go to since we did not get any elephant to take us on a ride. There is a mini zoo just outside the kraal, maintained by the Department of Forest, perhaps not to disappoint you if you are not able to see any elephants.

 caged beauty

deers lunching

meditating crocodile (can you see a small 'human' face in its neck?)

the lone adult elephant that we spotted at Kraal

exterior of the mini zoo at Kodanad

Oct 6, 2011

A man in his early fifties

The red TVS Scooty came to a halt in front of the vacant space near the security desk of Krishna hostel. On the wall next to the security desk was written "No Parking".

Apparently oblivious to the signboard, he parked his scooty, turned off the ignition, picked up his plastic bag and walked towards the Krishna mess.

His wrinkled face, silvery mustache and near bald head showed that he must be a man in his early fifties. His blue shirt with stripes told me that he works for the Hostel management. The wall clock stroke 7 times when he entered the mess hall, the time at which the breakfast begins.

The mess hall was mostly empty, only a few early birds were waiting for the mess cook to serve idly with sambhar. The sleepless night spent on putting a fight with my work was slowly taking its toll, making me feel sleepy. Not wanting to sleep on an empty stomach, I was waiting in the queue to have my breakfast before hitting the bed.

The man in his early fifties went inside the mess kitchen when one of his juniors came out with a plate full of idlis to be served. I waited in the queue until my turn came, picked up two idlis and vadas. "Sambhar will be served at your table," the junior said.

While I was waiting for the sambhar to be served, the man in his early fifties emerged from the kitchen with a plate full of steamed idlis, enough for a family to feast. He kept the plate on one of the dining tables, took the tiffin carrier from his plastic bag, started filling idlis in each of the boxes. He filled the topmost box with freshly prepared aromatic sambhar.

After filling up the boxes with idlis and sambhar, he kept the carrier inside the plastic bag, took another one out and filled it with the remaining idlis and vadas. He took the water bottles out, filled them with ozonized drinking water from the mess, and collected hot tea in a flask. Content with the quantity, he carefully placed the flask inside his bag avoiding spilling, took the bag and went out.

"Is he going to eat all the idlis himself?" I doubted. "Maybe he is taking breakfast for his colleagues as well", I reasoned to myself.

I finished my breakfast, dropped my plate at the wash counter, picked up a glass to drink some tea. It was about 7.30 now, and there was movement in the mess. The counter was getting busy serving idlis and vadas to the students where more people in the blue shirt with stripes were spotted, standing in the queue.

"Why are they standing in the queue? Didn't the man in his fifties take breakfast for them in two big carriers?. If his colleagues have come to mess to have their breakfast, for whom did he take the food then?", I asked myself.

"Does he run a shop of his own outside the campus? Is he taking the food to his shop to sell and earn some extra money?", my thoughts started to build conspiracies.

Had it been true, it would not have come as a surprise for I had read enough about corruption in government institutes/organizations, thanks to the print and online media. But do the mess manager and the student secretary know about this?

It suddenly dawned on me that he was not stopped by the mess officials when he went into the kitchen, came out with the plate, filled his carriers and left the mess! Is it a network of organized corruption at mess level, at the expense of student's mess bill?

A sudden rage enveloped my thoughts wanting me to take an action to put a full stop to the corrupt practice I just witnessed. I was about to head towards my room to write a mail to the mess secretary asking him to take appropriate action when my phone rang. It was a call from my friend who works in the same lab as me.

"Hi! I have high fever suddenly. I got myself admitted to institute hospital", he said. His voice was too low as if he got drained of all his energy.

It must be a viral infection, I guessed, for a number of students were getting admitted to insti hospital due to sudden fever in the past couple of days. "I will come to see you in a few minutes", I said.

I cycled to the insti hospital, enquired the way to reach the ward where my friend was admitted. The hospital nurse was leaving the ward noting down the temperature and collecting my friend's blood sample to test for viral infection when I entered.

"Did you take your breakfast? Shall I get something for you to eat?", I asked him, not sure if he had had his breakfast before getting admitted.

"I just had it before the nurse took my blood sample for the test. A man came and served breakfast to all the ward mates about ten minutes ago", he said. 

Being a residential institute, the students of IIT are first tended by his friends or the faculty, before their relatives come to take care of. In most cases when its minor health issues such as common cold or fever, the relatives do not even know about it! "Our insti hospital has made a wonderful arrangement to ensure proper food for the patients", I told my friend.

"Would you like to have some tea?" a voice from behind me asked my friend. At the entrance was standing the man in his early fifties, with the flask in his hand, plastic bag at his feet.

Oct 1, 2011

Day 2: Kallil Bhagawati temple

"Will you show us around Ernakulam tomorrow?", I asked the cab driver while returning from the Marine Drive.

"Where do you want to go Sir?", he asked in reply to know if I have made any specific plans.

"Take us to Kallil Baghawati temple, Kaladi and Chalakudi", I answered. Kallil temple?, he gave us a surprised look, perhaps because its not a popular spot. "Ok Sir. But first, you please talk to our cab owner to book the cab for tomorrow", he said handing out his business card.

We returned to our guest house, had dinner (thanks to the groom's mom), placed the call to the cab owner and fixed the car to pick us up at 8.00AM next day, and retired to bed.

We got up at 6.30AM, took bath, packed and got ready by 7.30AM. While depositing the key at the reception, we enquired to find that breakfast is ready. We went to the restaurant and placed orders for aappam with kadalai curry and a cup of tea, for each.
Me and Winnie with the YMCA guest house manager.

By the time we finished having our breakfast, Jijo, the cab driver arrived with the cab that we booked the previous night. We thanked the guest house manager for his kind hospitality, kept our bags in the luggage compartment and got in to the car ready to head towards our first place, Kallil Baghawati temple.

Winnie, myself and Jijo (cab driver cum guide)

Kallil koil in local language means the temple made of rock. As the name implies, the Bhagawati (Devi) temple was carved in rocks during 8th or 9th century by Jain monks. In the perimeter, one can find a number of rocks in which our ancestors had tried their hand in giving shape to the rocks, some of them has written inscription too.

The welcome board

way to reach the shrine by walk

drive way to reach the shrine

Final steps to reach the shrine

View from behind the temple

Picture of an Elephant cut on the rock prior to carving

inscriptions in old Tamil

carving of the conch

view of pristine beauty of the mountains on the west

 small passage cut through the rock

a Jain deity

original path to reach the shrine

The idol of Brahma is carved at the top of the shrine within the perimeter where photography as well as wearing a shirt is prohibited.

P.S: The header image of this blog is shot in panoramic view at this location, partly covering the walking way and the drive way to reach the shrine.