Getting Around Kerala en Fri, 29 Jun 2018 04:17:08 GMT Malappuram, where history and nature beckons Malappuram, a land where history lulls deep in the lap of nature, is bordered by Nilgiri hills on the east and the Arabian sea on the west. Spread over the undulating and verdant hills, the land is abound with lush greenery and pristine rivers. Even as the place promises mesmerizing views and experiences unique to Kerala, Malappuram harbours a legacy of rich cultural heritage of its and a scenic serenity, that is characteristic to the region alone. Here are five must visit places in the district. Thunchan Parambu - the world of letters Thunchathu Ramanujan Ehuthachan, the great poet who is venerated as the father of Malayalam language, was born here. The poet has authored the 'Adhyathmaramayanam Kilipattu', the Malayalam adaptation of the great epic the Ramayana. There is a museum sprawling in quietude and which preserves the belongings of the great poet and other relics. Read more The land of the clan of 12 Naranathu Bhranthan, is a name quite common in Kerala when it comes to myths and folk lores. The enigmatic folk character, his eleven brothers and his mother of a lower caste are all quite a known fable in the state. If we closely follow the trail of the legend we would land in the era of Gupta emperor Vikramaditya and how Vararuchi, of the courtiers of the emperor formed part of the saga of the 'clan of 12'. Here we're visiting the place where history has left an indelible mark on the banks of river Nila. Read more Ponnani, the Mecca of Malabar If Malappuram is referred to as the 'Mecca of Malabar' Valiya Palli in Ponnani can be reverenced as the K'aba. The region is dotted with centuries-old mosques, which are graceful and beaming with religious fervour. The tomb of Carpenter Thangal, who is said to have had the vision of K'aba; Vilakkattirikkal, a holy ritual in memory of Carpenter Thangal; Cannoly Canal steeped in colonial history; Thrikkavu temple legendarily founded by Parasurama, all depict the cultural hues interspersed in the Dravidian state. Read more Nilambur Teak Museum For anyone who happens to visit Malappuram, Nilambur teak museum is a never-to-be-missed location. The much-hyped greenery and vegetation in Kerala reach a majestic charm here in the sprawling vistas of giant timbers. Set off to a ramble along the boulevards stretching just under a kilometer and explore various genus of Teak, bamboo, herbs and a variety of flora.Read more Cheruppadimala: to get some adventure and be one with nature If you are in Malappuram and have trekking on mind, just head for Cheruppadimala, a green hill drenched in mist. Tiny waterfalls and deep ponds make the spot a cool and mesmerising location. It is the best place to get detached from the rest of the world and relax watching the sunset. Read more Thu, 10 May 2018 16:06:45 GMT Beach wanderers in God Fri, 13 Feb 2015 05:46:15 GMT Romancing the rains at Kakkayam The rains have many hues and bring with it a multitude of emotions. It can be a heavy downpour that often catches you by surprise in the cities. Or that gentle pitter patter outside as you cuddle up with your favourite drink in your favourite place. The rains can assume any form, depending on your moods and how you would prefer to see it. It can be a welcome, gentle guest that lights up your afternoon with a poetic presence and evocative smiles. It can be that rambunctious gatecrasher who gets you sloshed in dirt, when you least desire it. If you are someone who loves the rains, a trip to Kakkayam, also known as Malabar's Ooty, might give you an yet another unknown experience of the rain. Here, when you stand below the canopy of the rain clouds to whom the mountains seem to murmur sweet nothings, you slip into a world of your own, enveloped in an undisturbed reverie in which the sweetness of each moment seems to extend without limits. Then, when the gentle rain falls, a sudden, elusive joy wells up inside you- like when you see the subtle tears of welcome of a dear one whom you just met after a long, long time. It takes about two hours to escape the hustle and bustle of Kozhikode city to reach Kakkayam, through the Narikuni-Thalayad route. There, close to the Malabar Wildlife sanctuary is Kakkaayam. Tourists are less here because the place has not been officially declared a tourist centre. It is better to go on a one-day trip because finding an accommodation here would be a hassle. However, the beauty of this place compensates for the lack of facilities that you might expect. On the way to Kakkayam, you pass through Kariyathumpara village. The views around Peruvannamuzhi Lake will charm you. Pastures of green grass interspaced with pine trees, small islands that are covered with trees and trees with no leaves all bring to your mind images that you could have seen elsewhere; like at Ooty or Thekkady. Walk on the grass barefoot to experience how nature rejuvenates you in an instant. The place, a favourite destination of filmmakers, is called Malabar's Ooty because it resembles Ooty in many ways. Moving forward, you reach the Kakkayam market and then head through the road through the forest. The views that the terraced mountains and the spacious valleys offer are unique. En route is the Urakkuzhi waterfall. However, reaching it is not easy because you would need to walk through the forest, braving leeches. When you finally reach the waterfall, you would find yourself at the top of the waterfall, not below it, which comes as a surprise. However, getting into the water is risky and best avoided. It is a favourite haunt of elephants, so it is not wise to spend much time here. If you stand in the surge area of the Kakkayam Dam, you could see the sea far away, provided the fog allows you to. While many come here to see the dam and observe birds in the Malabar wildlife sanctuary, some come here to experience the rain, to talk to the rain that walks slowly along the narrow paths, donning a foggy cloak. Mon, 30 Apr 2018 06:52:51 GMT Munnar - fall in love with tea, valleys and undulating hill Munnar, the nature lovers’ paradise, is located 130 kms away from Kochi at an altitude of 1,600 mts above sea level in Idukki. This green hill station is surrounded by the country's highest tea gardens. Unending acres of tea estates, mountain mist, waterfalls and wildlife sanctuaries make Munnar’s beauty almost surreal. The lofty mountain ranges with misty peaks, sprawling tea estates and serene climate provide a quiet and peaceful resort. This little sleepy village atop the Western Ghats is situated at the confluence of three mountain streams namely Mudrapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundala. Panoramic views of low flying clouds and mist filled valleys make it a little heaven with a cool, bracing climate. Misty mountain peaks blend harmoniously in Munnar to create a blissful atmosphere that is indescribable. Munnar is also famous for the wild shrub, locally called Neelakurinjii, which blooms once in 12 years. During this time the entire valley turns violet. It is also home to Nilgiri tahr, a rare breed of mountain goat. Munnar was once the summer resort of the British government in South India; it still wears the old charm of the British plantation days. Munnar has a variety of attractions to feast your eyes like placid lakes, meandering streams, mountain peaks, sylvan valleys, rare orchids and wildlife. Plantation visits, treking, tea factory visits, cycling, boating, paragliding, day tours to the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary etc add to the excitement. Here you can also have a glimpse of gaur, langur, liontailed macaque, elephants and Nilgiri tahr that roam the stretch of grasslands or are seen climbing the pinnacles of the undulating hills. No trip to Munnar is complete without visiting the Top Station. Located in Theni District of Tami Nadu near the border of Idukki district of Kerala, Top Station offers a spectacular view of the Western Ghats. Wed, 14 Feb 2018 07:59:34 GMT Vagamon - misty and exotic Home to exotic flora and fauna, lush green meadows and mesmerising glens, romantic waterfalls and mistcapped mountains, Vagamon is a site of scenic splendour. This enchanting hill station on the IdukkiKottayam border dotted with tea gardens, is one of Kerala's foremost ecotourism destinations. Named by the British as the Scotland of the East, Vagamon is 1100 m above sea level. Some of the popular spots in Vagamon are Kurishumala, Thangal Para and Muruganmala. Kurishumala (Mountain of the Cross), located 10 km from Vagamon, is a Christian pilgrimage centre frequented by a large number of devotees carrying wooden crosses during the Holy Week. There are 14 crosses fixed along the path leading to this hilltop church.  Legend has it that the Afghani Sufi saint Sheikh Fariduddin lived and died at Thangal Para some 800 years ago. The Urs festival attracts thousands of devout Muslims to Thangal Para.  Muruganmala, as its name suggests is a rockcut shrine dedicated to Lord Murugan, located 8 km from the Vagamon town. Rhea Saran in Outlook Traveller Getaways, Kerala with Lakshwadeep says, “Apart from verdant spice plantations, a silent monastery and luxurious resorts, Vagamon has been made famous by a string of three hills, each dedicated to a different religion, all of them coexisting peacefully. It is difficult not to be touched by this quiet reflection of religious tolerance.” Vagamon also plays host to an annual Paragliding Festival jointly organised by the Kerala Tourism and Adventure Sports and Sustainable Tourism Academy (ASSTA) and offers thrills to the adventure seeker.  The breeding centre of the Kerala Livestock Board is located at Vagamon. Tue, 13 Feb 2018 14:34:23 GMT There are no deities at Ochira temple When you drive down the National Highway from Kollam to Alappuzha, it is difficult to miss the temple at Ochira. And personally, I would suggest you make a stop here. For it is a temple like none other. From the main road, you can see the decorated archway. As you walk in, you will see a vast tract of land. Devotees walking around. People relaxing under the trees. And a couple of old banyan trees where people light lamps, and some bulls all decked up in finery walking around harmlessly. There is a temple dedicated to mother goddess just outside the gates. But for that, you will not find a conventional temple here. The worship happens around these banyan trees. It is here that the lamps are lit, prayers are offered. There are idols of the snake god (nagas) on these platforms around the banyan trees. But the temple is not dedicated to the 'nagrajas'. It is dedicated to 'Parabrahmam'- the Supreme Consciousness. And as usual, there are a couple of interesting stories about this temple. **Parabrahmam as a bull** Long long ago, there was a brahmin, who along with his attendant set out on a religious quest - that of finding Parabrahmam. They walked for a long long time and the attendant kept asking the master what form the parabrahmam would take when a common man called upon the supreme consciousness. The master, annoyed, retorted that the parabrahmam was like a bull. After some time, the master saw their luggage floating next to them and the attendant talking to himself. The master was dumbstruck and asked his attendant who he was talking to. The attendant said that he was talking to Parabrahmam who was carrying their luggage. When the master said he could not see the Parabrahmam, the attendant told the master to touch him and see the Parabrahmam for himself. This incident supposedly happened at Ochira. And from that day on, bulls are revered at this place of worship. The other interesting story is that it was a 'Buddhist Vihara', which later became a popular place of worship. **The main festivals** There are three festivals that are celebrated here. One is the Ochira Kali that falls mid-June. The 28th day after Onam and the first 12 days of the Malayalam month of Vrishchikam sees a lot of devotees flocking to Ochira. All you need to know about [Ochira Kali]( **Flip side** Once you walk through the main entrance, you may be accosted by people who sell camphor and small metallic replicas of foot and hands. For it is believed that if you place it in front of the banyan tree, with a heartfelt prayer, all ailments will pass. The other issue at this temple, if you are visiting it during the festive season is a large number of beggars. Thu, 06 Apr 2017 06:00:23 GMT Ilaveezha Poonchira – To see and not to be seen Kottayam: Do you ever feel you're on the verge of burning out when you've had it with your mundane and redundant city life? Witness and experience what a quick scenic escapade would do to your system. Pack your bags only to come back home with a luggage full of regained spirit. The spectacular view of the mystic hills and the unwinding roads that lead to Ilaveezha Poonchira filled in me the energy needed for my three hour trek to the top of the hill. The invincible feeling by just looking over at the mightiness of mother nature is an experience like no other. If Ilaveezha Poochira had a bumper sticker dedicated to it, it would read, _To see and not to be seen_. It's almost as if the valley has an alter ego; though we can sight as many as six surrounding districts from the hills while we are at Illaveezha Poonchira, we're safely cocooned in the beauty of the hillocks of the Western ghats namely, Mankunnu, Kodayathoormala and Thonippara hills. Don't we all treasure places that have a legacy or back story to them? Kerala too has its share of ancient tales and fables related to places, and Illaveezha Poonchira does not fall short in this regard. Legend has it that the valley was a temporary home to the Pandavas during their life incognito. While they resided on the lap of nature, Draupadi, their beautiful wife, used to take her bath in the lake. Some devas, bewitched by her beauty, happened to watch her bathing. This act was reprimanded by Lord Indra, and he built hills that engulfed the pond acting like a screen for Draupadi. Since there were no trees around the bund, it was always free of leaves and hence called Ila-veezha-poonchira (loosely translated, the bund without fallen leaves) **How to get there** **By Air**: The nearest airport is Cochin International airport and from there on it's a 155 km road journey to the destination. **By Train**: The nearest station is Kottayam and from there the destination is 55 km away. **For the bravehearts**: Those who want to add a little punch to your expedition, do not forget to venture down the trekking trails that start in Kanjar a small town 9 km away from your destination. **And when you get there?** There is the adventure of trekking, and the satisfaction of seeing the sunset and sunrise. One can get the spectacular view of the districts of Kottayam, Idukki, Alappuzha, Eranakulam and Pathanamthitta far away from atop Ilaveezha poonchira. The breathtaking view of the Malankara reservoir flowing silently through the valley underneath can be savoured the whole day. The small refreshment shop and the rest house of the Kerala tourism department at the top of the hill will get you recharged for not only your walk downhill but the bundles of assignments yet to be completed back home. _-With inputs from Bibin_ Tue, 22 Nov 2016 09:23:17 GMT This mosque in Kottayam is over a 1000 years old Once you manage to creep through the traffic snarl at Baker Junction, you are on the Kumarakom Corridor. Houses both old and new dot the landscape. And then the road winds downhill and you reach Thazhathangadi on the banks of the Meenachil River. A heritage zone now, Thazhathangadi was once a hub of activity. And references to this erstwhile 'bustling port' can be found in the writings of many. Lieutenants Ward and Connor, of the British Army, referred to it in their Memoir of the Survey of Travancore and Cochin. They described the place as happening, with busy ports and ships setting sail to various countries. But now, as you go past, you just see some old traditional mansions facing the Meenachil River. A drive of about half a kilometer will bring you to one of the main attractions of Thazhathangadi, the Juma Masjid. Also read [Ancient mosques in Kerala]( Also known as the Taj Juma Masjid, this ancient mosque is said to be more than a 1000 years old. It is believed that Malik Bin Dinar, one of the first disciples of the Prophet, and his followers were the ones who set up this Juma Masjid. And according to the local belief, this mosque was built almost at the same time as the [Cheraman Juma Masjid]( The architecture of this ancient mosque is a perfect blend of local and Persian styles. As you walk in through the gates, you will be amazed by the intricate woodwork and the traditional architecture. As you look closer, you will see calligraphic inscriptions in Arabic carved into the woodwork. Just inside the main door is a small tank made out of a single granite. It is filled with water and people wash their feet before stepping into the mosque. There is ample space inside the mosque for people to gather and pray. There are many from the neighborhood who make it a point to be present for all the five prayers at the masjid. There is a pond just outside the mosque where the devotees do their mandatory ablutions before entering the mosque. Also read: [Most famous mosques in Kerala]( 'There is one curious device here, says Navab, a member of the Juma committee pointing at the stone wall that runs in front of the mosque. 'It is a sundial.' Unlike a normal sundial, this one does not have a needle pointing out. 'The calculations are based on the length of the shadow cast and the direction in which it is cast, he explains. It is time for the noon prayer when the sun is directly overhead and no shadow is cast. The shadow is on one side the morning and in the opposite in the evening. He says, leaving us awestruck. This ancient mosque was in the news recently for having opened its doors to women. Read more about it [here]( Sat, 11 Jun 2016 08:09:18 GMT Parapally: Built on faith Parapally stands atop the rocks on the Ezhara Beach in Kannur. Situated close to the sea, this mosque has outlived the ravages of both time and the rough seas. According to the local lore, the mosque was built way before AD 1700. It was initially a dargah - and later converted to a mosque. There is a well next to the mosque. The water in it is not salty despite its proximity to the sea and believers consider it holy. Without any communal differences, the fisherfolk nearby collect money and conduct Uroos festival every year. If you are one of those people who have dreams of making it big in a foreign country, a visit to Parapally is a must. There is a popular belief that your wishes will be answered soon. Location: Ezhara Beach, Kannur Mon, 06 Jun 2016 13:27:25 GMT You are in Wayanad when... The mist-clad Wayanad offers you some amazing photo options. Some scenes play out as you drive through, while others pan out as you go about with your daily life. Our photographer in Wayanad, Rahul R Pattom captured some spectacular moments. **Just a perfect day** A herd of wild elephants crossing the road peacefully is one of the common scenes from Wayanad. See how seamlessly life goes on. **Up up up and down down down** Long long ago, while driving around, my father used to sing us this rhyme 'Here we go up, up, up- And now we go down, down, down- Now we go backward and forward And heigh, for London town, even though we were not anywhere close to London. This road that runs through the border district of Bavali, reminded me of that rhyme. **Do you dare me?** The battle lines were drawn. And when they could not reach an agreement, they fought. Tooth and nail. Sometimes, these wars turn violent too. **Shall I fly now?** Wings spread, this bird is ready to take off. It appeared as if the bird was posing for a snap before it took off. **Our home** These forests are home to herds of Indian elephants. And it is normal for them to come close to the roads, while on their way to the other side of the jungle. **Rare sighting** The boars seldom wander near the places where humans live in Wayanad. This was a rare sighting. **Casting a net** The Kabini river is the heart and soul of the land. A local man casts a net into the shallow waters. **The long road home** A man carrying a log of a tree on his shoulders on his way home. It is a long long walk home. **Is that food, I spy?** For a major part of the day, this beautiful creature floats in the sky. On the lookout for food. Swooping in when something catches its eye. **Home, sweet home** This little squirrel is collecting shoots to build his home. Mon, 30 May 2016 15:39:11 GMT A trek through Chimmony On an ordinary Sunday morning, the monsoon breeze gently teased leaves in my garden. The dawn had just arrived as the sun rays, timidly made their way through the grey monsoon sky, lighting the skyline like a fresco of orange and yellow. As I packed my bag with all the mandatory trekking gear, two bottles of water and a packet of biscuits, I wondered what we would encounter in the evergreens surrounding Chimmony lake. This wasn't my first trek, but an innocuous sweet-tooth did play pranks on my otherwise 'healthy' physique. The last two treks I'd been on weren't for the casual walker, and I wondered whether this was going to be stroll in the park or a little more than that. My spirited elder sister had also signed up. So the two of us set out and rendezvoused with our trekking group from the Hiking Association of India at the Kaloor stadium. We hopped on to a van and off we went on our jungle adventure. We arrived at the forest check post, and after completing the usual formalities, two forest department designated guides joined our group. Arriving at our base, where we parked the vehicle, and re packed our lunch. We could barely see the magnificent Chimmony lake hidden behind a thin layer of shrubs and tucked between hills on either side. The forest here is dense and deep. Silence is the norm, nobody makes any noise. Not us, and not the trees. The silence is broken only occasionally by brooks and streams that make their way through the forest and the clumsy cricket who thinks every passerby is a potential mate. Our guides had told us this is the season for snakes. Some of us hoped to catch glimpse of cobra or a viper. He also added that one does spot a quite a few animals when one visits Chimmony in the months between January and March whereas the winter months of November and December are for the bird lovers. Under the lush canopy of the evergreen forests, we stood mesmerised by the many shades of green. As a single ray gently lit the wet grounds, the green leaves danced to the whisper of the quite jungle breeze. The little critters who had made the forest floor their home popped out, curious about us. As we made our way through the rather marshy forest our guides ensured that we didn't cross paths with tuskers nor tigers. We did see a couple of pug marks of a leopard and some elephant dung suggesting that a heard had crossed the same path. As we trekked down our path we often came across the hollow remains of trees on whose branches had witnessed years of history unfold. The smart trekkers tried to walk around these giants, the more athletic trekkers jumped over and onward for good 3km. Our destination was a set of stepped waterfalls, which from a distance looked as though it had been crafted from the rock by a skilful sculptor. Artistic, tranquil and serene, the water was ever so inviting, and for the next 45 minutes, time seemed to stand still as we relaxed in these cool waters. The waterfalls gently massaged each muscle that was weary after almost two hours of trekking. We started back to our base from the falls at around 2pm after quick lunch. On our return leg we did encounter a little green tree snake, which lay still on the forest floor. Its camouflage perfectly concealed it amongst the undergrowth, making it almost invisible to both predator and prey. We left it alone, only clicking a few snaps just as evidence for our friends back home. Our return path meandered through the forest and eventually joined the jeep path the forest rangers used to patrol this range. The jeep path circumscribed the Chimmony lake. The lake, greens, and a lot of enthusiastic set of photographers, we got our set of selfies. By 4pm we reached our base, boarded the bus and headed back home. Sat, 28 May 2016 12:05:53 GMT Pssst, did you know 'Thollayiram' is Wayanad's best kept secret? Ever since a friend mentioned about a place called 'Thollayiram', I wanted to see it for myself. For the first time ever, my faithful friend Google gave up on me. I tried my luck to get more information from a travel group called Sanchari, however no one seemed to know about this place. That was when I came across Thomas Abraham Valayil who is a resident of Wayanad, and it was he who helped me with my quest for 'Thollayiram'. And then, things started falling into place, a trip to Wayanad, planned and off we went. My friends and I, call ourselves Team Riders, a group that loves to explore the unexplored areas around our town. And during the Wayanad trip, we decided to trek up Kolagapara and Chembra Peak before heading out to 'Thollayiram'. The sun burned bright and the temperature soared higer than 40 degrees during our trek. However, all that was forgotten as soon as we started exploring 'Thollayiram'. **Where is 'Thollayiram'?** From Meppadi we took the route that goes to Soochipara Waterfalls. We were told that the turn to 'Thollayiram' is just beyond the first bridge after Kalladi Makham. Not many people know about 'Thollayiram', and that is its charm. As we ride up, we could hear water rippling in the stream and the sounds of birds chirping in the trees. The pockmarked road ended at a point and we parked our bikes and started walking. The weather changed as we went ahead. There was a small stream on one side of the road and trees all around. And as we walked, we were slowly engulfed in the swirling mist. It was a welcome change after being battered by the sun during our morning trek on the hills. Since this was our first trip to 'Thollayiram', we were a bit apprehensive about the surroundings and what animals we may see here. So we decided to explore the place at a later time. Within two weeks, we were back to spend more time at 'Thollayiram'. This time we had a plan in place. We were welcomed by the song of the birds and the pathway looked vaguely familiar. We could sense the presence of animals like deer and elephants in the forest beyond us. We walked through the stream, determined to find where it originated. There were a couple of small waterfalls and we went further up the stream. But the origins of the stream remained a mystery, as the thick fog started enveloping us and we decided not to risk it. **You have to be careful** A trek to discover 'Thollayiram' will change you. Even though you will see traces of civilisation in the form of concrete roads and cardamom plants, this area is now almost a forest. Being close to the Wayanad Sanctuary, you may come face to face with animals that live in the forest. And you have to be careful about the leeches when you make a trip to 'Thollayiram'. You need permission to enter this area from the Forest Department. Thu, 26 May 2016 12:16:38 GMT Tantalizing Thoovanam There was a palpable excitement in the air as we got ready for our trip to Thoovanam Waterfalls. Our plan was simple: drive to Alaampetty, trek through the forest, and stay the night at a log house right next to the waterfall. Located in the Marayoor-Munnar high ranges, Thoovanam comes under the Chinnar wildlife sanctuary. Located at a distance of 8 kilometers from the Marayoor-Udumalpet state highway, the waters of this amazing natural spectacle falls from a height of 84 feet. The trekking that begins from the Alaampetty Eco Shop under the Karimutti forest station ends near the waterfall. We make an early start to reach Munnar by dawn, our route passes through Rajamalai and Marayoor. We take in the sights and smells of Marayoor, which is famous for its sandalwood forests and jaggery. We report at Alaampetty Eco Shop by 2pm in the afternoon. We had booked our accommodation a month in advance and we are assigned a group of four watchers - Nagarajan, Maniyan, Selvan and Vijay - who will be our guides and cooks during our trek and stay. We move into the forest from the main road, and continue travelling via a cleared pathway. In that typical forest topography, with hills and descents and huge trees, it appeared as if the leaves were complaining about the lack of rain the previous week. Chinnar, which lies in the rain-shadow region, close to Tamil Nadu border, has a climate quite distinctly different from the one experienced in Kerala. When Kerala gets drenched in monsoons, Chinnar is dry, consequently, even the plants and trees flower in different times of the year. On entering Kerala from Tamil Nadu, the vegetation follows a pattern of shrubbery, followed by rain forests, and later green lands. One also gets a visual treat of butterflies, which are unique to this topography. We are told that there are more than 45 varieties of butterflies are found here. The watchers start talking to us. Most of the people who come for this trek are from Tamil Nadu, they tell us. And as we move into the forest, they show us the foot prints of elephants and leopards near the stream flowing around the rocks. They also kept us entertained with stories of their previous trekking experiences and the trekkers whom they had accompanied. There was once was a set of tourists who came from Sri Lanka to take photographs of the birds here. They snapped the photos of over 60 different birds of here. The watcher, Selva who told us the story, explained that he himself, who was born here was surprised that there were so many different birds in the area. There are many like Selva who are trained to become Forest Guards and watchers. High school education for all is an issue in this remote village. The nearest high school is at Marayoor and most of the people here end their schooling at the Upper Primary level. Selvan has completed his tenth class, and after the training, has been working as a forest guard for over 12 years now. He goes on to tell us that the log house where out next halt was planned, was built with by them - Nagarajan and Vijay, among others. And then he goes to join his friends to refer a book once presented to them by a group of foreign tourists, the four forest watchers were attempting to identify the different birds that were perched in the forest around them. The pathway narrowed as we moved deeper into the forest. Across the stream we were welcomed by the shade of numerous tress. The comment by a guard that the branch of a mango tree that extended down was a resting ground for the leopard, made us look around carefully to confirm, before proceeding further, in a relaxed and unhurried manner. Almost half way through to our destination, we could hear the rumblings of the waterfalls. Beneath us was the raging Pampaar, and around it was a bamboo forest. A slight slip and we could fall down right into the bamboo forest. Finally, we reach a giant rocky hill, which was bordered by firangipaani trees, bearing the most fragrant flowers. The slightest whiff of a wind, the flowers fell down around us. In spite of the fatigue of walking for about an hour and a half, our legs speeded us up with the knowledge that the destination was near. The farther we walked, the more we heard the water singing to us, beckoning us. Standing in front of the unbelievingly wild allure of Thoovanam, we eventually sensed the fulfilment of a long time dream of visiting this beauty. The trekking technically ends at the waterfalls, but the log house, where we would spend the night, was across the waterfalls. In the comfort and confidence of their experience, the forest watchers pulled out the long rope from their bags, tied it around two trees on either sides of the river, and helped us across the river. Our three-year-old traveller, Angela, who co-operated superbly by not even demanding us to carry her except when the pathway was too cluttered for her, was thrilled at the sight of frothing water. When Maniyan carried her to the rocks and made her sit on it with her feet dangling in the water, she was very happy. Arjun, our navy man, who spends 6 months at sea and six on land, was the next the follow. For the only person, who was actually afraid to cross the river, a super crossing was offered by the four watchers. They almost carried him across. Another steep ascend and we reached the log house, where were we could clearly see the mist of the waterfalls. The three-hour-long walk was totally worth it. We dropped all our bags in front of the log house, and walked near the waterfalls to bid good-bye to the receding sunrays that pampered every drop of water until the sun finally sank. We made a fire in front of the house with fire wood collected from the surrounding forest and sipped a glass of hot black tea. The forest watchers, meanwhile, got busy with the dinner preparation, serving us an awesome meal of rice, sambar, pappadams and pickles. **And at 9:30 PM** We lingered around the waterfall for a while more, watching the rain clouds fighting for the privilege to shadow the moon. The photographer of our group made the best of the chance and attempted some light painting photography. The industrious man had to struggle for over an hour on the slippery rocks before he got a satisfactory photograph. Our dreams that night in the log house were of the bamboo forests bathed in moonlight. Though we tried to listen to the sounds of an elephant that might stamp its way to us, all we could hear was the rhythm of water cascading down the rocks. The morning was brief, with another glass of hot tea, a short trek and breakfast of chapathi with dal curry and fried pieces of a freshly caught fish by Maniyan. We left the log house at 11.45 in the day, with the camera packed safely in the bag for the waterfall crossing. On our way back we saw some squirrels jumping from one tree to another. As we walked away, we could hear the sound of the waterfall becoming fainter. And soon, we were back in the village. The memories of a night spent near the the waterfalls etched deep into our minds. **Trekking** You get a glimpse of the waterfalls from the road on the way to Chinar. There are also facilities to travel through the forest and watch the waterfall safely or to take bath in it. The rates of this three-hour trekking stands at Rs. 225 for locals and Rs. 600 for foreigners. Animals such as elephants, bisons, leopard, langurs, wolves and deer might also decide to pay you a visit during the trek. The waterfalls is open all around the year. Sun, 22 May 2016 08:02:28 GMT Of Malampuzha, the yakshi and memories As a child who grew up in Palakkad, Malampuzha dam and the gardens, hold a special place in my heart. It was our favourite place to spend the weekends. This, mind you, was long before Fantasy Park opened up. We used to start early in the afternoon after a sumptuous lunch, pack a picnic meal and drive off to Malampuzha dam which was about 10km away from home. I used to walk around, awe-struck by seeing the various types of fishes in the fish shaped aquarium. The hanging bridge in the garden used to scare me. And if the shutters of the dam were open, I was so scared that I would not go anywhere near it till someone else picked me up and carried me across the bridge which used to sway and heave. The Yakshi (enchantress), a sculpture made by the renowned Kanhayi Kunhiraman always evoked mixed emotions in me as a child. She used to fascinate me and scare me at the same time and despite all the fear, I used to go near it and gaze up at her. As you walk across the dam, there used to be a small hill far away with the writing MWL (Maximum Water Level) in white. And then, time flew, we shifted to another part of the state and the trips to Malampuzha became less frequent. Years afterwards, during a lazy Sunday afternoon with friends talks revolved around those happy memories of childhood. Palakkad and the afternoons at Malampuzha Dam cropped up. And the fact that the year marked the 60th anniversary since the dam was thrown open to the public added a little bit of spice. For my friend, Palakkad was the place she had never been to, even though she traced her roots to this sleepy Kerala town. And on a whim, we decided to pack our bags and head out to Palakkad. The cabbie who drove us out to Malampuzha showed us the way to the rope-way and we could not resist a ride. The rope-way stretches across the gardens parallel to the dam and offers a bird's eye view of what was in store for us. At a height of about 60 feet from the ground, there are about 60 rope cars, each of which, can seat two. The ride lasts approximately 20 minutes and is an experience in itself. We decided to give the snake park a miss and walked through the gardens. It was beautifully redone and the lawns were well maintained. From the walkways, you can see the rope-way cars moving overhead. The children's park had been renovated and there were options for visitors to go for boating and a dam top safari. We walked along the gardens and reached the famous Yakshi sculpture. It had taken Kanhai Kunhiraman two years to make this sculpture which has been at the garden for over 45 years. We were told that Kanhai Kunhiraman would be back to renovate the sculpture. The Yakshi is not the only attraction that is getting a face-lift. The dam and the gardens were being spruced up for the 60th anniversary celebrations which falls in October. But, not everything will be done in that time. Renovation works will go on for a couple of months more. A walk on the dam will relax you. On one side, you see the gardens and on the other the reservoir. You can see the Dhoni Hills in a distance. Malampuzha dam has forever been one of the favourite locations of Malayalam movie makers. Dance sequences at the garden, stunts on the dam, sets of floating palaces in the reservoir, the area has been forever immortalized on celluloid. And as the cabbie drove back to Palakkad, we were quiet. The vivid pictures of Malampuzha of my childhood replaced by those of the present days. And for my friend, she was taking back fresh memories of a place she traced her roots from. Thu, 19 May 2016 11:06:31 GMT An escape to Nelliyampathy You can see the cloud-kissed peaks of Nelliyampathy ranges as you drive through Nenmara. We, like many others, were out on a trip to beat the summer heat. As we drove up the hills, we could see the clouds gathering in a distance. The designs they made against the blue skies reminded us of a desktop wallpaper. The sun was shining in all its glory, but here, high in the hills, there was a cool breeze, swept by us, relaxing and comforting. We made a pitstop at Pothundy Dam where we took in the picturesque landscape. We decided to relax at the dam site on our way back, and that is another story. We drove on. The winding roads offered some vantage points from where we could see the beauty of Palakkad. Nelliyampathy is famous for its Orange cultivation. Take a walk through one of the farms and the friendly farm hands will explain how things work at an orange estate. There are a couple of places where you can stay at Nelliyampathy. Take time off to explore Palagapandy, Seetharkundu and Mampara before you drive down the hill - back to the city and its mundane life. Sun, 15 May 2016 08:51:40 GMT 10 quick getaways around Kasaragod Kasaragod, the northern most district in Kerala hides some amazing places to take a trip to during these summer vacations. We list a couple of them. **1) Bekal Fort** This Fort, which has featured in various movies including 'Bombay' has a rich past. Once a military outpost, this fort, traces its history back to the days of Shivappa Nayakka of Bedanore, who is credited with the building the fort, to Tippu and finally the British. A trip to Bekal Fort will take you back in time, give you a glimpse of the past and you can also walk down to the beach to take in a beautiful sunset. [For more on Bekal Fort]( **2) Kottanchery hills** An extension of the Ranipuram Wildlife sanctuary, Kottancheri Hills is about 30kms north east of Kanhangad. It is a trekkers paradise and a place where you can see wild animals. **3) Hosdurg Fort** Situated about 15 kms south of Bekal, the Hosdurg Fort was built by the rulers of the Keladi Nayakka dynasty from Ikkeri. The fort, now in ruins also houses an ancient shiva temple **4) Malik Dinar Mosque** Malik Ibn Dinar was among the first, who arrived in Kerala to spread the word of the Prophet. This mosque, situated in Thalangara, is said to have been constructed in AD 642. Also read [The ancient mosques in Kerala]( **5) Ananthapadmanabha Swami temple** This temple is in the middle of a lake and has a friendly crocodile, which answers when called. Intrigued? Read more about this ancient temple, its connection to the famous Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram and more legends [here]( **6) Ranipuram** Known as Kasaragod's very own Ootty, Ranipuram, is a dream come true for trekking enthusiasts. If you are in luck, you will spot wildlife as you walk by. For some of the sights you will see on your trek [click here]( **7) Valiyaparamba** Most of the tourists equate backwaters with Alappuzha or Kumarakom. Valiyaparamba Island and the Kavaayi backwaters, situated about 30kms from Bekal is one of Kasaragod's well kept secrets. Go on a sunset cruise, it is peaceful as well as scenic. **8) Malom** Malom is a village of hills and valleys. And, since long has been a melting pot of cultures. The village prides in its religious harmony; the Muslim theyyam - Mokkri Pokker is one of those rare performances during the festivities at the Malom Kolam temple. It is also known as the 'Coorg of Kerala' due to its proximity to Kodagu hills and the similarity in weather. **9) Chandragiri Fort** Shivappa Nayakka of Bedanore is credited with the construction of the Chandragiri Fort. Situated near the Payaswini river and the Arabian Sea, the fort offers a breathtaking view. You can go on a cruise to the nearby islands **10) Possadigumpe** Want to trek? The green environs of Possadigumpe beckons. And once you reach the top of the hill, the view is just breathtaking – you can see the Arabian Sea and also parts of Kudremukh peak. Situated at Dharmathadka, about 30km north east of Kasaragod, Possadigumpe is about 487 meters above sea level. Thu, 12 May 2016 13:55:36 GMT Unsure about your future? Go to Pazhoor Padipura A crow cawed on the western side of Pazhoor Padippura. Astrologer Surendran pressed his palm over the dice. Then he placed his left arm close to his chest and shut his eyes. He offered a silent prayer. The couple stood with folded arms before him. Their eyes welled up in anticipation. For Pazhoor has over centuries been the last resort for everyone who wants to know their future in advance. For people who believe in astrology, Pazhoor is the ultimate word. But you can take a trip to the Padipura even if you are not a believer. The architecture of the old residence will enthrall you. Astrologer Surendran got up from the western Padippura. 'It has been nine centuries since people started coming to this Padippura. This might seem unbelievable but it is true. Myths and reality lie intertwined here. But it feels like the two are indistinguishable from each other.' He began to tell the story of Pazhoor Padippura, where destiny plays its inviolable hand, where the planets Mercury and Venus stand guard. The night of erred calculations Pazhoor Padippura comprises of three Padippuras (the entrance to an ancestral home). Mercury and Venus are the deities in the Eastern Padippura. The Samadhi of Thalakkulathoor Govindan Bhattathiri (we are getting on to his story soon) is on the west. Yagam and other rituals are held at the Padippura in the center. Thalakkulathoor Govindan Bhattathiri who hailed from Malabar region was an erudite scholar of astrology. Foreseeing an outcaste status for himself in his horoscope he set out on a journey. After covering the prominent pilgrimage spots, he reached the gates of Pazhoor Perumthrikkovilappan temple near Piravam. He was reaching the 'bad' time that he had calculated. He had decided on having an entire day by himself in Pazhoor River. He entered the river with a canoe for that purpose. However, fate had other plans. Torrential rain came, his canoe capsized and Bhattathiri somehow managed to reach ashore. Thoroughly exhausted, he saw a house in the lightning flash. Sensing all the signs of a Brahmin house there, he firmly believed that he would not face banishment there. He spread a mattress on the floor and slept there that night. Late at night, a woman came out of the Padippura. Mistaking the sleeping man as her husband she slept with Bhattathiripad. What was destined to happen happened without fail and Bhattathiri was banished. However he foretold that that woman would bear him a son. She was the wife of an astrologer who lived in Mullassery illam. Bhattathiri who again started on his journey gave word to the woman that he will return in twelve years. A boy was born to the astrologer's wife as predicted by Bhattathiri. The child excelled in Mathematics, Sanskrit and Astrology. Bhattathiri returned after twelve years and taught him Astrology and Mathematics. The child grew up to become the first astrologer of Pazhoor Padippura. Thalakkulathoor Bhattathiri also lived with his son at Mullassery illam. In his old age he told his son to build him a Samadhi (resting place) made out of the wood of jackwood. He further said that astrological fortune told sitting at the head of the Samadhi room will turn out to be precise. A tradition that is followed even today. Not just orally recounted myths have currency here. There are strong evidences corroborating every myth. Lamp is lit in front of the cremation ashes of nineteen generations. Divine intervention It is belived that Mercury and Venus dwell in the eastern Padippura. Mercury the planet of strength and Venus the planet of good fortune are believed to reside side by side Bhattathiri's samadhi in the Padippura. There is another legend associated with it. Mercury and Venus who came to learn about the astrological fame of the Padippura disgused as brahmins. And as per the tradition, these brahmins wanted their fortunes told. The astrologer made his calculations and told the same, he added that as Mercury and Venus changed seating positions the calculation needed to be rechecked. This time the astrologer felt the change of positions in his calculation. After repeating this experiment thrice the astrologer was able to easily make out who the visiting Brahmins really were. The astrologer made them promise to remain at the padippura till he returned after refering some books. The astrologer who went inside committed suicide. Unable to break their vow, Mercury and Venus could not leave the premises. Their blessing is believed to influence the astrological verdicts here. Anyway even today Mercury and Venus are the deities in the eastern Padippura. The Mana Before the time of Astrologer Surendran those in the Padippura lived in Mullassery illam. The illam where Thalakkulathoor Bhattathiri is said to have lived is on the west of the Padippura. This is a very ancient nalukettu. It is terraced but believed to have been thatched once. Mullassery illam differs from a normal nalukettu in size and construction The deity and puja here are in Ganapathipura. The idols of the deities are also stored in a chest in this pura (room). Other deities like Srichakram, Mahameru, Santhanagopala statue, Vennakkannan and Hanuman idols are kept in the chest before the deity of Ganapathi. Every day the idols are taken out and special puja conducted on them. This is followed by drawing water from the well on the riverbank and ritual bathing. This holy water is sprinkled on the Samadhi of Thalakkulath Bhattathiri, Mercury-Venus spots and pedestals where dice is laid. Puja is conducted and lamp is lit before practicing astrology. This has been the custom for twenty centuries. A riverbank for witness The changing of course of Pazhoor River is a miracle that is directly witnessed here. The river that should be flowing south, suddenly turns east, circles the Pazhoor Padippura and reverts to its southward flow. This change of direction of the river is considered as one of the ten good fortunes of Pazhoor. One had to cross the river to reach Pazhoor once. It was forest all around. Now there are roads. Before the advent of Idukki Dam, vast sand stretches marked either shore of the river. Now the river floods over the shore. Festivals used to be staged on the riverbank before the sand stretches vanished. Summers were the festival seasons. Flags were hoisted, lanterns lit and processions undertaken from the Padippura to Perumthrikkovil. The nature of festivals changed when water rose in the river. There is a suspension bridge nowadays. But time has not changed the Padippura's customs one bit. 'The astrologer does not see more than ten people a day. Appointment is taken three months in advance. Here astrology is not a business but a duty. We are not for anything that compromises customs and traditions' Astrologer Surendran said. Not many know that Pazhoor Padippura became the subject of study at Oxford University. The study was led by anthropologist Dr. Hog. He came to Pazhoor Padippura several years ago, stayed there for months and carried out the study. 'An astrologer seeks his verdict in the same way as a doctor does his diagnosis. He cannot foretell what will be told while examining the horoscope. A verdict will surface from the horoscope and it will be told. Suppose the horoscope of a childless couple is being examined. If at that moment a child's laughter is heard from somewhere, they are certain to have a child. If it is a cry instead of laughter the chances are halved. If it is a child's wail, the childless status quo is likely to be. In other words the verdict is a product of omen, position and horoscope together' the astrologer clarified his revelation. Pazhoor Padippura's age had been determined. Govindan Bhattathiri's Samadhi was calculated to be in Malayalam Era year 412. In other words it has been 779 years now. A close examination of previous histories will show that the present Padippura has at least 900 years vintage. There is no practice of offering consulting outside the Padippura. Only in emergencies does the astrologer stay away for a day or two. 'Astrology is not something to scare people with and exploit money. If gulikan (a sub-planet) stands in ashtaman (eighth place) that could even be life threatening. Still, we will say, “beware, it is a perilous time for you.”' The listener will get the message. Instead, telling someone “you are going to die. Do a puja costing this much money” is not the way to go about it' Astrologer Surendran said. By birth and by deed The Pazhoor Padippura astrologers, though astrologers by birth, have risen to Brahmin status by deed. The astrologers practice their science after receiving sacred thread and a new name at the culmination of a ceremony conducted by twelve nambuthiris lasting several days. The present astrologer Surendran's upanayana (thread ceremony) name is Raman Surendran. As the grandfather Astrologer Sankaran did not have male progeny he adopted his daughter's son Surendran. Astrologer Surendran is married to Indira and they have two daughters Asha Sujith and Anjana Sreenath. He said that they have been bearing a Nambuthiri curse for five generations that the astrologers will not have male offspring. The visit was an experience like doing a round of the river of antiquity. The astrologer once again headed to the Samadhi spot. He gathered dice in his hand. Yet again a crow might caw or it might not. In any case one more verdict will soon come to light. Pazhoor Padippura stands on the riverbank like a lamppost bearing the shining light of legends. As I stepped out of the Padippura I was accosted by a man coming in my direction who asked, 'How is the verdict? Is there hope? Pazhoor astrologers will not miss their mark, it is a given'. It is assurances like these that motivate us to carry on with our lives. For more details, click here Address: Pazhoor Padipura, Pazhoor PO, Piravom. Sat, 07 May 2016 06:03:42 GMT Here's how you spend 48 hours in Kovalam Are you planning a trip to Kerala for its sun-kissed beaches? Then, make sure that you have a couple of days to spare for Kovalam; one of the most popular beaches in Kerala. Kovalam is among one of those places, which catapulted Kerala on to the international tourism map long long ago. In the late 1920s, the Queen Regent of the erstwhile Travancore Kingdom decided to set up a resort by the beach. During the early 1930s, her nephew, the king of the princely state started inviting his European visitors to the resort. The word spread and Kovalam started gaining popularity. And over the decades – in the seventies to be exact, Kovalam emerged as one of those 'hot' places on the 'Hippie Trail'. Here's a look at Kovalam as portrayed in the 1989 Malayalam movie 'Season', directed by the legendary movie maker, P Padmarajan. 'Season' was not the only movie shot here. Bollywood movies have been shot at Kovalam too. Bikini clad women and the fisher-folk toiling for their day to day existence is perhaps the only things that remain unchanged here. Time and changes have caught up with Kovalam. There are proper hotels on the beach, there are shacks that sell the local cuisine – mainly the fresh catch from the sea. If you are not content with lazing by the sea or taking a dip in it, there are other things you can do here too. Also read [A Malayali girl's visit to Kovalam]( **Surfing** The Kovalam Surf Club offers training and gear for those who are interested in surfing at the sea. They offer special summer coaching classes too. For more details Website : **Scuba diving** A relatively new venture, the Cool Divers have opened up a whole new vista to those who love a bit of adventure. You can dive into the depths of the ocean and see fish at close quarters. They organise three sessions per day and [here is how it feels to take the plunge]( **A trip to Vizhinjam** There is a new seaport being built at Vizhinjam, just a stone's throw away. A new road is being built, the construction equipment are moving into place and this is perhaps the last couple of days when you can still enjoy the beach here – or what is remaining of it. **A trip to Poovar** Poovar, about 20kms away, was a port that conducted trade with many countries during the old days. You can go on a boat ride through the backwaters here. **Places to stay** Kovalam caters to a traveller on a budget and to someone who loves luxury. From big names like 'Taj Group of Hotels' to budget stays like 'Vedanta Wake-Up', you get it all at Kovalam. **To eat** Seafood is the specialty here, even though there is enough to keep the meat eaters and vegetarians happy. Again, a shack near the beach may cost less than a meal at [Bait]( **Tips** You can fly to Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala and then drive down to Kovalam which is about 15 kms away. You can also take a train to Thiruvananthapuram. Thu, 05 May 2016 08:26:10 GMT A must visit: Nilambur Teak Museum It is in the fitness of things that there shall be a museum for Teak (Tectona grandis), 'King of Timbers', and that it should have been established for the first time in the world, in Nilambur, Malappuram District, Kerala. Teak is a native of the Indian sub-continent. The best is believed to be in Myanmar, but the next best is found in Malabar. The British discovered the virtues of teak when searching for material of construction of their war ships; 'Britannia ruled the waves'. Steam and steel obsoleted wind and wood, but teak became the favourite for 'sleepers' for railways in late 19th century. In nature, Tectona grandis is, as the name indicates, majestic and dominant. The oldest surviving specimen, about 500 years old, still grows in Parambikulam Tiger Reserve and is woshipped by Kadar (Scheduled Tribe). It is known as 'Kannimara', (kanni = first, Mara =tree) Nilambur valley is home to some of the best teak forests. Circa 1840, Conolly, a British Collector of Malabar, decided to create a teak plantation. A collector's will was law, then. In Chathu Menon, he found a devoted deputy who executed this unique project, the first in history of forestry world-wide. A portion of this plantation is preserved 'for life'. It is a place of pilgrimage for foresters from all over the world. Several foresters of Kerala, like Sri K.K. Nair, I.F.S, had been urging the need to establish a museum for exhibiting various aspects of Teak, and had been informally collecting specimens. In 1995, Kerala Forest Research Institute formally established the Museum at their Sub-Centre about 4 km from Nilambur. Artistically laid out in sylvan surroundings, it is an outstanding tribute to the monumental successes of Indian Forestry. You are impressed by the scale of the exhibits. You see the extensive root-system of a gigantic tree, full size. You are surprised that this giant does not have a tap root, but is anchored by a network of roots giving it extensive footing, and distributing its massive weight over a large area – nature's expertise in engineering design! You see an illuminated image of Kannimara. But the largest known Teak tree had grown in Malayattur Forest Division, and you see a life-scale replica of its trunk! And there is an image of a 170-year old giant from Conolly Plot. A range of exhibits shows you the ways in which this 'king of timbers' has served mankind. A sailing vessel made of teak evidences how its fame spread beyond the shores of Kerala. The exhibits provide encyclopaedic information. Full botanical descriptions, sylviculture details, pests and diseases, associated life forms, are all displayed. There is a world class library. And paintings, of Conolly the Imperialist Collector, Chandu Menon his devoted subordinate; and also of Bourdillon, a legendary Chief Conservator of Travancore, who innovated the rooted stump method of planting teak. Step out, on to an 800-meter walk along a natural trail through bamboo varieties, medicinal plants, and other bio-resources of teak forests. (Incidentally, British foresters detested bamboo growth in plantations – they were 'fire risks'! No wonder that it attracts professional foresters and natural forest lovers from all over the world. Wed, 04 May 2016 11:03:33 GMT Thekkady's Jungle Book Peace Rock is the most scenic locale in the movie Jungle Book. Peace Rock comes to light in the scorching summer when water dries up in the river in the midst of the jungle. An unwritten rule comes into effect in the jungle as soon as Peace Rock becomes visible - no one will prey on animals that come to drink water here. Tiger, leopard, wolf, wild elephant, deer and rabbit are all equal inheritors of the water. They huddle and bow together before the water in unison. It is on such an occasion when the animals are busy quenching their thirst that the tiger Shere Khan, his eyes aglow with cruelty, comes to recognize the human scent of Mowgli. He instantly orders Akela, the leader of the pack of wolves who raise Mowgli as a son of the jungle, to banish the latter from there. Also read [Mowgli's forest, and Shere Khan's too]( All this however, is a figment of the imagination of Rudyard Kipling, the creator of Jungle Book. In reality such rules do not exist in the jungle. Hungry animals pounce on their prey at the opportune moment and kill and eat them. Then they drink the water of the river to their heart's content. A long rest is next on the agenda. When hunger returns, it is hunting time again. Many rocks are surfacing in several parts of Thekkady's Periyar Tiger Reserve this summer. Animals arrive there alone and in herds to drink water. But this is hardly Peace Rock. On the other hand preys are often badly mauled by their predators. **The abode of Shere Khans** Periyar Tiger Reserve is inhabited by the descendents of Shere Khan, the villain tiger of Jungle Book. Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady is one of 27 regions in the country set aside for the conservation of tigers. Established in 1978, Periyar is also the oldest wildlife sanctuary in Kerala. The temperature here is 15 – 20 degrees Celsius in December – January months and 31 degrees Celsius in April – May months. It is spread over 925 square kilometers in Idukki and Pathanamthitta districts. Pampa and Periyar rivers flow in this region. Seven varieties of forests, 62 species of mammals, 32 varieties of birds, 45 varieties of reptiles, 27 varieties of amphibians, 38 varieties of fish and 160 varieties of butterflies can be found here. Most of the animals in the Periyar Tiger Reserve are vertebrates. Tiger, elephant, sambar, bison, mouse deer, lion tailed macaque, endangered mountain goat, lemur, flying squirrel and fruit-eating bat abound here. Like in Jungle Book here too the tiger reigns supreme. **40 Shere Khans; Bagheera too** The forest department's figures speak of the presence of over 40 tigers here. These include varieties like common tiger, Panthera Tigris and Royal Bengal tiger. Bagheera the panther of Jungle Book lives here too. A heavy, hefty prey such as a bison will mean a sumptuous treat for a whole week for the tigers. Small deer will see them through just three or four days. A fully grown tiger will be about eight feet long and weigh from 190 to 240 kilograms. The tigers love to finish off their prey by the river and then drink water stomach-full. The tigers set out to drink water during times of sunrise and sunset. Once they identify a prey they will not rest until catching them. Tigers even make 10 to 14 attempts at catching prey. **The ritual bath of the 'Haathis'** The elephants of Periyar Tiger Reserve belong to the family of Haathi, the leader of the wild elephant herd in Jungle Book. These peace loving folks love to wade in the water and frolic in the mud. The tuskers do not mingle with the younger crowd. They have their own 'group'. The wild elephants are amazingly talented at sprinting in the forest and swimming effortlessly in the river. Helping one another in times of danger is an inborn trait in them. A fully grown up elephant weighs an average of five tons. They prey for food only during daytimes. A grown up elephant need 200 – 300 kg food a day. According to Dr. P. S. Esa, former Director of Forestry Research Institute, elephant drinks 150 – 200 liters water daily and the quantity is more during summer. In one stroke it draws in 11.5 liters water into its trunk. After reaching the riverbank the wild elephant herd cool themselves awhile before venturing into the river for their bath. **Friends of 'Baloo'** The Periyar Tiger Reserve also houses ‘Baloos' who will make a beeline for the beehives the moment they smell wild honey wafting out of it. These bears never move in herds. The sight of honey makes them forget everything and gulp it with gusto. They also carefully preserve the honey combs. They are keen on quenching their thirst immediately. Weighing an average of 145 kg, they excel dogs in the matter of sniffing. They are belligerent and like to knock down others by punching in the face. **'Kaa' who tried to make a meal of Mowgli** Also to be found here are the friends of Kaa, the python in Jungle Book who tried to devour Mowgli wholesale after promising to save him. Found mostly in the waterlogged areas, they are 2.4 to 3 meter long. They are skilled at hiding for hours together inside the water. They swallow their prey whole and then curl down and slumber. **No friends of 'Akela', just wild dogs here** There are no descendents in the Periyar Tiger Reserve for Akela, Mowgli's savior and the head of the wolf pack. Akela's types of wolves are found mostly in North India. At the same time there are plenty of wild dogs in the Tiger Reserve. They hunt only in packs. They also sound out warnings when sensing danger. The law of the jungle that Akela teaches its young ones in Jungle Book goes like this: ‘The strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack.' Tue, 03 May 2016 09:07:07 GMT Beach wanderers in God’s own country When you pause on the Kovalam beach, watching each successive wave trying to lure you with its mesmerising gesture- asking you to take a dip- you become aware that hospitality is second nature to Kovalam. That is perhaps the reason why the place is a favourite with foreign and domestic tourists. One can confidently surmise that Kovalam is the most sought-out beach in Kerala, the capital of all beaches in the state! Lying 16 kilometres from Thiruvananthapuram, the beach has all the quintessential Kerala charms - swaying palms, white sands that glow in the moonlight, frollicking waves, a rocky terrain. The romantic charms here are pure magical! [Kovalam: On a quest for serenity, peace, adventure]( Kovalam beach is divided into three: the northern part is the Samudra Beach while the central part is the famous Hawa Beach. The southern part is the Lighthouse Beach. Also read [Exploring the life underwater at Kovalam]( [Dine at Bait restaurant]( Moving to the southern tip of the capital of Kerala, you come to another beach, the Poovar Beach; the meeting place of Neyyar River and the sea. A large number of fishing boats and fishermen oblivious to tourists are the highlight of this place. The ambience changes when you come to Varkala, a beach that is at once a tourist resort as well as a centre for pilgrimage. Lying about 50 kilometres to the north of Thiruvananthapuram, it is about 35 kilometres from Kollam, one of the major cities in Kerala. [Varkala and its famous visitors]( Varkala is a place where you need to go down the terrain to meet the beach. As you walk down a hill to the sandy beach, you are immediately gripped by the beauty and grandeur of the reddish mounts that rise around you, standing guard to the silvery waves rollicking on the beach. The main attraction at the beach is the bath in the waters, which are considered to be therapeutic. The crowd who come here are either tourists who come to revel at the natural beauty or pilgrims coming to free themselves of their sins in the famous 'Papanasam' beach. The Janardhana Temple, which is considered to be 2000 years old, stands close to the beach. Moving north, you reach Alappuzha where rivulets and canals make the town. The beach, which is about four kilometres from town, is known for its placid waters, a reflection of the same geniality that you get to see in Kuttanad. Another highlight here is the long bridge that extends into the sea, one that is in disuse for many years and on which time has left its indelible marks of ravage. About 150 years ago, when the bridge was made, it stood strong as a gateway to Alappuzha, which was one of the busiest ports in South India. The canals, rivulets and the bridge formed an important network that facilitated trade in the district. After Alappuzha lost its prominence as a trading hub, the bridge became a rusting artefact that stands looking into the setting sun, ruminating on past glories. [Alappuzha and its unparalled coastal beauty]( There is another small beach in Alappuzha called Marari, a beach that is set in an idyllic fishing hamlet, where the rustic village life is unpretentious and devoid of ostentations. The Cherai beach in Kochi is something like a green lung for the people of Kochi who seem to have lost touch with nature in their multi-storeyed flats. Located on the northern tip of Vypin Islands, Cherai beach brings you the vivid beauty arising out of the confluence of the backwaters and the sea. Located about 26 kilometres from Ernakulam, this is one of the beaches in Kerala that seems to stretch on and on. When you come here, do not miss the occasional dolphin that jumps out of the water for a brief split of a second. The Kappad beach in Kozhikode has a historical tale to tell because it is here that Vasco Da Gamma landed on May 27, 1498. The relentless onslaught of tourists has not destroyed the beauty of the beach. Perhaps, it stands with the same hospitality that it offered to the uninvited Portuguese explorer who made history after landing here. The temple that stands on the rocks in the beach is about 800 years old. The people of Kozhikode, who have an insatiable pang for sunsets, make a rendezvous with the Kozhikode beach that is hardly a kilometre from the city, each day. As in Alappuzha, here too, two bridges jut into the sea. Especially on Sundays, the beach is full of people who come here to spend some time with the sea. About 15 kilometres from Kannur is Muzhapilangad and about a kilometre from here, towards the west, is the beach, which is about five kilometres long. This is the only drive-in beach in Kerala and people come here to enjoy a trip on their vehicles, splitting the incoming waves.[Driving through Muzhapilangad]( Close to where Anjarakandipuzha meets the Arabian Sea, you can see the Dharmadam Islands. If you reach here at times other than the monsoons, the greenery will surely tempt you to stay on. One way to approach the beach in Payyambalam is through a park, which has some rare monuments from bygone eras. You can also see the St. Angelo fort here, which was built by the Portuguese. The Bakel Beach in Kasargod would not have been so beautiful had there not been a fort in the background. Located about 16 kilometres from Kasargod, the beach is a spectre in itself- the fort in the background, a railway station one side and a beautiful park lying between the beach and the station.[Where Aravind Swamy romanced Manisha Koirala in Bombay]( As we wound up our trip through the prominent beaches in Kerala, we were taking with us a mixed bag of emotions. Charmed by the bewitching beauty of some beaches, we were humbled by the history behind others. While some stood solemn and serious, enlightening us about the turns and ebbs of time, some frolicked with us, without a care. All of them pampered, awed or lulled our senses, us, the wanderers in God's own country. (In arrangement with Vanitha) Fri, 15 Apr 2016 07:33:33 GMT 10 quick getaways from TVPM The word travel does not necessarily mean taking a long tour. Some trips can be impulsive – to places you can go and come back without going through the trouble of planning ahead. If you are in Thiruvananthapuram, these are some of the places you could go early in the morning – and still get back home in time for a late dinner. And a couple of places which you could stay over, if needed. 1) Kappil - Varkala Have an early lunch and drive down to Kappil so that you reach the place by 4pm. The road to Kappil – with the sea on one side and the lake on the other, will give you a sneak peek into the rustic village life. The sea here is calm, but since there won't be any lifeguards, you have to be very careful. You can go for a boating in the lake too. The famous tourist centre of Varkala is just about 7kms away from Kappil. You can either see the sunset at Kappil or drive down to Varkala. Have dinner from one of the many joints that dot the cliffs and head back home. Kappil is about 50kms from the city. You will take about an hour and a half to reach Kappil from the city. [More on Kappil]( 2) Anchuthengu – Muthalapozhi This is the story of how bridges change the way people travel and take in the beauty of a place. Drive to Kazhakuttom and then take the newly opened over-bridge and get on to the coastal road passing Perumathura by. And move on to Anchuthengu, the first military outpost of the British in ancient Kerala. The lighthouse here is open till 5pm on working days. Walk up, take in the sights and sounds of the village life all around you. And on your way back, you can take a dip in the sea at Muthalapozhi or go for a boat ride. Muthalapozhi is fast emerging as on of those places where you take in the sunset. More on [Anchuthengu]( 3) Kovalam Kovalam, once was a mandatory stop for all things touristy in the city. Then, the charm faded, yet it did not fizzle out. The surf and the sands still manage to lure in both domestic and foreign tourists. And it is now reinventing itself – with scuba diving and surfing options for those who are adventurous. You can go boating in the sea at Kovalam too. [More on Kovalam]( 4) Thenmala Situated about 70kms from the city is Thenmala, an ecotourism centre. It is ideal to plan your trip in such a way that you reach the place by 10am and spend the whole day here. What does [Thenmala offer a tourist?]( 5)Poovar Peaceful, serene are the two words that define Poovar. You can relax at one of the resorts there or go boating through the estuary. And if you are resourceful, you can talk the boatman into taking you out to see Vizhinjam, which will soon be a major port. 6)Neyyar The dam and the [Lion Safari Park]( are the major attractions of Neyyar. Read more about [it here]( 7) Gavi – Adavi A trip to Gavi and the nearby eco-tourism centre of Adavi will be an unfortable experience. There are tours conducted by the government. Remember, though, [Gavi is a forest and you have to be careful]( 8) Shendurney One of those places which still has not found a place in the tourism map like its neighbours, Shendurney, is one of those pristine forests that will allow you to be close to nature. You can go on a trek or just relax at one of the accomodations near the forests. 9) Mankayam Situated about 50kms away from the city is this beautiful waterfall - yes, we know it is summer and the water will be less - but still it is worth a visit. [Read more about it here]( 10) Kanyakumari Make sure you start early so as to beat the heat. Chill out at one of the water theme parks till the sun goes down. Visit Sucheendram temple if you are religious or make a trip to the Vivekananda Rock on a boat across the ocean. Sunsets and sunrises are what Kanyakumari is famous for. On your way back, drop in at Padmanabhapuram Palace, which used to be the seat of the kings of Travancore before they moved to Thiruvananthapuram. Tue, 12 Apr 2016 09:06:38 GMT Here's everything you need to know about Cheraman Juma Masjid Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted a replica of the Cheraman Juma Masjid to the ruler of Saudi Arabia. The gesture has an enormous significance. And for that we have to travel back in time, way back to AD 629. According to popular belief, the Cheraman Juma Masjid was established by Malik Ibn Dinar, who was trusted with spreading His words by the Prophet himself. And there is an interesting story of how Malik Ibn Dinar reached Kodungalloor which was a prosperous port town of those days. Kodungalloor or Muziris as it was known then, was a major port town under the Chera rule. And one night the Chera King saw a dream, he saw the moon splitting in half. None of his court astrologers could interpret this strange dream. The king grew restless, and word somehow got around to the sailors in the port. The Arabs traders in the port came to hear about the strange dream. And they told the king that it was a message from the Prophet. The king, satisfied, decided to go meet the Prophet at Mecca. He converted to Islam after the meeting at Mecca, where he passed away before he could return. However, he had written letters introducing Malik Ibn Dinar who set sail for Kodungalloor. The Malik became the first Ghazi and spread the message of Islam across the state. The ruler of Kodungalloor gave him land to set up a Masjid and that came to be known as the Cheraman Juma Masjid. The first mosque in India. The mosque was renovated in the 11th Century and since then there has been reference to this mosque in various texts of the times. **The significance of PM's gesture** When the Prime Minister gifted the replica of this mosque, it signified the importance of the trade relations the two nations shared from historical days. A way forward, based on eons of history. **What to see** The Masjid has been renovated a number of times, with extensions being built time and again. A part of Kerala Tourism department's heritage Muziris project, the Masjid will house a museum which will showcase the Islamic history of the land. The lamp: One of the most priced possessions of the Masjid is a lamp, which is said to be more than 1000 years old. People across castes come to offer their prayers at the Masjid. **Interesting fact** Vidyarambham: Thousands of children, across all religions are initiated into the world of letters at this Masjid. Sat, 09 Apr 2016 11:27:42 GMT 13 quick getaways from Thrissur Vacations are here and we bring you a list of places where you can drive to or travel on a budget this time of the year. **1) Neliampathy** Is one of those hill-stations on the Kerala-Tamilnadu border that can be easily reached from Thrissur. April and May are good times to visit the place. There are plenty of buses from the Palakkad bus depot if you are planning a budget travel. Seetharkundu view point is eight kilometers away from Nelliyampathi and the Pothundy Dam is close by too. **Where?** Nelliyambathi is about 75kms away from Thrissur and it normally takes 2 hours if you are driving. **2) Peechi Dam** The Peechi-Vazhani animal sanctuaries are tourist spots that lie close to the city. A dam, museum, swimming pool, botanical gardens etc are the attractions here. There is also a forest research station here. **Where:** Peechi Dam is about 20kms away from Thrissur. A thirty minute drive should put you at the dam site. **3) Athirapilly** One of the most famous summer retreats in Kerala, Athirapilly lies about 53 kilometres from Thrissur. The attraction of the place is the waterfall that is 42 metres high. The place is also close to other areas of interest such as Vazhachal, Aanakkayam, Malakkapaara and so on. [Read more about Athirappilly]( **Where:** Athirappilly is about 53kms away almost an hours drive will put you at Athirappilly **4) Vaalpparai** Situated in Coimbatore in Tamilnadu, the hill station is about 3500 feet above sea level. One can reach the place via Pollachi or Chalakkudy. One can opt for a roundabout trip, from Chalakkudy to Vaalppara and back via Pollachi. **Where:** Vaalpparai is about 138 kms away from Thrissur. It will take you about 3 and a half hours to reach Vaalpparai. **5) Zoo, Sakthan Palace and Vilangan Hills** These locations in the city and out of bounds on Mondays. There are a lot of animals in the zoo, which offers a break for two hours for those looking to spend some time in the city. The palace offers a peek into the past life of kings. One can also include boating at Puzhakkal as part of the itinerary. [A sunset on Vilangan Kunnu]( **6) Marottichal** Although not an official tourist destination, this is frequented by people for enjoying the waterfall. **Where:** Marottichal is about 20 kms from the city and it would take you about 30 minutes to reach there. **7) Kalamandalam** Plan your trip in such a way that you reach Kalamandalam at nine in the morning. You will be taken on a guided tour across this premier institute of learning. If you are in luck, you can also watch a show at this temple for art. There is a museum close to the place dedicated to one of the most famous poets of Kerala, 'Mahakavi' Vallathol Narayana Menon. **Where?** Kalamandalam is about 28kms away from the city. An hour's drive from the town will put you at the place. **8) Chavakkad and Thalikkulam beaches** The beach and the estuary are not normally busy. The light house here is also an attraction. The Thalikkulam beach offers an option to spend time in a park and enjoy the surroundings. **Where?** About 28 kms away from the town, an hours drive is all it takes. **9) Muziris** The Muziris circuit is useful for those who wants to see all historic areas in the Paravoor, Kodungalloor and close by areas. Boats offer circular services so one can spend as much time in one place before moving on to the next place. [Explore the ancient Muziris]( **10) Parambikkulam** Close to Chittur in Palakkad, the animal sanctuary is open from 7 am to 4 pm. There is an option for trekking if prior permission is taken. Accommodation can be arranged and one can also stay in tree houses for a change. **Where?** About 132kms from the city, it will take you about 3 hours to drive. **11) Chimmini** Known for its scenery, the dam offers a lot of options to spend time in the company of nature. One can fish here and walk through a hanging bridge. Accommodation can be arranged by the Forest department. **Where?** About 40kms away from the town. **12) Poomala Dam** If you have time to spare and want to explore a bit – try this circuit. Travel to Poomala Dam, which is about 16 kms away, enjoy the scenery and then drive up to Cheppara, about 6kms away. And then drive up to Pathazhakundu for a day long recreation trip. While Cheppara could look unbeatable, a trek to the top rewards one with a view of most of Thrissur **13) Ezhattumukham-Thumboormozhi** Missing the greens? The butterflies? Then, this is the circuit for you. Located in Ernakulam district, Ezhattumukham, is believed to be the confluence of seven rivers. One can walk over the canal waterfall through a bridge. The butterfly park at Thumboormozhi will keep you engaged. And, You can club this tour with the one to Athirappilly. Mon, 04 Apr 2016 17:17:32 GMT A trek to Dhoni waterfalls Just a stone's throw away from Palakkad town is Dhoni - a place which has much to offer a person who is willing to explore the hills. A livestock farm, a vegetable farm and then, if you are willing to trek uphill through the Reserve Forest for about a little over 3kms, you reach the beautiful Dhoni waterfalls. There is a forest office at the foothills at Dhoni which is one of the oldest in the state. It was set up by the Britishers. You can buy tickets for the trek to the waterfall from here. Since the trek takes you through a forest, they may not allow you if there are elephants or tigers spotted in the area. There is a road which goes uphill through the forest, but it is not for private vehicles. It is advisable to take a leisurely walk up the hills to the waterfalls. On your way you will see monkeys and birds – take in the sights and sounds of the forest as you walk up. Also keep a look out for reptiles; for you are in a forest area. There are various shortcuts to the waterfalls – if you are with family, stick to the well -worn path. If you are adventurous, take the shortcuts – it is easy to get lost, so listen carefully and follow the sounds of the water cascading down the hill. A trek up to the waterfall, will ideally take you three to four hours, if you are taking it at a slow pace. Make sure you carry water and something to munch on- and more importantly, not to leave the used bottles and other plastic containers in the jungle. If you are wandering off the path, you will see forest, dense and thick around you. There are different kinds of birds that are found in these forests. The waterfall is not a big one, it is a series of waterfalls at different levels cascading down the hills. It creates pools of water and then goes downhill roaring over the next level. If you are planning on getting wet, make sure that you find firm toe holds. During the rains, it is best advised to watch the water fall from a distance. It is relaxing at this waterfall. All you hear are the sound of water cascading down the hill and the forest around you. Long ago, you could have trekked to Malampuzha from Dhoni, but now, we are told it is not allowed year around. The ideal season to visit Dhoni is from September to February. The trekking trail at Dhoni is not very difficult. It is informative and it is enlightening. And will offer a perfect break from your busy life. Sat, 02 Apr 2016 09:31:47 GMT Places to go out with your children in Thiruvananthapuram Children love to go out. And if you are in Thiruvanathapuram, there are a couple of things that could keep your little ones occupied. Here's a list **Magic Planet** Magic enthralls you. And trust us, it will take more than one day to explore the fun tricks and treats that Magic Planet has to offer. You have to see those performers putting on street magic, the rope tricks, mirror maze, card games, coin tricks, mind games. 'History of Mystery' is a museum dedicated to magic. Harry, the mascot who will explain it all. Trust us, this is one trip you and your kids will not forget soon. Conceived and executed by magician Gopinath Muthukad, Magic Planet is located near Kazhakuttam. You are not supposed to take food inside the park. Tickets can be booked at or dial 9447014800. The park is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is closed on Mondays. **The Zoo** A trip to the Thiruvananthapuram zoo is an experience in itself. Spread across a sprawling 36 acres in the heart of the city, this Zoo is home to Malar, the white tiger and Ayush and Aishwarya the lions and then there are the leopards. Renovated recently, the tour starts off with the enclosures for monkeys. Then comes the aviary and the rhinos and the hippopotamus. You walk past the zebras and the deer to reach the lions and tigers. Then come the flightless birds, emu walks up and down its enclosure. The crocodiles will come out to sunbathe. And then past the peacock pen is the major attraction of the park, the anaconda. If you are lucky, you may get a chance to see it feed on the chickens. Do make it a point to visit the 'Reptila', the building that houses the other snakes outside the main zoo. The children's park outside the Zoo is usually very crowded. The Museum and the art gallery are worth a visit too. The zoo is open from 10 am to 5.15 pm and is normally very crowded. **Love science?** Science can be fun at Kerala State Science and Technology Museum and Priyadarshini Planetarium at PMG Junction. This is where you see exhibits that explain the theorems you have learned in class. You can see models of dinosaur from Triassic and Jurassic era. Watch a show at the Planetarium, take a look at the skies and try to identify the stars through the telescope. The museum is open from 10am to 5pm. Website: **Kovalam Surf Club** Have you ever dreamed of riding the waves? The Kovalam Surf Club takes pride in training people and guiding them to ride the waves. They say that they have trained kids who are as young as five years old. But, we would say this is strictly for the young adults - who are willing to be extra careful. Website: **Frolic with the elephants** A drive of about 20 kms away from the city is Kottur - a part of the Agasthyavanam Biological Park. If you are in luck you can spot wildlife on this drive. But, your destination is an elephant rehabilitation centre at Kottur. There are some naughty young ones elephants here and some older elephants. You can go on an elephant safari here or just spend your time taking care of these gentle giants. The safari is of twenty minutes and the charges are around 100 rupees Thu, 31 Mar 2016 12:00:53 GMT Why Paniyeli Poru is an ideal summer escape If you are looking forward for an adventure trip through a dense forest, then you should definitely set out for Paniyeli Poru. It is often pointed as an untouched picnic spot on the outskirts of Kochi that can allure you with beautiful rivulets and lucid streams of water. 'Poru' in Malayalam means fight and the waterfall was thus named because here the three tributaries of Periyar come together and seem to be engaged in a fight. The sight of River Periyar winding its path along the dense forests and rocks is incredible to watch. A home to numerous species of birds and animals, Paniyeli Poru is lush green with vegetation that provides an exotic experience to all visitors. The forest covers a major portion of the area. However, there are teak plantations in the adjoining areas. Once you pass the forest area, you will reach the main place and that sight of River Periyar with water in its purest form winding its path along the dense forests and rocks is incredible to watch. To those who are into photography, Paniyeli Poru is a not-to-be-missed destination. The picnic spot, best for a weekend outing, is mostly visited by tourists and filmmakers. Another interesting thing at the place is the wooden tower which will help you to watch the entire area from a higher view. From there, the chirping and twittering of birds, the melody of rivulets and the waterfalls all blend to compose a harmony that would help you and your dear and near ones to have a relaxed time. The most apt time to visit Paniyeli Poru is from November to March and is not suitable during rainy season as the level of the water rises and undercurrents become strong. While going, it would be best to carry eatables if you need as there is no restriction for that. Since the location is under the control of Kerala State Forest Department, a pass costing a nominal fee is obtained at the entrance. Paniyeli Poru is 55 kilometres from Kochi. The nearest railway station is Aluva that is 35 km from this place. Poru is 20 km away from Perumbavoor, the nearest town. Thu, 31 Mar 2016 10:31:15 GMT Exploring the life underwater at Kovalam I felt the weight drift away. As I floated further down, it felt strange. Soon, I saw the multi-colour fins, the blue wavy roof, the perfectly crafted vegetation and a foreground so fine and soothing to step on. The cool air that I was breathing, not only kept me alive, but had unleashed a new side of me with each new step that I had taken. All of a sudden, I could see the branches and twigs floating above me. Thus marked the end of an experience that changed me. Not only did I experience a strange pain in my right ear, but I had to work for four days to shake-off the hangover. This story is about my first visit to Kerala's most popular beach, Kovalam and the first underwater experience I had. I am convinced that, even in the most populated tourist spots, there is a lot of excitement that does not meet the eye. Before I proceed to the details, tell me, how many of you would consider Scuba Diving in Kerala's beaches? **Experience vs sight seeing** Jackson Peter, the Managing Director of Cool -Divers, based-out of Kovalam in Thiruvananthapuram said that the tourism scenario in Kerala has begun to change. “It is no longer about sight – seeing Visitors look forward to an experience that they can cherish for a lifetime. Kovalam, has a lot of scope to become the best beach destinations in the country. It can even become the best destination for water sports in India,” explains Jackson Peter. [Read: You have to visit these beaches on your Kerala trip]( Cool Divers decided to capitalise on this need and offers visitors an unique underwater safari. Picture this. A fancy scooter, attached to a container filled with air, that permits one person to explore the underwater world. Fear not, you would not be drinking any sea-water in the bargain and you would only be partially drenched. Yes – the Bond Safari gives your that and more. Jackson and his partner Suraj Khan said that Bond Safari is the first step towards introducing the local crowd to the world of scuba diving. They further explained that the Bond Safari does restrict the person's movement under water to an extent which is not the case in the scuba diving. “In my experience, about 80 per cent of our visitors consider scuba diving post the Bond Safari,” commented Jackson Peter. **Scuba diving – safe, scientific, serene** Scuba stands for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. While scuba diving has been popular among a large number of people abroad, the idea is rather new for many Malayalis. Here are some facts that could be useful for those who are hesitant about taking their first session: **1.** Scuba diving is safe. The gear, that weighs almost 14 kilograms, ensures that no matter what happens, you will be safe. Don't worry, once you are in the water, the 14 kilograms is reduced to mere 'weightlessness' due to the laws of physics. **2.** The most important rules for a beginner are: **a)** Listen to the instructor(s) and follow his/her instructions to the 'T.' You might be an expert swimmer, but scuba diving in the open water, is extremely different from doing a few laps across a swimming pool. Hence, it would be wise follow instructions. **b)** Breathe in, Breathe out, and stay calm. As mentioned earlier, your gear is designed to ensure that you are safe in all circumstances. Interestingly, the jacket that you wear, is inflated before you head into the water, allowing you to float on the surface. Also, when you are under water, you are breathing the purest form of air (which, as a matter of fact, is dry and mildly cold). In short, relax. Your instructors will not leave you in the dark and you are never alone. Even professional divers head out to the water only in pairs or groups. [Read: Meet Madhumathy, India's youngest lady diving instructor]( **3.** Enjoy the change in environment. Everything under water is peaceful. The silence is priceless. The sight of aquatic life, often seen on television or on the big screen, can leave you dumbstruck. As you walk on the ocean bed, you are likely to feel the fine sand below your feet and would consider kneeling down to observe your surroundings better. Enjoy it. But take care. Some sea animals have extremely effective defense mechanisms. You wouldn't want your fingers or toes to be anywhere near their tentacles. **4.** Most importantly – DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING. This session will give you an insight into a world that very few have explored. It throws light upon habitats that are often disturbed in some of the most atrocious ways. Respect the aquatic life, give it's due space and experience the true sense of harmony. **5.** If you do feel hungry after the session – don't worry- eat all you can. Subin, a diver at the Cool-divers said that he can eat upto 25 grams of cheese and more each day post his dive sessions. Yes. Scuba diving does keep you fit. The air that you breath underwater through the snorkel is cold and dry. Hence, it is recommended that you drink some water before the dive, lest your throat becomes dry during the session. **No age limit** Anybody above the age of 8 can consider scuba diving. For those who wish to do so regularly, you could complete a basic course in diving certified by PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors). There is no compulsion to buy the scuba gear. You can always rent them. However, it is preferably if you could purchase your very own pair of underwater goggles and a snorkel. The basic course costs about Rs. 25,000 (including the gear). **A personal take** The scuba diving session by cool-divers lasted for three hours. The first hour gave us an insight into the world of scuba diving. The next one-and-a-half hours were spent on understanding the scuba equipment, its functions and hand signals used under water. This is essential for it is near impossible to speak under water. The scuba session took place at the Kovalam beach. It had lasted for 30-40 minutes. Personally, it was the best experience ever. [Kovalam: On a quest for serenity, peace, adventure]( The first breath through the snorkel was the scariest. I feared that I might drown to death for the seas were slightly rough and I had was not accustomed to the breathing device provided. Thus, I began drinking a lot of salt water and was beginning to drift away from my instructor named Subin. I admired the confidence with which my instructor had convinced me of the wonderful sights below, calmed me down and assured me of being safe. On the count of three, both of us and the organisation's photographer had entered the ocean. After I had signalled 'O.K' we decided to swim deeper and discover a world that I would have never imagined. From sea urchins to needle fish, to shoals of other exclusive species, I knew I had reached heaven. It was true. I forgot to acknowledge the presence of my instructor or the camera man and had begun to feel part of the world around me. It was as if the sea had become my new home. My ears could sense the shift of pressure as we continued to descend lower. Then again, I chose to ignore it and wanted to see more. It was a unique sense of freedom and also of self- realisation. For until then, I knew not of a world beyond the obvious. Many are unaware of the sea world and its power. Only few are aware of the first aid care that ought to be provided when a jelly fish stings you! It was however, unfortunate to see the way in which speed boats and other visitors at the beach discard garbage into the sea. Sure, the sea can wash it a way, but only until the next big wave lashes the shore. I was overwhelmed to know that this group of divers have taken it upon themselves to keep the beaches clean and personally collect the garbage on the seabed and discard them in an better manner. “It is our responsibility as divers to do so. We do not want to show the world the filth on our beaches. They have to enjoy the experience to the fullest,” said the divers. As Jackson Peter and Suraj Khan rightfully said, Kovalam does have the ability and the resources to become one of India's best centres for water sports. At present, the organisations managing director and four other partners pool-in a portion of their savings towards the venture. The response has been fantastic. [Also read: Why Bait is that perfect place for a quiet meal]( I am grateful to Jackson Peter, Suraj Khan, Subin, Madhumathy, and the many divers at Cool-Divers for the experience that has kept me yearning for more. I would recommend this to anyone who wishes to explore, experience and cherish a true adventure. Going all the way down, in this case, is not bad AT ALL! Mon, 28 Mar 2016 05:35:46 GMT Kovalam: On a quest for serenity, peace, adventure Who would have imagined soul-searching to be an inexpensive yet extremely satisfying experience? No, not me. But after having spent 36 hours in Kerala's capital city – Thiruvananthapuram, I am convinced that a 'break' needn't cost you a bomb. You would truly be surprised to know what you very own backyards have to offer you. Honestly, I am yet to zone-out of the land of sea shores, silence and simplicity. [Read: Exploring the life underwater at Kovalam]( The train reached the Thiruvananthapuram Central Station at 10 am. I decided to take a cab to Kovalam, one of the district's most popular beaches. Despite spending over a decade in God's Own Country, this was my first visit to Kovalam. I must say, I was surprised when I spotted a large number of foreign tourists dressed in swimming trunks and bikinis soaking in the sun. (No offence, but I have seen too many foreigners dress that way on the beaches of Kerala). I decided to spend the night at an accommodation situated approximately 500 metres away from the beach. To my delight the accommodation was what I would term – 'my kind.' Thus, began a trip that is etched in my memory. **Wake-up Kovalam!** All my life, I had yearned for a quick solo getaway – no friends, no family, just me. Most often, the idea of doing this had taken a 'back-seat' because food and accommodation always appeared unsafe or highly expensive. It was as if a force struck the earth – I had finally found a way to make my dream come true. [Read: You have to visit these beaches on your Kerala trip]( The [Vedanta Wake-up]( at Kovalam, turned out to be the ideal place for people like me who travel on a restricted budget and are merely looking for a place to catch a few winks. I was welcomed by Ravi Ballal and Shahnawaz who were in-charge of the accommodation. This place offered its visitors the options of a Double Deluxe Room and a dormitory (both of which are air conditioned too!) along with complimentary Wi-Fi services. The occupants would have to pay extra for food. The logic behind the arrangement, as explained by Ravi Ballal, is simple. Most visitors are seen at the beach or exploring the nearby places. They invariably eat out and return only when they are sleepy and tired. However, for those who wish to dine at the accommodation, the tiny yet satisfactory kitchen does whip up a few delicacies as well. [Read more: Why Bait is that perfect place for a quiet meal]( The hallmark of the trip was perhaps the cool afternoon breeze that would enter your rooms when the windows are open. You can be assured that your 2 PM siesta would be the best that you would have experienced in a long time. If you are an early riser, don't hesitate to find out what Kovalam's fisher folk are up to and help them prepare for the day's catch. Walks on the beach have always calmed the mind and body. The beach is also a haven for photography 'freaks' for there are a lot of stories that can be discovered across the sands. [Also read: Meet Madhumathy, India's youngest lady diving instructor]( **A world of my own** Surfers, divers, boat riders, name it – you have got that and more in Kovalam. But I admit that it was the not-so-tasking change in environment that had rejuvenated my senses. I also decided to try out an adventure sport as well. All in all, the experience was priceless and I hope to visit this land of deep content again – very soon. Sat, 26 Mar 2016 11:02:01 GMT Take a spiritual journey to the eight Basilicas this Easter Planning on a spiritual tour this Easter season? There are a lot of churches across Kerala which are famous as pilgrimage spots. Some date back to the legend of St Thomas and trace the history of how the religion spread across the God's Own Country, and then there are some churches which over the centuries have been honoured with the special status of a basilica. **What is a basilica?** The word basilica has its roots in an ancient Greek word which means 'Royal House'. In the Catholic world, a basilica is a church that has been accorded special privileges by the Pope. A church is raised to the level of a basilica based on its antiquity, dignity, historical value, architectural and artistic worth and their significance as centres of worship. There are just 21 basilicas in India, and 8 of them are in Kerala. So why not take a trip to the nearest one this Holy Week? **1) St. Mary's Syro-Malabar Catholic Cathedral Basilica** Founded in 1112, the 'Nasrani Palli', 'Thekke Palli' or the 'Thuramukha Matha Palli', as it is locally known, is the headquarters of the Major Archdiose of the Ernakulam -Angamaly. The church was renovated in early twentieth century and elevated to the status of a basilica by Pope Paul VI in March 1974. Pope John Paul 11 held mass in this basilica when he visited Kerala in 1986. Situated near the High Court junction on the Marine Drive, Ernakulam, this basilica is easily accessible by road. There are two tall towers on either side, with statues of St Peter and St Paul on the top. The altar is decorated with scenes from the birth, crucification and resurrection of Lord Jesus Christ. The altar also boasts of a picture of Jesus appearing to St Thomas. **2)The Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica** This basilica has history etched into each and every space. In 1505, Francisco de Almeida, the first Portuguese Viceroy got permission of the King of Kochi to construct a church which was elevated to a cathedral in 1558. It was demolished and rebuilt in 1887 and consecrated in 1905. Pope John Paul 11 elevated the cathedral to a basilica in 1984. You will be in awe of this place which boasts of a blend of Indo-European and Gothic style of architecture. The sun's rays kiss the stain glass windows to change the mood inside the basilica. Situated in Fort Kochi the Santa Cruz Basilica is one of the oldest churches in the country. **3) Our Lady of Dolours Basilica** The first catholic church of Thrissur established in 1814. Spread over an area of 25,000 square feet, this basilica is one of the biggest churches in Asia. This artistic marvel built in the Indo-Gothic style has soaring belfries at the entrance, aisles along the nave and eleven altars. The interiors are done up with murals. **4) Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom, Vallarpadam-Ernakulam** People from all walks of life, irrespective of religion throng this basilica to offer their prayers to Vallarpadathamma. Built in 1524, this church was dedicated to the Holy Spirit, a first of its kind in Asia. The original church was destroyed in a flood in 1676 and the Portuguese brought a picture of the Virgin Mary which was erected in the church. It was declared a special church by Pope Leo X111 in 1888 and in 1951, the Union government declared it a major pilgrim centre. Situated close to the new Vallarpadam container terminal, the basilica faces the sea. Through out the history of this church, there are instances where fishermen and other people were miraculously saved by the presiding deity when they were braving stormy waters. They used to pray for safe passage through the seas here. **5) St. Mary, Queen of Peace Basilica** Up the stairs and into the church, you will be awed as the sudden quiet envelops you. You are away from the din of the city traffic. And it will surprise you because the basilica is situated right next to the University library and Palayam in Trivandrum. This church is still called the 'Thakara Pally' by some of the locals; the story is quaint too. Way back in 1933, this church had a tin roof, hence the name. The church was consecrated in March 11, 1933, this was where Archbishop Mar Ivanios was enthroned. It was in 1991 that the huge Neo-Gothic church came into being. **6) St. George Syro-Malabar Catholic Basilica** St. George Syro-Malabar Catholic Basilica covers an area of about 24,000 square feet. Angamaly has always been one of the places in Kerala where Christian roots run deep. The myth of St Thomas, the first Holy See in India, Angamaly is where all these legends have mementos standing tall. And this huge basilica is one of them. **7) St. Andrew's Basilica, Arthunkal** Originally built by the Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century, this church was rebuilt in 1584 under the then vicar Fr Jacoma Fenicio. Fenicio, according to the legends was called _Veluthachan_ and he could perform miraculous cures. The church faces the sea and was elevated to the status of Basilica in 2010. The church surprisingly used to be part of the Sabarimala pilgrimage, but that, calls for a detailed story on this ancient place of worship. **8) Basilica of Our Lady of Snows, Pallippuram** The Portuguese built a fort at Pallipuram and then followed it up with a church in 1503. It was renovated in 1931 and rebuilt in 2006. During the reign of Tipu Sultan, his army had gathered close to Chalakkudy river the local people gathered at this church and prayed to Our Lady and soon there was a mist which spread far and wide around the church, Tipu thought the area was part of the Arabian sea and returned to Mysore; and the Virgin Mary who presided in this church was renamed Manjumatha, which means Our Lady of Snow. Fri, 25 Mar 2016 10:35:39 GMT Kadamattom Church and its tryst with miracles The St. George Orthodox Church at Kadamattom dates back to the late 6th Century. The tale of the legendary Kadamattathu Kathanar is something every child in Kerala reads about while growing up. But when you look at the quaint church, walk down to the adjacent Poyedam Chappel and the Pathala Kinar, you are left wondering if all those stories of demons and sorcery really took place. But first the history. **The history** It is said that Mar Abo, a priest from Nineveh, reached these shores to spread the message of Christ. He reached Kadamattom, hungry, tired and walked into the house of a poor old lady. He told the old lady to boil some water in a pot, put the single rice grain they found in her house and prayed to god. And lo and behold, the pot was full of rice and they ate their fill. The old lady, who was impressed with this took the priest to the landlord. The landlord's daughter, who was ill, was miraculously cured by the priest. The landlord gave the priest land and permission to build a church. It is this church which later became the St. George Orthodox Church of Kadamattom. The priest, Mar Abo, took in an orphan, it is said, and it was this boy called Poulose who became Kadamattathu Kathanar. **The story of the Kathanar** A journey to Kadamattom is incomplete without getting introduced to the lore of the legendary Kadamattathu Kathanar. A story of miraculous cures, magic, sorcery and those blood thirsty and vengeful folkloric vampires. Movies and television serials have been made on this enigmatic priest. [And click here for the whole story]( **Artifacts and structures** The Poyedam chapel and the Pathala Kinar are so linked to the lore of the Kathanar. The Pathala Kinar , or the well, it is believed, was the portal through which the Kathanar went to the underworld to entrap the demons. He could also travel through this to the forest nearby. There is a scroll kept safely in the chapel which is in a script that no one can decipher now. Read about The Kuravilangad Church, where, it is said, Mother Mary herself appeared to a bunch of kids. [The story]( Mon, 21 Mar 2016 05:47:32 GMT Alappuzha and its unparalleled coastal beauty Alappuzha is famous for its long coastline. Some famous; some unexplored, we take a day trip. The sun was just about rising on the horizon as our car turned west from Kayamkulam ONK Junction on the national highway and entered the Kayamkulam-Kochi jetty road. The view of the Tsunami bridge over Kayamkulam lake on the Kollam-Kottappuram national highway, with Chinese nets spread out all along the lake was breathtaking. It is time for a halt and a selfie with the family; I religiously upload it on Facebook. Even as the post gathered 'likes' and comments, we had taken the left turn from the coastal road. A little along the way, you come across the beautiful interplay of the blues of the sea on the west and the lake on the east, as if the lake is virtually embracing the sea. Perhaps it is this beauty that prompted the poet to year for another life here. This is Valiazheekkal beach. It is still early morning, and a rare treat awaits travelers here: a bank of tetrapods jutting about 500 meters into the sea. You can take a bike ride over the tetrapods into the sea. Or you can walk down. The sea beckons you from either side as you walk. Sea gulls hover overhead, fishing boats bob over the waves, and anglers of both the local and foreign variety line either side. If you have a fishing tackle and rod, you too can catch some fish. We feel as if these are sights that dreams are made up off. But, we have other plans. We follow the coastal road again to the north. We cross Aarattupuzha and enter Trikkunnapuzha. Yes, this is the land of Palani of 'Chemmeen.' Memories rise up of Palani in a boat being dragged by a shark caught in his fishing hook, the lines of a mournful song play in the mind. It is on the sand banks here that the Vavu bali for ancestors is held. All along the beach are granite blocks meant for a sea wall. Eleven years back, the sea had just swallowed up this whole coast. Now you can catch glimpses of the sea from the road through the gaps in the wall. Our car now heads to Pallana junction, between the sea and the sand. A left turn from here takes you to Kumarakodi. The old Asan memorial at Kumarakodi is being rebuilt in the model of the Shakespeare memorial at Avon. The memories of 'Redeemer' that sank on the Pallana river, taking with it the life of Kerala's famous bard, still linger around these banks. A light breeze lisps poetry on the palm fronds. It is an ideal place to take a break. Soon we said bye to Pallana, carrying with us some memories of Kumaran Asan. Now to Thottappalli beach; the sun was already beating down on the sands and we could not spend much time on the beach. As the car crossed the spillway bridge, it looked like the sea and the lake were getting ready for a beauty contest. It is about noon. About 10 kilometers ahead on the national highway is the famous Ambalapuzha Srikrishna temple. You have to turn east from Ambalapuzha junction and travel about a kilometer inside to reach the temple. When we arrived, the temple was still open. A brief stop and again we hit the national highway; 15 kilometers ahead is Alapuzha city. We eat our lunch and hit the beach. It is a beautiful sight, the sun shining down on the beach; the sea a flood of silver. We take a look at the sea and the bridge and head to the lighthouse. It is a structure about 30-metere tall and the second modern lighthouse in India. We pay for our tickets and start the climb. The wooden planks on the ladder creak under our weight. Some others climbing with us tire out and fall behind. But the view from the top is worth all the sweat: all around are picturesque views of the sea, the Vembanad lake and Alappuzha city. As the sun is descending toward the sea as we take the coastal road again. Our next destination is Marari beach. In between we pass some famous resorts, and some really beautiful beaches. Marari is a regular presence in Malayalam films. It is a pleasure to sit and just watch the sea from the shades of the coconut trees on Marari beach. We get into the sea and wet our feet. And hit the road again, for the many more beautiful sights awaiting us. A few kilometers north, we come up on a beautiful stone building. This is the famous Arthunkal Basilica, the pilgrimage centre of St Sebastian. The same Basilica that is mentioned in an old Malayalam film song. You can also have the darshan of Arthunkal Veluthachan here. Another six kilometers ahead is Thankippalli, and beyond that is Andhakaranazhi, or the dark corridor. It is the last stop on our journey. The sky has taken on a reddish hue. We enjoy the views from the elevated walkway built on the sea wall. A lighthouse far ahead adds to the beauty. We just had to travel 90 kilometers to enjoy this enchanting tropical dusk. And what we got were some great views - unparalleled and unforgettable. Fri, 18 Mar 2016 09:16:08 GMT Kalladikodan Hills –Where beauty meets myth There is an old-wives tale that goes thus - if the Kalladikodan hills darken, the Kunkapuzha tends to breach its shores. The widespread forest fires in this area are often a sign of the harsh summers that are coming up. The Kalladikodan hills are not just one of the many other hills ; it is a Pandora's Box of myriad myths, rich history and many a witchcraft tales to tell. From the uprising against the British - to the legend of Kalladikodu Neeli, there is even an ancient art form called Neeliattam that is based on the myths surrounding Neeli. The Siruvani Dam, Attilla waterfalls, Kanjirampuzha, Meenvallam waterfalls originates from the Kalladikodan hills. Mruthasanjjivani, the life-giving plant is said to have been found on these hills. There are many that head to Kalladikodan to collect another precious substance called 'Kanmadham' – a viscous rock formation that oozes out from the age old granite rocks here. The sticky substance is known to have unique medicinal properties. And that is not the only factor that is responsible for placing Kalladikodan on the tourism map. **Siruvani** The Siruvani Dam is a major centre in the Kalladikodan hill ranges. Siruvani in Palakkad District supplies drinking water to the city of Coimbatore. Water from Siruvani River is renowned for its taste and mineral properties. It takes around 18 Kms from Iddakurrissi on the Palakkad-Calicut NH route to get here. Private vehicles are allowed only as far as Injikkunnu which is 2 Kms away from Pallakayathu in the Karimba Panchayat. You are then required to take an entry pass from the forest range check post there. The fee for a group of eight members is around Rs. 1600. From here you can travel for 3 hours on the Forest office vehicle. It is customary for the vehicle to stop at the hairpin bends here called the S-Bend. The view here is breathtaking, covered with a dense fog and this includes the Kanjirampuzha Dam view too. After the S-Bend, the next stop is Singaparra. You can get into the river from here. The Kerala –Tamil Nadu border runs through this range and we would by then be in the Kerala side. There is another kilometre long walk from here; this takes you into a dense forest. If mother luck favours you may even come across some wildlife. The Forest range guest house is located 4 Kms away from the Siruvani Dam. The 135 – year old residence is called Pattiyar Bungalow as it is set on the banks of the Pattiyar River. The building also goes by the name of Mylone Bungalow after its foreigner builder. Around 10 years back a foreign lady had come in search of the Mylone Bungalow claiming to be the granddaughter of late Mr. Mylone. She even had the original building plans and other drawings as proof. At present the building doubles up as the Forest Camp Office. Muthikulam, the lap of Kalladikodan hills comes above Siruvani dam. This is where the purest water flows and it is from here that the Siruvani River originates. Between Muthikulam and Siruvani river there exists a dense forest route. The remains of a plane wreckage is said to be lying in there somewhere. Only a maximum of 100 people are allowed into Siruvani in a day. You can get to know any information about the trip from the Injikunnu check post and the permission for the same is obtained from here too. The contact number is 04924201042. The Kanjirapuzha Dam is located along the Kanjirapuzha-Siruvani route. This is where the mystical Kalladikodan valley lies. Kanjirapuzha is just 4 Kms away from Palakkayam. There is the Attilla Waterfalls and also an expansive botanical garden of the District tourism promotion council at Kanjirapuzha. The falls are 12 Kms away from the Kalladikodu range along the Palakkad- Mannarkkad route. From the town, vehicles are allowed entry up till Munnekara. After that you will have to hire a high-gear jeep for the next leg of the trip. If you are up for it, a trek is also recommended. The walk uphill can get tedious though as only a short distance is covered in tar and concrete. The pathway is mostly in a dilapidated state because of the heavy rains, a pristine river and some smattering of plantation areas. Wild elephants are a common sight here. There is a massive mango tree and from the foot of the tree you can get a good view of the Western Ghats. The Jeep journey ends after 2 Kms and what lies ahead is a narrow path hidden in the shrubbery and slippery boulders. A hermit is believed to come and live on a clearing below a huge rock. And because of this, the rock is known as ‘Swamipara’. Many put in offerings near a Devil-tree and pray here. The spirit of Kalladikodan Neeli is also believed to be present here. A narrow way between the rocks leads to the crystal clear river and the cascading Attilla Waterfalls. The falls are so beautiful; it can almost calm your senses and take you to another world. Talks are on for setting up a Hydel Power Station at the foothills. Another 3 Kms from Munnekara is the Meenvallam Hydel project. There are 5 waterfalls here but the entry is restricted only to the first one and all five have a varied kind of charm and allure. The Forest protection Samiti at Munnekara provides passes for 20 rupees that will take you to Meenvallam. There have been some studies relating these centres by the Palakkad-Idakurrissi-Palakkayam -Siruvani tourism circuit. But nothing much came from this. Examining the possibility of the Meenvallam-Attilla– Palakkayam – Siruvani- Kanjirapuzha forest route has also been proposed. **How to reach Siruvani;** Siruvani is the drinking water project of the Kalladikodan ranges. Entry is strictly with the permission of the Forest Department only. An 8-member team will incur a fee of Rs. 1600. The entry pass is obtained from the Injikunnu check post, there is a vehicle of the forest department to take you inside and the duration of the trip is 3 hours. For more information, contact 04924201042 The Attilla Waterfalls are 12 Kms from the palakkad-mannarkkad route Private vehicles are allowed entry only till Munnekara and from there you need to hire a jeep for a 3 Km journey and then trekking. Thu, 17 Mar 2016 08:58:55 GMT Here's the story of that church in 'Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa' A gentle breeze rippled across the river Pamba. And across the river and a narrow road is a beautiful church which reminds one of a Portuguese style construction. This is the St Mary's Forane Church at Pulinkunnu, Alappuzha. The church, in this village in Alappuzha shot to fame after it was featured in Gautham Vasudeva Menon's super hit movie 'Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa'. While most of the movie makers get the lead pair to romance on the backwaters, Gautham Vasudeva Menon did that and much more. He caught the beauty of the church in all its splendour. For those who have not seen this movie, here is a look at the scenes in which the church features. Now for the history of this beautiful church. Ages ago, Pulinkunnu did not have a church. So, the devotees used to travel all the way to Champakulam- an overnight journey by boat. Once the party reached late and were jeered at. Saddened, they approached the King. The king granted the devotees permission to build a church at his old boathouse. And in AD 1557, the church dedicated to the holy mother came into being. Over the years, the number of members in the congregation grew. A new building became necessary and about a century ago, a new church - the one you see now - came to be. After the movie 'Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa' became a hit, there has a been an increase in the number of visitors to this church. All attracted by the serene and peaceful atmosphere this place of worship offers. Also read: [Around Alappuzha in 24 hours]( Thu, 17 Mar 2016 06:57:05 GMT Four reasons to head out to Palaikari Aqua Tourism centre | Video Are you searching for a place to escape from the sweltering summer sun? Head out to Matsyafed's Aqua Tourism centre situated at Palaikari on the Kottayam – Ernakulam road. Once you turn off the highway and enter the Fisheries Road, you are greeted by the sights and sounds of village life. Pick up your tickets at the entrance and you are all set to explore the peaceful environment [Read more about Kumarakom]( **1) The lake and the farm** There is a long tiled pathway that separates the Vembanad Lake on the left and the fish farm on the right. As you walk down the path, the only sounds you will hear are those of waves lashing the bank, the birds chirping and an occasional motor boat on the waters. There are a couple of multi storied buildings where you can sit and take in the beauty of the place. They also double up as view points – and trust us, the view gets better as you move to the top floor. **2) What can you do?** The tranquil atmosphere allows you to escape from the busy mundane life and spend time with your loved ones. You could just relax at one of those resting places or on the hammocks. The breeze helps beat the heat. You can catch up with your family and friends while lazing on one of the hammocks. Or if you are alone, read a book or watch other people. [Also: Are you ready for the cloud nine tour?]( There is a small park – with a couple of swings and a merry-go-round, which will keep the children engaged. You can go boating – try your hand at rowing or hire a pedal boat and test your stamina. If you are going as a group of about 20 people, the centre provides you help in hiring a houseboat to cruise around the islands on Vembanad Lake at an extra cost. If you want to try your hand at fishing, the centre offers fishing rods and bait at a nominal amount of Rs 10. However, if you catch a lot of fish, you have to pay for it. **3) Beyond tourism** Prior booking is required if you are planning to go as a group. There is a seminar hall, which you can avail for at an extra charge. Come April, and a new AC restaurant will start functioning at the facility. These days, there are a lot of people who come here for the wedding photo shoot. [Read: Miracles and blessings from St Mary's Cathedral]( **4) Food** If you arrive before noon, you have to shell out Rs 200 for entry fee. But the best part is you are entitled to a sumptuous meal with fresh fish - curry or fry- which is caught and cooked at the farm. They also serve other meat on prior request. Alcohol, however is not allowed at the farm. Mon, 14 Mar 2016 06:27:39 GMT Roaming among the lions at Neyyar Yes, there is a Lion Safari Park near Neyyar Dam in Thiruvananthapuram. And yes, the lions walk free in 10 acres of land in the small island of Marakunnam while you are taken in a safari vehicle. The safari starts at 9 am and normally lasts about an hour. The Forest Department takes you out in a customized vehicle for the safari. Normally a safari vehicle can accommodate 15 people. There are two doors that take you into the park. The forest guards who come in the safari vehicles will open these doors one after the other. Before going in, the guards will tell you about the number of lions in the park - and that most of them were born here. And almost as a rejoinder add, 'if you are not lucky, you may not see them at all.' We had just gone up a short way when the driver hit the sudden brake. He had spotted a lionesswho did not seem annoyed by the vehicle, nor did she get up and move out of the way. The driver backed off and took another route. Around another bend we spotted two lions, a male and a female. The guard cautioned us. The smallest sound of changing lenses irritated the lion and he roared in anger. His mate, having been disturbed walked into the forest and he followed her meekly. We followed them. The lions we discovered were about to begin their courtship. We decided to leave them to enjoy their time together and went on to see the other attractions around Neyyar. Safari timings: 9 am to 5pm Thu, 10 Mar 2016 08:47:33 GMT The not so famous tourist spots in Idukki Idukki is already a major tourist hotspot. The rolling hills of Munnar, the pretty lakes at Mattupetty, Thekkady and Kundala and the historical Ramakalmedu are all very popular with tourists. But Idukki has much more to offer. This year, when the foreign tourists start arriving from October first week, many more attractions showcasing the biodiversity of the district will be awaiting them. **Sreenarayanapuram** Sreenarayanapuram is about six kilometers from Iruttukanam and is easily accessible if you are travelling on the Kochi - Dhanushkodi highway. What makes Sreenarayanapuram special are the five glorious waterfalls. It is already popular with many tourists who explore the Muthirapuzha river. KTDC has made fences and footpaths near the waterfall. Rest rooms and other aminites are also arranged. If you are planning to stay here, there is a KTDC owned resort, Oak Field at Bison Valley about 10km away. There are many more private resorts here. **Kallimali View Point** This vantage point is four and a half km away from Rajakkad. It commands majestic distant views of the Ponmudi Reservoir, as well as the island in it, and its catchment areas, dense with forests. Apart from the view, you may also enjoy the caress of the pleasant breeze. There are a number of private hotels nearby. **Kuthungal** The Kuthungal Waterfalls, four km away from Rajakkad, is a pleasure to watch during the monsoon. The falls feed a hydro-electric project. Though no special facilities have been provided, tourists flock to enjoy the view. **Anayirankal** The Anayirankal Reservoir reflects the blue sky, from amidst its bed of green tea gardens. It is near Pooppara, on the Munnar to Thekkady road. Realizing its tourist potential the Kerala Hydel Tourism Center has arranged boating facilities. Though started only a few weeks back, the boating has brought in about half a lakh of visitors already. Apart from the green velvet of the catchment area, the sight of wild animals walking down into the water is unforgettable. It is 26 km from Munnar. For the more adventurous visitors, ride in special type of vehicles has also been made available. There are many comfortable private resorts at Pooppara, Shanthanpara, etc. **Mathikettanchola** Five km away from Shanthanpara on the Munnar-Thekkady road is the Mathikettanchola National garden. It is a dense forest spreading on 1200 hectare. It used to be barred to visitors, but now the Forest Deptarment, welcomes tourists. It showcases rare forms of plant and animal life. The Department has arranged for trekking. Officials will accompany the tourists. Facilities for accommodating up to 24 persons overnight are available for reasonable rates. Thu, 10 Mar 2016 07:21:14 GMT The relics of an ancient Jain culture at Sulthan Bathery Set on a courtyard of granite slabs, the serene surroundings of the 13th century Mahavir Stone temple was immersed in a prayerful reverie. The ground was wet because of a light drizzle some time back. The divine smell of rain drenched mud and stone, the warm and golden tone of the evening light, the tiny droplets on blades of grass shined like diamond dust. A young jeans and kurta clad boy who was seated leaning on a stone pillar looked up from his book. I ask him if he is a guide, and he says he could be. Nizam is a travel and tourism student and his interest in the temple and the Jain philosophy brings him here almost daily. Now he is doing a project on this Digambara Jain Temple that is also known as Kidanganad Basthi. The temple has been constructed of granite that has been cut lengthwise. The inscriptions and drawings on the pillars and the stone walls follow the style of the Vijayanagara dynasty. The front yard has long granite slabs. Outside this there is a stone walkway and block like pillars all around the temple. Behind the temple and along the sides there are smaller verandas. The Prayer Mandap that faces the Sanctum Sanctorum on the old path that leads to the entrance has the roof missing. Could have been destroyed in a war or in some natural calamity. The silence is broken by a loud group of college students on a study tour and their two teachers. They have dropped in for a visit en route to the Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary. The teachers throw a volley of doubts towards Nizam mistaking him for a guide. He indulges them with a smirk. After a few pictures and poses the group is out of sight in a few seconds. The temple is divided into 5 sections. The Sanctum Sanctorum, Antharal, Maha Mandap, Mukha Mandap, Prayer Mandap. The steps that lead to the Mukha Mandap is similar to the Sopanam seen in the Kerala Temples, complete with the Vyali Mukham. The stone pillars in the temple are replete with the Thirthankara emblems of Jainism like elephant, snake, swan, and lotus. One of the pillars depicts Dharnendra Bandanam, the form of a coiled snake. There is an ancient belief that if you are able to trace the snake from its head to the tail without overlaps or mistakes, your wishes will be granted. This has nothing to do with the Jain philosophy though. A small, narrow door takes you inside the Maha Mandap. The low–ceilinged vault like inner room has 4 stone pillars inscribed with lotus and snakes. It is pleasantly cool inside, and the only light source is the yellow bulb overhead. On one side of the room there is a small iron door that has been locked. This is the Antharal. Near the wall, there are some figurines of Ganesha, Vishnu and others and there were dug out from the temple well in 2002 during the annual cleaning. The smaller room inside the Antharal is the Sanctum Sanctorum. Inside the Sanctum Sanctorum, there is no idol of Mahavir, and only the pedestal for placing the idol is there. The idol is currently in the Ananthanath Temple at Kalpetta. Once a year during Mahavir Jayanthi, the idol is brought here. The temple festival falls on that day. The temple, which is currently under the control of the Archaeological Survey of India, is open to the Jains for worship during the festival. Since the 8th century, Wayanad has been one of the most important Jain centre in Kerala. One of the oldest religions in the world, Jainism saw a decline from the 18th century onwards. The various massacres, vandalism, Tipu’s conquests, British rule, the rise of Hinduism etc are thought to be the factors responsible for this. Sulthan Bathery once known as Ganapathyvattam was a major Jain congregation in Wayanad. Hanaradubhidhi or the 12 Agraharams where Jains once lived is here. Each of these areas had 12 different temples and main one among them was the Kindanganad Basthi. The temple was built in AD 13 Century by the Hoysala Kings. The architecture style belongs to the Vijayanagara period. The temple lost its significance during the glorious period of the Shaivite-Vaishnavite religions. Tipu Sulthan later turned it into his armoury. The British called it the ‘Sulthan’s Battery’ and that is how the name Sulthan Bathery came into existence. After the 18th century, most of the Jain Temples were converted into Hindu Temples. After Tipu’s vandalism, the temple was deserted for about 150 years. Later the Archaeological Survey of India took over the maintenance and declared it a monument of national importance. The courtyard is well laid with lawns and ornamental plants now. Wed, 09 Mar 2016 12:00:33 GMT This is where 'Tu Hi Re' song from Bombay was filmed On March 10, 1995 Mani Ratnam's movie '_Bombay_' hit the screens. The movie, starring Aravind Swamy and Manisha Koirala, was centered on the riots in Bombay following the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya. It was Mani Ratnam's second movie in the trilogy of films that showed human relationships set against the backdrop of issues affecting Indian politics of the time. And like the other two – _Roja_ and _Dil Se_ – _Bombay_, too, was a chartbuster. The movie was dubbed in Hindi and Telugu. The music by A.R. Rahman and the cinematography by Rajiv Menon gave the songs a special charm. And one song, which became a hit was '_Tu Hi Re_', which was shot at Bekal Fort in Kerala. A rain drenched landscape of lush green, the sea and the soulful melody made it a popular song. The Bekal Fort, which is more than 300 years old, is also one of the biggest forts in Kerala - and one which is maintained well too. According to some books, it was Shivappa Nayaka of Bednore who built the fort, but some say that it existed even before. The camera pans in from the choppy seas to the observation tower constructed during Tipu Sultan's reign. It is towards the centre of the fort. Bekal Fort was built to serve a purpose – defending the land against attack from the seas. Those gaps you see were originally built for guns. The ones on the top were for long range attack and the ones in the lower levels were for ships that got closer. Bekal Fort was an important military station for Tipu Sultan after his father Hyder Ali defeated the Nayaks. After the death of Tipu Sultan in the fourth Anglo Mysore war, the fort came under the British East India Company. Now, it is under the Archaeological Survey of India. The recent development activity aimed at making it a popular tourist destination is being undertaken by Bekal Resorts Development Corporation (BRDC) Sat, 05 Mar 2016 02:26:42 GMT Museum city? Kochi to have 30 museums soon Kochi, now has about 10 museums, which showcase its rich past. When the Muziris Heritage Project becomes fully functional, 20 more museums will be added to this list. However, for now, let's take a look at the existing ones across the district. Let's go museum hopping across Kochi **Relics of the Raj @ Hill Palace Museum, Tripunithura** Spread across a sprawling 52 acre land, the Hill Palace has over 48 buildings. Once a stately home, a lot of visitors are still enthralled by the crown gallery, among other relics that bedeck the place. Besides the museum, there is a deer park in the estate. The palace is also one among the favourite shooting locations of filmmakers. **Time** : 9am to 1.30pm - 2pm to 4.30pm, **Fees**: Adults 30, children 10 **Monday holiday** Phone 0484 2781113 Also read [Five places that add to the rustic charm of Mattancherry]( **Manimalika @ Folklore Museum, Thevara** A three-storied building in Thevara houses more than 5,000 rare relics showcasing the traditional art, history of the land. The museum shot into fame when Prince Charles visited it during his trip to Kerala. The 'manimalika' here, has found a place in the Limca Book of Records. **Time**: 9.30am to 6pm, **Fee**: Children 25, adults 50, **Open all days**, Phone: 0484 2665452 Also read [Where to go to watch birds in Kochi]( **Ties that bind @ Indo-Portuguese Museum, Fort Kochi** Situated near the Bishop's House, the Indo Portuguese Museum showcases various relics from the Portuguese era. **Time**: 9am to 6pm, **Fee**: Indian nationals Rs 10, Foreigners Rs 25 Children Rs 5, **Holiday on Monday**, Phone: 04842215400 Also read [Why should you visit Kadamakudi]( **2000 years of history @Kerala History Museum, Edappally** Here, you can trace the rich history and heritage of the land in an audio visual show. Other than an interesting dolls' museum, paintings by famous artists, including M.F. Hussain, adorn the walls. **Time**: 9.30am to 6pm, **Fee**: Aduls: Rs 150, College Students 75, Children 30, **Monday Holiday**,Phone: 0484 2541768 Also read [Rediscovering Muziris]( **Christianity in Kerala @ St Thomas Christian Museum, Kakkanad** The museum houses rare manuscripts and relics, which speak about the advent and spread of Christianity in Kerala. There are more than1000 different crosses in this museum, this is perhaps what makes it special too. **Time**: 9am to 12noon, 2pm to 5.30pm No holidays Also read: [To the Basilicas this Easter]( **Heritage watch @ The Dutch Palace, Mattancherry** Old coins, murals and paintings - the Dutch Palace at Mattancherry speaks of Kerala's rich tradition. The palenquens, the old swords and the clothes that the kings used are on display here. **Time**: 9am to 5pm, **Fees**: Rs 5 Free for children below 15 years **Friday Holiday**, Phone 0484 2226085 Also read [Five restaurants owned by celebs in Kochi]( **All about Navy @ Maritime Museum, INS Dronacharya** India's tryst with naval warfare go back centuries. The Maritime Museum located at INS Dronachrya at the Naval Base in Kochi throws light on the genesis, history, evolution and landmarks the Indian Navy has achieved over time. Here too, there is an audio visual show that gives you more insight into our heritage. **Time**: 10 am to 1.30pm and 2.30pm to 5.45pm, **Fees**: Adults Rs 40, Children Rs 20, School, college trips at half rates, **Monday Holiday** Also read [Five veg restaurants in Kochi]( **All new Bastion Bungalow, Fort Kochi** It will take a couple of weeks before the Bastion Bungalow will open its doors to the public. It will showcase rare books and historic artifacts. **Of marine and coastal environments @ CMFRI Marine Biodiversity Museum** Set up with an objective of collecting, preserving, displaying and cataloging the marine and coastal environments, this museum is one of a kind. Situated in the CMFRI campus, the museum has been designated National Repository status. **Time**: 9.30am to 4.30pm, **Fees**: Adults Rs 20, Children Rs 10, **Holidays: Sunday, Second Saturday**, Phone: 0484 2394357 Also read [St Thomas and his mission to Kerala]( **The story of the island @Maritime Heritage Museum, Wellington Island** The story of Wellington Island is one of hard work and perseverance. The Maritime Heritage Museum is an effort to portray that history. There are some rare pictures that you just wouldn't want to miss. **Time**: 10 am to 6pm, **Fee Rs 10**. Special rates for school groups **Holiday: Wednesday morning** Sat, 27 Feb 2016 08:39:56 GMT Rediscovering the ancient Muziris in 12 hours Trumpets blared. The clear waters of the Periyar were cut through by busy oars, the sailors in layers of fancy colourful robes bearing loads of gold cruised up the river. They could get a clear view of Muzuri Pattinam, the town called Muziris. They were the Romans who crossed the Mediterranean to visit the sons of Chera; attracted by the fragrance of pepper, the Black Gold , they brought loads of real gold for exchange. That was the beginning of centuries-long history of commercial contact. Greeks, Portuguese, and Dutch – all the adventurers of the world voyaged to this famous port. The combined forces of Time, and floods in the Periyar wiped Muziris off the face of the world. This, is history. Fast forward to the present times. In the lap of that ancient Muziris is a small town called Pattanam. We set out on a journey of discovery, along with a German tourist. We felt that the modern folk stared at that German guest, a red new Porsche Boxster, with the same curiosity that their ancestors had bestowed on ancient traders in their sailing ships. Also read: [Muziris Heritage Project: A blast from 3000 years ago]( At North Paravur, Pattanam and Kodungallur we glimpse the remains of ancient Muziris. And also gaze at the beauties of the Kochi coast. Very early morning, we start from Kochi in the Porsche, and across the Goshri Bridge, off along the coast. The view of Kochi from the bridge is unforgettable. **The pit-stops** **Njarackal**: We can spend a day at Rs. 100/- at the Fisheries Centre. We may catch all the fish we can; and they will make curry of them for us – but of course we have to pay extra! We move on **Kuzhipilli Beach**: We pass between heaps of shrimps – beautiful! And here is a lad who could be a hero in archery – he tries to fish by shooting arrows made of wire from a little bow fashioned out of the ribs of an umbrella! Could he be a potential Olympian in archery, we wonder! The beach is comparatively safe here – we take time off for a bath. **Raktheswari Beach**: Three kilometres further on is Raktheswari Beach. It is also called 'Ambedkar Beach' because there is a statue of his. **Cherai Beach**: Is just one and a half kilometres further on. Crowded, touristy and attended by Coastal guards, people believe it is safe, but the largest number of accidents has occurred here. **Pallipuram**: The sand is sugary between sea and backwaters. If the sea is high, the waves overtop the sea-wall and wash across the road. Tippu Sultan is believed to have targeted a fort here – at Pallippuram. It is now an uncared old structure between Cherayi and Munambam. The myth is that Tippu had to turn back due to other pressures when he had reached Malyankara nearby. It had been built by the Portuguese in 1507. Neglected though it is, the odour of antiquity attaches strongly to it. **Sahodaran Ayyappan's house**: He had challenged the caste system by arranging inter-dining of all people – are we yet able to live up to it? Even the road in his name has been abbreviated to 'SA Road'! **Munambam Beach**: The Muziris beach at Munambam has been beautified. The pathway on top of the groins built into the sea to prevent erosion has been tiled. The 'Homely Food' offered by Kudumbasri here is an additional attraction. **Glories of Pattanam**: Chathedam Boat Jetty at Gothuruth is not crowded. It is the only functioning one on the projected National Waterways that is still on paper. Hard to believe that time was when all the world camped here! Kerala Govt., have launched a Heritage Tourism package based on Muziris: to impress on the natives the rich history of their own past, and to further establish Kerala's position as premier tourist destination in the world. Close by is St Sebastian Parish Bungalow at Gothuruth. Surrounded as it is by modern buildings, it is difficult to distinguish this two-century old mansion. **Paliam Palace**: Paliath Achan-s (as the members of this family used to be known) were traditional Dewans of Kochi. Their official residence here had been built as a gift by the Dutch in 1663. Nearby is the traditional Nalukettu home of the family, and a number of temples of their tutelary deities. In the Muziris Plan, these structures have been included as heritage sites. _(Visitors not allowed on Sundays)_ **The Seminary at Vyppikotta**: This seminary used to press printed matter in Kerala. The remains now lie neglected, without roofs, only the walls upstanding. None of the inscriptions on the granite slabs in the courtyard is decipherable. **Synagogue**: Originally, the ornaments in the Synagogue were gold-plated. A thief peeled it all off, taking a week over it. Fortunately, the Synagogue remains. **A Slice of history** The Ramayanam mentions a 'Murachapathanam'. Pliny recorded it as the foremost port in India but Muziris was not only the gateway to trade. Through here entered Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Here, it is believed, did St. Thomas and Malik Dinar disembark. The Periyar flows into the sea through two distributaries. From the sea, this was not pretty, and hence the name Muchiri ('three-lipped'). In the 14th century was scripted a new chapter in history by the same Periyar that had raised the town to prosperity. It flooded the town and the port out of existence. The flood waters forced a new opening that was to become Kochi. The present project for recovering the ruins of Muchiri seeks to wake up the relics from their slumbers. The excavations reveal a well-organized town. Amphorae peculiar unique to the Romans have been recovered only from this site. Troves of foreign coins and shards of pottery are being excavated. **Tourism** We have to travel not only across land but also along backwaters to know the full story. Pallipuram Fort, the great temple at Thiruvanchikulam, the market places trading through barter, Cheraman Mosque, and several other monuments await travellers. The first Christian Church in India (Marthoma Church), the first mosque (Cheraman Palli), are at Kodungallur. The Synagogue is within half a kilometre of the Fort, which also accommodates the Palace. Nearby in the backwaters, a few rocks raise their heads. The associated myth: once Siva and Parvathi were flying on their vehicle, the Bull Nandi. Enraged by a sudden lovers' quarrel, Siva tore off the bells from the bull's neck and cast them down. There they remain as the rocks. **Footnote** Not a day, nor even a week will suffice to see all of Muziris. Devoted in mind and body, those who desire to study its history are welcome, to imbibe the rhythms of the backwaters of Varapuzha and Kodungallur, enjoying the native cuisine. Also read [Muziris project: Reliving the past]( Sat, 27 Feb 2016 04:24:57 GMT Five places that add to the rustic charm of Mattancherry Kochi is the happening place in Kerala. But, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of this 'Smart city', is Mattancherry, where history sleeps in every nook and corner. Ancient buildings exist cheek by jowl with the modern day dwellings. It was here that trade flourished with all the foreign countries, long ago. And if you are on a journey to discover Kerala, this is where you begin. **1)The Dutch did not build the Dutch Palace** In a bid to restore peace and friendly trade links, the Portuguese built a palace in Mattancherry and presented it to the Raja of Kochi in AD 1555. The Dutch who came later renovated it and built a couple of extension. And hence the name stuck. The Palace houses some of the best of mural art in the state. This building has been renovated a couple of times and is a full fledged museum now. **Open on all days except Friday** **Time:** 9am to 5pm There is an entry fee **2) A synagogue for the 'Paradesis'** Built in 1568, the synagogue is one of the oldest in the Commonwealth and houses very ancient relics. The lofty structure, the glass chandeliers and the blue tiles on the floor - each have an interesting story to tell. The chandeliers came all the way from Belgium, and the blue tiles from Canton, China. And if you really look at it closely, you can make out that none of the tile is similar to the one next to it. **The synagogue is open every day except Fridays, Saturdays and Jewish holidays.** **Timings:** Forenoon - 10am to 12pm; Afternoon - 3pm to 5pm. Visitors are expected to enter the synagogue barefoot. **3) The sights and sounds of Jew Town** You are transported to another era, another mood, another ambiance when you stroll down the Jew Street. You get a whiff of spices, antique furniture and artefacts. And if you take a peep inside some shops, you can see that some are actually homes. There are just a handful Jewish families who still stay in this street – most of them having left in search of better pastures abroad. If you are looking for keepsakes, this is where you pick them up. But be sure to strike a bargain. Shops open by around 10am. **4) Even God's have a tough time** After the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire, the Gowda Saraswath Brahmins migrated to Kochi, where they were given asylum by the king. They brought with them the idol of Venkatachalapathy and built a temple in 1599. The temple was looted and plundered by the Portuguese, and later reconstructed a couple of times. The idol disappeared mysteriously in 1719 to be found later on a beach and there was a period in time when the idol was moved to Alappuzha for safe-keeping. In addition to the presiding deity, there are shrines dedicated to Hanuman, Garuda, Ganapathy and Mahalakshmi in the temple complex. The salient feature of this temple is the gigantic bronze bell which is about four feet in diameter and six feet high. Entry is restricted to people who profess Hindu religion. **5) The 'bent' cross** The Church of Our Lady of Life at Mattancherry is one of the first churches built by the Portuguese in Kochi. Also known as the 'Coonan Kurisu Palli, it was here in January 1653 that the Christian community took the oath that they would not submit to Portuguese dominance in ecclesiastical and secular life, which brought about a lot of changes. You can walk into the church anytime. However, Sundays tend to get crowded during the various service times. Wed, 24 Feb 2016 12:34:28 GMT Plan your trip to Wayanad this summer Wayanad. The name conjures up an image of misty peaks, pretty lakes, spice plantations and wildlife sanctuaries. This hill station, like anywhere else, is fast changing. Even though it holds the charm of a small town, it is well prepared to host tourists from across the globe. Wayanad has much to offer a traveller. Adventure, wildlife, romance, spirituality, tranquillity and a chance to see the etchings of past. A week is not enough to take in the charms of this place, but, considering that it is a long weekend, attempt here is to give you a taste of Wayanad, in 48 hours. We start our journey to Wayanad from Kozhikode, the city rich in taste, on a Friday afternoon. The National Highway 212 that connects Kozhikode to Mysore passes through Wayanad. The road, winds uphill most of the way, the most picturesque being the hairpin bends at Thamarassery Pass. On one side, you have the valley, and on the other the hills covered in green. During the rains, there will be small waterfalls flowing off the side of the rocks. You can see monkeys and sometimes a herd of deers, on this drive. It will take you about three hours uphill to Wayanad at a leisurely pace, stopping at the various view points and taking in the sights and sounds during the ride. Don't forget to try the gooseberries, carrots, mangoes and various other vegetables marinated in salt, chilli and vinegar mixture, which are sold by the locals on the view points. It is night by the time we reached Lakkidi, Wayanad. There are a lot of options to stay - hotels and homestays are dime a dozen. However, it is advisable to make advance bookings if you are thinking of heading out here during the holiday season. We check into Rain Country Resorts at Lakkidi and sleep off to the music of crickets outside. We are up and about by 6am. Our destination is Thirunelli temple, which is almost 70kms away, approximately 2 hours by car. We pack some sandwiches for the roads. The drive takes us through coffee and tea estates before it changes into forest. Monkeys are a frequent sight, herds of deer and a huge variety of birds can be spotted on this drive. Drive carefully, because, often herds of wild elephants will decide to cross the road. The Thirunelli temple is in a valley surrounded by four hills - Brahmagiri on the north, Udayagiri on the east, Narinirangi hill on the south and Karimala on the west. And of course there is a myth related to trinity of Hindu Gods too. There is a small mountain stream nearby, the Papanasini, which is so pure that it could wash away the sins of those who take a dip in it. The temple sees heavy crowds during the Karkidaka Vavu, where thousands offer ritualistic Vavu bali or the offerings to our ancestors. There are a couple of small eateries outside the temple to satiate the pangs of hunger. [Read more on Thirunelli]( "Thirunelli")  From Thirunelli, Pakshipathalam is just a stone's throw away. A haven for birds and a trekkers paradise, Pakshipathalam is one of the lesser explored regions in the district. The Forest Department watchers take you on a day trek to Pakshipathalam, most of the days at 8am in the morning. Prior permission's are a must, they also provide camping equipment. It is a challenging trek, and not advisable if you have old people and kids in your group. We decide to give the trek a miss and head out to Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary. [Read more on Pakshipathalam]( "Pakshipathalam")  Established in 1973, the Wayanad sanctuary is an integral part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and Muthanga falls within this reserve. Muthanga houses some of the rare and endangered species of both flora and fauna. Muthanga is one of the best places where you can get to see Asia’s largest elephant population and other wildlife including tigers, leopards, wild bison, deer, giant squirrel, monkeys and wide variety of birds and flora. [Read more on Muthanga]( "Muthanga")  It is evening when we head back to the resort; tired, but ready to explore what the next day had to offer. After a hearty breakfast, we head out early yet again. We are off to see the Jain Temples in Wayanad. Jainism once flourished in this part of Kerala. Some families, stay on even now. This is a popular tourist destination now. [Read more on Jain Temple]( "Jain Temple")  And then, before the mercury soared, we head for the Edakkal Caves. These caves, were once the home of prehistoric men; from the Stone Ages. In 1894, it was Fred Fawcett, a police official of the erstwhile Malabar State who discovered the Edakkal Caves and immediately recognised their anthropological and historical significance. We marvel at the writings made by our ancestors. The entry to the caves are open from 9am every day to 4pm in the evenings. It will take you an hour, if not more to walk up the hill, take in the scribblings on the wall and head out. We decide to head out to Kalpetta for lunch [Read more on Edakkal Caves]( "Edakkal Caves")  After lunch we head out to the Banasurasagar Dam. The largest earth dam in India, this dam is build of boulders and stones. You can again, trek in the hills and go on a boat ride on the reservoir. It is evening when we head out to Pookode Lake. This fresh water lake is an instant hit with tourists. You find couples on their honeymoon, families and school children on excursions here. You can go on a boating here. This is a place where you can shop too. The District Tourism Promotion council runs a couple of shops which sell spices and forest produce like honey. As we watch the sun go down, it dawns on us that it is about time to head back. To reality and the humdrum of everyday life. We know we have seen the most talked about attractions in Wayanad, but, we also know that Wayanad has many more hidden gems. The temple dedicated to Sita Devi and her sons Luv and Kush, the pretty village of Bavali which shares the border with Karnataka and a multitude of waterfalls, hills and valleys, plantations we never went. Those, we keep for another day. Sun, 21 Feb 2016 06:04:30 GMT You will see Kannavam Forest in Baahubali 2 Kannavam Reserve Forest situated on the Thalaserry - Bavali road is fast finding its way on the tourism map. This forest is home to a wide range of flora and fauna, including rare medicines, which is used in treating venom, kidney and urinary tract diseases. The Peruva, Chembukkavu, Thetummal and Kolappa regions inside the forest see a lot of visitors. Many come for a short trek inside the forest to the Kolappa waterfalls. It is one of the tallest of the waterfalls in the area. Peruva, one of the areas in the region, is famous for the Perumkaliyattam of Muchilott Bhagavathy, a theyyam performace which draws a lot of people. The Kadoth Mahasiva temple and the Peruva St George Orthodox Church is part of the forest. Kannavam forest is home to the Kurichiya tribes who had pledged their allegiance to Pazhassi Raja. Todikulam, was one of the strongholds of the Raja during his fight against the British. Kannavam, was in the news for an entirely different reason recently. It was the shooting location of S S Rajamouli's magnum opus Baahubali 2. The Kerala schedule for the movie began with the shooting at Kannur Fort. The cast and the crew were camping near the Kannavam forest to can a couple of war sequences. This is the second time that the crew of Baahubali is coming to Kerala. The famed Athirappilly waterfalls had a significant part to play in the first part of the movie which hit the screens last year. [More on Athirappilly]( Long long ago, these forests, resonated with the war cries of Pazhassi Raja's troops when the took on the British. Now, the forest reverberates with the sound of horses hoofs. Will Kannavam with its lush green become a popular shooting location? We wonder. Here's a list of popular movie locations in Kerala [Movie Locations]( Sat, 20 Feb 2016 03:20:15 GMT The lord who loves to 'munch' on chocolates One Munch mala, said a voice beside me as I unbuckled my sandals at the Thekkan Pazhani temple gate. I turned around sharply. A Munch mala? Curious indeed! I knew people offered flowers, sandal paste, oil or fruits to invoke the Almighty's blessings. But a Munch mala? I soon learnt that at 'Thekkan Pazhani Balasubrahmanya Swami temple', devotees have started a new trend. They offer chocolate bars to the presiding deity in addition to all of the other offerings. “This is a recent development,” says the main priest Shaji, who has been serving at the temple for more than two decades. “I don't remember when this started, but it kicked off when children started leaving chocolate bars as offering; they believed it would bring them success in examinations. Soon, the grown ups followed, and started arriving with cartons of chocolates in return for fulfiling their wishes." The chief priest explained this further. “The principal deity in the temple is 'Balamurugan', or Lord Muruga as child – and all children love chocolates”, Shaji smiles. Earlier, garlands made of lemons were the main offering to the Lord but now the chocolates take precedence. They are offered as garlands, in boxes and individual packs. “People offer a 'para' with chocolates (a para is a weight measure) when their wishes are granted. And there is 'Thulabharam' (where a person is kept on one scale and chocolates in the other) for the little ones. “We give Munch as Prasadam too”, says Shaji. “However, I will not call this temple the 'Munch Muruga' temple,” says Shaji. He delves into the history of the temple. A devotee from one of the families in the area used to frequent Pazhani. Over the years, he became old and he couldn't travel. The Lord, then appeared in his dreams and told him to build a temple in his hometown. The lamp and the deity, says Shaji, were brought from Pazhani. “This is the only temple in the state that has this divine presence,” he adds. Lakshmi, a devotee who was listening to the story chips in. “My daughter is a very fair girl, and once we saw some dark spots on her face. She was distraught, and so were we. I told her to pray to the Lord and make an offering. She prayed and cried through the night and promised several packets of Munch as offering at the temple. And the next day when she woke up, there was no blemish on her skin. Lakshmi says, “my daughter went early in the morning, as soon as the shops opened, bought packets of Munch as promised and kept them at the temple. She has never had any issues after that, the proud mother says. Shaji smiles. This is not the only case, he tells me. There are many like this lady who come here from far and wide. And on an impulse, I bought a bar of Munch and kept it before the Lord, before bowing my head to the supreme presence. Tue, 16 Feb 2016 15:08:54 GMT Kuravilangad Church - blessed by 'Her' divine presence The roots of Christianity in Kerala go back a long long time. And hence, the state is home to some ancient churches. The St Mary's Forane Church at Kuravilangad, dates back to AD 335 according to certain records, but there are many who believe it is even older. **History** According to popular belief, Mother Mary herself appeared to a bunch of children who were tending to their flock. These kids were hungry and thirsty, and an old woman, appeared out of nowhere - fed them and showed them a spring from where they could drink. The old timers believe that is was Mother Mary who came in the guise of an old woman. The old lady, according to the history books, directed them to build a church next to a spring, which sprouts water even now. The children, informed the elders of the village who constructed a church in the place. **Artifacts and monuments** There are a lot of ancient artifacts in this church which speak of its antiquity. The most prominent among them is an ancient bell with inscriptions that have not been deciphered so far. There are church bells that were manufactured in Hamburg in 1910 and an eight pronged coconut scraper which is used during the festival of Moonu Nompu, which falls in January. The main altar is a rare blend of Portuguese and Roman architecture and it is said to have been made in 1570. The stone cross also was installed around the same time. The 'Vadhyapura', a building used to play musical instruments, a presbytery, a couple of small churches form part of the church complex. They also have a school. **Festivals** The main festival is the Moonu Nompu. And the Kappal pradikshinam that happens on day two of the three day Moonu Nompu festival is really unique. [Read more about it here]( **Religious harmony** In the olden days, according to the 'Kristhavavijnanakosham', the elephants for the procession, on Moonu Nompu festival used to be sent from the Ettumanoor Siva Temple. The book also says that the Ettumanoor Devaswam gifted eight and a quarter acres of land to the church for farming. People from far and wide, irrespective of caste and creed gather on Fridays to offer oil at the stone cross in front of the church, such is their faith in 'Muthiyamma,' as Mother Mary is addressed at this church. Thu, 11 Feb 2016 11:15:02 GMT VIDEO: Gliding through the clouds in Kerala Kerala's lush green landscapes are truly welcoming. Then again, how many of you are aware of its many non-stereotypical ventures such as scuba-diving, hang-gliding or even paragliding? Why must you travel to the Nilgiris or the Himachal to experience the true sense of living on the edge? Confused? So was I, until I decided to take a chance and fly. Vagamon, situated in Idukki district, is known for its many plantation estates. More importantly, it offers its visitors with a landscape that is ideal for many adventure activities; including paragliding. Paragliding is an adventure sport wherein a pilot uses a special parachute that allows him to travel a long horizontal distance before he lands. It is not to be confused with hang-gliding. Here are few details regarding the gliding point at Vagamon: **Location:** Kolahalamedu hill, Vagamon **Travel time:** 2 hours 45 minutes (from Ernakulam), 1 hour 30 minutes (from Kottayam) Mode of transport: Car or Jeep (most preferred), Bus upto Vagamon and then another means of transport upto Kolahalamedu The ideal time to do so is between end of January upto the first week of March. “It is during this period that we receive west winds and that is most essential when you consider paragliding,” said Vinil V, the paragliding co-ordinator of Fly Vagamon, a professional organisation supported by the Paragliding Association of India. It has also been supported by the Kerala Tourism Department on several occasions. [Also read: No govt support, Vagamon's paragliding festival cancelled]( Fly Vagamon has been conducting sessions for paragliding over 10 years. At first, the sport was open to only professional paragliding pilots. Within a short period, they had decided to introduce tandem paragliding so as to give the public a chance as well. Tandem paragliding refers to that aspect of the sport wherein two people, namely the pilot and an amateur flyer, glide together. The pilot controls the parachute while the amateur flyer is seated in a harness before him. The details of the Tandem flying sessions are below: **Duration:** 30 minutes **Cost:** Rs. 3500 per person (Rs. 500 is the advance sum that has to be paid before attending the session). An additional Rs. 500 is charged for those who wish to use the GoPro cameras offered by the organisers during the flying session. They also organise pilot training courses. The training programme is divided into two parts. Part 1 of the programme gives one a basic outline of what paragliding is while Part 2 is meant for those who to wish to become professional gliders. **Part 1** **Duration:** 4 days **Location:** Vagamon, Kerala **Cost:** Rs. 18,000 During this period, the trainees are taught the mere basics of paragliding such as setting up the parachute, manoeuvring, taking-off as well as landing safely. **Part 2** **Duration:** 5 days **Location:** Pune or Goa **Cost:** Rs. 20,000 (approximately) The five day training programme teaches the pilots to learn how to fly at higher altitudes. The training is conducted in Pune, Goa, Bengaluru or in a few other locations outside Kerala primarily due to certain space constraints that are required to be met in case the person is flying at greater heights. One might wonder if the cost of the tandem session is too steep for the average Malayali. The fact is, the sessions are rather inexpensive in comparison to those conducted in certain other parts of India. (Outside Kerala, the costs could vary from Rs. 3000 per head to Rs. 7000 per head). Therefore it is a wonderful deal. Moreover, the activity involves the use of a lot of safety gear and as well as the assistance of two or more international-level paragliders. Hence, it is bound to cost you more than a walk in the woods. The sessions at Vagamon are safe. The pilots are experienced. They do not try stunts until and unless the weather conditions are ideal and when the customer requests him to do so. But the experience, is unbelievable and not to mention addictive. An aerial view of Kerala's greenery and peaceful landscapes are bound to leave an impression in your mind for many years. It is only then that you realise the true power of nature and develop a certain respect for it as well. **Verdict:** Experience it. Trust me, apart from the snow-fed mountains of the Himalayas, this is bound to give you as much of a delight as that of any paragliding session elsewhere. So go ahead -up, up, and away! Explore the world of the glider in your own backyard. Wed, 10 Feb 2016 06:14:40 GMT Where in Kerala is Pandi bird sanctuary? Close your eyes and pin your ears back. Allow your auditory receptors to sense birds on all sides - chirping, flitting, singing and fluttering. Nevertheless, keep an eye out; you might spot a heron tugging an earthworm for breakfast, and a kingfisher hovering jewel-like, to cradle the morning sun in all its radiance. Welcome to Pandi Bird Sanctuary, in Alappuza district. A trip here, far from the madding crowd, will surely cheer you up. When compared to Kumarakom and Thattekkad, Pandi is one of those lesser known bird sanctuaries. Not many know about the bio-diversity habitat stretching several kilometers along the banks of the smooth-flowing Pampa River. **Off to Pandi** Ask someone at Payippad junction on the Kadapra-Haripad State Highway about a bird sanctuary and you will be met with raised eyebrows. Everyone would ask, ‘what, bird sanctuary? where is it? Now, ask for a place called Pandi. Turn towards Pandi route after entering the Ayaparamp road from Payippad. Even though a board for the Heronry Conservation Project is installed in many places, the odds that someone sees it is barely better than winning a lottery. Traverse across Vittuvalanji Bridge and voila, you have reached Pandi in Cheruthana Panchayat. The road is a little treacherous but allows easy passage of a vehicle. **You need patience** Pandi is not a regular bird sanctuary. It is a stop-over for various kinds of migratory birds from all part of the country. But it depends on the seasons, harvest and other ideal weather conditions. Other than the herons, several species of migratory birds such as Small Blue Kingfisher, White Breasted Kingfisher, Stork Billed Kingfisher are spotted here, from time to time. It is ideal to venture to Pandi after checking on the migration time-table of birds in advance. Local folks say that most birds arrive here during the time after harvest. Well, if you are not much of a birder, soak it all in the vast green stretches of paddy fields, which is truly a sight to behold. The blue-gray Pampa River, the rural landscape and the fields, lined by coconut trees, can awaken the poet in you. Park your vehicle and take a stroll, trust us, it will relax you. The tiny channel adjoining the ridge across the paddy fields abounds croaking frogs and toads. Dragon flies and butterflies perched on the long blades of grass paint a pretty picture. You might also see a water snake scurrying along the narrow stretch of water. It is ideal to carry drinking water while going on this tour as there are no shops nearby. And when your legs ache from continuous walking, Pampa will beckon you. The path leads to a scenic shoreline, where you can take a ferry to the other side of the shore. While you are walking around, you will not feel the intensity of the sun. However, you will find yourselves totally drenched by the time you reach back to your vehicle. If you are armed with a decent camera, you can take back a collection of beautiful snaps from this abode of birds. Tue, 09 Feb 2016 07:41:38 GMT Enthayar - A trek in the forest of springs Ever imagined trekking within one of India's first plantation estates? Well, I never did. Until a few days ago. I was all 'pumped' up with excitement the moment I heard that the HAI (Hiking Association of India) was organising its next trek to the hill of Enthayar situated at the Kottayam-Idukki border. The excitement was primarily due to a couple of reasons. I was all set to go trekking after a gap of nearly six months. And then, this trip was an opportunity for me to see if those few hours at the gym had truly paid off. But more than all, my elder brother and I could spend some quality time with each other. After reaching home from work, I packed and slept off early. As the clock struck 5, we were up and decided to skim through our check-list. Water bottles and a first-aid kit – that was all that we intended on carrying to the hills of Enthayar. We were set. We boarded the bus at 6.45 am along with various others from across Kerala and nearby places. We drove up to the base of the hill. Surrounded by lush green vegetation, tea gardens and rubber plantations, Enthayar was turning out to be more than paradise. The drive uphill also witnessed a rather cheerful warm-up session with a unique 'push-up' the hill! A few minutes later we had set foot on the path and was escorted through a forest called, Thoniyam Kadu, by Manoj, a school teacher and a native of the Enthayar. It was then that I realised that there is more to the forest than what meets the eye. Thoniyam Kadu was, as a matter of fact, one of the first plantation estates in India. Owned by an Englishman named J.J Murphy several years ago, the area is ideal for the growth of cardamom, rubber, coffee, bamboo and many more plants. It is also the habitat of the Malabar Viper. Upon receiving the brief, we were instructed to stay close, help each other and enjoy the trip all the way upto the top of the hill. Thus, the journey had begun. Although the trek was estimated to be only seven kilometres, it was no child's play. The terrain was rocky, not to mention covered with dried moss and thorny vegetation. Most interestingly, it was surrounded by tiny streams of spring water which seemed like a gift from heaven's abode. The cool yet pure water not only quenched our thirst but had rejuvenated our souls each time we had halted. The guide was kind to have explained various flora of the place, telling us what for and how certain plants are used. Coffee plants, with their flowers all bloomed, adorned the pathway all the way upto the hill. The estate also saw the plantation of a unique 'green' bamboo as well. The trek lasted for about six hours with an exciting rock-climbing task on a waterfall that appeared to have dried up. Sure, there were screeches, scratches and bruises along the way, but it was worth it. The view uphill was beyond imaginable. The tints and shades of the hills in the distant oblivion were breathe-taking. All of a sudden, the fatigue that had begun to take-over the adventurers on the trip, had vanished. So what was the verdict? To begin with I realised that I was fit and that I should consider planning my next trek. But, more importantly, it was an experience that had showcased nature's glory at its best and I did develop a certain respect for the environment around me. Also, it led to building a bigger contact circle and as well as few more friends for life. Also read [The lesser known destinations in Idukki]( [Panchalimedu]( Tue, 02 Feb 2016 11:57:14 GMT The valley of silence A trip to Silent Valley, one of the few remaining rain forests in the world, is a pilgrimage for the nature lover. The silence of the forest, where not even crickets are heard, masks the abundant life that thrives below the cocooned meshes of the evergreen foliage. It is a trip that takes you through verdant forests watered by a virgin river that flows merrily without a care- a trip that reminds you to care for nature to keep it unblemished and pure. Silent Valley is also a place where you can revel in the beauty of the rain that feeds the Kunti River, which flows for 20 kms or more, untouched by humans. The overhanging greenery bestows freshness that lifts the spirits and puts life back into a weary traveller. Silent Valley is the core area of the Nilgiri biosphere, which is a World Heritage site. About 20 kms away from Mannarkad, in Palakkad district, lies Mukkali, the gateway to Silent Valley. One can stay here at facilities arranged by the Forest Department on prior booking. From here, one needs to hire a jeep provided by the department to travel further into the forest. The 23-km travel through the forest is an experience that brings one closer to one’s natural roots. The plantations that greet you at the onset slowly make way to semi-evergreen forests where mountain squirrels and lion-tailed Macaques abound. As the cold increases, you know that you are deep in nature’s territory, the cold pacifying your tired senses in soft caresses. On the way, you are greeted by small rivulets and waterfalls that giggle on your arrival with glee. Keep your cameras ready because this is where there are abundant sights and sounds to savour. The journey ends at the banks of Kunti River. Perhaps this river is the only virgin river in India that has remained untouched by humans and their wayward ways. A hanging bridge stands as a mute reminder of how a mass movement of environmentalists prevented a hydro project from destroying the beauty and fecundity of this forest years before. That movement helped the unique set of fauna and flora to flourish. When you watch the green stretch of unbroken forest from the watchtower on the banks of Kunti River, you perhaps realise how well fought that fight was and how priceless the victory of those nature lovers was. The eerie silence of the forest perhaps would then nod in agreement. Silent Valley, located 40 kms away from Mannarkad town in Palakkad District, gives the wildlife aficionado an insight into the beautiful flora and fauna of the Western Ghats. The sanctuary, which extends to an area of 90 sq. kms, contains India's last substantial stretch of tropical evergreen forests. The pristine Kunti River, a tributary of Bharathapuzha, flows through the Silent Valley. The park is home to a staggering array of 1,000 species of flowering plants, 107 species of orchids, 100 ferns and fern allies, 200 liverworts, 75 lichens and about 200 algae, 128 species of butterflies and 35 species of reptiles. Many of these are endemic to the Western Ghats. The liontailed macaque, one of the most endangered primates of India, is a huge draw at the park, where you can also see elephant, tiger, leopard, wild dogs, Flying Squirrel, Barking Deer, Sambhar deer, Gaur and Nilgiri Tahr. Mon, 01 Feb 2016 09:35:04 GMT Athirappilly, Vazhachal, and Charpa - waterfalls of Thrissur The southern Western Ghats has a fewer large rivers than the northern part. Correspondingly, waterfalls tend to be smaller, but with a high intensity of precipitation during the monsoons, they tend to get very furious. A typical example is the Athirappilly falls, near Chalakkudy, on the river of the same name. The Chalakkudy river flows through the Vazhachal forest division before cascading down a series of falls at Vazhachal, Charpa and Athirappilly – making it a popular tourist destination. However, Athirappilly is the most famous and the most spectacular one. Here, the water gushes down about 80 ft in a threefold fall that fills you with awe. Athirappilly is also known as the 'Niagara of India' and the 'Punnagai Mannan Falls' for people from Tamil Nadu after the movie was shot here. The entry to the falls is from 8 am till 5 pm. Tickets can be bought from the counter just outside the entrance. There are a couple of shops that sell curios and snacks here. A short trek through the forest takes you near the waterfalls. If you are feeling adventurous, there are steps that go down to the base of falls. It is easier and safer to go to the bottom of the falls in summer. During the monsoons and the rainy season this pathway may get a bit slippery. You have to be very cautious. Standing near the falls during the rains is an awe-inspiring experience. The roar of the water and a mist of water droplets that light up in myriad colours when the suns ray strikes it paints a pretty picture. From Athirappilly, a diversion on the road takes you to Charpa, which is about 4 km away. In the summer, Charpa thins down to a trickle, if the summer is harsh, Charpa is non-existent, just a crop of rocks by the side of the road. But during the rainy season, Charpa roars down – the flow directly proportional to the rainfall in the catchment area of the river. The waterfall is on the side of the road and if you are there during the rainy season, the spray of water may drench you. From Charpa, it is just a little over one kilometer to Vazhachal falls. During summer, it is a tame flow, yet dangerous. It is ideal to ask the forest and related authorities if it is ideal to play in the waters. Flora and fauna Athirappilly is about 25 kms away from Chalakkudy town. Once you are out of the city limits, the sights of village life and plantations welcome you. Rubber, coconut and other trees grow in this fertile soil. Closer to the waterfalls, the plantations give way to lush green forests on of either sides. These forests are home to some rare flora and fauna. It is the home of four endangered Hornbills among various other bird and animal species. Once you are out of the vehicle, keep an eye out for them. If you are lucky, you can spot a hornbill or even listen to its piercing trill. Monkeys are common, do not feed them if you are not ready to handle the menace. And if you are going here during the months of October and November, keep an eye out for snakes too. In the movies For a long long time, Athirappilly waterfalls has been one of the favourite shooting locations in Kerala. From Aishwarya Rai to Kareena Kapoor, Preity Zinta, Tamanna Bhatia and Bipasha Basu, there is perhaps no heroine in the Indian film industry who has not shaken a leg with this waterfall as the backdrop. Most often, the waterfall formed the backdrop of a romantic number. There were times when the forests around doubled up as a hideout for a villain or where the main characters came to end their lives. In Baahubali, one of the most expensive movies shot in India, this waterfall plays an important role. The movie had a 15 day schedule in Athirappilly before the shots were digitally enhanced at the studios. If you are lucky, you may see a movie being shot in Athirappilly while you are on a visit here. Wouldn't you like that? Tue, 14 May 2019 09:33:17 GMT Troubled by ants? Go to Urumbachan Kottam A raised platform on the side of the road at Thottada in Kannur with a board which says Urumbachan Kottam – this structure, trust us, does not look like a temple. But, it is – and a rather very unique temple. A temple that is dedicated to the humble ant. People from far and wide come here now, to offer prayers at the platform to the Urumbachan – or the Father Ant. They bring with them coconuts; break them open and pour the water at the platform. The belief being, the Father Ant will accept the offerings and not cause any trouble at the devotees house. And, in this village, people take care not to hurt the ants. Now, for a bit of history. Long long ago a carpenter fixed a stick to mark the place for a temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha. The next day, when they returned, the stick was not there and there was a small ant hill in the place. The carpenters stick was found a little way away, the place where the Ganesha temple is now. The people of the area took it as a sign from god and since that day, began worshiping the ants at the place. Later on a small platform was raised here and called the Urumbachan Kottam. The locals light the lamp at the Gurusthanam almost everyday. But the main festivals fall during the 'Karthika' day in the month of Vrishchikam (November – December). Coconut water is the main offering at the Gurusthanam. Sat, 30 Jan 2016 05:14:24 GMT Muzhappilangad: Exploring Kerala's only drive-in beach With more than 550 kms of coastline, beaches are so much a part of our everyday lives. And ideally, when we think beaches, we think of sunsets, the waves lapping gently against our feet, fisher-folk drying their nets and their boats on the shores. But, Muzhappilangad beach in Kannur, is all this and much more. It is the only drive in beach in the state and there is just one word to sum up the experience – amazing. **Adrenalin rush**  A drive through the 4.5kms stretch of beach at Muzhappilangad will change your impression of a traditional beach. For one, it is a very peaceful beach, but it is for those who love adventure. For those people who love to drive and do not mind getting their vehicles wet. And once you experience it, you will love to race on the beach. However, it is ideal to stick to the shores and not get into further in the water if you are using your own vehicle. There are many who come here – from across the world to just do stunts on the beach. But they are professionals. You could harm yourself or your vehicle if you try to ape them. The sea water could corrode the metal parts – don't tell us we did not warn you. **For the family** At times, we get a feeling that there are more cars than people on Muzhappilangad beach. But that isn’t so all the time. There are places where you can just sit down and enjoy a quiet evening with your family. The sea is normally so peaceful here that you can just can walk into the ocean for a distance or play with your kids safely on the shores. **Beach tales** And there are birds – that come in droves during certain seasons. From far and wide. During this time, the beach wakes up to the song of the birds. If you love photography, ensure that you identify a place from where you can get that ideal sunset picture that could make you famous on instagram. The photo-ops are endless on this beach. Thu, 28 Jan 2016 04:57:20 GMT Anchuthengu: The first British outpost in Kerala Up the stairs we went. Round and round. At each level, there were windows - one opening to give a view of the green sea, the other the village landscape. With each flight of stairs that went up, our perspective kept changing. The angles changed and we started getting a bird's eye view of the area. We took in the beauty of the surroundings as we walked up the stairs, for this was our first time walking up a lighthouse. At the top of the spiral staircase came the steep ladder and the star attraction of the lighthouse – the light itself. It was towards the evening that we got up there, and the technician who was taking off the protective curtains around the windows was only glad to talk. The light, he said would be lit by 6 pm. It had a reach of about 25 km and would shine through the night and be switched off in the morning. Every evening, he told us, they would take down the protective curtains, clean the light, see if there is any fault with the mechanism and ensure that it shone through. We left him to his task at hand and gingerly stepped out on the narrow ledge that ran around the lighthouse. We were at the lighthouse at Anchuthengu. Situated at about 40 km from Thiruvananthapuram city, Anchuthengu today, is a normal fishing village - one of the many you will find on the coast of Kerala. But, Anjengo, as once the British called it, used to be a famous port of call during the olden days. And from the ledge on the lighthouse, we got a good look at the rustic charm of the village. The wind whistled past us, the skies were laden and the sun played hide and seek across the sea. We saw the river, Parvathiputhenar, snaking its way past the lighthouse, the coconut trees waving their heads and the village life in all its rustic charm. We saw people waiting on one side of the river for the boat to take them across the waters. Around the ledge, on the other side, we saw more of the Anchuthengu village. The Fort that spoke of a rich past, the beach dotted with fishing boats and ocean spread out for as far as the eyes could see. The fort is a simple structure, with four bastions and paved pathways inside. There are steps on all the four sides leading on to the bastions. And you can see the sea from two of them. There is nothing more inside the fort to keep you engaged. However, it has a long and gory history. In 1680's the English East India Company got permission to set up a factory at Anchuthengu from the Rani of Attingal. This fort served as the first signaling station for ships coming in from England. Battles were fought from this fort during the Anglo-Mysore wars and during the Attingal Rebellion, when the local people rose in revolt against the British. Now a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India, the fort is open to public on most of the days. However, the lighthouse is open only between 3pm and 5pm. The best way to see Anchuthengu is to take in a 360 degree view from the top of the lighthouse like we did. The next best option is to stride out on foot. You will, if you keep an eye out, find an old church built in the 16th century, a school dating back to the 18th century and a couple of old houses. Anchuthengu is for those who love to explore the traces of the bygone era. And for those quick trotters who would love to go out of city or Varkala, which is hardly 10kms away. Wed, 27 Jan 2016 09:32:00 GMT Dolmens to dam : A trip through a Shola forest We are on a ride through one of those rarest of rare paths. One that goes through the villages, through the evergreen forest to an arch dam. These dense evergreen forests around Anamudi Shola National Park is that perfect break from the mundane daily schedules. Travel with us **Pit stop 1** Marayoor is home to prehistoric dolmens, cave paintings, home grown sugarcane and the protected sandalwood forests. We start early, taking in the sights and sounds of this lovely village. Away from traffic jams and the mad rush. The dolmens, known as 'muniyara' are burial chambers (portal tombs )where people were laid to rest in the ancient days. Marayoor is also home to sugarcane cultivation. Jaggery from these sugarcanes are made here. **Pit stop 2** While driving past Kanthaloor we spot a huge ficus racemosa tree; known as the 'athimaram' in Malayalam. This tree, said one of the locals has a strange history. No one has ever seen it flower, but every year it bears fruit without fail. And as the belief goes, seeing it flower will bring bad tidings. Kanthaloor is a fruit bowl – and perhaps one of those places where winter farming is very much the norm. **Pit stop 3** The entrance to the Anamudi Shola National Park lies cheek by jowl with the market place in Kanthaloor. It is from here that the evergreen forest starts. It is composed of Mannavan Shola, Idivara Shola and Pullardi shola and covers a distance of 750 hectares. The park is administered by Kerala Department of Forests and Wildlife, Munnar Wildlife division. This region is under the consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site. There are two cottages where you can stay right next to the shola forest. The bookings have to made with the Munnar Wildlife Office. There is a stone paved path through the forest – you need an SUV to go that way though – and there are many who think that this path should not be thrown open to the public. **Pit stop 4** Kundla is about 20kms away from Munnar on the way to Top Station. The dam at Kundala is perhaps one of the first arch dams that came up in the state. You can go boating in the reservoir. (Excerpts from _20 Holiday Trips_ by Praveen Elayi. To buy the Travelogue from Manoramaonline [**click here**]( ) Sat, 23 Jan 2016 06:50:13 GMT To Sabarimala, through Sathram During Sabarimala season, each and every path through the hillock lead to just one destination. We follow the path from Sathram through Pullumedu – and it passes through the forest. These forests are home to bears, elephants and gaurs . The path leads up to the hills where there are no trees and then to Poonkavanam. The forest here takes on a different hue with the change of seasons. Sathram, which was once a hilly terrain, is 14 kilometers away from Vandiperiyar. Now, there is a road, which is used by the pilgrims. Their first halt is the Subrahmaniya temple at Azhutha. The pilgrims have to register their names at the police check post before entering the forest. The bags will be checked – because this is a plastic-free zone. **The sights** The Sannidhanam is 12 kms away from Sathram and the path goes up and down the hills. Ropes are tied on trees - pilgrims hold these to walk ahead when the terrain gets tough to traverse. At some places, the forest cover is so thick that it is dark even at 9am in the morning. Beyond a steep rise is a look out point from where you can see the town of Vandiperiyar 3kms away. There are hardly any trees as you walk up the next hill. From there, you can see the Seethakulam Check Dam. **The sounds** There is the sound of chirping birds and the rivulets rippling down the hills. And then you hear the 'Swamiye, ayyappa' chant resonating through the hills. All men 'Swamis' and the women 'Malikappuram.' Pilgrims on this route chant this over and over – at times your chanting is taken up by a stranger from another state. Here, if you are tired or trip, the person helping you out will be a total stranger. This is a bunch of travellers who have just one aim, to offer prayers at Sabarimala. And everyone on this route is a co-traveller. From Uppupara, there are two paths that reach Sannidhanam. The one that runs through Thannittotti Check dam is more scenic, even though it is steeper. You can hear the sounds and sights of the Sannidhanam from here – and just beyond the corner, you arrive at Sabarimala. Wed, 02 Jan 2019 04:19:28 GMT Kochi is not far Around you, wherever you look, you see a vast expanse of backwaters. Far away, in a distance, you see skyscrapers dotting the skyline. We are at Kadamakudi - one of the many backwater islands that dot the waterscapes. It is in these backwater islands, far away from the city, that life is lived to its fullest. While it is unlikely that a city dweller will lend his car to a neighbor for use, the boats tied-up in front of the island’s houses are used by all. And if tea or sugar is suddenly found to be in short supply, there is scarcely a need to travel long distances by ferry and bus; you just drop in at your neighbor’s for replenishment. These backwater islands are so near, yet so far for the people of Kochi. There used to be those boats that used to bring tourists to these backwaters. However, the influx of tourists from other states has diminished after the Chennai floods. A boat from a night party lies abandoned on the jetty like a relic from the past. A critical evidence as drugs were seized from party revelers. **Sandbank and the birds** A new sandbank has formed for a distance of a quarter kilometer from the island. Birds, especially cranes, roost here during the day. During high tide, this sandbar poses a risk. Water flows over it and if the boat driver does not know of this, there is a chance that his vessel may hit this sand bar. A red flag in the ground is the lone indicator of the dangers. Regular boat drivers know about the sandbank and steer their boats with extra caution. Boats arranged by the Tourism Department as part of its ‘Hop On - Hop Off’ project lie idle in Bolgatty Marina. The local folks resort to ferry boats and the foreigners to boats arranged by their hotels. The ‘Hop On - Hop Off’ does not see many takers which is sad. You will see a lot of boats in various stages of decay on the banks of the river at Mulavukadu. These islands are home to some ancient places of worship. Temples and churches abound and festivals and feasts are celebrated with gusto, which is quite unseen in the city. These religious places see visitors from the town too. The backwater resounds with the chants and devotional hymns floating in with the breeze. Singing, not just of boat songs but all kinds, is integral to the solitary life of the islands. The other side of their wholehearted dedication to song is that at times the singing frenzy culminates in skirmishes. Ample proof is the board in a Kadamakkudi toddy shop which proclaims that foreign liquor and singing is prohibited. Singing gets competitive and invariably leads to fistfights, according to the shop owner Johny. An astonishing building that reaches for the skies in front of the picturesque backwater sights is the Lulu Convention Centre and five star hotel. The building construction is over and the interior work is in progress. This building will undoubtedly be Kochi’s landmark in the future. **So near, yet so far** Thanthoni Island is near to the city, yet so far away. This place remains frozen in time, laden with stacks of prawn. A bridge is still not a reality here. People ferry across from the island to far away Mulavukadu and take the bus from there. Any person facing a medical emergency in the night will have to be physically carried on to the boat, ferried to the shore and taken to hospital from there. Survival in such cases depends heavily on the patient’s good fortune. There are many such islands in Kochi. Kadamakkudi is not approachable by bus. You paddle the boat up to Pizhala or Vaduthala and board the bus from there. Fiber and wooden boats adorn the front yard of each house like Maruti cars. The Panchayat runs a small ferry service too. But gradually, this is changing. Beautiful houses are coming up in the sprawling Mulavukadu Island. Even outsiders buy land here and build houses. A celebrity singer’s new house is a case in point. Sat, 09 Jan 2016 07:03:42 GMT Reasons why you should head out to Munnar now Munnar is beautiful and one of the most popular destinations in Kerala. Thousands – both from India and abroad - visit this hill station every year. Here are some simple reasons why you should think of going to Munnar now.  **The weather** A cold mist envelops Munnar by mid-December. But this year, the mercury started dipping just a week ago. The temperatures have dipped below the zero degree mark and it just makes the hills look prettier. PS: Make sure you carry your hoodies and sweaters as it gets pretty chilly in the evening. **The blooming Neelakurinji** Neelakurinji or the Strobilanthes kunthiana is a shrub found in the shola forests of the Western Ghats. They have a flowering cycle of 12 years, but a sub-species, Strobilanthes neo-asper that blooms in a eight-year cycle has set the hills around Rajamala awash in a carpet of purple blue flowers. The next time these flowers bloom will be in September.  Rajamala is about 8 kms from Munnar, part of the Eravikulam Natural Park.   **Meesapulimala**  Meesapulimala is 24 kms away from Munnar. It is a trekker's paradise and a favourite haunt of movie makers. And with the reference to this beautiful hill ranges in the movie 'Charlie', people are making a beeline to walk up these hills.  Once known only to the locals, Meesapulimala is now becoming a 'top' destination. You need permission to trek these hills. Fri, 08 Jan 2016 13:02:06 GMT Tracing the river of gold across Nilambur Nilambur is a valley of rivers. Long ago, iron ore used to be taken down these rivers and exported to Greece and the Middle East. Placer gold is panned from this ore. From Perinthalmanna, one can go to Nilambur either via Wandur, or via Melattur and Kalikavu. We chose the second; less travelled, part of it can be traversed only in four-wheel drive vehicles; comparatively free of potholes but picturesque round the Silent Valley. From Melattur, we took the road less travelled. We decided to give our ride, the Mahindra Thar, a rather unconventional route. We off roaded, where there was no roads; splashing water as we drove. But then, the water was so crystal clear further ahead that we gave in to the temptation and had a dip. We sat, by the river, dangling our feet in the stream; enjoy a 'fish pedicure'. Hundreds of little fishes start nibbling away at your soles, the gentle tickling quite pleasant. A local person passing by told us that this river was called the 'Vellipuzha', the river of silver. Back on the Highway, we see the Sahya ranges on the right; Silent Valley to our left. There is a small waterfall, the Kalkundu. It forms a circular depression carved by centuries of falling water. One side is open, allowing access. It falls within the buffer zone of Silent Valley Reserve, but we did not see any officials of the Forest Department. **A dose of history** Perhaps iron smelting was first established in the world here. Ore of high quality is found in Karuvarakundu. This type of rock is locally called 'Kitakallu'. Traditionally, smelting centres were known as 'Uthala'. Place names like Uthala-kunnu, Irumbuthala,date back to this time. Historians trace evidences of export of smelted iron, swords, etc., to Damascus and to Greece says Abdulla Kutty Master, Co-ordinating Editor of a magazine. **Back on the road** We turn right from the little bazaar of Karuvarakundu, immortalized by the folksongs of Poet OV Karuvarakundu, and pass Keralakundu waterfalls. Through roads flanked by flourishing fields of rice, we reach Kalkundu. Right across flows the stream; and topples into a miniature fall. A trekking path takes off to Silent Valley, and on to Ooty through dense forest. Remote though it is, litter still manages to find its way here. **In tents at Nilambur** We traversed the roadless river margin; and put up tents for the night. Discarded liquor bottles revealed that the place was frequented by those who liked their booze in privacy. The mist was heavy, and the night cold, in the milky moonlight. Heavy sand removals have widened the river bed. Rafts of timber float down, noisy as they knock together. Little lamps reveal the men on the raft catching fish. From afar, we hear the calls of the night birds. Before the bridge was built, there was a ferry. Across is the forest. Travellers to Akampatam, Eranjimangad, and beyond used the ferry, and engaged a jeep taxi. Now only sand, (illegally mined), is ferried and transported. **The river of Gold** The Chaliyar has been famous for placer gold deposits, from long ago. William Logan mentioned (in the Manual of Malabar) that the Chaliar was also known as Kanakavahini (the channel of gold), Suvarna Nadi (the Golden River), etc., and described how people panned the sands for gold. People still pan for gold. The Chaliyar flows round Nilambur. Five kilometres away along the road to Manjeri is the Connolly Plot – the first Teak Plantation ever. This is a place of pilgrimage for foresters world-wide. The trees are to be preserved for life. Some of them are well over 30 meters tall. We have to cross a suspension bridge to reach it. A tributary joins the Chaliyar here, forming deep currents – dangerous, do not get into the river. Legend commemorates a Sahib Britisher who was drowned here. **TK Colony** If you do want to ford the river on foot, then go on to TK Colony. The river flows in small streamlets between big boulders here, 'crystal clear' is inadequate to describe the water. Though about 10 feet deep in places, the water is so clear that one can see a dropped pin on the bottom. There was a scare that some 'Maoists' had been found here – as a result, there is a constant guard of foresters here. We have to traverse Pookkottupatam to reach the colony. Some parts are in the buffer zone of the Silent Valley. The little river, Kottapuzha, joins the Kutirapuzha here; and both, the Chaliyar. They form the boundary of the New Amarambalam South Reserve Forest. **The return** There are many more rivers - those originating in the Velleri Mountain range, and coming down from Gudalur and Cherambadi to join the Chaliar, and draining the Nilambur valley, bounded on three sides by mountain ranges. The Chaliyar flows into the sea near Kozhikode, and provides life and livelihood for so many. Beyond Nilambur, we pass through Vazhikadavu to the Nadukani pass. And from there, the Nilgiris live up to the name of the 'Blue Mountains'. Wed, 06 Jan 2016 12:55:43 GMT The misty Meesapulimala in the movies 'Have you seen the mist covered Meesappulimala? Have you seen the magic mushrooms?' These are the questions Charlie asks Kani who is about to commit suicide and before long, the two vroom away on a bike through the high-ranges. This dialogue in Dulquar Salman's recent movie 'Charlie' has brought Meesapulimala, situated about 24km from Munnar town back into focus. One of the tallest peaks in South India, Meesapulimala is a destination for the highly adventurous. It is ideal to pick up a guide for a trek through this hills, which is home to the Indian gaur and nilgiri tahrs. You can drive up till Rhodo Valley, the tall pines will wave to you from the sides of the road as you drive up to the base camp. The 'Neelakurinji' flowers - in the season and a thousand other flowering shrubs dot the hillsides. The wind carries the smell of wild animals, the mist will roll at your feet. However, the reference 'Charlie' makes is not the first time that Meesapulimala has found a place in a movie. Meesapulimala has been one of the top destinations with the movie-makers in the country for the last couple of years. Rohit Shetty's blockbuster 'Chennai Express' was shot here. Neither Meenamma (Deepika Padukone) nor Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) were seen trekking these hills in the movie. They followed the formula dance and romance sequence in the super-hit song 'Titli' against the backdrop of these hills. Meesapulimala has been a favourite with the Tamil movie industry too. Dhanush romances Amyra Dastur in the song ' Roja Kadale' from the movie Anegan here. Here's the video. Dulqur Salman's movie Vai Moodi Pesuvam was also shot here. You can book your stay with and get in touch 8289821401 for more information. Tue, 05 Jan 2016 12:50:26 GMT Along the taste coast of Kerala Kappad beach owes a huge debt of gratitude to Vasco da Gama, the seafarer who became Viceroy in the process of discovering a new sea route. The European sailor Gama was not exactly setting foot here but asserting his authority. The beach also bears the fetters of slavery that this visit gifted it. But some habits just do not change. Kozhikode has that history and tradition of being the perfect hosts, then and now. We were on a mission to explore the warm hospitality of this sea side town. We started from Kappad, the place where Vasco da Gama landed. Reefs and silver sands make this shore a unique one. A road is being constructed parallel to this beach up to Koilandy. Locals say that once the road is completed, the number of people coming to enjoy the drive and take a dip in the sea will shoot up. Lovers are ubiquitous in the midst of the casuarina trees. **The famed hospitality** Our mouths had begun to water even as we saw Kappad in the midday sun and got back into our Creta. Pangs of hunger besieged us. We set the navigation in Creta's touch screen. Our destination was Hotel Salkara. When we reached the town, we switched off the A/C and downed the one-touch power window. We activated the human GPS for seeking food – our noses. The aroma of chicken biriyani wafted in. There, right next to us on the right was Hotel Salkara, part of the famed Paragon group. Without a second thought, we got in and ordered two chicken biriyanis and a meal. It was not just sumptuous, but was made extra special thanks to the liberal serving. We asked the hotel manager Charles for a cup of payasam; we got not one but three different varieties. There was a steady flow of customers - families, teenagers and biriyani lovers trooped in and left satiated. After the meal, we wanted to take a photo of the chef. That required permission from Liju, the wife of hotel owner Sumesh. Normally restaurants do not permit one to take a look at the kitchen. She led us to the kitchen without any hesitation at all and we discovered that cleanliness was the secret behind Salkara's reputation. **Love beckons** Driving in Kozhikode is a pleasure. We did not hear people honking while we cruised along on the Creta, looking for our next destination. Could it be because Creta's interiors are totally soundproof? Not quite. Patience and a willingness to accept others are traits inherent in the people of Kozhikode. The honesty of their auto drivers is well-known. We enquired of an auto driving brother named Sadanandan the way to Sarovaram Biopark. We were listening to Kozhikode's own singer M.S. Baburajan. 'Kanmani nee en karam pidichal/ Kannukal enthinu verre?' ('Beloved when you hold my hand/ What need there is for other eyes?'). Equally interesting as the song was the clear direction that he gave with the body language of a ghasal singer. Sarovaram Biopark in Kottuli is six kilometres away. It is described by the government as the only eco-friendly park in Kerala that was established to preserve and promote the state's mangrove forests and water basins. Mangroves, ponds, sweet fruit trees and amorous visitors abound here. Many people visit here for that feel of the jungle in the midst of the city and also to learn about the medicinal plants. It is run by KTDC. We went in with the intention of entering the grove, taking care not to invade the privacy of the couples. The scene at Mananchira in the evening appeared as if the entire city was celebrating Deepavali by the pool. Many families relaxed by idling in the green grass. One wished if all cities had public places like this. Next stop Kozhikode beach. Sculptures line the beautifully laid pavement. Street lamps came on as the sun lowered in the horizon. Plenty of seats and seafood restaurants enliven this place. We had fried mussels from Alibhai's thattukada. Night had fallen and we were turning in for the day. Calicut Tower was a good host. **The story of a dhow-making** Off to Beypore port in the morning. Sights are ordinary but it is fun driving on the road along Kozhikode beach. More than the port, it is the dhow-making that Beypore is famous for. A dhow is a tiny ship. Our guide to the dhow making plant was a local chap named Suneesh. Two dhows are getting ready near the Kakkad community hall by the Chaliyar River. The sight of our indigenous engineering acumen gearing up to cross the seas is unforgettable. Several people carefully examine each nook and corner of the dhow and work diligently with local tools as well as ultramodern equipments. Sathyan, who is fondly called Satyettan runs about overseeing the operations. Each boat takes birth after multiple tests and observations. What is amazing is the fact that a a mere fifth grader pulling off such tasks which are the preserve of engineering graduates. But Satyettan knows every inch of the dhow like the palm of his hand. Precisely for that reason, practical human intelligence takes the upper hand over the make-believe formal education here. The dhow is a modified version of our house boat. They are supposedly made for royal family members to enjoy their picnics in the sea. Building time varies with the size of the dhow. Still a dhow can be set sailing in a year's time if 15 people work daily on it. This is followed by obtaining permission from Mangaluru and heading for the gulf. The engine used is Leyland. A basic form of dhow will cost around Rs 2.45 crores. The luxury rooms and other comforts inside will cost extra. Eight of these have been made under Satyettan's supervision. It is interesting to merely watch this wonderful process of dhow-making. **Street of sweets** But then, we are talking food here. We headed out to the famous Mittayitheruvu - also known as the S.M Street or the Sweetmeat Street. Our mission is not just seeing the place, but relish the famous Kozhikodan Halwa. It is a crowded street. We pass by a group of youngsters who wore kohl in their eyes. You get everything and anything here. Our destination was Shankaran Bakery. This bakery is about 96 years old. Rishil, who now runs the shop, belongs to the fifth generation of the family who set up this shop. Halwas of different flavours and colours are on display. They also sell various other savories such as the traditional achappam and kozhalappam. "We make it at home and we don't do any tricks.' Most of the hoardings along the way advertised names of eateries. A large thattukada crowded like a marriage gathering was spotted past Thondayad on Thrissur Road. Yet another shop offered Kumarakom food. As Kozhikode's culinary marvels enthrall the city with their hues and aromas one could not help wondering if the people of the place actually live to eat! Thu, 17 Dec 2015 05:22:35 GMT A sage, a temple and 'Babiya' the crocodile It was a bright rain washed morning in Kasaragod. On the way to Kumbala is the Sree Ananthapadmanabha Swami temple – our destination. Mythology links it to the famed Sree Padmanabha Swami Temple of Thiruvananthapuram. Grandmothers tales, as well as firm belief, trace the links. The venue is a tiny lake blanketed with greenery. On a little platform forming an island in it is the temple, ensconced as if made to fit. And a crocodile, "Babiya" resides in it. The Malayalam of this border region is as soothing as the breeze that accompanies the rain. Peppered with Kannada and Tulu, it makes a strange amalgam of our language. Finding the route was easy. A large board in Kumbala indicated the way to the Ananthapuram temple, five km away. The temple lies nestled in the hills. The path takes on the hues and textures of the changing seasons. During the rains, it is bright green. Just after the rains, in the Malayalam month of Chingam, the wayside will be a burst of colour, with flowers blooming everywhere. But everything grays out, come summer when the hills wear an ancient look. A bunch of little school children walk ahead, a prayer moving their tiny lips for better exam marks and being spared the teacher's beating. Hearing the sound of the rain from afar they advise you to run for cover. The temple board becomes visible now – Sree Ananthapadmanabha Swami temple. Rain descends like a benediction. One seeks the manager Lakshmana Hebbar as a guide. **When the Lord came in a boy's guise** The temple lies below ground level. A short bridge begins at the entrance. The water body that one crosses is called a lake by the devout. Beyond is the prayer hall (mantapam), the ritual hall (namaskara mantapam) and the sanctum sanctorum. Standing by the bridge leading to the temple, Lakshmana Hebbar points out that Lord Vishnu Himself accords darsan, dormant on the Snake Anantha, right at the centre of the pool. According to him the temple is thousands of years old. "The great Brahmin Vilwamangalam Swamikal and this divine abode of Ananthapadmanabhan have a connection. It is believed that Swamikal consecrated the idol at this very spot. He carried on his puja and other rituals here. One day while he was conducting puja a little boy came and sat beside him, observing the rituals with keen interest. From that day the boy started regularly visiting the swami during this pujas. At first he did not take it seriously. Gradually as the boy's mischief grew, the swami got irked. He shoved the child aside with his left hand; and the lad fell on the north east side of the lake. Suddenly a cave formed there. The boy vanished even as a cry 'Come to Ananthan forest if you want to see me hereafter' rent the air. A resplendent figure slowly drifted away through the cave. Swami followed the figure. The realization dawned on Swami that the boy was indeed Ananthapadmanabha Swami. Filled with remorse he went out on a search of Ananthan forest. Day and months sped by until he finally had the Lord's darshan in Ananthan forest, in a lying position at the foot of a tree. It is believed that the Lord asked him for food and he fed Him with ripe mango plucked from a tree there and served in a coconut shell. Ripe mango is offered daily at Sree Padmanabha Swami temple even today. It is also believed that the region came to be called Ananthapuram which eventually became Thiruvananthapuram. It is the source location of Sree Padmanabhaswami temple. That makes it two Padmanabhaswami temples on either end of Kerala". Lakshmana Hebbar shut his eyes and folded his palms as extreme devotion moistened the sandal mark on his forehead that instant. (According to another version, it was Divakara Muni who was the sage in question). A riot of fish reveled beneath the bridge. Water never floods the bridge, even in the face of heavy downpour. It was the same earlier when the bridge was wooden. If water rises above a certain limit, it escapes through the groove in the stone construction and flows several kilometers to join the Kannur River. **Engineering marvel** The engineering excellence does not stop there. The lake on which the temple is situated is nearly ten feet deep. It had to be emptied once for the re-consecration. That was when old timers came upon an aperture in the bed of the lake. It was closed with a big wooden stump. The water in the groove would gush out when it is removed. Here is an account from the temple office-bearer Karunakaran on what happened then: "Water was less as it was summer. Still it was not practical to pump it out using a motor. I have heard from old timers that it is closed with a large wooden stump like a cork. Finally it was discovered that an object resembling rubber surrounded the cork. The local people drew it out with tremendous effort. Water drained away through the aperture. Availability of a spring helped fill the lake again with water. Such a construction in those days is really amazing. Signs of deft craftsmanship mark the facing hall. Cross the bridge and pass by the hall to reach the sanctum sanctorum. The Lord is seated atop a five-headed serpent. In Sree Padmanabhaswami temple he reclines over the serpent Ananthan. **Medicinal idol** Karunakaran went on to narrate the story of the Lord's idol in the sanctum sanctorum which shines atop the five-headed serpent and beside Sridevi, Bhoodevi, Garuda, Hanuman and Naga kanyas. "The consecrated idol here is made of kadusarkkara, a mix of 108 ingredients including 64 Ayurveda medicines, same as used by Vilwamangalam Swami, centuries ago. This indicates the sacred manner in which the consecration was done here. However during British days the temples were attacked and the idols maimed. The temple began to decay after the Swami left the land. When renovation started, the handicapped idols were ceremoniously immersed in the lake per tantric custom. Pancha loha (five metals) idols were consecrated in their place. The problems did not end with that though. Things came to a pass where even the daily puja became a challenge and the temple got completely covered with moss. An astrological check revealed the need for installing idols made of the same kadusarkkara mix as of old. The search for an expert in the art of making such idols led to a family in Brahmamangalam in Kottayam district. The duo of Brahmamangalam Subrahmania Asari and son Kailasan pleaded inexperience in such idol making but agreed to refer tomes on the subject and attempt it. They came here and retrieved the idol that had been immersed in the lake. It had not melted away even though they had been immersed for a quarter century . Idols are made in the same way as human forms, complete with bones, marrow, veins and arteries. The skeleton is made in catechu tree (Acacia catechu) and consecrated. Coconut fibre (coir) goes to make the veins and arteries. The flesh is made out of 64 Ayurveda ingredients. Additionally several materials including pearl oysters, termite mound and Gangetic soil are ground well and plastered. A two month gap precedes each plastering. The idol making took eight years to complete. It was plastered 24 times. After the final Brahmakalasam, the temple assumed its present form. Evil was warded off and prosperity ushered in".. By now a crowd, comprising of people from far and near, had gathered. The very sight of the temple seemed to inspire awe in them. As he distributed the fragrant sandal paste, the priest explained:: "It was tough earlier. From the age of eight I have been coming here on and off to conduct pujas. Grass used to grow really tall. I stepped in when the tantric (chief priest) was indisposed and could not enter the temple. This area was a thick jungle. The wooden bridge used to rattle. And the offering was just a handful in a circular leaf. All that has changed now…" A four year old kid popped up a question at this point, "Does the crocodile live in this lake?" Bhatt smiled. "Now it lives in the outer pond. Nothing to fear, it is quite harmless. Occasionally it comes out of the pond and into the lake at night. I have seen it. It shies away from humans. It will stay still until we have gone. It is indeed the Lord's icon. You may take a look." **Babiya the crocodile** The herbivorous crocodile is a source of wonderment. It is said to come up to the surface when called by its name ‘Babiya'. The lake is rumored to have housed a crocodile since olden days. When British troops ransacked the temple they decided to finish off the crocodile.. One day a soldier shot at the sunbathing crocodile from beneath the banyan tree on the eastern side of the lake. Precisely then a poisonous creature slipped down from the tree and bit the soldier. He died instantly. But the very next day a crocodile appeared in the lake and it is believed to be the one that still lives there. Temple staff Chandkan accompanied us to the crocodile sighting. "Do not disbelieve for a second that this crocodile is a miracle. This is an open pond which floods during the monsoon. The crocodile is free to go anywhere he wants but he would not. An offering to the crocodile is an important ritual here. Devotees conduct this ritual for fulfilling their wishes. The crocodile is fed the same offering. Can one predict in what form the Lord incarnates in this Kaliyuga (Machine Age)? Chandkan called Babiya by name and entered the water. Lo! Babiya acknowledged as out he came with a swish and then lay near a stone in the lake, stone-like. Installations of Ganapathi beneath the banyan tree and Goshala Krishnan by the lake are as old as the main temple. Sree Vedavathi, Sreevana Sasthavu, Sree Raktheswari, Sree Mahishamardhini are some of the many sub-deities.. The temple wall been designed in a serpentine fashion, resembling a serpent with its hoods spread. The wall is built of stones and without any trace of cement. **Big abode of memories** The temple is presently under Malabar Devaswom. But once upon a time the administration vested in the members of Ananthapuram Valiyaveedu. Its present occupants are Srikrishna Iyer, his brother and their families, who reside near the temple. Srikrishna Iyer tells us: "The temple and the first form of the tharavad are said to have been built around the same time. In the days before Independence my father Narayanayya was Village Officer of Madhur village. The British collector who came to know about this crocodile expressed a wish to visit the temple. He argued that the crocodile would not respond to calls. But when my father went to the lake and called ‘Babiya' it promptly showed up. The collector said the crocodile must have responded to a call from a usual place. My father called out from other sides of the lake too, and the crocodile was quick to respond. The white man was flabbergasted". It was annadanam (food distribution) time when we returned. Every day a hundred people partake of the meals, replete with three or four curries and a payasam (kheer). The temple staff pointed out that the turnout is bigger on Saturdays and Sundays. After the temple closed, devotees took part in the annadanam. **The cave by the lake** The spot where the boy fell when Vilwamangalam Swami shoved him with his left hand supposedly turned into the cave. The cave ends at the seashore near Kumbala several kilometers away. The rocks there still bear two giant foot marks which people believe are Ananthapadmanabhan's. They also worshipfully believe that the Lord must have taken the cave route to reach the seashore and gone to the Ananthan forest. Unlike earlier times devotees are now denied entry to the cave. Kumbala was the seat of the Rajas of Kumbala. It forms a peninsula in a lagoon separated from the sea, by a sand spit. Duarte Barbosa visited it in 1514 and reported that a variety of brown rice was exported from here to Maldives in exchange for coir. It is the birth place of Parthi Subba, 18 century known as the father or Yakshagana. Tue, 15 Dec 2015 02:50:19 GMT Vaikom temple - the myth and the history The Mahadeva Temple at Vaikom is one of the oldest temples in God's Own Country. Held in reverence by both Shaivaites and the Vaishnavaites, the temple was also the central point around which the Vaikom Satyagraha took place. The presiding deity is Lord Shiva. And here is a look at the myths and stories about this old temple. **Origin** Aeons ago, Khara, an asura did severe penance; Lord Siva, who was pleased gave him three idols. Khara carried the idols - one each in either hands and one by his neck. He got tired on his way back and put the idols down and rested a while. When he woke up, he realised that he could not pluck the idols out. These three idols, it is said, are the ones that are being worshiped at Vaikom, Kaduthuruthy and Ettumanoor in Kottayam district. Khara, having attained moksha, entrusted saint Vyaghrapada with doing the pujas and rituals. The saint observed the rituals and did the pujas. Then, Parasurama arrived and he consecrated the idol at Vaikom making it popular among both Shaivaites and the Vaishnavaites. **Architecture and unique features** The east facing temple is situated in about eight acres of land and is protected by compound walls with four towers on all the four sides. Near the east tower is a protected platform known as the 'Vyaghrapada Sthana', which is the place where the God appeared before saint Vyaghrapada. There is a golden flag staff and once we enter the temple is the 'Stambha Ganesha' to the north east corner. There is a namaskara mandapa, with episodes from Ramayana sculpted in the inner roof. A huge Nandi (the bull, considered the vehicle of Siva) idol is placed just outside the main sanctum santoram. The temple is round in shape and there are beautiful paintings and sculptures all around. There are six steps which take you inside the main shrine that houses the God. 'Manya Sthana' is where the saint Vilwamangalathu Swamiyar, who could see Gods spotted the Lord while having food. The main kitchen is towards the east of the 'Manya Sthana'. **The closed door** There is a closed door to the west of the temple. The temple, in old times, belonged to 108 families. When a dispute erupted the families got divided into two camps, one division naturally aligned with the king. The other camp vowed to block the rituals in the temple. Their leader, Njallal Namboodiri, reached the temple, chewing betel leaves. He entered the temple through the west gate and went into the temple where the offerings were made. He spat on the offering, forcing the rituals to stop. On his way back, he was bitten by a snake at the west gate. The western door mysteriously closed and a voice was heard, commanding that the door be closed. And it remains shut, to this day. **And outside** The roads outside the temple have its own stories to tell. Long long ago, before India attained independence, untouchability and casteism was prevalent across all the princely states of Kerala. The 'avarnas' or the people belonging to the lower castes were not allowed to walk even on the roads around the temple. These people rose in revolt and and it was put down by the king. Later when the freedom movement gained momentum the youth were inspired by leaders like Sree Narayana Guru, Dr Palpu and Mannathu Padmanabhan. A planned agitation to garner support for doing away with untouchability gathered momentum. And the roads around Vaikom temple became the venue for the agitation known as the Vaikom Satyagraha. Many national leaders including Mahatma Gandhi talked to the kings of Travancore who later signed the Temple Entry Proclamation which is considered as a milestone in the history of the land. The roads around the temple and later the temple itself was open to all Hindus irrespective of castes. Vaikom temple was among the first to open its doors to all. **Festivals** The annual festival – the [Ashtami]( – is a very elaborate affair. It is believed that a visit to all these three temples – Vaikom Mahadeva Temple, Kaduthuruthy Siva Temple and Ettumanoor temple – before 'ucha puja', which signifies the puja before lunch, is very auspicious. It is said that Lord Shiva is worshiped as Dhakshinamoorthy in the morning, Kirathamoorthy at noon and Shaktipanchakshari in the evening. Mon, 07 Dec 2015 06:39:31 GMT Cheruppadimala: A misty getaway A long mist covered stretch of road curves around the green clad hills. Villages spread out along the road and once you reach the hilltop, you get a view of the International Airport near Karipur. Welcome to Cheruppadimala in Malappuram District. You can trek up the hills, walk around the deep ponds and small waterfalls that gurgle down the hills during rainy seasons. Once, long ago, quarrying used to happen a lot here. There are small ponds which have formed due to this, with clear waters that gather during the rains. And these are so close to the road that you have to be very careful while driving up when it is misty. Cheruppadimala is one of those places you go to watch the sunsets, to celebrate with friends or with family. There is nothing much to do other than relax and chill out. The backdrop is so alluring that these days a lot of wedding albums are being shot here. Newlyweds can be seen posing for photos with their entourage. But then, there is enough space for everyone here. To commune with nature. And unwind. Mon, 30 Nov 2015 15:01:11 GMT Kappil: Where the sea meets the lake and the sky Picture this. Everywhere you look, you see the dark rain laden clouds. They drift slowly above you as you drive. Around you, to one side are coconut trees bordering a lake - calm and serene. On the other, you have the choppy sea. This is Kappil, one of those lesser explored, yet beautiful places near Varkala. Here, the sea and the lake are separated by a sandbar. And during the rains, the sandbar is breached and the lake flows into the sea. The beach at Kappil, is a narrow stretch of land bordered by fishing boats, nets laid out to dry and coconut trees that sway in the breeze. The sea is choppy, and since there are no lifeguards here unlike at Varkala or Kovalam, it is advisable to exercise caution. You can strike up a conversation with a local fisherman and take his advise before you step into the sea. But, it is the lake that offers more options for the tourist here. You can go boating in the calm waters. The fisher-flock here are friendly and if you manage to strike up a conversation with them, they will let you cast a line in the lake. The fully functional boat club here run by the government is open from 10am in the morning to 6pm in the evening. If you are staying in Varkala, Kappil is just a stone's throw away. There are some adventurous ones who walk it up. An autorikshaw will put you on this beach for a nominal rate. The beauty of Kappil is in its rustic setting. The sea, the beach, the village life, and a road that divides the narrow stretch of land. It does not offer a competition to the other touristy beaches or the lakes full of houseboats. But, a ride on the boat on this lake, the view you get when you stand on the sandbar, they are just stunning. If you are starting from Thiruvananthapuram and want to spend some quality time at Kappil, it is ideal that you leave soon after lunch. Take the coastal road and drive through the newly opened Muthapozhi Bridge. The route will take you through the rustic villages and fishing hamlets and past the Fort at Anjuthengu. Kappil beach is about six kms away from Varkala. A drive on this road will relax you. And you get some time to go boating and watch the sun set over the sea. Thu, 19 Nov 2015 13:35:46 GMT Sabarimala pilgrims can take a break at these temples The trip to Sabarimala is ideally not completed in one step. Rather, pilgrims take breaks in between at temples or places that have been designated as resting points for the devotees. While travelling through Kottayam, the following are the main resting spots. Devaswam Board's bus would provide services from Thirunakkara to Pampa. Those who travel in the bus can buy tickets for ghee oblation and other ceremonies at the temple. Seats can be booked at the Devaswam office. Tue, 17 Nov 2015 14:42:40 GMT A sunset on Vilangankunnu A hop, skip and jump away from Thrissur city is Vilangankunnu, a small hillock, which is perhaps one of the best places to spend your evenings with your loved ones. This small hillock offers a bird’s eye view of Thrissur and its neighboring wetlands. Though not a tourist destination, Vilangankunnu is very popular with the local people. There are many who drive up this hillock to unwind after a hectic day's work. The lush greens and the cool breeze that wafts through will calm you down. The kids can enjoy the amusement rides at the children's park. The sunsets here are spectacular on an ideal day. On a rainy day, which comes often, the greens around the hillock take on a different hue. The old timers who come to Vilangankunnu rue the high-rise buildings that are changing the look at feel of their town. They tell you stories about how it is the best place to see the fireworks which mark the Thrissur Pooram. The District Tourism Promotion Council had set up an open air theater here. They have also set up an 'Asokavanam' here in association with the State Medicinal Plants board, The Vilangan Trekkers Club and the Asokavana Samiti. There are a couple of sculptures here and a Kudumbasree canteen which serves you food. Various schools in the city take their students to Vilangankunnu not just because of the peace and serenity that this highest part of the city offers, but for the children's park and the other adventure activities offered by the Vilangan Trekkers Club. The best time to head out to Vilangankunnu will be after 4pm, even though it is open from 7 am to 7 pm in the evening. We would recommend that you pack a picnic hamper and watch the sunset. And trust us, it will be a good experience. Fri, 06 Nov 2015 11:37:46 GMT This is the house where 'Spadikam' was shot Remember that scene where 'Aadu Thoma' jumps out of his truck in front of a sprawling old mansion in the 1995 blockbuster 'Spadikam'? He walks past where his father, Chacko Mash is taking classes and into a house. We are at that house right now. Welcome to the 'Thekkedathu Mana'. A traditional 'mana' is an artwork, a structure of architectural precision, which speaks class and grandeur. As we walk along, there is a whiff of nostalgia that wafts out of these ancient woodwork. A mana is a relic of a lifestyle of those long forgotten days. And Thekkedathu Mana is not different. The mana, we are told was constructed by the Raja of Chembakasseri. Walk past a traditional portico and you see an ornate padlocked main entrance through which you walk into a broad hall. There are two rooms on either side and a kitchen. We wonder if this hall once doubled up as a living area cum dining hall. At the end of the hall, there are steps, which lead you to the Meenachil River. It is at here that the festive processions of two temples the Vasudevapuram Sree Krishna temple and Eraveeswaram Siva temple take place. If you go along the corridor from this hall, there are steps leading to the upper floor. The steps that are made of wood leads to a big room, which can be used as a hall or a bedroom. There are two bed rooms here and the view from the balcony is that of the Meenachil River. There is a very spacious attic over this floor. Right next to the mana is a building, which used to be the granary. Built on the banks of the Meenachil River, the Thekkedathu Mana is situated in Kudamaloor, a stone's throw away from Kottayam town. Thekkedathu mana had a strong link with the political landscape of the state too. Arya Antharjanam, the wife of EMS Namboodiripad, the first chief minister of Kerala hails from this family. It is her brother and his family who own this historic house now. Wed, 28 Oct 2015 11:13:03 GMT Ranipuram: Kasaragod's very own Ootty Ranipuram is one of the most popular tourism centres in Kasaragod. Known as the Ootty of Kasaragod, Ranipuram is a dream come true for trekking enthusiasts. We begin our trip from the DTPC Guest house Panathadi, which is 10kms away. Our route takes us through a forest for over five kilometers and then a steep climb of two kilometers to the top of Manimala. The trek is through a dense jungle. There are elephants in this forest. Wild boars, monkeys and deers have made these forests their home. If you are in luck, you will spot the wildlife as you walk by. And as the saying goes, we are letting these pictures do the talking. It was around 12 in the noon when we reached the hills. The mist was gently rolling and we could barely see what was there in front of us. As you walk from the DTPC guest house, you see the greens - in different hues. Ranipuram is almost near the border between Kerala and Karnataka. And from up under the skies, it seems near yet, so far. The mist is pretty thick even after the sun comes up. This photo was taken at 10 am. The gentle drizzle adds a natural charm to a whole different world out here on the top. It is green, lush green. And it is home for the rare medicinal plants and orchids. There are different kinds of butterflies that fly from one flower to another. A view of the Paanathur village from the hills. If these pictures won't tempt you to consider travelling to Ranipuram, we guess nothing else will. Mon, 26 Oct 2015 10:27:32 GMT Panachikkad: The Dakshina Mookambika Known as Dakshina Mookambika, the Saraswathi temple in Panachikkad village in Kottayam district is unique. This, according to popular belief is the only temple in Kerala where the presence of Goddess Saraswathi is felt all year through. Panachikkad village, is situated 11 kilometres south of Kottayam in southern Kerala. This scenic and peaceful temple of learning can be reached by travelling four kilometres east from Chingavanam, which is on MC Road between Changanacherry and Kottayam. You walk down a series of steps and reach the temple. There is an order prescribed for worship here. You have to pay your obeisance to the deity of Lord Vishnu and then go on to the pond where you find the Saraswathi idol. There is no inner sanctum or surrounding buildings here, like the ones in a traditional Kerala temple structure. There is only a small rectangular pool that looks like it has been carved out of black rock, covered with evergreen vines. The original idol of the goddess of learning is hidden inside a thicket of vines. However, all rites are performed on a corresponding idol that faces the original one. The vines surrounding the original idol are considered to be the unique and unusual Saraswathi plants. Over hundreds of years, these vines have grown thick, covering the idol of the goddess. The holy water that flows, washing the feet of the original idol, never dries up. By residing in the pool (saras) here, the name Saraswathi becomes meaningful. The water for poojas and other rites are taken from here. Walk up a series of steps and you reach the shrine dedicated to a yakshi (an enchantress) who is quick to bless and curse. Next to that there is an idol of a brahma rakshas. The yakshi at Panachikkad is considered very special and part of the legend. There are also idols of other gods like Shiva, Shastha, Ganapathi, Naga Yakshi and Nagaraja here. There is a detailed description about this temple in Kottarathil Shankunni's Aithihyamala. The management of this temple that has a history of more than a thousand years rests with the three Brahmin families of Kizhuppuram, Karunad and Kaimukku. In the sixth century of the Malayalam era, the very elderly head of the Kizhuppuram household, who was unhappy that he did not have a male child, set out on a journey to attain equanimity by taking bath in the River Ganga. When he reached Mookambika, he spent a few days there praying to the goddess. One day the goddess appeared in his dream and told him to return home the next day itself. She told him that a brahmin lady in Karunad would soon deliver twins and ordered him to adopt one of them as his legal child. The Karunad Nampoothiri, who was very happy to hear the words of Kizhuppuram Nampoothiri, agreed to give one child if he had twins. Kizhuppuram Nampoothiri, who was very happy, then went to take bath in a pond that was slightly towards the east on the southern side of the old Vishnu temple. He kept his coconut-leaf umbrella on the western shore of the pond and took a bath. When he tried to lift the umbrella after the bath, he found that it would not move. He was told that Mookambika Devi was residing in that umbrella, and he should invoke the goddess from the umbrella and place her in the stone idol lying in the nearby forest. However, there was a catch. This idol in the forest was worshipped by holy men who were doing penance in that forest and there were no people in the land who had adequate power of penance to perform poojas on that idol. He was told to place another idol be placed opposite it, facing the west, on which poojas should be performed after which the original idol should be worshipped. Before vanishing from there, the divine person told him that the original idol could not be moved without pleasing the yakshi that was guarding it, and instructed him to offer coarse grain powder, jaggery and tender coconut to it. What can be understood from the legend and the temple customs is that the traditional rites and the presence of Saraswathi in Panachikkad are the realisation of these divine words. The customs are followed as per tradition in this temple, which is still under the control of the trustees. At this temple, Maha Vishnu, as the reigning lord; Saraswathi, as the one who grants all wishes; Ganapathi; Shiva; Shastha; Yakshi and Nagaraja should be worshipped in that particular order. Maha Vishnu and Saraswathi are accorded equal importance here. Many devotees from different parts of India come here to worship daily. Irrespective of religion and caste, everyone comes here to start learning. Vidyarambham is held here every day, except during Durgashtami and Maha Navami. Songs about Saraswathi are chanted here as per order, and pure ghee enriched with that energy is supplied to devotees. This holy medicine, which is good for intelligence and learning, is one of the main offerings. Like trimadhuram and aravana for Saraswathi and Vishnu, vara is important for yakshi. The other offerings are palpayasam for rakshas, narathala (containing ground coconut) for Shastha, dhara and garland of koovalams for Shiva, and ottayappam and garland of karuka for Ganapathi. Every day, poojas are held for Saraswathi and Vishnu. An offering chanting songs of Saraswathi in order is also held here. On Durgashtami day, palm leaf manuscripts, textbooks, literary works and other precious books are placed on a specially made chariot hall in the abode of Saraswathi for poojas. These books are returned after poojas on Vijaya Dashami day. Many great people like Maharaja Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma (Dharma Raja), Kerala Varma Valiya Koil Thampuran, A.R. Raja Raja Varma and Ulloor have come here and offered their prayers. It is said that Raja Raja Varma was speech-impaired in his younger days, and all his fame came because of the blessings he got here. Panachikkad Saraswathi Temple, as the centre that grants the wishes of lakhs of learners, is becoming more famous. Day-to-day management of the temple is done by the elders of the three families of trustees and a manager. **Main offerings** Archana, purusha sooktha archana, saraswatha sooktha archana, bhagya sooktha archana, saraswatha ghrutham, aravana, trimadhuram and vara can be organised in advance. **Special days** The important rites in this temple are Navarathri, chariot procession, music festival and vidyarambham in the month of Kanni in the Malayalam calendar; navakabhishekam in the months of Chingam, Thulam, Dhanu, Kumbham, Medam, Idavam, Mithunam and Karkidakam; chuttu vilakku, maha sukrutha havanam and dravya kalasam in the month of Vrischikam; and Maha Ganapathi homam in the month of Meenam. Wed, 21 Oct 2015 14:14:04 GMT A world of letters at Thunchan Parambu Thunchathu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan was a poet, who had dedicated his life to giving a new dimension to Malayalam language. The fact that his 'Adyathmaramayanam Killippattu' is still read during the Malayalam month of Karkidakam, centuries after he penned it, bears eloquent testimony to the celebrated poet's reach among the masses. And it does not come as a surprise that this great poet is venerated as the father of Malayalam Language. He was born at Thunchan Parambu in Tirur. On a normal day, Thunchan Prambu is a very quiet place. However, this peace and quiet give way to festivities, three times in the year. During the Malayalam month of Karkidakam, the place comes alive with 'Ramayana' recitals. In February, there is the annual literary fest and during Navarathri – a lot of tiny tots are brought here to be initiated into the world of letters. The peaceful environment will calm you down as you walk in. There is a 'Saraswati Mandapam' and another mandapam with the huge sculpture of a bird – who is a pivotal character in his works. Walk along and you find a museum in which his writing instruments are kept. The library here is a bibliophile's dream. If you love books, you can spend endless time in this library, which houses the personal collections of renowned writers. On Vijayadasami day, thousands of children throng the place for vidyarambham. This is perhaps one of those rare places where Vidyarambham is conducted outside a temple. A trip to Thunchan Parambu is a must for a bibliophile. Even if you do not understand Malayalam, you can walk around and take in the silence that engulfs the area. Wed, 21 Oct 2015 07:50:22 GMT On the road with 'Rani Padmini' Rani Padmini starring Rima Kallingal and Manju Warrier, which is set to hit the screens on Vijayadasmi day is an on the road adventure movie. Their journey from Kochi to Himachal Pradesh forms the backdrop of the story. A couple of days ago, the director Aashiq Abu shared some amazing pictures of the locations. We bring you those pictures. **Ottapalam** in Palakkad district has a unique place in the hearts of a Malayalam movie buff. On the banks of the Bharatapuzha, this little village is home to a rich cultural history and a favourite movie locale. **Chandigarh** is one of the most planned cities and also one of the cleanest. The golden hues of the picture adds the charm. **Manali** tops every travellers bucket list of places in India. Located at an altitude of 6,726 ft in the Beas River Valley, it is a small village. It used to form part of a trade route in the good old days. **Jispa** is one of those dream come true destinations situated at 10,500 ft in Himachal Pradesh. You have to reach here to believe that it exists. Tue, 20 Oct 2015 10:13:04 GMT Pause, breathe, relax at Periyar For some reason, the hues of green is different in Kerala. The leaves, the trees, they're this bright, plush and fresh green that you don't really see anywhere else. It soothes you on the beautiful drive into Periyar. Cities and buildings morph into mountains and valleys, into pineapple farms and spice plantations. Lots and lots of spice plantations. That's when you realise that there's more to Periyar than the famous Tiger Reserve. Look out for gorgeous pepper plants creeping up the trunks of trees along the way. Thekkady, the town that is the gateway to the reserve, is surrounded by spice plantations. It’s filled with signboards inviting travellers to tour the farms and stock up on organic ingredients. Countless shades of green cover this forest reserve, an ecosystem abundant with animals, birds, insects and reptilian life. Periyar’s vibrant flora and fauna make it easy to forget that the forest was not always this lively. In 1998, as the depleted tiger population and rampant debarking and smuggling of its cinnamon and sandalwood trees took their toll, conservationists stepped in and worked out an eco-tourism model to save the park. The men of the local communities were weaned away from poaching and trained to be forest guards and tourist guides instead. Many have never attended school but can talk in detail about the feeding patterns of the tiger butterfly, the ideal time and place to spot the grey headed owl and the frequented trail of the closest tiger. This has made Periyar one of India’s most successful community conservation projects. The Periyar Tiger reserve has some really great environmental programs. From nature walks to Tiger safaris and boating trails, the reserve, spread over 777sqkm, has part of its buffer zone specifically allotted for tourism and environmental awareness. Try the Bamboo rafting trek, a long strenuous walk through the forest. Unfortunately, wildlife is very rarely visible. On a normal day, you will see bisons, deers, malabar frogs. If you are in luck, you get to see elephants, lion tailed macaque, Malabar pied Hornbill and if you're truly lucky, tigers. The walk is lovely, with lunch and coffee breaks. Don’t be alarmed if a forest guide hands out a pack of tobacco before a walk. It is prudent to rub tobacco on your feet and legs before entering the bush. This simple trick, along with leech guards, offers protection from the jungle’s ubiquitous blood-sucking worms. Even if a leech does latch on, rubbing salt on it or burning it off with a lighted match will have them off in a jiffy. Leeches aside, everything about this tropical forest is a delight. Once inside the jungle, the air feels so light, devoid of its usual heaviness caused by pollution. The only thing one can hear is the bustling sounds of insects, chirping of birds and occasional rustling up of leaves signifying movement of some animals in the distance. The onward trek to the Periyar lake is through a path bearing tracks of jeep tyres and on the way back one would be taken through different offbeaten paths which don't have any traces of human footprints. One will be amazed by the precision and expertise with which the rangers guide us through the forest. There is much interaction with them and their personal touches make it easy for even hardened city dwellers to be converted into forest addicts. The man made Periyar Lake, with its mystic appeal in the reserve, is truly gorgeous, with numerous randomly shaped putrefied tree stumps rising out of the subtly greenish-blue water as if they were sea horses. The leisurely glide on the bamboo rafts on the Periyar lake is beyond magical. For all those who want to gain an in-depth knowledge about the wildlife and flora and fauna of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, there is The Periyar Nature Interpretation Centre which is equipped with state-of-art audio visual facilities. With its interactive three dimensional models of bio-diversity hotspots of the world, Western Ghat, Kerala and Periyar Tiger Reserve and its series of modern quiz machines for evaluating your wildlife knowledge, the interpretation centre is a must visit. In the audio visual section one can come across different and interesting bio- acoustics and feel the sound of forest and wildlife. You can catch a little more of the local culture in the evenings at the Thekkady Kalary Centre; the Kalaripayattu performances showcase talent from all over Kerala. The different forms of the combat are shown step by step. The warriors whirl and glide like graceful ballet dancers. They leap into the air with the dexterity of a gazelle, their arms and legs moving at a dizzying speed. They have the audience transfixed right from the first kick to the last bare handed grapple. However the best part is when the warriors perform with a ring of fire, deftly twirling and turning it and finally jumping through it! The nice thing about Periyar is that though there's little to do, the fun treks and spice walks fill your day. With its laidback attitude and gorgeous surroundings, Periyar makes you pause. If that’s what you need, Periyar is just what the doctor ordered. Wed, 14 Oct 2015 14:18:17 GMT Where to go to watch birds in Ernakulam Till a couple of months ago, one had to head all the way to Thattekad to watch the migratory birds. Now, thanks to the Forest Department and the efforts of several local bird watchers, various places across the district see migratory birds setting up homes from September to February. We list out the places where they have been roosting. **Ezhupunna** The fields around Changaram and Neendakara are the places where the rare birds are being spotted. As many as 200 foreign birds have been found in these places. Bird watchers in these areas recently spotted the greater flamingo which is a rare find. In 2014, a flock of Eurasian spoonbills and blue-cheeked bee-eaters were seen here. Among the other birds that roost here are the grey-necked bunting, small blue kingfisher, white breasted kingfisher, stork-billed kingfisher and grey herons. **Kandakadavu** Around 180 different migratory birds were found in the marshy lands around Kandakadavu near Chellanam. Spot billed pelicans, northern pintails and gargani ducks are the other birds that flock to this place. **Kadamakudi** Osprey's are the special guests at Kadamakudi village. It is an experience to watch the bird hover in the sky and then snap a fish out of the waters. The other birds found here are the Asian open bill stork, painted stork, purple moorhen, oriental white ibis and black-winged stilt also roost here. **Puthuvype** The migratory birds arrive here by September. The commonly found migratory birds in this region are whimbrels, lesser sand plovers, greenshank, common sand piper and brown headed gulls. **HMT grounds** Thousands of birds - both migratory and non migratory roost around the hills and trees here. The most common are the white brown bulbul, Indian robin, Asian paradise fly catcher, pied bushchat, orange headed thrush, changeable hawk-eagle. Wed, 07 Oct 2015 13:52:21 GMT Of Mukkam, Moideen, Kanchana and others Ever since the movie 'Ennu Ninte Moideen' hit the screens a couple of weeks ago, people are talking about Iruvanjippuzha, Theyyethumkadavu and Mukkam, which is about an hour's ride from Kozhikode town. We try to to see Mukkam's history through the eyes of a movie camera. BP Moideen, in the movie was a loyal lover, but anyone in Mukkam would tell you that he was much much more than that. He was football fanatic, a social reformer and a movie-maker among other things. A loner who stood up against his own father Kuttattu Unnimoien Sahib, who was the Panchayat president, when it came to the issue of his love life, and also for a few other reasons as well. The father had wanted to cut down some trees at the main junction, and Moideen protested against it. The trees remain, a testimony to Moideen's efforts. During Moideen's time, there was no bridge at Theyyethumkadavu. Moideen was one of the first persons from the land to realise the potential of a bridge in Mukkam. But ironically, before his dream could materialise, it was a boat accident at Theyyethumkadavu that took his life. And Moideen's story is incomplete without talking about Kanchana Kottungal, the woman who stole Moideen's heart. The woman, who even now, continues with Moideen's efforts on her own, and also strives to better women's causes. Mukkam is one of those small towns you pass by on the way when you head out of Kozhikode city en route to other more popular vacation spots. Unless you are really looking out for it, you will pass through the Theyyethumkadavu bridge, without knowing its story or the significance of this particular love story. Mukkam was a small market place for as long as it goes back in history, and there still are many freedom fighters who trace their roots to this town. 'Ennu Ninte Moideen' was not shot at Mukkam, the shooting took place in a set at Palakkad. But this is not the first time that a movie featuring Mukkam has been shot. The famous writer SK Pottekad's 'Nadan Premam' was made into a movie in 1972. Set against the backdrop of the same Iruvanjippuzha, it told the story of Ikkoran and Malu, played by Madhu and Sheela. The 2012 movie Veeraputhran based on the life of the freedom fighter Mohammed Abdulrahiman was shot at Mukkam. T. V. Chandran's 'Ormakalundaiyikkanam' was another movie which was shot at Mukkam Sat, 03 Oct 2015 06:37:35 GMT Muthalapozhi: The birth of a new tourist spot One of the best ways to get over post travel blues, according to a seasoned traveller is to explore your own neighbourhood. And that's exactly what we did when we headed out to Perumathura, which is about 23kms from Thiruvananthapuram on a Sunday evening. Perumathura has a long history. The legendary King Cheraman Perumal is supposed to have stayed at Perumathura before he undertook his voyage to Mecca in the 8th Century AD. We wanted a not so crowded place – away from the city to relax and watch the sun go down. And it was then that my sister said she knew the exact place that fits to the narration. 'A new bridge has been opened connecting Perumathura to Thazhampalli', she said, 'let us see if there are any changes to the place.' And along we cruised down the Veli – Perumathura Road at a leisurely pace. Since this is a coastal road, the sea will tempt you to stop and walk in at various points during the drive. If you give in to temptation you will not have enough time to enjoy the simple pleasure of walking out on a sea bridge or going for a boat ride through the lake. So, do not stop till you reach the newly opened Perumathura – Thazhampally bridge. We were in for a surprise when we reached there. There was a huge traffic jam on the way to the new bridge. On reaching the bridge we found that a lot of others were also as curious as we were. There were cars of all sizes and makes parked on both sides of the bridge. We decided to cross to the other side and find a place to park. There were families – big and small crowding on the sandbar on either side of the bridge. There were many who were taking selfies with the sea and the lake in the backdrop. There were many who were relaxing on the beach taking in the sunset. And there were people on boats out on sunset cruises. Since it was too crowded, we decide to walk a little way down the road. The sights and sounds of a fishing village turning in for the day made us wonder if we were in another space and time. There were mothers calling out to the kids who were playing in front of the houses, there were people who were saying their evening prayers and then there were people who were mending their nets before they went out much before dawn in search of a new catch. Further down the road, on the other side of the ocean, you see the lake meandering down before it flows into the sea. We were told that there are regular passenger boats from across the river to Thazhampalli. By then the sun was dipping in the west. We walked across the road and watched the sun go down. The magic of the waves, the lullaby of the wind – it relaxed us. The Perumathura – Thazhampalli road was thrown open to the public during the first week of this September. And it is fast becoming one of the most popular places to watch the sunset from after the more popular Shankumugham and Kovalam beaches. There are no basic amenities here as of now. And if you are thinking of a picnic, you had better pack your basket. The clamour for more tourism options is gathering storm. Till those are developed, I would suggest you plan your trip to reach there by 4pm and take some time to explore the boating options. Or like we did, walk down the road and explore on your own. Sat, 03 Oct 2015 05:49:08 GMT A pause at Uppukunnu Picture this. A long winding road that passes atop a hill. On either sides of the roads are rolling green valleys. It is but normal to take a pause here. Take in the sights and sounds, and then, take selfies with your friends from this place. We are at the Uppukunnu Viewpoint, one of those places, which allows you to see and take in the beauty of the verdant greens on the road between Thodupuzha and Idukki. Uppukunnu does not have much to offer – other than peace and a venue to connect with nature. But, when you sit here, you can see the clouds kissing the green mountain tops, covering them in a misty white cloak. You also get to see the rain-laden winds come up the hill and within seconds, you will be drenched. On a bright day, however, you can see far away places from the viewpoint. If you are slightly adventurous, you can walk the whole way from Thodupuzha, which is about 30kms away. There are Kerala State Road Transport buses that go through Uppukunnu every day. You can easily travel to Uppukunnu and back in these buses. It is economical too. **The Idukki Gold connection**: Aashiq Abu's 2013 flick 'Idukki Gold' gave Uppukunnu a boost. The movie, which is a road trip of sorts, was shot in various places across Idukki. A couple of sequences of the song 'Vattakulam' was shot at Uppukunnu. Uppukunnu is peaceful – it is one of those places where you could go for a long drive with your best friends. A word of caution though, if you are attempting to walk down the greens on either sides of the road, you may want to keep some salt or tobacco handy, for there are lots of leeches here. Fri, 02 Oct 2015 12:12:08 GMT Escaping into the wilderness of Thommankuthu Once upon a time, a tribal huntsman named Thomman (transliteration of Thomban), was passing through the dense, dark forests of his forefathers. He slipped and fell into a waterfall in the river that he was trying to cross, and was drowned. The waterfalls, after this mishap, came to be known as Thommankuthu - literally meaning 'Thomman's Waterfall' where kuthu means waterfall. There is another story too. Some say that another man, also named Thomman died here, while crossing over the river to pluck fruits on the other side. This was much later, they add. Myths say that nymphs used to bathe in this waterfall, and the herbs growing here have healing abilities. Whatever be the story of Thommankuthu, this place in the wilderness steeped in legends and myths is an abode of tribal life and culture. Thommankuthu is a seven step cascading waterfall, with deep pools and gushing rapids, located inside the Kaliyar Forest Range of the Kerala Forestry Department. Situated a few miles from Thodupuzha town in the Idukki District of Kerala, it is a part of the Kannadiyaar river in the Thodupuzha Reserve Forest under Kothamangalam Division. This less explored tourist spot, in the middle of a pristine forest with its mesmerizing waterfalls, meandering mystical rivers gracefully winding across the overwhelming dark woods, and the mysterious spectral caves, will enthrall anyone coming here. Deeper inside the forests, there are a number of tribal settlements. A hike of about a kilometer along the banks of Kannadiyaar river, is all it takes for you to reach the biggest and most beautiful of the falls of Thommankuthu - the Ezhunilakuthu (also called as the Thommankuthu falls). If you trek up the rocky terrain for another 14 kms, you reach the other waterfalls and the caves in the series. The other cascades of Thommankuthu - Thenkuzhikuth, Chekuthankuth, Palungankuthu, Kudachiyarkuthu, Thekkanthonikuthu, Koovamalakuthu, etc. are all equally enchanting. Normally, a tourist can go only till Ezhunilakuthu. You need prior sanctions and permissions of the forest warden in advance to go beyond this point, and a guide will accompany you on the tough uphill trek. Falling from a height of 1500 meters, the picturesque Ezhunilakuthu, forms a pool at the bottom of each step. Few interesting caves - Plapothu Cave, Palunkan Cave, Maakkal Cave, Narakan Cave, etc. are scattered around the different waterfalls. Monsoons are a special treat to the visitors of Thommankuthu. The ceaselessly flowing river with its own symphonies, the magnificent roars of the majestic waterfalls, and the distant cuckoos of the 'I-don't-know-its-name' birds, creates an orchestra in the nature's opera. Sometimes, during unexpected downpours, the music is taken to a whole new level. During those times, taking refuge in the rustic huts built all over the place, and silently watching the performance - the stillness as well as the fieriness in it, resonates with the purest and still part of one's heart. Hiking along the river banks through the deep woods and the rocky boulders on the way to the Thommankuthu falls, is an intriguing journey. Many rare kinds of foliage can be found in Thommankuthu, of which some of them are marked and named. Amusingly shaped trees and branches are a major attraction here. People try to climb the trees and of course, take a lot of selfies at various scenic places. The tree houses, the rural huts scattered around, the wooden bridges across the streams, the perpetual river flowing through every crack and crevices, the lush verdant greens- these fine strokes, simply turns Thommankuthu into a masterpiece painting. This eco-tourism area has many guides around, both men and women. If you take a moment to talk with them, they tell about the fiery nature of this seemingly calm but dangerous waterfall. You get their version of the many deaths that had happened here. Interestingly, one can find boards all around, which records the number of deaths that had happened at each view point. Though it's oddly amusing, the truth to be told, the numerous 'caution' boards or the fences set up, or the instructions of the guides, never seems to bother the reckless tourist. For every visitor coming to Thommankuthu, the friendly and helpful guides accurately and responsibly make sure that the ones who went uphill, comes down too. The Thommankuthu can be quite tricky at times, so please check with the guides before entering the water. Visitors are advised to pay caution and follow the instructions of the guides, at all times. Best time to visit Thommankuthu is just after the monsoons, when the falls are at its best, though trekking into the deep insides of the forest wouldn't start until December. During the rainy season, trekking into the forest will be completely stopped. Although ideally the best times to visit Thommankuthu is from September to March, if you love the rains and wouldn't mind the dirt and rubbles around, Thommankuthu is great to visit in monsoons too, with a starkly different beauty then. Wed, 30 Sep 2015 05:45:36 GMT The most popular selfie spots in Kochi Selfies are evolving. Initially, they were all about occasions and special people in our lives. But now, the trend is changing, slowly, but surely. Selfies taken against popular landmarks is gaining popularity. We take a trip across Kochi - in search of the must see selfie spots. **Marine Drive** If you are in Kochi, you have to visit the Marine Drive. And if you are at Marine Drive, a selfie from the Rainbow Bridge is a must. It is just normal to see people waiting to take a selfie against the backdrop of the Rainbow bridge. **Fort Kochi** The Chinese fishing nets at Fort Kochi definitely makes for an amazing selfie backdrop. **Mattanchery harbour bridge** The Harbour bridge at Mattanchery is part and parcel of Kochi's past. Many movie scenes were shot here. And these days it is just a normal sight to see people stop by and take a selfie before they go their way. **Chathiath Road** After Marine Drive and Subhash Park, the Chathiath Road is fast becoming a hang-out. And needless to say the lake and the flats in the backdrop cuts an amazing selfie. **Malls** The Malls at Kochi are crowded - almost always. It is a place where the youth come together. And what is a get together without a selfie? **Cafe's** Various cafes and shopping centres cater to the need for selfies with a selfie spot. A selfie spot is a place where you can take that perfect selfie. **Jayasurya favourite selfie spot...** Ernakulam boy, Jayasurya is of the opinion that a selfie is reflection of the self. But if he is to take a selfie with a Kochi landmark in the background he would opt for Marine Drive. The Rainbow Bridge, he says is the identity of the town. A selfie from one of the apartment windows with the backwaters as the backdrop would just be awesome, he said. **Ananya's favourite selfie spot...** Ananya loves to take selfies. She says that one of her all time favourite selfie was taken with the Cochin Shipyard as background when she was staying in a flat at Ravipuram. Sat, 26 Sep 2015 09:08:21 GMT Malamel: Of hills and stories These hills were once under the threat of being destroyed by the quarry lobby. The local people raised their voices against it and over time, their perseverance paid off. The quarry lobby had to step down and that perhaps is the reason why we are able to see Malamel as it is now. We take a trip through this hilly terrain to see what makes Malamel special. There is a narrow cave-like divide that separates Nadappara and Nadukanippara. A trek between these rocks will make you hold your breath for a second. Apart from the stunning view, the cold breeze that flows in from the dense sandalwood trees brings with it the fragrance of sandalwood and lemon grass that grows in the meadows. Beyond it is Malamel, a tiny hamlet where the skies are kissing the land, eternally. Malamel comes under Arakkal Village of Edamulakkal Grama Panchayat in Pathanapuram Taluk of Kollam district. The place is bordered by a series of hillocks – the Ayiravallippara, Pullakkampara, Ambalampara, Kombukuthipara, Kudappara, Golandarappara, Nadappara, Kochunadukanippara, Nadukanippara and Shankoothupara. When you visit the place, don't forget to visit the Arakkal Devi Temple and Sankaranarayana Temple, which are now managed by Travancore Devaswom Board. These temples, they believe, bring prosperity to the land. The trekking starts from near the Arakkal Devi Temple. It is a steep road with sandalwood and other wild trees on either side. After a 200-meter walk, you reach Ayiravallippara. Climb on the rocks, look down and you see Anchal, Kulathupuzha, Chanappetta and Kudukkathupara at a distance. When you stand here, you will get to realise why the locals took up a stir. The crusher units, now abandoned, jar the beauty of the rocks. Malamel Sankaranarayana Temple is the next destination. The temple is situated on a huge rock, which is also called the Ambalappara or a (Temple on a rock). The view from here; that of a nature wrapped in a green blanket blended with the beauty of the village, is a beautiful sight. Here too, you see signs of destruction. Long cracks are visible on the rocks as an impact caused by the activities of crusher units in the area. You can walk over to the Nadappara, which is covered by sweet-smelling lemon grasses. The journey to Nadukanippara is a bit adventurous. Once you get there, you get a beautiful view of the Thankassery Light. While standing on the summit, you can see Chadayamangalam, Jadayuppara and Maruthimala - the rocky hills under the blanket of trees. No wonder Nadukanippara is also called as the 'oxygen hub' of Arakkal Village. The now deserted building of the Forest Wireless station, which was burned down in a lightening stands out. The journey continues through the paths, which had seen the pythons and porcupines come and go. It ends with Kudappara, which has one rock over the other giving it the shape of an umbrella. Under the rock, there is ample space for visitors to protect themselves from rain and sun. After Kudappara, comes Golarantharappara, which is in the shape of a globe fixed on the edge of a needle. It is disheartening to know that a place blessed with such beauty has never gained the attention of State Tourism Department. Even though the District Tourism Council had taken some decisions to promote the place, unfortunately, those advancements remained only in papers. The village is filled with fragrance of sandalwood trees. Apart from the famous Marayoor in Idukki, which is also a tourist spot, this could be the only place where sandalwood trees are grown naturally. Furthermore, Malamel could also be the one and only place where sandalwood trees are grown naturally in the non-forest areas as well. The fertile soil and suitable climate must be the contributing factors for the profuse growth of sandalwood trees. Interestingly, the stories of Puranas and myths of this place are also intertwined with the heady scent of sandalwood. Fri, 25 Sep 2015 07:22:04 GMT Kallekkulangara Emoor Bhagavathy Temple It is believed that four Ambika temples – Goddess Balambika at Kanyakumari, Goddess Lokambika at Loakanarkavu near Vadakara, Goddess Mookambika at Mangaluru and Goddess Hemambika at Palakkad were consecrated by Parashurama for the safety of Kerala, the land he reclaimed from the sea. The Hemambika temple, also known as the Emoor Bhagavathi temple is situated about 2km away from the Olavakkod Railway Station. **The legend** As with many other temples of Kerala, there is a unique legend for this temple too. Once, long ago, when the whole area was a forest, the members of the Kurur and Kaimukku Nambudiri families used visit the temple and pay the respects to the goddess. Time passed. The Nambudiri became so old that he could not make his daily visits. The goddess appeared in his dream and said she would appear at the pond near his house. And the next morning, devotees gathered at the temple pond, and then two beautiful hands rose out of the water. The Nambudiri could not contain his joy that he swam out to touch the hands. They turned to stone. Immobile. The temple was build near this pond. **Unique features** The idol is very unique, so is the fact that the temple is covered on three sides by water. Later, much later, Aadi Shankara brought an order in the mode of daily worship and decided upon the different offerings to the deity. The goddess is worshipped as Saraswathy in the morning, as Laxmi in the noon and as Durga in the evening. Important offerings to the goddess are naivilakku (ghee lamp), kalabham (sandal paste), naipayasam. Sat, 19 Sep 2015 06:23:22 GMT Sita Devi lived here once Pulpally, now, is one of those hubs where you can shop for anything – from groceries to electronic goods, but it has a history steeped in the Ramayana lore. The legend says that it was here that Lord Rama banished Sita Devi to when he came to know that his ‘subjects’ did not believe that she was 'pure' after staying at Ravana's Lanka for a long time. It was here that she lived after that and gave birth to her sons Luv and Kush. And it was here, that she was claimed by Mother Earth when she was asked to prove that she was faithful once again by her husband, years afterwards. So, it really did not come as a surprise when we were told about one of those rare temples dedicated to Sita Devi and her sons Luv and Kush. The temple was built during the time of Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja, who was among the first of the local leaders to declare war against the British during 1774 to 1808. During his reign, it is said, that he used to meet the local cheiftains at the courtyard of the temple. The salient feature of this temple built in the traditional Kerala style is a pond, one of the biggest in the area. The story goes that Sita Devi was inconsolable when Lord Rama left her and the pond was formed by the tears she shed. It is amusing to note that this part of Wayanad is not infected with leeches. The story goes that Luv and Kush were once bitten by the leeches while they were playing, and Sita Devi denied the leeches entry at their hermitage. The leeches, it is belived, have stayed away hence. There are a couple of places around Pulpally which is part of this Ramayana lore. The Valmiki Ashram, according to the lore existed here. Sasimala, just beyond is said to have been the place Luv and Kush used to play when they were kids. Erayipally is the place where a local gave them food and drinks while they were travelling. As we walk away from the temple, which is now a popular tourist destination, we have no doubts why Kerala has earned the moniker of being God's Own Country. Sat, 12 Sep 2015 05:17:55 GMT Illikkal Kallu : A view from the top If you are in Kottayam and planning a one-day trip, Illikal Kallu could be the place for you. The sheer rock on the top of the hill, known as the Illikkal Kallu, or the boulder at Illikkal is easily one of the most prominent sights from any part of Kottayam. For ages, it has been one of those far away places - but now, after the road was tarred till the top of the hill, Illikkal Kallu is seeing a huge rush of visitors. We set out at 4 a.m. to the Illikkal Kallu from Kottayam via Pala-Erattupetta-Thekkoye-Adukkom route. If you are, like us, travelling in a private vehicle, it will be better you check the fuel-level before leaving Kottayam. We could not find a single fuel station that was open during the wee hours of the morning till we got to Erattupetta. After a fuel stop, we reached the foot of the Illikkal Kallu at 6 a.m. A slight drizzle accompanied us when we started our walk towards the Illikkal Kallu. Situated about 3500 feet above the sea level, we were awestruck by the majesty of the rock as we stepped out of our vehicle and walked towards its base. There are many who come here for a trek to the top of the rock. The path takes you across the Narakapalam, which is a narrow slippery stretch up the rock. However, we preferred to stay in the valley and watch. When we reached the rock, we saw clouds floating by in the valley. Looking through the clouds, we saw a blue patch, which was the Arabian sea. We spent some more time near the rock, enjoying the drizzle and the chiming of the church bells arising from somewhere in the valley. After a while, we decided to climb down from the hill - we had more plans for the day. The only solace coming from the thought that we would be able to see the rock from afar. We saw it standing tall as we headed out to Wagamon, our next destination. We had our breakfast at Wagamon and then headed to Palozhukumpara waterfalls. The youngest and the most naughtiest of our bunch, the three-year-old Angela, could not control her happiness when she heard the babbling brook just ahead. She raced to the waterfalls and happily sloshed around getting her dress wet. Finally we managed to get her back inside the vehicle and drove to Elappara. After some time under a huge tree, we head back. On our way back, we took the Pullikkanam-Kanjar-Thodupuzha route. After reaching home, we were taking a look at the various pictures of the Illikkal Kallu. I thought from afar, the rock looked like a woman who was sitting with her legs spread down the valley, while my better half said it looked like a monkey. One likened the stone to a monk while the other said that it looked like the hood of a snake. And then, we called in the baby and showed her the pictures. Her comment was – mamma, it is a rock, a very huge rock and that sums up the awe inspiring Illikkal Kallu. Wed, 09 Sep 2015 13:40:25 GMT Panchalimedu: Beyond a pit-stop It was a pit-stop on the way to our weekend getaway destination Kuttikkanam, but the green meadows laced with still greener waves of soft rolling hills left us enchanted so much that now whenever we refer to the trip, we call it the visit to Panchalimedu. My colleague Amin, who had suggested we take a trip to Panchalimedu, had warned us against taking umbrellas though it was a monsoon season — 'Even though it will be of not much use to you, better take raincoats rather than umbrellas. Take umbrella only if you are trying to pull off a Mary Poppins.' After reaching atop Panchalimedu, I realised that he was not exaggerating, not one bit. Almost 2,500ft above sea level, I felt like I am standing at a beach, counting the waves — the undulation of hills and valleys seemed never-ending, like green waves crafted by the constant torrents of wind. Panchalimedu has a maze of small hills and I am not sure if each of it has a different name. The one on the western side has some small temples - the main one is dedicated to goddess Bhuvaneshwari - and the eastern one, which is the steeper one, bears a 'way of the cross'. There is an unpaved road, created by constant abuse of four-wheel drives, separating these two hills. March ahead and it will take you to a man-built well and tank. The sky was heavy with ashen clouds and it looked like the heaven's gates could open at any moment. We even heard the grey head of a family, who were on their hurried descent, telling a whining kid in the group to better rush to the comfort of their car parked below than getting soaked on a hill in between nowhere - that last bit of information was intriguing, yet beguiling, for all four of us. It had drizzled when we were at the foothill. Now, standing at the western side of the hills beyond the temples, I could see the clouds on their sprint to the east - just like gardeners rushing to water their plants before the sunset. The sun rays spilled on the valley whenever any lazy cloud broke the marching formation- sometimes on the valleys, sometimes on the hills. The wet, cold and slippery grass grumbled about the sluggish glimpses of sunlight that trickled off the horizon. We ran down the south side slope till the remains of a knee-high of stone wall that once marked the boundary. Beyond here tread cautiously as the rocks, that overlook the valley, ends as it begins - giving way to a free fall. On our way back, we decided not to scale the eastern portion of the hill as it looked a bit daunting for the kids. We walked towards the ponds at the northern plateau on the hill. After passing a worn-out pump-house, we reached the well where a big rusty pipe streams down the water to some location in the valley, all of which looked as though it were enjoying a retirement (there was no one to confirm this, though). Travellers could use this as a warning sign: venture out in groups as the place is isolated. We wandered around there till we spotted red patches of sky beyond the cover of rain clouds - it was well past 5pm. Slowly it dawned on us that lost in the beauty of Panchalimedu, we missed our lunch, but no one (including the kids) was in a mood to complain, account it to the tea and snacks we had from one teashop at the foothill of Panchalimedu. Note: If you are planing to visit this place during the second week of January 14 or 15 (to be precise on the Makar Sankranti), forget all that we spoke about isolation or hinted about peace and calm, the place will be buzzing with Ayyappa devotees, who flock the hills to get a glimpse of Makara Vilakku, the sacred flame that is lit thrice in the Ponnambalamedu hill near Sabarimala. Legend: The Pandavas, along with their wife Panchali, stayed in these hills and the caves nearby during their time of exile. And after they left, the local people noticed footsteps, deeply impressed on the rock. The story spread that these footprints were those of the mighty Bheema, the strongest of the Pandavas. There is also a pond, in which Panchali is supposed to have had a bath. They built a temple to commemorate this belief. There is a small cave too here. Wed, 09 Sep 2015 10:33:27 GMT The new sights and sounds of Vaikom Vaikom holds a special place in Kerala's history. And it is just normal to come across monuments across this village commemorating the famous 'Vaikom Satyagraha'. Now, the civic corporation has come up with innovative ways to entertain people who come here to experience this history. The new park is the best place to relax - or catch up with family and friends. Right next to the park is the huge bell called 'Chronicle of the Shores Foretold.' This sculpture was designed by Kothanalloor Pattamana Gigi Skaria and was on display at the Kochi Biennale. At dusk, you can see the lake waters spray through the 64 holes drilled into the bell, which is made of stainless steel, and is 13 feet high and 16 feet in diameter. Skaria is an artist based out of Delhi for the last 20 years. Nearby, on the way to the public beach, are 10 sculptures, each of them reminding us of events in the historic Vaikom Satyagraha. They tell tales starting from Dalavakkunnu, where those who fought for social change were cut down and buried many years before the historic protest, to various scenes from the Satyagraha itself. The artists who made them are B.S. Anu, K.N. Hariharan, Veloor Johnson, Manesha Devasharma, M.P. Nishad, V. Nakhvesh, K.K. Sanul, R. Sresh, K.S. Sujith and V.V. Vinu. The jetty where Mahatma Gandhi landed to take part in the Vaikom Satyagraha is still preserved, complete with the royal seal of the Travancore kings: the conch shell. Near the jetty is the memorial of the protest itself. Here there is a large, full-length statue of the Mahatma. Made of terracotta, it is 9 feet tall and weighs 800 kilograms. But unlike most other statues of the Father of the Nation, here Gandhiji is without his walking stick. The artist who fashioned this statue is Prof. Thomas John Kovoor. Inside the memorial are a library and a museum. From here, you can head to the Vaikom Valiya Kavala. There are more statues here, of social reformers and other famous people: Mannathu Padmanabhan, Thanthai Periyar E.V. Ramaswamy Naikar, T.K. Madhavan, MGR and Janaki Ramachandran. Travelers can also visit the recently opened aquarium, jointly run by the Matsyafed and the civic corporation, with its stock of ornamental fish. Thu, 03 Sep 2015 09:39:40 GMT Madayipara: A bloom for every season It was during one of those lazy Saturday afternoon chats that the name Madayipara cropped up for the first time a couple of years ago. The conversation was about Onam and flowers which are an integral part of the festival. My friend who is from Kannur said, 'You know what, there is this place called Madayipara, near Pazhayangadi, and during Onam, the whole hillock is covered in a carpet of blue flowers.' And this year, when the name cropped up again, we decide to give in to the temptation. Madayipara is an hour's drive from Kannur. We set off late in the afternoon; we have temples to visit and a sunset to watch. When we reached Madayipara, we were in for a treat. For, as far as the eyes could see, the blue flowers bobbed happily - as if welcoming us. We park the vehicle on the roadside and take a walk for better photos of the visual treat. A passerby tells us that the flowers that bloom now are traditionally flowers which go into the flower carpet or the 'Athappookalams.' He points out to the blue bloom and says: 'These are 'Kakkapoo' and during this season, you will also find the 'Thumbapoo', just beyond yonder.' We are not surprised. A search on the internet before we started had said that Madayipara is famous for the rich and varied flora and fauna. It is home to some of the rarest plants. It is said that more than 500 plant species with about 300 flowering plants and a large variety of butterflies are found here. We try to look for the familiar flowers. We are told that the flowers here change with the season. During the wet phase, that is soon after the monsoons, these blue and white flowers cover the land and during summer the grass turns golden with blades of red flowers. Thousands of visitors come here, to take photos and to visit the temples here. There are two famous ones - Madayikavu and the Vadukunda Siva Temple. The Malik Dinar mosque is nearby. History has it that the Greeks, the Arabs and the Jews set up camps near Madayipara long ago. The 'Jutha Kulam', (the Jew's tank) a pond, the locals believe, bear witness to this history. Madayipara, was once an administrative hub for the kings of Ezhimala. Tippu Sultan is said to have signed some treaties here with the British. The remains of the old fort can be found towards the southern side of the hillock. But, rather than the historical monuments and the temples here, it is the blue carpet of flowers that catch our attention - and as we walk away, we promise ourselves that we will be back to see what the changing seasons will bring to Madayipara. Wed, 02 Sep 2015 14:10:49 GMT Kuthampully - perfectly woven The roads we pass through are dusty and in bad condition. But for us - a bunch of people on a mission - that is not a roadblock. Our destination is Kuthampully, near Thiruvilwamala. Our mission, buy the traditional Kerala dress materials for the festive season. And, according to a long standing tradition in our family Kuthampully is 'the' place to go shopping for the traditional Kerala sarees and dhoties which are a huge hit during festivals like Onam. This, however, is my first time to Kuthampully. As we drive up the bumpy road, I try to make up a mental image of the place in advance based on the post meal gossip sessions between sisters and mothers at home. I imagine a long line of shops, people bustling on the roads. However, when we reached Kuthampully, it was an entirely different experience. It was just another normal village - there were cows on the road, children playing cricket outside their homes - but then came the twist. Almost every house had a small outlet selling their handloom cloth and some had huge flex boards with the name of the shop. While my cousins are busy shopping, I take a stroll around the village. There are big shops and small ones. Kuthampully, I realise is a traditional handloom village. Most of the weavers belong to the Devanga community that traces their roots to Mysore. They were brought to Kuthampully ages ago to make dresses exclusively for the Kochi Royal family. Over years this has changed and now all the weavers here are part of the Handloom Co-operative Society that manges the production and sales. The Bharathapuzha washes the banks north of the village during the monsoons. And during the other time the vast expanse of sands paint a pretty picture. In the olden days, they used to make the traditional dhoties and Kerala sarees and the 'settum mundum' (a two piece saree worn by the women in Kerala), but for the last couple of years they have diversified – into salwar kamees and more intricate artwork on the sarees. The designs have changed over time and in keeping with the likes of the consumers. May be that is why Kuthampully merchandise finds its way to places across the globe - practically wherever a Malayali goes. Kuthampully dress materials are reasonably priced and you really do not have to travel all the way to buy them. The handloom cooperative has shops at many places across the state. But, if you want to see how these dress materials are made, then you need to take a stroll down the streets at Kuthampully. That is an experience in itself. Thu, 27 Aug 2015 05:18:54 GMT Visit Thrikkakara temple for Onam celebrations The legend of Onam comes alive in the Thrikkakara temple. According to the legends, the mythical king Mahabali used to worship at the Siva temple here. **The legend of Onam and Thrikkakara's role** The name Thrikkakara, they say, has its origins in the word 'Thiru Kaal Karai' or the land where the lord kept his feet. Asura King Mahabali, was a just ruler and he ruled over the world and nether-world. Indra, the lord of the heavens felt challenged by his popularity and pleaded to the gods to end Mahabali's rule. Lord Vishnu agreed to take on the avatar of a dwarf - Vamana - and met the king. He begged for as much land as would be covered by three paces of his feet. Despite his guru Shukracharya's advice, the just ruler, agreed to the dwarf's request. Vamana grew in size, covered earth and sky and did not have a place for his third foot, Mahabali, offered him his head and Vamana sent him to the nether-worlds with the agreement that he could visit his kingdom once a year - on Onam day. This incident, it is believed happened at Thrikkakara. After the purpose of the avatar was met, Sage Kapila installed Vamanamoorthy as the presiding deity of the temple. Over the years, the Lord Siva installation here was transformed to 'Mathevar' and the Vamanamoorthy is called 'Thrikkakaraappan' or 'Onathapan'. The temple is one of the 108 Divya Desam temples in India. [Divya desam temples in Kerala]( "Divya Desam Temples")  **Onam - then and now** During the good old days, Onam used to be a one month long festival at Thrikkakara. The Zamorin of Kozhikode used to be the presiding ruler and the 64 local chieftains used to conduct the festival. Later, it got cut short to just 10 days. The king of Kochi used to travel to Thrikkakara with the Athachamayam procession, offer his prayers here before heading back to his palace. Everyone across the state was supposed to come to the temple and offer prayers during Onam season. Allowances were made for people who could visit the temple. Conical mud idols were expected to be consecrated at each of the 'athapookalams' across the state and worshiped. The festival at Thrikkakara lasts 10 days now, starting on the Atham day. The main observance is the 'charthu' or decking up the god in keeping with the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu. The last two days are very special with people from all walks of life taking part in the Onam feast or Onasadya. The Pakalpooram is held on Uthradam day, which is the day before Onam. Fri, 21 Aug 2015 14:16:44 GMT Neyyar: The land where ghee flows There are a number of reasons to visit Neyyar - from the abundant wildlife that include lions, elephants, tigers, leopards, bears, wild buffaloes, and birds to the huge diversity of flora - trees, creepers, rarest of the rare orchids, and more. Although Anamudi is the highest peak in the Sahyadris, it is Agasthyakoodam that is known as the evergreen spot in this mountain range. The peak is known for its steep slopes which can be accessed only with great difficulty. Neyyar is born as small, nondescript mountain streams in various parts of Agasthyakoodam. By the time it reaches Kombai settlement colony, it takes the form of a small stream. As Neyyar flows downhill, slowly it gains momentum and strength, aided by the many such rivulets that join it on the journey down. There are two legends about Neyyar's origin, both related to Agasthya rishi, one of the seven sages. It is said that the ghee, or clarified butter, used for the puja at Agasthya's ashram used to flow downhill. This made it difficult for people downhill to get water. Agasthya understood this problem and changed the ghee to water. Another legend is that the sage had instructed people to use the ghee flowing from his ashram only for their daily needs, and always to collect only the quantity needed for the day. A local feudal lord once questioned this and stored the ghee needed for a week. The sage got angry at this and turned all the ghee to water. Whether it was ghee or water that flowed, locals say the river originates somewhere near Agasthya ashram. 'There is no other mention of a river where ghee flowed. It is said in the Puranas that Vishnu's first avatar, the fish, manifested in a river where ghee flowed. If that is indeed the case, that took place in Neyyar,' says C.V.Suresh, a teacher who authored the book 'Cultural History of Neyyatinkara.' Neyyar is the southernmost river in Kerala; it originates from Agasthyakoodam and joins the Arabian sea at Poovar. As you skip along the little waves of this river, you can see blue, mist-covered peaks on the horizon. Kalimala, Kalippara, Klamala, Kondakettimala ... all of them have their own tales to tell. There is a temple on top of Kalimala, and another on Kalippara (Lokambika temple). These are devi temples but the main pujas are held on Sivaratri. It is mostly the Kani tribals from the surrounding areas that come for these pujas. On Sivaratri day, entire villages make their way to these forest temples. The festivities last till the morning. The temple ponds on both the peaks are a wonder - they don't dry up even in peak summer, and the water is crystal clear. On one of these peaks is also the famous southern Kurissumala pilgrimage centre. Every year, thousands walk up these hills in memory of the sacrifices of Jesus Christ. Neyyar dam is among the most beautiful gardens in Kerala. Rare orchids add to the coruscating kaleidoscope of colours here. It also has artificial waterfalls, an aquarium with a large collection of fishes, parks, and a boat service run by the state forest department. The famous Lion safari Park here is on a small peninsula jutting into the Neyyar reservoir. You can reach the park through land or take a boat to there. The area is fenced in with barbed wire, and the lions roam free inside. Visitors are taken inside the park in fully covered vehicles. The lions sometimes can be seen on the road itself, or close by. 'The park here is more beautiful than any other lion safari park in the world,' says Sakkeer, a businessman from Kozhikode who travels around the globe. 'But even we Malayalis don't know about it.' The deer park, also on a small peninsula, is another attraction. There are hundreds of deer here, from various species. It is a sight to see them graze near the fences. 'The number of visitors to Neyyar dam is increasing by the day,' says forest ranger Baiju Krishna. 'But more North Indians come here than Keralites.' The crocodiles in Neyyar once hogged the headlines for all the wrong reasons - they used to spring on unsuspecting local people who used to come to the reservoir for bathing and washing clothes. Several people have lost their lives to these attacks and several more have been maimed. Why do these crocodiles harbour an enduring hatred for humans? The reasons are still unclear. Locals used to say it could be because of hunters targeting baby crocodiles, but there has been no evidence to substantiate it. Attempts were made to relocate the crocodiles when their attacks began to increase; that led to the setting up of the crocodile park here, which further led to the establishment of the Steven Irvin Crocodile Research and Rehabilitation Centre. Neyyar's beauty is best appreciated from a height. There are two watchtowers here; both offer great views, including the of blue-water lake that spreads across kilometers. The natural beauty at Neyyar's foothills is probably unrivalled in the world. Fresh water that flows down, carrying with it the essence and fragrance of various rare medicinal herbs from the jungles, boating facilities, trekking packages – Neyyar's wild beauty beckons travellers. You can trek to Meenmutti waterfalls too. It is a two-day trek. The halt at the end of the first day is at Kombai settlement colony; here Neyyar flows like a little child. Further downstream, she is joined by her tributaries Kallar, Valliyar and Mullayar, and transforms herself into a roaring, mighty river. The dam across Neyyar was built 55 years back to bring water to the farmlands in Neyyatinkara taluk and Vilavankode taluk in Kanyakumari, which was once part of Kerala. The work on the dam started in 1951 and it was commissioned in 1959. The cost then was Rs 4 crore, which is the cost of building a small bridge today, even adjusted to inflation. Two canals, one for Kanyakumari and one for Neyyatinkara, distribute water from the reservoir to farms downstream. The one to Tamil Nadu is now closed. Kappukadu elephant sanctuary is a little away from Neyyar dam and can be reached either by land or by taking a boat. Wild elephants found injured in the forest are brought to this sanctuary for treatment. There are nearly 10 such elephants in the sanctuary that have been domesticated this way. Among the elephants that take travellers for safari is Jayashree, who is famous for her discipline and for ensuring the safety of travellers. At Kappukadu, you get a ringside view of elephants going about their life - taking baths and being fed. Cottages here offer an opportunity to live close to nature. A special raft to cross the river is also available. North Indian and foreign travellers love this place. An idol of Agasthya is installed on the tallest peak on these ranges. At the top of the peak you can find dwarf trees and shrubs; Puranas describe the sage as short in height too. 'Neyyar is not only a river but also a civilization. It is life-giving water, magic and tantra, work and culture. It is Dravidian, and is like nourishing water and light for writers like me,' says famous writer Prof. V. Venugopan Nair. His stories abound in characters from around the river. Still, despite it being the life-giving river of Thiruvithancore, Neyyar was never written or sang about; films were not made around it. It is a mystery why Neyyar did not percolate into Kerala's culture scene in the way Bharathapuzha, further north, did. Is it because of Agasthya's curse, or is it because she flows mostly through thick jungles that throw a thick veil of secrecy over her? Perhaps, only the river knows. But she just keeps flowing, displaying no intent to reveal her secret to anyone. (In special arrangement with Vanitha) Fri, 14 Aug 2015 16:23:07 GMT Footloose at Thenmala Kollam: Thenmala Eco Tourism Project, holds the distinction of being the first planned Eco Tourism project in India. There are organised day trips, there are specialised attraction zones and places to stay. There are restaurants too, that dish up traditional Kerala fare. Thenmala literally translates to Honey Hill. It has been, for a long time a planter's haven. The plantations on the valley grow tea, rubber and other spices; cloaking the hillocks in a lush green cover. We take in the beauty of the mountains as we drive up to the Eco Toursim centre. The Eco Tourism centre is split into zones - Culture Zone, Leisure Zone and Adventure Zone. The major attraction of the culture zone is the musical dancing fountain. It is advisable to check with the park centre about the timing. We did see a couple of children posing for selfies next to the statues at Sculpture Garden. If you are short on time, you can give the Sculpture Garden a miss. The sway bridge at the leisure zone will keep your child busy. But it is advisable to exercise caution since there are good chances that you may be sharing the place with a pack of monkeys - and they borrow snacks. The adventure zone offers an elevated walkway. There are options for trekking, river crossing and rock climbing too. The centre offers day trips to Shenduruney Wildlife Sanctuary and Palaruvi Waterfalls nearby. The Butterfly Safari and the Deer Rehabilitation centre that houses spotted deer and sambar deer is a huge attraction for little children. But, that is not all. It is the serenity of the hills and the ambience that sets you at peace once you are here. If you have time to spare and a heart for adventure, you can stray away from the Eco Tourism project. The Thenmala dam and the reservoir are a pretty sight. The 13 Kannara Bridge, the railway over bridge constructed during the British reign is another marvel. Thrown open in 1904, this bridge was a meter gauge line that connected Kollam to Chennai. A couple of years ago, the Railways reinforced the bridge mainly to keep up with the gauge conversion. There are various lookout points along the way; if you are driving you can make a stop there and take in the scenic beauty of the place. The eco-system at Thenmala is very unique. The flora and fauna here is as unique as it gets making Thenmala a must see. Tue, 04 Aug 2015 13:43:25 GMT Payammal Shatrughna temple Payammal Shatrughna temple can be reached by taking a turn from Arippalam on the Irinjalakuda-Kodungalloor route and travelling two kiometers inside. The garba griha is square-shaped and Shatrughnaswami, considered an avatar of Vishnu's Sudarashana chakra, is the idol. It is believed attending the night puja is a must. Shatrughna here is portrayed as tasked with slaying Lavanasura, who had been blessed by Shiva with a lance that made him invincible. Ganesha is installed on a rock to the south of the main temple. Anjaneya is worshipped on the front mandapa. It is said that the temple declined during the old days following a power struggle between various local groups and was destroyed during Tipu's invasion. The local people have now renovated it. Sudarshana Pushpanjali, for vanquishing the enemy and for acquiring riches, is the main offering at the Páyammal Shatrughna temple. The festival here starts on the Pooyam day in the month of Kumbha and lasts for five days. An interesting custom here is submitting the income and expense receipts of the day before the lord after the evening puja, and seeking his forgiveness for all errors of omission and commission, before the temple is closed. This is the last of the four temples on the ritual circuit; after the darshan here, devotees go back to Triprayar to complete the circuit. [Read more on Nalambalam Yathra]( "Nalambalam Yathra") Mon, 27 Jul 2015 07:54:24 GMT Moozhikulam Lakshmana Perumal temple Moozhikulam Lakshmana Perumal temple sits on the banks of the Chalakudy river at Parakkadavu panchayat in Aluva taluk. This area was a jungle in the olden days. It is believed that Lord Vishnu appeared before Haritha maharishi here and told him about the coming Kali yuga and what people need to do to escape its ill effects. Thus the place came to be called Thirumozhikkalam, which later evolved into Moozhikulam. It is still referred to as Thirumozhikkalam in Tamil texts. The nearly 5-acre walled, temple complex has four gates and in the middle is a light tower guarded by dragons. There is a wide namaskaramandapa inside, with the teak rafters covered by sculptures. The floor of the inside courtyard is paved with granite slabs. The main temple tower is plated with copper and has two storeys, a rare style in Kerala temple architecture. The idol here is of Lakshmana, considered the avatar of Adi Sesha, getting ready to slay Meghanadha, the son of Ravana. The same garba griha also has the idol of Ganesha but at a different place. On the north east is a temple of Goshalakrishna and on the south is a beautiful dance mandapa. There are no historical records on who built this temple. One myth about its origin says that the idols here were installed during Dwapara Yuga while another says Lakshmana installed the idols here during Tretha Yuga. But the Moozhikulam Lakshmana Perumal temple was a prominent one during the Chera rule and historical records say Kulasekhara Varman installed a flag staff here in 4 AD and the temple was renovated by Bhaskara Varman. The temple's decline started during Tipu's invasion in 18 century AD. Even the daily pujas were abandoned. Later it was renovated due to efforts by local villagers. The temple festival starts on Atham day and ends with Arattu on Thiruvonam day. The festival sacrifice on the sixth day and the day pooram on the ninth are important. [Read more on Nalambalam Yathra]( "Nalambalam Yathra") Mon, 27 Jul 2015 07:21:20 GMT Koodalmanikyam Bharata Temple This temple, known as the Bharata temple of Bharat, is about a kilometer west from Irinjalakuda town in Thrissur. Irinjalakuda sits between the Chalakudy and Kurumali rivers. It is believed that Nandigram, where Bharata worshipped the footwear of his elder brother Rama, was here. The myth is that Bharata was the avatar of the conch shell of Vishnu. His duty was to rule the country while Rama was in exile. The idol portrays a joyous Bharata on receiving news of Rama's return. There are not sub-deities here. But there are sculptures of Kali and Durga on the temple pillars, and Hanuman is believed to be present in the 'Tidapally.' There are four big ponds around the temple. The one inside the temple compound, called Kuleepani Theertham, is believed to be where the sage Kuleepani held his yajna. Its water is considered to have medicinal properties as the Ganges is believed to be present in it. Its water is also used for the temple rituals. You can find only fishes in the Theertham. They are believed to be rishis, devas and ancestors who have taken on the body of fishes, and are fed by devotees. It is also believed that taking the Mukkudi naivedyam for a year will help cure all diseases. The rituals of the Koodalmanikyam Temple are different from those of other temples, in that there are only three pujas a day, and perfume sticks and camphor are not used. The temple festival starts on the Uthram star of Medam and ends on Thiruvonam day. [Read more on Nalambalam Yathra]( "Nalambalam Yathra") Thu, 23 Jul 2015 16:38:51 GMT Triprayar Sri Ramaswamy temple Triprayar Sri Ramaswamy temple sits on the west bank of the Teevra river, on the famous Chettuva sands between Guruvayoor and Kodungalloor. The name Triprayar is supposed to have evolved from the river Teevra. The idol here is that of the four-armed Vishnu. The countenance of the idol is that of Rama who had just eliminated Khara, and with all the powers of the trimurtis manifest in him. It is believed that the conch and chakra on the idol denote Vishnu, the bow Shiva and the garland Brahma. In the sanctum sanctorum, installed facing the south is Dakshinamurti. Outside the main temple are idols of Ganesha, Shastha and Goshalakrishna. Devotees believe that the darshan of Rama should be done only after paying respects to Hanuman, supposed to be present at the mandapa in the front. It is also believed that Chathan swamy is at the temple, in service to Rama. Five pujas and three sheevelis are held daily at the temple. Nirmalyam and evening sheeveli are considered special. Triprayar is one of the few Vaishnava temples where fireworks are allowed as an offering to the god. In fact, these barrel crackers are one of the main offerings here. The offering reminds of the time when Hanuman, who had gone in search of Sita, comes back and shouts out to Rama about how he had located her; his voice reverberated across the three worlds. Another legend is that during Tipu's invasion the crackers were thrown into the river but they exploded in the waters. Another important offering is feeding the fishes here. The fish was Vishnu's first avatar and the fish in the river are fed in memory of that. It is believed that the lord takes the form of the fish to accept this offering. The main festivals at the temple are Ekadashi on the month of Vrishchikam (Scorpio) and Pooram during the month of Meenam (Pisces). Triprayar Ekadashi falls on the dark half of Vrishchikam. The myth behind this festival is that before slaying Ravana, Rama had undergone penance during this month. It is also one of the very few temples where festival is held without the ritual flag-hoisting. The rituals during the period from Makayira star in Meenam till the day of Uthram lights is also important for devotees. Triprayar Thevar also leads the famous Arattupuzha Pooram. [Read more on Nalambalam Yathra]( "Nalambalam Yathra") Thu, 23 Jul 2015 16:20:58 GMT Marayoor: For those soul searchers Of late, during the rains, tourists have been giving misty Munnar a miss and putting up camp at Marayoor, which is the home of prehistoric dolmens, cave paintings, home grown sugarcane and sandalwood forests. The ancient dolmens - portal tombs - where people were buried long long ago is one of the main attractions at Marayoor. These dolmens are known among the locals by the name of _muniyara_ (chamber of the sage) and it dates back to the Iron Age. These dolmens are burial chambers with normally three stones put on top of it to resemble a dome like structure. Another relic of the prehistoric civilisation here are the rock paintings at _Ezhuthu Guha_ (caves with writings) at Attala is another attraction. Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary is just about a couple of kilometers away from Marayoor. There are people who camp out in the neighbouring places at nights to see the wild animals. The Thoovanam waterfalls inside the forest is another experience you could write home about. Marayoor is famous for its sandalwood forests. The area is now heavily protected. Marayoor has a lot of sugarcane plantations and _Marayoor sarkara_ (jaggery) is famous for its unique taste and texture. Kanthaloor, a scenic village with terraced paddy cultivation, orchards and vegetable farms is just a couple of kilometers away. The shola forests surround the land. It is lush greens in the monsoon and definitely worth a visit. Recently, the state Forest Department with the help of the tribal people have set up a an eco-tourism centre at Marayoor. Thu, 23 Jul 2015 07:08:00 GMT 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. The best view of the Chelavirichapara can be had from Kattadipara. The story goes on that Sita used to put her dress for drying on Chelavirichapara, and hence the name. The Kattadipara is the most popular of the hills. The winds here do not whisper sweet nothings; they buffet you. The story is interesting too. The Kattadipara is where Hanuman, the son of Vayu is said to have rested. And many believe that this is why the presence of the wind god is felt here. There is a small well near the Kattadipara. It is believed that Lord Rama and Sita used the water of this well for their use. There is a popular belief that Rama and Sita used to stay at Pulipara Guha and the rock shelf here was once, their bed. Wed, 22 Jul 2015 15:15:03 GMT A ride to the pride of Kannur A couple of centuries ago, Kannur or Kolathunadu as it was known those days, was one of the most important port towns on the western coast of British India. Second only to Bombay. The land was ruled by the Kolathiris. The Portuguese rulers were among the first who realised the need for a Fort in such a strategic location. And there it has stood - over years. And, while in Kannur, it is impossible not to make a trip to the St Angelo Fort. **The history** St Angelo Fort, according to records, was built in 1505 by Dom Fransico de Almeida, the first Portuguese viceroy to India.Situated 3km away from Kannur town, near Military cantonment and Moppila bay, this Fort has changed hands a couple of times. In 1663,the Dutch captured the Fort and eventually gave the Fort its present appearance.The Dutch sold the Fort to Arakkal Royal family in 1772. In 1790, the British conquered it and used it as one of their major military stations on the Malabar coast till 1947. A painting of the fort and fishing ferry as a background is on display at Rijksmusuem in Amsterdam. That is not all. It is said that Kunjali Marakkar's head was removed from his body and exhibited in the fort after his assassination. **The Fort now** Maintained by the Archeological Survey of India, the Fort is a protected monument. The visiting time begins at 8 in the morning and ends at 6pm. Huge cannons and narrow tunnels are the main attractions. It is said that there are tunnels which connect the Fort to Thalassery. It was believed during wars kings used the tunnels to escape from enemies. The St.Angelo Fort has for years been a favourite destination of filmmakers and art directors. Neram Pularumbol, Athirathram, Amritam, Makalk and Anwar are some of the Malayalam movies which were shot with the Fort as the backdrop. A couple of Tamil movies including Alai Payuthe and Priyam were also shot here. Of late many wedding photographers have identified the romantic ambience of the Fort and have been capturing the adorable pictures for wedding albums. Artists come here for inspiration. It is a popular picnic spot for school students too. Some stare with awe at the battlements, the cannons and the other relics, but most of them prefer to play in the wide open space inside the Fort. There are small refreshment shops and tea stalls outside the Fort that thrive on its visitors. **Kannur and its love for Forts** The Fort is so much a part of the collective psyche. The Fort Road is the main business hub of Kannur; it also connects the railway station and the bus stand to the rest of the town. Most of the banks have their branches on the Fort Road - and so do the major shops. The Fort Light Complex is the one stop shopping place for all your needs. The names, inspired from the famous St Angelo Fort. Wed, 22 Jul 2015 11:45:30 GMT Jothlag Waterfalls beckons Here is one more not so popular gem of a tourist attraction from Kasaragod. Tucked away near the picturesque Ranipuram, is the Jothlag falls. Situated on the Panathadi-Ranipuram route, which is about one kilometer and a half from Peruthadi, the waterfall cascades down 45 ft and is a visual treat during the monsoons. Jothlag, in Marathi, means waterfall. However, utmost caution should be exercised when you head out to Jothlag falls. The way to the foot of the waterfall is a tough trek. Especially so during the monsoon months, because you run a high chance of slipping on the moss covered path. Unlike many popular waterfalls, the authorities have not yet built a guard rail or a hanging bridge across the falls. Wed, 22 Jul 2015 06:18:11 GMT As the sun sets over Kochi It was after 5pm when our boat chugged out of the jetty off the Marine Drive for a one-and-a-half hour cruise of the harbor. The tour would take us through the waterways past the old town of Fort Kochi, Bolgatty Island, Willingdon Island, the Kochi shipyard and Chinese fishing net dotting the waterway. Over the horizon, the setting sun painted a pretty picture. The crimson red blended into orange and golden, splashing the sky with a multitude of hues like a naughty child playing with water colours. The gentle waves rocked the boat. And as Marine Drive receded, we hear the horn of a ship; reminding us that we are on a shipping line. Reminding us that Kochi has been natural port and a hub of trade from as far back as AD 1341. The horn blares again bringing us back to the present. It was one of those container vessels that sailed past us. And if you are in luck you can see huge ocean going vessels pass by. And then, you see the Chinese fishing nets dotting the coast. These cantilevered fishing nets are a part of Kochi's history. Believed to have been introduced by the Chinese explorer Zheng He, these nets are a popular tourist attraction. The glimpse of Fort Kochi you get from the boat does not really do justice to the old town which had, long long ago been the heart and soul of Kochi. There is a nip in the air and you can definitely feel the sea breeze pass by you. You can make out where the backwaters meet the sea. Where the sea breaks just beyond yonder. Most of the boats which do the sunset cruise do not go beyond a particular point. We turn around. By the time the boat passes Vypeen, the sun is about to set. A ferry loaded with cars is headed to the jetty at Vypeen. Even though the Goshree bridges connecting mainland Ernakulam to the Bolgatty, Vallarpadam and Vypeen Islands are fully functional, a lot of people prefer the ferry service to avoid the traffic snarls. Vypeen is now one of the fastest growing suburb of Kochi. The tourism department has come up with a lot of plans to make this Island a tourism hotspot. We pass by the Vallarpadam container terminal. Ships from across the globe anchor here. We pass by the Bolgatty Island which looks pretty against the backdrop of the setting sun. And then, before we realise it, we are chugging into the jetty. The sun has set in the horizon and the stars are out. And we, walk out to see what else this historic city has to offer us. **Essential information** Some boats do offer on board entertainment and refreshments. Some, let you bring your own picnic hampers. Thu, 16 Jul 2015 15:00:24 GMT Unveiling Kakkadampoyil Kakkadampoyil is a small hamlet that lies on the border between Malappuram and Kozhikode. Also known as the Ooty of Malabar, Kakkadampoyil is one of those destinations that do not figure prominently on a tourism map. Most people who visit this place are from neighbouring districts. We start early from Mukkam. Our journey takes us through a populated area for about 24 kilometers before we reach the serene forest. We stop by the viewpoints, which give us a panoramic picture of the Kozhikode city and the seas far away. We are welcomed by a small waterfall cascading down the hill and lush greenery all around. You can take a dip in the cold waters flowing down from the waterfall. Agriculture used to be the backbone of the economy here, but off late, crops are failing and the local people are of the view that tourism should be developed in the area. The streams do not run dry even in the summer. The locals hold the opinion that adventure sports like kayaking and trekking could bring in the moolah. Kozhippara has a long history; it is associated with the legendary ruler Pazhassi Raja, who was among the first freedom fighters of the country. You can trek up to the caves where the Raja was supposed to have hidden from the East India Company soldiers when he waged war against them. If you are a backpacker on a budget, do not feel disheartened, there are buses that ply to Kakkadampoyil. Thu, 16 Jul 2015 11:53:09 GMT