Road Trip across Kerala- Where the journey was often more beautiful than the destination – Part 4

We were into our last 2 days of the trip, and we were starting to run short on time. Hence after spending some time at Kovalam, we decided to move to our next terrain, the backwaters of Alappuzha or Alleppy.
Our route first took us back into the town of Thiruvananthapuran (Trivandrum). This time we didn’t zip through though. This trip had been unfulfilling in terms of animal sightings, so we decided to fill the gap artificially with a visit to the zoo.
Thiruvananthapuram Zoo
One of the important tourist spots in the city of Thiruvananthapuram, the zoo is one of the oldest in India. Spread over 50 acres, the zoo was first built, as early as the 1840s, by the then Maharaja of Travancore, as a private reserve.
A decade later, it was given a more traditional look of a zoo with cages for animals. The aim back then was purely entertainment.
After a century, the zoo is now in the process of turning into a natural habitat for the animals (within the enclosures), with the focus shifting from entertainment to conservation of wildlife. This can be loosely looked at like the zoo in Singapore, where effort is made to keep the animal in as natural a surrounding as possible e.g building moats to separate visitors from animals, so the need for cages is minimized.
The place currently houses many indigenous species of animals like lion tailed macaque, Nilgiri Langoor, Indian Rhino, Asiatic Lion, Bengal Tiger, Asiatic elephant, Bear etc. The guests from abroad include the giraffe, hippo and zebra. The aviary section includes a variety of species like peacock, ostrich, eagle and parakeet. The ‘Reptile House’ has a wide variety of snakes, both poisonous and non-poisonous and a few anacondas too.
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In the vicinity of the zoo are two important places, the Napier Museum and the Sree Chitra Art Gallery.
The Napier Museum houses a large collection of historical artifacts, ancient ornaments etc, while the Sree Chitra Art Gallery houses paintings by many famous painters, including Raja Ravi Varma.
Unfortunately, both the places were closed during our visit to the zoo.
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napier museum
From the zoo, we went to visit the world’s richest temple- Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. The importance of the temple is such that it demands a separate blog in itself, hence I won’t talk about the temple and the visit in this part.
From Trivandrum, we started our ride up North, taking a short lunch break at Varkala Beach, and reached Alleppy by the end of the day.
Alleppey
Alleppey is well known for the laid back and relaxed backwater boat rides, which can be a few hours long, to a few days, depending on your budget. They have these huge houseboats, as big as, or even bigger than hotel rooms, where you can stay overnight as you drift into the backwaters.
There was festival the day we reached Alleppy, and had to struggle for over 2 hours before we could find a hotel room. We from one end of the town to the other, up and down, and from the backwaters to what we thought was the sea or creek, left to right.
The sea/creek part was a little scary, with squishy, slushy, and slippery roads, pot holes filled with muddy water threatening to pull us down, some road or bridge construction work with blinding yellow lights and an impending fear of being perilously close to a treacherous water body wore us down. Those 30 odd minutes were not pleasant at all, and I cannot really describe the feeling in words.
We decided to play safe and entered the city again and finally found the priciest, and also the dirtiest room of our entire trip. I had already started getting some nasty vibes from the town. We had a simple dinner and quickly settled down for the day.
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Road Trip across Kerala- Where the journey was often more beautiful than the destination – Part 3

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Continued from  https://sushantgole.wordpress.com/2018/04/25/road-trip-across-kerala-where-the-journey-was-often-more-beautiful-than-the-destination-part-2/

From the hills of Munnar to the plains of Periyar, we had covered a quite a variety of landscapes. Our next destination took us right at the shores of the Indian Ocean at Kovalam.

The ride from Periyar to Kovalam was a lot less exciting compared to the ride from Munnar to Periyar. This was mainly because this time, we rode mostly through various towns, and not through forests and valleys.

We first rode on the outskirts of Periyar Sanctuary, and the thick foliage provided respite from the scorching sun. At one of our pit stops, we saw a diversion with a signboard which showed the temple of Sabarimala at a distance of a mere 40 kms. Since this would mean a ride deeper into the forest, we contemplated on a visit to the temple, but decided against it as it would have disrupted the plan ahead. We quietly paid obeisance to Lord Ayyappan from a humble road side tea stall, hopped onto our bikes and rode ahead.

The ride after that was uneventful, tedious and boring. We rode through one town after another, dodging traffic snarls at practically every town square.

I noticed a peculiar thing during our ride. When it comes to riding between two cities or towns, we are usually habituated to see wide open spaces with farms and fields once we leave a town, before we reach the next one. This ride seemed to defy the norm. There was no end to the lines of shops, the lanes and the gallis. The whole stretch seemed to be one big town.

We were getting hungry, angry and frustrated.

During one of the breaks, we flirted with the idea of riding right up to Kanyakumari. That would have meant an additional 100 kms, but we would have got a chance to tick off an item off our bucket list- seeing the confluence of the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal.

The tiring ride and the fading light made us stick to the original plan, and Kanyakumari visit was pushed to some other trip. We reached the city of Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram) by late evening, and another hour of riding later, finally touch based our destination.

Kovalam

Kovalam is a sleepy beach town, about 20 kms from the city of Thiruvananthapuram. A welcome change from the pricey Thekkady, Kovalam had something for everybody, be it a budget explorer or an affluent tourist.

We reached the place pretty late the earlier night and couldn’t go anywhere. The next morning had a pleasant surprise in store for us. I woke up early, and with no room service, had to step down for my morning tea. The moment I opened the room, I could hear the distinct sound of ocean. A few steps down the passage, and a window presented me with a wonderful sight of the morning ocean in its full glory. Balmy ocean breeze, empty beach and the waves shimmering in the early morning sun crashing at the beach. It was unarguably the best wake up scene in the entire trip.

With the ride from Thekkady to Kovalam taking an exceptionally long time, we were left with just about half a day at Kovalam. Now that I think of it, half a day was very unfair to the place. Although we did go out to the famous light house beach, we missed the other two, along with some other interesting places like the Halcyon Castle and the Hawa beach.

Funny moments at Kovalam beach- Me trying to recreate Kamal Hassan’s pose. In my case, it looked more of a case of a bad toothache. Or maybe like somebody had just slapped me crazy.. What a moron I am 😀

 

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Mohsin picking up the light house..Such a clichéd pose, I wonder what we were thinking !

 

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We left Kovalam in the noon, visited a few places in Thiruvananthapuram, before riding to our next destination, Alleppey. More on that in the next part of the series. Keep reading 🙂

Road Trip across Kerala- Where the journey was often more beautiful than the destination – Part 2

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Click below link for Part 1

https://sushantgole.wordpress.com/2018/04/11/road-trip-across-kerala-where-the-journey-was-often-more-beautiful-than-the-destination/

Day 3- Munnar to Thekkady (Kumily)

I am a jerk when it comes to my motorcycle road trips. More often than not, I detest the idea of riding with someone, and there is a good reason for it.

I am very passionate about these trips, and give my time, money, energy in the planning, leaving the blood, sweat and toil to the actual riding days. I get possessed and obsessed by a trip once I begin to plan it.

In cricket, a bowler gets a batsman out twice. First, in his head, and then on the pitch. In my case, I do the ride multiple times in my head, before finally doing it on the road.

With so much of effort going into the ride, it leaves me frustrated to ride with people who are fussy about trifle things like uncomfortable climate, not so good accommodation facility, or a stretch of a bad road. Worse still are people who are out just to ride for 3 odd hours a day and then chill out (read laze around), and people who drink up late in the night, only to wake up post 10 AM the next day, and screw the entire riding plan.

But you do find good people to ride with too. One such person is my friend and brother, Mohsin, who joined me at Munnar for the rest of the ride.

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The plan for the day was to ride from Munnar to Thekkady, and do some sightseeing there.

We left Munnar at around 9 AM, and were left amazed by the ride through the wonderful tea estates around Devikulum area in the Kannan Devan Hills. Rolling hills with plantations, waterfalls, lakes, mist. It was all too much to just ignore and ride on without taking some pictures.IMG_20170927_095758

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We reached Kumily (Periyar Tiger Reserve) at around 3 PM, and decided to skip Thekkady Spice Plantations, since the idea didn’t really excite us too much. We went to the interiors of the tiger reserve till Periyar lake in their bus, and walked back to the main entrance after spending some time at the water front.

In the evening, we wandered around in the local market, and some shopping and dinner later, ended the day early.

Day 4- Periyar Tiger Reserve and an arduous ride to Kovalam

We were told the previous day that the boat ride in the river starts as early as 6 AM, and it is also the best time to spot any wildlife, since the animals come to the river front during sunrise and sunset.

Excited, we lined up in front of the ticket counter at 6.30 AM, and hopped into a boat 20 minutes later, but not before trying to strike a pose with the lake as a backdrop, just tryin to kill time.

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Periyar Tiger Reserve
Periyar Tiger Reserve is a part of Periyar National Park, which lies in Thekkady in the Idduki district of the state of Kerala. The area which covers almost a 1000 sqkms, has a core area of about 300 sq kms, which acts as a forest reserve. This area is a repository of a wide variety of flora and fauna.

The earliest commissioning of this area as a forest reserve was done way back in the 1930s by the Maharaja of Travancore, who declared this site as a private game reserve to stop the encroachment by tea plantations. Post the independence of India, it was designated as a wild life sanctuary and went on to become a reserve for tigers and elephants later on.

The boat ride takes you in a roughly circular path in the lake, which helps the visitor see both the banks. We hopped onto our boat with our spirits high. Since we had caught the earliest ride possible, we were hoping a good measure of wild life would come up to the banks for their early morning drink.

It seems the animals are either too indolent, or too industrious. Our timings didn’t match, and all we could see was a huge bison, sitting nonchalantly on the bank half a kilometer away.

The tree stubs poking out of the lake water provide a good resting place for the birds. We saw an eagle perched on top of one such stump, and a few kingfishers diving in to get hold of their early catch. The 2 hour long ride felt a little too tedious and long, especially with the animals deciding to go into a hiding mode.

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Once we hopped out, we wasted no more time in the vicinity. We rushed back to the hotel, had a quick breakfast and started our ride towards our next destination.

Road Trip across Kerala- Where the journey was often more beautiful than the destination

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Some trips are planned in a day, some take weeks, some others take months. This one took a year to realize, and I would say the wait was worth the patience in more ways than it was not.

The idea of a road trip across Kerala came up when I happened to watch an episode on Kerala Tourism on Travel XP. The cloudy mountains of Munnar and the spice gardens of Thekkady provided enough impetus to plan the trip.

A word of caution for the readers here, although this is a purely personal opinion and in no way exhaustive or conclusive for all.

Kerala is perhaps not the best destination for a motorcycle road trip on a budget. The riding routes are beautiful. However, from a sightseeing / activity point of view, everything comes at a price, and a heavy one at that. Visits to resorts & spas, backwater boat rides, jungle safari are the things people generally do here, and they don’t come cheap. You are better off going to Kerala with your spouse, kids, parents, even friends but for an exotic holiday

If relaxing, chilling out, lazing around is what you intend to do on a vacation, and you don’t mind spending a handsome amount on it, take the next flight to Kerala. If you want to do a budget motorcycle road trip, the one where you ride hard n live free, find some other place.

If you are still up for the ride, then I lay out the riding plan for you.

riding plan

Day 1- Kochi to Munnar-

I left for Kochi from Mumbai early morning. The flight was mercifully bang on time, and didn’t spoil the mood in the early moments of the trip. A few work calls later, I jumped onto the bull, my companion for the next 6 days. I was all set.

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After an hour or more of riding on the Kochi Ernakulum highway, the fun began. Quaint little towns, long winding roads, amazing weather and most of all, friendly people with a toothy grin, always ready for a chat. The ride was interspersed with regular sights of churches and beautifully designed homes.

Every home was a piece of art in itself. All the money flown in from “de Gelf”  had been “zimbly” put to good use.

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Note- I do not own the rights to this picture, since I did not feel it was right to intrude in on the privacy of the owners and take pictures of their homes. This one is taken from Google, but will give you an idea of the homes I saw 🙂

After about 2-3 hours of riding, the roads began to rise, as I leapt towards Munnar. The weather got chilly and foggy, and the day light dimmed.

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On the way up to Munnar, I happened to see a board which piqued my interest. Puneri Jevan !! Puneri food in the middle of Kerala?? I hopped down and had a quick chat with the owner. The owner, a native of Kerala had lived for 25 years in Pune, before home called. He didn’t forget Pune, and brought a part of it with him, in the form of an eatery serving Puneri Vegetarian food.

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I reached Munnar by around 7 PM, and found a good place to stay. The ride had been exhilarating yet physically tiring, and with practically no sleep the previous 2 nights, it was time to have a quick dinner and wind up the day.

Day 2-   A ride into the misty mountains

This day was meant for Munnar sightseeing. I handpicked a few destinations, keeping in mind the limited time I had on my hands.

Mattupetty Dam

Mattupetty Dam and its lake is at a distance of about 13 kms from Munnar town. The place is an ideal picnic spot for families, with boating facility available at the lake.

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Top Station

Top Station is located at a distance of around 40 odd kms from Munnar, and has a viewing deck. There is a story behind why the place got its name.

History of Top Station

In the early 20th century, tea leaves grown in the tea estates of Munnar were transported to Tamil Nadu by Kottagudi Aerial Ropeway. Then sometime around 1902-1908, a railway track was laid from Kundala. The tea chests from Munnar used to arrive till a station here by rail, and then were transported by a ropeway downhill to Kottagudi. They were then shipped by cart till Bodinayakannur, and from there to various other parts of India by rail again.

A very important point in the journey was this place in the hills, and since it was the Upper Terminus of the ropeway, people started to call it Top Station.

Today, there is no station in sight, but the Tamil Nadu Tourism Board has built a deck, from where you can have a bird’s eye view of the vast valley below.

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Eravikulum National Park

From Top Station, I moved on to the next attraction, the Eravikulum National Park. During my ride through the forests of Bandipur & Mudumalai, I had been lucky to witness animal sightings in the wild. I was hoping I would get lucky this time too.

Eravikulum National Park is amongst Kerala’s earliest parks, and although not very big, is said to be home to a variety of flora and fauna. It is the place for the largest surviving population of the Nilgiri Tahr or Ibex. Along with the Ibex, the park is home to deer species, jackals, wild cats and wild dogs, different types of monkeys and langurs, and also has an occasional visit by the leopard or a tiger. Annamudi Peak, at a height of 2700 meters, is the highest peak in India, south of the Himalayas, and is also a part of the park.

I was clearly not very lucky that day. Leave the exotic wildlife, I did not see even a street dog during my entire visit to the park. So much for the excitement 😦

There were a lot of beautiful sights though. The mist had come down and made the air chilly. The haze reminded me of the scenes from movies like Raaz and The Mist, and a walk through the park was peaceful, amidst the chaos of the crowd.

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I had planned to visit the Chinnar Wildlife sanctuary, and ride through the forests of Sandalwood trees at Marayur. However, the spirit dampening experience at Eravikulum with no trace of wild life, and the fading sun made me change my plans, and I rode back to the hotel.

Kalaripayattu performance at Punarjani Traditional Village

A visit to Kerala is not complete without witnessing the traditional art of Kalaripayattu and Kathakali. I had planned to see both, but missed out on the live performance of kathakali since I could not make it in time. But I was lucky to see Kalaripayattu at Punarjani Traditional Village

Punarjani Traditional Village is a center of culture & performing arts in Munnar, where there are daily shows of the two traditional art forms of Kerala. An hour long show of Kalaripayattu had around 15 trained artists showing their skills. They are professionals, and undergo training from a young age, for over a decade before they join the group. I grabbed a seat in the first row, and got a chance to witness their class and finesse over the next hour.

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It was already past 7 PM by the time the show ended, and I was again engulfed by the fog as I rode back to the hotel. It was a very eerie yet exciting feeling, and the rain added to the fun and the chill.

I reached the hotel fully drenched and dead tired with the day’s ride. I decided to have a quick dinner and retired for the day, making plans for the ride of the day coming up.

Following the Shiva trail- A road trip to the Jyotirlinga temples in Maharashtra- Part 1- Unraveling the secrets of the Shiv Lingam

“So what are your plans for the Year End?”,I asked a friend. “Oh, I am going to the States. My cousins stay there. I will either visit the one of the East Coast, or the one on the West Coast”. “That is nice. And how … Continue reading Following the Shiva trail- A road trip to the Jyotirlinga temples in Maharashtra- Part 1- Unraveling the secrets of the Shiv Lingam

The inseparables- till death do us part

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Bollywood has always been fascinated by love stories of rich girl meets poor boy. Countless movies have been made on the premise, and many of them have gone on to become box office hits. However, a fact unknown to many, even the writers themselves, is that these bodies of fiction have been inspired by an ultimate love story, which happened millions of years ago.


Part 1

Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a young lad who dwelled in the valleys and peaks of a mountain with his tribe He was a maverick. A non-conformist to popular beliefs and norms, he lived his life on his own terms. Young, handsome and dynamic, he was the ultimate rebel. Although a vagabond, he was also extremely intelligent and caring, which made him a favorite of his tribesmen

Like most youth of his age do to while away time, he used to spend hours hanging out with friends, trekked across the mountains, enjoyed an occasional drink or a drag of hashish.

Living a care free life that he was, there wasn’t any semblance of him getting married and settling down. But destiny had a different plan, and made him fall in love with a girl.

While he was rustic and rugged, she was a complete opposite. Born to a rich businessman who ran almost an empire near the foothills of the mountains, she had everything a girl could ever dream of. Dainty and beautiful, she was the apple of her daddy’s eye, and he ensured she always got the best.

Years went by, and as the girl turned into a beautiful young woman, it was but natural that her father wished that his daughter gets married into a suitable family. Rich, handsome, high social status were some of the specifications put forth during groom hunting.

The beautiful girl had no real attraction towards fame and fortune, but was attracted to our man from the mountains. Cupid struck, and before they knew, they were madly in love with each other.

As expected, their marriage was strongly opposed to by her father, though her sister and mother were a little more supportive. The rich businessman felt enraged and insulted that his daughter chose to marry someone visibly uncouth, poor and clearly not very successful in life.

Notwithstanding her father’s opposition, the girl got married to her love, and left her father’s palatial home to come and stay in a modest house of her husband.

Days and months rolled by, and they were happily settled in their married life.

Then came the news one day.

Her father had organized a grand celebration, a get together of sorts. Invitations had been sent out to every eminent and distinguished person from near and far. Thousands of commoners were to be a part of the celebration and the feast too.

“Why didn’t father invite me and my husband?” the girl wondered. “Maybe I should not expect an invitation. It is my family’s function, and you don’t send a formal invitation to your own kin”, she told herself.

“I think we should visit my father’s place to attend the function”, she said to her husband. “I am not sure if we should go uninvited. No, leave it”, he replied. She got angry. “Why should we need an invitation from our own people? If you are not coming with me, I will go alone”. “As you wish dear”, he smiled and replied calmly.” But don’t go alone. I will ask a few of my friends to give you company”

The day of the event arrived and what a sight it was!! Tens and thousands of people had come from faraway lands. Businessmen, politicians, their wives and their kids. People were decked up in their best attire, the alcohol flew freely and the food was aplenty. Everyone seemed very happy to be a part of such a grand ceremony.

Our girl walked into the celebration hall, feeling timid and shy. She had lost touch of moving around in social circles like these. The very manner in which she had interacted with people earlier, and the same manner in which they were talking to each other now, felt so fake and selfish. This was very different from the social gatherings in her new life, and she felt terribly awkward and out of place. She looked at her husband’s friends, and their condition was no different.

She gazed around and saw her sisters with their husbands and went up to them. Although they were happy to meet her, the discomfort was evident. She then went to meet her mother, who was delighted to meet her daughter after many days. Then she went to meet her father and all hell broke loose.

“And with whose permission or invitation are you here?”, her father snorted in anger and disdain. The poor girl felt nervous at being asked something like this by her own father, that too in public.

“Father, it is our family function. Why should I need an invitation from my family?” she said meekly.

“Yes exactly. You don’t need an invitation to meet your family. But what makes you think we are your family? I disowned you the day you married that destitute and a fool. I can clearly see how shabbily you have come to live”, the father started hurling abuses at his own daughter and son-in-law.

“Father, please stop. You can insult me if you wish to. But not my husband. I love him and will not hear a word against him”, she said, as she finally picked up her confidence.

“Of course I will insult him. He is worthy of every insult ever thought of”. The girl’s father had no intention of stopping, and kept on with the abuses.

Finally, the girl could take it no more. She felt responsible for the insults that were thrown at her husband. Not able to bear the shame and the humiliation, she decided to end her life.

There was a stunned silence as people saw her kill herself. Nobody dared to move to save her. Her father was a powerful and a well-connected man, and it was in their best interests to stay in his good books.

The news reached the mountains in no time. The man was first struck with grief, and then felt a burning rage inside. He came down from the mountain with his friends and stormed into the celebration hall. He was maddened with grief and anger, and asked his friends to destroy everything and kill everyone in sight. Then he saw the lifeless body of his wife, slumped down on his knees and wept.


Part 2

Years went by, and the man had accepted his loss. The loss of his love had left him detached from the world around him, and spent hours in isolation.

His friends were concerned. “I think it is time for you to start a new life”, the man’s closest friend said to him once. “No my friend, I can never love another woman, and her memories are enough for me”. The man denied the idea of getting married again.

His friend was persistent though, and called in a match maker. “I have a girl who is perfect for him”, the match maker said to the man’s friend as they watched him stare into nothingness.” She will ignite his lost spirit again”, he said.

The match maker came down from the mountain and visited the house of another eminent personality in the region, who was a land lord. “I have found a perfect match for your daughter”, he told his host. “But isn’t he a widower? Why should my daughter marry a widower?” asked the visibly disturbed father.

The father called his daughter and asked for her opinion. “I know what happened with him, and I know he has decided that he will never marry again. But I also know that I love him, and one day, I will win his love”, the daughter resolved.

Thus began a period of trials and tribulations. The young woman used all her charms to woo the man. He was unperturbed and distant. After months of trying, she sought the help of a local counsellor and his wife. “I will handle it, he will fall in love with you and will marry you”, assured the counsellor. In the days that followed, the counsellor tried every trick in his book to make our man fall in love with the young girl.

At one point, he disturbed and irritated him to the extent that the man almost killed him. That was also the time the girl finally won over him, not through her charms, but through her devotion and dedication towards his love. He apologized to the counsellor, thanked the match maker and his friends, and sought the permission of the girl’s father to marry his daughter.

The story doesn’t end here. A few years later, they were blessed with two beautiful kids.

One grew up to be a chubby boy. He was mischievous, yet very adorable, and was loved by all. He was highly intelligent too. The second boy was short tempered, very shy of girls, and wanted to become an army man.

Like all parents, our man and his wife were worried for their kids. However, the kids grew up, eventually married and had their own family. This was truly the beginning of ‘they lived happily ever after’ phase of our couple.

It is not very difficult to guess who I was talking about all this while. For the benefit of the readers who have not been able to guess already, let us add a dash of mythology to our fable and deify the characters.

Our man from the mountains is none other than Lord Shiva from the great Himalayas. His best friend is Nandi, and his group of friends are his followers or ‘Gana’ as they are known.

The rich, arrogant businessman, and the father of the girl is King Daksha Prajapati, whose kingdom or empire was at the foot hills of the Himalayas. His daughter, who falls in love with Lord Shiva is Goddess Sati.

The grand celebration and get together was the ‘yagna’ that Daksha had organized, for which he deliberately did not invite his daughter and Lord Shiva.

The suicide of his daughter at the celebration hall is the self-immolation of Goddess Sati, unable to bear the insults thrown at her husband, Lord Shiva.

Lord Shiva’s friends, who caused destruction after Goddess Sati killed herself are Veer Bhadra and Bhadra Kali.

The match maker who persuaded Lord Shiva to marry again is Rishi Narada. The Land Lord that Rishi Narada went to with Lord Shiva’s proposal, is King Himavat, the owner of the Himalayas, after whom the mountain was named. His daughter is Goddess Parvati, or one of the mountains (Parvat).

The counsellor who tried to help her and was beaten up is Kama, the god of desire. Lord Shiva had killed him by opening his third eye, and later brought him back to life at the behest of Goddess Parvati.

The chubby, potbellied, intelligent kid is Lord Ganesha or Ganpati. The shy, hot headed boy, interested in warfare is Lord Kartikeya.


Part 3

It is interesting to see how our earliest gods were always depicted as followers of the natural order. They were shown as possessors of super human powers, and as house holders at the same time. Humanity along with the divinity that was attached to them, actually brought the gods closer to their devotees, because they felt their god was just like them. Possibly this is why real devotees always love and respect their deities, but are never scared of them.

My next road trip will take me on yet another temple run, this time across Maharashtra where I will delve deeper in the legend of Lord Shiva. Watch out this space for the travel story.

A ride along the West Coast- Temples of Konkan- Part 3/3

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Part 2 Onwards (https://sushantgole.wordpress.com/2016/10/21/a-ride-along-the-west-coast-temples-of-konkan-part-2/)

I left Guhagar and rode towards Ratnagiri, visiting a few more beach towns and temples on the way.

Shri Dev Velneshwar (Shiv Mandir), Velneshwar

The Shiva Temple of Velneshwar is located in the beach town by the same name. The village is just about 25 odd kms from Guhagar, but it took me over an hour to reach it, not because of the traffic or bad roads, but because the scenes on the way demanded a second look. Apart from an occasional vehicle, the road was silent and empty for long stretches, and I stopped many times to watch groups of monkeys fooling around.road-from-guhagar-to-velneshwar

The origin of the word Velneshwar

The word Velneshwar comes from two Marathi words. Vel, meaning time and Ishwar meaning God. There are different theories behind the origin of the word. One theory says that Lord Shiva is the Lord (Ishwar) of time (Vel) and rules over it, hence the name Velneshwar. The other theory is that the god here is very kind towards his devotees, and wastes no time in granting their wishes, hence the name.

A striking feature of the temple is the deep maal (or the sacred lamp post) which is over 10 meters in height. In the temple precinct, apart from the main Shiva temple of Velneshwar, there are temples dedicated to Lord Ganesh and Shri Kal bhairav (the local village deity of Velneshwar). There is also a temple dedicated to Nandi, the vehicle of Lord Shiva.velneshwa-2velneshwa-1

From velneshwar, I rode towards the beach town of Hedvi, which has the famous Dhasha Bhuja Ganpati Mandir.

Dashabhuja Ganpati Mandir, Hedvi

Dasha bhuja, meaning 10 arms, is a temple in Hedvi, dedicated to Lord Ganesh. The temple is situated on a small hill, but one can ride/drive right up till the temple entrance.

The Dasha  Bhuja Ganpati  idol is white in colour, and it is said that this stone is available only in the Himalayas, from where it was brought specially to create the idol.

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There were just 2-3 locals when I reached the temple, and they immediately got interested in the concept of making a supposedly dharmik tour an exciting one by doing it on a motorcycle.

“But, aren’t you scared?” ,they asked.

This is a staple question that I come across during every single ride, and I have a ready answer to it. I respect the nature and the rules of the road, I never attempt something I am not comfortable and confident doing, and always take the opinion of the locals. I have followed these principles, and have felt as safe on a bike as I have in a car or a bus.

It was getting late and I had to reach Ratnagiri before day end to meet my friends. However,as I was about to leave, the priest came out and said to me, “aarti karun ja” (attend the evening prayer and then go). I somehow did not feel like leaving and decided another 10-15 minutes wouldn’t do any harm, and I did not regret it. When the aarti started, I realized it had been ages since I had attended one in a temple.

With all the paraphernalia of zanja (or taal)- a type of Cymbal, mridanga- a percussion instrument like a drum), and a small ghanta (a bell), and the people clapping their hands while singing seemed a little chaotic and noisy to begin with. Also, it was in stark contrast to the peaceful church prayers that I had attended in the churches in Goa. However, there is a certain rhythm to an Aarti, and you only have to give yourself some time to get hold of it.

After finishing the aarti and taking Prasad from the priest, I quickly hopped onto my motorcycle and rode towards Ratnagiri. On my way to Ratnagiri, I crossed the creek at Tawsal on Hedvi side, and went to Jaigad on Ganpatipule side. I paid a quick visit to the temple, my last of the trip, went to Prachin Kokan, and reached Ratnagiri before night fall to join my friends.

Ganpatipule

It is difficult to decide if Ganpatipule became famous for its temple, and then became a tourist spot, or it became a tourist spot first, and the temple gained prominence later. Either way, the temple as well as the beach is a wonderful experience, not to be missed.

According to a legend, Lord Ganesh was not always at this place, but used to stay in a nearby place called ‘Gule’. He was insulted by a local lady once, took offense and decided to move out of Gule, and settled in the nearby village of ‘Pule’. Due to the presence of Lord Ganesh (or ganpati) at Pule, the place came to be called as Ganpati Pule

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Prachin Konkan (Ancient Konkan)

Situated at a stone’s throw away from Ganpatipule temple is Prachin Konkan, an open air museum which depicts the life and times of the people of Konkan of the yore.

In the midst of thick foliage of trees, the guided tour lasts for around 30 minutes. It starts with an entry through a rock tunnel, symbolic of time travel to the past.

Once you enter, the tour starts with the statue of Lord Parshuram, who as per the legends, created the land of Konkan by pushing back the sea.

Once you move ahead, you first visit the house of the village head or sarpanch, the most important person in the village in those times. From there you visit different places like a fishing pond, the river where women used to come to wash their clothes etc.

Life size structures of the homes of different villagers depending on their caste/profession are erected, and the people are shown performing their daily chores.

Bara Balutedar

In the past, caste system was strongly prevalent in Konkan, and people had work assigned to them based on their caste at birth and were not allowed to do anything else. The bara balutedar system, or a system of 12 groups or categories of profession originated from this.

It was a sort of community living, where each group had a specific task, and together the whole system worked like a clock without a glitch. The twelve balutedars shown were as below-

Sonar (Goldsmith)

Gurav (Temple servant)

Nhawi (Barber)

Parit (Clothes Washer)

Kumbhar (Potter)

Sutar (Carpenter)

Lohar (Blacksmith)

Chambhar (Cobbler)

Dhor (Maker of ornaments for cattle)

Koli (Fisherman / Water carrier)

Chougula

Mang (Watchman)

There were many more statues of different people going about their business.

The tour guide also tells you interesting anecdotes.

One such was the Kasar (one who sells bangles) never used to charge for the bangles given to the young girls. He used to do this till the girls got married, and on the day of the marriage, he used to get a huge quantity of useful goods (like grains, oil etc), from the bride groom’s family, as a thank you gesture for years of giving bangles to their daughter.

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On the way back to Ratnagiri, I stopped to see fishing boats and trawlers returning from the backwaters after the days catch.

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I reached Ratnagiri by day end, had a quiet dinner with friends and retired for the night. Next day was a visit to not a temple in real sense, but was in no way less than a temple for me

Tilak Smarak / Janmasthan

In an era where a new class of shameless and ungrateful pseudo-intellectual liberals take pleasure in disgracing and desecrating the Indian freedom fighters selectively, there is one person who nobody has dared point a finger at.

Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, one of the earliest freedom fighters, and termed by the British Colonial Officers as the Father of Indian Unrest, was born in a typical Maharashtrian home on 23rd July, 1856 at Ratnagiri. The house which saw the birth of Lokmanya Tilak, is now converted into a museum. The original structure has been maintained, with cow dung covered floor (shena ne saravleli jamin) and thatched roof (kaularu ghar) and wooden structures like stair case. Strict silence is maintained at the museum, and photography is strictly prohibited.

Lokmanya Tilak was known to be a stern man, and you can almost feel the sternness filled in the space.

I have seen people fooling around in museums, laughing and cracking jokes. However, there were about 10 people in the house/museum with me, and not one person looked like he was up to no good.

Even I usually get tempted to take pictures where they are not allowed, but during this visit, I voluntarily switched off my mobile and its camera, for the fear of disturbing the silence with a stupid SMS or whatsapp message tone. I tried to request the official there to allow me to take a few pictures, but I was flatly refused, and didn’t think of acting smart. I downloaded a few pictures from their site, and google, for the readers to see.

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I wanted to ride on and keep exploring, but I supposed to join my new organization within the next 2 days, and the time had come to get back to Mumbai. I knew I wouldn’t be able to ride anywhere till the end of rainy season, so I was happy I was able to steal at least a few days.

What was more important this time was my takeaway from the ride. It is possible that I have still not been able to completely let go of the apprehension towards Konkan and its image that I carry with me. I may still not be totally comfortable with the idea of my folks visiting the region. However, I definitely got rid of the distrust in my heart, and gained back some of the lost love, and that is not a bad start at all 🙂