Sojourn Kerala ..... An Epilogue

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March 14th 2016
Published: March 14th 2016
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The long cherished and just accomplished trip to the “God’s Own Country” was fast reaching the finishing line. The weeklong trip to this great state flanked by Arabian Sea on the West and majestic towering Ghats on the East was truly rejuvenating and reinvigorating.

Our Kerala sojourn revolved around palm-fringed shores of bewitching backwaters and pristine beaches. The tight network of bottle green lagoons, estuaries and; deltas of perennial rivers and canals, where sky and water segue seamlessly in a slivery haze. The rolling misty green hills draped in lush greenery, sprawling tea estates and spice gardens, the fresh mountain air, away from the hustle and bustle of the routine city life, allowed us to reinvent the finest moments of our lives.

This trip gave us some insight into the Parshuram Kshetra on the Western Coast of the Indian Peninsula and the associated legends. Bhargavaram, the 6th incarnation of the Lord Vishnu, was born as a son of Brahmin priest Jamadagni and Kshatriya Mother Renuka. The purpose of the incarnation was to reign in the ruler, Karhaviya Arjuna, whose destructing power was on the incline. He misused the same and became a merciless tyrant. The Lord decided to put an end to his domination.

After undertaking dedicated penance to please Lord Shiva, Bhargavaram received the Parashu (Axe), the most destructive weapon the Lord Shiva had. His name therefore got changed from Bhargavaram to Parshuram, (Ram with the Axe).

Parshuram was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva and from whom he learnt the methods of warfare including Kalaripayattu, the mother of all martial arts. The Karipayattu demonstrations are currently held by skilled participants, in most part of Kerala, for the benefit of tourists.

Parshuram quickly accomplished the entrusted mission of ridding the earth of all such rulers, who strayed from the path of virtue and had become a great burden to the Mother Earth. In celebration, he conducted Ashvamedh Yagya, the supreme sacrifice, normally done only by the sovereign kings. Thereafter he donated the entire land he had conquered to the Brahmin head-priest, Maharshi Kashyap, who performed the yagya. The endowment made by him rendered him ineligible to reside on the conquered land.

The Western Coast of India was threatened by turbulent waves and storms that engulfed the entire area into the sea. Parshuram, intervened and fought the seas and recovered the land using his Parshu (Axe). He pushed back the coastline between the foothills of the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, creating modern day Western Coast comprising of Konkan, Goa, Karnataka, Malabar and Kerala. The area stretches from South of Gujarat to the southernmost town of Kanyakumari. This area come to be known as Parshuram Kshetra or Land of Parshuram.

Since the land was saline, it was barren and effectively useless. He therefore called upon the Lord of Snakes with his penance and requested snakes to neutralize the salt with their venom and make it fertile. This land, then, turned out to be the natural wonders due to the enormous varieties of terrestrial and aquatic habitats, including tropical rainforests, shola rolling grasslands, scrub jungles, grass lands, wetlands, estuaries, mangroves, coral reefs, marine and agro ecosystems. It is a natural habitat for innumerable species of avian fauna, insects, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. It is amazing that this area is rich in a wide spectrum of biodiversity.

In order to honor the mythological creator of Coastal India, a temple, on the banks of the River Karamana, at Thiruvallam near Thiruvanthapuram, was constructed almost 2000 years ago. This is the only temple dedicated to Parshuram in Kerala. There are numerous ancient temples dedicated to Lord Shiva exist in the coastal India.

The availability of very short time with us, compelled us to cut-down on a number of must-visit locations like Fort Kochi, Thekkady, Kumarakom, Thiruvanathapuram City and the North Kerala. We could not visit any of the iconic religious sites or the wildlife sanctuaries.

Nonetheless, the trip gave us glimpses of Kerala. The natives, we found were very helpful, friendly and non-interfering. It was remarkable that no tourist feels unsafe here. Probably the visibility of vigilant policemen has its impact on the anti-social elements. We found many international tourists, scantily clad, sunbathing or practicing yoga on the beach. None invaded their privacy and allowed them the luxuries they sought while on their vacation.

Further, unlike other tourist destinations in the country, the tourism-dependent population here, was not of “make hey when sun shine’ type and did not overtly loot the tourists. Today, when the national and regional politics is centered on linguistic and religious differences, it was highly appreciable to see that this multi-religious society here lives in a perfect harmony. Though the language of communication was a mild barrier to us, to some extent, the friendly nature of the locals, did make us feel at home.

What caught our attention was the discipline, be it following the traffic rules or purchasing alcohol from Government Beverage Shops. When compared to Maharashtra and Gujarat, the toll fees, for using highways, here are negligible and the roads, though narrow, are maintained in extremely good condition.

In the North India, every street-corner is lined with Paan & Beedi Shops, in the interior Kerala, Paan and Tobacco shops were hard to find. Consequently, paan stains were missing on lamp-posts and corners. We did not find anyone spitting or relieving themselves in public places. The ban on usage of plastic bags was reasonably well implemented and it did add to the overall cleanliness. In my personal opinion, it is one of the cleanest state in India and the people in general exhibit high degree of civic sense. The only exception was the irresponsible discarding of empty water bottles, food cartons and other touristy trash at tourism locations.

En route we came across E-bio-toilets. Any traveler desiring to use these toilets is required to insert Re.2 coin in the designated slot. Only thereafter the door opens automatically for the usage. These self-cleaning toilets have a mini sewage treatment plant attached to it. In order to curb water pollution, all houseboats are mandated to have bio toilets and are prohibited from discharging the human waste in the backwaters. It’s a great initiative to control the water pollution indeed.

Ever since we planned our trip, we had nightmares about ‘Bandhs” called by a political party and our getting stuck midway. The apprehensions remained throughout the trip. It was similar to landslides in Uttarakhand hill roads. You never know as to when and where you will remain stranded on road for hours or days. Fortunately, nothing of the sort happened to disrupt our itinerary.

The assembly elections are round the corner. The roads were decorated with banners, hoardings and party flags of various colors drawing attention of every passer-by. Open SUVs zipping across with party flags, in the extremely hot weather, were common sights. The party workers’ enthusiasm to participate in the meetings and rallies was remarkably evident. A stray thought crossed me mind …. If the huge quantum of cloth used for banners and flags, is used for clothing the poor ….. it will provide adequate cover for innumerable bare bodies in the country.

On the food track, we thoroughly relished the local delicacies, consisting of multitude of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes … be it of the poultry, the fish or the red meat. In this Land of Spices, aromatic spices like black pepper, cardamom, clove, ginger, and cinnamon; complimented by coconut and tamarind added the special lingering tangy flavor to the dishes. The staple breakfast consisting of idli, dosas, appam, idiyappam, puttu or pathiri began our each day on highly energizing note. To satiate the sweet tooth, the local dessert, Payasam or sweet sheera was simply yummy and irresistible. The local water, the ambient air and the simple recipes made each dish a foodie’s delight.

The fruit basket of the state had so much of variety to offer. Jackfruit, Papaya, Pine Apple, Custard Apple and a large variety of banana were easily available in abundance at realistic prices. These exotic fruits served us as good munchies and rehydrating agents during our long road travel on sunny afternoons.

The centuries old, holistic medicine of Ayurved is deep rooted in this part of the country. It’s forest ecosystem produces hundreds of medicinal plants & herbs, which are converted into medicines and herbal oils. The Ayurved Centers are easy to locate at any of the tourist destination. It is claimed that the massage offers safe and effective method of total rejuvenation and relief from chronic aches and pains. It recharges the body, reactivates the mind, recoups youthful vigor and vitality, builds resistance to diseases as also improves complexion, opined the expert Vaidya, whom we encountered at Varkala. The tourists, from all over the world, come to Kerala for Ayurvedic treatment. An individual undergoing the massage is first laid on a wooden "Thoni" and aromatic herbal oils are applied to the different parts of the body thereafter. The trained masseurs skillfully conduct the massage under the expert supervision of Vaidya.

Yoga Vacation, in Kerala, is another major attraction to the tourists, who are seeking to boost their lives and to develop positive thinking. It is an ancient technique for attainment of radiant health and inner peace. These short-term structured courses allow the participants total relaxation and detoxification. The simple schedule allows them to focus and incorporate the strong practice, back into the daily life upon their returning home. There are number of Ashrams offering Yoga Training at all major tourist places. We found many international tourists, with colorful yoga mats, practicing Yoga on the pristine beaches.

On the cultural front, Kathakali and Kalaripayttu performances draw a large number of domestic as well as international travelers, every evening. Kathakali, an ancient cultural art form, has centuries old tradition. Based on Indian epics, it portrays acts of devotion featuring the universal struggle between good and evil. The stunning bright colorful costumes, donned by the performers have been evolved through ages. They represent the Hindu deities through the most remarkable visual images. Most performances start with an elaborate display of make-up, which precede the actual epic dance-drama.

Kalaripayattu, the ancient martial art consists of a combination of steps and posture or stance. The masters, with strong body and focused mind, display their martial prowess, through aerobatic movements. It is a sight to watch a direct fight, between the trained artists, using bare hands to the dangerous daggers, swords, spears, shields, bows and silambam.

On our way to the airport, we ensued to pick up packets of spices, herbal oils, freshly fried wafers and more importantly, gold-bordered off-white iconic lungis and sarees as souvenirs.

As we boarded the flight back home, we resolved to make another trip next winter to get a much broader view of this great state and enjoy the peace and tranquility … yet again. Good Bye Kerala, and its most hospitable society. Incredible Kerala.

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