Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Some book every traveler should read.
Some must read books are given below.
Have excluded some of the popular ones to include others which will give a different experience.

Below are the list of books from the picture above.
Top row....
1. Shopping for Buddhas -Jeff Greenwald
2. Himalayan Master, a yogis autobiography -Sri M ^
3.The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara ^
4.zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance -Robert M. Pirsig
5.Living with the Himalayan Masters: Spiritual Experiences of Swami Rama ^
6.Smoke and mirrors - an experience of china by -Pallavi Aiyar
Bottom row
7.The third eye -T Lobsang Rampa
8. Oru himalaya yatra.- K Madhavanar (Malayalam )
9. A search in secret india by - Paul Brunton
10. Delhi Gadhakal - M mukundan (Malayalam)
11. Eat, pray, love - Elizabeth Gilbert
12. A home in Tibet Tsering Wangmo Dhompa 
Along with these, you could also read 'Don't Ask Any Old Bloke for Directions'- PG Tenzing,
and John Steinbeck's, 'Travels with Charley' .

Do make it a point to read these two books.
  'A search in secret INDIA.
  'The third eye.  
Let good books reach everyone :) ......
smile emoticon
© nellikkal.com

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Reghurajpur, or Artist's Village. Odisha. ( former Orissa)

Reghurajpur, or Artist's Village. 

A traveler to Odisha, normally first goes to Bhubaneswar, and from there travels on to Puri or the Sun temple, and ends their journey there.  Generally, mention Orissa.. and it is the sun temple that comes to a malayali's mind.. In the same way, I too wandered around Puri and Konark. But my travel wasn't that of a tourist. I was just a traveler. I could direct my bike anywhere I wanted to. Wherever I went, as far as it was possible to, I distributed notices that  I was carrying with me. The notices had the message, 'Stop Child Abuse"  on them. (This time, in Hindi.) 

In Odisha, there were some places that I had planned to visit from the onset. (I will talk about that an other time.) 

I had shortlisted some roads and places not usually covered by a traveler from Kerala. But there was a name that evaded me. A place that I had come across in a Hindi channel.  However much I treid, I couldn't recollect the name of the place. A google search wasn't possible.. as internet connection was often disrupted during travel.  The night that I reached Odisha, I called up my friends and writer Veenadevi Meenakshi and mentioned the matter. The encyclopedia had the answer ready.  " Reghurajpur," she said.

Reghurajpur is in Puri district.  Along Bhuvaneswar - Puri route, 14 km before one reaches Puri, there is a small place called Chandanpur. One will find the place only if one searches for it by name.
There, on the left side stands the only hotel in Chandanpur. [there, we get lunch served on plates made of round shaped leaves stitched together.)
From Chandanpur, if one takes the road that lies to the left, and travel 4 kms, we will reach Chandanpur bazaar. That is the  place where one can get meat, fish, vegetables..  A very colorful place.
Leaving the market  crowd and its tumults behind, if one travels forward 2 km more, there is a road that turns right.  Go on forward, beyond that road, and you might feel as if was old world Kerala; uprooted and replanted there! A place of scenic natural beauty .
Again 'Tenzing'  surged forward....
The very famous Bhargavi river flows through this area. And we come across places that brings to mind the picturesque scenes from the novel, Malgudi days.

Occasionally passing small rivers and canals on the way I came across a board that said, 'This way, to Reghurajpur' .

Again, turning right, I moved forward. A small pathway through coconut groves.
As one went along that way..  a tower came into view.  Made up works of art. It kept growing larger as I rode forward and nearer.
Going through that archway, one enters a completely different world!!!
A world that is, oh..  so different from anything you would ever have seen.
Many houses lined the street that lay in front.  Each house with different artwork done on it.  Different forms and styles of painting, different methods.....!
That is a sight one has to see with one's own eyes.

A social map of Reghurajpur village. A contribution from an artist who lives there.

The painting here depicts different scenes from the Bhagawat Gita
Reghurajpur. The front face of a house there.

A small complete village made up of mural paintings. Each different.
Each person here is an artist. father, mother, son , daughter.. each and everyone.. an artist.
Each house decorated with paintings by those who lived there.

Even as I had passed the arch and got in, many people had come running forward.
With all the paraphernalia I carried, I must have been a strange sight indeed.
They were looking at me with some wonder and curiosity.
Noticing the number plate.. someone asked, ' aap Keral se aaya'..  [are you coming from Kerala]  
Yes.. this was the AAp parcel from Kerala, I joked.

 Got acquainted with each person who came to greet me.. Every single one of them, an artist.
One of them said that he had come to Kochi, and that he had done mural paintings at some hotels there.

Saying that I would see  them later, I told them that I would talk to them in detail after a round of the village on the bullet.
I set up Gopro and went forward.
In 5 minutes, the whole village was captured in the cam.

Then, from the group of young men that had greeted me first,  one person came near and said he would show me the place in detail. He kept his word and did exactly that. He took me to each house there.

The young man who took me around the village.
Here, when the young man helped with the gopro. He too is a good painter. The painting on the wall beside, is the oldest painting in the village. Almost more than a 100 years old. It is unique in that it has been made with vegetable juices.  

This, is the  creative place of the young man above.
This is how it looks from inside. 
And, the person at work there is his elder brother.
Everyone there is a traditional artist. There were those who  drew/sketched/painted.. those who wrote, those who sang, ...  all gathered together in one rare and special village.
The total number of houses there, was below 100.
While some did mural work, others painted on fabrics. some on palm leaves, other leaves.. on walls,,, and so on...... art and pictures created in many different ways.

By the time I finished visiting all the homes there, and it was evening..  I had become familiar to all of them. Like a friendly familiar neighbor.  

Everyone invited me to the next celebration and festival.
Even if not on a bike, , I would go there and stay with them for  a couple of days. I gave my word.
Bought many paintings..    and along with Tenzing .. towards the next destination.........

More pictures below. 

A young artist occupied with her mural work..... and along with the cameraman, 
a mad man :):)
The home of the wedding card designer.

 The color combination, that cycle and the picture  I somehow liked it very much. 

Isn't there a beauty in even how the cycle has been placed.
The backside of a house. 

The friend here opened up a world of  paintings to me.. 
That one can never have enough of.
Various and  beautiful to behold.. 
Now, for some works of art from the village.

This work here is special  silk,  dried.. and painted on with specially created colors. 
That is what they said.
And, all I know about it. If anyone has more information, please enlighten. 

 This is a work I liked very much. Bought it and brought it home.
Because it was a purchase without an intermediary .. and maybe because they considered me  as  theirs, they  took very little as its cost. .. a couple of mural works, a few embroidery works, were all gifted to me.
very kind of them.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The trip to Kolukkumalai. A short memoir.

The trip to Kolukkumalai. A short memoir.
(This is also as a temporary relief from the complaints that come my way.. That I no longer write about my travels as I used to.)
Not a theoretical account. I am just narrating what comes to my mind. I am speaking from my heart. Don't crucify me please :)

45 kms from Munnar, Kolukkumalai. 

For me, Munnar has always been like my lady love.... I continue to love her. Frequently I wish to see her. And I run to her, to sit in her coolness for some time.... Munnar might have narrated many stories to me.   I keep learning and knowing more and more about her... but I   had never even once searched to find her mind. Like my lovers tell me....  I never tried to know. [at times they might be saying that with love] But this time I thought that I should know her mind. And that is how I set out to know Kolukkumalai.
To know the heart of Munnar, one should visit Kolukkumalai at least once... ( there is a twist to it. Will get to that later.)
The spot I never miss.. on any visit to Munnar. 

Last week I had made a post on my timeline which said, "The coming week I'll be going to Kolukkumalai. Anybody here who wants to join me?"
Many showed interest.
When Saturday came, the numbers had dwindled down to just me.
But that night,  trusty Clinton called to inform about his intention to join me.
Maybe the numbers fell  because I had told everyone, that whether anyone joined me or not, I would start from Vytilla at exactly 5 AM.

 Clinton who knew the spirit in which the ride was being made, had arrived at Vytilla signal from Thrissur by 4.55 am itself and registered his attendance. I too reached there. It was raining heavily. Wrapping ourselves up in raincoats, we started our journey.
 70 kms past Ernakulam, it  stopped raining..
On the way, we stopped at a 'Motel' to have food.. and again continued on our journey...
The roads to Munnar seemed unusually steeped in silence... as if the workers' strike and their hardships were taken up by the very air of Munnar...

We were riding very slowly. . The distance from Ernakulam to Munnar is 128 kms.
From Munnar, it is 45 kms to Devikulam, If we went by the Suryanelli route, we would reach Kolukkumalai.
Suryanelli is an exceptionally beautiful place. Even if you don't go to Kolukumalai, you should definitely visit Suryanelli at least once.  The scenic frames created by nature will astonish you immensely.
Panorama -  Suryanelli

Frames long and wide, naturally set. A paradise, the sight of which is sure to refresh one's mind.
It is a 16 km climb from Suryanelli.
A google search will show that it takes only 10 minutes... But to climb that 16 km.. even on a bullet, it will take about 1 hour and 40 minutes.
The ride back,  takes only 1 hour and 10 minutes. That is it..  a place that stands 7130 feet above the sea level!
way to ... Kolukkumalai, Munnar

Only someone who love extreme adventure can make it to the place on a bullet. It is not one for the faint hearted.  If you don't want to be that adventurous, you can hire a 'four drive jeep' ride from Suryanelli.
That would cost you 1500/- Rs.
You might think that the charge is too high. But, by the time you finish the trip, you will change your mind. You will feel that they charge you very less.
The way is completely rock country!  The pathway strewn with boulders.

The steep upward road, and the almost vertical drop from the sides will make your heart pound.
The way that awaits us, is that wonderful...!
And above all this, a blanket of heavy mist rested...  with tea gardens all around you...

All these combine together to give you Kolukkumalai.
The sights  pluck at your mind.. tug and pull at it. 'koluthi valikkuka' in local dialect. Maybe that gave the place the name Kolukkumalai, I thought, as I rode on...

By the time we left Suryanelli behind us, the road started narrowing down. The width decreasing progressively. And the tarred surface had slowly started disappearing.

The good section of the road ends here.. before we take that turn to the right.

The small dot you see on the lower portion of the picture [might be visible only in full view of the pic] that is the spot from where we start the climb to Kolukkumalai.

The road we see to the side, We climb up from there.

A view of the asphalt less section of the road. That is Clinton on his Avenger.   smile emoticon

  More pictures could be possible only after we reached the very top. The road was that superb!
A view of the road and the steep side to the left of the difficult road. Click by Clinton

Still, the road was reasonably good. It was getting better!   It was getting better  at being treacherous.
This was nothing! 'What all types of roads we have seen Clinton, let us climb on bravely.. I was saying with some pride and audacity, as I took the bullet forward. Clinton had come on a Bajaj Avenjer for this trip; and he was climbing up smoothly on it. At times Jeeps came down the road from above and the people in them looked at us as if we were some strange creatures. 'Don't these people have anything else to do!'  They seemed to be saying.
Why can't you use a jeep,   a young girl   seemed to ask; with the look in her eyes as the jeep she was in, rode past.
Recapping a 'Salim Kumar' dialogue (from his movies), 'this is nothing'.. (ithokke enthu!') Clinton followed me  up the mountain side.
After riding on so for a Kilometer, it became increasingly evident that things were not going too well. Round boulders and a steep path awaited. All along the way up.
We can't say we 'rode' our bikes up. It was a circus of sorts... Two hands handled a weight of 200 Kgs between them.
Taking care so as not to be thrown off in any direction, one had to ride up keeping a peculiar balance.. and one could only ride in first gear.

Never take a pillion rider on a trip up Kolukkumalai. There is a higher possibility of being thrown off the vehicle. After riding forward so, for about 7 km, we happened upon an amazing sight of a  young chap making his way down the pathway on a Passion Plus. Like 'Luttapi' riding his spear, clinging on to it for life.
One has to acknowledge his feat. He rode down the way, proving once again..  that one's mind is the ultimate. It can help you do anything if you put your mind to it.
On his way up, he must have carried the bike!!!  I mused..!! How else could he have climbed up on a Passion Plus? The state of the road was that horrible.
It must have been sheer mental power!

A little later, there came another Passion Plus! This time, with two people on it!
The person riding pillion must have had a real back breaking time on it. Anyway, superb young riders. One can't help but say that.

In the meantime, occasionally bullets and Jeeps came down the path.
By 12.40, we reached the top of the mountain.

We finally got to the spot. And 'Tenzing' posed for a picture! :)

The view from there, was so absolutely marvelous!
Kolukkumalai stood there...,  with her face shyly hidden by the veil of mist.
Maybe, it was the scenic beauty of those wonderful sights.. a little romance was budding in my mind too..
And so, Munnar's heart lay open before me.

Like an imprint of love, mercy, compassion, the mist kept coming...
Now, having a cup of tea there, would round things up well. It would be akin to talking to her in the language of the heart.

From where we stood, if we went a kilometer forward, we would reach Kolukkumalai tea estate.
We thought we would have tea from there.
The only tea estate there.. directly ran the tea stall at the place.
We  ordered a tea each.
And here comes the 'twist' I first mentioned.

The heart of Munnar, is like a woman's mind...
One  would love her a lot. But there would be nothing in her heart.... if opened,  it would be empty. Hollow.. lifeless.. like that tea from Kolukkumalai. A tea with no smell, no flavor, no emotion...  no substance!

But..   I would go again... in search of her mind that had got lost somewhere.. I would go, on an other quest.. an other journey, I told her, as I bid her good bye.

Still the heart kept throbbing deeply.. like with the love for a loveless wench....

As we started our journey back down.. we got a smattering of rain. :)
The picture taken by cameraman Clint at the time smile emoticon 


Including some pictures taken during the trip. They are all pictures taken using a mobile camera.

Ernakulam-Munnar-Devikulam-Suryanelli-Kolukkumalai- (173Km)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Changing perceptions

There is a question some friends here have asked. They ask me, if the things that I write, are exaggerated, if they are build upon..?
The answer is very simple.  'Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.'
Something, only those who live through it, and feel it, can know.
Each page of my travel journal, is of real instances, real happenings.
What I went through.. what I saw.
Each night, without fail I would dictate the days happenings  into my dictaphone; to keep the memories of the day intact.  When circumstances weren't favorable for that, I wrote it down.
I am just transferring it here.That is all.

(Another thing, is the questions about Tenzing. Tenzing is my bike. That is what I have named my bullet. In one of my earlier narratives here, I have talked about that.  :) I hope, that the question will be avoided henceforth.)


I began with Raju bhai's story, to start off in a lighter vein.
But the major part of the journey wasn't so. This chapter takes us to the real soul of our land.

It was the 14th day of travel. I was on my way from Barh (pronounced 'Barah') to Mirzapur. [from Bihar, to Madhya Pradesh.]

I had stayed the night at a small lodge in Barh.  Had gone to bed on an empty stomach as there was nothing available to eat. Next day, very early in the morning, I set off from there.
After a few hours on the road, by about 8 am, I came upon a small wayside shop.  A few dusty packets of 'Lays', bought, 'who knew when,' hung there in the sunlight. The only other thing available was black tea.
I bought a cup of tea and with it, I had a couple of biscuits that I had brought along with me. Gave two to the shopkeeper too. And we sat there a while talking.. about the land and its people.
In between, I asked him if there was some place where I could buy food.

There it was considered a luxury to buy even a glass of tea; let alone think of a  hotel! I realized that only when he said so.
"Everybody here is poor. No one goes out to eat. Whatever is necessary, is cooked at each home and eaten..," explained the shop owner.
We talked of many other things. I paid him. And again started Tenzing.

Like it says in the movie.. it was 'neelaakaasham, chuvanna bhoomi', [blue sky and red earth] alone. The sun's rays, now beginning to blaze! The temperature was at 46 to 47 degrees. Passing arid lands, the highway stretched ahead endlessly; fields on either side. Reddish brown, half harvested sparse fields. On the wayside there was no shade worth its name; not even a 'crow's feet worth' of shade!! Just the fiery sunlight all around. Earlier in the day, I had filled a bottle with water from a wayside tube well. Now, it would have barely a glass of water left in it.
The little water left in the 'kannas' (a plastic container to hold liquid)  was strictly for utmost emergencies. To occasionally wet the buff [cloth used to cover the face]. (Within 10 minutes, it would evaporate.) I would sometimes use the water to wet my nose and ears..
Those were all ways adopted to face the scorching heat from the sun.
It was 1 pm, and I was almost blind with hunger. All that I had  to eat or drink from the night before, was a glass of black tea and two biscuits.

Thus, I rode on.  And then, a little further off, I saw a tree. There were some bushes nearby, and a few straggling creepers.
There, in the half shade and sun, I put Tenzing on center stand. 'Let him rest a bit too.'
In the little space that remained, I unfolded my three legged stool, placed it close to the tree and rested.. leaning against its trunk. What a relief!
As I sat there, I told myself.. 'if it was to be biscuits, so be it.'
Unbearably hungry now.
There might be a little water left., maybe, enough to wet my throat.
I took off my boots and kept it carefully aside. From my bag, I took out a packet of biscuit. And as I opened it, felt a  touch.. someone was poking at me on my right side!!
Who might that be! I turned around to look into two bright eyes. It was a child. A boy, about 4 yrs old. He smiled. and so did I. Where could he have come from?
There were open fields behind. The branches of the tree I was sitting against, curved, bending towards the field. Then, there were those bushes and creepers I had seen earlier. Maybe, he came from behind those.
Meanwhile, with curiosity, the child touched my knee guard. Pressed it..  examined it.

Extending the biscuit pkt towards him, I gestured.. 'Do you want this?'
'For me?' he gestured back, touching his chest..
"Mm," I said.
The moment I handed it over. He shot off like an arrow and disappeared from view.  Where did the kid go to?
I thought I'd follow and find out. Also, I might find some water to drink. Tucking the bottle under my arm. Keeping the baggage close together, I took an other packet of biscuit, and went up the ridge on the sides of the field, behind the creepers.
The scene I saw there..   There were 3 or 4 people sitting on the ground. A cow and two calves were grazing peacefully nearby.
I think maybe, a family of farmers taking their afternoon rest. As I walked closer the sight that greeted my eyes were pleasant and unexpected.  A four year old distributing biscuits. After giving it to everyone there.. feet outstretched, he sat on the edge of the field and began enjoying the biscuits.
That was the time I reached there. Or, he saw me then. He looked at me and smiled. So did the others sitting around. Nearby, maybe it was his mother, a figure sat hunched up with a child younger to him. It was difficult to make out anything other than that it was a woman.  A skeleton covered in cloth.  A living symbol of poverty and life's hardships..
l stretched out the biscuit pack I hand in hand, to her.
'Should she accept it or not?'....  There was confusion and wonder on her face. And the doubt whether she should touch food that belonged to another.
You might wonder how I knew that. The only answer is.. solitary travels and unique experiences teaches and enables one, to understand some things that are beyond  words and situations.

Anyway, she accepted it. Her husband took three biscuits from it, another person took two, and kept those in their pockets. Maybe to give it to some one back home. Thinking so, I sat beside them. Her husband got up, and I watched in astonishment, as he fed a biscuit each to the cow and the two calves there!
Now, we had all had a share of the biscuits.
As for me, I was very thirsty.
In a mixture of gestures and Hindi, I asked if I could have a drink of water.

The language they spoke wasn't Hindi. Probably some local dialect. As if saying 'of course, why not,' she extended a medium sized bowl towards me. I drank some of it.  Something with indifferent taste. Neither salty nor sour. Maybe it was their rice water, 'kanji vellam'. There were some grainy bits in it,  I knew not what. Anyway I felt energized when I drank some of it. My thirst was also quenched. I handed the vessel back to her.
Now the four year old came forward, took the vessel from her and drank some of it. There was only one vessel of water, one container. And so, everyone was drinking from it. So what? :)
I didn't find that a problem  anymore.
[Let me remind you now...  that, when I started my journey on that first day, I was drinking only mineral water. What brought about the sea change in my outlook now?  Sometimes, the plans we make [ trying to play God! :) ] has no meaning. Some things happened on the third day of my travel; to totally change the way I looked at life.. More about that later.  Anyway, suffice to say;  it didn't feel strange anymore to share a plate with complete strangers.]

Now, I was about to see something more and learn something I will never forget.
One of the calves came running to where we sat. It too drank some of the water in the vessel. The man of the house, took the cloth hanging on his shoulder and softly  he proceeded to diligently wipe  away with care, the water and dust clinging to its face. The calf then lay nearby and began chewing cuds. There was still more water left in the vessel. The man took it in his hands and drank deeply from it...
And, I sat there stunned. What an experience!
Man and animal sharing the same 'plate'!
And, what had I drunk?  'Kaadi vellam!' (kaadivellam in Kerala dialect, is the drink given to cattle. The main ingredient being the bran water got when rice was washed for cooking; or rice water, the water collected when cooked rice was drained. Normally banana peels and other nurturing bits and pieces would be added. Maybe, leftover rice too.  And that would be given to cattle as nutritious food and drink)
Here, man and animal.. everyone had the same gruel. For a moment I felt my stomach churn at the thought of what was inside. But those moments were also that of self realization for me.
The cattle that we tend to. That we domesticate and bring up.. they are the same as we are.
Here these people took take care of their cattle, their animals, the same as they treated themselves and their children. Or maybe more. There was no life apart there. All lived the same. All life was the same.  Whatever was available was shared alike by all. Man and animal.. all the same. The cattle at least had green grass to eat. Still, they shared with their animals whatever they themselves ate, and loved them as their own.

Hunger was the same for all. Giving and sharing whatever they had with their animals, they loved them as their own.
And now, strangely, I didn't feel any awkwardness anymore. And, a new light of awareness seemed to fill me.
Take the matter of that boy. At the tender age of four he knew the pain of hunger. Hungry or not, the first thing he did was to share it. He first shared the special food he got, and partook of it, the very last.
When desperately hungry, maybe I too would satiate my own hunger first, and only then think of others.  But this child?

One of  the  many enlightening experiences that was kept in readiness for me to stumble upon on this journey..
I realize..... 'Journey is life.. life itself is the journey.'