The Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival (TNIBF) was hosted for the 4th consecutive year in Pollachiand was a major event of this year’s Pongal holidays. It was organized by Global Media Box and The Slaves, a Pollachi based restaurant with the support of Tamil Nadu Tourism Department and Adhiban Fincorp mainly to promote Pollachi as a tourist destination, and has become a very popular event.
Hot air ballooning is a sport that is not so common in India and people from Pollachi and nearby Coimbatore City (56 km from Pollachi) as well as tourists from other states enthusiastically visited the venue to witness the spectacle of colorful hot air balloons. This year’s special attraction was 2.0 Movie balloon. Visitors could go for hour long balloon rides in the morning and short tethered flights in the evening.
On the evening of my visit there were three balloons. I expected to see more as ten balloons with pilots from many countries had participated in the festival. Still it was thrilling to watch the balloons inflate and rise in the air and as darkness set in, the night sky with glowing balloons was truly a sight to remember.
These are some pictures from the festival. I apologise for the quality of the pictures as my Sony point and shoot camera is not very good for taking night pictures. Still you get the general idea!
There was a light drizzle when we visited the Ooty Government Botanical Garden on a Sunday morning in August. The weather forecast was for rain with a chance of thunder-showers. The light rain did not deter visitors to this most popular garden; most of them carried umbrellas or wore hooded jerkins and rain coats.
Ooty Botanical garden is one of the most beautiful places in the hill-station. It belongs to the colonial era, an expression of the traditional love of gardens of the British. The initial layout of the Ooty Botanical gardens was prepared by the Marquis of Tweedale in the late 1940s with the prime purpose of growing vegetables and supplying them to European residents at an affordable rate. In 1847 funds were raised to transform the venue into a horticultural society and public garden. The garden was designed by William Graham McIvor, a professional gardener from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England. McIvor arrived in Ooty in 1848 and it took ten years for the garden to be completed.
The gardens are laid out on the slopes of Doddabetta and the entrance is at the bottom of the hill, so you have to climb your way up to tour the ascending gardens. It is landscape gardening at its most alluring, the layered beauty of the bright green lawns, the flower beds, and shrubbery in a series of terraces against a backdrop of thick woods and some of the tallest trees making it a magical place.
Spread over 22 hectares it has several sections.There is a Lower garden, a New garden, the Italian garden, a conservatory built in 1912 and many nurseries.
The map of India is a carpet-bed design made with bedding plants of different colors. It shows all the states clearly and is a major landmark in the garden. Opposite the India Map is another main attraction of the garden, a fossil tree trunk from the National fossil Park at Tiruvakkarai in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu which is more than 20 million years old. It is a great favorite with tourists.
Paved pathways lead up to the many levels of the garden. I had fond memories of the Toda mund at the very top of the garden from an earlier visit many years ago. And so we climbed higher and higher enjoying the breathtaking views of the gardens, stopping to rest and to take pictures, inhaling the eucalyptus scented air. At one place the air was heavily scented from the magnolia blossoms on a row of magnolia trees. It was a very pleasant walk.
At the very top of the hill slopes the paved pathways and landscaped gardens end and we followed a mud path that went up through the woods of towering pine and eucalyptus trees. This path takes you to the Toda mund which is a settlement of the Todas, the indigenous tribe of the Nilgiris. On reaching the grassy meadow of Toda mund, I was heartened to see that nothing had changed. At the far end of the beautiful meadow is the Toda temple which you can see from outside. It is built in a circular pit, a curved structure made of grass, bamboo and cane and stone,and has a tiny entrance. The front wall is decorated with symbols – of the sun, moon and the sacred buffalo.
There was a herd of sacred buffaloes under the shady trees at the top of the meadow. One or two stood up on our arrival, to inspect intruders like ourselves, and then went back to chewing cud. It is beautiful up at the Toda Mund. Traditional Toda dwellings are gone and the Todas live in modern houses. But the temple remains symbolic of a people who zealously follow their unique culture. Behind the temple the hills rise up, terraced farms forming layers of green on the hill-sides.
On the walk back to the Botanic gardens we took a different path, as the mud path was wet and slippery, stopping to chat and ask directions from the garden workers.
It was noon when we left the gardens. There is a Tibetan market just opposite the main entrance that sold knitwear. Here we were directed to a Momo restaurant further down the road where they serve Tibetan cuisine. Piping hot bowls of veg.Thukpa and hot momos were just right for a rainy day!
Situated on the slopes of Elk Hill, Rose Garden, Ooty is one of the largest rose gardens in India and its collection of roses among the largest in the world. April – May is the best time to visit the gardens for spectacular displays of roses.
According to the Tamil Nadu Horticultural department, “Centenary Rose Park, Udhagamandalam owes its genesis to the Centenary Flower Festival. It covers an area of 4.00 Ha comprising of five terraces. The Rose Garden is situated in the lower slopes of the Elk Hill in Vijayanagaram Farm on the North Western side facing the Udhagamandalam Town.
The Rose varieties planted in this Garden were assembled from different sources i.e., Bangalore, Chandigarh, Kodaikanal, Yercaud besides Nilgiris and more than 25,000 Rose plants of 3800 varieties have been planted. The collection includes Floribundas, Polyanthes, Miniatures, Hybrid Teas and Creepers. Gradually, it is proposed to increase the number of varieties to 50000 by introducing new varieties from different Centers in India and abroad. The Garden includes major attractions such as Arches, Bowers, Tunnels, Umbrellas, Green Houses, and Fountains and ‘Nila Maadam’ stone lanterns, rockeries, etc.”
The workers in the garden warned us that the flowers were few in this rainy season (August) and that season time was April –May. There were 4000 varieties of roses spread over five sloping terraces.
The garden has beautiful walkways and landscaped terraces on the sloping hillside and it takes an hour or two to see everything..well, almost everything!!..It’s so big. Situated on the hill slopes, it offers lovely views of Ooty. A great place to visit!
There was a long holiday for Vinayaka Chaturthiin the last week of August and a visit to Ooty was planned rather suddenly. We were on our way by three in the afternoon on Friday, 25th August, had reached Mettupalayam in the foothills by six or seven and arrived in Ooty by nine p.m. slowed down a bit by all the vehicles on the winding mountain road..all holiday makers like ourselves. It looked as if everyone had the same brainwave that we had.. namely a holiday in Ooty!!It was after dark that we negotiated the mountain road and passed many mountain villages. What made the journey memorable was that the villages were decked with festive lights and we passed many colorful Ganesha pandals.We passed many village temples as well which were open at that late hour and could see people going home from the temples. It was Vinayaka chaturthi after all… and I remember thinking how nice that we were travelling on this special day and could see all the happy scenes.
Ooty is one of the most popular hill stations of India. Much has been written about this beautiful town in the Blue mountains – The Nilgiris. This post and the next few ones are my memories of a wonderful holiday and I hope you enjoy reading about them.
On Saturday morning after breakfast,the first place of visit was Doddabetta, the highest peak in the Nilgiris at 2636 MSL( 8,650 ft.),8km from Ooty. The flat summit has a reserve forest area around it and is accessible by road. This is a most popular tourist destination in Ooty.
The spectacular views of Ooty from the observation tower are out of this world and on clear days many important places near Ooty can be seen. The place has a cafeteria for snacks and tea. It’s a lovely place where everyone tends to linger, to enjoy the 360 degree views, the strong winds,the mists and the August drizzles and to take pictures.
On the way back from Doddabetta peak we were given discount coupons to be used in Benchmark Tea factory and Museum. So our next stop was Benchmark Tea factory which was located about 4km from Doddabetta. Tourists are given a guided tour of the factory where you can read about the history of tea and other interesting information in the beautifully illustrated pictures around the museum. You can see the tea leaves being dried and processed. You can sample nine different varieties of tea free of cost. Chocolate is made here and visitors can taste a free sample. You can buy varieties of tea and chocolates and eucalyptus oil at the retail counters in the premises.
Late afternoon we went to the beautiful Ooty lake and went boating. Then it started to rain! And then one of the pedals on the pedal boat came off and back we came to the boathouse. While TTDC did ask us to take another boat we had had enough boating for the day.
These are some pictures on the history of tea taken inside the Benchmark Tea museum.
The village called Adiyamaan Kottai (அதியமான் கோட்டை) is located eight kms from Dharmapuri in Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu. It was once the historic fortress of the Adiyamaan kings – a line of Tamil Velir(வேளிர்) kings who ruled over Dharmapuri, Salem and surrounding regions.
Some ancient temples are located within this area. One of them is the temple of Lord Kaala Bhairavar, the God of Time. It is a small and beautiful temple with only one shrine –the shrine of Kaala Bhairavar. There are no shrines for other deities not even for Lord Vinayaga. It is thought to be as important as the Kaala Bhairav temple in Varanasi, one of the holiest cities in India.
Originally believed to have been built in the Sangam era(4th century BC to 2nd century CE) by Adhiyaman Neduman Anji,( அதியமான்நெடுமான்அஞ்சி) the most famous king of the Adhiyaman dynasty, this famous king was also one of the seven great donor kings of ancient tamilagam –the kadai ezhu vallalgal(கடையேழுவள்ளல்கள்).
It is said that holy men and sages were sent to Kasi/Varanasi by King Adiyamaan to bring the idol of Kaala Bhairavar which was duly consecrated in a temple in his fort. The reign of King Adiyaman Neduman Anji spans a turbulent period in the history of Tamilagam which was rife with wars between the kings known as kuru nila mannargal(குருநில மன்னர்கள்). The temple was built by Adiyaman Anji to ensure victory in the many battles he fought.
It is believed that when King Adiyamaan was killed in battle by his foe – the Chera king Peruncheral Irumporai, the royal ladies and children used a secret underground path from this temple to escape from the enemy.
These stories belong to a genre known as karna- parambarai (கர்ண பரம்பரை) which means they have come down to us by word of mouth. Often happenings that span a couple of thousand years are told as stories from generation to generation. These stories are a unique way of remembering history and are as good as the written word.
The present temple was constructed in the 9th century CE.
Importance of Kaala Bhairavar
Kaala Bhairavar is a form of Lord Siva.
Worship of Lord Bhairavar is common to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
The Sanskrit word kaala denotes time.There are good times and bad, moments, hours, the daytime and night-time, sunrise, sunset, years, lifetimes, yugas and so on, all of which are a part of the great circle of time, the Kaala chakra. A Sanskrit verse from the epic Mahabharata quotes Vidura as saying,
Time devours all things, Time kills all that are born.
Time is awake while all else sleeps, Time is insurmountable. – Vidura in Mahabharata
It is this unseen reality of the universe -Time, that Siva as Lord Kaala Bhairav rules.
Lord Bhairava is also known as kshetra paalaka and is worshipped as a protective guardian deity. Shrines for Kaala Bhairav can be seen in all Siva temples. It is a temple ritual to submit the temple keys at closing time to KaalaBhairav who guards the temple at night.
He is the custodian and protector of the 52 shakti peetas all of which have a shrine for Bhairava.
He is also the protector of pilgrims and travellers.
It is believed that he liberates us from the influences of the navagrahas, cures chronic diseases and fulfills wishes in no time.
This temple has a pillared maha mandapa, an artha mandapa and the Garba griha.
The Mahamandapam of this temple is unique. The ceiling is divided into nine sections – each is designed as a diamond shaped recess called a chakra. Thus each is a chakra for each of the nine planets. The chakras representing the planets are designed around the central Surya chakram. Devotees are asked to walk under the chakras and then offer prayers to Kaala bhairavar.
The idol of Kaala Bhairava is seen with his vahana, the dog, on a Padma peedam, the lotus pedestal. It is about three feet tall and faces south. Although the deity holds a trisul, a kabalam and has a halo of flames around its head, it is a very peaceful, benevolent form.
An ancient idol of Nandi is seen facing Kaala Bhairavar in the maha mandapam .Behind the image of Nandi is a stone pedestal that is used for lighting a lamp. There is a carving of Vinayaga at the base of the pedestal and one of Nandi at the top. The images are typical of a Siva temple, though this is not one in the traditional sense. They are probably there because kaala bhairav is worshipped as an avatar of lord Siva.
There are running reliefs of sculptures that go all around the outer walls of the temple. Take time to look at these sculptures that depict war scenes, gods, and armed soldiers and so on.
In the outer courtyard there is a statue of Parshvanatha Tirthankaraon a raised pedestal. Called as Mahavirar by the local people, not much is known about it though it is generally thought that the saint supported the king when the temple was built. In any case it is a classic example of religious harmony of the age.
In fact the temple itself was lost to time until over a decade ago when a swami from Karnataka visited the temple and explained its importance. The area around the temple was covered in vegetation so much so that it was almost impossible to go near the premises. On the sanyasin’s advice,it was cleared, a kumbabishekam was done and worship was resumed. Devotees from the state of Karnataka were the first to visit, followed by people from Tamil Nadu.
The temple did not have a gopuram until the present gopuram and other mandaps were added around three years ago. Although the extensions are necessary considering the enormous crowds that this temple attracts, it is a fact that they detract a little from the beauty of the temple and its location in an idyllic rural setting.
Some customs are unique to this temple and perhaps to the worship of lord Kaala bhairava.
Palm leaf plates with unusual diyas made out of white pumpkin halves, coconut diyas, and diyas made of lemon halves are sold for Rs.50 a plate. Lighting these deepams/diyas is said to ward of the evil- eye, bring success in business and relief from all kinds of problems in life.
Another unusual custom is to circle the temple 18 times on ashtami – the eighth day of the lunar fortnight and on Sundays. Given the big crowds that come to the temple on ashtami days every month, it is an unusual sight to see so many people circling the temple at the same time.
Why this temple is unique
Temples dedicated solely to lord Kaala Bhairavar are rare and this temple is one of them.
It is a 1200 years old temple and the deity belongs to a much earlier period in time – the Sangam Age of 2000 years ago.
It is one of the temples situated within the historic area known as Adhiyamaan kottai, which is the Tamil word for fortress of Adhiyamaan.
Note:Adiyamaan was the name of the one of the dynasties that ruled ancient Tamilagam which was as powerful as the better known Chera, Chola and Pandya dynasties of the time.
Best time to visit
Although it is considered auspicious to visit the temple on Thei-pirai ashtami days, Sundays and new moon days if you hope for a peaceful visit sans crowds avoid visiting at these times. Weekdays are usually quiet. The temple is a great favorite with astrologers.Special homam and poojas are conducted on certain days. Priests urge you to take part in these, temple shop-keepers urge you to buy the deepams unique to this temple… but even without all this it is a fact that this is a temple where prayers are answered.
The temple is located just off the Salem-Dharmapuri road, 6 kms from Dharmapuri in Tamil nadu.
What strikes one first on a visit to a Hindu temple in Tamil Nadu, India are the towering Gopurams (pyramidal gateway towers)with their hundreds of colorful stucco figures, the beauty of the many pillared halls, the intricacy of the sculptures of a bygone era, the many temple tanks, and pillared corridors and circumambulatory pathways of stone. A seemingly chaotic array,though on closer observation, one finds that there isorderand an underlying pattern in the design and construction of the temples and temple complexes.
Temples were built with strict adherence to the rules laid down in the Agamas and the Silpa sastras. While the Agamas are non-vedic traditional manuals on a vast range of subjects including Temple architecture, Silpa sastraliterally means the Science of arts and crafts of which we find the finest specimens in the temples. This style of architecture is known as the Dravidian style of architecture.
Kolli Hills is a beautiful mountain range located in Namakkal district of Tamil Nadu in South India. Its altitude ranges from 1000 to 1300 meters above mean sea level and enjoys a pleasant, healthful climate round the year. The hills are spread over an area of 440 sq. kilometers. When viewed from National Highway 44 on the Rasipuram-Namakkal stretch, it appears as a flat-topped mountain range.
Remote, untouched by commercialization and retaining its historical charm Kolli Malai as it is called locally seems frozen in time.
Kolli Malai is said to be the exquisite Madhuvanam (the forest of honey) zealously maintained by vaanara king Sugreeva that is mentioned in the Sundara kandam of the Ramayana. The Madhuvanam was a protected grove where there was plenty of honey. Even today, this is a land of tropical fruits, honey and medicinal herbs just as it would have been in the Ramayana period.
It was a land favoured by siddars, the ancient medicine men of Tamil Nadu.
Kolli hills in the songs of the bards
In a distant past dating more than 2000 years ago, there lived wandering bards who travelled across ancient Tamil Nadu and were much respected by kings. They had the freedom to visit any kingdom and write songs on all they saw and observed. Tamil Sangam literature hence comes across as a treatise of gross truth told in a style that is at once blunt and poetical. The Kolli hills have been eulogized and glorified by many of these poets. It has a rich history as the kingdom of Mazhavar and Chera kings, It was a coveted kingdom and wars were fought and kings died trying to defend the kingdom.
Kolli hills are mentioned in these books of sangam literature:
Named after Kolli Paavai, the maiden goddess who guards these hills, Kolli hills still casts its spell on visitors. Much of the area is relatively unexplored and inaccessible, Myths abound and stories are told that are bizarre and spooky. Yes, it is true that a Kolli hills has a reputation. It is the favored destination of astrologers and practitioners of witchcraft and tantric practices. Scattered over the hills are small shrines where the priests will promise to remove all obstacles in your life and solve all your problems for a fee!
But there is much in the Kolli hills that is sacred and beautiful. The people who live here are tribals and are called as Malayalees – people of the mountains. They are a hard-working self- sufficient community with a unique culture that is their own. Aadi Padhinettu in July is the most important festival in the Kolli hills when people from the 16 naadus and from other places come together for week long celebrations.
A Holiday in Kolli Hills
Kolli hills is the place to go for a quiet peaceful holiday sans crowds of tourists.
On visiting the hills you realize that you have just stepped into an amazing world and first visits are always memorable. This is hill country like no other. Thick forests are interspersed with pastoral landscapes, and cosy mountain villages. The altitude and the rivers Aiyaru and Varattaru flowing across the hills, massive jackfruit trees everywhere you go, terraced fields, yes, Kolli hills is beautiful.
How to reach
Kolli hills is accessible from Salem (64 kms) and from Namakkal(24 kms) both major cities on National Highway 44(NH44). Buses ply from Salem, Namakkal and Rasipuram to important villages in the Kolli hills. It is a better idea to rent a car because many of the places to visit in the hills are not on the regular bus routes.
The drive to the hills is lovely, the roads are good. If you are travelling from Salem it is a 11/2 hour drive through a very scenic route.
Route from Salem
Take the NH 44 from Salem. Near Rasipuram, turn left onto the Rasipuram bye-pass which will take you to State Highway SH 95. Turn right on to SH 95 and drive through beautiful farming villages along the Kolli range. Turn left once more at Kaalappa-naickenpatti to go to the kolli foothills village of Karavalli. The 28 kms Ghat Road begins at Karavalli. and the most amazing drive up the mountains with stunning views and 70 sharp hair-pin bends, a real challenge for drivers and biking enthusiasts. Enjoy the paintings of the Sendhamangalam Highways department along the way depicting stories of famous kings of ancient Tamil Nadu.
Solakadu is your first stop and also one of the highest points in the hills. Stop for a steaming cup of the locally grown Arapalli coffee. The tribal shandy is right by the roadside and is a must visit place for buying exotic fruits and spices and other mountain produce. Just opposite the shandy, within the premises of the Highways Bungalow is a viewpoint with breathtaking views.
At Solakadu you can choose the places you want to visit from the prominently placed signpost. There are a lot of places to visit in the Kolli hills.
A word of caution – Once you exit Solakadu, there are very few signposts along the way so ask the locals for directions when in doubt to avoid going around in circles! Many roads seem the same on the hills and can get quite confusing.
Where to stay
There are very few resorts in the Kolli hills. The oldest is the Nallathambi resort. You can book cottages of the Kolli malai Panchayat in advance. These are located in Semmedu. Another place to stay is the youth hostel near the Arapaleeswarar temple.Alternately, you can stay in Salem or Namakkal and visit the hills.
Bring packed meals and snacks when you come because there are very few good hotels or eateries. If you plan to stay longer than a day the best thing would be to ask the locals to prepare food for you.