This must indeed be the first and last time I ever felt an astrologer has done any good. The harbingers of ill fate, the prophets of doom and robbers of peace for many hapless simpletons, this is one case where their suggestions have done me a bit of good. Considering that this is the astrologer who in a previous consultation given to my mother warned of me having amorous relations with a non Hindu girl and all the wrongful ire I had faced from my mother at that time, it must be obvious his suggestion was that much favored by me. The astrologer had instructed my mother to do last rites for my grand mother at the Thirunelli temple. Having been to Thirunelli as part of my Wayanad ride, I knew that it would be a worthwhile travel, except of course for the fact that this time I would be travelling on a 4 wheeled cage rather than solo in my bike.
We started at around 5.30 AM on the 15th of March, 2012 in our Hyundai Santro with me taking the wheel early on followed by my father. Cruising through the Kochi-Trichur NH47 had been simply a delight and after a few confusions we finally reached Ayyanthol in Trichur from where we would join the Trichur-Kunnamkulam Road.
The early morning traffic on the Trichur-Kunnamkulam road was thick enough but we were not hindered much. Driving for first time on four wheels in the Kechery-Pannithadam-Perumbilavu road I drove a bit faster than norm and got scolded rightly for that from my mother. After breakfast at KR Restaurant at Perumbilavu junction we resumed on our trip to Thirunelli. Driving on the smooth Trichur-Calicut highway was a simple leisure but the heavy breakfast started its soporific effect on me shortly after Kottakkal. Relinquishing the wheel to Venu I became the navigator for the drive till Calicut. Except for one incident shortly after Kottakkal where one suicidal mother and her son jumped our car, the ride was non consequential. Nearing Calicut my father started chanting the name of the one place he seemed most familiar with in Calicut – Ramanattukara. Since the chanting had at least a portion of Lord Rama, we decided to shut up and let him drove on consoling ourselves that at least he is getting some Punya. Guided by my directions we followed the Calicut bypass and finally took the left turn towards Wayanad. A few more kilometers down we stopped for some cool drinks and I took the wheel determined not to miss any of the impending Ghat stretches, especially the Thamarassery Churam ( mountain pass) which I heard had been renovated beautifully recently.
As promised we passed the town of Adivaram and the winding ghat roads of Thamarassery Churam started. Reminiscing about my ride there some months ago when these roads were potholed and hellish, this was simply heavenly! The well tarmaced and banked roads and the hairpins with great gradient and traction were simply a delight! Banking and swaying through the many hairpins we finally reached the apex and crossed into Wayanad District. Since noon was well past and lunch time was nigh we stopped at the Hotel Woodlands at Kalpetta for lunch. This was the hotel where we had lunch on our second day of riding during the xBHP Inter State Get Together and the said memory proved its worth. After a sumptuous meal we set off towards Thrissillery.
When I went to Thirunelli it was from Sultan Bathery so I was not really that confident about the route but had a vague idea based on Google Maps. We decided on a route that bypassed Mananthavady to reach Kattikulam from where the road to Thrissilery started. The short cut bypassing Mananthavady turned out to be a poorly maintained near ghat road which I managed with great glee! Even while the car was jumping over potholes and near manholes, I was having the time of my life and was actually smiling imagining future off road drives on I hope a Jeep! Finally we reached a main road and were confused on what direction to take to reach Kattikulam. Thankfully we met a group of construction workers by the road side who advised us that the road through Kattikulam was in execrable shape, even hardy Tata trucks managed that only with difficulty. They advised to retreat a few kilometers behind till we reached a village called Ondayangadi from where we had to take the road to Thrissilery which they assured us is in better shape. Some 10-12 kilometers later we reached Ondayangadi and finally took the right turning to Thrissilery.
The road was of very high incline navigated mostly in 2nd gear but occasionally in 1st gear. After crossing the first hillock and reaching Thrissilery village there was a sort of a fork in the road from where we took left to the temple. Road construction was going on in some stretches but the finally few hundreds of meters to the temple was pure offroading. Finally at around 3 PM we arrived at the serene and beautiful Thrissilery Siva Temple, where as per tradition permission for last rites are to be taken and offerings given before doing the rites at Thirunellli temple.
After making arrangements for all the offerings at the temple we decided to wait until 5PM when the temple reopens. Till then it was just me and my camera.
After praying at the Thrissilery Temple we started on our way to Thirunelli temple. Joining the Mananthavady-Kutta-Mysore highway at Ondayangadi we made steady progress towards Thirunelli. The left turn to Thirunelli/Tholpetty immediately after the border checkpost was unmistakable. The superb Tholpetty road with all its twists and turns and banks were thoroughly enjoyable at least until we took the detour to Thirunelly which was as ever the potholed and rough tarmac. We were lucky enough to see peacocks and wild Rhesus monkeys and nearing sunset we finally arrived in front of Thirunelli temple.
We checked into the Panchatheertham Devaswom Guest House and made haste to reach the temple before the evening Pujas and prayers started. My father had been corresponding with a Mr. Narayanan Namputhiri who would be the priest managing our ceremony. We met the gentleman at the entrance of the temple and as directed by him we attended the prayer ceremony for all those performing the last rites the next day. Dark had fallen by then and a very nice cool mountain breeze was flowing all around making it a very beautiful evening with a hint of a chill. After the prayers we were directed towards the Temple hall where we had dinner of Uppumavu ( porridge) and Chukkukaappi (Spiced coffee). Then it was back to the Devaswom Guest House for a night of rest before we reported to the temple early next day for the ceremonies.
The best thing that can be said about the Panchatheertham Devaswom Guest House is that all the rooms are unique. If one room had clothe handles in toilet the other had locks on toilet. If one room had malfunctioning outer lock for door, another would have malfunctioning inner latch. Hopefully not all in the same room but we can be sure that either of these would be in a room. Kudos of course to the Government tender system and its method of cheapest quote and accountability! With nothing much to do we went to sleep at 8.30 PM and it was a fitful sleep at best. The absence of fan and uncomfortable rubber beds ensured that I was wide awake from 3AM onward. After pacing several times through the corridor I whiled the time away until 4AM when the Guest House door was opened and I could get out to take some night shots. For a city guy like me, any chance to see night sky replete with all the stars no longer hidden is unmissable so I had brought my tripod and zoom lens along with me. So at 4AM I went out to take some 30 second exposure shots. Some results were good, some were crap, but on the whole I was disappointed with my shots.
At 6AM we had arrived at the Pooja materials distribution counter near Thirunelli temple to start the proceedings. We were instructed to arrive here without taking a bath as a bath had to take place at the Papanashini stream where we would be doing the rites. The path to the Papanashini stream was quite harsh. First there was a steep descent along rough concrete steps. Then it was uphill all the way along treacherous boulder strewn paths. Walking bare foot was quite treacherous but we comforted ourselves that at least we are doing this trip during the dry season! The path narrowed as we reached near the Papanashini stream and then it was a sharp descent to the stream itself.
A sort of earthen dam had been built at the head of the stream so that water pooled to make a bathing area. However water did seep through so that water flow was not hampered. Navigating through the wet and slippery rocks I guided my parents to take their dips before I took a bath myself with the customary triple head dip. The last rites are conducted in batches by two priests along the stream. Narayanan Nampoothiri asked us to wait for a while as due to our being Kshatriyas special rites had to be conducted for us.
After duly completing last rites for all of one’s loved ones we started our trek back to the Thirunelli Temple. Tired and grimy after the trek up we prayed at the temple before returning to the guest house. Learning that to take photos in and around the temple one had to make a donation, we made a small donation to the temple.
Breakfast after a change of clothes was a strenuous affair. There was just one restaurant at the entrance of the temple and nearly all devotees coming to Thirunelli had their food from there. After some agonizing wait the hunger was sated with Dosas and Kadala Curry (Lentils). As my parents returned to the Guest House for a bit of rest before return I went up to the temple to take some more shots.
A unique feature of the Thirunelli temple is its architecture. The temple which is under patronage of the Pazhassi Kingdom also came under patronage of the Kodaga Kings. Some centuries ago, a Kodaga King started laying out many stone columns around the temple as an act of “devotion”. Pazhassi King got incensed at this infringement, as the Kodaga King had not informed him about the works. Pazhassi King ordered the construction work to be halted partway and the temple had remained in a state of limbo ever since. Today half of the temple is in traditional Kerala style temple architecture, while half of it is in the Karnataka style architecture. In hindsight the benevolence involved in the act of “charity” by the Kodaga King is questionable as it hints of an attempt of passive subjugation of a Kerala temple into Kodaga legacy. With Pazhassi King insisting that Kodaga King apologize to him and seek his permission ton continue the work and Kodaga King refusing to do so today the temple has its unique architecture.
The return journey was a relaxed and comfortable one as we no longer had to keep to any fixed time schedules as we had to on the trip up. After refreshment breaks at Hotel Woodlands in Kalpetta and an excruciatingly long shopping spree at a Handicrafts shop at Old Lakkidi we started descending the Thamarassery Churam. Thankfully the descent was as uneventful as the ascent though we did stop at a point for some photos and ice creams.
As we descended the heat started catching up and soon the drive became more a test of endurance and wakefulness. After a mediocre lunch from a restaurant along Calicut Bypass we were on our way. A small tea break at Kuttipuram near the Bharathapuzha bridge and a coffee break at Trichur later we finally arrived back at Tripunithura at around 8 PM.
One thing I did realize from this trip is that though I am a competent driver it is nowhere near my passion for riding bikes! I discovered that I can get bored of driving a car even though I never get bored riding a bike!