We went wherever Anbu could muster from his memory. After Vattakotai Fort, we found ourselves halting to a stop beside the Rayanthiri Lake. Sun light streaming in through coconut tree leaves on a fairly shaded road in Thamaraikulam, an occasional cycle or car passing us by, we pull to a stop by the side of the road. From here an earthen trail, through the tall trees, lead us to an opening right beside the lake.
We sit on the edge chatting, our feet dangling in the clear water. Somewhere to the right, a few men had been bathing. Now two of them dive into the lake and with long strokes are soon somewhere in the middle. I’m transported back to Beni mama’s house in Kolkata. He’s a friend of my uncle. I remember being there long before I had anything to do with Delhi. There was a massive pond in the backyard and I remember my dad diving into the water and being somewhere in the middle in a couple of strides too. I was so fascinated by that, I have a snapshot saved in my memory.
But this feels fairly natural, to be by the lake, hearing Anbu and Pabla talk about work and life. Anbu’s family owns a cashew importing business which he wants to grow further in the new generation style. Young people all over India seem to be really optimistic about the internet. What a great common point to relate to. The three of us there, Pabla from Agra, Anbu from Nagercoil and Me from Delhi, all three of us there with our faith in the world wide web.
Somewhere around 4 p.m. the car had again pulled to a stop. This time right by the closed and rusted old bridge at Manakudy. Straight across I see the St. Thomas Kurusadi Church reflecting a brilliant white in the late afternoon sun.
Anbu points out that this was where the Tsunami washed away two of the three bridges that connected Tata Colony to Lurdhu Nagar.
What’s left of the past is this one rusted bridge over which I am walking now. Its loose hinges bounce beneath my feet. Places where the corroded metal has washed away, give a glimpse of the water flowing below. To the left broken bits of an old bride rests in the water on both sides. And further inshore now, the new bridge, over which we crossed a while back.
However, the wreckage is just a reminder that behind me is the innocent ocean. The Manakudy lake, supplied by the Pazhayar river, ripples into the serenely blue sea with its white foam lining merging into the thin golden strip of beach with its many securely knotted colourful boats.
I see silver fishes reflecting the sunlight under the water’s clear surface. And occasionally someone from the beach would decide to cross, balancing on a narrow wooden boat, pushing forward with a stick.
Then we move further up the west coast crossing the Chothavilai beach and then the Sanguthurai beach. Quite a literal climb up, just like I had fantasized while browsing the map. I really wanted to know how the landscape changes across the west coast.
The west coast here, wears a barren look. The Tamil Nadu Government has laid out warning signs everywhere advising the janta against swimming. The angry crashing of the waves and the frequent rocks jutting out of the ocean bed will also dissuade you. However, having such massive stretches of ocean at one’s disposal also means that most of these places are quite deserted. The road leading to them and the nearby vicinity stands deserted at both Chotavilai and Sanguthirai beach.
But breathtaking it is. The blue is spectacular and the golden sand shimmering in the bright sunlight is a perfect contrast. I was not prepared to have a beach exclusively for my pleasure but here it is. It’s just the three of us with our random chatter and the massive beach playing out to our senses. A road trip seems like the best way to go around here.
Of course beaches are mostly accessed towards the evenings because the sun is sure to bake you in the morning and afternoons. It’s not sweaty because it’s so breezy, neither dusty because there’s so much water, but the brightness will make you squint and the direct sun light peering over you will make you slightly restless.
But there’s a beautiful deal with the beach cities. The ocean plays this sort of window to the world. Every time the traffic got to us, Anbu would take a left and we would be away from it all driving down a parallel road closer to nature.
By sunset, our car was rolling uphill towards the Vellimalai Murugan Temple in Kalpadi.
Anburaja is excited to take us where most tourists don’t go. This is a part of the local religious tradition, not really a place which would even want too many travellers clicking away with a camera. Leaving our slippers at the bottom of the staircase, we climb up some steep cement stair to a platform which immediately refreshes all three of us.
It’s been a fairly long day with a lot of driving around, hopping in and out of the car and now we are a little pooped and hunger is just about kicking in, but being on top of a hill with a 360 degree bird’s eye view over the coconut and palm tree dotted terrain watching the orange orb of the sun glow in the distance makes up for other deficiencies.
I am not allowed to click pictures of the main complex. I can go around the back and click the rest but not where the puja is done.
So we walk round to the left and enter through a door that leads to the garbha griha of the main complex we saw at the entrance. We are then in a room that’s been divided into three rows. Each row leads to the door of the deity’s chamber. The priest emerges, a white dhoti tied around his belly, white tika on his forehead and a janeu hangs from his shoulders.
He hands us prasad in banana leaves and we in turn put a few coins on the plate with a lamp. But you can’t eat anything from this Prasad (a slight disappointment for halwa expecting north Indians like Pabla and me). Anbu however, unfolded his leaf and rubbed the cream coloured chandan power on his forehead.
A sneek peek at what’s coming up next:
From here, if you dare, go to Muttom. It’s 7 p.m. by the time we reach. One in the afternoon was a late start. Set out earlier really. Because sun has already set by seven and the Muttom beach is dark and eerie…