Saturday, November 19, 2011

I Never Knew..

As far as experiences go, is  there anything better than a short, sharp trip? After a quick, week-long visit to Kerala, I am convinced that intense road-travel is the best way to know soak in the contrasts that a place has to offer, without getting getting sucked into a vortex of ennui, nit-picking and petty politics.

This particular trip started with Indigo flight 6E-177 from Delhi to Thiruvananthapuram; it included a 650km drive across the length of the state, from Tvm to Kodungallur, Guruvayur and Trissur; a family get-together, and a return flight by the same airline back to Delhi.

All along, I found myself getting surprised time and again, by things I thought would never change, and by questions that never popped up earlier. And it all started at the new airport complex in Delhi.

I never knew the IGI Terminals had transformed so much. A drive down the airport road, past the Tibetan monastery, and suddenly you see that shabby buildings and ugly roundabouts have been swept away and replaced with a swank new building, with better security and much more efficient staff. Even the toilets sensors have little homilies on them! And just in case you feel completely disoriented, all you have to do is to look outside the glass windows to see "Airport Hotel". The relic is still there, perhaps as a reminder of the bad old days.

I had wondered why Indigo flights emerged as top-dog in the Indian skies until I checked in. The answer seems quite straightforward - over the past few years, while the competition has been falunting shorter skirts and pretty faces, Indigo has been hiring smart people and training them well in the art of continuous improvement. Who cares for hot meals and steel cutlery when the flights are handled efficiently and arrive well ahead of schedule!

Back on terra firma, the next big surprise was the highways in Kerala - they have improved so much! Except for a few, relatively short, painful stretches, both the trunk roads - the Main Central and the National Highway - have made road-travel so much more reliable.

And there were the elephant-questions. Until I sat for an hour gawking at the pachyderms, I never knew how leverage their tusks to crack palm fronds, or that they prefer to eat the stem like foot-long pieces of sugarcane, while completely ignoring the green leaves. I noticed this for the first time inside the Guruvayur temple during the Seiveli Puja. It never ceases to amaze me - the sight of five bedecked elephants standing in a confined space, amidst hundreds of people, in close proximity to oil lamps and their long, flickering flames.

Finally, I never knew that Trissur city was built around a huge 'traffic island' hillock, housing the famous Vadakkunathan temple. I always imagined it to be on a flat plain, separated from the Parasumeikkavu temple by the famous "pooram" ground. Even more suprising was the sheer size of the complex with its numerous sub-shrines. Most of these are in bad shape, thanks, no doubt, to the usual suspects - a Dewaswom Board with a damn-care attitude and the local populance which is unable or unwilling to take responsibility for its own heritage.


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The Thrissur Roundabout

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Lakes wedged in between Mukurthi and Silent Valley National Parks

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