It sounds like such a cliche in today’s world where almost everyone claims to be struck by wanderlust. But one thing that I guess sets my craze apart is that I am more into exploring places than sightseeing. Again, that came out as another cliche. Let me elaborate further.
I don’t care for destinations. I don’t care about whether the places I visit are sites worthy of exploration, or whether they feature in magazines and websites. I care not for public approval or appraisal. Everyone talks about Goa and Kashmir and Paris and Switzerland.. I don’t deny that I would love to go to all those places too, but I love equally to explore tiny niches that hold little value in the eyes of the average traveller. I don’t care if the place is amenable to be tagged on Facebook or to be bragged about to friends, I just adore being somewhere new; no matter what awaits me, if it’s someplace I’ve never been to, if it has something unseen in store for me, I fall in love with it.
I also love getting to know places.. living somewhere for months and slowly making my acquaintance, knowing where the supermarket is, where the best eateries are, solving the puzzling traces of the little roads and by lanes till I can trace them on my palm, and if I were to pass by years later, it would feel like a glimpse of home.
This could be why travelling to the various regions in Cuddalore excited me so. The other day in Neyveli, it was past 1 in the afternoon when my work was done, and I asked the driver, a local, to find me a good place to eat. He stopped the taxi in front of a dilapilated building just off the main road. Mudaliar Mess. I raised an eyebrow but decided to go in with him. It had originally been a larger hotel, but the whole of the front part had been recently destroyed to facilitate road expansion. It remained as such, a crumbling ruin with a small opening that showed you some old benches laden with fresh green banana leaves in place, ready to be served lunch on. A couple of ladies waited on rusty chairs waiting for a parcel. The food was really good, but I could only eat so much, even after being compelled to take a second helping by those who served. They joked about how skinny I am, in the way only friendly small town folks do.It was a happy meal, not just filling or sumptuous, but truly happy. And that’s pretty lucky, don’t you think?
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 meencurry (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.