Wednesday, March 20, 2024

10th Century Valisvara Temple at Thiruvaliswaram: Hidden Chola Gem in the Tirunelveli District of Tamil Nadu

The main entrance to Valiswara Temple, Tiruvaliswaram

This temple is considered to be one of the best examples of Chola architecture. This temple was constructed in the early part of the 10th century by Raja Raja Chola I. Even though, it was built by the Cholas, it stands in the land of the Pandyas. It is a centrally protected monument under the control of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) since 1919. It is home to one of the three Swayambhu lingams along the Gadananathi river. The other two being the Kailasanathar temple at Brahmadesam and the Sivasailanathar Paramakalyani temple at Sivasailam. I am talking about the Valiswara temple located by the banks of the Gadananathi river at Thiruvaleeswaram in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.

The architecture of the Valiswara temple is mainly Chola, but you can see a bit of Chola-Pandya and Pandya at different places in the temple. The main deity is Lord Shiva and he is depicted sitting in a sukhasana pose. The vimana has an idol of Lord Shiva as Ardhanareeswara, whose artistic style resembles those of Pallava temples in Panamalai and Kanchipuram. The Valiswara temple is also home to a unique standing statue of Lord Ganesha. The temple has two sanctums, both facing east. One is dedicated to Lord Shiva as Valisvara and the other is dedicated to goddess Parvati as Goddess Soundarya Nayaki. Both sanctums have Nandi statues, flag staffs and Bali peetha in front of them.

Gorgeous carvings on the temple shikhara and Dakshinamoorthy statue below - Valiswara Temple

The prakara of the Shiva shrine has the idols of Surya, Adhikara Nandi, Sapta Matas, Surya deva and Subramanya. The maha mantapa inside the shrine of Shiva has many circular shaped and Yali pillars. There are two small separate shrines of Ganesha and Shanmugha with his consorts. The vimana has a lot of beautiful sculptures such as Bhoota ganas, Rishaba Vahana, Gaja Samhara Murti, Dakshinamoorthi, Ardha Nareeswara, Natarajar, etc.

The temple campus is full of beautiful plants and trees that attract a lot of birds and butterflies, especially peacocks.

On a section near the Bali peetha, etching recording the triumphs grabbed by a corps of the Chola equipped power called Munru kai Mahasenai. It further says that the haven of Tiruvaliswaram, its treasury and the temple labourers were put under the protection of this unit of the equipped power. It is also believed that this Chola army used to hide all the wealth from their conquests inside this temple campus and this is one of the main reasons for ASI to build a large wall and protect this temple campus from the outside elements as such treasure could be hidden under the temple even today.
Ancient scripts on the walls of Valiswara temple, Thiruvaliswaram     
This offbeat hidden Chola gem of a temple is a must-visit for all temple lovers. Access is a bit difficult, but its rustic and remote location, its rich history and beautiful campus more than make up for this lack of access. I recommend this temple with many thumbs up.

Main entrance door of Valiswara temple at Tiruvaliswaram

Famous festivals of this temple:

Maha Shivaratri and Thiruvathirai are major annual festivals celebrated here. Every month, the two Pradosham days hold particular significance at this temple.

Standing Ganesha statue at Valiswara temple, Tiruvaliswaram

How to reach there:

The nearest railway and bus station is Ambasamudram, located about 5 kilometers away. From Ambasamudram, take the road leading towards Gowthamapuri and Brahmadesam. From Brahmadesam, take the road leading towards Nalayarithu Amman temple and take a right at the temple and this will take you to the Valiswara temple campus.

The nearest airport is Tuticorin, located about 82 kms away.

Large statue of Lord Muruga and his consorts at Valiswara temple

Best season to visit:

The Valisvara temple at Thiruvaliswaram is open all year round. However, it can get quite warm during the summer months between March and June. Even during the other months, it is best to visit the temple in the early hours of the morning so that you can walk barefoot on the granite stone floor of the temple.
Yali holding a pillar on its head - Valiswara temple, Thiruvaliswaram

Temple timings:

The Valisvara temple doesn’t get a lot of regular visitors. Hence, the temple priest usually visits at his convenience. He spends about 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening. The timings change depending on his schedule. It is best to call the temple priest a day in advance and find out the temple timings. The temple priest’s name is ‘Sankar Pattar’ and his phone number is +91 97896 42742. If you cannot get through his phone, his home is next to the Kailasanathar temple at Brahmadesam. It is best to check with locals regarding directions to his house. 
Ancient stone sculpture at Valiswara temple

Where to stay:

The nearest place with decent hotels would be Ambasamudram. Hotel Ambai Grand is the best option here.

If you wish for luxury, I would recommend trying the hotels at Tirunelveli – GRT Regency, Janakiram and/or Aryas.

If you wish to stay in slightly cooler weather, you should try the resorts in and around Courtallam.

If you wish to stay in pristine nature, I would recommend that you stay at the forest rest houses in Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve.

If you care for a true rustic experience, I would recommend that you stay at any of the home stays or guest houses in Kallidakurichi village agraharam.    
Shiva lingam at Valiswara Temple, Thiruvaliswaram

Where to eat:

You can find some basic snacks with tea/coffee in the village of Brahmadesam or Mannarkoil. For elaborate food options, I would recommend that you head either to Hotel Ramanas or Hotel Gowri Shankar at Ambasamudram. Both of them serve delicious vegetarian tiffin items and meals at reasonable prices.

Nandi statue at Valiswara Temple, Tiruvaliswaram

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) 10th century Kailasanathar temple at Brahmadesam

2) Mannarkoil Rajagopalaswamy temple: magnificent 10th century temple with a ashtanga vimana

3) 1000 year old Papanasanathar temple at Papanasam: Where you can wash all your sins away

4) Sivasailam temple: 1000 year old temple surrounded by the lush mountains of the Western Ghats

5) Sivasailam: One of the wettest places during the North East Monsoon in India

Corridor inside Valiswara Temple, Tiruvaliswaram

6) Kallidaikurichi: The village of the Saaral season

7) Iruttu Kadai Halwa: Icon of Tirunelveli

8) Nellaiappar Temple: A 7th century cosmic dance wonder

9) Pattamadai Pai: GI Tagged beautiful handwoven mats from a tiny Tamil Nadu village

10) Thamirabharani river delta: A motorcycle route full of rustic gorgeousness

11) Karaiyar dam: Offbeat wildlife and nature holiday destination in India’s deep south

12) The hidden gem called Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

13) Courtallam: The herbal bath holiday destination of Tamil Nadu

Valiswara Temple, Tiruvaliswaram

14) Tiruchendur Murugan Temple: Sea Shore Magic

15) Kallidaikurichi to Manimuthar Dam: A top scenic and rustic cycling route

16) Garuda Sevai from the agraharams of Kallidaikurichi

17) The festival of Karthigai Deepam from a traditional Tamil Nadu village

18) Cycling through the backyards of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

19) 13th century Kasi Visvanathar temple at Tenkasi

20) Punalur Suspension bridge: Historical gem of Kerala

21) Lesser known Kerala Mountain Railways: Treat for nature lovers

22) Thenmala forest and Palaruvi Falls: Offbeat nature and wildlife getaway

Beautiful statue at Valiswara temple, Tiruvalisvaram

23) Oothu: The quaint little hill station of Tamil Nadu

24) Kakkachi: The highest point inside Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

25) Festival of Thiruvathirai from a traditional Tamil Nadu village

26) Scenic Iron Bridge of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve: Pristine nature overloaded

27) Manimuthar Falls: The herbal waterfall inside a tiger reserve

28) Vintage Pathimoonu Kannara Bridge: Colonial charm of the Indian railways

29) Thenmala Dam: A monsoon pit stop

30) The exotic tropical fruit shops of Puliyarai

Nayanars of Shiva at Valiswara Temple, Thiruvaliswaram

31) Kallidaikurichi Adi Varaha Temple Chariot Festival: Grand Cultural Spectacle in Rural Tamil Nadu

32) Kallidaikurichi Anaicut: Gorgeous picnic spot nestled in the lap of nature

33) Agastyar Falls: A gorgeous waterfall on the Thamirabharani river

34) Manjolai: The offbeat hill station of Tamil Nadu

35) Kudrevetty: The remote and windy hill station of Tamil Nadu

36) Nalumukku: The wettest place of India during the North East Monsoon

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Oothu: The quaint little hill station of Tamil Nadu

Entering the hill station of Oothu in KMTR

There is this tiny hamlet in Southern Tamil Nadu where the mist and sometimes even the clouds descends every evening and stays in till the early hours of the morning. The weather here is a far cry from the hot plains, just 30 kms below. It happens to be one of the wettest places in India during the North East Monsoon and it happens to be an integral catchment area of the Thamirabharani river and its many tributaries. This quaint little hill station is located at an altitude of 4,500 feet above MSL in the Western Ghats of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu. This place is called Oothu and this hill station is home to less than 100 people.

The road that connects Oothu to Kudrevetty

Access to Oothu is tough, but the natural beauty of this place and its surroundings will make it worth the trouble many a time. The people of Oothu either work in the tea estates surrounding their village, the Tamil Nadu forest department or any of the other jobs that are needed to run this village like shops, schools, buses, etc. The tea estates in this region were created by the British by leasing land from the Singampatty Zamin. In another five years or so, the lease gets over and the place will fall completely under the control of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve and the Tamil Nadu forest department. Hopefully then, more native trees will take over the tea estates and ensure that this pristine ecosystem stays as untouched as ever for years to come.

Tea estates, tropical forests and dense mist - All on the forest road between Oothu and Kudrevetty

A visit to Oothu will give you a peek into the tea culture of this region, a laid back culture of a mountain hamlet and last, but not the least, it will show the rich diversity of a pristine forest ecosystem called Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. There are only 10 outside vehicles allowed here every day, which leads to extremely low levels of pollution and given the extreme remote location, Oothu and its surroundings are an example of how Western Ghats should be and not what it has turned into the rest of our country. Do visit this place only if you are a nature or wildlife lover and not if you are looking for a hill station to play loud music and enjoy your alcohol parties. Let’s preserve this place for our future generations.

Tea estate workers take a break at Oothu estate

Best season to visit:

Oothu is open all year round and can be visited in all seasons. Summers are incredibly pleasant here and are a far cry from the hot plains below. The rainy season between October and December is magical here and this is when close to 3000 to 5000 mm of rain precipitates in three months and dresses up the surroundings in fresh green and full water bodies and waterfalls. January and February offer clearer weather with low humidity and this allows for clear views of the spectacular landscape that includes the tea estates, forests, mountains and the many dams.

The tea estates of Oothu in KMTR

How to reach there:

If you are traveling from Tirunelveli, head towards Cheranmadevi and Kallidaikurichi. Just before Kallidaikurichi railway station, turn left and take the road leading towards Manimuthar. You will cross Golden nagar, Thekku Pappankulam, Tamil Nadu Special Police IX battalion and Manimuthar village. If you head straight from Manimuthar village, climb the narrow road and you will reach the forest check post at Manimuthar Dam. You will have to get your permits checked here, pay the necessary fees and then drive onwards towards Manimuthar Falls, Manjolai, Kakkachi, Nalumukku and then onto Oothu.

How to get permits for this place:

To travel to Manjolai, Kakkachi, Nalumukku, Oothu and/or Kudrevetty, you will have to get permits in advance from the forest department office at Ambasamudram. The permit costs INR 200 at Ambasamudram and you will have to pay the vehicle fee and per person charge at the Manimuthar check post. The forest check post opens at 7 AM and closes at 6 PM.

If you book a room at the forest guest house at Kudrevetty, then that booking is good enough and you don’t need to get the permits in advance.

Tea estate workers in action at Oothu

Where to stay:

If you wish to stay within the tiger reserve, you can book the forest rest house at Kudrevetty through the Kalakad Mundanthurai tiger reserve website.

If you wish to stay in traditional agraharam houses, you can try the home stays and guest houses at Kallidaikurichi village.

If simple, yet modern hotels are your thing, you can try Hotel Ambai Grand at Ambasamudram.

If you wish for a wider variety of hotels, you will have to try looking at Tirunelveli.

Where to eat:

There are a few family run home restaurants at Oothu where you can get local meals along with some tea and coffee. However, you need to order your meals at least a day in advance so that the people can arrange the rations and vegetables.

There are a few tea shops at Manjolai where you can find basic snacks along with tea/coffee, but if you order in advance, you can get some food.

There are a few small shack-like restaurants at Manimuthar before the forest check post. Here, you can get basic meals and a decent array of tiffin items.

The picturesque hamlet of Oothu in Tamil Nadu

Other tourist attractions inside Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve:

1) Manimuthar Falls: The herbal waterfall inside a tiger reserve

2) Agastyar Falls: A gorgeous waterfall on the Thamirabharani river

3) Manjolai: The offbeat hill station of Tamil Nadu

4) Kakkachi: The highest point inside Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

5) Kudrevetty: The remote and windy hill station of Tamil Nadu

6) Nalumukku: The wettest place of India during the North East Monsoon

7) Scenic Iron Bridge of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve: Pristine nature overloaded

8) Karaiyar Dam: Offbeat wildlife and nature holiday destination in India’s deep south

9) Cycling through the backyards of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Hidden Pristine Forest Waterfall in Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

Totally untouched and pristine forest waterfall between Oothu and Kudrevetty

This place is as untouched, hidden and pristine as it can be. It is because of such water bodies across our Western Ghats that peninsular India quenches its thirst. This beautiful forest waterfall is part of the catchment area of the Thamirabharani river. The water flows through medicinal herbs and plants and it was deliciously sweet and cold when I took a sip of it. Just sitting here in this environment and listening to the gurgle of the waterfall will melt your stress away. Such places allow our bodies to rejuvenate and recharge in rapid time.

Located between the rustic hill station of Oothu and the windy view point of Kudrevetty, this place is hidden amidst pristine forest. The access is from the main road that connects Oothu with Kudrevetty. There is no path or signboard here. All you have to do is follow the sound of the water and prepare to climb up through the dense bushes and ferns to the waterfall. Such water bodies are galore in the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve during the wet season. However, even during the dry summer season, some of these waterfalls contain ample water. And that is what makes this environment so special. This abundant water source gives rise to a whole lot of flora and fauna and thus makes this forest a thriving ecosystem.

If you wish that your holiday be at such a place where the nature is untouched and raw, the Manjolai range of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu is one such amazing option. Access is a bit tough and you have to get the permits from the forest department in advance, but all the hard work and patience is definitely worth it. I can’t rave about this place enough. Luckily for me, my home is just 10 kilometers away from the forest check post and about 45 kilometers from this waterfall, so I can visit this forest waterfall often. Sometimes, I wish that the forest department allowed me to take my cycle up here, but then, I do understand that is not safe to be on a bicycle in this elephant corridor.