Sunday, March 31, 2013

Tillai - The journey not the destination -5

Like i said in my previous post after coming back from the lignite mines, the elders insisted we should give up on Tranquebar. They felt we were tired to take on the journey and as it is we had to drive next day afternoon to Chennai. My husband whose passion other than high way driving is sleeping was only too eager to stall of the journey.

But thankfully, i could convince everybody but by then it was 2 in the afternoon. So after  a refreshing mug of coffee /tea we left to Tranquebar at 3 in the noon.

The weather again was  supportive, cool, breezy and even cloudy. We journeyed   through Bhuvanagiri and a Saivaite temple town , Chidambaram( called Thillai in tamil).

Driving through Bhuvanagiri which is famous as the birthplace of the madhwa saint Sri Raghavendra swami cut me off from the colors of  Rainbow except two. The Blue sky and the green paddy fields is all i saw when we drove through this beautiful plains. A sight i missed at Thanjavur  i  caught during my drive here. We enjoyed the  country side plains of this agricultural town.

                                           The above are moving shots. Did'nt  i tell you, the weather was perfect driving weather considering it is coastal region, the weather was salubrious and not sultry.
                  This is a shot taken from the petrolbunk where we refilled fuel. All around i could only see green and sky blue.

 And we bypassed the othe famous temple town which is a destination for many. Chidambaram, the temple town famous  for the Thillai Nataraja temple. Here the main idol is the dancing Shiva and this form of shiva frozen in bronze is the icon of Indian culture and adorns many Indian homes. Two of the idols adorn a place of pride in my home too. This place hosts one of the world's unparalled classical Indian dance/ballet fest called 'Natyanjali' which draws classical Bharatanatyam dancers from farway countries like Aust, Maldives, Srilanka, UK, US amongst others. This fest generally happens in March and coincides with the Mahashivratri festival. It is on my wishlist to visit Chidambaram during the fest and soak the cultural atmosphere. Someday i will.

                                           (pic courtesy: google)
But this time we traveled on the eve of another shaivaite tamil festival called Arudra Darisanam. Having visited this temple some 6 years back, we took  the chidambaram bypass road to tranquebar.  We could see the temple tower lit beautifully with the words 'Shiva Shiva' in tamil from the bypass road. If interested, more about the architecture legend and history of the temple read here.

From here it was just a few more minutes drive through typical kuccha roads towards tranquebar. Though this area is  close to the coast there is no road laid out here parallel to coast or to extend the east coast road. Laying such roads may cost agriculural land.   The drive through kuccha roads took us to  a fork road  where one indicator read Poompuhar 8kms and the other indicator read  MARG Karaikal. MARG is the marine infrastructure company and promotor of the ONGC port city and hence enroute from Chidambaram you will see MARG indicators for Karaikal but you will never find even one Tranquebar indicator. We took the Karaikal route since we knew it fell on this route and drove  amongst lively villages.   Just a  few kms to drive into King's street to experience a slice of bygone  Dutch India.There was something in the air which spelt and smelt of sea and a great history. More on my next travel post.......

The board says it all - the land of singing/dancing waves

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Kumbakonam- The journey not the destination -4

On our way back home to Neyveli, we drove through Kumbakonam. This town which is around 37 kms from Thanjavur has many famous temples scattered around. All these temples are huge and have ancient written over them in culture and history. It draws theists from all over the world as each temple has a significance and keeps the faith of its  devotees. This town also hosts the ‘Mahamaham’ a kumbhmela which is held every 12 years once. This agricultural town is famous for brass vessels. Silk, scented supari(betel nut), sandal talc, betel leaves and many more. It also  lends its name to the filter coffee brewed in thanjavur household, The GI marked Kumbakonam degree coffee.
a section of the mahamaham tank, famous for Kumbhmela held every 12 years( a NatGeo spot too) 
Apart from the above, it also has thrown to the world some eminent stalwarts, scholars and educationists, the chief among them being Srinivas Ramanujam, The great mathematician. They were all educated in the premier college of this old town The Government arts college, which is proudly acclaimed as the ‘Cambridge of South India’.
It was close to 5.40 p.m when we were travelling through this temple town, we passed through the Mahamaha kulam( a sacred temple pond), but we had no intention of stepping into any temple. Not that we are atheists, we had already seen most of them during our previous visits and we had even washed our sins;) in the mahamaham tank  a couple of years back  on an ordinary day with no one around.(  it draws people only on auspicious days)
We were busy scouting for the landmark monument this time, Srinivas Ramanujam’s home.  After a cup of degree coffee in a hotel ( a separate post on this)  for which this city is known, we entered the Sarangapani street with the help of our GPS to visit the house of the Great mathematician. We could not locate the house in the busy narrow street and so enquired a few people who were localites. Nobody had a clue to where this house was. Finally a man suggested we ask at the town school which was at the end of the road, since Ramanujam studied there. We went around the main entrance of the town school and finally managed to get the direction from an autodriver. We followed his instructions around the school and guess where we landed?
Exactly at the place, where a  person directed to the town school. It is a very narrow and small house as you will see in the picture and not many localites are aware of it.
the thinnai( the platform ) of his house from where he solved many mathematical problems on his own without anybody's help.

It is taken over by SASTRA university and turned into an international monument now.  We were here on DEC 26th, just 14 days after his 125th birth anniversary. A fortnight back, There was a huge delegation of mathematicians from Europe to celebrate this event @SASTRA University. We spent a few moments with pride hopping in and out of each room and I signed the visitors register placed there. WE were lucky to be the last visitor because the visiting hours of the monument was only till 6.p.m and luckily the power also went off when we walked out of the place. The visit to this house was most fulfilling said my son who loves mathematics and all of us nodded our head. (Anybody who loves reading biographies, i would suggest read Robert Kaniegel's the man who knew infinity- a tribute to this mathematician and an inspiring read)
Out from there , we drove straight to our uncle’s place to Neyveli.

 The next day, we had a local visit to the lignite mines and the thermal power station of Neyveli. On Dec 28th,  after a lot of deliberations as to should we visit the gingee fort enroute to Chennai or tranquebar( which many elders like our uncle and aunt dismissed as a fishing village), I insisted we  visit Tranquebar and Karaikal.... and......I would rate Tranquebar was one of the beautiful places, I have ever seen.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A healthy signature recipe @ home - Hara bhara kabab

Come summer and my kitchen in Hyderabad is like a pre-heated oven. I do most of my kitchen work before 8.30 in the morning and then only in the late evening. I  light the gas burner only when the sun goes down. So, the tea time snacks are generally from the oven or something which does not require putting things on the stove.

One of our favourite signature recipe is Hara Bhara Kabab which is a from a old  Savvy cook book of 96, I treasure. A very healthy and tasty  recipe which is made from some of the fresh summer greens which i source from my weekend grocery outing. I  de-stem them and store it  for the weeks use, as and when the recipe demands I use them liberally. Fresh Pudina( mint), methi leaves(fenugreek), Dhania( green coriander) and Palak leaves. And i also have loads of Green peas which i source during winter @rs12/kg, deshell and stock it for a few months use, sometimes it even lasts a whole year. Shallots, the small sambar onions are very good coolants so this is also stocked in the refridgerator and  I use it for  garnishing salads, raithas, curd rice and whenever the recipe demands usage of onions.

The above ingredients ground and spiced with a few ingredients make a healthy food. I generally grill this kebabs. But for the first time decided to shallow fry with Fortune Rice Bran healthy oil. You can also deep fry them.

Now for the recipe of HARA BHARA KABAB

A patty made with greens like Spinach, coriander leaf, fenugreek leaves and green peas. A healthy snack/starter which can be grilled, shallow fried or deep fried. Tastes good when served with mint-yogurt chutney.

For the kebabs
Chopped spinach---- 1 cup
Chopped coriander leaves --- 1 cup
Methi leaves chopped ---- ¼ cup
Shelled peas ----1/2 cup
Chopped onions ( i used shallots this time)--- ½ cup
Bread slices dipped in water and sqeezed well --- 4 nos( I use multigrain/whole wheat bread)
Green chillies – 3 nos
Ginger piece – 1”
Maida - 2-3 tbsp
Halved cashew nuts - 2 tbsp
Garam masala powder – ½ tsp
Amchoor powder --- ½ tsp( i also substitute with amla juice/lemon juice)
Red chilli powder --- ¼ tsp
Fortune Rice Bran oil for frying

For the chutney
Thick curd --- ½ cup
Coriander leaves ---- ½ cup
Mint leaves --- ½ cup
Green chillies --- 2
Salt to taste
Lemon juice --- 2 tsp

To serve
1 onion cut into rings
juice of half a lemon
A few mint leaves, chopped finely


  • Grind spinach, coriander, methi,peas,chillies and ginger into a fine paste.
  • Add crumbled bread, chopped onions,salt and other spices. Mix well to make the mixture of right consistency, neither too tight or soggy.
  • Make small balls of this mixture and pat them into flat, circular shapes about half inch thick. Gently press a piece of cashewnut in the centre of each kebab.
  • Roll in maida and shallow fry them in Fortune Rice Bran healthy oil  till golden brown. You can even deep fry them if you like it deep fried.
                                                             Grind them in  a mixer
                                                 Mix the ground paste with the spices and bread
  Add fortune rice bran healthy oil on a non stick tawa and shallow fry the patties after dusting them with maida
                                                   Press a cashew nut in the middle and allow them to shallow fry, when done on one side
                                               Flip them and fry on the other side, when done serve them on a bed of onion rings
 Grind coriander, mint and green chillies. Mix the ground paste with thick curd, season and serve as a dip . Enjoy the nutrition loaded cool kabab.

 This post is a part of Healthy & Tasty Recipe Contest with Fortune Rice Bran Health

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A peerless green couple who parented 400 children

To be in a countryside amongst green fields, inhaling unpolluted crisp air, soaking the sight of  birds flight,  the planting of the saplings in a symmetrical and linear fashion by the farmers,  sickling the harvest, the threshing, the tractors on the field or the ploughing cattle, the water pumpsets and the wells – all these and much more are a sight to behold and  theraupetic for souls like me who are born, bred and live in neon drenched cities.  Watching these people at work is so relaxing. This has been my favorite pastime when we travel the countryside.

But I have gradually seen all these dwindling  with each passing year of late.

During my recent trip to Thanjavur which is hailed as the ‘Granary of south India’, it was really disheartening to see many fields turn into residential plots. The farmers who rely on rains are unable to keep up their harvest. Many of them buckling to repay their  loans sell their farmlands and land in the city footpaths . It is also in the news how the farmers end up selling sugarcane juice and  do other sundry jobs in city platforms to eke a living.

Especially, with the water table receding with each passing year and the rivers also running dry, the rivers beds are also mined for sand to build castles for the rich in the cities. At this rate, the gen next may see villages in pictures as all the river beds and farmlands turn into concrete jungle. Not just that it might even prove Thomas Malthus words right about food scarcity.

The starting point for the vicious circle is deforestation, I believe. The clearing of  trees leads to less rainfall which in turn leads to famine.

Here , I like to draw attention to an inspiring selfless couple who are like an oasis in a desert.

Thimmakka and Chikkana  are like any of the millions of uneducated rural villagers, only   the  selfless service they have rendered to this planet earth makes them  unusual as two of the rare inhabitants of this planet

                                  Saalumarada Thimmakka with her children(pic courtesy: google)

Chikkanna of Hulikal village in Karnataka got married to Thimmakka of Gubbi town some 75 years ago. They were landless labourers who were not destined for parenthood for which they were taunted and teased at. Added to this was the stammer of Chikkanna which the villagers made fun of by nicknaming as ‘Bikkulu’ Chikkanna.  In our country, it is no news how even  in educated and the so called elite community,  couples without children are cursed. There was pressure on Chikkanna from his folks to get remarried again. But he  refused and kept thinking about doing something in life.

So one day some 50 years ago, The couple decided to plant trees. Nothing great as most of us have done it in our schools/colleges or even in gardens or as part of ‘Vanamahotsava’. But this couple chose a high way between Hulikal and  Kudur(Bangalore-nelamangala route). This was a  regular route which most of his village men walked to reach the 4kms to Kudur but most of them  dreaded this route since it was dry and sunny. They decided it would be nice if they were to walk under a canopy of trees which shaded the 4 kms.
Together the couple put their thoughts to work by quietly  raising baby banyan  saplings in a nursery which was abundant in their neighbourhood. They then planted them far apart across the road but close between the rows. This foresighted planning has helped the highway road planners to lay a highway between the columns without having to cut a single tree.

Chikkanna then built tree guards out of thorns to shield the saplings from goats and other animals. They religiously watered everyday, then every three days/week  and later every week until they were ten years old and sustained on their own. Thimmakka carried a pot on her head and another on her hip while chikkanna carried on two pots hanging from the ends of  pole over his shoulder. They refilled wherever they found water holes like ponds, wells enroute.

Initially they planted 15-20 new plants every year until they covered the 4km stretch between Hulikal and Kudur. These were their children. Chikkanna quit his meager waged job to shield the plants and water them while his wife kept the home fires burning.
This selfless service to the society and planet in large was recognized when they were awarded the national citizens award in 1995, five years after Chikkanna’s death. The United States of America has also recognized their work and named a  LA based environmental organization after her. 

Today Thimmakka aged around 80, sits amongst a lot of memorabilia in her village house in Hulikal taluk.  She is now the mother of around 400 children who are towering  and adorn the  once dry highway into  a canopied avenue. She is popularly referred today as 'Saalumarada Thimmakka'. ( saalumara in kannada means row of trees)

Many of us in our day to day life are more concerned about ourselves, perhaps people like this couple are a gentle reminder for us to remind us of our duty towards the environment and society. 

It is time for us to spread awareness about such unsung Indians who add value to the life of others and inspire others to action. Perhaps, afforestation activities like these can increase rainfall, raise  water table  and inturn put the farmers back on their path.

This post is my contribution to the indiblogger's  "ISB idiya contest for change."

Monday, March 11, 2013

@ Thanjavur - The land of rich culture

It was 10.a.m when we reached Thanjavur, the head quarters of the Thanjavur district. Before i share my travel experience, a brief history of Thanjavur which i am proud of:

 Thanjavur which was the domain of the The Great Chola rulers is the cradle of Tamil culture . The successful Chola kings patronized art, craft, cuisine, architecture and literature during their epoch making period marking a cultural renaissance. To name a few are the famous Chola period Bronze sculptures of which is the famous dancing shiva called ‘Nataraja’. It is not news anymore how this idol fetches a huge value in the international market even today(courtesy: Subhash Kapoor). The famous dance form ‘Bharatanatyam’ originated from the temples of Thanjavur. The traditional seat of Classical music- The carnatic style also has its birth here,  The thanjavur art plates with intricate engraving and in-lay work called thanjavur thattu, the papier maiche mirror work plates, The rich art called  'Thanjavur painting' made with gold leaf and gems,  bell metal castings, the grass mats called 'Korai Paai', the musical instruments like veena, ornamental jewellery called ‘The temple jewellery’, handloom silk and cotton, the beautiful GIS bobble head dolls called ‘Thanjavur Thalaiyatti Bommai’ , The famous Thanjavur cuisine -  all owe its origin to this civilization. No wonder, people who originate from here take pride in the fact that they are Tanjoreans.

 This district's prime occupation  is agriculture and it is famous for its agricultural activities and is rightly acclaimed as the Granary of South India. All thanks to the River Cauvery, which was channelized due to the foresightedness of a great chola king whom I mentioned here.  The criss crossing network of the river channels irrigate the paddy fields, coconut groves, mango orchards, sugarcane plantations lending its name. Apart from agriculture, it is also famous for pisciculture or marine fishes. Sadly though, of late many agricultural lands have been transformed into  industrial and residential plots due to famine and ryot problems.

The Cholas extended their territory in the north till the Ganges and in the south till Anuradhapura in Ceylon. Their epoch making 1000 year rule was taken over by the Pandyas, Khiljis, Nayaks,  the Mahrattas( son of Chattrapati Shivaji)  and then the British till 1947.

All these rulers have left their stamp of power and  genius in the  form of art, culture and architectural grandeur none of which were massively destroyed during alien invasions.

We marked our presence at some of the places. The Thanjavur palace, The Saraswathi Mahal library, the Palace Art gallery and the finest specimen of  Chola architecture - the Grand Brihadeeswara temple- a UNESCO world heritage site again which is a historian and archaeologists delight.

Our first entry was at India’s best kept secret - the Royal Saraswathi Mahal library which was on my bucket list for long. The library was formed and developed in the name of ‘Saraswati Bandar’ by the Nayak kings. The Mahratta kings later developed the library into a Royal Palace library in their palace compound. King Serfoji II ( the second son of Chattrapati Shivaji) is called the architect of the library which has some of the world’s rarest manuscripts(47,334) and personal collection of books numbering 67,233. The Encyclopedia of Brittanica hails it as the ‘most remarkable library in India’. Photography again was not allowed inside the library museum which is small but gives a glimpse of what’s store in the huge library. We missed the library due to the ‘facelift’ given to the library. But the small library museum itself housed some rare time defying treasures like  rare photographs called Daniel prints, maps of 1786 A.D( in this map Australia was marked as New Holland) and some rare paintings. It was an enriching experience. 
Check  a few pics here. Will make a photo post with the remaining pics later.

The board at the entrance to the library museum

The stats of the library at the entrance(click on it to read them)
                                               The art worked ceilings in the portico. (An elephant and cow)

                                                         The artwork @ the arched portico

                           The entrance to the Palace art gallery adjacent to the palace library

                               The mil-dewed goodagopuram called the watch tower, one can take the narrow steps above which gives a view of the city,. It has beautiful stone sculptures in the open space around. The right side is the durbal hall of  king serfoji. Actually the palace is not a palace in the true sense, it is a  huge royal mansion of the Nayak kings and later the mahrattas.

The corridor in the palace,  the palace is not maintained to be showcased. It has some secret passages which leads to the Big temple. The H and sonny boy tried entering  by going down a few steps, but it was suffocating and  not well maintained. Infact, no one dares to venture. The palace needs a huge revamp to be showcased to the world.

                         Another view of the durbal hall and the art gallery housing bronze sculptures
The artwork above the durbar seat

A statue of King Serfoji gifted by the Dutch on the durbar seat has a removable cap and scabbard. Many foreigners are in awe and fascinated by the  Indian culture and bought lot of handicrafts. There were more foreigners than Indian tourists. In the pic, you see Italian tourists from Tuscany with their guide who are on a south indian trip.

                                               These are a glimpse of the artefacts in the art gallery. There were huge Idols too.

The bell tower near the art gallery

  The Brihadeeswara temple, another UNESCO world heritage site, maintained by the ASI. This temple is  a huge mystery to archaeologists. The temple is made up of granite the strongest stone in the world. It amazes them to how they have cut and carved when there were no high precision tools 1000years ago.
                               One of the three temple towers through which you enter the temples. The rocks, the guides say were filled with water and after a long period the rocks eventually broke.

This temple recently celebrated its 1000th year. It gives you goosegumps as you run your fingers over them.

That is the main temple tower called Vimanam which is a architectural wonder made of single stone granite. The biggest wonder is the huge cap stone in the top of the big temple. The weight of the cap stone is 80 tons . It is amazing how the stone was lifted to the top when there were no high end equipments like cranes. It is said the elephants carried the stone to the top and a ramp was used.  It is constructed in such a way that the shadow of the temple gopuram does not fall on the ground. It falls on itself. Not an easy task wonder archaeologists.. 

The bull(Nandi) overlooking the shiva is supposed to be the second largest in India. 

 The huge temple has corridors on all the three sides. Alongside run shivlings like these with  high quallity paintings and inscriptions on them. The paintings explain the greatness of the Chola kings and depict many stories. It is sadly concealed behind grilled bars like these and not easily seen. The colors chosen for the paintings are still good and healthy.
The temple also has lot of secret passages and underground passages which are now closed. THe passages had lots of paintings too said the guide. The  temple was crowded unlike GKC and it was difficult to capture the temple without visitors.It has a temple elephant which blesses the visitors.
Now off to Tranquebar - my next travel post.

Friday, March 1, 2013

GKC- The journey not the destination - 3

At 6 in the morning we left Neyveli  township after a days rest on Christmas We drove out of the township to enter a village lane leading to Thanjavur which was our destination. From Neyveli, MIL too joined us on the road trip  filling us( especially the children) with lots of anecdotes from yore since this territory is familiar to her. This made the journey more interesting.  

 Throughout the journey we were blessed with the best driving weather. We had our windows downed and the car was on medium pace so that we could stop at many places and soak the  beauty of the countryside and  breathe in the fresh air.  Either side of the road opened up to scenes which were refreshing and novel for urban souls   like lotus/lily laden, duck wading ponds, the carpetted luminscent green fields, flock of white birds in the sky, the meandering rivulets of Cauvery and its tributary coleroon( kollidam) , the dung plastered thatched huts, traditional pucca house, the simple life of the villagers enjoying rural bliss, walking to their fields,  chatting under tree canopies, driving their flock of sheep, and herding their cattle, some enjoying doing nothing and  watching people on the move.  All scenes moved past  in time to an older, slower world till we reached the sign board of a village Jayamkondan( the victor in tamil)

At Jayamkondan,  we took a detour of 3 kms  to the left which led us to the once thriving chola capital-  Gangai konda Chola puram(GKC) which is now a UNESCO declared World Heritage site. In tamil, it means the chola who conqured ( held) the Ganga.They  made it their capital after they conqured till the Ganges in the north and hence the name. Their stamp of architecture is evident in  The  replica of Brihadeeswarar temple modeled on the The big temple in Thanjavur. More than a temple of worship, the gigantic and grand Chola temples were home to art, architecture,culture and social work. The temples and palace were destroyed during British aggression but still a major part of the temple remains making this a great living temple of Chola while  the ruins of the palace are buried. Excavated remains of the palace remain though some 10kms away.  But that is 10 century old  History and very far away back  and may be a  topic for me to make a post on GKC. This is now a sleepy village except the area marked  and maintained by ASI, this place has not much  visitors and is not very famous like its parent temple in Thanjavur unless a few curious foreigners and Indians visit.We spent our time clicking photos where there were no visitors except us  apart from The ASI employed malis who were tending the gardens.

From there  we were back on the road to cross a narrow but long metallic and concrete bridge, we were stopped by a policeman with a walkie talkie.

He stopped us and the dialogue between him and the H flowed thus.

Policeman: You can't cross the bridge now.  This is oneway.

The H: oh! sorry, i will take the alternate but which way to Thanjavur

Policeman: This is British one way. wait here for some time.

As, we were waiting we clicked some pics from the beautiful bridge under which River Kollidam, a tributary of Cauvery was pretty much in glory. This place is called Anaikarai (dam in tamil) the primary occupation is fishing and agriculture here.

By then, the policeman who stood there explained that this is a very narrow and weak bridge which can allow traffic only one side. The bridge is nearly 1km long and at the other end another policman with walkie talkie mans the bridge. Between them they talk on the walkie talkie to regulate the traffic and ensure the traffic is flowing on one side only alternatively. After the oncoming vehicles were off the bridge. The vehicles from our side were allowed to move on the bridge.  Every 5 minutes they coordinate, job requires alertness. For pedestrains though there is a small pathway on either side enough to allow one person.  This he said was British one way and the bridge was built during 1940. This was an interesting and a new experience.

And finally after all these, we reached our destination  at Thanjavur - The Saraswati Mahal Library  One of the oldest library in the world set up in 1700AD

Check some pics here, click on them to feel the place.

            Neyveli lignite mines as seen from the road. It is deep and for me it looked like a mini Grand canyon.

                                                  beautiful young green  paddy fields              

These lenghty grass by the river beds are called korai grass and are used for making grass mats

             The lifeline of the Granary of South India,  Thanjavur - the river Cauvery. Without this the whole area would have been a barren land. I love and have grown drinking this water. Water they say is tasteless but she (cauvery) is an exception.

                                        The Brihadeeswarar temple in GKC is beautifully maintained. It is now undergoing a facelift.(hence the scaffolding on the tower(vimana)
                               This is a well called Simhakeni. Meaning the lion faced well

                                                One of the side walls of the main tower
One of the entrance leading to the main temple.
One of the small temples within the temple premises . there are 4 such temples on either sides.

                                                       The lotus and lily laden ponds enroute

Specifications of the bridge-  clicked while we were waiting for the clearance to cross the bridge.

Clicked the Coleroon river from the bridge while whiling our time. the pic from my mobile does not have good lighting but i loved the way the trees bowed towards the river.

P.s: I find some of the general words in my post linked to google sites, i don't know how. Only on publishing it gets linked, it is not there in the draft. Especially in this post, the word "employed' and in the previous post words like "work". I also receive lot of anonymous comments. Can anybody help fix this problem?