In morning, we visited the Padmanabhaswamy temple and the Ganpati temple. Nandinee finally agreed very reluctantly for wrapping a Veshti. Inside, the temple is huge, as is the norm in Kerala. There are many small temples in the compound, but the main attraction is the Vishnu idol. It is in a position of taking rest, and it is many meters long. There are three doors through which we can take the Darshanam in parts, first the head, then the belly and then the legs. There is no way anyone can click photo of a full idol without any photo editing. Not that one can anyways, as they take away your camera and your pants away at the entrance.
It is said to be made up of Shaligrams brought on elephants’ backs from Nepal, but I couldn’t spot any Shaligrams in the temple. Maybe after so many years, they are no more identifiable to untrained eyes.
There were four entrances to the temple, one in each direction. They are placed a great distance apart from each other. By the time we completed the Darshanam, we had forgotten which entrance we took. It took one more round of the huge temple, checking each entrance for familiar signs. Finally found it, got dressed and headed for Ganpati temple.
The Ganpati temple is located bang on the main road, and parking is in short supply. Not for two wheelers, as we can find a place easily. But for four wheelers, parking may be problematic. We took turns in taking the darshan, as there was no one guarding your shoes outside the temple. Nandinee was allowed to enter the main hall of the temple, nearest to the idol. When I tried the same, I was hushed away in angry voices. I enquired:
‘What? Is it the shirt? Should I remove it?’
He meant only veshti, but any ways I was in no mood to get undressed and re-dressed again. So satisfied myself by taking the darshan from far away. I thought – at least these guys allowed entry in the temple in any attire, unlike the Padmanabhaswamy temple.
After the breakfast, we checked out of the hotel, gladly so. Today onwards, our ride was no more on the irritatingly busy national highway, but on the MCR, Main Central Road. This road is what they show in Kerala advertisement. A non-crowded two lane road, passing through sleepy villages with big coconut plantations, I enjoyed each and every kilometer of it. Seriously, if someone wants to enjoy the ride, MCR is the road to be on. Well maintained, and yet beautifully covered by vegetation.
Joining MCR from Thiruanantpuram involved in some U turns though. At one junction, when the signal was yellow, the car in front of me accelerated. I too followed him, hoping to cross the junction before signal turned red. We miscalculated, and it turned red a bit early. A policeman jumped in track, and I had my heart in mouth. I was riding without a license, and whether I would be able to convey the whole scene regarding the license was bit doubtful. Surprisingly, the punishment for jumping signal was not any fine, but a public scolding, where both I and the car were pushed to the left-hand road, when we wanted to go straight. I thanked God for helping me in this close encounter, and resumed my way soon.
Saw an interesting cargo en route:
The road to Kumarakom passes through Kottayam. Kottayam is a big town, and we saw lot of good hotels to eat on the way. Our past experiences had taught us, that if you skip what you have in hand in hope that a better one awaits, then finally you will end up with nothing. We stopped for lunch in an ‘acceptable’ hotel by Nandinee’s standards. Later we realized how lucky we were taking that decision, when we had to roam a lot in night for a hotel in Kumarakom.
The road from Kottayam to Kumarakom is in a banged up condition. The only such bad road we faced on this ride, the sand and stones road continued for some 10-12 kilometers, but troubled a lot. Hopefully this will be completed soon, and the inconvenience to the tourist vehicles be spared.
Our booked hotel, Tharavadu Heritage Home, is an ancient property. We had booked a room in its ‘annex’, a construction by the owners in the same compound, but at little budget rates. As there were hardly any tourists, the kind manager upgraded us to the Bamboo cottage room at the same price. The hotel itself is spread interestingly. The bamboo cottage is actually built up on an island, which is surrounded by canal of streams. There are bamboo bridges to cross over, and you reach your cottage after crossing a number of such islands connected by bridges. The room was bit small, but then they were limited by the size of the islands. Vehicle cannot come too much inside the hotel, not even the motorcycle.
We found a workman in the hotel who could speak Marathi. He was originally from Kerala, but worked for a few years in Sangli, Maharashtra. After a while, he had had enough, and returned back to his land. It was good to meet a Marathi speaking person after almost a week.
There are no tourist boats from Kumarakom. You can book house boats here, and perhaps even float in them from here to Kottayam or Aleppy. If someone is planning for a house boat stay, it will be more beautiful here than Aleppy, due to lesser number of boats and lesser hyacinth infestation. But the rates for house boats are on the higher side as compared to other towns. Unlike Aleppy, where you have few hours long tourist routes, here are no such routes to travel by boat.
There is a ferry service from the village, to some place I can’t pronounce. When we reached the Jetty, the boat was just docking in there. We grabbed a few snacks and water, and jumped in the boat. The ferry service operates just like bus services in towns. The conductor confirmed that this same boat would be returning again, so we settled for a to and fro journey to unknown village.
Water has a calming effect on you. Not the sea, which can sometimes scare you out of your pants, but the smooth lake water brings a calm to your mind and muscles. The Vembenad lake in Kerala is spread in unimaginable dimensions, stretching its legs from Cochin to Aleppy to Kumarakom. It is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia. It is really commendable on the government’s and the locals’ part to keep it operating and clean. In Pune, the old Mula Mutha rivers have long lost their glory, and now serve as the sewage lines for countless companies sprung up on their shorelines. In Mumbai too, Mithi river is only remembered when it threatens to wash away the surrounding part, and succeeds sometimes. I dreamed when I would be able to travel in such ferries in Pune, catching a ferry from Kalyani Nagar and get down at Balgandharva bridge.
We returned after some 1.5 hours. Even though there is nothing to see on the other side, and the boat cruise consists of going from this end of the lake to that end, with nothing in between except water, the ride was no less interesting. There was hardly any water hyacinth infestation, hardly any tourist boats creeping in your view. The Kumarakom public ferry is enjoyable in its own special way, and is no less than other tourist ferries.
Kumarakom is famous for its bird sanctuary. When our boat was docked to the opposite side, I ventured to a group of people chatting in a shade, and asked:
‘Bird sanctuary yengane poum?’ (How to go to bird sanctuary?)
A Malyalam colleague had taught me few questions, should the need arise to communicate to non-English locals. This question triggered a sudden outburst from everyone of the group, and I had to communicate by acting that my Malyalam knowledge ended at the question itself. For bird sanctuary, they pronounced a big name for the village that housed the sanctuary, which I just could not get after many tries. Having learnt Sanskrit in high school, I used to be confident that unlike foreigners, I would not have any trouble pronouncing any word in India at least. I was proven wrong, when they too gave up their attempt of teaching me that name. They said that I’d better stick with ‘bird sanctuary’ and forget the name of the village, as they both were essentially the same thing.
When we returned, we decided to check on the sanctuary to see its timings, and see whether we could find any good hotels to eat. The sanctuary is too big to miss; it is about 2 kilometers away from the public boat jetty. Taj hotel is located almost in the sanctuary. If some rich guy is a bird watching hobbyist, then this may be his heaven. We were neither former nor latter, so Tharavadu Heritage Home was fit for us.
The road is narrow, but the traffic is thin. However, we didn’t want to take any chance of breaking the law, so were riding slow in town. Suddenly, a policeman popped up in the road, and asked us to get the bike to the side of road.
‘Damn it,’ I thought, ‘what is it with the Police today?!’
Some policemen were already there, and one of them asked my documents in Malyalam. I started fumbling with my pocket, and said:
‘Saar, Malyalam illa. Only English. We are tourists.’
He took a good hard look at us, where I could sense he was judging whether it was worth the effort of venturing in another language. After a while, he concluded we weren’t worth the trouble, and signaled us to get moving. We didn’t require a second sign, and rolled away at the first moment he allowed us to.
We started looking for hotel for some snacks, but the hotels on the roads are spectacularly shabby. Even while riding alone I wouldn’t go in them. While searching for hotels, we suddenly landed in front of a temple, named ‘Shri Kumarmangalam temple’. Oil lanterns were lit on all its side, and it was looking very beautiful. We realized that it was a Holi Pournima that night, which must had been the occasion for lighting the lanterns. Our stomachs were still empty, but the boat ride and this temple filled up our minds.
Later, the dinner was taken in hotel itself. I would recommend to other Kumarakom tourists, that limit your meals to your hotel only. This way you can be sure of the hygiene and quality of food. The food at our hotel was good too, and in a setting of dining hall where only we two were dining, the feeling was grand. We placed order for tomorrow’s breakfast then only, and returned to room for rest.