2024 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!
none

Monday, April 08, 2024

Aryankavu Saastha Temple: Ancient temple located in the sacred forests of the Western Ghats

Aryankavu Saastha Temple surrounded by lush greenery

It is one of the five major temples dedicated to Lord Ayyappa in Kerala. It is set amidst lush greenery and beautiful mountains of the Western Ghats. The pristine Achankovil river flows right in front of the temple. I am talking about the Aryankavu Saastha temple that is located in the village of Aryankavu on the Shenkottai – Kollam highway.

Lord Parasurama set up five temples committed to goddess Kali on the beach front area and five Saastha temples on the mountain slopes for the well being of Kerala. Aryankavu Saastha temple is one of those temples. The name of the place comes from a mix of words Aryan (lord Ayyappa) and Kavu (holy forest). The Aryankavu Saastha temple, that is built about 35 feet below the road level, portrays Lord Ayyappa as a boy sitting on an elephant with his right leg hanging and his left leg tucked under him in an sitting position. This youthful Ayyappa sits in the middle of Devi (on the left) and Shiva (on the right) in the sanctum sanctorum. As in Sabarimala, the temple too has 18 steps to reach the shrine.

The temple is built in traditional architectural style of both Kerala and Tamil Nadu and it preserves several murals of deities. Devotees visit this temple to seek relief from Shani dosha and unmarried individuals pray to the lord to get married. They also seek redemption from diseases, poverty, snake bites, accidents and natural calamities. The Aryankavu Saastha temple is considered very important for the Saurasthtrian people.

According to legend, Swamy Ayyappan married Shri Pushkaladevi of the Saurashtra community in Aryankavu. The Thiru kalyanam festival is celebrated every Dhanu month (December 15 to January 15) to commemorate this divine wedding.

Devotees at the river behind the Aryankavu Saastha Temple, Kerala

Key Festivals celebrated here: Mandala kalam, Pandiyan Mudippu, Thiru Kalyanam, Kumbhabhishekam and Nirmalya Schochanam (every month).

Temple Timings: 5 AM to 12:30 PM and 5 PM to 8 PM

Nearest Railway Station and Bus Stop: Aryankavu

Nearest Airport: Thiruvanathapuram (about 88 kms away)

Other 4 major Saastha temples of Kerala are at: Achankoil, Kulathupuzha, Sabarimala and Kanthamala

Continue Reading...

Thursday, April 04, 2024

Palaruvi Falls: Kerala’s Herbal Waterfall that drops like milk from the sky

First Look of the gorgeous Palaruvi Falls

This water body flows through medicinal herbs and plants in the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu and Kerala before plunging down from a height of 300 feet deep in the forests of Kerala. It offers a beautiful mix of adventure, rich forest experience, a herbal bath under a waterfall, a short uphill trek and lots of nature. I am talking about the gorgeous Palaruvi falls that is located inside the Thenmala forest of Kerala.

     
    
Located near the village of Aryankavu in the Kollam district of Kerala, Palaruvi Falls is formed deep inside the Thenmala forest where the Kallada river plunges from a height of 300 feet in a frothy stream of milk. The entrance to Palaruvi falls is right on the highway connecting Aryankavu with Kollam. When you travel from Aryankavu to Kollam, the entrance falls to your left, just a few kilometers from Aryankavu. A short distance ahead is the parking lot where you can buy the entrance tickets. Private vehicles are not allowed to the waterfall and all visitors have to compulsorily opt for the forest bus service that plys regularly between the parking lot and the waterfall entrance.    
   
Palaruvi Falls - a fabulous place for a herbal bath amidst pristine nature     
    
This forest bus journey lasting about 20 minutes takes you deep into the forest and where the road meanders along the Kallada river. As you enjoy the lush terrain and the beautiful trees while getting slightly irritated by the bumpy bus ride, you are dropped at the end of 20 minutes at the waterfall main entrance from where you need to hike uphill for about 20 to 30 minutes depending on your stamina. There is a small cafe at this main entrance where you can find some food and beverages. Beyond this cafe, you will find anything to eat or drink and the route to the waterfall is completely plastic free, which means that you cannot discard any plastic items and sometimes the forest department might not allow you to carry any plastic items.

For the uphill trek, I would recommend that you make it right to the top with as few a stops as possible. This will be a great workout and you can enjoy the waterfall view from the top most view point while you allow your heart rate to come back to normal. After catching your breath on the top and after clicking umpteen pictures of the waterfalls and its surroundings, you can start making your descent and head to the bathing area. Here, you can rejuvenate yourself in the herbal waters of the waterfall and the pool below it. It is best to watch your step while bathing as the water current can be a bit strong at times and the rocks are usually slippery.
   
Herbal water of Palaruvi Falls - perfect for a waterfall holiday     
    
The cold waters of the waterfall and the mountain stream feel so good after the sweaty hike to the top most view point from the waterfall entrance and it is this moment that makes it totally worth it. The herbal bath along with the thundering roar of the waterfall and the lush forest views make it a stunning experience. Some hot banana fritters with a cup of hot coffee at the local cafe is a perfect way to end your trip to Palaruvi Falls.
   
The entrance to Palaruvi Falls - the hike begins here     
    
Palaruvi Falls is a perfect location for a waterfall holiday day trip near Trivandrum and Kollam in South Kerala. The herbal waterfall that drops like milk from the sky amidst dense greenery is a sight to behold and to bathe under it is a different experience altogether. I would recommend this gem of a waterfall to all those who like nature getaways.    
   
     
    
Visiting Hours:

8 AM to 6 PM

Entrance Fees

Per Adult – INR 25
Per Adult for Bus Ride – INR 30

Per Car for parking – INR 70
   
Picturesque Palaruvi Falls inside Thenmala Forest, Kerala     
    
Things to keep in mind while visiting Palaruvi Falls:

1) The entire Palaruvi Falls is strictly a ‘NO PLASTIC’ zone. Hence, do carry your food items and beverages in stainless steel or non plastic containers/bottles

2) The monkeys of Palaruvi are known to be rowdy when it comes to food items. Do not open your food or eat your food in front of them. Also, do not try to feed them as they are wild animals

3) Leeches can be found on the hike to Palaruvi Falls, especially during the wet season. Do exercise caution

4) After the cafe at the waterfall entrance, there is no food or water available anywhere. Do carry your snacks and water with you as you will need it

5) The waterfall area and the pool below it has a strong current. The rocks are also slippery. Do watch your step. There are forest guards to help you out in case you need any help

6) Do not use shampoo, soap or oil while bathing as this water source serves up as the drinking water for the people living down stream

7) The forest bus doesn’t leave till the bus is filled up. Do plan your itinerary accordingly   
   
     
    
Best season to visit:

Palaruvi falls usually has water from June through February. February to May is the dry season and there is hardly any water or just a faint trickle. It is best to avoid these three months. During days of heavy rainfall, the waterfall can contain copious amounts of water and at this time, bathing might be restricted. However, hikes to the waterfall and to the view points are usually allowed. It is best to check in with the Kerala Forest Department – Thenmala Ecotourism team about current ground conditions before you embark on your trip.
   
Beautiful landscape surrounding the Palaruvi Falls     
    
How to reach there:

The nearest airport is Thiruvananthapuram international airport, about 90 kms away.

The nearest railway station is Aryankavu, about 6 kms away. The nearest large railway stations are Kollam (84 kms), Shencottai (22 kms) and Trivandrum  (88 kms) away.

Buses plying on the Kollam – Shencottai route will drop you at the entrance to the Thenmala ecotourism office. From here, you will have to walk till the parking lot.  
   
Uphill hike that leads you to Palaruvi Falls in Kerala     
    
Where to stay:

There are a few basic accommodation options inside Thenmala forest. You can stay there if proximity is your main criteria.

If you wish to stay close to the Arabian Sea, look up hotels in Kollam, Varkala and/or Thiruvanathapuram. Luxury properties are also available at these locations.

If you wish to stay in rustic Tamil Nadu, I would recommend staying at the guest houses and resorts in and around Courtallam.

If you wish to stay in traditional Brahmin agraharams, I would recommend trying the homestays or guest houses at the villages of Shencottai, Alwarkurichi or Kallidaikurichi.
   
Palaruvi Falls tumbling down in many steps offering a variety of mini waterfalls to bathe under     
    
Where to eat:

There is a cafe at the waterfall entrance where they dish out basic snacks and beverages. If you wish to have meals, I think you should head to Aryankavu or any of the hotels on the highway.

For slightly more elaborate meals, you should try the restaurants at either Tenkasi, Punalur, Kollam or Thiruvanathapuram.

You can also stock up on fruits at the exotic tropical fruit shops of Puliyarai.    
   
     
    
Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Thenmala Dam: A monsoon pit stop

2) Vintage Pathimoonu Kannara Bridge: Colonial charm of the Indian Railways

3) Lesser Known Kerala Mountain Railways: Treat for Nature Lovers

4) Punalur Suspension Bridge: Historical gem of Kerala

5) 13th century Kasi Visvanathar Temple at Tenkasi

6) Kappil Beach: Sandy beauty hemmed in between the sea and the backwaters

7) Kollam: A coastal town known for its beaches, light houses, backwaters and riverine islands

8) Varkala Beach: That stunning  cliff beach of Kerala where you can wash all your sins away

9) Ponmudi: That offbeat hill station of Kerala with a 360 degree mountain panorama

10) Poovar Island: A romantic gem in Kerala

11) 1000 year old Papanasanathar Temple at Papanasam: Where you can wash all your sins away

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

13) The hidden gem called Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

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

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

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

Continue Reading...

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

Continue Reading...

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

Continue Reading...

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.

Continue Reading...

Friday, February 23, 2024

Kakkachi: The highest point inside Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

Kakkachi - the highest point in Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

It is home to a colonial era golf course. It is part of the catchment area of the Thamirabharani river and its tributaries. It is a gorgeous mix of grasslands, tropical forests and tropical evergreen forests. It is one of the wettest places in Tamil Nadu and definitely part of the wettest region during the North East Monsoon in India. This remote hill station, located at an altitude of close to 5000 feet above MSL is the highest point in the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. I am talking about Kakkachi that is located above the hill station of Manjolai in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.

The gorgeous hill station of Kakkachi in Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

Everything about Kakkachi screams remoteness and beauty. Should I talk about the narrow and bumpy forest road that leads to Kakkachi from Manjolai or should I mention that you hardly see any people here. May be, a few tea estate workers who commute between Oothu and Manjolai. But, apart from that, all you have for company is the gorgeous nature and the rich wildlife here.

Kakkachi Lake view

If you happen to arrive here before 8 AM, you will most likely see this place enveloped in dense mist and only when the mist clears, will you get to see the rolling greens of the colonial era golf course and the beautiful man-made lake next to it. This golf course is not in use anymore as this place falls under the purview of the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, but you will certainly find lots of leeches here especially during the wet season or close to the lake shore.
 
The British era Kakkachi golf course

This highest point inside the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve is your remote hill station in the Western Ghats that is full of natural beauty and charm. Thankfully, the forest department requires prior permission to visit Kakkachi. Else, lots of visitors will change the sanctity of this place. If you like this offbeat hill station inside a tiger reserve, do plan in advance and prepare yourself to be bowled over by its rich nature and gorgeous landscapes.

Kakkachi bathed in gorgeous sunshine

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

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

6) Oothu: A quiet hilly village inside a tiger reserve and surrounded by tea estates

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

Continue Reading...

Monday, January 22, 2024

Festival of Thiruvathirai from a Traditional Tamil Nadu Village: A Photo Series

Lord Natarajar on Goratham takes to the streets of Kallidaikurichi on Thiruvatharai Festival

The festival of Thiruvathirai celebrates the birthday of Lord Natarajar (the dancing form of Lord Shiva). The festival is celebrated in the Margazhi Tamil month (December 15 to January 14) every year. It is a 10 day celebration that culminates on the full moon day (pournamasya) in the Margazhi month and that also happens to be the day when the moon is transiting through the Ardra nakshatra, the favourite nakshatra of Lord Shiva. During the first 9 days, rudra homam and other yagnam are done at the temple and each day the god and his consorts are decorated and taken to the streets on different vehicles (vahanam). On the final day of Thiruvathirai, festivities begin at 4 AM. All the temple gods are bathed in different spices, aromatic herbs and milk. Then, they are decorated. Then, the action shifts to a separate room in the temple, where Lord Natarajar and his consorts are given abhishekham, alangaram and maha mangalarti. The, they are taken to the streets in a large rath and they stop in front of each house so that the people of that house can give their offerings to the lord (fruits, coconut, vastram (clothes), betel leaves, etc.) and in return receive prasadam and the lord’s blessings. Somewhere during this rath yatra, the lord enacts a tandav (cosmic dance). The whole 10 days of this festival is full of intricate rituals, pomp, colour and glamour.

The cosmic dance of Shiva represents five activities – creation, protection, destruction, embodiment and release. In essence, it represents the continuous cycle of creation and destruction. This cosmic dance takes place in every particle and is the source of all energy. Thiruvathirai festival celebrates this ecstatic dance of Lord Shiva.

Kali and Thalagam is the main food offered to the lord on the festival day and it is later enjoyed by the devotees. Kali is prepared using rice, jaggery, moong dal, coconut and ghee. Thalagam is a vegetable broth that is prepared with the following vegetables – pumpkin, ash gourd, broad beans, sweet potato, potato, brinjal, colacasia, yam and plantain.

I got to experience all of this for the entire duration of the 10 day festival at the Chidambareswarar temple in the village of Kallidaikurichi in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. This village nestled at the foot of the Western Ghats offers you a traditional experience of this fairly lesser known festival. I hope you can enjoy some flavour of these 10 festive days through this photo series. Detailed articles will follow soon.

Above photo: Lord Natarajar is taken on a goratham through the agraharam streets of Kallidaikurichi village. This is the only time during the festival that the lord graces his presence during the day. During this rath yatra, Lord Natarajar also enacts his tandav nach or cosmic dance by doing three fast rounds at the junction of two streets.

Lord Shiva on Vrishabha vahanam - Thiruvatharai festival, Kallidaikurichi

Above photo: Lord Natarajar takes to the streets of Kallidaikurichi on his favourite vrishabha vahanam (vehicle of the bull). Every evening at around 6 PM, the lord takes to the streets of the Kallidaikurichi village on the first 9 days of the festival.

Lord Shiva as Ganganadharanathar - Thiruvatharai Festival, Kallidaikurichi

Above photo: This is the final evening ratham where Lord Natarajar poses as Ganganadhanathar where he carries all the tools required for carrying out daily work and he comes along with a small vessel seeking alms from his devotees. This also happens to be the biggest evening ratham.

Beautiful Lord Natarajar Statue at Chidambareswarar Temple, Kallidaikurichi

Above photo: Lord Natarajar at Chidambareswarar temple is all beautifully decked on the day of Thiruvathirai. As Lord Natarajar was born on this day, he is also known as Athiraiyan after the star on which he was born.

Lord Natarajar and his consorts all decked up on Thiruvatharai Festival Day

Above photo: Lord Natarajar and his consorts after the abhishekham and alangaram on Thiruvathirai festival day. Literary and historical evidence in the form of stone inscriptions state that the festival has been celebrated on this day for more than 1500 years.

Getting the Maha Mangalarti ready on Thiruvatharai festival day at Chidambareswarar Temple, Kallidaikurichi

Above photo: Lighting the lamps for the Mahamangalarti. Attending this festival in a small village temple allows you to see and understand all the things that go behind the scenes. Such things get missed when you are a bigger temple due to larger crowds and more noise.

All the powders kept reading for the abhishekham and bathing the gods

Above photo: Different spices, aromatic herbs and cooling powders are added to the water prior to bathing the gods. Each of these powders make the bathing process a sight o behold as these rich colours perfectly contrast the pancha loha utsava moorthy or the black statues in the temple.

Lord Natarajar in Goratham takes to the streets of Kallidaikurichi on Thiruvatharai Festival

Above photo: On Thiruvathirai day, Lord Natarajar has left the temple premises on his goratham. This big rath needs a lot of people power and coordination as it makes its way through the streets of Kallidaikurichi agraharam.

Goddess Sivagami decked up in dry fruits on Thiruvatharai Festival evening

Above photo: Goddess Sivagami is decked up beautifully with dry fruits, raisins, turmeric and flowers. Her face and is annointed with turmeric.Her body is made up of almonds and cashews. Her bindi, eyes, and crown (kreedam) is made of black raisins. Her ear rings and other decorative jewellery are made up of dry figs. This was all done by a skilled artisan from a nearby village.

Beautifully decked Lord Natarajar in Goratham on Thiruvatharai Festival

Above photo: The beautifully decked up ratham of Lord Shiva. Once upon a time, it was pulled by bulls and hence its name ‘gau ratham’. Today, there are no bulls, but the ratham is pulled by humans. It is still called gau-ratham or goratham and the sight of Lord Natarajar on the goratham is a highly anticipated event of the year for the people of Kallidaikurichi village.

Continue Reading...

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Scenic Iron Bridge of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve: Pristine Nature Overloaded

Beautiful nature at Irumbu Palam enroute to Nalmukku, Tamil Nadu

Imagine this! Mist plays hide and seek in this dense jungle. The sun shines bright at times basking all of nature’s beauty in its glory. The constant gurgle of water bodies and the calls of the wild give it a sense of tranquillity. There are many signs of it being a thriving ecosystem. The water is crystal clear. The air is as pure as it can get. The flora that grows here is found only in the most pristine of environments. And everything about it seems to calm your senses. Overall, it is a biodiversity hotspot.

The Irumbu palam or the Iron bridge between Kakkachi and Nalumukku in the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve is one such location where pristine nature seems to exist and thrive in an overload mode. Located in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, this bridge is located deep inside the tiger reserve and is accessible only via a single lane forest road after getting necessary permits from the forest department for yourself and your vehicle.



Wild elephants frequent this place as they seem to absolutely love the bamboo that grows near this bridge. Apparently, the elephants find this bamboo plant to be like the sweetest dessert. Medicinal plants and herbs grow all over this place and that is what makes the herbal waters of this place a prized commodity. Wild ferns adorn the sides of the bridges and the water bodies. And just so you know, ferns grow wild only in the cleanest of ecosystems and they seem to be thriving here.

The mountain stream below this iron bridge is actually two streams, one that comes in from Kakkachi (the highest point of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve) and the other seems to come from Nalumukku (the wettest place of India during the North East Monsoon). Both of them join just a little bit upstream and together they empty themselves into the Manimuthar dam, which later becomes the Manimuthar river, which joins the Thamirabharani river just before the village of Kallidaikurichi.

The Gorgeous Iron Bridge of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

This iron bridge or irumbu palam of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve is a treat for the eyes and just being here for 30 to 60 minutes is enough to charge your batteries. Such is the concentration of nature at this place. It is also the perfect pit stop while exploring the hill stations of Manjolai, Kakkachi, Nalumukku, Oothu and Kudrevetty. This destination is totally offbeat and remote and makes for a special experience in the wild western ghats of Tamil Nadu.

Spectacular panorama at Iron Bridge, KMTR

Best season to visit:

Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve is open all year round unless the roads are closed due to heavy rains or landslides. Monsoon and post monsoon months are best to enjoy the best views.

How to reach there:

There are three options.

1) Take a local bus, but only if you happen to be a local resident

2) Opt for a forest van. The rates are fixed and they move only when the van is full or if you book the full van. They follow a specific route and don’t deviate from it.

3) The best option is to take a private vehicle with you so that you can stop and explore the area that interests you. It is also the only option to reach Kudrevetty. No 2 or 3 wheelers are allowed inside the tiger reserve.

How to get permits:

If you wish 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 permits cost INR 200 at Ambasamudram and you will have to pay the vehicle fee and per person charge at the Manimuthar forest check post. If you book a room at the Kudrevetty forest rest house, then that booking is good enough and you don’t need to get the permits in advance.

The iconic Iron Bridge of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

Where to stay:

There are only two stay options at Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve.

1) The forest rest houses at Kudrevetty, Mundanthurai and Kalakad. You need to book them in advance either at the forest office in Ambasamudram or online on KMTR website.

2) The EB guest house at Kodayar dam. You will need to know someone in the electricity department to get a booking here.

Pristine nature at the Iron bridge enroute to Nalmukku from Oothu

Where to eat:

There are only a few places to eat inside the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. You can can find some basic tea, vada and biscuits at Manjolai during the day time. But, if you want a meal, you have to call and order in advance. The places where you can find such meals are at Manjolai, Oothu and/or the forest rest house at Kudrevetty. The forest rest house at Kudrevetty will serve you food only if you are staying with them. If you want non vegetarian food, you need to ask for it explicitly in advance.

Elephant bamboo zone near Iron bridge, KMTR

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

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

6) Oothu: A quiet hilly village inside a tiger reserve and surrounded by tea estates

7) Kakkachi: The highest point of KMTR and home to a colonial era golf course

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

9) Cycling through the backyards of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

Continue Reading...
Logo Credits : Jobi T Chacko. UI/UX Credits : Murugan S Thirumalai
Copyright © 2009-2024 Sankara Subramanian C (www.beontheroad.com)
Reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited. All Rights Reserved

Join the Travel Club for FREE!!
and every fortnight get in your inbox...interesting experiential and off-beat travel stories , destination guides, handy tips (travel, photography and visa) based on personal experience, global vegetarian delights with helpful survival guides and gorgeous world travel images and videos as I (the Indian traveler) trot the globe! And a lot of other travel invites and soon to be launched goodies !

* indicates required
Close