The schedule of events for the 10-day vilakku pooja is below.
There are many tourist places in Palakkkad and this holiday season I decided to cover most of them. Last Sunday, I went to Nelliampathy Hills. On the itinerary were Pothundi Dam, Kesavan Para and Seetharkundu.
First stop was Pothundi Dam. It is not as big as Malampuzha Dam but it is big all right. It is the height of summer now and there was not much water in the dam. On the other side of the water is a row of small hills – the Nelliampathy Hills. The dam was deserted at the top and most families took shelter in the park below. After a while, I decided to leave the dam for the tourist spots in the hills.
After taking this photo, the mobile phone ran out of charge. I brought my monster 20,000 mAH power bank with me and I put the phone under charge. So no photos or videos of the ascent. The road uphill reminded of Need for Speed games. In one place, you can see two small streams coming off a huge wall of rock. My guess is that during rainy season, these streams transform into reasonable waterfalls. In one NFS game, I have seen something similar. The road ended at a factory of AVT, the tea company. There the road forks into two. On the left, tea plantations and on the right, a footpath to Kesavan Para. I parked my bike and went up the path on foot. The footpath is covered on all sides by dense vegetation and was dark even at noon. A loud din of insects came from all sides. After a while the path cleared up and a large rock-covered area came. This is Kesavan Para. On the other side of the rock formation, there is ledge on the hillside where you can sit and view the Pothundi Dam. The hills you saw from the dam would now be flanking your sides. They rise for another hundred feet and you will be smack in the middle of it. I guess it must be magnificent during rainy season. Unfortunately, I have no photos of this place.
After lunch at a hotel, I left for Seetharkundu Viewpoint. This place is overrated, at least for one-dayers. If you plan on staying at one of the tourist cottages there, then it may be worthwhile. Because of the vegetation and the altitude, the place is much cooler than the plains down below. The place marked Seetharkund Viewpoint is a gap in the hillside where you can see the plains down below. I left after a few minutes. A tree struck by lightning in the area was more interesting. The phone was charged now and I was able to take photos and decided to record my descent.
This place reminded me of a level in Crysis 1, where you first attack a Korean military camp proper.
En route to Seetharkund, there are several tours arranged in tea plantations/factories and the vegetable/fruit farms but I did not take these tours. I was however surprised to know that there are tea plantations even in Palakkad.
The descent was great and I could coast almost all the way down. On the way up, I saw some guys racing. One guy in a big bike gave the middle finger to a bullet and overtook him on a curve. I wouldn’t advise that to anyone. The ride downhill was fast but was still confusing. The tea farms have boards all over the place but proper road signs don’t exist. It was easy to go the wrong route. You can follow tourist vehicles but they can be very slow. On the way up, I saw a group of bikers thundering up a fork and then sheepishly turn around. So, it is better to rely on your own wits.
This must be the most boring unwatchable video in the world.
Update (2018-04-24): Apparently, there is a waterfall somewhere in Seetharkund but it is bountiful in rainy season.
Randumoorthy means two gods or two faces. Interestingly there are two Randumoorthy temples in Palakkad. There is one in Thiruvalathur. The other one is in Ottapalam and is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. Last week, I went to the Thiruvalathur temple.
The Thiruvalathur Sree Rendumoorthy Bhagavathy Kshetram is dedicated two godesses – Sree Mahishasuramardhini and Sree Annapoorneswari. The temple is quite old and was supposed to be built by devas in one night but they left it unfinished as they didn’t want to be seen by humans. The temple is open on all days with services in the morning and evening. I went in the evening hoping to see if the 4000 stone lamps around the temple are lit daily. A large group of ladies were chanting slokas near the diety of Sree Annapoorneswari but the lamps in the outer wall were not all lit. Hence, I will make a trip in the festival season November-December for that.
Update (17-November-2018): I went to the temple yesterday and all the famous lamps around the temple were lit. Kids were also given sticks to light the lamps themselves. It is party of a 10-day Kartika Vilakku Moholsavam. Several traditional and folk performances including thayambaka, chakkiyar koothu, and ottamthullal are scheduled throughout this festival.
Last month, I went to Pazhani again. This time, I took a bypass to the hill and saw a government-run parking lot. (You miss it when you come via town centre.)
Unlike the previous time, I decided not to climb the hill on empty stomach. I left home early morning after a coffee and no breakfast. So, first thing I did upon reaching the Pazhani was to have breakfast. This I hoped would enable me climb the hill without taking breaks. No such luck. I took two breaks. Where was I going wrong? I had been to Pazhani two or three times before by car and I did not have to take breaks. Maybe that was it – car. My legs were tired riding the bike. I couldn’t believe legs could get tired by riding a bike. Apparently, this can happen. On the way back, I wanted to go to an ATM and I found that I couldn’t take easy steps. Maybe, next time, I will take a car and see if I am any good.
If you want to avoid the crowds, choose a weekday and start early. By early, I mean that you want to get there by 8-9 o’ clock. Around noon, the nada will be closed for an hour. So, try to get the hilltop much ahead of it.
From Palakkad, Pazhani is over a 100 kilometers. You take the Palakkad-Pollachi road and go via Pollachi & Udumalapettai to Pazhani.
Once there, you go to the right of the main entrance for the free parking area. I don’t know if there is a separate parking space for two-wheelers but if you want to park it there chain your vehicle to a post. Otherwise, some nuts will box your vehicle in. I found that my vehicle had been moved behind a post & the nuts had parked two SUVs on either-side with no space to reverse. I have good upper-body strength and lifted the bike by its wheels one-by-one in about two minutes. Initially, it looked like I was stuck there for good. So, beware!
On the left of the main entrance is a free storage for footwear. Remember to get the numbered token.
Also on the left is a shed for tonsuring the head. You need to buy a ticket from the guard before sitting before the barber. Nearby, there is a bathing area (Rs.20). You should have brought a towel and a spare set of clothing. Also maybe a cup, Dettol and plastic bag for wet clothes.
In summer, it is better to climb the hill after a meal. I thought I would take my lunch after darshan and to my dismay found myself feeling woozy midway. On previous trips, I went up with no breaks. This time, my vision grew dark around three-fourth of the way and I decided to take breaks, even as female casual labour around me were transporting heavy headloads.
At the hilltop, I bought a prasadam ladoo and became re-energized. I also bought prasadam puliyokarai, which I ate after darshan. It was as good as perumal-koil puliyokarai.
My darshan was delayed by the closing of the nada. The crowd was heavy and grew heavier by the hour. Finally, after several hours in the serpentine queue I had a good darshan of Dandayudhapani in all his glory.
The stone-paved area around the temple and the steps going down becomes very very hot at noon. I decided to take the rope car on the way down but queue area was way too crowded. I took my lunch at the hilltop restaurant and went downhill by foot.
On the way back, I stopped for some palmyra fruit some distance from the Kerala border. The guy asked me if I wanted neera. My previous experience with this drink (at Chennai Mount Road Khadi Kraft) was with mixed feelings… or rather mixed tastes. I did not have great expectations and accepted one glass. But, there was no glass! He made a palmyra leaf bowl instead and disemboweled a palmyra fruit into it. Then, he poured some neera into the bowl.
Neera is the clear sap harvested from a cut made in the palm flower. It is non-alcoholic. (It becomes fermented (alcoholic) naturally to form toddy.) I have had neera before from a Khadi store and it was only mildly sweet. It also had a raw aftertaste. This was different probably because of the lack of preservatives or the presence of additives to prevent fermentation. The water from inside the palm fruit (analogous to coconut water) seems to have overwhelmed everything and oversweetens the serving. Both TN & Kerala governments are now promoting the sales of neera.
Update: I have tried the neera drink several times at this place and each time it tastes a bit different. So, my guess is that the Khadi Kraft product did not have any additives or chemicals.
This was right in the middle of the city and so was easy to check out. [I was on foot. This was not a bike trip.] It was used by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan. It was later taken over by the British. For a tourist, the Palakkad fort may be a disappointment. It is on flat ground and the ramparts around the fort are not very imposing. Like true Indians, visitors have left their mark on the walls. It covers considerable real estate right in the middle of the city and currently houses a jail and an office for the civil supplies department. The fort is also a venue for cultural events. The often-hyped-up Hanuman temple is in reality a very small shrine.
This dam is some distance from the middle of the city. It has a large park, a ropeway, a snake park, an aquarium and a boating area. The dam is very high and stores water for the city. Best time to visit would be after 4 o’ clock.
There is a hilltop cottage for those who would like to stay longer than an evening visit. I expect the sunsets or sunrises to be great. The ropeway goes from one end of the dam, across the park and boating area, and then back again. The aquarium and the snake park on the sides of the park have very good specimens. I was surprised to find a fish called Miss Kerala. There is also a government-run shop that sells forest produce generated by tribal communities. I bought some honey and it tastes great.
The boating area is accessible from the park via a suspension bridge. As you get off the bridge, there is a huge nude Yakshi statue. It is impossible for kids to avoid the Yakshi as the bridge bobs a lot and demands parents’ attention. Ancient Indians did not create such huge eyesores. Our temples have nudes but you barely notice it.
Malampuzha has several other privately-run man-made attractions around it. However, Kava is different. Thanks to wooded and winding roads to this area, the drive from and to Kava is just great. Interestingly, the moment I landed near the spot, an old woman asked me for a lift. I took her all the way to Anakkal. The return journey had even better scenery. Palakkad is at sea level while Kava is at a high altitude. Here rain clouds are crashing the hills all the time, even as Palakkad remains bone-dry. When I was there, the skies were rumbling continously and was sounded spectacular. Surprisingly, the place has been spared of any man-built structures. Most people simply drive to the waterfront. Buses halt on the side of the road. Except for some cows, goats and shepherds, the place was empty.