Chennai and the Sru-Kalyanam!

#throwback
Three months late! I’m totally skipping like…weeks of my India trip and all of my time in Thailand so far to write this post about dearest Shrewpa’s wedding! Updates about the other bits in between may or may not follow in the months/ weeks to come, so stay tuned.

Robin (my friend from the UK who really wanted to attend an Indian wedding so I invited him to Shrew’s, with her permission) and I arrived in Chennai from Pondicherry. Pondi is only 150km away from Chennai, but it took almost 5 hours for that journey – don’t ask why; the only explanation is “It’s India”. After Robin dropped his stuff off at his hostel, we headed to meet my mum at her hotel.

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Mum in India!

Bit of backstory as to why my mum was there – when I told my family that I’d be travelling around India next and that I’d be in Chennai for Shrew’s wedding, they very excitedly decided to meet me there for a few days to check India out (after 20 years) and do some shopping. It worked out perfectly, because I needed to buy clothes for Shrew’s wedding anyway, so they could do the shopping, I could wear the clothes, and then they could take the clothes back to Singapore while I carried on enjoying life. My dad had gone to Thanjavur for a couple of days and my sister and niece weren’t arriving till the next day, so it was just mumsie, Robin and me for shopping day 1 of 1000000 (I kid, but it felt like we spent sooooooo many days shopping).

My aunt who lives in Chennai had invited us for lunch, so after stuffing our faces with superamazing biryani and mutton and chicken and all sorts of other things (it’s definitely a thing: Indian families = eat till you burst), we headed to an 11-storey Pothy’s to get ourselves wedding-ready. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I was overwhelmed before we even began but off we went.

Robin’s outfits were first order of business, and since he’s a guy, he was done with his outfits in about 20 minutes. He hung around valiantly for another 30 minutes or so while mum and I tried to pick outfits out for me, but eventually gave up and went back to his hostel, leaving mum and me to it. Good thing he did too, because we only finished with the shopping about 4 hours after that. x_x

 

 

 

 

End of Day 1 in Chennai.

Day 2 was slightly better – we visited the Kapaleeswarar temple and Valluvar Kottam, before picking my sister and niece, up from the airport. Decently fun, and the heat of Chennai made bearable by the fact that we were ferried around for most of the day in an air-conditioned car (perks of travelling with family)!

 

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Huge chariot at Valluvar Kottam

 

 

The next day was Shrew’s wedding Part 1! The morning was some sort of ceremony for the couple to get blessings from their elders so that the wedding would go smoothly (I think). Robin and I turned up mostly to mingle, to eat and to get some henna done. It was probably the only time I managed to have a conversation with the kalyana ponnu, Shrewpa.

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Kalyana ponnu, Shrew, and me, with a very distracted Shnoo

 

After that, it was back to the hotel to chill and relax before getting dressed for the evening celebrations! The nichayathartham, or engagement ceremony, is basically where the two families officially and publicly promise to marry their kids to each other. We basically spend most of it taking pictures and trying to figure out what was going on (as people usually do at Indian weddings).

 

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Wedding glow.

 

 

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No escaping now.

 

Robin and I showed up just in time for the Kasi Yaatra the next morning, where the groom pretends he’s going off to Kasi to live an ascetic life and the bride’s father stops him by promising his daughter’s hand in marriage. Rather elaborate play-acting which I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

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“Here is an umbrella full of flowers! Marry my sister!” – Karthik

 

After that, the bride and groom were hoisted on their uncle’s shoulders and they tried to garland each other. It looked like fun for the couple, but I can’t imagine how the uncles must have been feeling. (Bursting with joy, of course!)

 

Next was the couple being sat on a swing (that represents the ups and downs of married life, apparently) and fed bananas and milk by the married ladies of the family.

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Shrew’s face – ups of marriage, Ram’s face – downs of marriage.

 

The proceedings after that point were not too clear – some sort of prayers, and then more prayers, and then eventually Sru-Ram were married! Woooohooooo!

 

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But we decided to take pictures anyway.

 

Throughout all of that, there was a ton of food, and one of Shrew’s uncles constantly kept checking in on us about whether we were enjoying the food and festivities. It was good fun and like at all Indian weddings, I ate too much.

After that, it was time for some much needed R&R before I got dressed to go for the evening reception. Robin wasn’t feeling very well, so I didn’t have a date but still, it’s hard not to have a good time when there’s good food. And just like that, it was the end of SruRam Kalyanam! Thank you both for having us at your wedding!

 

The wedding was over, but our stay in Chennai was not. The next day, Robin and I met up with my parents, sister and niece (cute little grub child I want to eat her) to head to Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We tried (and failed) to pass ourselves off as locals, and ended up getting a guided tour around, which was pretty informative.

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With the family at Mahabalipuram.

 

The rest of the time my sister and niece were there were spent shopping and eating for the most part, so I’ll skip over that to the other interesting thing to happen in Chennai.

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I was squashed in the back with all the shopping. -_-

My sister and niece had left, and my parents wanted to do more shopping (surprise) before they left, so Robin and I bailed to go to an amusement park instead. It was quite a hassle getting there – for some reason, some of the buses on that route said they wouldn’t stop at the amusement park, so we ended up having to wait ages to get the right bus and it was all very annoying but finally we managed to get there. The entrance fee wasn’t cheap but it was worth it. We were expecting to have a laugh at the lame rides, but it ended up being pretty fun. We went on a few of the major rides (not the scariest one though – who knows when the last time was that the rides had been serviced), and had a pretty good time! Not a must-go, but decent enough to kill a few hours.

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Check out the tacky dragons at the amusement park – Dizzeeworld!

Then it was time to say bye to the parents before their flight, and that was about it for Chennai! It was fun (minus the shopping bits) but I must say I’m not dying to go back again. Still, worth it for the time I spent there.

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Bye parents!

Kalpetta! Land of (failed) treks.

[I’m awful with updates – this happened maybe two weeks ago. I’m in Kochi about to head off to Munnar soon now.]

But not really. Ehh, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

Bus from Mysore to Kalpetta – a direct bus from the KSRTC bus station for 143Rs at 7am, and I arrived 4 hours later. Absolutely brilliant ride: I fell asleep part way, but woke up as we were driving through the nature reserve areas, hoping to see some wild elephants. No go, but it was still lovely scenery!

Reunited with Anna (from Germany/ Bangalore) in Kalpetta! So good to see her again – such a great girl. And she had a friend with her, Yossi from Israel. Cool cool cool. First order of business was food! Woohoo! Obviously I had the fish curry thali. Delish.

After that, we accompanied Yossi for a beard trim, and then Anna and I went wandering around the back streets of Kalpetta. It was lovely walking around the quiet streets and soaking in the atmosphere, and of course catching up with Anna!

Eventually, we headed back to the hotel to chill and discuss plans for the next day. We settled on hiking Chembra Peak (2100m, highest peak in Wayanad, 2nd highest in Kerala), so got our provisions for what was supposed to be a 6-8hour hike round trip. We also joined forces with a German couple who was also heading on the hike, and made plans for a 6.30am departure from the hotel the next morning.

It was all clouds and fog as we set out early the next morning, but undeterred, onward we went. First a bus to a neighboring village, Meppady, then breakfast there, and we got in a jeep (900Rs, round trip) to the forest ranger office to buy our tickets.

At the office, we were told in no uncertain terms, that we were not allowed anywhere near Chembra peak. Apparently, as of 4 years ago, authorities had ruled that the last section of the trek was out of bounds, and the highest we could get to was the heart-shaped lake, but Lonely Planet didn’t get the memo. Since we’d already come all that way, we coughed up the 1500Rs Group Entry fee and headed off on our trek with an unsmiling fellow, the mandatory local guide. The trek was fine, not really as easy as it’s made out to be (kinda steep in some places), but completely worth it for the great views enroute. Well, the great views we would have seen if everything hadn’t been shrouded in a blanket of mist.

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“But I swear in the days still left, we’ll walk in fields of gold.” – Sting

Still, the lake was lovely (not really heart-shaped, unless you’re somewhat creative in your interpretation of shapes), and we hung out eating the ton of food we’d bought in anticipation of an 8-hour round trip hike.

The views on the way back were much nicer, and seriously, Lonely Planet, if you’d updated your info to include that bit that the last segment of the hike is closed, we’d have gone later and caught some other incredible views. In any case, Trek 1 semi-failed, but it was still a great day.

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Anna was a little confused about where the scenery was supposed to be.

Deciding that it would be prudent to inquire with the local tourism office before heading out on any other hikes, we headed out to do exactly that the next day.

After much back and forth and explaining over and over again that we wanted to hike and not just walk to someplace for 20 minutes, and having the official there call the forest department for us (he had no idea about opening and closing hours or anything, really), we were finally told that no, it was not possible for us to do any hiking because all the parks/ reserves were closed. “Dry season, ma’am. High chance of forest fires, ma’am.”

Well, fancy that. With not much else to do , we started back toward our hotel in town but hang on a sec! What’s that building on top of that giant boulder? A temple?! Let’s get there!

We headed off in search of this mysterious temple on top of a boulder, after asking several passers-by (who were convinced that the 2.5km was far too long to walk and that we should take a tuktuk instead). Obviously, we ended up walking straight up some jungly path and over bare rocks and lost the non-existent path for a while before we finally arrived, in a less conventional way, at the temple. Gorgeous views, and totally worth it.

 

Two random local guys who were hanging out by the temple told us (well, me. In Malayalam, no less. Gonna add that to my ever growing list of languages) that there were some caves down another tiny path. Our original trekking plans may have been foiled, but this sounded even better. The caves were pretty cool, except for the part where the two guys decided they would follow us around, but Yossi’s presence was useful in deterring them (somewhat).

 

 

Cave exploring done, we decided to find an alternative route back to town and started off on a rather tiny, probably animal-made trail. It might not have been that smart in retrospect, but after quite a bit of slipping and sliding and swinging and swiping through the forest, we emerged right by….someone’s backyard. She must have been quite startled at the sudden appearance from three random foreigners the forest, as was her mother. They stared at us as we walked by smiling quite happily, pleased with having survived our forest trek. The mother inquired (in Malayalam) where Anna was from – her blonde hair and blue eyes are a constant source of amazement to the locals, and she seemed quite pleased that we were well and healthy.

Forest adventure over, we started making our way back to our hotel, smiling and waving at the locals to whom our presence was most unexpected. Some of them called out greetings which I tried to reply to (probably not very successfully), and as we were checking out a really cool tree that was growing out of the rock at an impossible, a middle-aged couple passed us by, bickering. They were speaking in Tamil (a language I am marginally better at than Malayalam), so I said hello to them.

 

The change in the lady was remarkable – she broke into a huge grin and came over and grasped my hand exclaiming “இது நம்ம ஆளு, நம்ம ஊரு பொண்ணு!” (She’s one of us, she’s from our land!). It was absolutely adorable, and although I had to correct her misconception that I was from Tamil Nadu, she was absolutely thrilled to find someone who spoke Tamil and besides, she was fascinated by Anna and Yossi. She asked us a bunch of questions in usual Indian fashion (Where are you from? What are you doing here? How old are you? Are you married? Why don’t you want to get married? Are they married? Do they have children? Why don’t they have children?), and invited us to her house for tea.

 

We didn’t have anything else to do, and she seemed really keen on having us visit her (she actually said come again tomorrow and I’ll prepare lunch for all of you, but when we said we might be leaving the next day, she insisted on tea), so we followed her to her house. Along the way, she asked more questions and I translated for Anna and Yossi and we all gradually learnt her life story – From Pondicherry, but moved to Kalpetta about 40 years ago when her father passed away (her mum passed away when she was born), because she had no other family. She had six children at a young age because she felt lonely, and she worked as a cleaner at several banks in town. She’d saved up money little by little over time to buy the plot of land where her house now stood and had finally finished building the house just a year ago. Her name – Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.

 

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Her house, nestled on top of a boulder too.

 

We arrived at her house and she immediately called out to her daughters to prepare tea for us while getting us chairs to sit on. She disappeared for a while, leaving us to sit in the sparse living room and attempt to cajole her granddaughter to smile at us (baby Gayathri started bawling instead). When she returned, she served us tea and vadai, and she sat down on the floor to ask us more questions and tell us all about her children and her life.

 

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Baby Gayathri was not impressed by us.

 

Thinking back on it fills me with a warm sort of happiness, at how she didn’t even think twice about inviting three complete strangers into her home and sharing the little that she had with us. All three of us may be richer than her in terms of the amount of money we have in the bank, but truly, she is a goddess of wealth. Eventually, we said our goodbyes, and as we were leaving, she told us that we would always have a place in her home in Kalpetta, should we return. Many people may say thing like that, but there are few who actually mean it, and I know that if I do one day return to Kalpetta, she would welcome me to her home like a long lost daughter.

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The delightful Lakshmi and her family.

 

We spent the rest of the day chilling at the hotel, the next day, I decided to leave Kalpetta and head to Alleppy for some backwater exploration.  I booked myself on a RedBus sleeper bus and made arrangements for my hostel in Alleppey, and off we went to spend our last day together in Kalpetta by the Pookot Lake.

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We decided to investigate an abandoned property nearby. Just because.

 

 

It turned out to be much nicer than any of us expected it to be, and we spent a blissful few hours hanging out in the shade of some trees.

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Very chill lake.

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That’s actually full of water lilies.

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Minions.

After that, it was lunch, a rest and all too soon, time to say goodbye to Anna and Yossi. 😦

 

Some friends you meet on the road become friends for life, and I knew I would miss these guys dearly. But such is the traveller’s life, and Alleppey awaited!

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