78. Missing the Styx

@Malampuzha, Kerala, India.

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I was just in the first standard of my first of the five schools where I have tried my luck when I first visited Malampuzha, and the second journey there was a school trip which happened in the fourth standard, the last year of the same school – the school was Vimala English Medium School, Perumbavoor; and yes Malampuzha has been a hot destination for a long time, which is why we visited the place again as a family trip just three or four years after this. So what has changed about this hot excursion destination from schools? Except for the beginning of the first amusement park in 1996 in the form of Fantasy Park, and the whole thing being made better for the tourists every year, nothing much. Yes, the place has gone better even as there have been more amusement parks all over the state and also more tourist destinations near other dams and reserviors. The place’s uniqueness might seem gone, but there is a certain amount of variety that runs through this place, and there is no doubt that it shall remain different from the others with the element of nostalgia associated with it.

While talking about the journey one can’t cease talking about Indian Coffee House, as it is that place where we always stop, if there is the presence of that restaurant chain at the place we travel through. I would recommend the Poori Masala there, and mostly it is what I have, even as that world is more extensive. The Vegetable Cutlet might also impress a good number of the customers. Tea is always there in my list whatever I have, that is for sure. There is something about the place, and may be it is the trust, the faith that one has on a place which is not that much of a vampire of the stomach as you think about the other places providing food. Angamali and Chalakudi also have the same food chain, on the same side of the road. Once Pattikad is reached, the same destination or food is on the other side of the road, just after the town. They usually open between 7:15 AM and 7:30 AM as I have noticed. It was good to have breakfast there, as there was no time to think once Trichur was behind. The great road supported by the eighty rupees of awesomeness (toll) was over, and slowly the potholes began to take over, and soon there were less roads and more the lack of it, to quite a shocking extent.

The shortest route from Cochin might be through Kaloor-Palarivattam-Edappally-Kalamassery-Aluva-Angamali-Koratty-Chalakudi-Potta-Trichur-Pattikkad-Vadakkanchery-Palakkad-Malampuzha, even as the fastest might be taking the Vallarpadam Terminal Road from Cochin and getting to Kalamassery joining the other vehicles to Aluva on the National Highway 47. The roads would be great in the beginning and all the way to Trichur, but later they were highly destructive to the vehicles, and considering the traffic which was on that road, it was quite shocking to see such a pathetic state of the path. Even the bigger trucks and buses were having a tough time, and the scooters and motor-bikes were taking the zigzag paths. It was to that pandemonium that we entered, and survived. There is no survival of the fittest here, but the survival of the luckiest. One of the trucks travelling on the front almost tried to lose their water tanks on us, but that Final Destination moment was luckily averted and the tanks fell into the potholes and stayed there as if they belonged there and caused further traffic blocks.

The first thing about Malampuzha has undoubtedly the largest reservior in Keala. Located about ten or eleven kilometres from the town of Palakkad, this dam is one of the most visited tourist places in the Central Kerala (even as it would qualify as North too) for the last twenty years or so, as I can remember the rush which was here during my childhood. It might have reduced a bit due to the large number of tourist attractions coming up everywhere, and Fort Cochin, Kumarakom Backwaters have clearly overtaken this place as the favourite as the central area of Kerala is concerned, and not to forget the good number of malls which has come alive. If you look at any tourist package to Kerala, it might be difficult to see this place there, but I would say that it is a must, as long as one can take the roads which lead there. May be the journeys are mostly joined with an Idukki-Cheruthoni dam visit which is linked to Munnar as well as the Mattupetti Dam. But the fact remains that Malampuzha Dam is the real tourist destination which features a dam, as there is the freedom to take as many photos as one wishes to, while in most of the other dams, photography is prohibited, and so why would one think twice about choosing the right tourist place with a dam?

It has the very beautiful hills of the Western Ghats in the background of the reservior which gives a beautiful shot for your camera from one side, while the other side has its own collection of hills as well as the gardens which are separated by the water which flows from the shutters of the dam and linked by two hanging bridges which is surely the first of its kind that I had walked through, followed by the ones in Singapore. Otherwise, one can take the ropeway to see the whole place around, and it is one of the first of its kind in Kerala, creating more interest in the tourists, even as there haven’t been much foreign tourists around when we visited. The dam is built across the Malampuzha River, a tributary of Kerala’s second longest river, Bharathappuzha. Due to the incredible beauty that surrounds the dam, and the climate of this season, this is very much suitable for a visit lasting the full day inside, followed by a journey to Fantasy Park and the Palakkad Fort along with the town the next day. You can use a full day with the dam and the garden as it is quite immense and it is better to take your time and enjoy.

Around the structure and reservior of the dam, we can see the beautiful, well-maintained gardens and the boating facilities, all of which can be observed from the top of the dam or the ropeway. The other tourist attractions in the Malampuzha Garden includes a fish-shaped aquarium which I remember clearly from the old times, and the gigantic Yakshi (the female vampire vampire-like image belonging to this part of the world) which I can recollect too. There is also the swimming pool, snake park and the rock garden as I can remember. But the last visit was more about the dam, the reservoir and the beauty of nature which was around. The sculptures, gardens and even a wind mill came as extra additions. Well, you can visit the place for just the natural beauty itself, and there is no reason why one shouldn’t visit here, and as the road problems are concerned, one can take a luxury bus or a bigger car and travel in the early morning – the best choice to avoid the possible horror that the roads can give you. You can come here from the Tamil Nadu side too – as a journey from Coimbatore as it is very close and is the nearest airport while Palakkad Junction is the nearest railway station.

Diving out —>
TeNy

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68. Heights of Certainty

@Vagamon, Kerala, India.

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Vagamon, one of the rising hilly tourist destination is located around a hundred kilometres from Cochin and Angamaly, 96 kilometres from Alwaye and 62 kilometres from Kottayam which should also have the nearest railway station. Listed by National Geographic Traveler as one of the ’50 most attractive places to visit in India’, the beauty of the place is not something which could give rise to a dispute. The place of Vagamon as a tourist place in comparison to the other prominent hill stations like Munnar, Ooty, Coonoor and Kodaikanal should be less undisputed though, as it is more of a place of lesser hilly experience, not just because of low level commercialization, but also because of the seemingly lesser heights and those easier curves along with much less fuel burnt along the way. This is when considering the route which takes a right turn before Moolamattom, on the way to Ilaveezhapoonjira, not taking that upcoming right turn which would lead one to that place with that long a name, which was mentioned a few posts ago. The other route might be less traveled, longer by about five kilometres, and more beautiful, but would be more difficult to drive with its twists and turns supported by steepness. May be it is more upto the winner of the battle between the driver and the photographer, the fuel-saver and the nature-poet to decide.

There was the absence of the feeling of a ‘coldling’, as I would call it, derived from the frostlings whom I encountered as a gamer in Age of Wonders and World of Warcraft. There was simply not enough fall in the temperature which I had experienced before rising to those heights, even as there was some rain in the last few days. This absence was a sad thing considering the fact that it was a visit to a hill station, or whatever was close to that. A visit during a Christmas night might undoubtedly make that feeling go away, but Ooty, Coonoor and Munnar during the cruelest months of horrid summer had felt much better. This might have a boon for some and bane for many, and for me, it was surely the latter. Even the tea couldn’t play a significant enough role, as the plantations were very less and the tea outlets were rarely found. There was absolutely no variety in the tea even as the wonderful drink didn’t taste any less in Vagamon either. But still, tasting chocolate tea, masala tea, ginger tea and whatever might have been, was that experience I had longed for even at Vagamon. This added to the list of those failed tea expeditions, as even those tea plantations looked comparatively dull.

There were a number of trees which seemed to support a re-writing of ‘The Wasteland’ and calling for a few people to wait for Godot under them right under that fire-breathing brother of Selene and Eos. It was the time of the titans at Vagamon, and the winged chariot was steady, spreading its own version of heat to the people far away from shade, and one has to wonder if those wheels might also be burning at a rate close to supernova – when mentioned as ‘hot wheels’, everything is becoming more and more closer to the literal meaning; I wouldn’t doubt that we are surely closer to the apocalypse, for Sol Invictus could bring the armageddon on Earth singlehandedly. The absence of enough restaurants is another thing to contribute to this depressing Sol hunt. There were only the smaller ones which would force oneself to have Porotta which is considered the abomination of the stomach next only to Shawarma the ruthless murderer a.k.a the assassin of the chicken devouring monster. The option of rice might be present, but with not much curry choices, one would be disappointed. Whatever else would be left, I would have to avoid considering my determination to keep myself as close to being Vegetarian as possible. That was a time when one had to dream about an Indian Coffee House rising from the world of Hades and Persephone.

The churches of Vagamon reminded more of Philip Larkin’s Church Going rather than giving strength to the belief. It is more of a sleeping town, with not many option in the form of shops, unlike Munnar, Ooty, Coonoor or Kodaikanal. This is a place which has not lived upto the reputation as a self-sufficient destination for the tourists. There is the need to depend a lot on Thodupuzha as well as Muvattupuzha. Its scenic valleys and pine forests would still help it on being that powerful future destination for sure. A little more importance to tea would help a lot too. The green meadows would come first for me in that case. They are so enchanting that one tends to forget that it exists in this part of the world. Surrounded by mountains with lake in between, the return of a faint memory of the Lake District would not be something totally unexpected. Some mist or fog might have helped the situation, but at that time, there was just Helios, myself and more humans coming and adding to the noisy crowd providing not a micro second of peace to that world which might have inspired thousands of people with eternal silence of a cursed mouth, for not just Alan Sillitoe has to deal with the loneliness of long distance runners – we are all runners and we run marathon, some feel it is just a walk, but it is surely not so; for one has to be that much honest and thus stay that close to truth.

Those bald hills stood there; the were green-headed people, might have been aliens on another planet sent by the engineers. Pardon me, Prometheus, for thou shalt not be avenged this time, for this beauty is quite spectacular. The small question for the need for the green aliens is a sane demand and it has to be fulfilled; for all these are not forever, and when we have it, let us celebrate this and try our best to extend the lifeline. Let us do the right thing at this moment. One day, one might have to say mea culpa a hundred times, but let that day not come and pray that mother nature do survive all onslaughts. May the presence of Kurisumala, meaning ‘mountain of the Holy Cross’ guide us in this. Kurisumala monastery is also situated on the Kurisumala hill. There is the solo reign peace around disturbed only by some unnecessary yelling by a few two-legged creatures claiming to be awesome beyond intellect. The hill serves as a famous pilgrimage center for the Christians with crosses put-up on the way up.

There are also the diary farms and beautiful areas to pose for a photo, still not as much as I expected, for mine were the great expectations fueled by the journeys to Munnar, Ooty and Coonoor. This was the first place to be visited, and my order was flawed, should be my mistake – for it should have been from Vagamon to Munnar and then Coonoor to Ooty combined with Kodaikanal. But now all that has been done is done, and Vagamon will be remembered by me as the Little Munnar and the Lesser World of Tea; still Vagamon continuing to be that place of beauty which comes incredibly close to making some one a nature poet of the Lakes. It is somewhat the Lake District and a bit of Scotland, but what awaits Vagamon is yet to be seen – further tourism always creates something, and there are times when it is a ten headed monster. For now, lets enjoy what awaits in Vagamon and be sure to bring those packets of food rather than depending on the restaurants except for some tea and ice cream.

Diving out —>

TeNy

65. That Long a Name

@Ilaveezhapoonjira, Kerala, India.

With that long a name which could shock many non-Malayalam speakers and that part of speech which signify the absence of fallen leaves, the place is a tourist destination which is not yet crowded and exploited by the overdose of modernity. As one might still wonder about the reason why the leaves won’t fall and relate some fiery Gothic stuff to it with a powerful supernatural story as a backgound, the simplest fact might the powerful wind which could leave nothing that light on the ground without taking it away like Shelley’s own West Wind, and the absence of the bigger trees around. Located at about 18 kilometres from Thodupuzha, 55km from Kottayam and 60km from Cochin, the place should invite more trekkers than most of the places in Ernakulam district. The route should take a right turn on the way to Vagamon from Thodupuzha, a few kilometres after the Malankara Dam which can be seen on the left. The right turn can be identified by a CSI Church on the left side. There are a few sign boards to help the cause too. The beauty of the mountains can be seen from the road too; theres also beautiful scenery related to the dam reservoir on the left side. The greenery doesn’t fail either, and they all combine together to give a preface to Ilaveezhapoonjira.

The road to this destination is not that good though. There are enough twists and turns supported by pretty huge gutters on a small road which is big enough only for a car and a motor-bike to pass each other at the same time, and the sides of the roads are not in that good a condition for parking either. There is a ninety five percent chance for any of those lower-middle range cars, and most of those hatchbacks to lose all the confidence on their ground clearance. I would surely not look under my car for a long time, as this was the biggest of all those ground clearance failures which haunted any of the cars I had driven before the occasion. Watching bigger cars getting attacked by the rocks and parts of broken road did make me feel less worried about the capability of my car though. The path has surely turned my car pessimistic, and I am hoping that the four-wheeler of mine is not that depressed to lose its brakes while coming across a monster truck. Luckily, only a jeep and two auto-rickshaws came opposite to us, and it was at that area where there were houses or open grounds on the sides – those few points of relief which were hard to come if we look at an overall picture.

The car could take a few more pathetic areas of the road and a little off-roading until there was that time when more of the journey in a smaller four-wheeler near impossible. The rocks had started looking like Scott Steiner’s biceps, with some sharp areas which could have resembled half a cone ice-cream, the lower side of that cold edible thing. There were many small waterfalls on the way, and it was near one of those falls that the car was parked in the end. There was another smaller falls nearby and both of them seemed to have given the car a look to suit the photography. There was still more area to cover and more waterfalls to see on the way, all of them significantly small and not large enough to be given pet names. The journey to the top was surely difficult, and the path was horrible even for walking. There is also the option to hire one of those jeeps which might be better even as I don’t know how much of a shaky journey that would be. Walking with nature surely seemed a better option at that time though. After driving for so long, the walk was tiresome, but the beauty of nature had to be seen and enjoyed, the bliss had to come and rescue the mind from its fallen state, and therefore there was no stopping, and the walking was done at a good speed except for a few stops in between for taking snaps.

There was a resort-like structure and a small tea shop quite near the top. With rain clouds everywhere threatening to fire the grenades of rain drops, tea was a much needed thing. But the clouds still hesitated except for a few drops, and it was another day of no significant rain; another day of monsoon failure or the curse of the Lords of the rain. The wind was strong though, and even the grass bowed down to it as if the master of that small world had arrived. The fog was powerful enough to make it all feel so unclear; the beauty of nature still showed its face in between. The green colour was not easily hidden and the rocks sometimes gave the effect of watching a black and white version. The uncertainty of rain still prevailed. The power of the wind was good enough to bring back the memories of “Ode to the West Wind”, as if it was also a destroyer and a preserver, and carried our words, our ideas all the way to distant areas of the hills. The world was still, and everything looked stuck like a newer Operating System working in an older computer, until the wind had arrived. The wind and the fog created that new scene of beauty; as if it was West Wind’s twin brother, or at least a cousin; even the possibility of a double role or re-incarnation cannot be ignored.

As the journey happened in the morning itself, there was almost a complete lack of tourists around there. It was only by the time we were leaving, that people started arriving, not in groups, but in two motor-bikes and three cars which were clearly checked for ground clearance by the magnificient tester that is Ilaveezhapoonjira. There is the need for better roads ending the tragedy of cars, and there would surely be more visitors – the need for pubicity is also there, but that factor is surely being worked on right now. But when the roads remain like that even at a time that there is less rain, one has to wonder what monsoon would do to it sooner or later. Even an alternative, a longer, but better road would be a better solution. But the practical solution would be to repair them immediately, or see a few mad tourists. Robert Frost might consider this route as the road not to be taken, rather than the road not taken; but in that part of the world where even the most travelled roads needs lots of repair, that would be so much to expect, knowing the negative results in advance.

To be frank, none of these made the journey a failure, or a disappointment. All of these blended into a significant one-day trip which gave the mind much to remember for the next few days. There were not many different scenes, but just the same scene with frequent change of climate – with sunshine, clouds, powerful wind and the mystic fog supported by a little rain having a guest appearance. There was no shortage of that awesome poetic effect created by nature. I was being Ulysses or Odysseus, identified more by Lord Alfred Tennyson’s version rather than the others. I was also made weak, not by age, but by time and the world around me, and I was there to strive, to seek and not to yield. I had my small group of mariners, not of the sea, but of the land and the name nomads would suit us better, and on on that occasion, we were closer to that name both in spirit and also by the physical status. There were no Lotos-eaters though, not then, may be we could have seen similar people in the twilight, but that was not something this Ulysses had any interest in; as he was no war hero and his kingdom was absurd for many, for all the historians, poets and novelists wouldn’t have his name in their works.

Diving out —>

TeNy