Oct 28, 2013

Rameswaram and Dhanushkoti

It's no fun typing without all 10 of one's fingers. I am an old-fashioned touch-typist. When two fingers are out of commission with huge burn-blisters bulging at their ends, typing becomes very painful. So after two attempts in which I tried to remember to use other digits for the letters frequented by the left middle and ring fingers and succeeded in only hurting myself more, I gave up trying to post this last week. Much better now, thank you!

I left off our journey at the river-mouth of the Vaiga. Well, we passed on to that man-made marvel which held the record for the longest sea-bridge in India for a long time - the Pamban bridge, along with the railway bridge that connects Rameswaram to the mainland. It stretched and stretched ahead of us...

The bridge is now under renovation and fortunately we were allowed to stop and take pictures. Here is the drawbridge part of the railway bridge...

Boats dotting the bay and lined up against the island shoreline...


And here's all of us on the windy bridge...

As we drove on, our brother-in-law called to check if we were in any trouble with Phailin, but we replied that she had spared the whole of Tamil Nadu for the time being. On being told that we were heading into Rameswaram, he told us to go straight to Dhanushkoti first since that trip was time consuming and they did not allow tours after 5 pm. It was already one in the afternoon, so we decided to postpone lunch, snacked to keep up our energy and drove through Rameswaram on to the straight road to Dhanushkoti.

DH wondered if we were on an airstrip rather than a road. Later we came to know that this road was actually built over the railway line that had extended up to Dhanushkoti before that fateful cyclone in 1964. 

Soon, we reached a stretch of the road that was bound on both sides by long walls and found sand encroaching on the road. Finally there were only a few sand dunes and kaccha huts around us - mostly stalls selling soft drinks and snacks on both sides. There is a paid parking site near the Navy Observation Post. From there, we were packed into one of these with 20 other people!

Gee, I didn't know that tempos could be used for off-roading, but that is what they were doing. We bumped and swayed over the dunes and rocks (good thing we'd skipped lunch), our driver  jumping off several times either to check whether his vehicle was still in one piece or to help out other drivers who had some trouble with their ramshackle vehicles. There were times when we seriously doubted whether we could make it back to the parking lot that day itself...

And then there we were - just a stone's throw away from Sri Lanka (if one can throw a stone for about 18 km!!). The sun on the sand and the frothy waves was blinding and the sea was all shades of blue. Large wading pools dotted the beach and little fish swam in all of them. It was totally unlike any other beach I've seen. Sand for far as the eye can see and tidal pools glinting everywhere. 

But one can't afford to stand and stare or take lots of photographs standing, sitting and lying down when one has to look after two active boys. So most of my time on the beach was spent shouting at them to come away and anxiously scanning the waves for friends of the jelly fish we saw in the Vaiga.

I allowed them to wade in only the shallowest of the tidal pools where I could see the bottom clearly.  But I did take a chance to wade in one murky pool which was knee deep for me! 

Then our tempo driver herded us back into our camel-safari (the same swaying and same pace) and jiggled us all up to the ghost town of Dhanushkoti. Trying to negotiate my way to the ruins through the sand, I did wish I were a camel!  These are all that remain of a once-busy railway station where passengers to and from Sri Lanka used to throng...

The last train to reach this station was thrown off its rails and all passengers were drowned in the huge tidal waves that came in from the Gulf of Mannar.  And no one knew about it till the communication lines were opened up a couple of days later. This church...

and a few other broken buildings...

are all that is left of a once-bustling port and seaside village. Now all one can see are coconut-thatched stalls of vendors selling seashell items.

Why did the walls of the church look as though they had been under the sea for a long time?

All too soon, the return journey was over. In comparison with the splendid and tragic desolation of Dhanushkoti, the town of Rameswaram appeared squalid and constricted except for a huge square near the temple. We had a pretty tough time finding a hotel room, but were fortunate to secure a good room in a hotel that had a very clean restaurant too. We set out in time for the evening darshan of Lord Siva at whose feet Lord Sree Rama had worshipped before setting off across the sea to fight Ravana.

I have no idea why the temple authorities in India choose to plaster the facades with huge notices that block all the wonderful architectural details. Can you make out the entrance there?

The first thing one notices on entering the temple premises is the all-pervading wetness. There are 22 wells (theerthams) in the temple. Devotees are supposed to first take a ticket for the whole round of theerthams. The theerthams are all numbered and there are helpful boards in the temple to show you the way to the next set of wells as soon as you are done with one. At each well, they draw bucketfuls of water and pour it over your head (you can also go the route of sprinkling the theertham over your head as I did, just make sure that the temple staff know in advance before they splash water all over you). There are changing rooms at the end of the circuit where one can change into dry clothes and then go inside for darshan.

Travellers' tip:  The outer parikrama path is extremely slippery at places. Be sure to walk very carefully over the stretches where there is no plastic matting. My advice would be to stop using a pumice stone on your heels for one month before planning to visit. Let the scales roughen on your soles and cracks bloom on your heels, as you will need every bit of traction :).

The last and 23rd theertham is the Agni theertham which is the sea itself. As the dusk deepened, we made our way down to the sea. The kids had enjoyed the theertham route and spent some time relaxing on the sea wall, hair all tussled from the vigorous towel-drying by their scaredy cat mom...

The next day, we set off back to Thiruvananthapuram, following the coastal high way almost down to Thoothukkudi, then cutting across to Tirunelveli. There was nothing to look at but scrub-land and huge tilled fields waiting and praying for the rains. But then I saw a curious contraption being pushed along by several ladies and took a closer look...

It's a cart to hold exactly six large pots of water! Gone are the days when those poor women had to carry two pots on their head and one in each hand. Bless the persons who thought up this extremely labor-saving push-cart to lighten those women's loads! They made a very colorful sight all along that way with brightly colored plastic pots of all hues...

As we approached Tirunelveli, the only really green patch of land appeared near the Thambarani river, which to our delight had water in it and was surrounded by fields of light-green paddy seedlings!

We decided to break our journey in Tirunelveli for a while and since our Gmaps pointed out the way correctly, one-way et al., we decided to "stretch our legs" in Chennai Silks. When we got out from there, DH proposed stretching our legs again in RMKV that was just across the road. But since I had sensed his credit card groaning and grinding its teeth in Chennai Silks, we decided to have lunch and then leave RMKV for the next time.  Soon enough we were back on the NH 7, enjoying its world-class quality and fortunately no jay-walkers or traffic offenders this time.

On the way, I kept trying to take pics of this little hill that played hide and seek with the highway..

That is when our little kiddo asked me this, "Amma, how are hills and mountains made?" I toyed with the idea of throwing the plate tectonics theory at the five-year-old, then confessed, "I have no idea, baby..."

"Oh, I know how they are made!"

"Indeed? How?"

"First you take a hill egg, put it on the ground and cover it with soil. Then pour some water over it and the hill will grow up."

"Uh, okay, probably", I said as DH and I exchanged sly, all-knowing smiles over this cute theory. And that is exactly when our kid gave us this facer...

"Really? I was just pulling your leg. I KNOW that is NOT how hills are made."

Oh well, I guess he's growing up! Boo hoo!

Phew, isn't that a long post! No way I could've done it with just 8 fingers working! No siree!

Oct 18, 2013

Puja Weekend Long Trip - Madurai Rameswaram

Talk about a hasty travel plan! Last Wednesday we were looking for options to travel during the Diwali weekend, found the complete absence of bookable train/bus tickets and opted for a long drive. But since we are expecting the arrival of a new niece/nephew in the last week of October, (DH keeps wondering aloud whether he'll be an aunt or uncle this time over and I tell him that is a very stale PJ!) we decided to keep that weekend for baby visiting and settled for the Puja hols. We didn't make any reservations whatsoever and just plunged ahead on Saturday morning.

On Saturday, the sun came up on us entering Kaliyakkavilai via Poovar and Uchakkada. The road that had been silky smooth till then but suddenly gave way to huge pits that seemed to have been left by some Decepticons who had preceded us to go to Kanniyakumari! It was with relief that we reached Arulvaimozhi and joined the fabled NH7 - wow, what a road!!!

She enticed DH so much with her buttery complexion and sinuous curves that I had to keep a strict watch on the speedometer to prevent any indiscretions - men and good roads - absolutely explosive combination!!!! But I had no need to worry. After all we are still in India and there are natural speed breakers ...

Yep, intrepid jaywalkers all over the place taking leisurely strolls across the tollway not even noticing the honking hunks of metal hurtling towards them. After all what is the price of a few human souls including those of the ones in the vehicles??? Around Tirunelveli, we even saw a pickup coming towards us calmly in the onward lane. I was so indignant that I forgot to take a picture. 

Anyway after no losses other than those incurred at the 4 or 5 toll booths, we reached Madurai around noon. Fortunately Gmaps guided us straight to the Madurai Jn railway station which is just a stone's throw away from the Meenakshi temple and opposite which hotels are lined up in orderly fashion. It was just a matter of choosing an acceptable room and ensconcing ourselves in it. We turned on the TV for the progress of Phailin and were relieved that she would make landfall only in AP and Odisha, so we could visit Rameswaram in peace.

Contrary to my belief that the Meenakshi Amman temple would be visible from a distance, we could find the gopurams only when we were directly in front of them. I really wished there were zoning laws preventing the building of tall structures around such landmarks. But that gem of Indian architecture was all that I had imagined it to be. Our younger one kept asking if it was as big as Padmanabha Swamy temple and I told him that probably 4 Padmanabha Swamy temples could fit inside that huge complex. Once we were inside, I wished I had several eyes to take in everything. It was difficult to concentrate on chanting when there were so many divine sculptures around. After worshipping Sundaresar and Meenakshi Amman, we also took in the Aayiramkaal mandapam. 

Our little one was very much taken by the hundreds of Nataraja idols he saw in the temple...

The mudras are totally wrong, but you get the idea....!

We finally came out of the temple near dusk and just in time to catch the first light and sound show at the Thirumalai Nayakar Palace nearby. 

As we sat in the open courtyard of the king's dream palace and listened to the stories of bravery and treachery, DH wondered aloud whether the king had ever dreamed that his dream palace would once be open to visitors who paid for the privilege. Well, he couldn't have imagined that his own grandson would demolish part of the palace to take away fabulous wood carvings in preparation to build a palace for himself, so what was the point of thinking 5 centuries ahead???

The next morning, we set out to find the Kochi-Dhanushkodi highway. Here Gmaps tripped us up, because of the changing one-way laws. So we sought the help of traffic policemen who gave us the correct directions. At the edge of the city we sought the famous Theppankulam - the 16-acre manmade lake where the famous Theppa Thiruvizha takes place. What we saw was this...

I guess the rainy season has to come before this becomes a lake again. We had heard that the pavilion in the middle of the Kulam was fabulous and was the favorite retreat of Raja Thirumalai. Since we had a long way to drive and didn't dare walking through several cricket pitches, we decided to give it a miss.

On Gmaps I found that the Kochi-Dhanushkodi ran parallel to the famous Vaiga river and eagerly looked forward to seeing her when she curved to come near us on the road. But the river bed broke my heart..

Yep, that area between the two ridges is the river bed - dry and dusty. But the saving grace was the greenery of the land around her, unlike the arid stretches on the sides of the NH7, this highway was lined with tall trees, the gift of the Vaiga. Some other day perhaps, I can see her in full spate...

It was also heartening to see the clearing work going on in the canals - which signified preparation for the north-eastern monsoons. On the way out from Madurai, we saw several educational institutions and familiar place names. As we passed the verdant Manamadurai, I searched in vain for the Pachaikkili so that I could reassure her that her eyes and wings are indeed very beautiful :) Got the song????

After we passed a busy Ramanathapuram, the land on both sides began to narrow down. At first when I saw a blue glimmer on my left, I thought we were seeing the Bay of Bengal, but when I checked my map, I saw it was the Vaiga. DH stopped near a maidan and we jumped out wondering how a river could have water now if she had been dry all along the way.

A cloudy white shape in the water close to the shore gave me the first clue and I warned the kids not to go near the water. A tasting later I knew it. It was a jelly fish in the water and the water was just the sea backing up the bay in high tide. So we continued our journey to Rameswaram.

I think that's enough for the day - the Pamban bridge, Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi are begging for a post by themselves.

Oct 9, 2013

Eyes bigger than tummy...

For years, DH has had this habit. He peeks over my shoulder while I am cooking and I can anticipate his question well in advance, "Is that going to be enough?" Never mind if I was cooking for just the two of us in our younger days, or for a party of ten or daily meals for the four of us now - it has been  always the same question, "Is that going to be enough?" The ONE single time there hadn't been enough was when I had slightly underestimated the amount of rice required for an Onam meal in Minneapolis way back in 2006 and that was soon remedied by a second pressure cookerful which was ready by the time we needed it. Nevertheless, the question has continued down the years and never fails to elicit an eye-roll reaction from me and this comment:

"Your eyes are way bigger than your tummy!"

Well, things have a way of coming back at one. Last Wednesday, we went to the DC Books International Book Festival here (I got a personal invitation over the phone on account of my being a VIP member! :)). It also happened to be the day we took my MIL for a cardiac checkup for which we had to wait about half a day. So the book fair was a treat for us. That is, until we got to the venue, found it extremely crowded on account of the Gandhi Jayanti holiday and our younger son threw a tantrum after he was woken up from his nap in the car. Suffice to say, I just grabbed a few books from here and there, spent more time pushing through the crowds than browsing and came out with my purchases in record time.

Yes, I got my long-awaited Completed Works of Bashir! Those two tomes are enough to build serious muscles! :) But the aftertaste of an unsatisfactory book fair attendance lingered on... So, on the way back I decided that I would make a trip to the fair on a working day morning, all alone and have my fill of books. Until I started putting away my purchases in their appropriate shelves that night...

What was this?  Markus Zusak's The Book Thief? Did I finish this? Then I saw a dog-eared copy of The Story of My Experiments with Truth (how appropriate for the day!). I opened it to find that it had been purchased back when I was 14 years of age. When had I last read this? What did I remember of it? Just two or three episodes probably - the beef tea episode, the toilet-cleaning episode or did I remember them more from the movie Gandhi? Hmm...

Then I went over my favorite reading spots around the house and found five half-finished books and brought them back to my den. I threw open my bookshelf doors and took a detailed survey of the books there...

Three years ago when I was putting my book collection in those shelves, I had promised myself that I would keep only those books that I enjoyed reading several times over (I either donate or sell the others at used book stalls) and I would try to keep my collection within that bookshelf. What I forgot to do is to keep track of my reading. So I opened up a notebook and started writing down the titles of those books that I had not read, not finished or did not remember the contents of and then counted...


Sixty nine books that are still strangers to me! Residing in my own bookshelf. Oh, how could I? Gaah! NOW look whose eyes are bigger than their tummy!!! 

So now I'm going on a book diet. No more new books till I finish the ones in my shelf and get rid of those unwanted. That also means no treating myself to a solitary second visit to the book fair this year :(.  Oh why, oh why did I have to count????

Come to think of it, it's been a while since DH has made that "Is that enough?" comment on food - not since his annual PSC test last year (no not Public Service Commission; Pressure, Sugar & Cholesterol, of course). And come to think of it, I think I'm missing it a teeny little bit. Yep, I am!

Oct 5, 2013

It doesn't pay...

... to be a too cocky novice microwave baker, or one might end up with this... boo hoo

Why, why, why after I had used the same recipe to make two perfect cakes before should this happen? Any answers? And that too when I was expecting guests?!?!?! 

Oh well, after a long clean-up session, the kids had fun eating up the chewy, brownie-like portion left in the dish. Sigh... when we should have been eating moist, melting chocolate cake - oh well. There has to be something once in  a while to justify the name of my blog, right?  :)

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