Category Archives: Travel Diary

A visit to the Cloud Mountain – 1

A most memorable experience of a lifetime explained in few words of joy and in parts of three. The first part begins here with this lovely panorama of the Meghamalai hills.

Meghamalai-Pano

In life, it is quite rare to experience a complete spiritual upliftment without being religious. And this rare and blissful experience is felt by me only when i reach to places of beauty at high altitudes. I have been to Kodaikanal several times, Ooty a few times, Coorg a few times, Mahabaleshwar a few times and i must admit that i enjoyed every single trip as it is an experience by itself. But what i experienced during my visit to Meghamalai (means “The Cloud Mountain” in Tamizh) is something unique and has a spiritual feeling to it.

Meghamalai Map - Near Theni, Tamilnadu, India

The idea to get out of the madness of the city crowd came around end of August 2010 as me and my friend Sriram discussed a trip out of Chennai. He had got a new job and i was nearing an end of getting mine. We both needed a break and had spent the last few years running around in this race of mad rats. We wanted to feel a sense of rejuvenation without spending any money for anything inside the city. Basically, we wanted adventure and freedom from everything for a little while. We did not want to make one more trip to Kodai as we have been there several times. I suggested Pollachi and the Vaalparai hills to him as i wanted to visit that place and see what nature offers around there. I knew that Vaalparai has many such serenity that could kinder my spiritual side when i visit and my intention was also to move around the Sholayar forest and experience the deep forest at high altitudes and cool breeze. But my friend Sriram suggested that we go to this place called “Meghamalai” which was probably close to Theni. I wasn’t completely convinced with the idea, but decided not to disappoint my friend as he was passionately describing the place as a must visit and that his colleague had visited it earlier and it was worth another trip. Sriram told me that this place is unexplored and i quietly agreed to come and visit where none of us had visited before. It is indeed a challenge to see the unknown and experience surprises than go to a known place. Moreover with Sriram convincing me that he indeed knows people there to guide us and find a place to stay helped the decision to be made.

But we were the two of us and wanted one more to make the adventure and fun better and who else would fit the bill than our good old travel mate Amit who with his sense of passion for jeeps, offroadings and the same love for travel and adventure. Sriram and Amit decided the trip details – almost nearly argued over a few things for more than a day and finally we decided to go in Sriram’s Santro as destiny would have it. We met on the 2nd of September 2010 around noon time at the OMR office of Amit and headed straight out of the city – packing ourselves with the absolute necessary stuff that we carry in all our trips. A journey that was filled with surprises as we did not know what to expect and without Amit’s 4wd – it was all the more challenging to reach the destination.

We planned to reach Theni via the usual route of Salem, Tiruchy and Dindigul and via the kodai road reached a small place called Chinnamannur Southwest of  Theni at 3 am the next day. Sriram and Amit outside Nadar LodgeAmit had driven most of the trip and was tired and after dindigul took a small nap at the pillion seat. I was concentrating hard on how Sriram is doing his night driving and was happy that he had improved a lot over the years and was a lot more confident in his own vehicle. As we got out of the vehicle and closed our doors with a bang, Amit woke up to see the place called “Nadar Lodge”. Mr. Bose, our guide to Meghamalai was waiting there for a long time and Sriram had ensured he knew where we were by informing him time to time. Since dinner was over long back and it was way past midnight, none of us had any intention to find the quality of the room or the place. We just followed our guide and crashed to bed after a little discussion. 

It was only in the morning that we saw that we stayed at a good place. Morning coffee was ready on our room as we woke up and forced us to get ready soon after a brief and sensible discussion with Amit on the nuances of a vehicle and how to drive in terrains. MorningCoffeeAnd we did get ready pretty quickly too and were looking forward to our journey to Meghamalai which was exactly 50 kms from Theni and so roughly 35 kms from where we were already. Mr. Bose suggested that we have our breakfast in Chinnamannur and took us to the Vasantha Bhavan where hot pongal and idly with sambar was a treat to the hungry tummy and after speaking over phone to my wife about my whereabouts and my younger brother Arun who was leaving to London for a good 2 years over phone and wishing him a good luck, i started the journey with my friends to our destination.  One more round of coffee suggested Mr. Bose and Sriram agreed. Amit and I looked at each other and decided to follow our leads and the coffee was at its best indeed.

First it was the little check post that had us to start wondering how this place would be followed by the tea kadai where Sriram made a few friends and a few pegs to start the 2 hour long journey up to the hills. We did not know what to expect as the place was breathtakingly beautiful as and when we started to move upwards in the little Santro that was quick enough to climb up and sturdy enough to take us through to the destination and beyond. One look from every turn was getting prettier but scarier too as we realized we are going on roads that were not really ready completely but had been put for a few days as a local MLA or a Minister had visited Meghamalai recently as informed by our guide. We reached a higher valley where we noticed a watch Watch Towertower and since our guide was still far behind in his bike, we wanted to explore the places more. Amit was the first to move to the front followed by myself while Sriram parked the vehicle in a safe corner and moved towards us. Amit started to click a few shots while self and Sriram followed to climb up the tower and as we reached the top of the tower we clicked a few shots from there and the valley looked neat. Our guide who came by in a few minutes informed us that this was a watch tower used by forest officials to see the movements of elephants in that area. We were quite pleased by now at the destination being the right one. We were told that the forest officials do not allow too many tourists to these locations and one key reason being that there are so many dams that were used for hydro electric projects for the state of Tamilnadu and the preservation of natural eco system with all the inhabitant animals like Tiger, Bear, Elephants, Deer, several varieties of birds and monkeys were considered topmost priorities for the forest officials. A thought slowly crept up my mind that i am going to be in such a place which i have rarely seen or heard in the past and how true it was and how wonderful was the journey forward.

As we went back to our car and moved further, we decided to stop at every possible beauty Wild treesspot and take some pictures that could keep cherishing our memories for a long time to come. Amit was cursing his luck as he could not get his offroading vehicle, his “Torque” which is built totally by him from the base. The valley had such tough roads and at every tough turn we took in the pretty santro, he missed it all the more. And so did the rest of us as we knew that it was not just Amit who would have enjoyed the ride but we too would have witnessed some thrill of our life.  We witnessed some unique trees, some great turns, excellent views on the way up. Suddenly we could feel the wind getting cooler and our breath cleaner and less polluted. We knew we were there but we did not want to stop and waste our time asking our guide, instead of enjoying each and every sight of the valley and the sprawling tea estates.

At the end of our long drive, we reached the canteen run by Pachaiammal – a kind lady who agreed to cook the lunch for all of us including our guide. After the reassurance from our guide, we decided to look around the place and witnessed some really beautiful dam, huge pipes that were probably pumping water up and down the valley to villages. “Not just villages and towns like Srivilliputhur, Rajapalayam, Kovilpatti etc”, reminded our guide, “these water are source of energy to animals on the way and they go till the last dam where these water are utilized for hydro electric power projects run by the state government of Tamilnadu.” We decided to look around further, take a few snaps, have a few pegs and join back for lunch before it started to rain. The rains in the mountains are unlike what we see in the city as we could see the clouds gather up the mountain summits and roll down into rains which cover the entire place with fog and mist. And at the end of the rain, the leaves are fresh with dew and the whole place looks like a heaven.

We finished our sumptuous lunch and thanked Pachiammal and her aide for the great food and after having a few discussions with few fellow travellers from Madurai who had lunch too at the same place, we left towards our Guest house. Lake Placid This was the moment we were waiting for and surprisingly beautiful it was and still fresh in my memory. The guest house is run by the local government body and it is called the Highwavys Dept Guest house. It is at the perimeter of a large lake which is surrounded by pretty hills that has roads going around the forests and mountains. The recent rains had covered the lake and the hills fresh and it was a great time of photo shooting for me and Amit while Sriram was busy organizing the rooms and the paying the advance for us. We drove to the end of the shore and took some great pictures. We realized that there were a few houses nearby and some of them had their walls broken into bricks recently. When we enquired with the locals, they told us that the elephants had destroyed that place the night before we arrived as it ran berserk in search of food. "Do elephants attack humans too ? Do they kill people ? Or do they search food only ?” we enquired with caution. “Well, they are generally harmless sir, but if you happen to see them, better to stay at safe distance”, warned the local man. Somehow, he sounded very wise to us at that point of time as we decided to take the pictures at a later point of time and first go check up the place where we would stay for the next 3 days.

Sriram had done a good job of befriending the supervisor of the guest house, as he usually does and ensured the room was clean and was well equipped including a hot water geyser and comfortable beds. We checked in our rooms and took a much needed nap for about an hour or two until we were woken up by the noisy conversation that Sriram had with the room in-charge. Amit was still asleep, freezing with cold and wearing a leather jacket and under a blanket. When we both looked at Sriram, he was very comfortable in his jeans and tee shirt and gave us back a great smile. “Go for a tea and a walk buddy ?” enquired he – to which both of us were not ready. But since he was ready to go alone, we decided to move ourselves out of the bed and join him for a wonderful tea and some conversations with the canteen owner and our guide who was still around. 

This story will continue in part 2 and 3 of the same title soon.

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Pancha Rathas ( Five Chariots )


Pancha Rathas ( Five Chariots )

Originally uploaded by bratboy76

The Town of Mahabalipuram, was the key port city of the 7th century Pallava Dynasty and it is situated 60 kms south of Chennai. King Narasimha Varman I (AD 630 – 660) was one of the key contributors to the architecture seen here. This town is named after King Maha Bali (Great Bali) who was the son of Prahalada ( an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu and born to a father Hiranyakashipu who was a demon who did not accept the Lord as almighty).

Mahabalipuram is famous for its Monolithic ( made in single piece of stone ) Stone Temples that has the architectural fusion of Dravidian, Buddhist and unique Pallava’s own architecture that resembles ancient Egyptian Architecture.

This Monolithic structure is called the Pancha Rathas ( Five Chariots) with names taken from the Pancha Pandava ( Yudhishtra, Bheema, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva), although there is no proven evidence of any links with the Mahabharatha.

This structure was carved during the reign of King Mahendravarman I and his son Narasimhavarman I. There is a carving of an elephant statue and lion statue apart from a temple like chariot for Draupadi ( the wife of the Pandavas).

Kettuvellam


Kettuvellam

Originally uploaded by bratboy76

In Malayalam, the word “Vellam” or “Vallam” refers to water and so even a boat indirectly. “Kettu” refers to tying and therefore to the rope indirectly. The word Kettuvellam (or Kettu Vallam) jointly means this houseboat that is made of rope made out of Coconut bark.

The word Kerala comes from Kera Alam which means the big forest grove of Coconut trees. It is also called as Kairali in Malayalam. And so naturally we do see a lot of Coconut Grove in Kerala.

These houseboats were originally created to ferry the paddy produce to the land. In Allepey and nearby area, the local farmers use the backwater as a main source for irrigation. These paddy fields are kept filled with water for quite a lot of months before being irrigated and worked on. Slowly these boats have been used to transport people and mostly travelers on a overnight journey.

The modern day Kettuvellam has gone through a lot of changes in terms of the size and the mechanics of how they operate. Modern motors and Air conditionings are quite normal these days and the interior design is done by various boat architects from around the world. There are boats with 2 bedrooms and an open dining area which are typically used for tourist couples who prefer to travel alone. And for tourists who travel in groups of 6-10 people with 3 or 4 couples or families, there are better alternatives by means of boats with 2 floor levels from 3 -6 bedroom plus a balcony and a lounge and a big kitchen to accommodate around 6 cooks at a time. Each of these boats come with a captain, a helper and a cook in the normal time and has added crews depending on their sizes.

During summer time the insides of these boats can get really warmer and the air conditioning is the only easiest alternative. Though the season time varies, the ideal time to visit this part of the world and travel in these boats is during Jun – Nov and again between January end till mid March.

There are many websites available these days for travelers to conveniently book these in advance, though a good travel agent would make this a part of the travel itinerary for tourists who visit this part of the Kerala. It is quite a relaxing thing to travel in a Kettuvellam, usually because of the silence in the area ( except the motor running through the water making occassional noise) and the flow of the green water with lot many birds and natural scenes to make any photographer like me go crazy with the camera.I have no doubts in saying that a trip to Kerala or India without a ride in Kettuvellam is incomplete and it is a great experience.

And finally, i do not have any tie ups with the Tourist Dept of Kerala for writing these many details. I just went here twice already and each time i was amazed at the freshness of the experience.

So go ahead and pack your bags to Allepey and Kumarakom to have a great ride in a Kettuvellam. It is an out of the world experience.