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Sunday, 3 December 2017

Rameshwaram(Tamil Nadu) And The Pamban Island || The Perfect Weekend Getaway






Rameshwaram and the Pamban Island

  Rameshwaram had always been a pilgrimage to all ,but my recent visit to place revealed quite a mixed bag of things other than just  a pilgrimage.I would rather call it  a melange of things ,from visits to temples , serene beaches ,tit bits of mythology strewn everywhere,or even places of inspiration as the newly constructed  memorial of Dr. Abdul Kalam Azad.

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First and foremost -The Temple

  The Ramanathaswamy Temple in Rameshwaram is the most coveted place for pilgrims to the island.
It houses one of the twelve Jyotir Lings in India and it is believed that a visit to Kedarnath or Badrinath in the north is not complete without a visit to Rameshwaram .This small town in the Pambam island  is  a very popular destination for shaivites as well as vaisnavites,since Rameshwaram is also associated with numerous incidents in the epic of Ramayana.It is from this island that Lord Rama is believed to have waged a war against Ravana to bring back Sita from Sri Lanka.

 Once in Rameshwaram ,you will be surprised to see signboards of many teerthams all over the place .The teerthams are basically holy water tanks all over the island with temples built along with them. Each teertham has  a different mythological story associated with it.Twenty two of these teerthams are located inside the Ramanathaswamy temple itself and are referred to as Agni Teertham.

The visit to the temple for Darshan
There can be many ways of getting Darshan
1-You can start with a bath in the sea and enter through the east gate.and then take baths in the 22 tanks inside the temple and go for Darshan
2- If you are not interested in a bath in the sea you can even go for a bathing ritual at the 22 tanks inside the temple  and go for Darshan to the main shrine.The queue starts at the east gate for the 22 tanks also known as Agni Teertham
3-In case you are not going for the ritualistic bath (Agni Teertham), you can even go for Darshan straight(that is what we did)




A quick breakfast in front of the temple before starting for Dhanushkodi

Dhanushkodi-
I shall admit that I visited the place not so much  for  a pilgrimage as for the much heard of Dhanushkodi.
.  Dhanushkodi is the south eastern most tip of the island,and  it is believed that lord Rama had broken his bow here at the sea coast after the battle with Ravana and hence the name..Frankly I was interested in visiting Dhanushkodi to see the ruins of a huge cyclone which had hit the place on the sixties.Now those were things I had read about.But the very intriguing landscape there won over me completely .I had not seen a similar landscape before .As the bus proceeded towards the tip of this end of the island I could see the landscape slowly getting more and more barren .But within a few minutes of this ride waters of two seas started lining the landscape.We had the Indian ocean with its very aggressive waves to one side and the very quiet Bay of Bengal to the other side.The only habitation seen here was that of huts of the fishermen s village.

In brief ,Dhanushkodi is  a small strip of land with many tales to tell.
A cyclone in 1964 , devastated the entire township at the coast and killed nearly 2000 people .An entire train with passengers was washed away to the sea.A railway line connected Mandapan to Dhanushkodi at that time  no longer exists. The ruins of the once existing township ,like the remains of a water tank or  a church stand in the barren landscape as a testimony to it here.The cyclone had submerged much of this end of the island ,which was exposed for  a few minutes in 2004 again before the tsunami struck the coast.

How to reach Dhanushkodi
The tip of Dhanushkodi is about 15 kms. from the Ramanathaswamy temple.In case you are dependent on public transport ,buses ply at regular intervals and can be boarded from the temple gate.Bus number 3 takes you straight to Dhanushkodi .One can spend about an hour at Dhanushkodi and board another bus back.Till 2016 ,the road at Dhanushkodi was not good enough for buses to ply ,and the last few kms had to be travelled by a jeep .By the end of 2016 a proper pitched road has been constructed ending all travel woes.
The other option is that of an auto rickshaw ,which is very common at Rameshwaram ,the autorickshaw has to be hired with some bargaining . The autorickshaw has to wait at Dhanushkodi and bring you back to Rameshwaram.While negotiating it needs to be mentioned that the Autorickshaw will take you for a visit to the Bibhison (Ravana's brother) temple on the way

The waves of the Indian ocean at Dhanushkodi



I am standing here with the Bay Of Bengal in the background

A shack at the diversion for the Bibhison temple for some quick refreshments



Dhanushkodi through pictures








 
 





Then there are surprises awaiting everywhere.This tiny island was the home town of Dr.Abdul Kalam Azad .IT surprised me to think that a man of his stature had his very modest childhood ,and education here,considering it was so much more remote in those days.A memorial has been recently constructed here,as a tribute to the great man.(The memorial and Dr. Kalam's house are two different places.The house is not open to the Public since his family still lives there)

Dr.Abdul Kalam's Memorial
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The Bibhison Temple
This temple is located to the left of the road on the way to Dhanushkodi.We visited it on the way back .You shall get a big crowd and many shops in front of the temple.As you can see in the pic the fields lining the roads to the temple wore a whitish hue,It reminded me of the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat .Probably the sea water here had got land locked ,which evaporated to leave behind the salt.
As for the temple ,when seen from inside could be inferred as  quite an old one.The temple houses idols of Rama ,Sita, Laxmana and Bibhison .The priest at the temple enlightened us about the significance of the temple.According to him ,this was the place near the sea where Rama first met Bibhison. Lord Rama's entire army including Sugriv tried to convince Rama against accommodating Bibhison in his army .It was only Hanuman who was convinced that Bibhison was a saint and would mean no harm to them even if he was Ravana's brother.

The Bibhison Temple can be seen at the distance

An autoride through the breezy township

The autorickshaw is the best and the most convenient option to go around Rameshwram.The auto rickshaw can be hired for going around all the teerthams (small temples )all over Rameshwaram.The autorickshaws here have a different fare for each group of points to see .WE hired one to visit the  road bridge and
watch the trains passing over th Pamban bridge running parallely. On the way back we visited the Vilom Teertham and the memorial of Dr.Abdul Kalam Azad.WE paid about 500 rupees for this trip.






A steamer ride in the blue sea

We had plans to take a bath in the sea adjacent to the temple ,but we discarded our plans as the place seemed to be very crowded.You can definitely pay a visit to this place as this place as the remarkable thing here is that no waves are formed in this part of the sea.You can also enjoy a quick south Indian breakfast here at the many shacks around the shore and then go for  a steamer ride .My kids enjoyed the ride the  most .The view of the temple and the shore from the steamer is wonderful .I enjoyed the cool breeze and watched the fishing boats all around me.






The temple as seen from the steamer

The very appealing view from the streamer
A little bit of geography
Rameshwaram is located in the Pamban Island ,which is  an island in the east of the tip of peninsular India.This island can be spotted in the map of India as  a piece of land between India and Sri Lanka




  So the very first excitement lies in crossing the sea over a road bridge  and watching the Pamban bridge running parallely.The Pamban bridge is  a rail bridge and was the only connection to the island till.The most interesting part is that the rail bridge opens up when  a ship has to pass.



The Vilom Teertham
The Vilom Teertham is  a place where Rama is believed to have struck the arrow into the ground in the sea to quench Sitas thirst.So even in the midst of salty sea water he could get fresh water for his beloved wife.So there is  a well marking the place.THis place can be reached on the way back from the bridge(it is close to the bridge).



What we enjoyed is the time spent in the adjoining sea water.I would not suggest  a dip here . Few could be seen taking  a dip ,possibly because the sea bed was very coarse with rough edgy pebbles.



The sea from the bridge
The best connectivity to Rameshwarm is from Madurai.It is the nearest biggest town in the mainland of India. Also as Madurai is  a religious place,one can plan  a stay here and visit the Meenakshi temple too. Madurai is well connected by rail, road and airways,to the rest of the country.From madurai one can board a train to Rameshwaram .I am suggesting this ,since the train crosses the Pamban Bridge ,which can be an expirience in itself.
Otherwise,their are ample options for road transport which take an average of 3 to 4 hours.

Stay at Rameshwaram 
The best option would be to stay at the Tamil Nadu Tourism Property,which can be booked online.It is located right at the shore,there are many cottages too to get an excellent view of the ocean.Apart from this ,their are numerous other options around the Ramanathaswamy Temple.


A stay of three days and two nights are enough for a visit to this island. Rameshwarm is best visited in the winters.Though the place is very breezy due to the sea,it can get very hot in the summer months.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

How to travel with small children.-Few useful points

Most of you will agree that travelling can be most enjoyable when the kids are still young.It is the time when you do not have to worry about schools reopening,classes to catch up with or upcoming exams just after the holidays.So one should not miss out on travelling during those very carefree days. We do not  go for long tours even if we wish to ,as the thought of children falling sick during the tours keeps us waiting for them to grow up.
           So let us not waste more time and enjoy travelling with our very cute and adorable little ones.
                    


1-Do some homework before you embark on the travel----
   Get any due vaccinations done.
    More importantly-we should start inculcating the habit of eating fruits in our child a few months       before we start the tour. It is actually easier than you think. Instead of forcing the child ,the parents       can enjoy eating the fruits before the child. The child should only get the idea that it is something         very yumm. Have patience.


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2-Water
Though quite a known fact ,it is so important that I thought I should underline it here. Provide only mineral water of reputed companies to the child when on the way. When eating out I actually the  carry mineral water to the table especially at roadside dhabas. This takes care of half the problems.

3-Food-
WE should avoid giving very spicy food to the child even if he enjoys it. He will eat well for the first few days but it will take its toll on his system soon, when we travel for many days. As a matter of fact even we adults cannot go on a spicy diet for a long time.

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4-Snacks
While travelling,snacks form a very important part of the diet. Children sometimes miss their meals completely .So I take special care of the snacks menu.I have never stacked the trunk of the car with chips and synthetic tetra packs of drinks..This has taken care of nausea to  a very large extent. Tetrapacks of fruit juices can keep a child well hydrated .Instead biscuits (the non cream variety)or fruits (excepting grapes)form a great menu.


5-Carry a tiffin box-
A child's mealtime will never match with the parents. He will either be hungry before or after mealtime.So as long as my children were very young I carried an empty tiffin box with an airtight lid with me,  everywhere.
It had so many uses.
Firstly when we had breakfast or any meal I  always ordered for him ,even if he did not eat.It was packed in the box and reserved for later(preferably order a one pot meal like veg pulao),when he would be hungry and we would be on our way. He actually enjoyed eating in  a moving car.
I have  cut fruits into pieces and packed them in a box before I left my hotel room.Once hungry children relish on the fruits on their own (just provide them with a fork).You can carry a pack of seedless dates with you, two to three a day can be very helpful.


6-Carry a small plastic fork and a knife (sharp enough for fruits)


7-Jams and pickles
As you can see children call for a very different packing. I have taken with me my child's favourite jam  and pickle .Rotis can be rolled up with jam and pickles come in handy when you don't want  a mess with the idli chutney . See your child moving around enjoying warm rotis as you relish your dinner.
8-Thermos flask
Yes ,it proves to be very handy as you can actually pack hot milk from the hotel dining with you,specially in the mountains. It can be filled in feeding bottles later. So this applies only if you have a baby with you.


9-Dehydration
IT is very important to keep the child hydrated through out the journey. So keep providing the child with tender coconut water and buttermilk during the day.(If you are travelling anywhere in India excepting the mountains). Even for babies ,one feeding bottle a day of these wonder drinks can keep a lot of anxiety at bay.


  BY now you must have noticed that I have quite a few points regarding the diet of the child.the reason being,I believe that proper diet and  rest can keep the children fit and fine through out the journey.That brings us to our next point.




10-Sleep No matter how tightly packed our itinerary is ,we should ensure that the child gets  a good nights sleep .Sleeping in the backseat of the car does not actually count for good sleep.There can be nothing more damping than a crying baby or an irritated child in a trip.

11-Crowd -Crowded places are best avoided when a child is travelling with us.Not only is is difficult to manage with a child,they also pick up more infections.




12-Friends are so important
Travelling with kids can be a big pleasure if you can manage to travel with another family having  a child of the same age group as your child.The duo entertain each other and you are left free for that perfectly romantic holiday.

 13-Clothing
Needs no mention ,but still ,keep the child well covered in cold places especially the ears and feet.

14-Hair dryer
Yes ,now it is even more important to take it with you.Comes very handy when the child has wet his hair in a waterfall or an accidental drizzle.




15- Electric kettle-This can come in use for an urgent warm water requirement.You might need that if your child has  a sore throat.

16-Medicines-
Chemists are not easy  to find especially when you need them the most .So take your stock with you.The very basic, for fever ,cold and stomach ailments,with the correct dosage penned down on paper. Yes, that antiseptic cream is not to be forgotten.

So go ahead and enjoy your trip ,watching your child frolicking with you, you can bless me later.




Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Valparai (The Hidden Gem in the Annamalai Ranges,Tamil Nadu )



  The  car drove past the winding roads ,as I sat at the window and gazed outside.The gentle mountain breeze caressed my cheeks,while I gaped at the tea gardens which stretched to the horizon.I looked up to see the sky now ,which attracted my attention forming different patterns of white on blue.

  We were driving from Pollachi to Valparai now.  Pollachi being the small town at the foothills of the Annamalai hills. Valparai is clean ,serene tranquil; a place to fulfill any tourist's desire. However Pollachi adds that rustic appeal to the trip ,that many hearts would secretly yearn for..The pleasure attained from simplicity,or reliving the treasured memories of childhood when very simple trinkets made us so delighted.







We had a differently satisfying lunch of fried fish and the local biriyani at Pollachi ,The Azhiyar dam can be seen from the road.The dam has  an adjoining park.The dam and the park seemed to be a very popular place among the local people.Post lunch we drove past this crowd to start our journey to Valparai.



The Azhiyar DAm



   Valparai ushered us the perfect mountain way.A little gloomy sky some where,followed by  a light drizzle,and then  a quick sunshine. The entire scenery in green glistened in the afternoon sun.

 A cheerful bunch of kids waited for their bus to arrive as we stopped by the winding road for  a quick tea break.The small shops selling tea would close soon as the sun would set in about an hours time in these gentle slopes of the  Annamalai Ranges.The drive to Valparai was  a green canopy with pleasant surprises by the Nilgiri Tahr grazing by the roadside. More so, after the rains the landscape wore a very verdant look.

Right beside the car window,THE NILGIRI TAHR

   
  Somewhere beside the road,tea garden workers bring in their bundles of plucked tea leaves and wait patiently to get their hard days work weighed.We drove along the  near perfect pitched roads between the tea gardens with unique patterns,and observed people follow a little different routine. Every time  the pockets of in-habitation was over the place returned to its tranquillity,the only sounds that could be heard were that of the birds and the moving car.




Finally we reached the resort.Since it was already dark ,no outdoor activities could be planned.We sat at the porch of the chalet of the resort,listening to the chirping  sounds of the cricket in the tree trunks.We sat observing the flowers and gazed at the clear night sky. A thousand stars glistened in the sky as I gaped at the  moon with the kids ,a ritual practised only when we are on an outing.




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  We felt that  a lot was missed the previous evening,so we set out for the tea gardens early next morning.The villagers were by now busy with their chores.the cattle was already lead by the herder.A man sprayed pesticide (probably) in the tea garden,quite oblivious of the intermittent drizzles.A light chat had commenced between the owner and the visitor at the  local tea shop . As a temple bell rung at  a distance, frankly,I was not in a mood to go back to the resort for breakfast.



  We rode through the tea gardens,and watched the workers pluck the tender leaves with their nimble fingers.At times we peered at  a lone house amidst the tea gardens,trying to guess how it feels to stay there at night..





    A temple tucked in between the tea gardens,added that perfect charm to the monotony of the the scenery.It did not look like a very significant place religiously,but seemed to provide an outing for the villagers  .A group of picnickers (possibly from the villages nearby) sat relaxed in front of the temple ,peeling veggies for a presumably sumptuous lunch.One of them even willingly posed for my camera along with his friends.











THE  NALLAMUDI   PEAK

   Standing at an edge at the Nallamudi cliff, a lean and agile man lifts up his arms towards the sky and gives out a shriek to the unknown.The man known as Velu,  is a local who claims to have seen God. He seemed to be a friendly man ,ready to explain his rationale to those who wish to believe.
A crowd gathered around him,few amused and others too bewitched to react.


While he had seen God or it was  just a hallucination ,is  a different story altogether,his act could be interpreted as  a gratitude to the same God ,he claims to have seen. An acknowledgement perhaps for an event in his life or simply a praise for the natural bounty around him that makes him so happy.A portrayal of how little it takes to be contented sometimes.

  Needless to say the Nallamudi peak has now become a place also known for "SEEN GOD"as the man is refereed to now.
At first glance Valparai seems to be  a place of endless tea gardens ,but soon enough few unexpected things like  these  keep you engrossed.
To reach the Nallamudi cliff one has to walk for nearly  a mile  between tea gardens,from the parking. It is an excellent place with a amazing view of waterfalls from the surrounding slopes.




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THE   NALLAMUDI  PEAK

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Office of an NGO working at Valparai










   The Koolangal river is  a stream flowing between the tea gardens. It seemed to be a favorite spot for taking  a dip in the ice cold waters.The place was seen crowded from the early hours of the morning till sunset. In fact the crowd at the stream almost gave us the feel that a dip in here has some kind of religious significance.The place around the stream is very scenic and the stream is an excellent place to spend some time.




Parking at the Koolangal river



The Valparai township






Tea blossoms





THE   VELLANKINI  CHURCH

  Amidst  the calmness and the serenity of tea estates someone quietly prayed at the Vellankini Church very close to the Karamalai tea factory  .The Vellankini church is a little high up a hillock in the Karamalai Tea Estate.It is a scaled down version of the Vellankini Church near Chennai .Its location between sprawling tea estates and  a gushing stream flowing nearby makes it a wonderful place to visit .We spent quite sometime at the stream.





  Very close to the church is the Balaji Temple of  Valparai.The temple has  a panoramic view of the tea gardens surrounding it.Visiting the temple involves a steep climb of nearly  a mile as no vehicles are allowed on that road.The temple is a property of the tea estates .Moreover photography is strictly prohibited.So one can think of giving this a skip if elderly people are concerned.



 The Sholayar Dam is another point of interest ,between the ranges.The reservoir stretches for a few kilometers  along the way to the dam.Not just the dam but the reservoir with its surrounding tea gardens compose a delightful visual treat after the rains. Although we visited the place during  the monsoons,the water level in the dam was scanty.



The reservoir



  
    Getting up early in the morning paid off. A herd of elephants walked past at the distance.I could not get a clear capture due to the morning haze.The lion tailed Macaque ,a breed found in the tropical forest could be seen in good numbers in the forests adjoining the tea gardens .Trushes sang in between the tea bushes as we intruded in their territory.
 
   We strolled around observing them and capturing the moments through our lens.We experienced sheer bliss in their company amidst a painful reminder of how it was created for both; for them and for us,before we took over.We drove down the slopes with a silent prayer that we could find Valparai
drenched in the same beauty if we return someday.


Try spotting the elephants in the pic




The lion tailed macaque



  The best part of Valparai is that it is not yet exploited commercially.There are not many hotels or stay options.The very few resorts are located in the tea gardens.The roads are perfect.All you can see around you is the green tea estates .Stopping at shacks by the roadside and strolling between the tea estates in a drizzle is what makes the place different than regular tourist destinations.The place has  a very balming effect away from the cacophony, especially for city dwellers like us .




The chalet at the resort
Flowers at the Resort








Since there are many tea factories around , a visit to the factories could be arranged .We opted out of it as we had seen the process once at Munnar.





                Valparai is approximately 450 kms. from Bangalore and a 9 hours drive.Since we started in the evening,we took  a night halt at Salem ,and proceeded towards Valparai after breakfast
in the morning.
Valparai is nearly 107 kms. from Coimbatore,which is approximately an hours drive .The nearest International Airport is at Coimbatore.
Valparai should not be visited without an advance booking of stay,as already mentioned,stay options are limited. We stayed at the Sirukundra Resorts.The only preferable restaurant is Sri Krishna Cafe in Valparai town.WE visited in the month of August,so one layer of warm clothing was enough.Keeping an umbrella can be useful ,since drizzles are very common.If travelling with kids ,having some dry food items with you should be helpful as the place does not have many eateries.