Words : Sidharth Ravindra & Ramarao Ravindra
Images : Ramarao Ravindra
Our friend Sidharth Ravindra recently set out on an eight day long journey to God’s Own Land along with his dad Ramarao Ravindra. The idea was to travel through the picturesque landscape of Kerala and capture the essence of the beautiful state by photographing its backwaters, the festivities of Onam and culminating the trip with a bash at the Palliyodam race in Aranmulla. Here’s a feisty log of their experience. We’re starting off this travelogue with the details from day 1 and 2, and will chronicle the father-son duo’s adventures daily in this 7-issue series. We hope you like it. Oh, and don’t forget to compliment the Ravindras via comments if you think they did a good job.
The idea of photographing landscapes in the rains has always fascinated me and what better a place then Kerala in the rains? When I discussed this with Verghese, he said we should include the Onam Palliyodam race at Aranmulla in our itinerary – a great visual spectacle and a greater photo-op. A stay in the backwaters near Allepy with a drive through the forests of Idukki district, culminating in the tea gardens of Munnar would nicely round off our trip through the roads less travelled in Kerala.
Day 1 – Tuesday, 28th August, 2012 ( Bangalore – Coorg – Mahe)
An early start to any road journey in India has two advantages; firstly if you stay in a large city you are clear of the city before the morning office and school traffic choke the roads and secondly you have a time buffer for delays en-route – which can take many forms – agitations, protests, road blockages due to accidents and traffic snarl ups in the smaller towns. Fortunately, we are past the era of Ambassadors and Fiats and the reliability of today’s cars can be taken for granted – more or less.
Tuesdays are not considered auspicious by many, and luckily for me what had to happen did so at the very start – as I stepped out of my front door at 0600 hrs, I slipped and fell on my knees, luckily no damage done either to self or my photographic equipment! Things went well after that. My son Sidharth, his father-in-law- Verghese and I hit the Mysore road (SH 17) via Hosur road and the NICE road and were at our b’fast stop at the Indradanush restaurant at Mudgere village, past Channapatna at 0740 hrs. We got to the Columbia Asia turn off at the Mysore ring road at 0915 hrs and onto the Hunsur road (SH 90/91).
The road was good till the turn off to Periyapatna where we took the fork towards Virajpet. The sky had become overcast by then and there was a heavy drizzle. We stopped at a small forest check-post at Aneohaukar, at the entrance of the Arabithittu WLS for a cup of tea. Road by then had become bad with a lot of potholes but the lush green forest on either side of the road was a feast to the eyes. We exchanged a few pleasantries with two passing forest guards and continued to Titamatti in the Bramhagiri WLS and fueled at Gonnikopal. 8 km past Gonnikoppal the road forks on branch to the right going towards Virajpet and the other towards the border with Kerala and Irrity. The mist had started blowing our way and visibility had become low, necessitating the use of blinkers and the fog lamps.
We stopped by to ask two farmers the way and asked them if the road continued to be bad all the way to Irrity and they quipped “ how can the road be any better if the govt. is as bad as this one “ ? As we passed by a small lake with low lying mist – out came the cameras for a few shots. I used 2 bodies and carried 5 lens with me for this trip. We continued on the road to Irrity, which got better in the WLS and became drastically better, once we crossed the border into Kerala. A river between the two states is crossed by an old latticed steel bridge.
You know you are in Kerala due to the profusion of hoardings for all sorts of consumer, apart from the cheek by jowl habitation. A sharp turn and crossing a narrow bridge brought us into Irrity at 1345. A traffic policeman directed us to the Shanti Sagar hotel, but it took us 2 “chakkars “of the town before we could find a suitable parking spot. This became a recurring problem all over Kerala, however small the town. Got an excellent Onam “Sadhya”, even though one had to stand behind an eating patron and grab his seat even before the used plantain leaf was cleared! But the quality of the lunch more than compensated for this indignity!
We searched high and low to buy salted cashew nuts, but all the shops were sold out due to Onam. Left by 1450, after taking a few shots of the flower sellers on the pavements. Onto Tellicherry on SH 30 and then on the coastal SH 66 to Mahe by 1620 hrs. It had started raining heavily by now. Mahe seems to be an unattractive sort of place, with narrow roads & heavy traffic. Due to the one ways had to make two circuits before we found our home stay – “The Sunshine Homestay”, approached by a narrow road and necessitating a sharp turn to get into the property. The place fronted the backwaters and the only occupant was the caretaker Faisal and we were the only occupants. Unlike homestays there was no food available though Faisal said that he could get us food from outside. Apart from that, drew a blank from Faisal when asked about the other attractions of the town.
Dinner was at a bakery about a 100 mtrs away, not much of choice for vegetarians, though Sidharth and Verghese got a beef biryani and I settled for Kerala parotta with veg Kurma. Opposite the bakery was a 200 year old church, which was surrounded by 6 bars/liquor shops apart from 3 IOC petrol pumps. First time I saw two petrol pumps of the same company next to each other. All the waiters in the restaurant were Hindi speaking Biharis.
Day’s run: 346 km
Day 2 – Wednesday, 29th August, 2012 ( Mahe – Kozhikode)
We woke up the next morning to pouring rain but Faisal was around by 0700 hrs and provided us with hot cups of tea. Could not get any b’fast of the iddli/dosai genre and I made do two with an apple whilst Sidharth and Verghese had the ubiquitous parotta with kadalai.
We left by 0945 after spending about half an hour at the park by the waterfront, got a few shots of the boats at the jetty, but since the sky was heavily overcast the light was a dull gray. Mahe is a bit of a geographical anomaly; it’s a part of Pondicherry, but located on the west coast in Kerala but does not seem as developed as Pondicherry. We decided to top up fuel as cost is about Rs.2/ltr less than the rest of Kerala.
The coastal highway 66 is just like the usual Kerala roads, good surface but narrow 2 lane, with very heavy traffic. One town/village seems to merge with the other with hardly a break in the habitations. We passed Payoli, the hometown of P.T. Usha, one of India’s greatest athletes from yesteryear, got to Kozhikode at about 1145 and found our hotel – Asma Towers – in the middle of town on the busy Indira Gandhi road. It took a bit of asking to find the place – a good hotel with ample parking space. I would put it in the same class as the Ginger hotels of the Tata group. Being a festival day the dining room was crowded. We had a good lunch of biryani.
A thick nap in the afternoon ensued with plans to visit the mosque quarter in the evening, but it was pouring and had to drop the idea. A visit to the Kappad beach was also ruled out for the same reason. The last visit was some years ago on a touch and go visit to Calicut. At that time the only saving grace was that we passed the memorial marking the spot where Vasco-da-Gama had landed in 1498. The site was almost overgrown with lush tropical vegetation and sandwiched between houses. But refused to be stuck in the hotel, so Verghese and I set off to visit the beach in Calicut town and what seemed easy to find on a map proved to be a little difficult to reach on the ground. On the way back, got well and truly lost – close to the hotel – due to the one way roads and had to ask many people to find our way back. Good dinner and hit the sack early.
A brief note about Kozhikode; in Malayalam it’s derived from “Koyil” + “Kotta” meaning a fortified place. The Arabs called it “Qualiqut”, the Tamils called it “Kallikotta” and the Chinese called it “Kalifo” and till recently we followed the anglicized version of Calicut which in turn gave birth to the name Calico-cloth, since it was a famous cotton weaving centre. During classical antiquity and the Middle Ages, Kozhikode was dubbed the “City of Spices” for its role as the major trading point of eastern spices. It was the capital of an independent kingdom ruled by the Samoothiris (Zamorins) in Middle Ages. Muslim Arab merchants traded with the region as early as 7th century, and Portuguese explorer Vasco Da’Gama landed at Kozhikode on May 20, 1498. The English and French followed and it was also under Tipu Sultan’s rule. Kozhikode is a town with a long recorded history. From time immemorial, the city has attracted travelers with its prosperity. It has traded in spices like black pepper and cardamom with Jews, Arabs, Phoenicians, and Chinese for more than 500 years. Ibn Battuta(1342–1347), who visited six times, gives us the earliest glimpses of life in the city. He describes Calicut as “one of the great ports of the district of Malabar” where “merchants of all parts of the world are found”. The king of this place, he says “is an infidel who shaves his chin just as the Haidari Fakeers of Rome do…The greater part of the Muhammedan merchants of this place are so wealthy that one of them can purchase the whole freightage of such vessels put here and fit out others like them”.
Day’s run: 76 km