Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sunset at Sastaampara, Trivandrum

Sastaampara is situated in Vilappil panchayat of Trivandrum district at a stone’s throw away from the city.  There are steps to the top and the view from the top is just amazing.  This is a place where one can go with the family in the evening, witness the sunset from atop the rock, enjoy the cool breeze that is always blowing on the top.  Earlier, this place used to be frequented by bachelors and anti – social elements for boozing and all, but now the Tourism department has done a good job of transforming this place into a tourist destination which can be visited by families.

Route:  Trivandrum – Thirumala – Peyad – Thachottukavu – left from Thachottukavu junction – go till Moongode junction – take left to Killi from Moongode junction – deviation to Sastampara can be seen along this route (sign board is there by the side of the road).

Distance (from Trivandrum):       14 km.

Facilities:              Not much, except some small temporary shops at the parking site selling snacks.  But shops are present all along the way from Trivandrum, so really not an issue.  If you have children along with you, better to take some snacks and water along with you.

The whole place is lit up with lights from the bottom to the top in the evening, so families can sit for some time even after sunset.

The small temple at the top

Evening sky 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Trip to Chembaka Devi Temple, Courtalam.

                                      Chembaka (Shenbaga) Devi Temple is situated at Courtalam (Kuttalam) near Shengottai. Legend has it that the prathishta here was made by the great Sage Agastya. The Devi, believed to be a reincarnation of Goddess Durga, is worshipped in the form of “Parashakthi” here. The temple can be accessed from the Main Falls in Courtalam via a 3 km trek. There is also a beautiful waterfall near the Devi temple.
                                       Chembaka Devi Temple is one of the most revered places in the region. Shenbaga flowers can be bought from hawkers on the way as an offering to the Goddess. There are now restrictions to visit the temple during peak seasons. Pilgrims are required to get written permission from the Kutraleeswaram Temple office which opens only at 10 AM. It is indeed a sad trend that Hindus have to take permission and in some cases pay fees to visit their places of worship which were freely accessible to them from thousands of years.
                                      We started our journey from Trivandrum early morning at 4 AM itself. The route taken was Trivandrum – Ayur – Anchal – Punalur – Thenmala – Aryankavu - Shengottai as we had to pick up Biju from Vamanapuram. On the way before reaching Thenmala Dam, we stopped to have a view of the check dam downstream.

Due to the rainfall, there was a reasonable amount of water in the dam.

                                   Breakfast was hot Appam and vegetable curry from Thenmala. We reached Courtalam around 8 – 8.30 AM. Skirting the main falls, we made a bee line towards our destination for the day.
                                     To reach Chempaka Devi Temple, one has to hike around 3 km from the bottom of the falls. It is an upward climb, but there are steps for most of the way so any one can do the climb. 

On the way one can see the top of the main falls.

We trudged along, taking in the beautiful surroundings.

More steps! :)

On the way you may see sadhus meditating.

Finally we reached our destination. We paid obeisance to the Goddess and then we proceeded towards the falls close to the temple. There are sadhus and saints residing in various caves around the place. Mindful of this, we were careful not to make any noise.

View from the top of the falls

We had a refreshing dip in the falls. After resting for some time, we started back for Trivandrum.
Some photos on the way back.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Rock cut cave temple, Vizhinjam.

It had been a while since I first heard about a rock - cut cave temple at Vizhinjam. But the bit of information had also surprised me as I hadn't heard of it before. Today it again popped up while I was doing some browsing in the Net and I suddenly decided to visit the place as it was quite close to my home.
About the Cave Temple
The rock cut temple tradition appears to be an intrusive element in Kerala that drifted from Tamilnadu region.These rock - cut caves have two zones of concentration, the northern group occupying the ancient Chera country and southern groups located in the Ay country. Southern group includes the cave located at Vizhinjam, the capital of later Ays.
Vizhinjam is a tiny village lying about 17 km from Thiruvananthapuram town. It is one of the ancient rock - cut temples in Kerala. It is a small shrine with a central cell, having an independent sculpture of seated Dakshinamurthi datable to 8th century AD. On the two sides of the cell are unfinished panel depicting sculptures of  Tripurantaka and Siva as Nataraja and Parvati standing close to him.
Tripurantaka carrying a bow and arrow in two of his four hands is a fine example of the 8th century sculptural art. His left foot rests on Apasmara, the crown of hair elegantly carved as a high headdress and is highly ornate. It is interesting that different forms of Tripurantaka had developed at such an early date. This presentation is a precursor of a similar type in metal of the time of Rajaraja I.
This is a centrally protected monument under the control of Archaeological Survey of India since 1965.

Location - located at Vizhinjam about 17 km from Trivandrum city. At Vizhinjam junction, take the road to the right side and you can immediately see the temple on the right side. 
Route : Trivandrum - Thiruvallam - Vellar - Vizhinjam.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Trekking to Agastyarkoodam - a pilgrimage into nature

Sweat was pouring out through every pore in my body. It was pouring over my eyes, stinging every time it got into my eyes. Now you all must be thinking “Why doesn’t the bugger just lift his hands and wipe the sweat away?” Quite natural to ask the question but when both your hands feel like lead from the weight that you have been carrying alternately and your whole body is focussed solely on the next step you take, believe me, wiping the sweat away from your brow just doesn’t seem to be worth the effort. You let it be, and trudge on. Friends, welcome to this log on trekking to Agastyarkoodam.
Day 1
                   We were a team of 7 including our guide, who proved invaluable with his knowledge of the terrain and medicinal plants during the trek. Trekking season to Agastyarkoodam starts in the month of January but we were keen on doing the trek via Kottoor and not the usual Bonacaud route. Necessary phone calls were made and it was agreed that our guide will meet us at Kottoor. We had to carry all necessary provisions with us as we were doing the trek during the off season. We had purchased the provisions the previous evening and once we reached Kottoor we shifted the provisions into each team members’ bags. I had also brought along my 2 kg stove which proved to be quite useful to us. None of us had any breakfast as all of us had started early in the morning itself, so we had our breakfast while we waited for our guide to come. Once he reached Kottoor we made the introductions and then we were off. Our first destination was Chonampara, a settlement inside the forest which we reached by bus. KSRTC operates bus services upto Kaithodu, just past Chonampara.
We got down at Chonampara and started on our trek without much delay. We walked past tribal settlements inside the forest one by one. Along the way we could see tracts of land cultivated being cordoned off by electric fences to ward off wild animals, mostly elephants and wild boar. Soon we came across a stream where we rested for a few minutes and quenched our thirst with some cold natural water.

The topography ranges from Shola forests to grass lands to shrubby vegetation at the top.

The trail to Agastyarkoodam is mostly uphill with a gradual gradient (for the most parts, there are some places where the gradient is not that gradual J) till Athirumala and rising from there on.
 Some 2 to 3 hours into the trek, we were past the last settlement. From here on till Athirumala where the dormitory is, there is no one to help you should you get into trouble. The scenery changed from forests to grass lands interspersed with some trees.

My fellow trekkers who had done this route before had heard of a big wheel which was part of some machinery which was still lying somewhere along the way. They had looked for it the previous time but were not able to find it. This time however, we had our guide and he knew exactly where to find the old wheel. There was also a waterfall a slight distance away from the place.
A discussion ensued on how the wheel could have been brought up here and whether it was part of bigger machinery and how it still has not rusted one bit. After some time our guide reminded us that we still had a long way to go and so we wrapped up our discussion and started again for Athirumala.


Mist was starting to fall in the upper reaches which prompted us to make haste on our way.

We could see a clearing in the forest where our guide told us we could find bisons and elephants come to graze.

We reached Athirumala in the evening and settled in for the night. Early morning next day we started our trek to the top. Upto Athirumala the trek is relatively easy. From Athirumala till the top, the trek becomes comparatively difficult as one goes higher up. The trail becomes steep and rocky and also slippery.

Mist was covering many parts of the mountain.

The vistas got spectacular as we went higher up. We could also see various flowers in full bloom.

We continued onto our first destination for the day, Pongala Paara.

On the way we found a Valley of Flowers in full bloom.

Pongala Paara

More blooms

Rocks overgrown with moss and creepers

We could see the other mountain ranges close to Agastyarkoodam as we climbed higher.

The trail got steeper and more dangerous from Pongala Paara.

By this time all of us were tired but the feeling that we were close to the top kept us going.

From this shot it doesn't seem that steep, does it?

Try this perspective. :)

Combined with the sheer drop on either side, this particular stretch is one of the most dangerous and difficult climbs in the entire trek.

Sheer drop to the side

And if you have mist enveloping the entire area, then you can do nothing but wait till the mist clears away.

Finally, we reach the top.

The view from the top is breathtakingly beautiful. We could see Nagamala to the side.

There is a small clearing at the top which is surrounded by  bushes where there is a statue of Sage Agastya.

Outside the clearing the wind blows hard and you can hardly stand or hear others talking. But inside the clearing, it is as if even the air has come to a total stand still. Silence reigns in this place. You bow down to the great Sage, pay your respects and pray for a "darsan" the next year also. I have been asked many times by people as to why I take such an arduous journey to Agastyarkoodam. How does one explain to them the sense of positive vibe, peace and the feeling of lightness one feels when you are in front of the Sage? One can only say that one cannot explain such feelings, one has to experience them.