03 May 2011

My Trip Back Home to Beautiful Kerala - April 2011

As you all already know, Debbie was with my mom for the past week and half. So, last weekend we took a quick trip back to my home town to bring Debbie back. I would have loved to have spent longer in Kerala, but all we could squeeze in was the weekend. So, I just want to tell you all how it felt to go back home after more than a year...

If someone asks me where I'm from, I usually find it very hard to answer. My mom's and dad's forefathers are from various parts of Thirunelveli and Kanyakumari district. However, my dad was born in Chennai, and lived there all his life. My mom was born in Kerala  in the Idukki district, and called it home. I lived almost all of my life in Dubai, and that is the only place that finds a place in 90% of my childhood memories. So when I finally came to India and people would ask me where I'm from, I just couldn't answer. I couldn't very well say that my hometown is Dubai, because I am not a citizen, and I no longer live there. I also could not mention any of the four places I have already mentioned in this paragraph, because I was not really familiar with them.

It's only since graduating college have I started telling people that my hometown is Idukki district in Kerala, because I have family there that I love and my family home is situated there since it is where my father preferred to settle down. Also, now the place is even more special because that is where my father has been laid to rest.

So, after more than a year, I went back to this little town called Vandiperiyar in the Idukki district of Kerala. It is a beautiful, cool, green and breathtaking hill station on the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border. It takes us around 10 hours, traveling in a very badly furnished bus to get to this little paradise, but the sore back and the sleepless night in a bus is totally worth it. Allow me to show you why... (this is going to be a little long-winded so brace yourself...)

Traveling to Vandiperiyar

Taking a route through Theni, Rajapalayam, Kumbum, you reach the Kumily hills, which is a 15 minute slow and deliberate ride along a winding and precarious path that hugs the hill... On the way, you will see a deep forest with exotic trees, lots of monkeys, and beautiful streams and water falls that fill the air with the smell of a healthy and well-balanced environment. There is no place for pollution of any kind or buildings of any shape, save the two little temples at various points on the road - one for Hindus and another for Christians. 

What you see below is the rise of a grand mountain that abounds with greenery of all kinds. 

These are not the most professional shots, but then we had bright sunlight and a very shaky bus ride to deal with...

Dense forest with really old trees

Going uphill, you suddenly come across these huge pipes. At the very top is a water turbine in a power plant. Kumily houses the MullaiPeriyar dam, a great reservoir that is the primary source of most of the electricity generated in the plains below. Kumily also has the famous Thekady dam. I wish I could show you pictures, but we didn't get to go there this weekend. We will in the future, and when we do, I will show you pictures of the beautiful lake.

They don't look that large here, but they are really huge and imposing!
Along the way, you will see really old bamboo trees that stand in clusters. If you were to venture into this patch of bamboo I really doubt you would be able to get back out again without your limbs getting hopelessly tangled in this!

The road is narrow and winding, with many hairpin bends. When there is another vehicle coming in the opposite direction, usually one has to come to a complete standstill to let the other pass. Many times, large vehicles have to back up all the way to a wider part of the road to let the other vehicle pass. If you look down the side of the mountain, your head will spin from the sheer drop down!

This winding action is seen pretty much throughout the journey, all the way to my home, in fact!

Yes, we had to stop to let this bus go by...

Finally, after 15 minutes of something that resembles spinning around (a trip not for the light-headed, I must add!), we finally reach Kumily bus stand. This is the very border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The road we saw till now actually belongs to the Tamil Nadu jurisdiction, but the town on the hill belongs to Kerala. So, who has dibs on the mountain?! Heh! I have no idea! Anyway, Kumily bus stand is filled with the chatter of beautiful Malayalam (which I am no good at speaking, since my mother tongue is Tamil), and the whiff of banana chips fried in coconut oil, cardamom and black pepper... Kumily is a popular tourist spot and is most famous for the spices sold everywhere. You can buy the best quality of cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. But the area is most famous for its top quality tea. I don't buy any brand of tea since I get mine from here all the time.

The bus stand bordered with shops and hotels for tourists

The KSRTC - primary transport of almost all Keralites in this part of the world!

Just look at the red blossoms on that tree!

Here, we've got to take another bus that takes us to Vandiperiyar, where we have to take another bus, and then walk up approximately 150 steps, or spare ourself the heart attack, and take an auto all the way home. On the way, all you see is large expanses of tea fields (the main source of income for most everyone here), and trees with pepper climbers entwined around them... Like this...

It was a misty morning, the day we went. It was around 8am and the sun was just beginning to rise over the horizon. The thick rolls of leave that you see on these trees are the pepper plant climbers. The trees are usually used for firewood (which obviously people need a lot of!)
Looking up into the mist, over a carpet of tea bushes

The road you see here (another winding one) will take me to a higher hill where my home is situated!

These are women on their way to work. If you stick around, you will see them donning plastic capes and carrying huge gunny sacks, trudging up tea plantation hills, to pluck tea leaves.

This is a tea bush up close, but much prettier in person, I assure you! :)

Finally, I reach this beautiful house that I call home...

Who is that little girl? I'll tell you soon...
I have a lump in my throat every time I look at my house. My dad had it built a couple of years ago, and he did it with extreme love and concern for my mother. He made sure that the house was not too high above the road, since my mother can't walk up too many steps or a very steep pathway. He made sure that clay tiles were used on the floor, because marble or ceramic tiles get cold and my mom could get achy knees from walking on them. He made sure that the master bedroom, the bathrooms and the kitchen were all constructed in the way that would be most convenient for my mom... Even though my dad planned to spend his retirement relaxing in this nice home, my mom was worried that he never put in anything that he would particularly like. Little did we know that my dad would, in fact, not get to spend his days here. 

Sorry guys, I know I am not supposed to be getting all weepy and maudlin here. But looking at my home always makes me miss my dad, and I was just sharing my feelings with you. Anyway, Vandiperiyar is a beautiful quaint town, and my home is comfy. You are all welcome to come visit our little corner of the earth when you have the time... Just let me know first ok? :D

Okay, I promise, I'll be more bearable in the next post... where I tell you about that little girl in the picture, and all the lovely precious people I spent my weekend with.


BackStage said...

Wow that is such an amazing place you've got there... so serene, calm and free of noise and smoke. I'd love to visit but by the time I reach there I'd be covered with vomit - yeah, I can't travel up altitudes :(

Jane Hamilton said...

That's too bad, @Backstage... traveling sickness sucks, I know... :( I think it is a bit better if you were to travel by car, because a bus is unwieldy and not airy enough, and it magnifies the queasy feeling. In a car, you can make frequent stops, take in the scenery, roll down the window and let the cool air in, or just go to sleep and wake up when you reach Kumily where you can smell the spices!! :D So, there's still hope, right?

Aarthi said...

Beautiful place...Amazing..You are so lucky....to have a lovely home over there...

Karen Xavier said...

How can you leave a place like that, I wonder... it looks lovely. Would love to visit someday, I wish chennai was like that...
It's pretty cute, the way your dad is still looking out for your mom... in this little paradise you call home.

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