A little bit of this.

Crawling out of my hideous cloak of normality made me ecstatic.

Finally, I was embarking upon another solo travel, a journey which I hoped would bring me the illusive peace and tranquility that I intensely yearned every day while stuck at the much-famed Bangalore traffic jams. The noxious fumes of Uber cars and the sluggish pace of vehicles often rendered me day-dreaming about the cloudy hills of Wayanad and lush-green backwaters of Alleppey. My transition from God’s Own Country to the Silicon Valley of India, with a brief pitstop at my dear hometown Bhubaneswar, was brusque in the least. While the former had all the comforts of a quaint and satisfied life, my new host seemed to be daunting and belligerent. And just as I was slowly mending my old ways to fit this corporate caricature, a four-day long weekend just popped-up unannounced.

3 days to go-my mind started racing on the endless possibilities this rare easter-egg of a weekend could lead to. There were hills in Coorg, coffee estates in Chikmagalur, beaches flanking the beautiful cities of Mangalore and Chennai, and a wide spectrum of heritage sites scattered in the neighboring states.

2 days left before the travel pinata was cracked open and I had no idea where the roads were going to take me. Just like the past two months in Bangalore had been replete with pleasant surprises and unfathomable uncertainties,the next four days could also carve a niche in my journey as a traveller,pun unintended.Getting over a 27-year long canine phobia and living with the 4-legged bundle of joy is, as I contend,one of the biggest life-altering experiences in my life. Juggling the life of a 9-to-6 office goer, 7-to-10 dog lover, and 11-to-1 reading procrastinator is as overwhelming as it sounds. Meanwhile, the few remaining hours went in updating the Facebook wedding invitation page of my gorgeous, soon-to-be hitched roommate.And with that, the inherent guilt of missing out on her colorful and quintessentially Bollywood wedding kept nagging me day-in and day-out.

1 day to go. Luckily, early morning visitors to flat had woken me up from my customary disturbed slumber and I was finally planning my itinerary much gusto. All was planned and the picture looked good. The trip was planned around covering two of the most coveted places in my travel list; the travel list of a girl who grew up reading enough Tinkle comics and Gokulam magazines secretly stashed between her dull textbooks. The childish glee of the forthcoming trip raptured my soul.

16 hours left before I finally got in the holiday mode. I thought the rest of the day at work and the commencement of the journey would be marked by inevitable bouts of excitement and a slight tinge of separation anxiety of leaving my pup for the first time. Yet, as the evasive forces of destiny and nature would have it, it did not begin as hoped. It did not begin with the long-lost gaiety of the happy-go-lucky, spring-in-the-step, buying-sunscreen-and-travel-journal kind of enthusiasm. It did not begin with spirit of the brewing adventure and exploration. It, my fellow readers, began with death.

The news of a close acquaintance succumbing to the deathly grip of an incurable disease shook me from within. Immediately my mind flashed back to the days when this said person revelled in the prime of her life. And then the most unfortunate blow struck by the grim reaper sucked the life out of her withering body. This thought was unsettling. This crude unforgiving truth of life was unsettling. And the most unsettling thoughts of all were hinging losely on the realization that somewhere down the lane, on a gloomy dark day, this cruel mistress could wreck my home too.

The white Indigo arrived at my gate at sharp 10 in the night. I was in my Beatles t-shirt and red polar bear shorts (no, the bears are white here).My hastily packed bag hung lazily on my aching shoulders. The harrowing stress of work earlier that day was clearly visible on the dark crescents surrounding my eyes.I gobbled on the humble and vividly green lauki with two sad chapatis. With a heavy yet excited heart, I bid my roommates (read envious)and dearest Lady Lily Macbeth a heartfelt goodbye. I boarded my cab and was transported to the bustling bus stop.

The pitter-patter of late night drizzle had aggravated to a incessant downpour. The bus-stop, which was actually a magical portal narrowly nestled between a police station and a gas station, was teeming with herds of weekend holidayers. My travelling intuition prodded me to buy some eatables. Holding two sombre muffins, I had the option of either inhaling automobile exhaust and seek shelter at the gas station or just accept defeat and be the one with the rain. While this conundrum plagued my disposition for two and a half hours, the horror of having missed my bus starting creeping up on me. At 1:10 am, just as I was about to book another bus (or probably let go of the entire plan , head back home and have a war movie marathon), my ride arrived in all its shameless majesty.

The poor bus conductor stood at the entrance, silently swallowing the lashes of annoyed travellers. I sprinted across to my cosy single sleeper berth, tied my luggage together, devoured the dry muffins and prepared to sleep. As soon as my aching body hit the pillow,I was again reminded of the mournful news.

Every time I pack my bags and set my sails to a solitary expedition, it is unfailingly associated with overcoming a personal hurdle. My outward travels often bring me closer to my inner self. But this time,it wasnt about taking a journey of introspection. Maybe this time, I was going to learn a thing or two about life through the kaleidoscope of death.

The bus revved its engine, and I glanced out at the stunning dark night.A quote by Banksy flitted across my mind – “They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” I rolled myself in the blanket as I began the first phase of my journey, to the dowdy elder sibling of all the southern cities, Chennai.

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Fort Ahoy!

A solitary church…

Quirky signboards…

Artistic cafes:

 

Thats Fort Kochi for you!

Now some fun-facts about Fort Kochi (and some about Kochi) for readers.Fort Kochi is argurably the best location to start exploring Kochi and the entire of Kerala (ironically, I explored this place after visiting other tourist hotspots. But a word to readers, start from here).

  • First, the namesake of Cochin.
    Cochin implies to “Co-chin” meaning like China. It looked like China when the Chinese came during 14th Century and installed the famous Chinese fishing nets, known as Cheenavala in the vernacular language.
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An abandoned fishing net…
  • The St. Francis Church is the 1st European Church built in India. Vasco De Gama (who entered Malabar via Calicut), died in Kochi during his 3rd visit. His remains were once buried here, but were later taken to Portugal.

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  • Kochi, the first European colony in India, was formed in 1340 , when a flood in Periyar River destroyed Cranganore and created a natural harbour in the form of this city.
  • Known popularly as the Queen Of Arabian sea, Kochi was the centre of the war between the Portuguese(the earlier rulers of Kochi) and the Dutch in 1656 which was the first ever recorded war fought entirely on the waters.

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Coming back to my journey through the roads of Fort Kochi. Just like Matancherry, this place is also best explored on the foot, though the churches would require you to take an auto , which are easily available for customized tourist visitations at affordable rates. (200/- would take you to all the hotspots and finally drop you at the beach where you can relax with the “Cheenavalas” in the backdrop, hanging leisurely).

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It was almost 4:30, when I left Kashi Art Cafe, after replenishing myself with a chilled glass of Lemon Mint Iced Tea and the much famed chocolate pastry (which turned out to be liberally slathered with chocolate flavoured condensed milk and no amount of self-negotiation could I go back for a 3rd bite.)


Kashi Art Cafe, as the name suggests is not only a repository of radical art works, but also a great place to socialize with friends and enjoy the unconventional interiors consisting of an airy garden space and a very cool and calm ambience. Located at aptly named Burger street, this cafe shares the space with many other such themed eateries , much to the visitors delight.Located at a walking distance to the beach, this street is the best place to refill and refresh before you hit out for the beach.


The sunset was approaching. I bid adieu to Kashi, turned left from the Burger street and at an amicable distance could see the silhoutte of the chinese fishing nets. My trip was officially coming to an end, as this was the last feature of the long list of must-visit spots in my list.

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Wrought iron sculptures in Kashi Art CafeDSCN5828

The pathway leading to the beach was concrete and smooth at first but gradually it started crumbling till it was reduced to nothing but wet mud smelling faintly of fish and the hundreds of feet that just crossed. Along the pathway, there were crumbly shacks pompously showcasing the variety of seafood caught freshly off the coast. Their scaled skin gleamed in the dusk-drawn sunlight with a shocking blast of silver while a few looked sombre in the crimson red tone indicative of the opulent freshness.

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Next to it rested the fishing boats, some abandoned, some relaxing after a tiring hunt at the sea and the rest preparing for a formidable fight with the mighty ocean wee early the next morning.

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The sight of the majestic fishing nets left me speechless. They resembled the gigantic stone statues of great warriors one sees in old forts and palaces,with huge swords in their hands, grim expression, ready to jump for your protection. Though these fishing nets didn’t necessarily possess that belligerent façade, yet they looked equally stalwart and graceful in their perfectly symmetrical positioning along the beach.

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The dusky entourage of the setting sun and the playfulness of the timorous clouds made the scene sizzle up with a silent ecstasy. While the rest of the crowd thronged towards the far left side of the sandy part of the beach, I couldn’t possibly move myself away from the towering tents of the fishing nets.

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I climbed up a dilapidated fishing net, sat on the long tree logs fastened together to make the structure stand upright, peacefully observing the fishermen, throw their nets against the rhythmically bellowing waves, in hopes of catching some riches of the sea before the inevitable darkness encompassed the coast.

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After much time spent hopping from one cheenavala to another, talking a bit to the local fishermen who were a bit surprised to see me relentlessly take pictures from strange angles, and were happy to pose naturally for their photoshoot, I gradually started walking towards the left end, where there were human beings enjoying the roaring waves.

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Relaxing

Everything about this place was photogenic; be it crows perching atop abandoned bamboo poles, mangy dogs spreading themselves on the sand, the desolated boats, wrecked by lashes of time and tide or orange reflection of setting sun on the sea. Time and again one can see cargo ships and container vessels pass by; it was a perfect setting of natural aesthetics and commercial viability of the spot.

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On reaching the far end,I could see the throngs of crowd, families of grandmas, moms, kids, cousins, friendly gangs, shy couples and one solo traveller apart from me , lost in the joviality of the sea. Everybody seemed so excited and happy with the ceaseless crashing and withdrawal of the waves; they would shriek with joy when a large wave approached and the kids ran helter-skelter. The elderly crowd seemed to have thrown caution to the wind and joined the kids, reliving days of youth.

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It drizzled a bit for a few minutes but it did nothing to hamper assemblage of the crowd. I sat there, soaking in all the vicarious happiness, realizing the best things in life are indeed free (although technically I had paid 6 bucks to come till here, but lets not get all Ebenezer Scrooge about it).

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After the beach turned dark, I stood up and walked towards the line of very lucrative street food outlets , lying next to the lavish Grand Harbour hotel. Greeted yet again with utmost politeness, I decided to devour a spicy kingfish grilled in charcoal in the Pizza Italia.

It was almost 8:40, when I finished my succulent dinner. Time to return. The big question was how. I tried calling an Uber cab but it was in vain. Autos dont connect Fort Kochi to main city. The only option left was the same way I had reached Fort Kochi, via ferry. But I was quiet apprehensive since I had no idea if the ferries operated at that hour and which way was the boat jetty (Phone ran out of juice hence no google maps).

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The streets were fast getting deserted , apart from a few foreign travellers who found this time of the day good for an evening stroll. Luckily I found a Hindi-speaking auto (majority of them are fluent in Hindi and English, no language issues) who dropped me to the main boat jetty.

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Although at first the boat jetty looked sinister at its best, but gradually groups of people started approaching it to catch the last ferry to Kochi main city.
The blurry skyline of Kochi, which looked sickly concrete in the day, now surprisingly sparkled against the cloudy night skies, the Queen of Arabian Sea had surely adorned the most bejewelled necklace of sparkling gems tonight.

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The ferry charge was 4/- and it would to drop me Kochi in 15 mins. This ferry had the exact same uncomfortable wooden benches,a ferry conductor who would announce the arrival/departure and anchor it on the opposite jetty , yet somehow the ambience seemed very different, very enervated yet strangely more meaningful.

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The boat lazed onto the approaching jetty, as I sat next to an airy window, watching a couple of newly weds take excited selfies in the dull and dreary boat. Another couple was resting quietly on the opposite bench, unperturbed by the passing beauty. Soon the boat halted, we collectively unboarded , I took an auto, reached home and snoozed off as soon as my head hit the pillow.

 

As it happens after every trip to the beach, sand seems to seep out of every corner of my house inexplicably for days. So lets just say a brief pause to beach visits, I advised myself sleepily.

Lets explore the hills meanwhile.

Wayanad sounds sweet.

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Strolls through Matancherry..

Its not everyday that you get to stroll through corridors confining such rich weave of history, virtually untouched by the modernity, whisking you to a woebegone era.

Its not everyday that you get to have such close encounters with a long forgotten chapter of the past and be immersed in its overwhelming rhapsody.

But again, its not everyday that you get to explore the beauty that is Kerala…

As I got down the boat, I was welcomed by Matancherry with its trademark rustic charms. The sun overhead was unflinching and hunger pangs were creating waves of tumult in my belly. Nevertheless, I was overwrought by the desire to cover as much area before sunset, since evenings meant the entire town closing down for visitations.

I started walking and was immediately captivated by a narrow corridor leading to a cobbled pathway splashed wildly with unending series of groovy graffiti. They were wildly colourful, spurting an unearthly glow upon that abandoned lane.I spent much time walking down the corridor, intrigued by what it hid behind those grim dark windows.

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Graffiti in Indian walls are more a matter of art than an act of rebellion 
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Colourful contours splashed across walls of art emporiums.
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Shadows lurking in the windows….

This abandoned boulevard proved to be much symbolic of the entire Matancherry : quaint yet colourful, sleepy yet vibrant, zestfully western yet indelibly Indian. Further stretches of roads led me into discovering many such arterial passages, innately artistic and charmingly rustic; each hallway buzzing indistinctly with a whisper of an antiquated charm, long forgotten in the dusty pages of history books.

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Buddha in the closet….

 

 

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Lord Ganesha in his most passionate dance pose.
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The Javanese representation of Lord Hanuman..

These expansive and archaic buildings mostly served the purpose of antique shops and showrooms. One could almost feel life oozing out of every artful dent sculpted on the stone; with every bewitching contour laid titillatingly on the statues ; their flared up eyes breathing fires of unspoken passion.

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Beauty unleashed in stone…
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Curios all along the way…

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Ornamental gramophone..

 

Art gushed bloodily through every corner yet it couldn’t distract me any longer from the hunger gushing from my belly to my larynx. As I briskly walked ahead, mightily torn between the unrelenting call of the undiscovered passages and the merciless gnaws of hunger, that I stumbled upon the most Romanesque restaurant perched peacefully on the edge of waters.

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The first look reminded me of a very Dutch version of what could have been the patio of the Grand Budapest Hotel (very Wes Anderson level of artsy), the worn out interiors gave it an appearance of an infrequently visited eatery. And going by the interiors it stood no chance on being heavy on the pocket (I swore to continue this journey on a shoestring budget, the previous trip rendering me just a few steps short of complete bankruptcy).

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Wrong again.

Realized it much later that the worn-out look was a deliberate attempt to lure hungry misguided souls like me to itself, which was mostly a gathering spot for firangi tourists. Again, too late to back out, too awkward too. So, I sat down for the first meal of the day dejected at the prospect of spending much moolah over nothing.

With the menu boasting of Puttu (Kerali style cylindrical rice steam cakes) served with curried prawns at a whopping 700/- bucks my eyes started scouring the menu Urdu style, right to left. The cheapest item was priced around 280/- which when extrapolated to the left belonged to uninteresting noodles, which was my disgruntled order.

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Poetic justice shall be served hot with garnish when I will have to survive on Idli-Dosa on my trip to the North-east

Despite the scalding prices of the restaurant whose name I later discovered was Ginger (not to mention a popular spot for many modelling photoshoots, why do I end up in places like this? Seems that my traveller’s intuition is still in need of much evolution where I can just smell the exorbitance of places and keep myself at a safe distance from them), the aura of the place seemed solemnly retrospective.

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Lady of the Lake. Magic etched in stone with an unmaintained ageing beauty.

 

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A thick and old piece of tree trunk serving as the table. Neat idea!

The cool wind dried up the ghastly portrait of sweat from my face and I sat their quietly contemplating about the exhilarating liberty of solo travels, the immense level of independence and life-lessons they teach you, and  how I was later going to eat at all inexpensive places to balance this unnecessary expenditure.

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The Hulk of a “Hal”

The post-lunch episode comprised mostly of unearthing one lane after the other, strolling leisurely through roads where the spices came to life and the whiffs of their aromas tantalizing every passer-by. Not only spices, but rich coffee beans and tea leaves oozed unforgettable scent all along, in the backdrop of an opulent patchwork of audacious handicrafts.

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Star Anise-Cinnamon Sticks-Cinnamon Bark-Rudraksh-And I dont know what that red thingy is…

 

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Old buildings serving as both art emporiums and restaurants facing the waters. Heavy on the pocket but have great views.
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Typical Matancherry streets…

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It was 3 pm.

I had reached almost at the end of the one way street. The curio shops which lead me into it were managed by the most courteous salesmen, each politely trying to showcase their treasure coves, subtly attracting tourists for a peak into their shops.

I carefully, and very wilfully steered clear from them because this time I wasn’t going to fall into the simple trap of “Please come in Madam and have a look” , which few minutes later would result in me walking out with bags full of goodies and souvenirs. Nope, this trip was only about travelling and I swore to maintain the frugal integrity.

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(But honestly, I would urge the readers to do go and have a look at the marvellous collection of decorative  to quench the shopping- thirst and keep the market alive)

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My name for this creature- The Cockeyed Weirdo!

The only thing left was a visit to the Synagogue.

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Sale of authentic Jewish articles..

 

It was my maiden experience of visiting any place of Jewish worship and I was lucky to have gotten the chance to walk into the oldest active synagogue collectively in all of the Commonwealth Nations.

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Synagogue’s clock tower, a prominent feature that rises 45 feet and dates from 1761

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        Information for Visitors…

  • The synagogue can be visited 10am- 1pm and then 3pm-5pm.
  • Its closed on Friday afternoons, Saturdays and all Jewish Holidays.

Colloquially known as Pardesi Synagogue , meaning synagogue made by foreigners, its story dates back to the 14th century, where it was built in the place of an earlier synagogue established around 72 CE (you can find its story at my  Previous Blog).

Sadly, no cameras or phones were allowed inside the sanctorium,the below posted images have been taken from Wikipedia. The entrance was quiet narrow, the ticket cost a meagre 10/-, at the right of which lied a petite museum which retold the story of the Jewish arrival at Malabar, and served as the primary source of my previous blog , A Story of two boats,  I was making frantic notes in my notebook, since now I didn’t have any cameras I had to write a thousand word to colloquially equate it to one picture.

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It wasn’t a very massive structure, neither did it have any trademark elaborate architectural affluence. Its simplicity spoke eons about its rich past. Being a significant part of the Jewish culture,its walls adorned with many religiously important souvenirs from Israel, both recent and old.

On entering the main chamber one can observe blue and white tiles, each intricately designed with a unique florid pattern dating back to 18 th century China, covering the entire floor. Above hung the most ornamental pieces of stained glass lamps and Belgian glass chandeliers; in fact they ran all across the perimeter of the chamber, lending a picaresque beauty to the place of worship ( No one can imagine how much it pained me being there without a camera).
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In the middle of the chamber stands a golden caged pulpit, inside which no one is allowed. Above which hangs the sole burning lamp, the only form of energy the Jews believe in worshipping (idolatry considered blasphemous as famously declared in the Ten Commandments). The synagogue contains numerous other historically significant articles like a hand knotted oriental rug from the last Ethiopian emperor and copper plates presented by the earliest Jews in Kochi.

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The visitors accorded in deep silence and soon it was time to visit the Dutch Palace, another vintage building of Matancherry. Next on my agenda was a quick visit to the Dutch Palace, then visit to Fort Kochi, a quick graze through the area, munching on something good at the much popular Kashi Art Cafe and at the sunset, hit the beach and relax (and by relax I mean an unstoppable spree of photography, I just love the sunsets especially at beaches).

Hurry up! We have lots of ground to cover…..

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A story of two boats..

 

This is how the story of the first boat begins.

Once upon an ancient time, several thousand years ago, nestled within lush green valleys and stony riverbeds, there flourished an ancient city named Jerusalem. Much discussed in fables and religiously significant to the entire west, the city once boasted of a be-jewelled magnificent 2nd Temple (first one being painfully plundered in a much earlier conquest) devoted to the sacred followings of the Jews. Jesus, during his last days, once stood on Mt. Olive, which overlooked the palatial building , fighting hard to cleanse the temple and to stop the animal sacrifices. His disciples opened their arguments by praising the unmatched beauty of the Temple; Jesus opened by his amazing and detailed reply by predicting the inevitable and destruction of the Temple, and it being reduced into nothing but ruins.

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Painting depicting the grandeur of the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem.

And just as it always happens in such stories, the ominous prediction turned out to be true.On the 10th of August, 70 CE, in the Jewish calendar ( on the very day the King of Babylon had once burned down the First Temple into ashes in 578BC )the 5th legion of Titus -the Roman General attacked the massive enshrinement and burnt it down to, yes you guessed it correctly, ashes.

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Mayhem and macabre following the burning of the temple.

Now, as it has been numerously mentioned in the Old Testament , there existed trading relations between King Solomon’s kingdom and India (the Malabar coast, to be precise). The biblical name for India was “Odhu”. Teak, ivory, spices, sandalwood and peacocks were frequently imported from India which decked the halls of Judean palaces.

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Palace of King Nebuchadnezzar

So, when the whole of city burnt under the cruel wrath of Titus, the hapless inhabitants , who worshipped the sacred Land and the Temple with all the religious fervour, had no other option than fleeing from the site of this unbound macabre to a safer haven. One such group of Jews, set sails to the land which always seemed like an enigma of the east. The land of the flamboyant peacocks, where the spices sizzled from the barks of trees and the fertile paddy fields were redolent with the aroma of sandalwood and incense..

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The Jews set sails..

Oudh, as it was called, seemed like a distant yet secured hope for the travellers. As they anchored at the Malabar coast, they were surprisingly welcomed with much revere by the King of Cranganore, at a small but lavish town of Shingly in 72 CE.

Not only were they promised shelter and respite from the unfortunate exodus, but they were  also provided  with land, riches and other amenities by His Highness, which they accepted delightfully leading them to gradually settle down at the quaint little corner of Malabar coast.

While the rest of the Europe (basically the entire of West) burned with a brutal anti-Semitic rage since the beginning of organized religious civilization, the Jews in Oudh enjoyed and maintained religious freedom and tolerance from the many other communities that settled in the melting pot of culture, we now call as Matancherry.

And now the story of the second boat.

Fast forward thousands of years into future.

From Circa 72 CE to 2016 AD, as I set sails (metaphorically) to explore this quaint little countryside , far from the madding crowd of the city,to retrace the path of that indomitable faction of  Jewish travellers and to discover how a biblical prophecy, once spoken atop a deserted mountain by the Messiah had changed the face of God’s Own Country forever.

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Vintage remains along the jetty

There are various sources which ascertain the history of the name of the island. Some say it was a street (cherri) , once abundant with mutton butchers which led the naming of the place thus. Others attribute this name to the mispronunciation of Ancherry Matom by the Portuguese inhabitants. Either ways, the name reeks of unexplored labyrinthine corridors of roads embellished with curio shops and a trajectory of history indelibly unique in its own retelling.

At this juncture, I cant stress enough my own inane complacency and inexplicable laid-backness that it took me almost a year to heave myself into visiting this symbol of archaic wonders, which lies just 9kms away from the city of my current residence, Kochi.

So,as my readers would be familiar with the impromptuness of my virtuoso expeditions, I decided to pay this part of the city a full-fledged visit, collapse into the cauldron of culture and fondly retell the stories of my wayfarings with an excrucitating emphasis to the most trivial details, which ironically expand my blogposts to a continuum much longer than the actual travel time.

I selected a rather cloudy day to begin the travel, because I could comprehend by visiting no less than 20 websites about exploring Mattencherry and Fort Kochi( Yeah, that too) and pestering my amicable friends to gain as much insight as possible , that most well-bequeathed experience would result from an all-walk format.

So we are back to packing for the trip, though a day long (oh what wondrous feeling is that…). Sunscreen. Check. (SPF 50. Double check.)Money. Thankfully check.Camera and battery.Most significant check.And my blue journal, the burnbury Boswell I can call my friend. Check.

 

Reached Boat Jetty. Stood in line for a ferry to Matancherry. After 15 mins, graciously pointed by a well-meaning stranger, who worked hard on hiding a sheepish grin that I was in the Men’s line (oops!). Went to the ladies line. Paid 6/- for the ferry ride (and I thought we were in the world where I could rhetorically command “What can you buy in 10 bucks these days” and expect nothing but painful silence, while here I was , mere 6 bucks taking me to one of the most historically distinct places I have ever been to) and excitedly ran across to gather a window seat(not metaphorically),leaving a few disgruntled kids behind.

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The tranquil ferry ride , away from the fast paced city life.

The ferry bellowed and creaked and without an expected jolt started sailing smoothly across the waters. Behind me, gradually fading in the shimmering light of the afternoon sun (yup, I started late) was the crowded and still intermittently stretching into horizons of concretization, the abrupt skyline of Kochi.

 

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Leaving shores…

Exchanging brief rendezvous with gigantic sea vessels, cargo and container ships , our ferry reached Fort Kochi in a brief span of 10 mins, further to which lied Matancherry, the island I had been advised to explore first.

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(Would love if the readers could inform me what this piece of nautical lighting equipment is called)

The gray clouds, on whom I had placed the assurance of a non-exhausting walkathon, proved to be as tricky as the colloquial ape. Actually, a non-colloquial ape would work too in this scenario (lets face it, they are apes and ,hands down, they are tricky). The sun was overhead and a 1 pm Kerala sun is as unforgiving as it gets (my previous rendezvous with it in Varkala left me with the vestige of a tan so resolute that it has ever been so reluctant to leave the epidermis of yours truly).

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The optimistic vandal.

 

The skilled boatman jumped on the opposing jetty with a nonchalant deft, pulled the ferry along a rope, tied it to the wide -gradually rotting trunk of a once tall-standing tree and hollered to the passengers, announcing the last stop. While I wore an extremely excited gleam in my eyes, the rest of the feeble crowd seemed unperturbed by the arrival, mostly of which comprised of people returning home after work (or going to work). Following an elderly gentleman, who had boarded the ferry with his bicycle (the bulb of idea glows on top of my head, next time arriving here with my bicycle and exploring it in early morning riding my bike!), I got down and was greeted with a familiar salty sea breeze.

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The boat jetty  colourfully  dotted  with leisurely anchored fishing boats

Aah!

The salty sea breeze, the harbinger of wanderlust and utopia, the romantic chains of destiny always conspire to bring us together..

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With this thought, I straightened my hat and began the journey…

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Enter the island….

Lazed and Glazed

 

“I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else.”
― Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

It was a bright, bright morning.
Flocks of people huddled towards the majestic blue personage, for the likes of tanning, a good ol’ ocean swim, those with excited kids in florid beachwear busy finding suitable spot to build sandcastles and I, to forget the real world for one more day.

What a lively sight was it.
The beach was teaming with tattooed hipster yogis enjoying beach volleyball, mothers pushing small kids to embrace the warm splashing waves, couples rubbing tanning lotions on each other, some deeply immersed in their books, some deeply immersed in the spectacle.

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If this doesn’t motivate you to start doing Yoga, I don’t know what will…

Having pounded down a regal Tibetan breakfast, which by the way took me an hour of gorging at the end of which a crow descended down to snatch the last piece of bread from my plate, I had absolutely nothing to do next.

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Heavily buttered Tibetan Bread served with a side of potatoes sautéed in garlic and chillies, eggs with sunny side up and a wholesome bowl of fruits dipped in yoghurt, along a steaming cup of Darjeeling tea… Heaven..

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So I stretched out on a beach chair, with a very diaphanous umbrella perched atop, trying to gather some meekly creative shots during the lazy hour. Picked up a Jhumpa Lahiri book ,scoured a few pages, hummed to the tunes of “A Hard Day’s Night” and gradually dozed off. (At this point of time, I am beginning to become aware of the number of times have a fallen asleep during the trip. Readers. I was stressed. So all is fair in love, war and vacation)
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The handsome cliff of Varkala swaying with the breezy coconut trees.

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On waking up, I realized the Apollo God had travelled much across the sky , much to my dismay, as I has spent an hour being unintentionally being slow roasted by the skewering sun.

And that my friends is ,How I met the worst tan of my life.

The most incorrigible and belligerent at that.

Hunger crawled again into my belly and I ran up to the cliffs in search of a cool spot to sit and a hot plate of food.

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The most delicate and lofty plate of dumplings @ Abba Cafe
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The side salad bursting with hues of purples, pinks, greens and reds….
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And…gone with the wind….

Varkala , popularly termed as Kerala’s best kept secret , is indeed a must – visit spot for travel enthusiasts.

Its cliff-side beaches, variety of comfortable accommodation options, the plethora of amazing sea-side restaurants to relax at, many a massage centres to rejuvenate  at, series of unending flee markets for the shopping bugs , convenient distance from railway station (good connectivity with major towns overall) and last but not the least a very safe and welcoming ambiance for solo or group travellers.

Not once was I hustled or pestered by any localites for any reason whatsoever.

The beaches are replete with foreign tourists , in their most comfortable swim wear, which is not a common sight in the rest of the beaches in India , along with very traditional crowd in what they deem suitable as beach wear. And, what I observed is neither was even slightly perturbed by the other. Its a very “non-stare-y” ambiance, where it doesn’t matter what you wear or whether you are an out-of-towner; a  place where you can be carefree, safe and gently entertained throughout.

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My lunching hot-spot.
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And now my dear friends, you know why I chose this place to dine after all….

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The sun, peaking with hateful incandescence in the afternoon, gradually demured into an iridescent ball of peach, longing to retire unto the cold laps of ocean, biding adieu to all the gaiety and warmth. Its vanity fading with each angular movement of the clock’s hand, accepting its humble defeat and coalescing with the infinite horizon.

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Frothy waves with a sun-kissed cherry on top..

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When you grow up by the sea, you spend a good deal of time looking at the horizon. You wonder what on Earth the waves might bring – and where the sea might deposit you – until one day you know you have lived between two places, the scene of arrival and the point of departure.”
Andrew O’Hagan

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The merciless night crept back in again reminding me of the impending doom. There ain’t anything more tormenting than the inevitability of a vacation ending. And the gradual darkening of horizon brought closer my hour of departure from the halcyon days.
I walked up the ramshackled and virtually unlit stairs leading from the beach to the cliff along with a group of Spanish tourists, learning the actual accent of uttering Namaste.

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A hasty dinner of Thai chicken and rice and a speedy auto ride to the station brought me to the station, where within a few minutes my chariot to home stomped in the platform, bellowing its whistle to leave within a two minutes of waiting, causing a massive outcry to catch the train and I too sprinted across the long desolate platform to luckily enter a compartment and pushing my way into my luxurious 2nd AC berth.

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Bidding farewell to the sea, its incalculable regalia and the unending realms of mystique it holds in its womb; the unwavering calls it makes to my wandering soul and I finding myself so inexplicably attracted to its quintessentially unforgiving nature
that I am both elevated and humbled by its precarious insouciance.

“There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is rapture in the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar;
I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”
-Lord Byron

My adventures didn’t end here. They finally began.

If you like Pina Colada

The unbroken fluidity of the Volvo bus ride did little to keep me awake. The grey clouds lurking surreptitiously behind the wagon meant only one thing – the orange-lit skies of dusk on the beach, I was much looking forward to,  were a woebegone reality.

Waking up from a confused dreamy state, I saw the bus rattling along curvaceous paths of “I-couldnt-Identify” Puram. I shot an instinctive hassled look towards the conductor whose assuring nod ensured me of the fact that I hadnt missed my stop.

Soon the bus emptied at Varkala town, and I was the only one to get down at the Varkala beach stop. Tired , nonetheless looking forward to hiking down the oceanfront cobbled hummock, I raced towards my pre-booked and very reasonably priced resting nest, M.K. Gardens.
A cheerful German lady stood at the threshold of a traditional bungalow, wearing a voluminous smile and a splash of crimson freckles on each cheek, and welcomed me in as soon as she saw the lost look on my face.

Ruth was the owner of the cosy resort,and along with Omar , ran a pretty successful and much-praised home-stay in the closely knit populace of sea-side shack stays and comfortable resting homes for Indians and foreigners alike.

She guided me to my room, casually enquiring about my journey and chit-chatting about the weather. A rusty lock guarded the foyer of my resting abode, which was nothing less than being vastly commodius and pleasantly airy. I threw myself on the comfy bed, paying little heed to the pristine white sheets and after a lot of self-motivation got up, took a shower, came down to my beachy evening wear (nothing fancy guys), stuffed my tote bag with a couple of books , my camera and a clean cotton throw-rug and marched lazily towards the beach.

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The sound of the majestic ocean crashing spasmodically onto the sandy beach guided me to itself. It was dark already and the cliff-side restaurants glittered from one alcove to the other, resembling a be-jewelled tiara lazing aloft the Gothic hills.
Teams of foreign tourists started gradually appearing on the narrowly trimmed cobbled path, their vivaciously tanned skin gleaming with a delicate rosiness in the soft glow of evening lamps.

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I chose a rooftop restaurant, strongly bewitched by the lavish spread of freshly caught seafood displayed at its entrance and having been continually fed on vadas and dosas, my taste buds summoned for the treacles and delicacies of the ocean.

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Catch Of The Day!!

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Sumptuous seafood sizzler comprising of calamaris, tiger prawns and barracuda  cooked in garlic relish

The atmosphere was redolent with charcoal grilled skewers of a variety of meat and intermittent appearances of fiery sizzlers ,spewing aromatic fumes sporadically. I relished the breezy blue view of the Arabian Sea, with a tall glass of frozen mint Daiquiri alongside a succinctly juicy platter of seafood sizzler comprising of an assortment of barracuda, tiger prawns and calamari.

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Heaving a satisfied sigh and a brief rendezvous with a Swedish traveller, I embarked upon my unplanned stroll.

Just as a steamy plate of Biriyani has an enigmatic way of reminding of one of his/her hunger (even a non-existent one, at that!), a fleeting glimpse of an relaxing Ayurvedic massage centre , nestled within two open air restaurants, suddenly prodded my attention towards my aching feet and calves.

The massage chamber was nothing like its western counterparts. It was earthy and traditional, cooled by a dwindling ceiling fan, comprised a long wooden table and the walls painted with images of sages of ayurveda performing miracles with concoction of native herbs.
The gentle yet firm movements of the very bashful young masseuse transported me immediately into a limbo of relaxed tranquillity.

With each knead of her finger, I could feel the knots of stress slowly melt away into oblivion, driving me into a near comatose state of serenity (with Bob Marley playing cheerfully in the background.) After the brief tryst with luxury, I continued my walk along the cliff, exchanging brief smiles with fellow visitors, as if we all belonged to a clan of expeditious souls, wandering but not lost, aware of the multitude of repose that engulfed the evening.

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Cat on a glass – ring display / The Feline Lord of the Rings ( You can choose anyone of the captions depending on whether you are a Tennessee Williams fan or a Tolkien fan, both the captions being equally dorky!)

Staring retrospectively into the vast quiet skies bedecked with clusters of stars and a scatter of gray clouds along the far-reaching horizon, I gradually made my way back to my alcove, passing by a German cafe playing silvery tunes of long forgotten ABBA, fell on the bed and was greeted by deep sleep in a few seconds.

“There was something in the air that night,
The stars were bright,
Fernando,
They were shining there for you and me,
For liberty,
Fernando,
…..If I had to do the same again..
I would my friend,
Fernando”.

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Of Beatitude & Burns

My trip to the rock amidst the three seas. On a visit to Vivekanand Memorial Rock.

“As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”
                                                                                             ― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick;

Reaching the rocky island,though a matter of few minutes, was definitely transformative in its own way. I had now travelled further south and as I looked back I saw the beautifully pastiched and humbled skyline of Kanyakumari, bedecked with its bucolic charms and small-town opulence.

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Chained yet again in a crowded queue,I decided not to be piqued any more by the current state of affairs, as I was walking the same grounds once meandered by the great Swami Vivekanand. After removing shoes, amongst a horde of jilted footwear, the next course of my journey, quite sardonically reminded me of a cartoon mouse hopping fervently on a hot pan as the cat maliciously salted its long – awaited dinner.
Bewildered by the daunting spiritual arise in fellow tourists which did little to diminish the discomfort of burning feet, I hopped my way across the stony mounds taking shockingly non-blurred pictures. This is where I spotted the same team of men , whom I had seen serenading my co-passenger with “Happy Bday” songs during the previous night train ride.

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The Vivekanand Memorial was an imposing structure standing alight as a symbol of intellectual awakening. Inside the cool, dark sanctorium , stood a tall and sombre sculpture of Swami Vivekanand atop a piece of rock where he would sit and meditate for hours, gaining formidable gems of spiritual tidings.

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“The moment I have realized God sitting in the temple of every human body, the moment I stand in reverence before every human being and see God in him – that moment I am free from bondage, everything that binds vanishes, and I am free.”

      – Swami Vivekanand

The other monument of historic and religious significance within the colourful premises of this cultural pot-pourri was the rock where Devi Kanyakumari stood on one foot, in a deep yet laborious prayer of seeking Lord Shiva as her betrothed. Thronged by curious visitors of all religions, this rock  was enclosed in a  stone-walled mandap.

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Along with the shrine of Swami Vivekanand , and not to forget, the monumental stone sculpture of Thiruvalluvar , flanked by aquamarine waters on all sides, the collective indeed represented a singular connotation of spirituality and eternal brotherhood amongst vast diversity, something which India has eternally been a cynosure of.
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Feeling the utmost calm and dreamy, at the doors of the memorial , I stretched myself briefly as the lazy ocean breeze whisked me into a comfortable semi-slumber. Far ahead,amongst the cummulative of the main town I could make out the brightly lit mast of the Church of Our Lady Of Ransom.Making that  the last visitation of my travel agenda, I sedately walked to the anchored ferry, ready to be delivered to the opposite coast.

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The return journey seemed unceremonious.

I looked back and bid adieu to stony wonders.

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Later I found a iconoclastic quote by the immortalized poet, Thiruvalluvar, which read as “If men must beg to live,May the Creator also go wandering and perish.”

 making him a much sought after poet by me.

 

Once on the main land, I relinquished my thirst with tall glasses (yes, plural) of lime soda and lassi under the shades of a humble eatery, and jumped into an auto to reach the Church.

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It led me through narrow rustic lanes of sparkling and unsullied rows of traditional houses and vintage buildings. On reaching the Church, I was luckily able to witness the last proceedings of a Tamil wedding on-going in the massive church. With the huddle dressed in deep shimmering silks and the bride resplendent in a red kanjeevaram and a white veil crowning her head, the magnificent hall seemed imbued with gilded hopes for the newly weds.
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My return journey comprised of the same courteous auto-driver chauffeuring me from Kanyakumari to Nagercoil, through the same smooth roads, now brightly lit with an April sun, swanked with exorbitance of greens and blues of distant hills. I was informed that this was the highway that stretched Pan-India and connected Kanyakumari to Kashmir.

Historic, indeed.

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“Goodbye, Jacob”, I said gratuitously, as he helped me find a bus leaving immediately for Trivandrum. I hurried into the derelict wagon to conquer a window seat for the three hour long sojourn, making sure that I got enough hillside oxygen and scope for great shots throughout the journey ,(half of which was spent by me dozing thoroughly).

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Kerala welcomed me back with overcast skies and gentle sprays of cold rain. Reaching Trivandrum sent me into a conundrum (nopes, didnt do it for the rhyme), should I stay back to visit the Ananth Padmanabhaswamy Temple (for those unaware, its the richest temple of the world, estimated worth at least $ 18 billion!) and cajole myself into bidding a visit to the much famed Kovalam or head straight to the blue heavenly cliffs of Varkala and just laze out the rest of journey.

Blissful aromas hypnotized me to a nearby Dosa centre and after devouring a plateful of delectable Butter Paper Masala Dosa, I boarded an A/c Volvo , spreading myself into the cosy last seat of the bus.

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A graceful lady conductor came to me, pressing robotically the buttons of her “ticket-printer” asking,

“Where to?”

“Chechi, One ticket to Varkala…”