Wednesday 26 June 2013

Amen and Kumarankary

After the Malayalam flick 'Amen', Kumarankary -a tiny village 3km from Changanassery town got famous. I can't help writing about Kumarankary as I was born there! My mother hails from Kumarankary and I grew up hearing stories of Kuttanadu from her. I spent every summer vacation (two months) helping my relatives in daily chores of farming at Kumarankary. Though 'Amen' refers to this village, the movie was NOT shot here. Interestingly, it was shot at Olavaipu, another tiny village in Alappuzha near Ernakulam border. Like in the movie Amen, the social life of Christians was centred around the church with its annual feasts featuring cultural programs. I remember listening Kadhaprasangam (story telling performance).

The only infrastructure in Kumarankary is a church- St. Mary's Church. There is absolutely no other facilities here! Not a even a toddy shop!! There used to be a grocery store and a ration shop (PDS), now only the ration shop remains. With a declining population as most of the old generation had migrated to bigger towns or abroad. The roads to Kumarankary were laid circa 2002. Until then, SWTD (State Water Transport Department) boats were the only way to reach here. During my childhood, we used to take a boat from Alappuzha for a three hour ride to Kumarankary packing our breakfast. There was not even a bicycle used until recently. Annual floods during the monsoon was so common until 2007, so learning swimming was inevitable if you lived in Kumarankary.

To retrace this route, reliving those sweet memories of childhood, Megha  and I took a boat from Alappuzha to Changanassery (Rs 11, 3hrs) starting at 1:30pm. SWTD has not revised the ticket prices in the last 15years!! They are about to be revised in July 2013. The route is Punchiri-Vattakayal-Kaavaalam-Lissieu-Veliyanadu-Kidangara-Changanassery. You will cross the Vattakayal along the R-block on your right side.  QST and R-block Kayal (lake) are known for its indigenous agricultural methodology, farming at a few feet below the sea level. Extensive land has been reclaimed from the backwaters and is protected by mud quay built around. Most of the houses along the paddy fields are abandoned now. When we were about to turn from Vattakayal, copious rainfall and a thunderstorm halted our journey for sometime. The dark clouds from a faraway distance rushed in a few seconds even before we could pull down window sheets of the boat. After Lissieu, there were many school kids to give us company. Curious about us, they asked our names practising the basic English lessons they learned.

1995 Malayalam hit movie Spadikam was shot in Changanassery town especially at the boat jetty - one of the most busy commercial hubs during its heydays. I remember my grandfather taking the rice in 'kevu vallam' (huge canoe) to the wholesale market. Tamil Nadu lorries come over here and the workers push around the  carts to different shops with a rhythmic humming to synchronise their effort. Turn left to the road leading to Paraal and Kunnamkary. Ask for 'Petta Shappu' for directions. You can ride an hourly KSRTC bus for Rs 7 or join a share auto for Rs 20 from this junction to Kumarankary.
We enjoyed the company of the kids- John and Jose for next few days relishing the culinary expertise of my aunts. Avalose podi (Roasted Rice Powder), Idiyappam (String hoppers), Kadumanga Achar (Fresh Mango Pickle) were the favourites of the various dishes lined up on the dining table from time to time. You can drive around this route by turning left at Kidangara from the scenic Alappuzha-Changanassery road. You can get back to Changanassery driving through Veliyanadu, Kunnamkary, Kumarankary, Paraal. 

Alappuzha- Kottayam: The boat from Alappuzha left at 2:30 for its 2.5hrs ride to Kottayam (Rs 9)!! Right now, there is a bridge construction at Kanjiram, you have to stop here. You get a private bus from Kanjiram to Kottayam town- alight at Elanjickal if you are heading to Kumarakom. 

The Hindu

Mural City Kottayam: Most interesting would be the the Noah’s Ark on a 3000 sq.ft.wall of the St Joseph Church at Thellkom. Other spots to witness the artwork by various artists from around the world are: The gates of municipal ground at Thirunakkara, Sree mahadevar temple, Kottayam railway station, Knanaya Jacobite Valiapally, District Panchayat Office, CMS College, Press Club, Sreekrishna Swamy Temple; Darsana Cultural Centre and Sreemahadevar Temple, Nagambadom. Traditionally Mural Paintings (Chuvarchithram) involves only five colors- red, yellow, green, black and white -known as Panchavarna. The maintenance of these invaluable artwork is a question to be answered by time. Hurry if you want to watch before the monsoon rains affect them. 

Friday 21 June 2013

Going South welcoming monsoon

After a three months break to meet life’s expectations, we set out on a Wednesday to the capital city Thiruvananthapuram expecting The South-West monsoon to arrive on time. Our first destination was Kazhakkoottam to visit St. Xavier’s College, Thumba. Staying at Royal Lodge (Near A.J. Hospital, Kazhakkoottam, Tel 9388109963, dbl Rs 400) was the best option. I was in a Jesuit seminary on the same campus where St. Xavier’s is located. Going to the seminary after 20 years with Megha is akin to being at the crossroads of two parallel paths in life. The transport to the coastal area is very limited as it was in 1993. HVK Sir was there to help, his friend Rajanish met us at Kazhakkoottam and dropped right inside the 80acre campus. I gave Megha a tour of the campus which has not changed after 20 years. I met Biju Joy from my batch in 1993 and we talked for a while reflecting on our past life. He gave me the contact details of other three priests at Loyola College whom we met next day. Sijith hosted us for dinner the same night; I was impressed with his techie articles in Mathrubhumi .

The monsoon has not yet arrived and our fears grew about a late or missing monsoon. Going a little south to the coastal area was our next idea, so we visited Kovalam in the evening and the grey clouds looked promising. Catching up with the classmates from CUSAT was next in agenda. Deepak, Kunju, Jishin and Nevin; evocative memories of student life! Jishin did not want me to go looking for a lodge. We stayed with him playing with Mishal and Mia and relishing superb meals. A German movie- Blue Ocean- at Goethe Zentrum next to University of Kerala was indeed a good idea to spend the evening. Though Jishin did not come with us, he gave us a few names to visit in Kanyakumari district – Thottippalam, Thripparippu, Chitharal. These exotic names attracted Nevin and Anu to join us on a day tour with Ian- his 18 month old son.

If you are staying close to TechnoPark, you can take the road to Kovalam- Vizhinjam- Poovar to reach TN border at Marthandam. Though this route is longer, it is worth to avoid the city traffic through Balaramapuram-Neyyattinkara-Parassala. If you are taking a bus, frequent TN buses ply to Nagercoil. From Thampanoor bus station. Get off at Thuckalay to visit Padmanabhapuram Palace which is 15min on foot. Hotel Chitra at Marthandam is a good vegetarian option for a tasty lunch and they run a hotel at Nagercoil.


Padmanabhapuram Palace, 64km from the capital, is in Tamil Nadu but managed by KTDC (04651-250255; admn Rs 35; 9am-1pm/2-4:30pm; Monday holiday). Parking fee is a hefty Rs 50 for parking on the roadside. Asia’s largest wooden palace complex built in 17th century by Iravi Iravi Varma Kulasekhara Perumal consists of 14 different palaces built by the Travancore rulers. King Marthanda Varma dedicated the kingdom to his family deity Padmanabha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, hence the name Padmanabhapuram – city of Lord Padmanabha- was known as Southern Travancore. The clock at the clock tower in the palace is 300 year old. Time stands still here! Literally...the clock is dead at 3:25!! Glorious years of princely rulers and their indulgence in luxury are brandished with teak and granite structures decorated with Chinese, Belgian artefacts. Modern civilisation is visible with the presence of squat toilets with septic tanks adjacent to the bedrooms. After 1950s, the palace became part of Madras State (Tamil Nadu). 


Mathoor Hanging Bridge aka Thottippalam is a flume (open  aqua duct) connecting two gargantuan mountains across Pahrali river (also called Parazhiyar) for irrigation purpose; erected on 28 concrete pillars measuring up to 115ft height. Walking across this bridge gives you a sweeping view of the mountains and green expanse. 15km away from the Palace, this tourist attraction is easily accessible by road. From Thuckalay or Kulasekaram you can reach the top of the bridge. The road to the bottom of the bridge was in a bad state. Twenty-eight huge pillars shoulder the bridge. The then Chief Minister, K. Kamaraj, ordered construction of the bridge as a drought relief measure and for development of agriculture activities.

Kulasekharam: Named after Iravi Iravi Varma Kulasekhara Perumal, this area is very similar to Kottayam district in Kerala with lots of rubber plantations. Many Keralites migrated to this area for farming. More than one medical college and many churches are present. Thriparappu Waterfalls is a major tourist attraction in this route where crowds come and take a dip; though we did not find it very impressive.


Chitharal Jain Temple: At a tiny village in Kuzhithurai town, Chitaral is accessible via  Arumanai road from Marthandam. At Marthandam, turn left to reach Attoor and then left again. Ask locals for ‘malai kovil' (rock temple) in local parlance, and they speak in Malayalam and Tamil; in a seamless blending of languages and culture. A short hike through the wide cobbled path takes you to the top of the hill at the cave temple entry point. The hill was sacred to the Jaina ascetics of the 5th century A.D. Formed by a cluster of rocks there is a natural cave with a tiny pond at the west. There are several carvings, prominently Mahavira Tirthankara and on the left, Parsvanatha Tirthankara, and to the right.  The transition to a Hindu temple in 13th century is visible by the presence of brahmanical sculptures during Pandya rulers.  A 360 degree view of the surrounding serene landscape with Tamiraparani  river like a silver ankle; breathtaking and leads you into pensive solitude. This ancient monument is protected by maintained by ASI (Archaeological Survey of India).

Late in the night, on our way to Kazhakoottam, rains followed us along the coastal bypass. Schools open the next day, a rain soaked morning. Chasing the monsoon, we headed to the central Kerala and further North.