Saturday, September 23, 2017


Everyday, there are three passenger trains, from Madurai to Rameshwaram - early morning, mid-afternoon and late evening.On the second day of our trip, we took the 12:40 p.m train and reached Rameshwaram at 4:30 p.m. The ticket was Rs 90 for 3 of us.

There were 2 reasons why I wanted to see Rameshwaram. One, is this incredible fact shown on the image on the left. Isn't that just amazing how this unique feat was achieved by our ancestors hundreds of years ago, that too without the technology prowess that we boast of today? Imagine the scientific and geographical knowledge they possessed! And the sheer will and devotion needed to build these temples in such fascinating symmetry. 

I hope one day I will be able to see all the temples along this line.

Later of course, Sathya spoke about the Ramnathaswamy temple and the 22 holy wells and I was hooked. The temple is a busy pilgrimage because it hosts one of the 12 Jyothirlingas and is a part of the Char Dham Yatra.

Two, I had seen a Kannada TV show, many years ago, where the anchor talked of Dhanushkodi, saying it was land's end, that it is a small island is separated from mainland India by the Pamban Channel. I was intrigued.

The Pamban Bridge, shown here, in the image from Google, is another engineering marvel of the 20th century.

I had watched a program on Discovery Channel or National Geographic (forgot which one) featuring this as one of the most dangerous bridges of the world, needing constant repair and maintenance and showed how the ocean waves lashed against the rail coaches during a storm.

The bridge is 2.2 kilometers and holds the record for being one of the longest bridges in India to be built over a bay.

The railway cantilever even has lifting spans for small ships to pass through.

We alighted at Rameshwaram station and took a van to go to Jiwan Residency Hotel. We paid Rs 100 for a distance of 2 km. No meter concept here or in Madurai. The auto or van guys throw a price at you, you accept and pay or bargain and leave.

Review of the hotel?
Well, we paid Rs 7000 for two nights - two adults and a child aged 11 with complimentary breakfast for the adults. Hotel facilities is excellent, location is great, it is walking distance from Ramnathaswamy temple BUT the internet sucks, no wifi in the rooms, only in the lobby which we never used and the staff knows only Tamil which made even simple instructions and conversation a torture, food in the attached restaurant was exorbitantly priced and the quantity was painfully small.

Anyways, what caught our fancy as we set foot in the town was the sight of these huge banners.
I don't know Tamil. I don't know what it says. Is it a wedding invitation? Or is it friends congratulating a newly married couple? Look at those "YO" boys with their cool, blue aviators. I bet the same shades were shared by all of them for this hot and happening picture. Rows of these funny posters are erected along the main road. There were also others with children (!!!) and their parents! What's with this obsession with flex banners? Pondicherry too is marred by endless posters and banners - wishing the CM on his birthday, welcoming a minister to the city, one politician wishing another politician.

I loved Chandigarh for this reason. Not a single banner on any of its roads. Naah...none! So clean!

Since we had reached in the evening, we were just in time to catch the last boat leaving the shores.
Here are some pics from the boat ride:
The silhouette of the Ramnathaswamy temple and the TV Tower
The next day at 6:30 a.m, we went to Ramnathswamy temple for the darshan and the 'snana' or dip in the holy waters. After the Lankan battle, Lord Rama performed a yagna and instituted a Jyotirlinga at this site. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. We first took a dip in the Agni Theertham. It is a small section of the shallow water of the sea that is revered. It is said that a holy bath here and the 22 theerthams in the temple should precede the Jyotirlingam Darshanam. We decided to do exactly that.

Even as early as 6 a.m, there was a huge crowd that had already gathered. We saw 3-4 priests performing "shraadh" and other poojas on the banks of the river. It was unmistakable to see so many devotees from the Northern parts of India. There were many shops and restaurants too that catered to North Indian cuisine and are run by North Indian people. 

At the temple, the queue to the 22 theerthams was exasperatingly long but it was moving and that was a relief. I had thought that there would be a small pond and we would go in and dip in it. Like we had in Shridhar Theertham in Sagara, Shimoga. But here, I saw that there were exactly 22 wells, each numbered and named (like Ganga, Yamuna and so on) and manned by a person who drew the water from the well and poured it on groups of devotees. And the devotees would then move to the next theerhtam. Just a few meters away from the ocean and yet these theerthams had such sweet water!! And a continuous supply too! Never-ending, fresh water!

Four months pregnant, not eaten a morsel and yet I was not tired. I was energized! It was a unique experience that none of us had ever had in any temple, be it in the South or North and we treasured it. We then changed into fresh clothes and stood in line for the Darshanam. 

The special darshana queue is priced at a mere Rs 50 and almost everyone was in it!! It was long and so slow that it was not moving at all. By then, it was already 9 a.m! Sathya happened to see a guard letting in some people directly to the sanctum. He slipped in a Rs 500 note and we managed to have the darshan in less than 10 minutes.
The temple has huge colonnades on 5 feet platforms. It is a fine display of Dravidian architecture. Shown above is one of the many corridors of the temple, beautifully painted in vibrant colors. It is the longest corridor in the world!! Built in the 12th century, the temple has a total of 1212 granite columns. All the pillars are sculpted with beautiful designs and the place stands as an incredible show of strength. Many other pillars are still in their original form.  The stones on the top of the roof go up to 40 feet in length. 

 The pooja starts at 5:00 a.m and goes on till 8 p.m and the spadigalinga deepa aradhana (milk abhisheka on the crystal linga) is at 5:10.  
After the temple visit, we went sight-seeing in an auto. Rs 1100 for a day. First stop was Ramar Padham (or Gandhmadana Parvathan) temple. The foot prints of Lord Rama are here. It is the peak from where Lord Hanuman started his flight to Lanka. There is also the Satchi Hanuman temple, the place where Hanuman brought back the jewel (satchi) from Sita. 
We also paid our respects to the greatest scientist and President our country has ever seen - Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam or Missile Man as he was called for his contribution to India's space research and development. He was the 11th President - from 2002 to 2007.  

The Kalam Memorial has been wonderfully constructed by DRDO in just 9 months and was inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi as recently as July of this year, on the occasion of the President's second death anniversary. Till last year, the site was in complete shambles and it was a sad sight to behold. Both the Memorial and Dr Kalam's house have a superbly collated display of his various accolades, highest civilian awards and photographs of his life's journey. 
We also saw the Villondi Theertham. Lord Rama made this theertham to quench the thirst of Sita by dipping the bow into the sea water. 
The place did not have any crowd when we went and offered a great view of the sea. Endless, turquoise sea.

We later went to Dhanushkodi, an abandoned twon that has many historical ruins like this ol church, an old railway track and station etc. Dhanushkodi lies at the south-eastern tip of Rameshwaram and is only 29 kms west of Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. Lord Rama built a stone bridge to bring his army to cross to Lanka. After the war, the new King Vibhishana asked Rama to destroy the bridge. Rama destroyed the bridge with one end of his bow. Hence the name Dhanushkodi meaning end of the bow. 
Dhanushkodi has an excellent beach. This is where the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean merge. The beach is clean, and vast with a color that entices you to jump right in.
A newly laid national highway connects Dhanushkodi with Rameshwaram. The drive is smooth and takes only 30 minutes. And since it is still not spoiled by unrestrained tourism, it is a great place to unwind. 
Two minutes walk from our hotel is the Holy Island Resort with facilities for kayaking, boating, a children's park etc. Satty and Tan went kayaking. Rs 200 for 30 minutes per person. 
When we returned from Rameshwaram, we took the 6:00 p.m train, the sun had just set and the evening sky was resplendent, with the highway on the left and the railway track on the right. 
The train ride is something you must go on, at least once in your lifetime and feel the thrill of standing at the edge of the open door of the coach and look at the ocean right below you. Wave at the people on the highway who have stopped their cars to wave at the passengers of the slowly moving train. We are both clicking pics of each other! 
The 4 day Madurai - Rameshwaram trip cost us nearly Rs 17,000/- The travel expenses were really low as we opted for train. A large part of the expenses (nearly 10,000/-) went for accommodation. I feel it is better to opt for the Tamil nadu Tourism Hotel. It is less expensive, the food is also reasonably priced and good and the facilities are good too.

Monday, September 18, 2017


Every visitor's first stop in Madurai is the Meenakshi Amman Temple. It is dedicated to Goddess Parvati (Meenakshi) and Lord Shiva (Sundareshwara).  The entire city is built around it. 

This magnificent temple was built between 1623 and 1655. But when Malik Kafur (a muslim king) looted the temple of its valuables, it was rebuilt by Vishwanath Nayak.

It has four towers and the South Tower holds the record for the ninth tallest gopuram at 170 feet! It has nearly 1511 statues carved on it! It is also the busiest entry point to the temple as it is the most auspicious. Many people had warned us that people get lost once inside the premises and wouldn't know where to exit! If you look at the aerial view of the temple, you will know why. One cannot but be amazed by the grandeur and scale of this temple. Now there are sign-posts everywhere and staff to guide.  

The pillars are beautiful and I was ensnared by the carvings on each one of them. 
The garlands in the picture below was the result of a special prayer performed by the priest. It was a surprise to us. The general practice is the devotees go around in a line and get just a few minutes of darshan of the deity. Tanvi was excited to see us like this - like we had just gotten married! 
Madurai is a historic city and was ruled by the Pandyas, Cholas, Madurai Sultanat, Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Carnatic Kingdom and the British. It will soon be developed as a smart city under our Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi's Smart Cities Mission.   

There are many stalls, restaurants and shopping centers right outside the temple. 

Look at the assortment of fried snacks - in so many colors too!

We tried the cream colored tender coconut. We don't usually find it in Karnataka. It tasted just as good as the regular green one.

Our next stop was the Thirumalai Naicker Mahal. It is a 17th century palace built in 1636 by King Thirumalai Naicker. He belonged to the Nayaka dynasty who ruled Madurai from 1623 to 1659. An Italian architect was commissioned to build the palace. 
The palace was in two segments - Swargavilas and Rangavilas but only Swargavilas has survived and that too only one fourth portion of the original palace remains today. 
We then went to see the Gandhi Memorial Museum. It was originally used as a sports pavilion to view elephant fights and was built by Rani Mangammal in 1670. It was convereted to a museum only in 1955. Mahatma Gandhi first adopted the loin cloth as his dress when he saw some agricultural laborers wearing it. It was in Madurai, in 1921, that he took this decision. The bullet-ridden cloth that he wore on the day of his assassination is placed in the museum. 
By the time we finished these three places, the sun was roasting us. There were so many more temples to see but the weather was a dampener. We did not have the energy or the inclination to see anything else. We had left the hotel at 10:30 and by 2:30 p.m we were exhausted by the heat. We ran to the hotel for lunch and to chill in the AC. 

By late afternoon, it rained heavily and the temperature dipped. It was also time for Sathya's beer hunting expeditions! Finding beer in Tamil Nadu (TN) is a real task. He had struggled to get some beer even in a big metro like Chennai. Liquor shops are not easily available and the concept of the whole family sitting together for dinner while the man drank is unheard of. No 'Family Bar and Restaurant' here. There are only hole-in-the-wall shops with grilled counters that you need to queue up to and they give you your bottle - without bag or even paper. It makes you feel like you are buying medicines! 

A van driver took us to one such place. Since it had rained that evening, the streets were completely water-logged. People waded through the mini swimming pools without flinching. There were parota stands, TENS of them, almost adjacent to each other, on both sides of the road. Dosai, vadai and idly -  the standard fare. That is both breakfast and dinner item, by the way. No other options or variety available. Pongal is another constant - in the breakfast menu. I prefer pongal that is slightly spicy. Here it is more like dal and rice cooked together with just a pinch of salt. Sathya loves the Tamil style pongal and was relishing it. The vadais are really small with generous sprinkling of pepper seeds. You become busy extracting them while you eat. By the fourth day of our trip to Madurai & Rameshwaram, I was sick of idli, dosai, vadai and pongal. I was effectively cured of my idli obsession, the comfort food of my hungry first trimester pregnancy days. 

We went to the hotel with our "loot" but were asked not to carry the bottles openly past the lobby lest we offended the other guests. So we rushed to our room, got our backpack down, hid the bottles in it and went up. 

We stayed at Sree Devi Hotel in Madurai. It is near Madura College. Rs 2000/- per night. Courteous staff, overall good service. But in the end, we got a shock. They had charged us for two days instead of one. Here, the format is not the usual 12:00 a.m check in and 11:00 a.m check out. It is check out the next day at the time you checked in. We had checked in at 9 a.m and checked out the next day at 10:30. And yet he had cunningly charged us an extra day thinking we wouldn't notice or check the bill. In fact, he hesitated to show or give the bill. When we insisted, he was exchanging glances with his colleague. He surely didn't expect us to demand the bill. And we did not expect to be cheated like that. 

We did get the money back, though. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Shimoga is considered the Heart of Malenadu and the 'Rice Bowl of Karnataka'. I am from the Karavali or coastal region. Malenadu refers to the 100 km region of the Western Ghats and the Sahyadri mountain ranges. 'Male' in Kannada means rain and 'nadu' is city or place.

Three things you can't miss noticing in Shimoga.

One, cows on the National Highway. They were resting, standing, watching vehicles, sleeping, placing their heads on other cows and looking around - in groups and solo ones - in all varieties and positions - right in the middle of the road. They could as well have rolled over into the grass of the adjacent fields and rested but no, they preferred the warmth of the tar roads!

The vehicles would manoeuvre around them. The cows never budged. Even big trucks, buses and lorries would slow down and move past the cows, making sure not to hurt them. 

All was fine until once, we almost crashed into the car ahead of us because there was a calf in the middle and a biker zoomed past, the car stopped abruptly and Thank God for Sathya's split second response to the situation or there would have been an accident. Did the calf notice the mayhem? Naah! It was blissfully unaware.

Twomandakki (puffed rice as shown in the pic on the left) and churmuri (shown right). There were SEVERAL stalls selling it at almost every shop and tourist place. It was hard to miss it! Of course, puffed rice and churmuri are not unique to Shimoga but it is definitely ubiquitous, just like the Udupi hotels, the Shanthi and Sukh Sagars of Bangalore.

Three, the big 'dairy flower', the big, round ones. It looked something like this below, but was much bigger than this. It comes in so many colors! It is the preferred offering to deities during poojas and shringar (decoration). It is also worn by elderly women on their tiny buns, the flower covering half of the back of their heads! Most houses grow the plant in their front yards, in
cement covers, with long sticks to support the tall plant.     
The entire trip we had good roads especially since we were mostly on NH206 and SH 1 except the Honnemardu road and the roads in the town of Sagar which are actually non-existent.

Shown below is the residence of Shivappa Nayaka (1645-1660), a ruler of the Keladi Nayaka Kingdom and later successors of the Vijayanagara Empire. The famous Bekal Fort of Kasargod, Kerala (as shown in the Hindi movie Bombay, the song 'Tu Hi Re'?) was built by him!!! 
The house is made from sagoni mara (Teak wood), the most expensive of all woods. One single main door made of teak wood would set you back by at least Rs 40,000 by today's standards.
The stone sculptures neatly arranged by the Archelogical Survey of India in the premises with beautifully landscaped and nicely maintained garden. On the left, is the carving of Lord Vishnu from 14th Century A.D and on the right, is a veeragallu or victory stone with the depiction of the worship of a Linga or Shiva in the first column of the panel.
This huge statue of Lord Shiva was at Rameshwara Temple, Harkere.
We stopped here to pray as it was Monday (somavara Shiva darshana) and luckily, there was an Anna Prasada Seve going on & we ate our lunch there. Temple food is so simple & yet so delicious!

Here, for the first time, I saw a practice called "Linga Snana". You hold a linga over your head and the priest bathes the linga. Then you do the pradakshine (walk around the temple).

We stopped at the Tunga Hydel Project or Gajanur dam. When do I get to see dams with the water gushing forth? Alas! Never I guess! Whether it was 
Harangi Reservoir or KRS in Mysore or Tungabhadra in Hospet, most often we have seen dams where they had not let the water out. So no fun in seeing just the structure.

We sang the Shivraj Kumar song "iva gajanurina gandu kanammo" loudly in the car as we approached the dam as my first memory of the word 'Gajanur' was that song. It was very famous when I was in school and often played on the radio. 

This I saw in one of the smaller temples.

The "floor mat" you see is actually dried husk/peel of the arecanut.

It was soft to walk on and worked to keep your feet clean from the slush of the rain.

We visited Koodli too.

It is 16 kms from Shimoga.

It is called the Varanasi of South India.

It is the place where the two rivers Tunga and Bhadra join and and form the Tungabhadra river. 
The Nandi denotes the exact point where the rivers meet .

There is a nearly 600 year old mutt of Shankaracharya.

Here is a seventh standard boy selling pineapples by the roadside. The whole national highway stretch of 206 is lined by these small make-shift stands. For Rs 20, really juicy and sweet pineapples.

Tiger Safari in Tyavarekere

It is a well-staffed and well-maintained zoo. The tiger population is more than the lion and the tigers, when our van passed its cage, came so close to the van that we all shrieked for joy. There's something magical and majestic about a tiger's slow gait. It is threatening, scary and yet captivating. It is impossible to take your eyes off a tiger.

We were also lucky to witness this peacock displaying its lovely bloom while trying to impress one of the peahens around.

It was only here in this zoo, when I saw a panther in the cage with 6-7 other leopards, that I learnt that a panther is actually a leopard, born along with the other cubs, but suffers from a rare skin disease called melanosis, wherein excessive production of the pigment, melanin, causes the leopard to have a black skin! It was written on the information board of the cage. I really thought till then that panthers were a separate category of animals!

As we drove back to Shimoga from Thirthahalli, there was a road under construction on the state highway and right beside the road, was this sight! As a friend of mine remarked on Facebook, it reminds you of the Bobby Deol-Manisha Koirala song "Bechainiyan" from the movie Gupt. That song was shot in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala but the resemblance is uncanny.
As our three day trip ended, we felt both rejuvenated and sad to bid adieu to such a lovely district. Our legs were sore from all the walking and climbing but it was, what I call, "sweet pain". I would love to be pained thus all my life.

As for the cost, it cost us Rs 15,000/- for three people, three days, exploring three major towns. Rs 5000 for petrol, Rs 5000 for hotel stay and the rest for food, parking tickets, entry fees and so on. I have realized that keeping aside a minimum of Rs 5000 a day for any trip helps with the budget.