“To traverse beyond the limitations of my mind, I travel to look upon the journey within myself.” With these thoughts, I set off on an adventure of a lifetime. A voyage to the mysterious beauties that unravel the most amazing parts of my country. A travelogue to capture the ‘Incredible India’ down South.
My visit to Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Kerala had begun. I had heard from my friends, people didn’t speak anything else but their local languages out there. That made me equally foreign to these lands as anyone else who came from any other country. To me, this was a challenge, and a trip that would be monumental after I had completed it. With solitude on my side I had decided to explore over 17 superb locations in 15 days. Most importantly, I was going to discover the beautiful culture South India had to offer and document each and every location as a journal on my blog. With a Vernian, inspiration l had to ensure this journey went down in my books as the best one!
It all started with Chennai. From my helpful twitter friends to the conductors and everyone else warmly responding to my requests, helping me out wherever I went in little or broken English they spoke in. Yet always willfully extending their support without any intent but to help me out. With a sultry atmosphere, one I hadn’t anticipated, I started my journey by heading off to the Marina Beach. The warm, humid air in Chennai bore resemblance to the weather that I was used to during the summers in Mumbai. But, in winter, this humidity came to me as a surprise particularly when it was about 20-22 degrees centigrade back home… Nonetheless my objective was to start off with a beautiful array of sunrise shots to tell a story of this marvel in Chennai! The experience of going to Marina beach, travelling amongst the locals in the train was something I could relate to. Very similar to our Mumbai Locals… Gave me content in the fact that our cities, despite the cultural difference, had a lot in common.
Rest of Tamil Nadu was a quest for my spiritual journey across the fortresses and temples of the most majestic kinds in the country! From a mysterious yet wonderful experience in Kancheepuram, to satisfying and peaceful tryst with Lord Shiva in Thrichy, every temple had a story of its own. The most appealing temple was of course Thanjavur, unique in its own way and its rustic feel gave a nice ambience to the story it had to showcase. Different from all the other temples in the state, it had a charm in its own. Ruled by various dynasties from the Cholas to the Nayakas and the Marathas, it gave a completely versatile feel to itself. The grandeur it had was read between the brightness it shone despite the sun setting down upon its face. Abode to one of the biggest Nandi Statues, the Brihadeeswara Temple was an enchanting destination.
Then there was Rameshwaram. The same island where existed the famous temple of Lord Rama, the mighty king from Ramayana. This was the same location where an army of millions of apes (vanar-sena) built a bridge made out of floating stones engraved with Lord Rama’s name itself. This bridge built to take the army across the borders of India to the Golden empire of Lanka and wage an epic battle of great proportions upon the demons of this kingdom.
Something you can’t forget in Hindu mythology. A battle that spoke to us of the triumph of good over evil! A battle that till today is considered as a conquest of moral right over plain wrong. It was quite an experience, one that I would never forget.
While Tamil Nadu has its own share of spirituality I also enjoyed the beauty, nature and wildlife at the most amazing waterfalls ever… I sat in a small canoe or sort of a paddle boat to take the streams of Hogennakalu Waterfalls. A noteworthy place with perennially flowing streams of waterfalls. Off the border of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, one can easily reach this place from Salem by bus and literally take a boat towards the Karnataka border on the disputed Cauvery river. With an aquarium and a crocodile rehabilitation center to its attraction, this place certainly is thronged by children, youngsters and elders alike.
Finally Tamil Nadu ended with a short visit to the mystical land of Kanyakumari, popularly known for Triveni Sangam, meeting point of the three oceans that surround the peninsular region of our Incredible India. One that envisages the true feeling of being in touch with the spiritual side of yourself. Known for The Swami Vivekananda memorial rock . A place where the great leader attained enlightenment of sort and found bliss within himself. Visiting the most beautiful temples in our country to being overwhelmed by a sense of spirituality my journey across the state of Tamil Nadu truly gave me an understanding of oneness to myself.
Tamil Nadu certainly took a lot of my time and energy due to constant traveling in state transport buses in this rugged sojourn of mine. Whereas, my stay in Pondicherry was one of great relaxation and unwind. A visit that made me realize how time stood still and made me feel like a recluse of sorts in a land of the unknown.
Highlight of Pondicherry was tasting delicious food of various cultures dished out at the most amazing restaurants in town. From Chettinad food at the Apache Restaurant to french delicacies at the Le Café, Pondicherry was all about living life with the luxury similar to the tastes of most of the Europeans around. Spending three magical days exploring various parts of Pondicherry on a rented motorbike, places like the French Colony, the museum, Auroville and a lot of shopping streets across various parts of the town gave me the feeling of belongingness to that place. Sipping beer at the beach restaurant at night, listening to the roaring waves in a calm that gave most frenzied thoughts a form of tranquil made me realize what we miss in our caught-in-a-rut kind of a life.
Lastly, being in Kerala, God’s own country was like being in heaven itself. A boat ride in the backwaters of Kerala got me close to nature and made me believe in what their lifestyle stood for… Very quiet, peaceful and serene… The melodious sound of birds chirping in the background and a real feeling of standstill, told me a lot about how people loved and lived life in this paradise.
One of the most memorable trips within Kerala would be my infamous boat ride from Kottayam to Alaphuzza. It’s listed as one of the recommended things to do by Lonely Planet Magazine. From the start it was memorable especially after gorging on the sumptuous Malabari Parota with Kadala Curry.
What a way to start off a journey across the Venice of Kerala. Going to Venice has always been my dream… Until I get there, I have to make do with this one! A notable thing we did on our way back was to stop by at the very famous RBLOCK Island. We ate some good food and had local coconut palm beer, also known as Toddy… This Island was manmade by over 5000 villagers led by Mr. Baker. This was done in order to get more land to cultivate Paddy… A fantastic place for you to take a pitstop and eat some delicious food.
Lastly, I couldn’t ask for anything better than finishing my trip with a visit to Fort Kochi, a place that will be etched in my memories for its diversity and remarkable beauty, especially with its blend of cultures and religions. The Jew Street and the Paradesi Jewish Synagogue… gave me a mesmerizing feel of being in a place of some rarity. You will find a very different setting out here and experience a different feeling while walking on this street. The Paradesi Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations. Then there are the Chinese Fishing Nets, with magnificent fixed installations for an unusual form of fishing makes for great photographs.
The end of my expedition. Travelling around, wandering like a nomad for 15 days. A feeling of bittersweet, told me that my journey was over, just like the setting sun when I left Fort Kochi. Indeed at the end of that 15th day I felt like Phileas Fogg, whose surmounting adventure had successfully come to a fulfilling end. One that I will cherish forever until I come back to soak it in yet again…
P.S This is my writing sample to Glimpse‘s ’Correspondent Program for Fall 2011‘, Also the shortened version of it is my submission to WorldNomads , Travel Writing Scholarship for 2011 which can be read here
© Copyright 2011 Srinivas Kulkarni. All rights reserved
So the other day, I was watching, Life is a Beach on NDTV Good times, that’s when I thought to myself, How many beaches have I traveled to? Come to think of it, I’m more a mountain person than a beach person. But nonetheless, there are some beaches that I’d love to die for. The early morning sunrise, the long walks on the beach, the non-stop swim for hours, the amazing sound of the ocean and the waves hitting at you, the cool breeze blowing across your face and of course, the best food and some alcohol to give you some company. How can I not like the beaches?? That’s when I decided to list down some of the beach holidays I have been to. Here’s the list:
1. Palolem, Goa
This has to be the prize catch. Of all the beaches that I’ve been to, this is the one that I have visited at least thrice. South Goa has it’s own charm and Palolem rocks when it comes to a clean beach, nice blue water and one of the most amazing beach shacks and restaurants across Goa. This has to be one of the best considering the beautiful Sunset point, the Kayaking and the dolphins it has. Not only that, it also is near the Agonda fort, and another similarly serene and calm beach, called Agonda. Both these destinations are a few kms away and one can bike it up. If you are in Goa, taking a bike ride is not new to you, but of course.
2. Gokarna, Karnataka
Gokarna has it’s own charm. Besides being renowned for it’s historic and symbolical reference when it comes to Lord Shiva, this destination has an isolated beach called Om, beach. Everyone has a relaxed laidback attitude and this beach is perfect if you want to just put your feet up and have a really chilled out long weekend. I’ve been here once or twice, taking a bike ride from Goa to Gokarna is quite adventurous. Fun if I may say so, especially if you are into riding. The beach has about seven eight shacks and they are pretty reasonably priced and they most certainly serve one of the most amazing dishes. If you are a food buff, this one place called Namaste Cafe’s to die for…
3. Anjuna, Goa
Mostly in Goa, I prefer south Goa, but if you are in North Goa and cannot go further, then I’d recommend either Anjuna or Vagator. Anjuna wit the first preference. Most people like to hang out at Calangute or Bagha if they are party mongers. I prefer Anjuna for it’s serentiy and its beauty. But besides that, Anjuna is world famous for its trance parties held on the beach during the tourist season. Anjuna also hosts the famous flea market wherein you can purchase many things, ranging from fruits to jewelry, clothes and electronic devices.
4. Vagator, Goa
This is my place of solitude. I’d like to call this beach as one of the hippie beaches that still hasn’t lost it’s charm. This is totally isolated and if you have to get here, having your own bike or car is the best option. The whole amazing look and feel of the beach is what adds to the whole charm. Vagator Beach is the northernmost beach of Bardez Taluka, Goa. It is located on the opposite bank of the Chapora River from Morjim in Pernem. To the south of Vagator is Anjuna, one of the first hippy haunts of Goa. Vagator Beach has dramatic red cliffs looking down on the shore and two fresh water springs within a stone’s throw of the sea.
5. Pondicherry Beach, Pondicherry
I went here a couple of years ago, this beach was certainly one where you’d love to relax and enjoy if you are into good food. This destination has a variety of cuisines. From French to Portuggese to Chettinad, you’ve got it all. While Pondicherry beach is near the town and quite a bustle it does not give you the serene and calm nature. For that, I’d recommend Auroville beach. The famous Auroville Ashram a few kilometers away from Pondicherry, the beach is enchantingly beautiful and one of the most calmest and cleanest in South India.
These are some of the amazing beaches that I’ve been to and the top most on my list. What are yours?
Auroville: a dream: there should be somewhere on earth a place which no nation could claim as its own, where all human beings of good will who have a sincere aspiration, could live freely as citizens of the world and obey one single authority, that of the supreme truth; a place of peace concord & harmony… The Mother
So there are actually two reasons why I decided to do this separate post on Auroville…
1. There is certainly a lot more to tell about Auroville as a part of itself and wanted it to be read for what it’s real beauty is…rather than mixing it up with Pondicherry.
2. Trying a different style of Travel Blogging, much popular amongst most travel bloggers. i.e A running photo commentary (New touch to this blogumentary)
So before I begin my running photo blogumentary, just a few insights on Auroville courtsey – tourism.pondicherry.gov.in
Auroville was conceived as a place of research into the ideal of human unity by the Mother, the spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo. The idea is to build a futuristic city where people of goodwill can live together in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. Auroville came into existence in 1968. Its Charter says, “To live in Auroville one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness”, and describes it as “belonging to nobody in particular, but to humanity as a whole”; as a place “of constant progress”; and as “a bridge between the past and the future.”
Located around 8 kms north-west of Puducherry, Auroville was designed by the French architect Roger Anger. Around 2,000 people live there in settlements with names like Grace, Fraternity, Fertile, Certitude and Transformation. Nearly two-thirds of the residents are non-Indians.
That is Auroville beach… The beauty and the serenity of this beach is what attracted me while riding on the bike, I took a slight detour and headed off to see what it’s all about. Hardly anyone on the beach this place was true bliss!!
As I head into Auroville, when I approach the villages while enroute Matri Mandir (Golden Globe Temple) as most of you would know, I stumble across this Lotus Lake, too bad none of them have bloomed, but it’s quite a sight by itself… Next stop is the visiting center / Matri Mandir of Auroville (Matri means Mother… for those who don’t know)
Inside the visiting center, you can shop for some spirituality and peace… Something most people throng here for, besides the souvenirs of course… The fragrance of the auro candles, the beautiful blissful serenity is amazing… Once you are done with shopping here you can head on the first floor where you get free passes to the Matri Mandir, before watching a short introductory video on Auroville. A short 10 minutes film which leaves you mesmerized and truly feels great while watching it, sitting down on the carpet in an empty hall.. Spiritually rejuvenating…
This enroute a 1KM walk to the viewing point of Matri Mandir… You go there walking amongst beauty of the nature… Truly amazing the whole 1KM hike… You feel rejuvenated already.
You will find many such walking shelters to protect you from sun, rain, heat… not that it is something that you really think about especially inside the beauty of this place… The whole walk is in itself a brilliant experience…
This beautiful centipede was strolling around in peace… that is when I decided to capture it in my box… Photo Box
You will find these and many more on your way to the Matri mandir… True nature’s beauty making Auroville what it is from wasteland to a green revolution..
Finally after reaching the Matri Mandir, you can’t help but awe the whole structure. The central Matrimandir, which is not a temple but a place for individual silent concentration, is set in an area of 62 acres at the centre of the emerging township, and is seen as “a symbol of the Divine’s answer to man’s aspiration for perfection. Union with the Divine manifesting in a progressive human unity.”
During the inauguration ceremony of Auroville on 28th February 1968 , soil from 124 countries was placed in a lotus-shaped urn and mixed to symbolize universal oneness. This urn is today sited at the centre of an Amphitheatre in the Matrimandir Gardens . The Matrimandir’s 12-sided white marble Inner Chamber has a 70 cms diameter optical-quality glass globe at its centre, onto which a shaft of sunlight is focused by way of a roof-mounted heliostat. The light falling on the globe acts as a focal aid to concentration.
The Auroville Visitors Centre (Ph: 0413 – 2622239) is located near Bharat Nivas, the Indian national pavilion in Auroville’s International Zone, and is open from 0930 to 1730 hrs every day. This Centre has a permanent exhibition on the history and philosophy of the project, an Information Service offering books, brochures and leaflets on various aspects of Auroville, three boutiques, a bookshop, and a cafeteria providing refreshments and international cuisine.
And this is what I had in the cafeteria there, which by the way is run by volunteers of Auroville and the proceeds of all of it goes to the maintainence of Auroville…
All said and done, this was a trip I thoroughly enjoyed, the bike ride in a slight drizzle on a road covered on both sides with the tree, the spiritually refreshing video of auroville or the profound quotes inside the museum of the visiting center… All made me re-evaluate the way we human beings are living our lives… Truly, ‘we are the citizens of the world’ and that is the only thing that should matter… Peace…
…..There stands Francois Dupleix. Not too far away is Joan of Arc. It’s a trip down France as one crosses symmetrically aligned streets in puducherry. The Portuguese have been here. So have the Dutch.. The Danes. The English And the French. And here I am now…
Truly a place that is a must visit on any given day… As soon as I left from Chennai, I realized… this is it man, Pondicherry is certainly going to be one of the most remarkable places to visit in this #SriniOnTour… I remember Pondicherry, Auroville from our History and English textbooks way back in school. Always used to wonder after reading about the place, how the whole experience of living in a colonized place would be… How the place is diverse and yet united across the Bay of Bengal… How there are people of various nationalities that throng the place, yet are comfortable for it’s as if their own country…
As soon as I reached Pondicherry bus stand, I headed off to Rangapillai Street, not so far away from the Pondicherry beach (Beach Street) Thankfully @ttvijay said he’d help me out with the accomodations, otherwise it would have been a task to get one easily, especially since it’s season time and talking in tamil isn’t an art I’ve mastered, nor do I know fluent French yet… not that they would know french, but you know… So here I was finally… touchdown Pondicherry at last. After I settled down, I decided to take a look around and see what’s in store for me? Surprisingly, most of the places in Pondicherry, important ones… are really close to each other. So it’s kind of a good thing for you…especially if you rent a bike there… Yes, you can do that, just opposite to the Rangapillai street, you’ll get a lot of bikes for 200 bucks, which is farely cheap, considering in Goa, they just charge you whatever they feel like…
So one of the things I had made sure I’d do… is go and eat at the Appachi restaurant! Yes, that’s the legendary restaurant that dishes out Chettinad food… Man, and I should say, SPICY Chettinad Food… And I can tell you, having tasted it, there’s certainly a reason for me to go gaga about the place. The decor is also very homely, starting from the roof to interiors, it feels as if you are in someone’s house in a village of Chettinad. [Chettinad food, now is one of the many reasons why people get to know Chettinad. Chettinad food is essentially spicy, with a standard full meal consisting of cooked dhal, eggplant (brinjal) curry, drumstick sambar, ghee for flavouring rice, and sweet meats likepayasam and paal paniyaram. "Kara kolambu" is a highly regarded south Indian sambar. Chettinad delicacy:Aadi kummayam, its a mouth watering delicacy for the sweet toothed ones, made from pulses.] (Wikipedia)
The next day was tour de Pondicherry and Auroville. But before that I made sure that I get up really early in the morning and get some really, and I mean really great shots of the Sunrise to actually make a Sunrise collage… This time, the beach was really near the hotel I was staying at…So, no getting lost or confused about any stations… Parks or Park towns
But as they say… In the world where Mr. Murphy exists, you have got to follow one thumb rule… ‘Expect the unexpected’ and viola… the clouds thronged the sky till the sun came up and spoiled my plans of getting myself a sunrise collage… Nonetheless, got some really brilliant shots and hope that my collage dream is fulfilled somewhere down the road…on #SriniOnTour.
Another thing about Pondicherry is the beauty of it’s French section of the town. In French Town the roads are flanked by colonial style buildings with long compound walls and statelygates, behind which life unfolds. The facades have often vertical columns and tall windows and are coloured cream, yellow and pink. (tourism.pondicherry.gov) The beauty still remains and strikes you charmingly in the face
Truly, staying in Pondicherry and especially riding around on the bike exploring the town, I really felt like giving time a break… And that is one of the reason why I’m one day behind my schedule on the trip… Anyways, I hope to catch up soon, but for now I’ll relax, unwind and just chill… What do you think?
P.S I will be writing another post completely on my experience in Auroville… Do wait for that one
So this is what my #SriniOnTour looks like as of now… It’s certainly a different kind of vacation that I have ever taken. Yes, I have certainly blogged about most of my long weekend, on the spur of the moment type of trips. Certainly have always wanted opportunities like these to glorify my travelogue and make sure that I let loose the wild traveller within me. This journey however has much more significance than just one of those blogs or travelogues.
What I truly want to do with this blogumentary is to achieve some true respite and get my travel writing skills up one notch. We all have such vacations and in fact one of the reasons why I chose this vacation was to make sure that I expand my travel portfolio… I know of a lot of enthu, photographers, travel buffs reaching out to people with their creative art form and expressing a truly meaningful self…
What I wish to attain through this blogumentary is to document not just geographic locations, but also the true emotions behind every single photo I take, every single temple I visit. Document the theme that India down south represents. Something that we all know and have already discovered. But to me it’s more than just that. I need to really rediscover some of the elements that a lot of us forget many times. Every minute details of the trip will help me understand a lot of things that are really help make me who I am…
With every blog that I post, I hope to tell a story that will build and develop itself. A story that will mean a lot more than what it seems. A story that we all hope for and expect to really make some sort of a difference to our lives.
My presentation on Slideshare got featured in the travel section by the editorial team of Slideshare. Now, it also has over 1000 views. I will be live blogging, tweeting, and updating my experience here. So do stay tuned. Also would love to hear feedback and tips from all of you guys about the trip. Tips, places of interest, expert comments are more than welcome
You may want to stay tuned to these links below as well Hope you find this interesting too.
http://facebook.com/srinistuff (Photo Journal)
http://bit.ly/sriniontoursouthindia (My Tour map for this trip)
http://everlater.com/srinistuff (My travel planner)
http://bit.ly/SriniOnTour (My Travel Map so far)
http://twitpic.com/photos/srinistuff (Travel Photos On the Go)