Saturday, May 30, 2009

Kalady - Adi Shankara Janmabhoomi Kshetram

5 Kms from the bustling Cochin International Airport is the picturesque town of Kalady, situated on the banks of the Periyar River, here known as the Poorna. In this small village lived a pious Namboothiri couple, who prayed to Lord Shiva for a child. Pleased with their devotion, the lord gave them a choice – they could either have a long lived, but stupid son, or choose an intelligent one, who would walk on this earth for a scant 16 years. The couple unanimously and unwaveringly chose the latter – the son whom they named after the lord as ‘Shankara’, who would make his parents proud, and grow to be the teacher of all teachers – the Adi Shankaracharya.

 


 

 
When Shankara was a child, his old mother found it difficult to walk to the river for her daily ablutions. Shankara prayed to Krishna, his family deity to help his mother, who blessed him and decreed that the river would follow on the footsteps of Shankara. This not only changed the course of the river here, but also gave a new name to this place – Kalady means footsteps in Malayalam and Tamil.

 


 


 
About a hundred years back, the then Shankaracharya of Sringeri came upon the Samadhi of Aryamba, the mother of Sri Adi Shankaracharya, and then built a temple around it. This temple is right on the banks of the river, and is a simple and beautiful structure. There are sanctums to Lord Ganesha and Sri Sharada. The Sharadambal sanctum is surrounded by images of the Saptha Matas – 7 forms of the Devi. The brindavanam of Aryamba is a small structure built over the place where she was cremated. The black stone lamp post at the site dates back to the time of Adi Shankara. It is this structure which helped identify the spot as the birth place of Adi Shankara. Finally, there is the shrine to Adi Shankaracharya. It is a peaceful place reverberating with the sounds of the Vedas uttered by the students of the Veda Patashala run by the Mutt. When we arrived at the shrine of Sri Adi Shankara to pay our respects, the guru teaching the kids signaled to one small chap, who ran up to us, still reciting the Vedas, performed the aarti, gave us the prasadam, and without waiting any further, ran back to take his place again. It was a beautiful sight to see, and the sounds of the Vedas recited by a boy just a few years older than Samhith was just great!

 


 
We did not have time to bathe in the river, but just the sight of the river, with enough water even in the hottest period of the year was a sight for sore eyes!

 


 
The math has made provisions for staying there also, and though I did not have time to check out the details, I did manage to get their phone number. You can contact them and get details about accommodation. The contact details are as follows

 
Sri Sringeri Shankaramath,
Sri Adi Shankara Janmabhoomi Kshetram,
On the banks of the river Purna (Periyar),
Kalady – 683574
Kerala.
Phone No.: (0484)2462350
E-mail: sringerikldy@sify.com

 


 
Just outside this temple is the ancient temple to Krishna, the family deity of Sri Adi Shankara. This is a temple built in the typical Kerala style, and is small, though wonderfully peaceful.

 


 


 

 
Right on the main road opposite the bus stand is another structure built in memory of Sri Adi Shankara. This is a memorial built by the Kanchi Mutt and is known as the Adi Shankara Stupa.

 


 
We did not have time to climb up all the way, but, thanks to my sister, Kanthi, I have photographs of the interior of the Stupa too. The following pictures belong to her……..

 
These are the deities inside the stupa -

 
Ganesha


 
Kamakshi...


 
Adi Shankara..


 
Lord Shiva...


 
Lord Vishnu...


 
Surya...


 
Karthikeya...


 
I have not mentioned the entire story of Adi Shankara, as there are many others who would be better suited to relate the story of such a great man. Here are a couple of links for those interested in reading more about him -
  • Pictorial Story of Adi Shankara:This one is from the website of a publication of the Kanchi Mutt.Illustrated with sketches, this one is good for children.

  • Who is Adi Shankara? : This one is a longer version of the story, more suited for adults, and I liked the way the story has been related.

 

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thekkady - Periyar Tiger Reserve


The Periyar is the longest river in Kerala, and is thus the lifeline of the state. The Periyar Lake is an artificial one created by the building of the MullaPeriyar Dam in 1895. What was started as a game reserve by the British, after independence became a wildlife sanctuary, and later, the Periyar Tiger Reserve. While the area where the reserve is located is well known as Thekkady, the town is named Kumily, and is located on the border of Kerala and Tamilnadu. Kumily is about 250 Kms from Trivandrum and 110 Kms from Kottayam. On the Tamilnadu side, it is easily approachable from Madurai, which is also 110Kms away.


There are lots of regular KSRTC (Kerala State transport Corporation) buses available to Kumily from Kottayam, and the 3 ½ hour journey takes us through picturesque mountains covered with rubber and tea/coffee and spice plantations. Though it was the month of May, and the period of the Agni Nakshatram (the hottest period of the season), as we approached Thekkady, there was a perceptible drop in temperature, which made us wish we had worn something warmer.

Here are glmipses of our journey from Kottayam to Thekkady.....



There is no dearth of places to stay at Thekkady and Kumily. You can get jus about anything from 5 star hotels and luxury resorts to homestays and small lodges. Just decide your budget and look around. No matter what the season and how crowded it might be, you will surely find an appropriate place to stay.

Once upon a time, this area had nothing but plantations, and only the plantation owners had built beautiful homes here for themselves. Now, only vestiges of them are left, for almost every plantation has been taken over by resorts, and you can find one resort after another, side by side, cheek by jowl, you might say! One of these used to be the Taj Garden Retreat, which has now been taken over by Club Mahindra, and has become ‘Tusker Trails’…not that there are as many tuskers any more……


Now that I have vented my spleen about the crowded nature of Thekkady, I must be fair, and mention that ‘Club Mahindra Tusker Trails’ has been incredibly well planned and laid out. At first glance, it is difficult to make out where the rooms might be. Every cottage is built on stilts; yet, the green cover is huge enough to cover them… barely the top half of the cottage is seen from any angle!



The approach to our room was along a path winding its way between bushes of hibiscus, and the plants were taller than even Shankar. I and Samhith were dwarfed by these plants, and the feeling was more acute in the night when we returned from dinner and had to walk almost in the dark, hearing the sounds of the night – especially frogs. We were so scared of stepping over snakes; we took to carrying a torch from the next night!


While I was not too impressed by many of the numerous resorts at Thekkady, I liked the attempts made by the Periyar Tiger Reserve for responsible eco-tourism. This seems to be a relatively new factor here, for I hadn’t heard of it earlier. As is the norm in all reserves, all activities inside the reserve have to be conducted only with permissions, and here, they seem to have all activities under tight control. Of course, none of the activities were possible, since it was the vacation, and the whole world seemed to be there, but you can find out all the details through their website. They have lots of interesting activities like a night time Jungle Patrol, camping in the jungle, nature walks, full day trek cum safari, etc. The list is long, and you had better see the whole list on their website.

Meanwhile, here is a scanned list of the Programmes...


Not only are activities possible through the reserve, but they also have their own rooms inside the reserve itself, some of them run by the Kerala Tourism Department (KTDC). Among these, the best is of course, the Lake Palace hotel, which is right in the middle of the Periyar Lake, approachable only by boats. Undoubtedly, it is the most expensive one. The Aranya Nivas is near the boathouse (middle range), and the Periyar House is a little further away (budget). All are inside the reserve. There are also other options for stay run by the reserve itself, such as the Bamboo Grove (just outside the reserve), Jungle Inn (log huts) and Jungle Camp (tents).


Here are the details for bookings:


For Information and Advance Booking:

Eco Tourism Information Centre, Range Office Complex, Thekkady.
Phone No.: (04869)224571

Unfortunately, as of now, advance bookings have to made by phone. They haven't begun online bookings yet. If you travel during the off-season (when schools are closed), spot bookings are possible.


With none of the interesting activities inside the reserve available to us, we had to look elsewhere for options, preferably not too strenuous (Samhith and I had to continue further alone, and Shankar had to go back to work). We finally settled on an elephant ride in one of the plantations. Again, there are many options for this, and there are numerous chaps who promise you all kinds of things, but they all end up taking you on a round of a small plantation riding an elephant. If you agree to pay more, you can bathe and feed an elephant, and the mahout makes the elephant show you a couple of things that it has been trained to do. Frankly speaking, Shankar and I were not too interested, especially as we believe that the elephants are not treated too well, but we gave in to Samhith, who loved every minute of it.

So, here we are, on an elephant – Samhith and Shakar enjoying themselves,and me uncomfortable.


We saw a couple of racket-tailed drongoes, but I was holding on tight with both my hands, and couldn’t use my camera at all! Next time, I have told Samhith, he and his dad can go for a ride while I walk beside the animal and take photographs!



Bathing the elephant was the best part, and here are some photos and a video to prove it…….







We spent almost an hour with the elephant, and here we are, bidding goodbye to her………..



The resort had plenty of options for Samhith, who loved running around and climbing the tree house over and over again…. But what really caught his fancy were the adventure activities like rope climbing, river crossing, etc. all conducted within the resort. Here are some pics….





We had all looked forward to the boat ride on the Periyar River, hoping to see elephants (the last time we were there, Samhith was about a year old, and we had seen a mother elephant suckling her calf. That was before I got my Canon, and also before I was introduced to blogging, so bad luck guys, I have no pics of that memorable trip… just my memories). Well, we weren’t lucky enough to see elephants this time, though we did see bison and wild boar, and also a mongoose, and of course, plenty of cormorants and darters. Without wasting any more words, let me take you along with me.... through my photographs.

View from the boathouse...boats lined up, waiting to be filled and start on a journey along the river...

Our boat,up close. There are two types of boats - some with lower and upper decks and some with a single deck. Try to get an upper deck or a single deck boat....

The journey begins....

A darter or Snake Bird

A Red Wattled Lapwing

Another Darter

The characteristic scenery of the Periyar Lake - these trees died when the area was flooded by water from the dam and the lake was created...

here's a closer look ....



Two darters on a tree - one black necked and one white necked..

A Bison..

"Why are you gaping at me????" He seems to ask

The herd scatters among the trees


A couple of Great Cormorants.... two of my favourite pics... Tell me which ones you like...



A couple of Wild Boar

Another Darter - the best pic of the lot!

Is that an egret or a heron??


More Bison...



The sun starts throwing light on the hills..

More Wild Boar..

And here's one up close...



A peep at the Lake Palace Hotel, which is hidden behind these trees on an island right in the middle of the lake.

And here are the steps leading to the hotel...

Is that a tortoise on the log? Wish I had a pair of binoculars!


Looks like a White Necked Stork...

Incidentally, this was the bird on the Number board of our room at Tusker Trails:

A Kingfisher looking up at the sky. Did it know that it was going to rain???

Our last view of the lake and hills(for the present)....

The journey ended on a disappointing note, for we had not seen even one elephant in the wild, something we had all looked forward to. However, there is a positive side to this - I now know the different options open to me at Thekkady, and when Samhith is a little older, we can plan a trip better and hope to enjoy more time within the jungle with whatever wildlife is there then, rather than outside with the mass of humanity! 

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