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Travelogue: Travancore

Travancore – A Panoramic View

My trip to Travancore and its adjoining areas arose from a search for a resort in Kovalam, which is near Trivandrum. The search engine on the internet threw up a series of options, and all of them had alluring names. One caption that I found interesting said, ‘Travancore Heritage’, and its website showed pictures of waves and an appealing, pristine setup. I called the resort to get more details and was answered by a courteous gentleman at the other end. After introducing myself, I politely enquired if there was anything to see in the surrounding areas of the resort. The gentleman at the other end bluntly informed me that the resort itself is all there is to see, but I could go to Kanyakumari which is about an hour-and-a-half away by road.

I was immediately struck by his simplicity and his apparent lack of salesmanship. Especially since the place is by the Arabian Sea, its waves and serene milieu are an attractive sales pitch for the resort. I quickly decided to put it on my agenda and thus my trip to Travancore took shape. What I saw and discovered was fascinating!

Travancore – the place

The kingdom of Travancore was an Indian princely state ruled by the Travancore royal family from its capital city Padmanabhapuram or Thiruvananthapuram. The kingdom comprised most of modern day southern Kerala, Kanyakumari district, and the southernmost parts of Tamil Nadu.

Today, Central Travancore, in Kerala, consists of the south-central districts of Alapuzha, Kottayam, and Pathanamthitta.

Rubber plantation KottayamThe journey begins
My flight landed at Trivandrum from where I headed straight to the Travancore Heritage Resort. It took me almost 45 minutes to get there by car. The road was isolated with rows of coconut trees on both sides. On enquiring, the taxi driver said that the area was south of Kovalam. There was a nip in the air signifying the arrival of winter, with the Sun shining brightly and warmly adding spice to the environs. As I stepped out of the cab, I could hear the echoing sound of tidal waves.

At the resort

The resort itself is a natural wonder and is located on the shores of the Arabian Sea, at Chowara – south of Kovalam, near Trivandrum. Most of the cottages here date back a century and are a part of the history of Kerala. Bordering the adjoining areas of the resort is a steep cliff on which foaming waves play hide and seek. I smiled happily at the manager of the resort and told him, “This is exactly what I have come to see.” I spent the rest of the day just sitting in my room and enjoying the full view of the sea and the tidal waves.

A visit to Kottayam

I had given myself a week to discover the unknown regions of the ancient Travancore kingdom. On talking to the locals there I was advised to visit Alapuza and Kottayam. The next day I headed out in a cab to Kottayam, which is four hours away. The panoramic backwaters and lush paddy fields followed us throughout the journey, disturbed only occasionally by hillocks. The taxi driver took a detour to show off the extensive rubber plantations on these lands. This part of Travancore was indeed delightful. Kottayam has many glories attached to its name. It is called Akshaya Nagari or The land of letters. It is also the land of 100 per cent literacy in India. It is also the starting point to places such as, Munnar, Thekkady, Ernakulam, and the temple city of Madurai.

I had to return to the resort and therefore, chose to skip Alapuza or Allepey which is famous for its houseboats offering tourists a 24-hour escape into the backwaters.

Estuary Island PoovarOff to Poovar!
Back at the hotel, a staff member spoke highly of a region that was unfamiliar to me, called Poovar. So I checked out of the Heritage hotel and booked myself in another with an appealing name called Estuary Island resort. Poovar is located at an easy distance of 10 km from there. The word estuary took me back to geography class in school. I recalled that it is the point where the river enters and meets the sea, and is the last stage in a river’s journey. I was excited when peeping out of the window I saw the fork-shaped structure of the river meeting the sea.

A little further down the taxi driver stopped the car near an isolated patch of the backwaters. Surprised, I instructed him to take me to Estuary Island, but instead of starting the car again to continue on our journey to the island, he smiled and said, “The hotel staff will take you from here.” My heart skipped a beat, as I wondered into which wilderness I was heading towards. There was no hotel in sight, and no signs of civilisation. And then all at once I spotted a speed boat coming towards us and a man waving at me holding a placard with my name on it. I then proceeded on one of the most exciting journeys of my life. The speed boat took me deep into the backwaters where the coconut trees bend low to greet you and provide protection from the glaring sun. Suddenly, the speedboat dashed forward and I gasped at the scene in front of me, which was quite unimaginable. A thin trip of land extending out horizontally lay between the Arabian Sea and the backwaters. This was Estuary Island. Soon the speedboat hit this stretch of land and I was finally standing on the island witnessing a several miles long thin strip of land, bravely dividing the sea and the backwaters. On one side, lay the boisterous Arabian Sea and on the other the calm and slow backwaters. Words just cannot describe the view that I beheld! To add to my surprises was the beautiful and silently perched resort in an inconspicuous corner. The next two days I stayed in my ‘estuary facing room’, thanking God for such a wonderful experience.

In temple town Madurai

After two days here, I took another cab, this time to the temple town of Madurai which is six hours away by road. I went to pay homage to Goddess Meenakshi residing in the famous Meenakshi temple of Madurai. After visiting the temple, the lure of visiting yet another famous spot forced me to change my plan. The place is Courtallam, or Spa of the South.

Route to Estuary Island on a speed boatCourtallam – The Spa of the South
En route to Courtallam, my taxi driver informed me that it is situated closer to Kanyakumari and I was actually travelling back on the route that I had taken to come to Madurai. Covering another distance of 160 km, my back started aching and I was very tired by the time we reached Courtallam. On reaching there, my driver took me straight to the main falls in the region (Peraruvi). I was spellbound by the sight I beheld – a river falling from an enormous cliff with a force that could generate electricity. The taxi driver spoke in Tamil to a lady standing by and she came to me and introduced herself. She said she was the owner of the guest house that had been recommended to me by a south Indian friend. After checking her credentials with my friend on the phone, I decided to retire to the guest house for the evening and visit Courtallam in the morning. When I conveyed this to the lady she smiled and instructed me to follow her to the fall where I could wash my legs as it would make me feel better she said. At the fall, even as I took off my shoes and bent down to dip my leg in the water, she pulled me into the waterfall. Scared at the sudden move I started screaming but I could not hear myself as I was standing in the electricity generating falls. The water felt like needles piercing my body but in seconds, the body ache caused by the long journey vanished. After five seconds, I voluntarily chose to stand beneath the mighty cascade. It was extremely refreshing and relieving. While the world might call it the spa effect I choose to name it the acupressure or aqua-pressure effect. On the way to the guest house I was taken to Kutralanathar Temple dedicated to Lord Siva.

I was later told that this is the Courtallam way of greeting a guest, to ensure a tired traveler gets a good night’s sleep. The lady (named Sukanya) informed me that the waters of Courtallam are believed to have medicinal qualities as it flows through forests of herbs. The falls attract a large number of visitors and are many, namely, the Main Falls (Peraruvi); Small Falls (Chitraruvi); Shenbagadevi Falls (not safe to take bath); Honey Falls (Thenaruvi); Five Falls (Aindharuvi); Tiger Falls (Puli Aruvi); Old Falls (Pazhaya Courtallaruvi); New Falls (Puthu Aruvi); and Fruit Garden Falls (Pazhathotta Aruvi).

I returned to Madurai after spending a day in Courtallam, and then took a flight back to Delhi, bidding Adios to the immaculate regions of Travancore!