Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Signs2: Little Folks

 For those who love coffee like me:

Cute Little Folks

Little Folks is an abandoned amusement park on ECR near the Nemmeli Seawater Desalination Plant, which provides an alternative water source for Chennai residents. I visited Little Folks nearly 25 years ago when I was 12 years old. I came here after watching the Sealions show at the Dolphine City opposite the same.

Our actual plan then (1998) was to see the dolphin show at Dolphin City, but due to an illness that affected the dolphins, the show has canceled, and we ended up watching the Sealions performance, which was quite amusing. The dolphin city was the first of its kind of fun-filled water park in the country. Unfortunately, the dolphin city and the little folk stopped their operation in the latter years after the dolphins died. 

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Ponniyin Selvan and Kodikkarai

It's been ten years since I visited Kodikkarai (aka Point Calimere), yet the memories are still vivid in my mind. Furthermore, the novel I am currently reading, Ponniyin Selvan, has a lot of connection with the place in its second and third volume, which overlaps with the time of my visit, precisely ten years ago. 

Ponniyin Selvan is a renowned classic historical novel in Tamil written by Kalki, which needs no introduction if you come from Tamil Nadu, the southern state of India. As captivating fiction, the novel tells the story of the greatest king, Raja Raja Chozan. I love reading this book, or more accurately, I enjoy traveling through it, and Kodikkarai is one of the key stops on this journey; that transports me through nostalgic memories and into a thousand-year-old fantasy. 

At the pristine shore of Kodikkarai

I envisage a dense forestation once in the already widespread scrub forest of Kodikkarai,  home to many blackbucks and chital deer, wild horses, boars, and foxes, where the courageous Vanthiya Devan follows the insane girl Poonkuzali, who tricks him and saves him from quicksand. 

Kodikkarai is a vast network of backwaters that includes the Great Vedaranyam Swamp and the Cauvery Estuary; it opens up to dry evergreen forests, mangrove forests, and wetlands where quicksand is common. 

Based on their discussion in the book, I can imagine how wild it should be to have tigers and leopards in the Kodikkarai forest a thousand years ago. They used to say that where there are deer, there will be tigers, but now in Kodikkarai, the deer are safe from everything but the cunning foxes. 

The 9th Chola lighthouse ruin was surrounded by water during high tide.

While I sat along the pristine and powdered sand shore of Kodikkarai, besides a half-cylindrical ruin of the Chola's brick and mortar lighthouse, I had no idea that I was sitting at a historical landmark of the Chola dynasty. And that our Ponniyin Selvan (Raja Raja Cholan) arrived in Sri Lanka from here.

About a thousand years ago, the Chola lighthouse was a tower-like structure where firewood is lit atop the tower to indicate the ships and warn about the shallow seashore.

Ponniyin Selvan is a 5-volume novel, and I've finished the first two and am now reading the third, which seems to be more intense and all pointing towards Kodikkarai; my imagination is taking new sights and vistas of the shore. The Kadikkarai coastline is shallow for a few kilometers and has stripes of sandbanks to keep ships away, and only tiny boats can access. 

It was a magnificent sight to see hundreds of birds take off and land on a sandbank by the sea, as well as a herd of deer leap across a long stretch of ground and disappear into the bushes. It was a scene that struck my mind's vision like a flash of lightning forever. The forest department permitted safaris within the forest up to the Chola lighthouse to watch the wildlife.

Kodikkarai is a nearly right-angle turn in Tamil Nadu's coastline in the delta region of Nagapattinam. It houses wildlife, a bird sanctuary. Kodikkarai is a 10-kilometer drive from Vedaranyam and takes us past extensive salt pans on one side and woodland on the other. 

A white heron taking off

Every winter, millions of birds from all over the world visit Kodikkarai, and it is popularly known for the Greater flamingo. During our trip to Kodiyakkarai, we stayed at the forest guest house, close to the forest and the new lighthouse. And the suite allotted for us is named "Flamingo."

It was a beautiful experience to see deer and peacocks casually roaming around the guesthouse, and the rattle of peacocks was a rhythmic way to wake up in the morning. Since the guesthouse had a tile roof, we heard knocks at night, which was nothing but peacocks who enjoyed a stroll on the roof. 

Unfortunately, I could not share many photos from Kodikkarai, as I have saved the photos on DVDs, my new laptop doesn't have a DVD drive. Some of these photos are from my archiver, and those remained on the hard disk I have many photos of the wildlife, the beach, and the forest to share with you, but you'll have to wait till I buy an external DVD driver.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Signs from Theni

There was once a custom in Tamil Nadu (or perhaps it is a practice throughout India, I'm not sure) to number the trees along the highway to ensure their protection. We can still see those numbers on trees along state highways, and the tamarind trees were usually the ones with the marks on their trunks. 

Once we were driving towards Theni (a southern district in Tamil Nadu), we happened to come to a halt in front of a tamarind tree with the number 10 painted on its trunk. We stopped to buy palmyra jaggery at a roadside stall, and the jaggery (sold by a couple) was worth buying, so we bought from the same stall again the next time we passed. 

We have been using palmyra jaggery and palm sugar for the last few years in place of white sugar. So we couldn't pass them up when the palm jaggery sold by them was of such high quality and purity. 

Coming to number 10 - 

There is also a popular comedy in Tamil, where the comedian Vadivelu draws the number 10 on an old woman's forehead who complains of fever. In Tamil, the number 10 is spelled pattu, and the same word is used to refer to patches or medicine applied to wounds; the entire village would chase him to beat, and one in the crowd would say, "See, he had drawn 10 similar to the one on the tamarind trees on highways."

The doll you see is at the entrance of Meenakshi Bhavan, a restaurant where we generally eat when traveling through Theni. It is one of the best vegetarian restaurants in Theni, though the taste of the food isn't as good as before. The doll serves as a welcome sign to the eatery, and it has idlis and dosa on the plate. 

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Scissor Beak Crow

This isn't the first time I've seen a crow with a scissor beak, also known as a crossed beak or crooked beak, which is a physical deformity in which the top and bottom of the chick's beak don't match correctly. It usually emerges within a week after the chick hatches.

I've seen some more crows with severely crossed or displaced beaks, which I assumed might be the cause of a fierce fight between the crows. But it wasn't until now that I learned that "scissor beak can be caused by inferior genetics, an injury to the chick's skull causing the growth plates to not grow at the same rate, or inappropriate incubation temperature."

Incorrect hatch positioning can also result in a scissor beak if the chick is not in the normal hatch position with her head tucked beneath one wing. A shortage of calcium, folic acid, or vitamin D can also lead to abnormal growth, but eating and drinking shouldn't be difficult unless it is serious. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Albatross Elaichi Luxury Suite, Yelagiri

Trip to Yelagiri, Day 1 Arrival, follows:

Although the check-in time was noon, we arrived at the Albatross Elaichi Luxury Suite in  Yelagiri at about 4 p.m. We ordered tea as soon as we arrived, and it was a welcome break from the journey and a way to digest the late meal we had eaten before climbing the hill. 

I love their trendy villa sign.

The Albatross is a beautiful and comfortable place to stay in Yelagiri. They offer luxury villa suites at a reasonable price! There are many accommodation options available at Yelagiri, and our preference was an individual cottage away from the center of tourist attractions as we wanted a calm stay. 

There were fewer cottages in Yelagiri that met our expectations (accessible in a wheelchair and elevated no more than a step or two) at a reasonable price. While there are resorts and hotels with easy access, our budget and expectations differ, so we choose the one that makes us feel the most at ease. 

From the front gate, a GoPro shot of the villa in super-wide mode. 

We saw the Albatross villa suites first on Airbnb and subsequently obtained their phone number from their website. The owner was kind enough to respond to our inquiries and send us images of the property, which we promptly reserved. The property has a modest lawn in front and backyard but is beautifully maintained; each suite has a flower bed outside, and I loved the hibiscus and roses that bloomed to add charm to the villa. 

The beautiful front yard and driveway, as well as me. 
I liked everything about this place that looks simple, clean, and welcoming. 

Each suite has a living room and a bedroom with an attached bathroom; both the rooms have a queen-size bed, plus a television, couch, and dining table in the hall. They also offer free wifi, which we didn't bother to check as we use our mobile data, and a/c in the bedroom. 
Bright winter sunset at Yelagiri

Being a late winter season, the weather in Yelagiri became cold after sunset, just as the day had begun for us in Chennai with fog. I can feel the cold, which is half the temperature of Kodaikanal or similar to Thandikudi, where we visit (and stay at my uncle's woodhouse) regularly until 2019. 

We had no plans for that day because I wasn't sure about other places (accessible by wheelchair) besides the lake and nature park that I had seen on my previous visit. I wasn't interested in seeing those places again, and I had no plans for the trip other than to see what unfolded along the way. 

Another specialty of staying at the villa is the delicious food cooked and served by their chef, Manikandan. They gave us complimentary breakfast for the two days we stayed there, and for the first-day dinner, we ordered dosa and uthappam. As a side dish, he gave chutney sambar and chicken gravy. Though it was very spicy, it treated the taste buds. 

Night, we slept in the living room bed while my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew slept in the bedroom. Although the night was quiet, we got to listen to various bird sounds at dawn and dusk because the property is just across from Yelagiri Bird Park. I couldn't get to the bird park even if I stayed directly across the street since the surface was not suitable for wheelchair access. 

Albatross is an excellent place to stay, especially for families. They don't allow bachelors, and you can't drink or smoke, so I recommend it. The rooms are simply decorated with wall stickers and painted frames to cheer us up during our stay. The gated villa offers car parking on the premises, and it feels secure with CCTV. The staff who are staying next door are on-call round the clock. 

Thursday, March 10, 2022

இளவேனிற்காலம் / The Spring

இளவேனிற்காலம் தொடங்குகையில் மைனாக்களின் கொஞ்சல்  சத்தம்!
கத்தரித்த மரங்களில் துளிர்விட தொடங்கிய இலைகள்;
மெல்ல மெல்ல விலகும் பனி
சூரியனின் வெம்மை உருகியது இளவேனி!

மெருகூட்டப்படாத சூரிய ஒளியில்  
இதமான  கடல் காற்றோடு
கிளியும் குயிலும் பாடல் படிக்க
விடிந்தது வசந்த காலம்.  

மழையை கடத்தும் மேகமாய்
நினைவுகளை சுமந்து வரும் கடல் காற்று.
வருடம் தவறாமல், மனம் இளைப்பாற  
இளமைக்கால நினைவுகள்ளோடு இளவேனிற்காலம்.

the translate:

As spring arrives, the faint sound of mynas!
The leaves of pruned trees are beginning to bloom;
The dew is gradually melting.
The sun's rays thawed the springs!

In the unpolished sunlight
With a light breeze from the sea
Parrots and Koels read the song
Spring has arrived. 

Clouds that transmit rain
The sea breeze transports memories.
Year after year, the mind relaxes.
Spring with memories of youth. 

Friday, March 04, 2022

Trip to Yelagiri, Day 1 Arrival

Last week we visited Yelagiri—my first trip in the last three years—a small hill station in the Tirupattur district of Tamil Nadu. It was a three-day family trip with a two-night stay at a cottage in Yelagiri, which we booked in advance. It was planned as a short trip in a short time, and we weren't sure until we paid in advance for the cottage, as we had some health issues, but we are glad nothing popped up, and the trip went smoothly. 

Yelagiri is about 230 kilometers from Chennai, according to Google Maps. The travel duration on Google Maps is 5 hours; however, due to terrible roads, it took us nearly 7 hours, including breakfast and lunch stops. The construction of flyovers at several crossings caused frequent detours on the Chennai-Bangalore route up to Vellore.  

We haven’t driven on the highways much in the last two years, so we didn’t get stuck on the FASTag (an electronic toll collection system in India, administered by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI). From Chennai to Vaniyambadi—where the road turns left to reach Yelagiri—there are three toll gates; we hadn't considered the FASTag until we were close to the first toll gate; those without a FASTag must pay double the fee. 

So right after crossing the first toll and paying double the amount, we got the FASTag from the same booth; it's open for recharging or instant installation of the FASTag. A FASTag sticker was paste to the top left corner of the car's windshield, and it functioned right away, so we didn't have to stop at the toll gates from then on, but rather slow down for the sensor to scan the tag.

FASTag is a system that works on recharge, similar to prepaid mobile phones, and if we fail to recharge or maintain a minimum balance amount, we had to pay twice the toll fee. So there is an additional charge for us to check the balance before picking up a trip on the highway. 

Highway with colorful shrubs 

Hills on highway nh48

The FASTag has a tie-up with Paytm to make recharging easier, and even if we fail to recharge but have a balance in Paytm, then the fee will be deducted from that.

We bought our lunch in Ambur, which is well-known for its biryani! So obviously, everyone's choice is the world-famous biryani, but I preferred vegetarian, to make sure the trip wasn't troublesome. While traveling, I try to avoid non-vegetarian dishes as much as possible, but on the way back, I like the same. 

Though I didn't eat biryani, I searched for the best biryani in Ambur, and Rahamaniya emerged as our top choice after reading positive reviews. I say the biryani was delicious and lived up to the promise (I admit that I took a few mouthfuls to get a taste), but the biryani that we ordered to take away was missing a piece of meat. For some, it was a significant letdown in addition to the flavor.

The restaurant should consider this to avoid negative feedback from customers who come in search of delicious biryani after reading positive reviews.

While looking for a nice place or shadow to have our lunch, we came close to the foothills of Yelagiri and decided to have our lunch outside Amma Park at the starting point of the ghat. We were a group of five adults traveling with my nephew Kavin, my brother's 4-month-old baby. It was also one of the factors that contributed to the delay. We arrived at our cottage at 4 p.m., and the journey from foothill to hilltop took only half an hour, even though the distance was 12 km. 

As if waiting for us, the staff of the cottage (Albatross Luxury Suite) welcomed us with a smile and helped unload the luggage. More of that later.