Friday, December 23, 2011

Munambam - A day with the fisher folk

             This was yet another venture, which was planned many times and dropped at the final moment for various reasons. Mostly it was the reluctance from the fisher folk, in taking freshers to uneasy waters, which retarded the project. On 16th May 2011, while proceeding to Ernakulam, in Himasagar Express, with all thrilling expectations of the expedition, which was to take off by early next morning, from Munambam harbor, my mobile went ringing. It was Sinesh at the other end, the coordinator of the program, with the news that the boat which was to accommodate us, had an engine problem, in deep sea, and it won't reach back in time, for the next day's trip and hence the program is being postponed to 19th. Heavy hearted, cursing myself, alighted at Kottayam railway station, caught a bus and reached back Trivandrum by 2 AM. My wife, at the door, wore a teasing smile and I announced it to her face, that I will make it soon, though least confident.

                 On 19th boarded the same train and switched off my mobile. On reaching Ernakulam, found Sinesh, waiting with his car, and relaxed - things are smooth so far. Went to Sinesh's house, had bath and dinner and sat chatting till 1 AM. Got ready, picked Harilal from CUSAT and drove towards Munambam. Took a left turn at Munambam Kavala and cruised along the deserted road, looking out for Suresh and finally found him at a dark corner, waiting for us all alone.

             This man, with whom Sinesh has struck up an acquaintance on official grounds, was the one behind this venture and he was to take us for the sail, in the boat he worked. Knocked at Simon's door around 2.30 in the morning, and together we walked to the shore of the canal, where the boat was 'anchored' - tied to the shore. Simon was the steersman - locally 'Sraank' - and we waited while he went on with the pre-start check. It was a small vessel, with an on board engine, capable of accommodating around ten, sparing space for storage and steer controls. Two more workers arrived within half an hour, and the team of 7 whisked through the canal to Munambam harbor.

         Stocked fresh water from the harbor and steered the tiny thing, through the calm water, to a different one just ahead. Entering the sea was a memorable experience and I remember Simon asking us to hold tight and not to panic. The tiny thing was thrown up, to be dropped back, by frequent tides and the sailors on debut, weren't that comfortable. The heavy ones subsided gradually  or were that we got used to it - not known. Moving inside the vessel wasn't easy for us, for fear of being thrown out and we amazingly watched how the regulars did it with an ease.

             The vast sea in the darkness, over which umpteen vessels sail around, with their lanterns lit, was a sight indeed. Watching the lights, we could make out that the vessels were moving away from each other and within a short while, we were all alone. As the workers prepared for the net release, we realised that we were in the depth. It was still darkness around and couldn't make out, how the surroundings looked.

    The net was fully released and the workers sat down to relax. The engine was on full swing, pushing the boat ahead, pulling along the fully spread net, beneath the water - Trawling.

     Sat down chatting, for the early rays to light up our surroundings.

           And that was another sight indeed - the majesty of an ocean revealing.

             We were 7 in the vessel, and apart from that, all that remained in the world was just water, water and water. Total isolation is some thing to be experienced and not to be described and hence I refrain.

      The sun wasn't up yet and I waited with my camera, to capture the sunrise in deep sea. In fact I wasn't aware from where it would popup and pride didn't let me seek the help of regulars. I was scanning the horizon all around while Suresh, sensing my frustration, pointed the direction.

      By 7 in the morning, the crew got ready to pull out their luck and we watched anxiously. It wasn't a grand catch for them, but was an amazing one for us. Releasing the net back we sat for the sort. Our friends were generous enough, to reserve the best of the catch, for our meals and moved the remaining, to the storage.

         By this time, we had our rice got cooked and it was time to engage for the fish dish. Went on with Squid roast and a mixed fish curry.

                  By the time the dishes were ready, we witnessed the second catch, which was better than the earlier, as it was more of prawns.

           Sat for the meals and dudes; it was a feast, spicy and hot. The quantum that went in, set me lay aside until the final pull up, which was the best of the day.

    While we sat sorting, Simon set the vessel retrace.

       Though had a try at the wheel, didn't have much to do as the line was already set.

            Shore line appeared marking end of the expedition and it took less than 30 minutes, to be at the harbor.

               Helped our friends, in disposing the catch and anchoring the vessel and it was time to part.

                 Alike the ones I have been into, all these days, this wasn't a mere thrilling entertainer; but a peep into a day of the fisher folk, who earn their bread, hard.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Kanjirakolli - The Trekker's Delight

              This is an article published in the December edition of 'Destination Kerala'. I have added more pictures in this blog version.

               Kannur district of Kerala is famous for its beautiful beaches. But this one is nothing about the beaches but the hills. As most districts of Kerala do, Kannur too has its own share of the Western ghats, where Kanjirakolli is the dead end.

               Though Kanjirakolly is a low profile destination, the beauty and the potential it hides, should thrill an explorer. Lying about 70 km to the east of Kannur town, this tiny village can either be approached via Thaliparambu or through Iritty. We took the Thaliparamba option, as the roads were in a comparatively better shape. It took less than three hours for a WagonR, to reach up to Kanjirakolli from Kannur town, drove at moderate speed.

             The small village is inhabited mostly by migrants from Central Kerala, who came over to the wooded valley, in the sixties apart from a small tribal population belonging to Kurichya and Karimpalar community. Agriculture is the major source of income, for this nature blessed valley, and a traveler shall not expect any kind of amenities, a tourist spot can offer. If you intend to spend a night over there – most recommended – the only option is a small and neat house, maintained by Thankachan, near his farm, located at the elevated region of the village.

                  The three bed room house, with thickly wooded mounts at the backdrop, facing Thankachan’s farm, shall be availed for Rs.1000 per day, and it is value for money.

                  We reached the place by around noon and had the privilege of experiencing the culinary expertise of our host’s wife Mercy, as a welcome gesture. Once again, this is the only option to dine, and I assert that she is blessed, be it veg or non veg delicacies, for the taste still lingers. In fact we even had a dish made of some wild leaves, collected from the woods bordering his farm.

            The pocket valley is bordered by thick woods of Coorg District of Karnataka, to further east, and we attempted a jeep safari into our neighboring state.

           We couldn’t intrude much deep, as the track condition was pathetic, not being used for long. Got out of the jeep and had a small trek along the track, which reported to be, leads to ‘Kallu Malika’, a natural cave, which can easily accommodate more than 200 people.

           This wonder cave is about 8 km trek from the stay and can be done in a day, of course with permission from Karnataka Forest authorities.

         ‘Sasipara’, a sought after view point, is just a twenty minute climb from the stay, and the view of the wooded mounts of Coorg, topped by green meadows, is a sight indeed.

                  The peak of ‘Thadiyantemol’, popular among trekkers, appears so close, posing an invitation. Look beneath and you will wonder how tiny, the village of Kanjirakkolli is.

               Penetrate the undergrowth 100m to the north and hold on to the trees, if not to fly off down the ravine. Be very careful if you attempt this, as the place is bit dangerous.

         A tiny, but cute falls, by name ‘Aanathetti Chattam’, close to the stay, would certainly wash away all the pains of the day.

                   Fish pickle served by our host, stole the dinner show and a barking deer, some where in the back yard, kept us awake, late into the night.

                  Early risers can afford a morning walk, as we did, trying the wooded hillock that borders our host’s farm and have a bird’s view of the night stay, lit up by the rising sun.

             Climbed down to raid over local cuisine and the next thing up was ‘Hanuman Para’.

                 Hanuman Para is a rocky region at a higher elevation, without vehicle access. A jeep can take you up to the foothill, from where one to two hour trek, through the woods, will present you with a high altitude view of the village, much above from what Sasipara offers.


                              Certain other attractions like ‘Kaimuttipara’ and ‘Maramthangipara’, along the trek path, are sure to amaze you and compel you to have breaks.

                  Climb down Hanumanpara, along the west, to a scattered rocky structure resembling a cave, by name ‘Malikapara’. From here you shall either trek further down to Kaanjirakolli junction or to the Farm stay, through Sasipara.

                Another hearty meal and Thankachan waved us off. Half way to Kaanjirakolly Junction, leave your vehicle, and trek along the track to the left, for little less than a km, to be at the base of Alakapuri Falls, which is not to be missed, if nature enthuse you.

           From Kaanjirakkolli junction a drive for less than a km to the west, shall take you to ‘Chittari’, where the flow you followed from the falls, meet Udumba River from the hills of Coorg. The confluence is serene and majestic, which is thereafter, the famous Valapattanam River.

                  The wonder list is not exhaustive, for you could even trek to Virajpet, in less than a day, as pilgrims from Coorg do, once in a year, to attend a local temple festival. Much more is hidden than what is explored. Go ahead; reveal the mysteries and the myths. 

Pappilai Amman - The Deity Distinct

         Raj Vridhachalam, the man behind many of my trails, was the one to brief me on Pappilai Amman, the deity of a jungle shrine, deep i...