It was an easy choice going from Trivandrum to Kochi a.k.a Cochin. The nearly 200 kilometers needs about 4 hours of driving time, however traffic is unpredictable and you could be on the road for six hours or more. The flight cost is about $60. While waiting at the airport and the flight time will add to four hours, there is little stress involved like sitting stuck in the middle of traffic. We landed in Kochi around 8:15 PM. Our driver was waiting for us at the international arrivals while we were travelling domestic. It took a few phone calls to connect with him. Kerala is a state where literacy is one of the highest in India – we are talking over >90% literacy rate, unheard of in most other states. However, the education is in local language – malayalam. Our appointed driver was very conversant in malayalam only. But a good friend of ours was in constant touch with him and we managed to get by three days with his unending help. Thanks to today’s technology, phone calls over whatsapp are free and thanks to T-mobile, 3G data was free as well. While connectivity was 100% at all places, it wasn’t an issue at major metropolitan areas where we visited.
The roads in Kochi reminded me of the roads in and around Bangalore some twenty years back when there were no expressways – single lane, with two-way traffic and houses lined on either side. The way we were zipping through these narrow roads made me wonder when we would be nudging against another vehicle. But that wasn’t the case. However, it was amazing to see how close two vehicles would come to stop before swerving and carrying on. The lack of a systemic way of traffic reduces speeds to such an extent that instincts of survival dictate safety.
We arrived at our friend’s place past 9 PM to a warm, hospitable welcome in their suburban home. It was such a relief and pleasure to eat a great meal laden with vegetables. There was appam and then the vegetable stew or also known as Avial which is cooked vegetables soaked in coconut milk. After an hour long talk on Sahaja meditation, we retired to bed. As we were warned, we were on the constant lookout for mosquitoes. With much news about Chicken Gooniya and Dengue fever prevalent in India, I got into a habit of constantly shaking my feet to keep over the blood(y) suckers! Kerala being a rain friendly state during this time of the year, it was upon us to keep a watch for these suckers.
The next morning, we got up at 4:30 AM and finished bath. It is a tradition to take bath before visiting a temple. Our driver was at the door at 5:30 AM. After a cup of tea, we were headed out to Guruvayur temple, which has this beautiful and famous idol of Lord Krishna as a child. Knowing that there would be a lot of people in line for the darshan, we had started early. Our first stop was Kodagallunur Bhagavathy temple. This has a beautiful idol of the goddess Bhadrakali or Parvathi. Legend has it that the sage Shankaracharya performed pooja at this temple and Parushurama, an avatar of Lord Vishnu, installed the idol of the goddess at the temple. It was a peaceful morning and the calmness at the temple is always welcome to the constantly churning mind.
We arrived at Guruvayur after about an hours drive. Parking was a problem. Even at 7 AM, quite a bit early for a small town, the temple parking lot was full. We found some space close by and leaving our footwear in the vehicle and dressed traditionally, we headed out to the temple. The line for the darshan was already couple of hours long. Indian temples, at least the more famous ones, now-a-days have a fast lane where you pay a fee and get the darshan much faster. We got into the fast lane and were through the darshan within 10 minutes of getting in line. Much like at the Anantha Padmanabhaswamy temple, the frenzy of seeing the lord edges safety out and one has to look out for one’s own. The humid weather doesn’t help either and the requirement for men to have their trunk bare means that you will be pushing against sweaty bodies. Knowing that the lines are long, the temple management will have instilled a couple of volunteers near the God to urge people to move on. Thus my darshan was limited to just about 5 seconds. Somehow I cannot connect with God when I am rushed and this was no exception. If I have the time, I can sit and stare at the idol and try to connect with the form that is God out there. But for me, the best way to connect with Him is via meditation. When I am calm and rested, I can feel the happiness that is the God in me.
Once we were through with darshan, we stopped for breakfast at a nearby hotel. There are plenty of hotels that serve only vegetarian food. There is a close-by elephant park which hosts about 50 elephants that are part of the temple and participate in processions. These animals are trained and taken care of well. We managed to sight over 20 elephants, all getting either food or a good wash.
On the way back to Cochin, which was a two-hour drive, we stopped at the Chottanikkara Temple. This temple complex has a lower and a higher level with idols of Devi – another name for Goddess Parvathi. We managed to peek into the sanctorum to view the goddess before it was closed for the afternoon. There was a procession of the goddess in the temple courtyard which we partook. We couldn’t visit the lower temple as it was closed as well.
Lunch was on our mind as we started driving back. A couple of stops at restaurants that we didn’t like and we finally found one. A lunch buffet for all of $4 in an air-conditioned restaurant. We could ask for nothing more. The afternoon was to be a visit to the Bolgati Palace. The hot sun, the driving and the traffic had taken a toll on us and we decided to call it quits. We reached our hotel near the LuLu mall, the largest mall in India. The Marriott was a welcome sight and it stood grand and tall amongst
the surroundings jam-packed with small streets, construction work and teeming with people. It is always nice to be upgraded to a suite and the suite at the Marriott was just lovely. It could easily have sold for in excess of $600 putting it conservatively. I walked into the lobby still in my dhothi. All the walking had loosened it up a bit and I was holding onto it tightly :). The moment the bell boy left the luggage in the room, the ever inviting Marriott bed was irresistible.
The LuLu mall, the largest mall in India, was very attractive with four floors of premium shopping. The highest level housed a sports arcade, a skating rink and a number of restaurants.