When you are travelling, time not just flies, it seems to disappear into thin air ! Every holiday seems to be over in a jiffy, as was the case with our Kerala trip. We made elaborate plans for over 2 months only to find that the actual trip was nearing an end much sooner than we thought ! From the time we got off from the houseboat, we had 8 hours before our train back to Chennai. We had initially planned to book a hotel in Kottayam and rest till it was time for our train but decided we could go around some more and check a few places around Kottayam. Vaikom Temple, we were told, was a good idea.
As soon as we disembarked from the houseboat, our cabs were ready. We had asked them to take us to Vaikom Temple and any other interesting ones around. The 20 kms drive from Kumarakom to Vaikom took us about 40 minutes driving through the picturesque Kerala country side complete with coconut groves and canals.
Vaikom Sri Mahadeva Temple
Sri Mahadeva Temple at Vaikom is one of the popular Shiva Temples in Kerala. There are 3 Mahadeva Temples in this region, one each at Vaikom, Ettumanoor and Kaduthuruthy, you could say they form a “Shiva Trilogy”. The 3 temples are located in close proximity to each other and are considered very important temples for Lord Shiva. There is a belief that visiting all the 3 temples before noon is auspicious.
We had no such plans and reached the Vaikom temple around 10 AM. When we entered, we were almost taken aback by the huge premises and the elegant structure of the temple. Its architecture was typical of Kerala temples with tiled, sloping roofs. Its grandeur lay in its simplicity and elegance.
Don’t these Kerala style temples remind of you the temples in Japan and China? Is there a link to the architectural styles? We couldn’t find much information on the history and origins of the temple, though it is considered as one of the oldest temples in Kerala.
Drumming up a trance
As we walked towards the sanctum sanctorum, the scene inside was electric. The traditional Kerala drums were being played at their loudest, while Vedic chants could be heard from the inner chamber. The drums’ rhythm mixed with the chants sort of take you away from your present surroundings to some Divine world, taking you to a state of trance where even if you don’t want to, you cannot but help focus on the idol inside. These drum beats seem to stir up some unknown feelings in you and choke you up with emotion welling up. You don’t have to be a devotee to feel all this, it is about the setting and the atmosphere of the place.
Inside the Garbha Griha is the Shiva Linga, worshipped as Vaikathappan, viewing the idol inside the dark chamber with oil lamps throwing light amidst the rhythmic drum beats goes down as one of the unforgettable mystic experiences. When we finished the drashan and came out, we felt rejuvenated, as if the beating of the drums had dusted off the cobwebs in our minds ! Is that why we have the drum beats, nadaswaram and chants in temples?
A walk around the vast temple courtyard was next. The entire mukhamandapa has wooden railings where wooden oil lamps are lit at sunset, it must be a beautiful sight !
There is a temple tank behind the main temple, you can sit here for some cool breeze and feel your inner peace.
We spent about half an hour in the temple, walking around and soaking in the festivity. When we were leaving, we saw a couple getting married in the front yard of the temple. Always fun to watch celebrations in the local traditional style. Most people visiting the temple were dressed in traditionally, women wearing sarees in Kerala style and the men dressed in mundus, there is a particular charm in ethnic wear.
From Vaikom, our cab driver informed us that he was taking us to the next Mahadeva Temple at Kaduthuruthy.
Thaliyil Mahadeva Temple, Kaduthuruthy
A 12 kms drive took us to Kaduthuruthy Thaliyil Mahadeva temple. It was past 11 AM by the time we reached there, we had expected a grand one like the temple at Vaikom but the Kaduthuruthy temple was as humble as it could get. At the entrance there is a flight of steps lead you to the main temple.
The Kerala Tourism website says the word “Thaliyil” comes from a fort named Thalikota, it seems there was a fort here once upon a time. Other than the legends that date the temple back to Puranic times like the Vaikom temple, the recorded history is not clear.
If the temple at Vaikom was bustling with religious fervour, the Thaliyil Mahadeva Temple was quiet and serene. The main poojas for the day seemed to be done and there were few people. The temple is a small one, though the architecture was in tune with the Kerala architecture, walking into this temple felt like entering a traditional home. May be back in the ancient times, when the art of grand temple building hadn’t developed, this was the traditional temple style.
We had a very quick darshan of Lord Mahadeva and visited the smaller shrines within the premises. The shrines for the various other deities looked like tiny cottages, should say, they were rather cute !
While you lose yourself into a state of trance in temples like the one at Vaikom, at the Kaduthuruthy temple, you will find yourself breathing calmly and feeling the universal power in the silence. Even the non-believers in our family spent that extra time there !
Winding up our temple visit, we stopped for a cup of Kattan Chai at a shop nearby. While discussing the plan to visit the Ettumanoor temple, the senior citizens in our group didn’t want to visit any more temples ! One of them suggested that since we had come that far, why not drive down to Alleppey, visit the beach and tick it off our travel list, it would also be a nice surprise for the kids. Old people not wanting to go to the beach instead of visiting an important temple ! If this is not the sign of Kali Yuga, what else is? We’er kidding, of course, it is always refreshing to see the older generation having a zest for life and not limiting themselves to devotional pursuits alone.
And so, apologising to Lord Shiva and hoping to visit Ettumanoor sometime in the future, it was decided, we were going to Alleppey/Alappuzha. We spoke to our cab drivers who agreed to take us to Alleppey for reasonable extra charges of Rs.2000/-. From Kaduthuruthy, Alleppey is around 46 kms. We almost took the same route to Kumarakom and could identify some of the spots we saw during our houseboat stay. The roads were good throughout. Closer to Alleppey, we also spotted the famous backwaters and houseboats.
The beauty of an angry beach
Alappuzha as Alleppey is officially known, was a pleasant surprise. We hadn’t expected such a rich looking, clean city. Most cities we passed through in recent times have surprised us with the level of development, signs of good times to come ! Alleppey came across as a prosperous city, neat roads and it had the quaint characteristics of an old coastal city.
It was lunch time and our driver said we could find good restaurants near the beach. It was the beach that we were really interested in and so we drove to the beach road that looked like a mini version of the beach road in Madras, with colonial buildings bordering the beach.
We stopped at Cassia restaurant, from where we had a great view of the beach. The food was superb to say the least. We treated ourselves to some nice spicy curries, Parottas, Appams and spicy biriyani, the best we had in a long time and we are never going to forget the delicious tomato curry, we were literally scraping the last bits off the bowl ! We stuffed ourselves, yet ended up paying only Rs.1300/- for 8 people (the 2 kids don’t count for billing) !
Then, we set out to the beach and boy, what a beach it was ! It was bright, sunny day and it was hot outside but the beach was the most furious one we’ve ever seen. Waves leapt up and crashed on to the shore, you could actually see how angry the sea was !
The broken wharf seemed to bearing the brunt of the anger, atleast we had not seen such high waves. The sea was so violent that this writer was sure there was going to be a Tsunami any moment !
While the rest of the family decided to drive to a park near the beach so that the kids could play around, two of us (this writer was actually dragged along) walked along the shore to the park. The beach was much cleaner than most beaches we were used to back in Chennai and Nellore.
When your mind is busy with doomsday thoughts, you will even find the sea seemingly going backwards, signs of a Tsunami ! To make matters worse, every second wave seemed to raising to scary heights and angrily rushed towards the shore. The sea was chaotic.
If you could put aside your fears and looked out at the sea, it was stunning. Nature was alive and for some reason angry but every emotion it displayed was beautiful ! If the scene at Vaikom temple was electrifying for the sacred reverberations, the feel at the Alleppey beach was equally electric, here the sea seemed to send our some divine “waves” !
Finally, as we were leaving, a waves clashed with another and sent up a spray as if to scare us with a “Boo !”
On our way out, we spotted life guards relaxing by the beach, there was sign board beside them warning people from venturing into the sea as it was rough thanks to the monsoon winds. We asked them if there was any cyclone coming up and they told us it was usually rough in the monsoon season and there was a depression somewhere in the Arabian Sea.
We had some ice-cream at an ice cream parlour on the beach road hiding from the kids before they got back from the park, kids are not allowed to have ice cream because they could catch a cold but the adults can binge !
We were glad we visited Alleppey, it was a great finale to end our memorable trip. We started from Alleppey by 2.30 PM and our cabs dropped us at Kottayam railway station an hour later. We had lot of time before catching our train at 5.45 PM, so we whiled it off shopping for Kerala chips, Halwa and getting an earful from a chaiwala outside the station who was irritated with us because we ordered chai, coffee and then milk ! Don’t ask us what was there to get annoyed about it.
The remaining hour was spent at AC waiting hall at Kottayam railway station, again we were impressed with its maintenance. Chennai Mail arrived on time and we were back in Madras the next morning. Our pre-booked cab dumped us in the last moment so we hired cabs at the Chennai station, one of the cabs was an age old ambassador and it was a nostalgic drive back home, each of us sharing our Ambassador car experiences ! Later that evening, all of us boarded Hyderabad Express and each group went home to Gudur, Nellore and all the way to Hyderabad.
– Vaikom, Kaduthuruthy and Ettumanoor temples are open from 5 AM to 12 Noon and 4 PM to 9 PM. Timings of Poojas and other information can be found at the temple website http://www.vaikomtemple.org
– All three temples seemed to be connected by bus, Kottayam is the nearest railway station. If you plan to visit all 3 temples by noon time as is the usual belief, you could hire a cab to take your around. A round trip starting from Vaikom-Kaduthurthy-Ettumanoor-Vaikom would come to 60 kms.
– Plan in such a way that you can reach Vaikom around sunset time to see the temple lit up with lamps. We missed it but from the pictures on the internet, it looks like a wonderful experience. We are not sure if the lamps are lit every day, though.
– Alleppey houseboats and backwaters are popular as are the beach resorts. You could plan a day in the houseboat and the next at a beach resort probably.
– Cochin is the nearest airport for Alleppey, Kottayam and other places we visited in the trip. As for trains, Kottayam, Cochin and Alleppey are well connected with the rest of the country, that even goes without saying.
– Since we spent very little time at each of the above places including Alleppey and also ours was entirely impromptu visits, we are not very sure about the other places of interest near by.
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