My cousin’s marriage gave me an opportunity to visit Kerala last weekend.
When my cousin told me that her wedding reception would be in Palakkad, Kerala, I knew I had to be there. I had never visited this state, but had heard a lot about it from my Mallu friends – its beautiful landscapes, its millennia-old history, its health related traditions like Ayurveda.
Kerala ranks first on the human development index (HDI) among the states in India, topping nearly all important parameters – the highest literacy, lowest population growth, highest sex ratio and highest life expectancy.
It is also among the most prosperous Indian states, in spite of being run mostly by parties with communist ideologies. One of the reasons being – it receives the highest remittances from emigrants working in other countries (mainly the Gulf), contributing to more than 20% of its GDP!
I took a flight to Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, then a cab to Palakkad. The NH 544 connecting these 2 towns passes through the Palakkad Gap, between the mountain ranges of Western Ghats in the north and Annaimalai hills to the south. The route is very scenic – paddy fields and coconut palm trees everywhere, and cloud-covered green-brown hills on the horizon.
By the time we reached Palakkad, the clouds had cleared. (Just a few days ago, the cyclone Ockhi had passed close by.)
Palakkad has a booming health business – many domestic and international tourists come here specifically for Ayurvedic treatments. The town seemed very clean, well-kept and generally prosperous. People were friendly and helpful.
We had a Tamil style lunch – this town being very close to the Tamil Nadu border has a mix of both cultures.
One peculiar thing is that – in Palakkad and the surrounding areas, instead of room-temperature or chilled drinking water, they serve warm water! This water is mixed with a bark of a tree and is supposed to have medicinal properties.
Post lunch, we set out to visit Guruvayur temple, 90 kms away, right across the state near the coast. It is one of the most important temples in Kerala.
This temple is believed to be 5,000 years old! The 4-armed deity represents the form of Lord Vishnu as seen by Vasudev and Devaki just before Lord Krishna was born to them.
There are strict rules inside the temple – men shouldn’t wear anything above their waists and should wear a mundu. Lakhs of devotees visit everyday. The temple complex is huge, with devotional events happening on a regular basis.
Although there was a lot of rush, we managed to get into the special queue and finished the darshan in an hour or so. We also got a chance to see one of the temple elephants.
After darshan, we had filter coffee at one of the restaurants on the way (and also the above mentioned warm water), returning to Palakkad by night.
Read part 2 here.