Dec 30, 2007

The Backwaters of Kumarakom

Kumarakom is considered to be the epitome of Kerala's backwaters. I always had a fascination for Kumarakom: having read about the time former Prime Minister Vaypayee spent there penning his famous muse, having seen nice pictures of the Taj Heritage resort and having heard about Arundhati Roy spending time there getting inspired for book 'God of Small Things'.

We had some filler time after our trip to Sabarimala and before our journey back to Cochin to get to Hyderabad and headed straight to the Taj resort after a brief search for other options. They had a 2.5 hour trip through backwaters that was very expensive but we went ahead being a bit misled by the Arundhati Roy village story. We quickly realised early on in the trip that there was no separate destination and that all the nondescript things we saw were already part of it. Though our enthu was down, we went ahead but decided to cut short the trip by an hour or so.

The backwaters were idyllic with paddy fields on either side of the canals and lots of kids having fun in the water. I noticed several not-so-poor-kids asking for pens (used to asking the phirangis I guess). There were several houseboats of various sizes and hues. Some very four bedroom mansions on waters (costing 60-70 lakh rupees and rented out for Rs 30k per night) while others were more modest. We soon hit upon the open backwaters which was actually a huge lake that separated Kottayam district from Alleppey. The huge lake was like a sea and the boat sped like an arrow. We spotted sea birds too in addition to the cormorants and snake birds we saw earlier. The view here reminded me of the boat ride near Clearwater Beach in Florida, only thing missing was waterfront mansions owned by the movie moguls.

Once we were back the Taj staff were gracious enough to refund some of the money since we came back earlier. Overall it was a short and sweet trip leaving me longing to come back once more, this time to spend a leisurely day on a house boat.


Last week I had an opportunity to go on a short but intense pilgrimage to Sabarimala, the abode of Lord Ayyappa. Ayyappa is known to embody the two divine aspects - Siva and Vishnu. What I did not know was that there is a Masjid in the foothills involved in the story of his avatar; devotees pay their respects there as well before trekking to the main temple.

We landed in Cochin on the night before and quickly took a cab to Guruvayur temple situated North of the city. There was a huge rush at the temple and it was reverberating with thousands of Ayyapa's devotees. The devotees were ecstatic chanting loudly and literally bouncing in the air. The darshan at Guruvayur was extremely brief and the light was very low, nevertheless my second visit to the historic temple was good.

We made a quick halt at Erimeli the gateway to Sabarimala hills on the way back from Cochin. It was 2 am but the place looked like what Paris would on a similar Saturday night bustling with devotees. They were dressed like tigers, kinkaras and ascetics and chanting loudly running across the town. Somehow this verve and bounce was not that much visible in the actual climb to Sabarimala.

We then moved to Pamba and reached there by 4 am and took some time to get the climb started. The climb to Sabarimala is done barefoot and is about 6 km long. It must have taken us 3-4 hours to climb and the crowds were huge with the wait time for darshan rumoured to have been 12-18 hours! We were in the 'civil dress' queue not having taken the 41 day deeksha (vow), and the advantage is that the wait time was hardly 15 minutes. I managed to make a couple of more darshans and felt the trip was worthwhile after that. Prasadam was scarce due to some artifical crisis created, undoubtedly by the corrupt temple administration there. So ineffective is the administration that, inspite of a reputed 20 million devotees visiting each year the sanitary facilities enroute were pathetic and even inhuman. Attempts to have a setup similar to Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) appear stuck (see yesterday's article in the Hindu).

After a good darshan, the climb back started and it was definitely much tougher than the climb up. Walking downhill barefoot hurts the feet due to the sharp stones and one is forced to control the impact pulling on the calf muscles over 2-3 hours. Finally it was a huge relief to get back to Pampa and the comfort of the vehicle. We headed to Kottayam our place for the night halt.

Kottayam is a quaint little town that reminded me much of Mangalore. We stayed at the Mali hotel (next to the railway station) which had a decent room but everything else about the hotel was a sham. The Multi-gym was nothing but a dingy basement, the dinner was stale and stinking (an 'Andhra meals' board was setup to attract the majority Telugu crowds) and contrary to the promises there was neither a massage center nor a Jacuzzi! I ditched the meals there ended up having a hot Chapati based meal at the vegetarian restaurant in 'down town'. The next morning we purchased a lot of Kerala plum cake (it was Christmas eve!) and some golden stuff (Kerala is famous for less adulterated gold) before heading to the famous backwaters of Kumarakom.

Dec 9, 2007

The Running Bug

Things kind of cooled down after the recent 10k I completed. However couple of days back I was in Mumbai and saw a banner for the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. That planted a seed in my mind which kept growing and this morning I was flush with excitement at the prospect of going to Mumbai again on Jan 20 (about 6 weeks from now) to run my first half marathon. After checking a few websites about training schedules, I figured that I need at least 10-12 weeks of training before the attempt. That cooled down the enthu but then I saw several other cities hosting running events in India. I am now looking forward to the Chennai Marathon whose date is yet to be announced.