Weekly Roundup (BH:D 236 -D240)

March 26, 2012 - March 30, 2012

Last Friday, before we left for Wayanad, a small but significant alcohol situation had developed in the neighborhood. Our local boys, Achu and Nandu, play badminton using the closed metal mesh gate of the uninhabited "Singapore" family's gate as their net. This family has appointed a watchman who spends the night snoring to glory in Rema aunty's car porch, her's being the "Siamese twin" house of the Singapore house, from 10pm to 5:30am, Monday through Saturday. Most of us woken up during on these days by the noisy sputtering of his autorickshaw's engine early in the morning as he leaves from duty. Besides sleeping, his duty involving water in the plants in that house. Though we had been suspecting for several months, on Friday, fresh material evidence was broken about the suspicion that the man generously "waters" himself too while on duty.

The badminton boys had sought help from his old worn out wooden chair in order to recover a birdie stuck on a sunshade. While pulling the chair, one of them had carelessly dropped his plastic bag to the floor from the chair. Clang was the sound and sharp was the smell as a 500 ml bottle of Old Vat Rum broke and spill on the floor. His duty shirt which was also in the cover was soaked.

The boys decided to keep the matter a secret. But their "hushing up" could be clearly heard upstairs in my study. The matter was public. The senior ladies in the neighborhood took stern action. No more badminton in that area. Since I had left to catch the train to Kozhikode, I couldn't be around for the drama that night when the watchman showed up. This week I learnt that he claimed it was a bottle of Ayurvedic medicine he is supposed to consume before sleeping. The story of the highly inflammable medicine didn't go down well with Rema aunty. He hasn't been dismissed but his snoring has considerably reduced this week.

1996 was the last time all four members of our nuclear family lived in this house. After that we were together for roughly a week before Tara got married last August. Now five of us are back in the house again. The fifth unborn member pretty much dictates almost everything happening in the house these days. And it is certainly one of the greatest delights of my life. From the one off juice preparation duties to the more frequent reading duties, I am all too willing to be at the baby's service. 

Though my careful selection of reading material is raising some eyebrows, as long as the mommy doesn't mind, we are ok. I wonder if them tiny eyebrows are raised too. Since I am aware of the epic story of the 'long tail', '12 sigma', exponential butterfly effect possible from half baked unfinished stories read to the awaited baby, I insist on providing as complete a picture and as conclusive a story as possible! There is the poignant realization that once upon a time I too was a baby in the womb who was read to, cared for and enormously looked forward to. Will it ever be possible to do justice to the grand gift of life?! 

The newspapers today carried tributes to T. Damodaran, one of Malayalam cinema's most successful screen writers, who had passed away yesterday. Several super hit movies in the 1980s were born from his pen. The careers of director I.V.Sasi and actor Mammootty owe much to this man strong dialog and story-lines. A great friend of M.T.Vasudevan Nair, T. Damodaran focused on the politically charged themes unlike M.T.

March 30 happens to be the birth anniversary of painter Van Gogh and the death anniversary of writer, O.V. Vijayan. Both towering geniuses with unique vision of the reality around them who left images with the brush and the pen to guide our eyes. While Van Gogh's paintings draw millions of viewers and millions of dollars, O.V.Vijayan's "Khasakinte Itihasam" continues to keep intellectuals busy and causes several PhDs in Malayalam every year. 

I am ashamed to admit that I read Khasakinte Itihasam only in 2011. That too a copy brought to Houston from Kannur thanks to Kiran. I read in Priya's backyard in Pearland over a weekend and I think she would attest that it was a particularly quiet weekend. Though published in 1950s, the novel remains just as staggering today. 'Khasakinte Itihasam' is not as disturbing as Houellbecq's novels that I admire, but it is tremendously distilled prose that is as potent as high end Tequila. It is impossible not be influenced by Vijayan's style once you have read him. Vijayan packs his Khasak, a village based on real world Tasrak, with characters as captivating as Van Gogh's potato eaters. 

A heavy thunderstorm yesterday afternoon provided much relief from the sweltering heat. But the low electricity situation in the state will lead to half an hour of powercut every night from next week. The situation hasn't changed one bit from the early 90s. In the two recent decades India has produced no less than 50 million engineers like me. We are explicitly taught not to solve such problems. Afterall, who wants to give up on the great citizen right to curse the government while sitting in darkness. 

Mr. O.K. John's wonderful book on Wayanad provides as an appendix the original paper by Mr. Fawcett, the rediscoverer of Edakkal Caves, published in Indian Antiquary Journal in 1901. Mr. Fawcett talks about his interest in the caves coming from its being a spot of annual pilgrimage of the local Chetty people. He then quickly notes that these Chetty folks shouldn't be confused the well known Chettiyars of Southern India. But the sweeping stereotyping is worth quoting:

"The Chetties above referred to must not be confounded with the well-known traders and money-lenders going under that name throughout Southern India. There is indeed a legend of their having come originally from Tinnevelly, but it will suffice to mention here that their favorite pastime is tiger-spearing in order to indicate the difference between them and the ordinary money-making Chetty of Southern India, the most timid of mankind, who never engages in any sport."

Having played racket ball with Chalamy for several years and knowing the grand political 'games' played by the likes of P. Chidambaram, I will be willing signatory if anyone pursues a retroactive complaint against Mr. Fawcett. In the meantime, I am relieved that the Chettiyars don't have organizations like Chettiyar Sevak Sangh or Jamat-i-Chettiyari that would have burnt all research by Mr. Fawcett based on this comment and refused his ghost permission to haunt Wayanad.


A Wayanadan Sunday (BH:D235)

March 25, 2012

A thoroughly exhausting Saturday kept us late in bed Sunday morning. But even at 7: 30 pm, we could come out to see wispy white mist thinly veiling the hills around the hotel. Breakfast and check out at 10:30 am. Subair called to say that he will be our guide for the day as well. He had had enough of the wedding celebrations previous night. "A man needs to work!" he said. 

The sole desktop at the reception desk had konked off in the morning apparently unaware of the dozens of computer engineers staying at the hotel. I was ok with a hand written bill. "Sorry Sir, Sunday means less staff and the Christian staff won't come till church service is over!" apologized the middle aged manager. 

While we wait for Subair, the discussion turns to the merits of marriage. It quickly fizzles out and goes in the other direction as usual. Amusing! More talk about relatives, close and distant. Interesting stories from the past. Uncle had a particularly touching one about not being able to make it to his younger sister's funeral because he did not have a single rupee with him. By the time another old uncle lent him Rs. 3 to catch the bus and he reached the village 20 kilometers away, she had already been cremated. 

Banasura Sagar Dam

Our first destination for the day was Banasura Sagar dam, 21 km north west of Kalpatte. It is the second largest earth dam in Asia and lies across the Karumanathodu tributary of Kabini river. We pass through several hill side hamlets in their sleepy Sunday mood. Metal and concrete skeletons of upcoming resorts and hotels rise up with alarming regularity on the way.

The village where the dam stands is called Pandinjarethara. According to mythology, this is where Banasura lived with his lovely daughter Usha and her friend Chitralekha. Usha falls for Krishna's grandson, Anirudha. Banasura imprisons him. Krishna comes to fight. Shiva and Karthikeya fight on Banasura's side. But he is still defeated. A temple marks the spot where his chopped off arms fell. From the Ayodhya dispute, we all know how Hinduism has a knack for determining the exact spots associated with mythology. If only the historians of the country had a similar knack about keeping records. Even today the local traditions consider malaria, long eradicated from the region, was the cold weapon used by Krishna in the battle.

Sun dialing himself to maximum setting by 11 am forced us to skip the walking and opt for the Rs. 80 jeep service to the dam. A small but well maintained flower garden stands at the end of the dam top road. A pleasant surprise to see the sweet smelling 'Panineer' roses which have become a rarity for some reason in Thiruvananthapuram. By the side of the flower garden is a "Nature Park". Boisterous IT crowd is fully enjoying the swings hung from a few of the trees there. Uncle points me to a gang standing in a circle planning something. "Look at the popularity of jeans!" True, every single one of them, male and female, were wearing blue denims. Where have all the 'lungis' gone?!

An exorbitantly priced Rs. 450 for 15 minute speed boat ride was available. A cardboard sign at the counter notified of a 45 minute wait. A fairly long line of eager boat riders were seated on the few concrete benches and even on the large granite stones forming the embankment near the docking area. 

On the other side of the reservoir, a few small houses are visible on the hillside. They reminded me of Girish Kasaravalli's beautiful national award winning movie "Dweepa" which tells the story of a home that is threatened with submerging as the reservoir levels rise.

Though we were no way near as tired as after the Edakkal cave trip, we treat ourselves to tender coconuts after the jeep drops us off back at the dam entrance. The young man at the shop is not an expert in chopping up tender coconuts. His dad who runs the shop has taken a break. A vendor from next door helps out. A Kannadiga family buys a few tender coconuts and walks over to the shade to drink before paying up. "Did they pay?" asks the young man a bit anxiously. "No, but don't worry. They won't trick and run away like our people," assures a nearby trinkets shop owner.

The road from Banasura Sagar to Pookode takes us through the south eastern region of Wayanad district. Arecanut and plantain estates aplenty. At one point, the road turns to provide an unforgettable view of the lush, green, pristine forests that cover the surrounding hills. Dense, real jungle. Surely the birthplace of many myths and legends. One of the oldest mosques in Wayand is called Kalyanampalli because its foundation was laid on a day a prominent wedding 'kalyanam' was also happening in the village of Chovel. This was nearly 400 years ago. The mosque was a gift by the local Hindu chief to a wandering Sheikh who cured his wife who had been paralysed for 15 years. Local tribes had first spotted this Sheikh seated on top of a rock deep in the jungle with two tigers. They reported it to the chief who led a search party. But they couldn't find the Sheikh again till next day at another hill very far away from the first one. Being the gift by a Hindu chief, the mosque looks more like a temple. Such architecture instead of being a glorious example of the communal harmony of this land's past is unfortunately ripe these days for the vested, malacious rumor spreading by Hindu fundamentalist groups.

On the road, we find groups of saffron clad young men. "They are all going to Kashi on pilgrimage," Subair informs. But a few kilometers on, we notice another group which has less saffron, more white and wearing huge wooden crosses as necklace. "They are Christian pilgrims!" I wondered who were the original pilgrim groups whose habit have now been taken on by both Hindus and Christians in the area.

We had a regular "fish curry meals" for lunch from a restaurant that specified that they don't use MSG or food coloration. Right outside the restaurant, a handicraft, spices and perfume story. Achan buys "puttu kutti", the long hollow cylinder made out of bamboo used for making popular breakfast dish, 'puttu'. We only have a steel one at home and the bamboo ones available in Thiruvananthapuram markets are made of bamboo that easily crack. Wayanad bamboo can be trusted. I get disappointed that plain home made chocolate is not available. The young women who run the shop helpfully suggest that shops at Pookode lake would have some.

Pookode Lake and Lakkidi View

Pookode is a manmade lake surrounded by a beautiful nature trail. Paddle and row boats are availble for renting. Slender bamboo dominates the wilderness maintained around the lake. These are young, green bamboo unlike the brown, older ones we saw at Kuruwa and Thirunelli. They don't crackle in the wind. They almost whistle. The whistling provides company to the unseen variety of birds that reveal their invisible presence in the tree canopies with a variety of songs, coops and cries. 

Abundant lilac lillies cover the lake shores. As usual plenty of monkeys. I walk around talking photographs. Seated on a thick vine, I pose for a photo that leaves no doubt about the evolution of man from the gibbon, the only primate species in India. Some narrow walkways lead up and disappear into the thickly forested hillsides. 

Great to spot a Garudashalabham, the largest species of butterfly in south India, in its natural setting here. We sit by the shore for a few minutes enjoying the cool breeze. The setting is perfect for a nice afternoon nap. Romancing couples occupy most of the concrete and wooden benches conveniently placed on the trail with thickets providing natural privacy.

Achan buys a few seeds from the local shop in the lake premises. We head back to the store near the restuarant to pick up chocolate since Pookode lake also didn't have plain flavor. Subair takes us past Vythiri to the Lakkidi view of Thamarassery churam. 

At Lakkidi, he shows us the famous "Chain Tree". The British supposedly killed the tribal Paniyar guide who led them up Thamassery pass at this tree. I guess that is pure, classic capitalism at work. "aandiyo? chaandiyo?" Subair is not sure of that wronged tribal guide's name. From O.K.John's book, I learnt later that the legend at Thamassery talks about a tribal chief by the name Lakkidi who guarded the pass. An Englishman under the instruction of the Samoothiri and other feudal families from the plains goes to Lakkidi pretending to be a tourist. There he manages to blind the heroic Lakkidi and then kill him. Lakkidi's followers dispatch the Englishman soon with an arrow as he tries to escape. Having led a life rich with black magic and battles, the wronged ghost of Lakkidi haunts the families that had paid the Englishman. The ghost is finally chained to the tree. The tree continues to be a spot of annual pilgrimage for many tribes of Wayanad.

From the tree, past the insititute of hotel management and cafe coffee day, we reach Lakkidi for the breathtaking view of Thamarassery pass. 500 meters below, we can see coconut groves and rubber plantantations on either side of the twisting highway. On the other side of the mountain is Nilambur famous for its teak forests. Rolls Royce company insists on using Nilambur teak wood for their dashboard panels. Irresponsible tourists are feeding plastic packaged fast food to monkeys. A monkey mom drags about its dead baby still hanging somehow to her chest. Melting empathy and harsh cruelty...nature thrives!

Kanthampara Falls

Off to our final tourist destination of the trip: Kanthampara Waterfalls. Two of the other famous waterfalls in Wayanad, Meenmutty and Soochipara are closed for the season. The road that leads to the waterfall is jammed with school kids. Nearly a hundred of them. Annual school picnic from Padmasheshadri School of Chennai.Where the road ends, there is a large shallow pool with a short, unimpressive 2 meter tall waterfall. We are pretty sure this is not "the" waterfall. Subair points us to the narrow walking path that leads away to the left. We walk down. It takes 5 minutes before we begin to here the unmistakable sound of a waterfall. Soon followed by sounds of laughter and merriment. 

A clearing leads us to the flat rocky top of the falls. Huge warning signs in white paint are prominently visible on this top area. Subair later told us that a mom and child had plunged to their death last week from there by accident. To a side, a group of young boys were sitting and drinking!

A little further down the narrow path and we are treated to the falls. It is at least 20-25 meters high. Water quantity is great considering how other falls have dried up already. A college group, all male, are enjoying in the pool at the bottom on the fall. At a secondary pool further down, three middle aged men with big potbellies are seated, half submerged in the water, leaning on the rocks. On a flat rock, couple of bottles of alcohol and several plastic bags of what looked like spicy curries and pickles. Another man shows up from the sandy banks to the side and shouts loudly for "beef fry". One of the drunks totters through the rocks to hand him the packet of beef fry. Rather despicable situation at a beautiful public tourist spot! I was surprised that there were no guards and no representatives of tourism dept anywhere around.

By the time we get back to the shallow falls near the road, the school kids have arrived. They are disappointed by the tiny falls. One of the boys goes scouting down the path for the bigger falls. We tell Subair of the drunkards at the main falls. If these school kids head there, something will surely go wrong. Subair makes a few quick phones calls. In a couple of minutes, four motorbikes bring eight young men to the site. They rush off to the main falls. 

In ten minutes, all the drunks are back on the road drying themselves with no sign of any intoxication. The school kids proceed to the main falls. Subair comes back smiling, "Last week we had to thrash some fully drunk and stoned medical college students from Kerala. These Tamilians are much more decent. They got out and apologized as soon as we showed up! It is perfectly fine for people to drink and enjoy, but why do some insist on ruining it for others?!"

Subair's friend runs the "Puzhayoram" resort beside Kanthampara falls. Guests are treated to bonfire musical nights in the sandy banks right beside the falls. "Let me know next time you come here. I will make all arrangements," he promised.

The Return

Back to Kalpatta via Meppadi. Noticeable number of churches, convents and Christian schools at Meppadi between the several hills of tea and coffee plantations. Tall, straight, branchless, reddish Silver Oak trees provide support for pepper vines in these estates. We also pass by an Ashram of Mata Amritanandamayi and some institute affiliated to Art of Living Ravi Sankar. The invasion of the civilized fools to the land of the tribals. I silently wonder how long Wayanad will survive as a forested land.

Back at Kalpatta, we have tea and bid good bye to Subair. He was soon going to come to Thiruvananthapuram with a bunch of tourists. How long is the drive? "Usually 10-12 hours, but it is a family party then we have to account for more time for all the vomitting along the way!" On the way back to Kalpatta from Kanthampara, he had gotten busy on the phone with his brother in Saudi Arabia who offered him a driver job with the Saudi government. "I just need Rs. 20,000 per month. You can keep the rest. See what you can do for the visa." He told his brother. "They are insisting on someone tall and fair. I guess I fit the bill?" he seeks our affirmation. We head bob with smiles in agreement

We spent 45 minutes looking for a bus to Kozhikodi with empty seats. Kalpatta bus stand provides a glimpse into the social composition of Wayanad. Based on people alighting from the buses, I would say Wayanad is 45% Muslim, 35% Christian and 15% Hindu. 

Uncle recalled more details of his first trip to Wayanad. He had come to accompany my oldest cousin who had received his first bank officer posting in Kalpatta. My youngest uncle and my oldest cousin are nearly same age. "I took an agricultural loan of Rs. 650 from the village office for that trip. At that time I had no idea how I would pay it back. Luckily in a couple of months, I too got a job." 

We give up on the desire for seats and climb into the next Kozhikode bus as Achan grew impatient and worried about making it to the railway station on time though we have more than 4 hours of the train's scheduled departure. Our tickets were initially RAC (reservation against cancellation). Though they had become confirmed before Friday, we didn't have the seat numbers yet. Amma texted them while we were at Kalpatta bus stand: B58, 62 and 63. 

Luckily the bus we got into was an "ordinary" bus as opposed to "super fast" or "express". Ordinary buses stop at almost all points along the way. So before we begin the journey down Thamarassery Churam, all of us manage to find seats. Lot more traffic on the pass. Plenty of folks returning to the plains after the high range weekend. My mind keeps going back to the story of the tribal guide who revealed the presence of this pass to the British. Great movie potential in that story. All the markets in the little towns and villages we passed through are super active on the Sunday night.


Back at sea level in Kozhikode, we have more than couple of hours to kill before the train. We head to Kozhikode beach. Past 9pm on a Sunday night, the beach is packed. Stark contrast with Thiruvananthapuram's beaches where it is impossible for find more than a handful of people after 8:30pm especially women. Groups of women and couples as well enjoy the night beach breeze at Kozhikode. "Kozhikode drastically changed once Muslim women started stepping out of their homes," uncle opines. As Muslim women in Kozhikode might be coming out, Hindu and Christian men elsewhere in Kerala are increasingly going in....to toddy shops and liquor bars! And the remaining are flocking to the latest expensive superstitions and quack gurus. There...that is my night time beach pop sociology!

When uncle was here in the early 80s, Kozhikode was just a glorified village with some shady businesses like cabaret centers and most of the men sitting around waiting for a visa to the gulf countries. Today, it is a flourishing city with one of the safest night lives in the state. Malappuram and Kozhikode, the Muslim-majority districts of Kerala have clearly bucked in the last few years their decade old stereotyping of backward, unemployed, underdeveloped areas. Malappuram last week seated the maximum number of students in Kerala for the Class X public examination. 

Slight difficulty in finding an autorickshaw to the railway station. We compromise and get into one that had recently unloaded some fish. Its hot and muggy at the railway station. After dinner of Appam and egg curry at the railway canteen, uncle and I head to explore the part of the city near the railway station. It is past 10pm but the "Hot Buns" restuarant featuring "authentic" middle eastern cuisine is packed. Even a white couple is tucking into kebabs and sheverma! 

We spot a halwa shop. Kozhikode is famous for its halwa. As I type this, I regret forgetting to take a snap of the colorful, delicious display of an incredible variety of halwa at the shop. We were given at least half a dozen samples; top quality ones made in ghee, mixed fruit ones, pine apple halwa, second quality ones made in coconut oil, mixed nut ones, corn flour based ones, rice based ones. Uncle buys half a kilo of mixed nut halwa, I go for half a kilo of rice based Kashmiri halwa that has saffron in it.

Malabar express arrives on schedule at 11:10pm. Unlike the onward journey, upper berth this time provides comfortable sleep for me after the long Wayanadan Sunday. It is 6 am when I wake up. Parting the window curtains, golden rising sun over lagoon of Sasthamkotta flanked by coconut trees. We were back on the coastal plains.

Back at the hotel, Achan had remembered a line from his primary school text book: Kerala has three types of geographical regions: Highlands, midlands and coastal plains. Coincidentally this was also the first sentence of his masters thesis in geology. From the high lands of Wayand back to the coastal plains of Thiruvananthapuram: an unforgettable weekend. The lone tusker will forever trumpet in my mind at a moment's notice!


Thirunelli (BH:D234)

March 24, 2012

Babu's strong, sweet milk tea had quite the restorative effect as we set off from Kuruwa island to Thirunelli. Tea in Wayanad is prepared using a different technique that doesn't involve sieving the tea powder but allowing it to settle at the bottom. The road goes through the small town of Kattikulam before forests engulf it from either side. We are pretty much inside the Wayanad Wildlife sanctuary at this point. 

At the intersection where the road splits to Tholpetty and Thirunelli, stands the "Jungle View" teashop. Subair told us that this is the birth place of famous Thirunelli 'unniyappams'. Of course, we had to try. The small thatched petty shop manages to sell around 40-50kg of unniyappam per day during tourist season. We bought a dozen for Rs. 40. They were twice as big as the regular unniyapam. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside...just perfect!

The narrow two lane road winds through the forest that slopes on either side. "Aanathara"-the regular paths used by elephants between Pakshipathalam and Brahmagiri ranges are carefully marked. Roadsigns proclaim that elephants have the right of way. Subair tells us that this sanctuary still doesn't have the full fledged camera system that is in place at other protected forests like Muthanga. Any injury to wild animals leads to a Rs. 30,000 fine and immediate imprisonment. The forest department here is pretty strict about enforcing this. We've heard stories of folks who have waited for hours at santuary roads without success at glimpsing any wildlife so we keep our expectation for any sighting very low.

As we take a turn, we chance upon a flock of jungle fowl. These are slightly larger and much leaner comapred to the domestic version. They were quick to flee at the sight and sound of the car and manage to be airborne for much longer than house hens. The cocks have fairly long impressive tails. As soon as we passed them, they got busy pecking the bamboo rice on the ground. 

Jungle fowl love bamboo rice. A bamboo blossoms and produces seeds only once in its lifetime. Not just for fowl, the rice is great for making payasam and puttu for human beings as well! This is not the same as regular rice infused with bamboo juice that goes by the same name.

We drive by a small settlement. Subair jokes that in Kerala police department punishment transfers usually bring officers to Thirunelli. The deserted jungle outposts can indeed be quite scary. Uncle remembered that there was only one bus a day to Thirunelli, 22 years ago and there was one guest house with three rooms at the temple. If you miss the bus and the rooms are full, it was going to be an interesting situation. But today there are three or four resorts in the area and private bus service every hour till 9pm.

"Aana...aana" (elephant) suddenly Achan shouted. We had just passed 3-4 goats with a goat mummy chastising a jumpy lamb. I wondered for a split second if Achan had meant to say "Aadu" (goat). Subair quickly brought the car to a halt as silently as possible. I got out. Achan was not mistaken. Right by the road side, next to a dried and dying bamboo thicket, 25 meters away from us, there he stood....a majestic tusker!

Twice before in my life have I been so dumbstruck at the sight of an animal. Eight years ago, I spent an entire day watching a tiger cub. From the intermittent stares of his shiny eyes, I realized the stupidity of having a self-image. Here was one of the most beautiful specimens of nature and in his brain, I am no Arun Surendran. I will never know what I am in there. But my image captured in those eyes was more real than anything I can cook up about myself in my own mind. That was what Sully, the tiger cub taught me.

Then in 2009, on a particularly depressing morning, a ruby throat humming bird hovered for a couple of seconds just a couple of feet in front of my face. Under the spell of that radiant beauty and incredible energy, I was forever humbled about my powers of creativity.

And here now was this tusker of Thirunelli. Having been an elephant lover since childhood, I have watched and admired hundreds of tame elephants that are common in Kerala. I have stood in awe of the height and charm of these towering creatures that are decked up for temple processions. Whenever possible I have touched them and fed them. I have avidly read about them, the legends, the folktales, the tributes to their beauty!

But this animal standing in its home setting was an entirely different species. There was an incredible lightness about his presence. A blissful ignorance of his own size and power. Was this raw masculinity? Nonchalantly he was slapping the bamboo shoots with his trunk. I have never ever seen an elephant with both its tail and trunk up at the same time, prancing about, except may be in a long forgotten Disney cartoon. 
He was wildness encapsulated. 
He was freedom. 
He was the inspiration of the elepant cult of Ganesha, the remover of obstacles in India.
It wasn't the domesticated, groomed, subjugated elephants I had seen all along. They were well washed black. He had covered himself in brown dust. Is it in a limp imitation of his magnificence that the uber emasculated among men in India smear themselves with sacred ash? 
An elephant not chained away from his elephant nature.
All natural. Fearlessness. Lightness. Being. Not becoming. Just being. Timeless. Boundless.

In less than a minute, we were back in the car and moving. Very quickly the expected "anthropomorphing" began. It was a "playful" elephant boy who was "irritated" by the goats and so "going back". We will try to know him using our ways of knowledge. He will always be beyond our words, concepts and ideas. We will point and name. Does he have a care?

A kilometer down the road, we meet a group of spotted deer resting in the dried leaf covered forest floor. "kutty aana nokku" (baby elephant look) Subair shouts but quickly realize that it was not a baby elephant but an enormous pig with a prominent long snout. 

6 pm: Thirunelli temple area now features a multistorey guest house, couple of hotels and numerous shops. Famous old malayalam movie "Nellu" (rice) was filmed in this area. But there are hardly any paddy fields left. According to 13th century Unniyachi charitham, the poem glorifying a legendary and highly respected prostitute in north Kerala, Thirunelli was one of the largest cities in entire south India. The numerous carvings and ruins discovered in these forests agree with that assessment. Once a flourishing city, today a flourishing forest. Cycle of life.

Uncle had been a bit disappointed about not being able to bath at Kuruwa. We ask if the 'Papanasham' stream near the temple has water. A security guard collecting parking fees tells that that there is. We see a few men return freshly bathed. We buy 3 towels and proceed in the bathing areas direction.

More steps to descend and rocks to climb. After Edakkal climb, all of us are feeling the sweet tension in our leg muscles. We go past the "Panchatheertham" (5 springs) pond where rituals for the deceased are conducted. The dry stream bed nearby is not encouraging. Remnants of rituals over the years in the form of broken pots and wood clog it. 

There is no one else at the so-called bathing area. There is no substantial flow either. A shallow dirty pool greets us. We skip the bathing plan and simply wash our feet and face where we can find some flow before the water reaches the pool. As we get done, an old man comes and takes a dip in the pool. I hope all his sins are washed off. Perhaps they will be converted to minor punishments in the form of skin infections.

We try not to laugh at each other as we climb back the stairs in stoic silence. Each of the stone slabs forming the steps have the name of the donor, usually some Nair, engraved on them. These steps have been built less than a decade ago. 

The Thirunelli temple sits smack in the middle of the valley surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides. Sort of the like monastery set created in the middle of the Jusan lake in the Korean movie "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring" but without the lake. Pakshipathalam , famous for its exotic bird species, which can be reached only with the help of a tribal guide can be seen to the West. The temple's old outer structure is simple granite stone stacked without any cementing material. This structure has been through the hands of several religions before its current Hindu ownership. 

The most impressive part of the temple complex is a long stone-column-supported water system that brings clean, cool water from a mountain spring perpetually to the temple. Clearly, the structure housed a sizable population that needed all the water. We followed the stone pillars for half a kilometer till we were warned of elephant presence further up. 

Inside the temple, the idol has now been named the Hindu god Vishnu. It is a male figure standing with a golden crown. Next to the sanctum is a small basil garden. A signboard announces that this is the spot where Brahma, the creator, conducted some fire sacrifice. One of the side deity room features oracle swords. But I guess they could also pass for the plow and tilling instruments of the adivasis that we saw earlier at the heritage museum. 

Men are not allowed to wear shirts inside the temple. My uncle appraches the main priests to get the sandal paste 'prasadam'. The priest prepares to throw a small ball of sandal paste into his arm thus carefully avoiding touching his impure body. But my uncle produces a ten rupee note from this crumbled up shirt pocket. Immediately the priest prepares a small banana lead piece with flowers, kumkum and the sandal paste ball for him. I guess gods are always pleased with a ten rupee on-demand upgrade of the blessings. 

The roofless center area surrounded by the flat roofed all stone pillared structure around it would have been tranquil at sunset it had it not been for the thousand names of Vishnu being droned through the loud speaker.

The rather hefty lunch followed by the tea and car ride meant the senior members of our party had to check out the "pay and use" facilities in the temple guest house. In the meanwhile, with Subair, I went to the official temple management's book store. A 50-something bespectacled gentleman with well-oiled combed back hair revealing a foreheard resembling some of the dry hills of Wayanad was happy to have some prospective buyers. 
"What is the history of this temple?" I ask. 
"Brahma installed the idol here..." he began.
"Not mythology, Sir, I am asking about the history," I interrupted. 
"Oh" he paused for a while, "it is better if you check out some of the books then!"
He pointed to the neatly laid out Wayanad specific books on the table. I fingered through a few and was thoroughly impressed by O.K.John's "Wayanadan Rekhakal" a collection of essays on the history and contemperory society of the district. With a slice of Edakkal engravings as its cover photo, the title of the book which means both "records" and "lines" in Malayalam was clever. Famous cartoonist of Kerala, Namboothiri, is currently serializing his autobiography in Bhashaposhini magazine with the same title which is apt for a man whose lines have thrilled Malayalee readers and given forms to some of the all time great novels in the language for the past few decades. 

7pm: heading back to Kalpetta. Night descends swiftly in the jungle. The drive becomes thrilling. We look longing towards the spot we had seen the tusker earlier. Nothing there but crumbled bamboo. But one kilometer further down, we find another one! What a lucky evening! This is not a tusker, but she is equally brown from the dust. Patiently she was having her supper by the roadside. Since she was so close to the road, we went further down before stopping. There wasn't enough light to get a picture. But a car coming in the opposite direction illuminated her in its headlights. I quickly grabbed a shot but in the hurry it was out of focus at that distance. 

"You have already seen two wild elephants. Your Wayanad trip has been worth it!" Subair said. He went onto narrate one of his own elephant encounters. Couple of years ago, having heard about a hartal next day, him and friends on three motorbikes set off to Bangalore to take part in a bike race. In the Sultanbathery -Mysore road, twice forest officials warned them about a tusker roaming in the area. They wondered whether they should turn back. A lorry driver offered to go in front of them and warn them in case the elephant shows up. They followed the lorry for half an hour. Suddenly the lorry halted and the driver put on the left indicator. The bike riders assumed that this meant the tusker was on the left side and they should pass the lorry through the right. They raced past the lorry only to find themselves face to face with the tusker. Subair turned the bike instantly to avoid colliding but the elephant swung his trunk and grazed the dude riding behind Subair. They stopped after speeding away for 5 minutes. It was impossible to drive any further because all of them were trembling so much. They loaded the bikes on a truck coming in the opposite direction and came home. The friend who was smacked by the trunk was down with high fever for three days. "If an elephant is chasing you and you are running, take off whatever clothes you can quickly and throw it up some tree or hedge you can find. The elephant will be distracted by it and will come after you only after it has finished that tree off." native wisdom from Subair.
As soon as he finished the story and the tip, we see two massive wild buffalos staring down the road from a high ground. We stop to get a better look. These huge beasts are easily one tonne each. Rippling muscles under the jet black skin. Paler faces and dirty brown curved horns. In Malayalam there is a saying that roughly means to stare like a wild buffalo. After this encounter I understand how apt it is.Couple of kilometers further down, we stop to let a wild pig family cross the road. They are least bothered about being in the headlights. 

Once out of the forest range, Subair picks up speed. Night drive through this landscape at 100 kilometers per hour is exhilarating. Subair needs to get to his friend's house where a marriage is set to happen next day. 

8:15 we are back at the hotel. Complimentary dinner after freshening up. Almost fully the dinner conversation is about the wild tusker. Achan says Edakkal was more than what he expected while Thirunelli temple was a let down. I think that has mostly to do with the contemperory "professional" management of the temple. We are entertained by a bunch of young SAP professionals (from their tshirts) in the table next to ours at the hotel's restaurant. Their problem for the night is that one of the team members cannot "religiously" eat non-vegetarian food on Saturdays. Not only can't he eat, he cannot stand being near it for some, I am sure, religiously logical reason. "But you guys go eat, yaar!" he kept insisting. The friends were not wishing to accrue the sin of abandoning a once a week strictly vegetarian companion. Afterall, "papanasham", the stream to wash away all sins was 60 kilometers away at Thirunelli. They leave together with the decision to check if any pure veggie place is available nearby. I am glad the young man doesn't insist on leaving any district where meat is consumed on Saturdays.

Our long eventful, exhausting day had begun at Kozhikode. I had one night's sleep backlog. As exciting and informative as Mr. John's book was, I was out sooner after my head hit the pillow.


Kuruwa Islands (BH:D234)

March 24, 2012

We were understandably exhausted and hungry from the Edakkal cave expedition. Subair asks if we want any Chinese food. We had seen a hotel advertising Chinese and Karnataka food, whatever that is, at the foot of Ambukuthi hills. "Something authentically Wayanadan would be ideal," Achan suggests. Rest of us concur. "Can you wait for an hour? We can get to a great place for lunch!" Subair says. Yea, we can last on homemade chocolates and some apples for an hour. 

We head towards the Amabalavayal-Sultanbathery road. At the intersection, a car is parked near the middle as if reading the board. We turn right. The car turns too without looking. Scratch. Stop. Small altercation. That driver speeds away. Subair gets back in the car and calls up all his friends at the different police stations asking to block the culprit car. Just another day in his life, I suppose.

At Sultanbathery, we find that the ancient Jain temple is closed for lunch till 2pm. We can't wait that long. Sultanbathery before it got that name from the presence of Tipu Sultan's battery, was called Ganapativattam. An ancient Ganapati temple still stands here and is hugely popular. 

Onward to Pulpally. Pulpally finds its place in Kerala history as the battle ground between the valiant King Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja who lead an armed revolt with the help of local Kuruchyar tribe against the British way back in 1805, 52 years before the so called first war of Indian independence. As is to be expected, Pazhassi was betrayed not by the tribes but his own royal kinsmen and was killed while retreating from a battle. 

Pulpally is famous for its pepper plantations and teak forests. Subair recalled a story to illustrate the arrogance of pepper planters of Pulpally when the price goes through the roof in the international markets. Couple of years ago, during one such high yield, high price season, a planter had come to Pulpally market looking for a jeep to take the sacks of pepper to Kalpatta. The jeep driver was interested only in passengers and asked the farmer to step aside. The farmer was a bit tipsy in the late afternoon as all farmers in the area tend to be. He blocked the jeep and asked for its owner. Then on the spot, he bought the jeep, took the pepper in it, sold it at Kalpatta and made more than he had paid for the jeep.

The forests in this region remind one of the orderly tall coniferous forests Hollywood has popularized. Signboards warning of elephant crossing appear every couple of kilometers. In the interstate Sultanbathery-Mysore road, traffic is banned from 9pm to 6am to prevent collisions. Subair remembers a scary drive through this road in an autorickshaw whose headlight was blown while accelerating. 

The eclectic music selection ranging from Flo.rida to Madhusoodanan Nair that is playing from the USB in the car fails to prevent me from dozing off. I slip into sleep every few minutes. No amount of home-made chocolate can keep me awake. But then Subair starts hitting 90-100 km/hr and that jolts me back up. Santoshji had managed to hit these speeds in the Delhi-Agra road. But there the road was straight and it was mostly boring flatlands on either side. Here, the road turns every few meters and trees and bamboo thickets that resemble gigantic grain bushels stretch on either side as far as the eye can see. 

We turn into an unpaved path towards Kuruwa. Careful negotiation required to prevent scratching and ruining the bottom of the car. Sound of crickets and cicadas even at 2pm in the afternoon. Intermittent laburnum in their yellow flowering glory. Suddenly the region to the left clears. A vast paddy field comes to view. Palm leaf thatched hut perched on bamboo poles meant for the night watchman stands to one side of the field.

We are in the territory of the Kuruva tribe. Subair stops in front of the only building by the side of the path. "Mary Mess" says the hanging board. "Mula ari, Bamboo rice available here" reads the cardboard sign below it. A small round cabin with thatched roof sprouts to the side of the building which is clearly a hotel as well as home. We take our seats on the round bamboo benches in the cabin. Subair knows the owner Babu very well. We order four lunches.

Three women and numerous small children of the Kuruwa tribe are sitting on the other side of the restaurant area and inside the house watching a Malayalam movie on Asianet Channel. They seem glued to the action. "They can understand Malayalam but they don't speak it much," Subair explains. Government has provided numerous schemes for the "development" of these tribes. But I don't know if anything makes up for ruining their way of life. "They are not interested in our type of schooling. But if any of them manage to pass high school, government jobs are guaranteed for them. Don't be fooled by their thin wiry frames. They are very strong people. It must be all the wild meat they eat." I don't see the point of educating these tribes when obviously all the so-called education hasn't prevented the rest of the society from destroying both their habitat, lifestyle and livelihood.

Babu, his wife and another woman serve us what quickly becomes one of the most memorable lunches of our life. Granted we were famished, but this rice, fish curry, fish fry, beef olarthiyathu, sambar, buttermilk, tapioca and cabbage thoran were absolutely delicious. I had never eaten such a large quantity of rice ever in my life. Hot and spicy food in the warm afternoon with a gentle breezy. Bananas are free at the end of the lunch which cost us only Rs. 75 per person. 

As we finished eating, two English young women showed up. One of them starting plucking bananas from the wrong bunch and had to told so. They were part of a student group who were camping at Kuruwa for some nature study. "Look how shabbily they are dressed. Unclean people," Subair repeats the common Indian prejudice against Europeans. I don't ask him how the nation which doesn't have a single clean public toilet in the entire country can judge other cultures on their cleanliness.

With full stomachs we walk towards Kuruwa islands. These are a group of 22 river islands formed between tributaries of river Kabani. Only one of the 22 is open to public. We get there using bamboo rafts which are pulled by forest dept staff using ropes that connect trees of the mainland with those in the island. Last week as soon as the islands were open again to public this season, a drunk young man from some college in Mangalore had drowned. 

Gorgeous green view from the raft while crossing. "Are there alligators in this river?" uncle asks. "there are," the guard nonchalantly says and continues to take us to the island.

The trees that slope into the stream from the island create wonderful reflections that ripple as the raft moves in. From the island, the camping ground of the English students is visible farther to the side of the mainland. A pretty bamboo bridge takes us into the island. At the ticket counter the young lady had apologetically told us while giving the ticket, "there is only a nature walk there!" We weren't looking for anything more.

The Kuruwa island is packed with bamboo thickets that crackle in the afternoon breeze. Ancient trees twist skywards. Root structures of long dead trees now stand as termite mounds. The walk in the shade is great after the heavy lunch. After a few hundred meters, we begin to hear loud noises of boisterous bathing. At one point, we can cross the stream and at a shallow end bathing is allowed. The IT crowd has created a Kumbhamela effect in that small area. 

A small group of young Indian men were chatting up couple of white women who were enjoying the stream from the shiny, smooth black rocks on the side. I recognize one of those young men, a batchmate back in Mumbai. He doesn't recognize me. The white ladies soon leave after which the young men perform a post mortem of the meeting. "Zindagi mein do cheez karne the woh aaj ho gaye. Ek Wayand aaye, doosra firangi bandi se baath ho gayi!" (Two things I wanted to do in life, got done today. One, came to Wayanad, two, talked to a white woman!) It takes centuries for the stream to polish the rough rocks so smooth.

With settled stomachs we return. It is almost 4pm, the official closing time of the islands but visitors keep coming. Back at Babu's hotel, we order teas. The English group is munching on steaming hot "banana fry" as they call it. The tribeswomen and children were still glued to the TV. A new movie was playing. After buying quarter kilogram of bamboo rice, we leave Kuruwa. Final destination for the day: Thirunelli.


Edakkal Caves (BH:D234)

March 24, 2012

As he drives us towards Ambukuthi hills that house the famous Edakkal caves, Subair briefs us on the real estate situation in the area. Around 5 years ago, land was a cheap Rs. 6000 per cent. Today it costs up to 1 to 1.5 lakhs. People from Kozhikode, Malappuram and Thalassery are buying up plots on which they are building homes geared towards tourist homestay business. This will soon become the backbone of Wayanad economy. Given that the land has its own distinct beauty during the monsoons and a invitingly cold winter, visitors are bound to rush here round the year. No price for guessing how beautiful the land will remain after being packed with ugly cookie cutter concrete homes!

Subair revealed that he is the president of the taxi drivers association. This gives his vehicle some special privileges. He drove us nearly half way up the narrow hill road startling the groups of visitors who seemed already tired by the climb. Thanks to Subair, who seemed to honk and acknowledge every single shopkeeper on the road, we were dropped off at least a kilometer uphill from the regular parking area. From here, we joined the hundreds on their way to the cave at the late morning hour. The groups were predominantly all male IT professionals, both Tamilian and Kannadiga. There were college kids too. The usual leering and hushed jeering at female visitors aplenty. The extra large cameras too. The unmistakable smell of hard liquor.

I had read quite a bit about the Edakkal caves that made me rather excited about the visit. But not a single write-up mentioned the arduous climb. Not expecting such a climb made it even tougher. I am not talking about hardcore adventurous trekking here. This is a monotonous climb up a sloping road, followed by hundreds of steps inside the caves. As most of the panting, puffing, half way turning back IT crowd testifies, it is high time the nature of the climb is mentioned online and also at the entry point.

When we were at Munnar, there were strict warnings posted at View Point against people will heart condition or blood pressure venturing down the valley and back up. I guess that was because the location is owned privately by Tata Tea. Edakkal caves is Archeological Survey of India and Dept of Tourism property. Hence no warning. Free for all. Come with your weak heart. Die near the cradle of Kerala's civilization. As recently as last month, a bank officer had died before reaching the second cave. Utterly irresponsible behavior from the authorities continues.

We were greeted by a long wait at the narrow opening that serves as the entrance to the cave. A seemingly endless line of visitors were come out. It look nearly five minutes. By the time, the watchman had to whistle a restless foreigner lady down a couple of times as she attempted to shuffle past those coming back. Finally, we make it in.

The first cave is capacious. To the left is a flat platform that nowadays serves as a photo op location but I assume once upon a time formed the stage for rituals. These caves, I was told by the guard at the entrance, were formed as the result of an earthquake around 30,000 years ago. The clean cut of the rock faces from which big pieces have fallen agree with that story. The "religious" story talks about none other than Krishna shooting an arrow up the hill and breaking the mountain. The arrow hit is what lends the name "Ambukuthi" to the hill.

The flat area has a rock wall separating it from a water storage area behind it. We climb through this area to exit the first cave. I hardly had any time to look around for any inscriptions or petroglyphs in this cave. I presume this cave served as a guarding point for the higher caves. 

The steep flight of stairs that lead out and up from cave 1, turn abruptly at one point and disappear. The sight that greets us is overwhelming. Breathtaking is an understatement. Nearly entire eastern region of Wayanad district is visible from here. A terrific vantage point for all the cultures that inhabited this area from 7 or 8 thousand years ago. 

Another steep 50 steps or so bring us to the mouth of the famous cave, the petroglyphs gallery. There is plenty of flat area outside the mouth of this cave from where an even more magnificent view of the table land below is possible. A rusty blue notice boards informs that trekking to the peak of Ambukuthi is now prohibited.

I halted a few minutes taking in the view and waiting for Achan and uncle to catch up. Achan looked fine at the end of the climb but uncle was visibly shaken. He hadn't expected such a effort. He was glad that he quite smoking some years ago. 

It is perhaps from living in sparsely populated vast land of Texas or perhaps from an innate flaw in my imagination, whenever I visualize places I have never been too, I stupidly completely discount the presence of other people. When it comes to places like Edakkal caves, such faulty imagination leads to shocking revelations. Inspired by the photos I have seen in books and online, I was prepared to be greeted by the stunning glory of the petroglyphs that cover the walls of the huge cave. Instead, I stood in silence assaulted by the deafening chatter, laughing and shouting of nearly one hundred youngsters who had lined up wall to wall posing for photos in front of the petroglyphs.

This crowd meant my pilgrim's progress of examining the petroglyphs was slow. May be that was a good thing. The cave is named "Edakkal" because of the massive rock (kal) that forms the roof by getting stuck between (eda) two parallel rock faces. The gaps this rock roofing provides leads to a surreal lighting of the cave. It must be absolutely gorgeous on full moon nights. Add to that the flickering of flame torches and right there I could imagine our forefathers dancing the night away 6000 years ago.

The recurring wheel pattern and swastika like symbols on the walls have led to a theory about sun worship prevalent among the first cultures who occupied these caves. But I think it is better to go by the continuing traditions of the Kurichyar and other tribes who inhabit the area. There is a tradition called "Narikuthu" which involves the killing of tigers and leopards that cause panic locally. The predator is caught using a net and then speared to death ritually after being tied to a bamboo structure called "narikandi". 

During the "Narikuthu" ceremonies even today, the preceding deity is a certain "Mudiyambilli". The name "Mudiyambilli" is a corruption of "Mudiyon puli" which means the destroyer of tigers and leopards. An inscription that was read by Dr. Hultzch who headed the Madras Eppigraphy dept in 1896 as "Palpulithanandakari". In later research, this has been rectified as "Pala puli than anthakari" meaning the "the finisher of many tigers". It is obvious that a tiger cult revolved around these caves since time immemorial. Once we know this theory, the numerous stripe like engravings on the rock face gather a wild significance.

The male and female figures in the petroglyphs are minimally represented using mostly straight lines and triangles. Most of them appear to be wearing feather crowns. These engravings are said to resemble those found at Susa in Iraq. The representation of hunters with dogs point to the connection between the ancient dwellers of these caves and the present Mullukurumbar tribes who use trained dogs as hunting partners.

Later inscriptions found in the cave indicate Buddhist and Hindu occupation. A primitive Pali inscription supposedly from emperor Asoka's time reads "Sakamunerverakohudanam" which Kesari Balakrishna Pilla interpreted as "Sakya Muni Overako bahudanam" with Sakya Muni being Buddha and Overa being the cave donated as prayer hall. Dr. Hultzch has also identified a Sanskrit inscription from 3rd century BC that reads "Shri Vishnu Varmanaha Kudumbia Kulavardhanasya Likhitha." The Kudumbia dynasty is believed to have ruled Wayanad between 3rd century BC and 5th century AD and are considered predecessors of 'Kurumba' tribe of today. There are other inscriptions in the cave in primitive Kannada as well.

Edakkal caves were rediscovered by the British administrator, Fosset, who was in charge of Wayanad. He led an expedition in 1896 with the help of Paniyars and Mullukurumbars to the cave which was a pilgrim spot for Malaya Chetti people. Kurumbars had an inexplicable fear at that time about these caves. Displaying incredible scientific acumen, Fosset conducted excavations clearing the rock dust that had accumulated at the bottom of the cave and discovered several carving implements from the paleolithic and neolithic period. The stellar research done by Fosset and others like Dr. Hultzch way back in 1890s is pretty much still what we have as authority information. Of course, in a land of engineers and doctors which idiot will be interested in pursuing fields like history and anthropology. Haven't we outsourced that to quack spiritual gurus and fundamentalist politicians of the land?

Remnants of the rock dust cleared by Fosset over a century ago continue to rise from the Edakkal cave floor as Adidas and Reeboks trample over carrying faces with visible disillusionment. "Yeh dekhne ke liya itna upar aaya, yaar?" (We climbed all the way up to see this!) remarks a young man wiping the sweat of his nose. I wonder what reward show he expected for the climb. 

At the far end of the cave, a narrow, hardly one feet wide gap stretches almost all the way to the bottom. Through this gap, villages like Kuppakolli in the valley 4000 feet below are clearly visible. I wonder how many have slipped to their deaths into this gap. An iron gate stands guard these days. A flickering torch shown at this opening would have easily gathered, for the villagers of Kuppakolli centuries ago, the divine aura associated with Sabarimala's Makaravillakku light these days!

Despite the crowd, the movement and the noise, there is an unnerving calmness, if there is such a thing, about this cave. Poet ONV's famous lines "Aadi ushasandhya poothathivide, aadi sargathalamarnathivide" (Here the primoridal dusk and dawn flowere, here the primitive creative forces garnered rhythm) came to mind. The men and women who chiseled these rocks were artists before art was born. Through simple straight lines, they etched their life's drama in this natural theater when life was almost all action and less talk. In this magnificent setting, they measured their lives in the rituals that celebrated the triumphs over the omnipresent cruel predatory nature. Here, leaders were forged. Here, creativity was created. Close your eyes and don't you hear the sound of the stone axe etching history on the immortal rocks one hammering at a time...a sound that reverberates in the valleys and echoes in the hills and proclaims to the surrounding, scary wildness: I am human and I will leave my mark!

After about 40 minutes in the cave, we climbed down in a respectful silence. A family of monkeys were providing entertainment for those waiting to go up. Couple of middle aged men in "mundu" ask us if there is anything worth going up. "If you are interested in history, it is worth it, otherwise it is just a steep, tiring climb!" my uncle told them. They turned back. 

We stop at the first shop on the way down for tender coconuts. First hand experience again of the incredible restorative and rejuvenating capacity of tender coconuts. I buy some home-made chocolate. The high quality of cocoa grown in Wayand impresses in every bite. A bunch of young ladies, possibly in their mid twenties, already tired on the way up, also ordered tender coconuts. One of them spoke decisively on her cellphone, "Apni beech bathein ho chuki hain. It is over, ok? Please tum mujhe ab call math karo" (We have had our talk. It is over, ok? Please don't call me again!) A telephonic break up enroute Edakkal caves. I am glad the folks who lived and carved up there milinea ago did not give up so easily. We are lucky that they didn't have it so easy!

To reiterate in closing. Please be aware of the steep and tiring climb required to reach these remarkable witness to human history. Please be ready for hundreds and hundreds of youngsters who will visit, especially if it is a weekend or holiday in Karnataka, and potentially take away some shine from your experience.