Kalaripayattu

I first visited Kerala (a State in South India) in the early nineties, much before the Keralites discovered that they lived in God’s Own Country. And having discovered God’s Own Country, on my own, I have kept returning. Again and again.

But my enchantment with the natural beauty of Kerala blinkered me and I gave the cultural aspects of the place and its people a miss. As a result, I missed out on Kalaripayattu, a martial art form indigenous to Kerala. In Malayalam, the word ‘kalari‘ means a practice ring or a training centre and ‘payattu‘ means duel.

Although I had come across some pictures and references to Kalaripayattu in travelogues and magazines, for some unfathomable reason, the thought of attending a performance never entered my mind.

In fact, when I was invited to attend a demonstration at the Madras Regimental Centre in Wellington, Niligiris, South India,  last May, my initial reaction was to decline. But the fact that my father-in-law was the chief guest for this program ensured that no was not an option. Still I kept hoping that inclement weather would ensure the cancellation of the show. But the skies cleared and off we drove to the parade ground at the Centre.

However, once the program started, we sat enraptured. I tried to take some pictures, but the shutter speed of my camera was not fast enough, as the members of the team flew across space in a blur; swords striking swords or shields blocking swords or spears or staffs knocking away swords.

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Then I realised why all the pictures in the travelogues had left me cold. None of these pictures can ever capture the sheer speed, agility and the courage of the kalaripayattu artistes.

A few months later, in October, we got another opportunity when we visited Kumily. Courtesy the events manager at the Tuskers Trails resort where we stayed, we got a real ringside view of a kalaripayattu performance at the  Kadathanadan Kalari Centre.

This time, I did not even carry my camera knowing that it was quite inadequate to capture any action. Instead, I decided to sit back, watch and relish the ‘warriors’ in action. However, the ubiquitous cell phone ensured that I got some pics of the arena.

 

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But I was quite unprepared for what followed. Without taking away anything from the army team at Wellington, who put up a performance at short notice, I realised that this was the real thing.

I will not try to describe the performance, as mere words are quite unequal to the task. Instead, I will share with the readers a short video of the another performance by a team from the same centre. Watch below or here.

The artistes wielded the various weapons, viz swords, spears and staffs, without holding anything back. Only the superb reflexes of the warriors prevented serious injury. And the climax of the show was two warriors jumping together, through a double ring of fire.

At one point during the program, some of the artistes climbed up to where the audience were sitting and like consummate showmen, went around shaking hands. After the performance, many in the audience rushed into the arena and insisted on taking pictures with the artistes. These guys have evolved into ‘stars’ and why not?

You can watch a more detailed video here.

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Today we’re on K of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

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Travel and Food

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” ~ James Michener

Travel and food – they go together for me.

Last October we had the pleasure of visiting a quiet little town called Kumily in Kerala, South India. While we stayed there because of its proximity to the famous Periyar Tiger Reserve, we enjoyed our walks through the little town too.  Whenever we visit a new place, José and I make it a point to sample the local food.  So the first evening there we went to look for tea and snacks and here’s what we found.

These were kind of familiar and can be found in different parts of India  – a bun with a sweet filling – called Dilkush (which in Hindi means ‘to make your heart happy’. However, what made these different was the filling – a lot more coconut – which I love!

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 These are Thennai kozhakattai a sweet dumpling dish made of rice, coconut, jaggery/ sugar. We also tasted a sweet rice cake called vattayappam. Both of these were steamed – so they were easy on the stomach and made a good evening snack.

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Food is our common ground, a universal experience. ~James Beard (1903-1985) – an American chef and food writer

In this case it’s the tea that makes it a universal experience! 😉  José relished a good strong cup of it, unlike the lighter variety we have at home.

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Here’s the  shop in all its glory – Irfana Coffee House and Cool Bar –  at Kulathumpalam in Kumily, with its proud owner Zakir Hussain. He was most gracious in letting us take these pictures.  Notice all the banana wafers and tapioca chips in the packets on the counter in front. Fried in coconut oil, these too are a specialty of Kerala.

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The next day we were lucky to go to a biryani  festival in the town. Now there are various kinds of biryanis that unique to different parts of India and we got a chance to try quite a few of them.  Thalaserri biryani, particular to a region in Kerala, was one we hadn’t sampled before. It was rich with the spices that grown in Kerala – cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and bay leaves. I was certain I got the distinct flavor of rose water too.

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By venturing out of our hotel as we usually do, and sampling the local food, we get to interact with the local people and find out more about the place and culture.

Are you adventurous with food when you travel?

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I’m so glad to be the host of The Writer’s Post Thursday Blog Hop # 73. My prompt is rather long – but it’s open to interpretation.

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” ~ James Michener

Do join in and add the link to your post here:



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Gavi – An Escape To Wilderness

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During the Dassera holidays, we traveled to Kumily, a market town in Idduki district of Kerala and the main staging point to visit Periyar lake and the Thekaddy forest reserve. Whilst the boat ride on the Periyar lake is a must-do on the itinerary of most tourists, it can safely be skipped without much ado.

Instead, if one is really interested in eco tourism, the Kerala Forest Development Corp. Ltd.(KFDC) has put together a number of packages. One of these packages is a day trip to Gavi Reserve Forest. Developed into an exclusive eco-tourism project, Gavi is listed as one of the must-see places in India. Active involvement of tribals makes Gavi one of its kind on this count.

We have to thank, Kumaran, the Activities Manager at Club Mahindra’s Tusker Trails, for the jeep and the entry passes to the Gavi forest reserve. And yes, getting the entry pass is important, since only a limited number of tourists are allowed into Gavi each day. The reason for this restriction is that the Gavi forest is Nature in its pristine form. In an attempt to preserve this, the Kerala Government has imposed the quota and every tourist has to be accounted for.

Around 5 am, we were picked up by our driver, Benny, who has been doing the Gavi run for around ten years.The years of driving the same route has endowed Benny with an uncanny ability to sight wildlife whilst at the same time maneuvering a 4WD jeep through the forest!
Thekkady 090A 40+ kilometre drive from Kumily, you turn off the Kumily-Kottayam highway at Vandiperiyar. From there the road is blanketed by tea plantations and the last 20 kms of the drive to the base camp is through the jungle.

We reached Gavi around 7.30 in the morning and after completing the registration process got down stuffing ourselves. The food was wholesome and unlimited. Eggs, toast, poha, idlis, sambar, puris and chole and fruit was on offer. I didn’t notice any one complaining and everyone seemed to be doing justice to the food.

After breakfast we were assigned guides, jeep-wise, and given leggings to keep the leeches from getting under our trousers. As part of the eco-tourism project, these guides are the locals mentioned earlier. Born and brought up in the forests around and they use their knowledge of the area to guide tourists. Providing them with a livelihood, reduces the temptation to poach. Now, they are, in fact, the protectors of Gavi.

We were offered treks of one, two and three hour duration. We opted for the one hour trek, during which we got a panoramic view of the Gavi forest including the Sabarimala or ‘Poonkavanam (forests) of Lord Ayyappa‘. The pics below are only some of the spectacular scenes we saw.

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We returned to the base area, where we rested after the strenuous hike and waited for those who had opted for the longer treks. During this time, some of the tourists who had not opted for the hike were taken for a boat ride on the lake.
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We got our turn in the boat after lunch and again were overwhelmed with the scenery and the wildlife.Our guide rowed a boatload of six so effortlessly that Corinne remarked that it seemed he was knitting wool.

 

 

 

 

The high point was the waterfall in a cove. You get off the boat and and go and gaze and one of natures wonders. Thekkady 159

Around 3.00 pm the day trip was declared over, though as per the itinerary we were supposed to visit a cardamom plantation and have tea. But given the strenuous activities of the day, I didn’t hear anyone complaining about the program being truncated. And no demands for refunds! 🙂

On the return drive too, Benny kept stopping the jeep to point out wildlife. We too got into the spirit of things and pointed to what looked like an elephant in the distance. But Benny, with one cursory glance, declared that it was a cow, which was established when we checked with the binoculars!

During the trip we sighted deer, elephants, Nilgiri langurs Malabar squirrels and various birds, including kingfishers. And of course, the cows. 😉

Tips:

  • Wear trousers, else you will have leeches attaching themselves to your legs.
  • Rugged footwear is a must, if you are planning to trek. If you are not planning to trek, sit at home at look at pictures of Gavi on the internet! 😉
  • Binoculars are essential, preferably a pair for each person.
  • Carry a camera but don’t only focus on taking pictures. You may miss the larger picture, quite literally!
  • Thankfully mobile phones do not work in Gavi – there is no signal. So social media addicts beware! 😉
  • Be polite to the guides; they know were the wildlife is located, sometimes right under your nose or over your head!

Useful Link:

Gavi EcoTourism

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I would recommend an overnight stay at Gavi rather than the day trip we took. The next time, we go there we’re going to stay in one of these Swiss cottages, on the banks of the lake, for a night or two.

Let me know if you get there before we go back again!

 

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