A trip to Idukki district had long been on the charts.
Ever since I saw pictures of Calvary Mount posted by my cousins who went there, I kept bugging my friends for a picnic there. Studies and work intervened, and it kept getting postponed. But just before Christmas, we were able to keep a day aside to meet up. All of our exams were over which was cause enough for jubilation, and the results were not out which meant hope still prevailed. The few of us who had jobs were able to get off work due to the warranted Christmas break. All was well with the world.
We met up in the morning at B’s house in Idukki, arriving from various parts of the state in time for breakfast. The mouth watering sight of kappa and meen curry (a combination dish of boiled tapioca seasoned with turmeric, onions, green chillies and curry leaves, eaten with fish gravy or pickle) greeted us. It is part of the indigenous cuisine and a popular food choice for Keralites. We were no exception. My recent stint as a vegetarian received a major blow and I guiltily savoured some gravy.
The first pitstop for us was a cursory one, at the ‘Pavilion’ half way up, a greying building built atop a rock that offered a view of the valley and settlements below and the distant hills and the climb that followed.
It was warm sunny weather with the hint of a cool breeze, and we stood there for a while taking in the spectacular view.
The next stop was at the Cheruthoni Dam. Idukki is known for its forest cover and the many dams that contribute to the bulk of hydroelectric power generation in the state. The gigantic Idukki Dam is a short distance from Cheruthoni Dam.
It is a high security area rarely open to the public, except in holiday seasons. As luck could have it, it was open when we visited. But cameras and mobile phones were strictly not allowed inside for security reasons.
It was almost noon by then. We walked atop the dam under the sweltering sun thankful for having the good sense to bring a couple of umbrellas. Once on the other side, we walked along a path cut all the way around a hill to reach the Idukki Dam on the other side. A detour on the way led to a dark cave, allegedly the site where the movie Vaishali, a cult classic, was shot. Bats that hung overhead flew restlessly as our footsteps echoed. It turned out to be not a cave, but a tunnel and opened to a breathtaking view on the other side. I missed my camera terribly.
The Idukki Dam, one of the biggest arch dams in Asia, is built across Periyar, the largest river in Kerala, in the sweet spot between two granite hills. History has it that the location was pointed out in the early 1900s by Kolumban, a tribal head who knew the wild landscape like the palm of its hand. A statue is erected in his memory in the vicinity. The dam was erected decades later, in conjunction with the Canadian government.
When we arrived at the other end of the dam after a 3 km hike, our car was waiting for us. We drove a short distance down to the sleepy little town of Idukki proper and had lunch at Hotel Everest, a small place with homely food that pleased our taste buds and filled our tummies at extremely cheap rates. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a non-touristy taste of Kerala.
Once we had our fill, we set off to Mount Calvary. We opted to go up all the way by car as none of us looked forward to another long walk up the hill. Besides, the sun would probably set by the time we made it up there.
Mount Calvary is Kerala at its best, a nook, an alcove, untainted by crowds. Autumn had dulled the colours of the valley, but as first time visitors we were in awe.
We walked across the hillside, taking in the magic of the vast skies above and the glittering river below, punctuated by little green islands.
Park benches made of bamboo were scattered over the hill. We chose the occasional bare rocks instead, and sat there welcoming the evening breeze.
The hilltop was a shade of brown, duly awaiting spring to turn green again. A few wildflowers defied the season, glowing yellow amidst the dry grass.
My attempts to capture anything that did not involve human heads met with disapproval from the now boisterous troop, and they tried to foil my endeavours to the best of their ability. I did manage to escape their notice at times and get some covert clicks.
We were a tired happy bunch by sunset. A new year lay ahead, new plans, new prospects and new hopes. We did not know when we would all meet again. Idukki is vast and gorgeous, and we could only see a bit of it that day. But as we sat there watching the sun go down, we had smiles and laughter left over from the day and we had one another, and that made it a little bit of heaven.
P.S. The photos do little justice to the scenery and feel of Calvary Mount. I hear it is even more beautiful in the spring and summer months.