Covered by the lush green forests and surrounded by ranges of hillocks, Pathanamthitta district offers the right ambience for the traveller with a spiritual quest. The district in the central Travancore region is known for the pristine forests and the spiritual centres they house.
A land known for its strong bonds of religious amity, the district has a number of temples, churches and mosques that are repositories of faith, traditions and history. They range from the famed hill shrine of Sabarimala and the lesser known forest temple at Aluvamkudi.
1. To Sabarimala, through Sathram
Sabarimala is often the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Hindus in Kerala and other south Indian states. However, the hill shrine, where Lord Ayyappa is the main deity, is also a place frequented by people cutting across faiths.
During the Mandalam pilgrimage season that falls in the Malayalam months of Vrishchikam, millions of believers trek the hills of Sabarimala to have a glimpse of their favourite deity.
Apart from the sense piety that drives the pilgrims atop the hill surrounded by dense forests, the journey offers a lot for a traveller who loves some adventure.
2. Chuttipara: Reliving Rama's days of exile
Chuttipara is one of the main landmarks of Pathanamthitta. And this clutter of hills, according to the locals, has a lot of Ramayana tales to tell. According to the legend, Rama and his entourage is supposed to have rested here during their many travels.
The idol at the Harihara Mahadeva temple here is believed to have been the one that Rama himself worshiped. The hills around Chuttipara - the Chelavirichapara, Kattadipara and Pulipara are linked with the Rama lore.
3. Aluvamkudi: the not-so-famous tourist spot near Gavi
Centuries-old Aluvamkudi temple in the woods and its surrounding areas hold out immense potential for eco-tourism. It is believed that Aluvamkudi was one of the most important temples in central Travancore in the ancient times.
The altar in the forest temple is proof that rituals were held regularly. The temple pond spread out in an acre reminds one of ponds in major temples.
A huge tree in the premises has a palm tree growing inside its adventitious root, offering a curious sight for visitors who cannot resist the temptation of shooting a picture inside it.
4. Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple
Located near Aranmula, a village in Pathanamthitta, the Parthasarathy Temple is known as one of the "Divya Desams", the 108 temples of Vishnu revered by the 12 poet saints, or Alwars. In this temple, Lord Vishnu is worshipped as Parthasarathy (Partha's charioteer). The nearest railway station to the temple is located in Chengannur, while the nearest airport is Trivandrum International Airport.
The temple is noted for its architecture in the traditional Kerala style.
Other temples such as the Kottangal Bhadrakali Temple and Ezhumattoor Panamattathukavu are known for the annual Padayani festivals there.
Other major pilgrim centres in Pathanamthitta include St Mary's Orthodox Valiya Cathedral where the Relics of St Thomas are kept, Manjinikkara Dayara Church at Omallur, where the mortal remains of Mar Ignatius Elias III, the Holy Patriarch of Anthioch, are kept, and the Nilackal St. Thomas Church which is known for a cross established by Saint Thomas the apostle.