Relatively Virgin, but not for long.

Relatively Virgin, but not for long

Well this is my first blog post here. I will try to record mundane, encountered and thought through Impressions without malice or bitterness. That’s what it would be called. Mundane Impressions.

It’s been twenty five years of wedlock and in this quarter century, it’s not often we embarked on a tour – Either with my wife alone or with kids. Reasons are many. Some had to do with the rough terrains we had to navigate together that our lives took us to, some had to do with family situation, some had to do with travel by my wife and my sons from one chess tournament location to another, some had to do with the depth of my pocket…. Reasons are unimportant.

So, we wanted to make amends, at least after twenty-five years. It pays to know some clichés. ‘Better late than never’. But the trouble is others know clichés too. ‘Second honey moon.. hehe…’.

We have been thinking of having a Divyadesam tour. Something we both wanted to do. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m agnostic at best. Belief is the best coat hanger available to man kind. Faith is a luxury not given to me. However, medieval history of Tamil Nadu has always fascinated me.

Rise of Buddhism and Jainism in Tamil Nadu, Bhakthi revolution by Alwars and Nayanmars, granitisation of ancient brick temples where the Alwars sang, later Cholas and then later Pandyas building unimaginably rich and huge temples in Thanjavur and Madurai, two millennium history of devadasi tradition… they all fascinate me. And my wife is a quintessential Iyengar who went to Prabhandam classes off and on. I write all this because, I am going to bore you with my Divyadesam jaunts off and on.

So, initially, we thought of visiting Divyadesams around Kancheepuram. Spend about seven or eight days over two weekends, was the original plan. And then my wife read about Kanthalloor in Facebook. Social media has its utility, after all. I did a bit of research. Did I say research? We are shameless to call googling and surfing through the first four or five results “research”. “Ask Sundar Pichai”, has become an idiom of sorts among my friends.

Kanthalloor is a tranquil little village in Idukki district, about fifty Kilometres from Udumalpet, near Coimbatore. Majority of them are Tamil speaking. Idukki and Palghat were part of the then Madras State when linguistic states were born. They were given up in favour of Kerala by Rajaji (re-organisation of states). In return, Tamil Nadu annexed Nagarkoil and Kanyakumari.

I have an acquaintance who lives in Udumalpet. I asked him to throw me some light on Kanthalloor. What a light he threw! He said, “Yes, there’s a place called Kanthalloor in the hills”, and the light he threw abruptly ended there.

I think, it is here I decided to go to Kanthalloor. Going to a famous tourist location, having a laundry list of places to visit right from the tour book and tick marking three- or four-line items in the laundry list every day of stay is not my idea of holiday travel. The fact my friend did not know much encouraged me to- what else- do some “research”. So, I asked Sundar Pichai. Initial results were encouraging.

Oyo listed only one or two unverified places. Make My Trip doesn’t seem to have a taxi service to Kanthalloor, Ola Outstation does not have a drop location by name Kanthalloor, Bookings.com does not flaunt of super luxury 100 room resort at unbelievable discounts, instead just a few verified places. That’s quite helpful and so, Kanthalloor it is!

Starting out from Coimbatore-Udumalpet or from Cochin-Munnar, is about the best way to reaching Kanthalloor. Driving from Udumalpet to Kanthalloor is quite fascinating. Right at the foothills of Western Ghats is the Udumalpet division of Anamalai Tiger Reserve. Then comes Chinnar wildlife Sanctuary. In Chinnar there is a trekking trail of about 7 kms in the midst of dense forest. Guided trekking expedition is possible which might take about 4 hours. I don’t know if Sunder Pichai forgot to mention it to me or I didn’t listen carefully. We didn’t get to take it. Further to Chinnar, before we reach Kanthalloor, there were a couple of rich agricultural villages – Koilkadavu and Maraiyur.
About them later.

Driving through reserved forest area is an experienced by itself. The roads are only 15 feet wide for good part and in some places, it is 20 feet.One of the two resorts in

Kanthalloor listed in bookings.com is Deshadan valley. It boasts of mud cottages in lush green settings. I assumed a sprawling campus with huts to live in.

Wireless activity is a huge boon in Kanthalloor, i.e., it is next to non-existent. No network works except BSNL with relatively weak signal. With the result, there was pure bliss for over 2 days. No telephone, no mobile, no internet, no WhatsApp, no nothing. Connectivity was lost right in the foothill of Western Ghats. Kanthalloor is at around 1,500 mtrs attitude.

We reached Kanthalloor around 12 noon. Immediate requirement was to find the hotel. There is no connectivity, hence there is no google map. I some how mistook the name to be Darshan Valley. We kept asking for direction. Everyone was clueless. Nobody knew of Darshan Valley. How will they know when it is Deshadan valley?

After, nearly 15 minutes of search one lady said, “Are you talking about mud house?” I said, “Yes”. She showed the direction and we got there.

“Welcome sir, Amal”, said a young bearded guy with a chef cap. Soon on heel was Prabhu. The twosome take care of the entire property, very friendly and highly helpful.
The whole of property is only 6 rooms, 2 standard, 3 superior and 1 tent. They are housed in 3 different mud buildings. The standard room where we stayed is rather small, but clean and cozy. The property is whole of 6 rooms with 2 rabbits, 2 ducks, and a King Eagle, who forgot to fly. Yes, the hotel feeds them with fish, whenever it cries, and it is happy to be in the campus all the time. It is named ‘Guru’. Of and on peacocks visit them.

There was nothing sprawling about property. However, it is nice and clean with mud construction, wooden cots and thatched roofs. The restaurant flooring is just sand. This is a pretty nice place, and Amal and Prabhu take pretty good care of the guests and make it a lasting experience. Try once and you will love it. Amal makes pretty decent food. We had vegetarian lunch and slept for an hour.

In the afternoon, we set out to explore the place. We asked Prabhu, about the places to visit in Kanthalloor and which one is the nearest. He listed a few places and he finally said we should visit the Puttur village nearby or fruit garden. So, we started walking down the road. Actually, down the hill it was.

For kilometers together, you don’t see human being as you are walking along less than 2 mtrs wide road. There are a few houses on the way. One of the ladies standing out greeted us. We asked the way to go to fruit garden and she suggested, we go the next day, since it is far off and by the time we get back, it would be dark. We had a small chat.

“Where are you from?”
“Chennai?
“I was in Chennai too. In Madhavaram. I was working in _________________ hospital”. I didn’t get the name.
“Why did you leave Chennai?”
“It is a quite hot there, I was an operation theatre nurse. So, working hours was alright.
I could not manage the heat during off the time, so I came back”.
Nothing was prompted, nothing was said. She encapsulated her past 10 years of her life. Of Chennai, of coming back here, of getting married right here and compromising materialism, of children… We saw this trait again and again. People open out quickly and they are trusting.

We said good bye to her and walked further down. Suddenly asphalted road abruptly ended and the mud road began with a right turn. We were not sure, where we were going and could see no one, so we decided to walk back.

On the way back, there was a sign board of a floriculture garden with a right arrow, and we tried to reach there. It was steep. As we were climbing up, we could see a few ladies carrying a big bundle of wood in their head and walking down the slope, bare footed and balancing the speed the slope generated. All you could hear was the foot steps and chipping of birds. In the hastened city life, we neither listen to foot steps nor listen to chipping of birds. This was so refreshingly welcome. You could feel this in many places. We returned back to the hotel.

Dinner time. Whole of the hotel residents were in the sand floored restaurant – a family of father, wife and daughter, we two and 5 friends in their late thirties. The friends have come from Ooty.  Generally, a consensus menu is followed. There is absolute socialism about food. All eat the same regardless of the rent paid. It so happened, on the day we traveled, Pulwama killings have happened. There is just one 32″ TV in the hotel and is strategically placed in the restaurant. I put on the news and Arnab was uncharacteristically sombre. I’m passing the conversation among us on Pulwama. It’s for another day and another blog.

I’m dropping the chronology from now on and just providing a few facts and impressions.

There are no liquor shops in Kanthalloor, nor does the hotel have a bar. If you have to drink you have to buy liquor from Kariyur village which is 10 kms down the hill.

We walked a lot on all 3 days, on the second day my Fitbit counted over 21,000 steps. Often, the slopes were 20 degree and running at least 500 mtrs. Uphill climb will reveal the fitness or lack of it, in my case later.

There is a waterfall in about 2 kms from the hotel in a place called Aadi Vayal. As such the access roads were primitive. Road, if you may call it so, is full of granite stones and rubble. There is a lone house with habitants. Beyond a point there was no road and the terrain was akin to Sathuragiri reversed. Reaching the fall is down hill and climbing back up is uphill (700 mtrs). Even at this time of the year, water was quite forceful. Big fat back of mine got fully cleaned.

There are few view points and one of them require walking along a foot-wide trail for nearly 1 km. Other has a tree house.

On the way back, we visited an Adivasi temple – Vettaikkaran Koil. Whole of the temple is a small hut, a statue, a few Trishuls and a stone lamp holder. Once a year people assemble there, prepare non-vegetarian food, offer it to God and then eat them. They say no food is taken away. On rest of the days the God himself is left to fend for himself. This can be a PIL possibility. Even here women are not allowed.

There are lot of fruits and vegetables farms running into acres. A 4 feet something woman was our guide and was a non-stop talker. She explained about the crops, the season, her family, her husband who passed away …… There are a few cottages inside the farm, where one can stay. The lady showed us Kurinji flower that blossoms once in twelve years. Imagination and reality can be very different.

We had the fortune to visit Puthur village near the resort. Every house had a garden in front and back, where they grew vegetables and sold it to middlemen. When we climbed up from Udumalpet, we saw 2 villages – Koilkadavu & Karaiyur with lot of houses, which rival the once in Poes garden. There are rich farmers houses, this village is cultivating Sugarcane and Banana. Karaiyur makes hand made sugar. One such farmers house is in the picture.

Contrasting this to Puttur village in Kanthalloor is quite painful. This villages are left to middlemen to decide on the rates and attempts they get reasonable price and attains next to none. Present going rate for carrot is Rs.8 per kg and cabbage Rs.3 per, I believe. There are times when they don’t get anything. They rotate crops. ‘Hill garlic’, fetches them decent price. Agrarian distress is writ all over the place. Quite a few children don’t go to schools. On the one hand, India has such wealthy farmers and small farmers and farm workers like the woman who showed us Krinji flower live in sub-human conditions. This is despite the fact, nature is abundantly benevolent towards Kanthalloor. We requested the woman to sell us some vegetables. Went with her and saw her pluck carrots from under the earth with deft efficiency. Paid here more and got the vegetables only to be given away to the cab driver. Our bit to help farming. Conscience appeasement is quite shameful.

Some twenty kilometers downhill towards Udumalpet you get to see what is called Rama’s cave. It  is believed Lord Rama stayed here. God knows in how many places Rama stayed, en-route to fetching Sita. Actually, the ticket counter girl introduces the place as remains of stone-age housing. This looks more reasonable. There are a few similar structures that you could see on the opposite hill too, more like a tenement.

Ugly urban mind thinks of mugging when you occasionally see two or three male farm workers come together. But, generally people are very friendly, innocent and enter into easy conversation.

Time is something you have in abundance in Kanthalloor. We did quite a lot, yet relaxed lot more. It’s amazing. My son used to ask how we got things done without even a personal computer. I have the answer now. “Because, we didn’t have connectivity and my smart phone is nothing more than a garbage and ecological hazard.

Earlier, I had asked the gang of friends, what made them come here when they are living in Ooty. Their answer summarizes the quality of place. “Ooty is for you guys. It is here, we want to hang out”. Overall, the place is still virgin and is a great get away. This is not likely to remain as such for long. Every farm houses a few cottages and home stay places are mushrooming by the hour. Overall, a great place to visit as on date.

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