Haven’t you heard this somewhere? Yes, you are right. It is the famous book by Alexander Frater. Suddenly, one day, I decided to experience what he had felt, in a smaller way and write about it, though my writing skills do not match his.
I got the Mumbai- Nagercoil Exp at K.R.Puram at 12 noon. Luckily I got a sleeper berth. It was hot in Tamilnadu as the monsoon had not set. It must be waiting for my arrival at Trivandrum to welcome it. The sunset was beautiful as the train chugged through dry lands. I had a great sleep dreaming of rains. I woke up by 4 .30A.M. in time to see the windmills of Nagercoil. The train stopped for signal among mountains full of windmills. It is an eerie feeling, surrounded by giants slowly swinging their arms.
I could feel Don Quixote in his shining armour on a horse with his assistant Sancho Panza on a donkey fighting the imaginary monsters. Train reached Nagercoil at 5.45 A.M., had nice coffee and a bath in the station. I got into the empty Kanyakumari – Bangalore Express. The greenery in these parts is to be seen to be believed. There are small ponds with lotus flowers and ducks, coconut tress lining the paddy fields with mountains in the background, sudden burst of white wings of storks disturbed by the train. Quaint little stations like Kullithurai, Parassala,Amaravilla,with office going people to Trivandrum with white dhotis, ladies in neat saris and flowers in their hair.
The faint sound of Gospel music coming in waves from distant churches. You have to be careful as the train reaches Trivandrum station , when suddenly people rush madly into the compartments. Pandemonium subsides in 2 minutes and peace descends. You can get down easily, though you have to avoid dashing into tea and paruppu vada sellers.
I think, Trivandrum is the cheapest city as far as lodging goes. ( Greenland lodging near railway station)Imagine a neat room for Rs 70/- per day next to the main police station opposite to railway station. Neat sheets, toilet with mosquito net. Must be due to the large contingent of travelling salesman, landing in the city every minute.
But I have to share the trick for finding the cheapest and the best lodge in town. Look for a 50 year old salesman with a brief case and ask him. Don’t ask the young salesman, as I did the mistake once. We both landed in a lodge which became suddenly active after 10 P.M and could not sleep the whole night. (Don’t get me wrong, the noises were from the next room).
I had a nice bath and walked to Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple. Note that in all Kerala temples, men are not allowed in with pants. You have to wear a Mundu (dhoti) and no shirts too! But you get dhotis for hire at the reception and you can remove your shirt and walk in. But I have never seen such cleanliness and pious atmosphere in temples in any other state( of course, there are exceptions!).
The early Morning Prayer songs sung by white sari clad Kerala beauties in the temple hall soothes the soul. I spent one hour savouring the atmosphere. Prayed to God for rain and came back to bus stand. It is still hot and humid and no sign of rain. I trudged back to lodge looking up in the sky for any sign of rain. The wait is oppressive! I got into a KTDC bus and went for half a day tour to Veli, the new tourist village. There were water scooters, boats etc, nicely done, but very touristy.
Next day morning, no sign of rain. I went to the Met Dept at Observatory Hill and met Mr. Ramashanker, Metreologist, a Telugu man who showed me the on line satellite pictures. He told that the onset of monsoon does not happen in a dramatic fashion. It is spread over a period of time with rains on and off, but will rain consistently only after 1st august. Disappointed, got back to the bus stand and got a bus to Ponmudi hills. I reached Ponmudi at 12 noon.
It is very beautiful place with hills on all sides. There are Govt. guest houses and a canteen. It was a pleasure sitting on top of the peak on grass slope, sipping coffee, with cold strong breeze from the valley trying to lift you to the sky. Had a great lunch, got the last bus at 4.30 P.M. and got back to Trivandrum through a place with a fancy named called Vithura.
Next day also no rain. Got fedup. Got into KK express at 9.30 A.M. and reached Ambalapuzha. I was just in time before the temple closed and got lots of the famous Pal Payasam, for which I had come all the way. Drank to heart’s content.
Then it Happened! The sky became suddenly dark and the rains came in a deluge. It was thrilling ! Atlast, I saw the onset of monsoon in a dramatic fashion. One minute there was Sun, and within the next five minutes it became dark and rains poured. Mr. Ramashanker was wrong! It was very dramatic. Yes! this was the real “Chasing the Monsoon”, I had imagined.
The same thrill Mr. Frater felt when he saw the dramatic onset of monsoon. I reached the station and got into some train going North.. The rain followed the train. I could see Sun every few kilometre and then looking back I could see dark clouds chasing the train The few co-passengers in the train were amused to see me so happy, laughing, running from door to door, taking photos etc. They had a smile on their face looking at the crazy guy! After all, they see it every year. The children in the train were happy. It always rains on the first day of school after summer vacations and there will be no school.
I reached Ernakulam , hotels are costly, lodges around the station are poor. I went out to eat dinner and got caught in torrential rain. Managed to reach a lodge ( not worth mentioning). Took a train next day morning to Shoranur. The slow train is stationed at Chalakudy. No passengers in the train.
The express trains keep passing my train. It is raining. I can see a few lazy ducks walking in drizzle on the empty goods platform. The old train tracks are laid on wooden sleepers. They have rotted. They must have been part of a great tree with green leaves waving in the breeze and rain and growing to heights. Now they are dead wood, with no life.
I feel that the tracks are laid on dead bodies. How many trees must have been cut by the British to lay train tracks all over India and to burn them for steam locomotives? I am reminded of Jim Corbett working in Mokameh Ghat for many years transhipping tons of timber for the railways. Where have all the forests gone? The train passes Trichur and is stationed in the beautiful curve at Mullurcarai, after Wadakancheri. Just before Shoranur, the tracks divide , one going towards East to Palakkad and on to Chennai and the straight one going to Mangalore. This is the mid point of Kerala.
Beyond Shoranur, is Malabar. The pass over the great river Bharathapuzha, before entering Shoranur station. The river is dry in summer full of fluffy white grass, but now in monsoon it is flowing in full force.
You can see whirlpools, trees floating, as the train moves slowly on the bridge. You should read Sri.M.T.Vasudevan Nair’s Requiem for a River, to feel Bharatapuzha. I got down at Shoranur. Had paruppu vada and pazha bajji.
The morning scene in Kerala is very typical as you pass by in a train. The green field abetting mountains and rivers. White egrets flying in a group as the train passesby. Streams from mountains joining Bharathapuzha The houses are newly built, mostly with Gulf earned money.
The son is working in Gulf and the dad is sitting on the front porch, wearing a lungi, with no shirt on, sipping chai and reading Mathubhumi newspaper, occasionally looking up at the passing train. The garden contains Hibiscus, Poinsettia, crotons, and a jack fruit tree. The mother is hanging out washed clothes on a wire, with a hen and chickens walking around her in the garden. As the day goes by, you can see freshly bathed school children in uniforms, trying to cross the tracks to go to their schools with their POPPY make kodais( umbrellas) in pouring rain.
Got into Mangalore Fast passenger at 10 .55 A.M. This is beautiful train to see North Kerala, as it moves relatively slowly through all stations from Shoranur to Mangalore. The train chugs through Pattambi( my dad worked for many years as Principal of the Sanskrit college), Pallipuram,Tirur,Parpanangadi,Feroke, Kallayi and reaches Calicut by 1.20 P.M.
You get good lunch at Calicut, especially mutton and chicken biriyanis.( though I ate only veg meals).Crowd gets in here travelling to North Kerala.You tend to doze after meals as you pass Quilandi, Payyoli( P.T.Usha’s place.She was known as Payyoli express!).
Next station is a never to miss Mahe, quaint little village, originally a French colony, Malayalam name is Mayyazhi. Old station, Mayyazhi river bridge, French Governor’s bungalow at water front.To get the feel of Mahe, you must read, On the banks of Mayyazhi, by M. Mukundan.
The town now is full of liquor shops, petrol stations as tax is much less here than in Kerala.There is beautiful church on the highway in the middle of the town. Next station is Jagannath Temple Gate and Talassery.
The appam and stew breakfast of West End Hotel in Talassery, will be talked about for time immemorial. You can see a newly built exotic looking resort, commune just after Talaserry station, on the East side , among backwaters, full of birds. The train reaches Kannur at 3.30 p.m. in time for a nice cup of tea and paruppu vada ( do you get anything else in Kerala trains?). KVR Veg Restaurant in Kannur station is fully managed by smiling women (one of them Shamima) and masala dosa is heaveanly.
The Sun starts setting slowly. You must choose a window seat on west side to enjoy the scenery and innumerable rivers join the sea with the setting Sun. The evening scene is more dramatic, as the sun sets, you can see all houses lit by the lights on the front porch. It is either a standing lamp( Nela Vilakku) or a lamp hanging on the front rafters.
All lamps have five wicks, and is brought to the porch by the lady of the house announcing “ DEEPAM”.The grandmother sits with young grand children reading Narayaneeyam in a sing song voice. The pious posing uncle of the house is waiting impatiently for the ceremony to be over before he makes his way to the arrack shop, for his evening drink. The train driver’s blowing of horn echoes through the coconut groves in fading sunlight.
It is 5 P.M. Kanhangad. This place is famous for the two ashrams, one Anandashram of Swami Pappa Ramdas and Swamy Nithyananda Ashram.I look around for any sign of devotees of the famous Swamy Ramadas on the platform. Found a foreign couple with their back packs, one with a tee shirt proclaiming-OM and the other wearing a gaudy Shiva in multi colour. Payyanur is an interesting place, with a beautiful Subramanya temple, famous for its Pavithra Modiram- a ring made with special poojas for any one doing poojas and doing ancestors ceremonies.
I tried to get a atleast a photograph of the collectors item. But no ready piece was available, as it is made against an order, costing a minimum of Rs 15000 for a ring. You must not miss Kottikulam station, with the sea so near the tracks.
The monsoon clouds chase us, with dark clouds on the left and bright sunshine on the right. Manjeshwar is the last station in Kerala. Iam looking for a border sign showing Karnataka. Maybe it is one of those many rivers. It is getting dark and train moves fast nearing Mangalore, as if the driver is in a hurry to make up for the lost time. The train heaves a sigh of relief and slows down as it passes very slowly over Netravati river at Ullal, with water almost touching the rails, you can see the famous Commonwealth Tile Factory.
A must factory visit for all engineering students of yester years, and the red Mangalore tiles adorn the roof of every home on the coast. The train reaches Mangalore on time at 7 P.M. The end of a long 9hour train journey through North Kerala.
I found a decent hotel ( Maharaja Residency-Rs 500/-.perday) for a good night’s rest.
Next day morning, I decided to see Karkal. I reached bus stand. You can have nice veg breakfast, opp to bus stand , upstairs in Bhat hotel. I got into Karkal bus. It goes through Parangipete,Pilikula,Gurupura( scenery here is super) Modbidri, Karkal. The rains started as I landed in Karkal. I walked to Gomateshwara hill and climbed the steps. The view from top is fantastic. There was not a soul on top. Me and Gomateshwara. Waited for the rains!
I wanted picture of God’s blessings on the Statue. I could see rains coming on with a roaring crescendo to the hill. It moved like a blanket hitting the coconut trees and making them sway in waves. The sight was worth travelling any miles to see! I took photos trying my best not to get wet with a small umbrella. As rains subsided walked to Chaturmukha Basadi. On the way visited a Jain temple and climbed the steps to the Basadi. A blind guide at Basadi explained temple in detail. Walked back to the bus stand, had lunch, got a bus to Moodbidri.
Got down at Jain Mutt, walked to the Thousand Pillared Temple (a wonderful temple), walked back to Mutt and to another Mutt where Munis had gathered for Chaturmasa.
The next one hour was a mind blowing experience of my life. As I entered the Mutt, I found that I was the only clothed person. Munis wore no stitch of cloth. They were without body consciousness. For the first time, I was feeling so delicate to be clothed.
I now understood the stares I got when I entered the mutt. I prayed with them listening to their discourses in Gujarati. Spent one hour there. Got out in a daze and got another shock seeing fully clothed people all around. Got a bus to Kateel. Sri Durga Parameshwari Temple is worth visiting as the river flows through the temple and the temple itself is an island. Got a bus to Mangalore, via Bajpe ( nice sunset scene) . Luckily got a good luxury bus to Bangalore at 9 P.M. and reached Bangalore at 6 A.M. the next day
Thus I too chased the Monsoon as Alexander Frater did ( a small portion of what he did), but “ I did it my way!”