Adi Shankara, Allapuzha, Athirapalli, Athirapally, Ayyampuzha, Bike trip, bikes, Chinese fishing nets, elephant, Fort Kochi, Guruvayur, Kalady, Kannada, Kerala, Kochi, Malayalam, Mattancherry, Mutt, Poorna, sanctuary, Sholayur, Shringeri, Vazhachal
Guruvayur also has an elephant sanctuary. In here, elephants are looked after and are almost domesticated by the mahouts who keep one of the elephant’s legs chained.
After a brief stopover here, we were off towards Kochi, not by the quicker NH-17, but on NH-47, as that would lead us to Athirapally falls. The one reference we had of this was from the movie, Guru. It features a song with Aishwarya Rai, apparently with this Falls as background.
Halfway to Kochi, a diversion takes you to Athirapally, about 30 kms away from the highway. Most of this route has houses in bright, in-your-face colours. Their R, G and B values have only two options; 0 or 255.
Also, since it was the Christmas season, many of these houses had bright, shiny umbrellas as decorations. The route was pleasant and the dense vegetation on either side kept your mind away from the agony of sitting on a bike for more than 2 hours.
To describe waterfalls, it requires a bloody poetic outlook. Otherwise, you have nothing much to say. It’s a great waterfall, I must say beforehand. But what would you write about it?
There are rocks aplenty and one can try guessing where Aishwarya Rai danced to the song. There is a barricade of sorts restricting people from going too close to the falls, which they invariably try to cross, and for which clear reason there is a guard stationed, who sits morosely looking at a multitude of revelers enjoying their time with families. That’s about that.
A more writable part is of what we did of our luggage. There is no cloak room here and leaving them on the parked bikes is an open invitation to the monkeys hovering around. We instead drank coconut water at a local seller, who, we reckoned had enough space to keep all our bags and helmets. After two rounds of 5 coconuts, we asked if he’d keep it for us. He obliged, and didn’t ask for money.
From Athirapally, another 5 kms uphill took as to the Vazhachal falls. The same tickets could be used here and this was less populated.
The only difference was Vazhachal is flatter than Athirapally, and perhaps Vazhachal leads into Athirapally.
There is a mountain-range called Sholayur, 20 or so kms away from Vazhachal, but we had to reach Kochi, via Kalady by night and it was already 6 pm. At Vazhachal, it became apparent that Arvind and Bhai had developed some sort of a complex with regards to their cameras, in comparison with what we had. They hardly ever took any photos and just waited for us to finish and then would get on their bikes. To this day, Bhai’s Orkut account has not more than a single photo taken by him during the trip.
The scary road to Kalady
By the time we came back to Athirapally and then further down towards the highway, it was dark. Halfway between Athirapally and the highway, there was a bridge that promised Kalady was just 22 kms in that route. As a road was being re-laid on it, it was blocked for traffic. But after much negotiation, we were allowed to cross it. “Do it quickly,” we were told. Little did we know that it was the beginning of one of the scariest parts of the tour.
Just after the bridge, we were told to take a left to Kalady. We did. There was a police check-post, which we crossed. From there, to about till 10 kms later near Ayyampuzha, it was pitch dark, with not a man, animal or a vehicle in sight. All we could hear was three bikes roaring through what seemed like a space suffocated by vacuum and bereft of any other life. We might have been on a similar road in daylight, but this was different. It was hard to judge if the sudden cold was just the weather or a chill down the spine.
The road just weaved itself as if leading us to nowhere. No light whatsoever. The bikes at the back could see the bikes ahead and the bikes ahead could feel the bikes at the back. That was as much solace as one had in this pitch darkness.
The first relief came in the form of a house with a brightly lit “star” lantern. A cowherd was just close-by. After a while Arvind, our primary navigator thanks to his earnestness and knowledge of Tamil, knocked on some houses and asked for directions. Even though we were supposed to have been more than 22 kms away from Kalady, at least we were amongst people, lights and sounds.
We reached Ayyampuzha by 7.30 pm and after getting our breath back, made the next few kilometers to Kalady in another half hour.
Kalady is the birthplace of Adi Shankara. The Shringeri Mutt runs a Shankara temple, which is where we intended to go. As luck would have it, it is closed by 8 pm, about 10 minutes before we went there. To add to it, there was an old man raving and ranting in Malayalam, a language tough enough to understand when spoken normally. He just went on and on and from his tone I felt he was saying that the temple was closed for the day. Arvind somehow just walked in unnoticed. After a while of pleading (“only two minutes please”), he let us in.
The temple is well-maintained and the only visible commercial activity is the book store inside. Unlike what we would find further on tour, this was an endearing experience. The Poorna river (the crocodile ghat from Adi Shankara’s legend), can be reached from inside the premises and though there aren’t any crocodiles now, a board warns you against snakes.
We met some of the disciples on our way back. They had all come from Shringeri and spoke Kannada. They seemed happy to have met us, just as we were to have met them. Before leaving, the old man met us again, and he was in a completely different mood. He slowly explained that he had thought we were terrorists of some sort with bombs in our hands.
From Kalady, the ride to Kochi was hardly eventful. We reached the Kochi airport, from where the main city is around 35 kms. If one needs to explain the difference between chalk and cheese, compare these 35 kms to the distance from Bangalore city to Devanahalli airport.
Kochi proved to be the most difficult place to find a room. At around 10.30 in the night, all the nearby hotels were full. There was luckily a restaurant, Sapphire, open. While having food, we tried to get a room and ended up at a place called Adams, possibly the worst buy of the lot. It was just a so-so hotel, but for some reason charged a 15% luxury tax. Lodges are any day better.
Early morning we set off to Fort Kochi. We also planned to visit the Mattancherry fort and the Jewish synagogue. The closer we went to Fort Kochi, the more confused we got. There was no sign of a fort anywhere. Formerly a municipal town, now Fort Kochi is just one part of the city of Kochi.
It is quite a bustling tourist spot. Chinese fishing nets are a big draw. For an act as simple as fishing, the apparatus involved seems overwhelming. For most of the time we were there, hardly any fish was caught by them. Perhaps, they are just good tourist draws now.
The Mattancherry fort offers a good deal more. Its museum has a wealth of knowledge, taking you through the various historical influences on Kochi.
The street that leads to the Jewish synagogue is made to order for tourists. It also places itself very specifically posing for foreigners. Just off this is the Jewish street, replete with signboards in Hebrew.
The synagogue was shut that day, but the bright-coloured walls of houses and business enterprises were a joy to behold.
We were delighted to be out of Kochi, not because it is a bad place. It’s in fact one of India’s better capital cities. But our next stop was to be Allapuzha, or in other words, the backwaters of Kerala.