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Drifting Through Southern Landscapes
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Drifting Through Southern Landscapes

A KAMALAN PRODUCTION JOURNEY
IN SOUTH INDIA WITH IN CLOVER
in clover map

KAMALAN X IN CLOVER, APRIL 2018

Ancient Tamil poetry divided landscapes into five and attributed different characteristics to each land and its people. While it may not all hold true, the influence of a land on the culture and traditions of its people is intriguing.  We travelled with the people of In Clover through the heartlines of Southern India to experience the milieu of natural landscapes, culture and cuisine.
PROMINENT THEMES
  • Arts

  • History & Architecture

  • Nature & Wellness

Mahabalipuram

Kanchipuram

Thanjavur

Chettinad

Madurai

Periyar

Kumarakom

Mahabalipuram

The sky was still dark and the air lukewarm. Our friends from In Clover landed on an early morning, too sleepy to do anything. We got into the car and headed to our stay. After some relaxation and a hearty breakfast, we proceeded to the enchanting coastal town of Mahabalipuram, the city that cherished arts and crafts under the patronage of the Pallava kings. What remains of the grandeur is enough to make one stand in awe. The temples are stories carved in stone. We strolled along the promenade, the photographers admiring the  magnificence through their lenses. After exploring the monuments that offered us a portal to imagine a bygone era, we were confronted by a giant rock ball. Called Lord Krishna’s Butter Ball, this huge rock has stayed in that position for over 1000 years. Many have tried to move the rock and so did we, in vain.

 

Kanchipuram

Exhausted from all the travel, we hogged on the delicious and spicy dinner and passed time sharing stories. The next morning, we headed to the temple town of Kanchipuram, where divinity emanated from temple designs.  Our guests were deeply intrigued by the many customs associated with a temple visit. Leaving their slippers outside, they dutifully circumambulated the temple thrice before engaging the priest with a series of questions. A visit to Kanchipuram would be incomplete if one does not witness the making of a sari. The constant motion of the handloom, as the threads weaved into one another giving rise to a pattern, with the artisan by its side carefully guiding the process was a scene that exuded a sense of peace and serenity that is hard to experience anywhere else.

Thanjavur

From the temples of devotion, we moved to the city where temples meant much more than devotion - they spoke of a dynasty’s grandeur and their way of life. Thanjavur is home to the Great Living Chola Temples. We met with the craftspeople who work on bronze sculptures and paintings and the guests were taken through the whole process with patience. The majestic Brihadeeswara temple invoked the ghosts of a long-lost dynasty as the evening set in. The sight demanded a feeling of fealty from us which was hard to deny. Temples in India were designed not just as abodes of gods but as a place where the community gathered, celebrated festivals, encouraged arts. Continuing our meeting with local artisans, we visited a small village of Athangudi famous for its handmade tiles. The tiles are baked and made by hand and carefully decorated, some even in funky colours. Dunja and Bryony wanted a tile to take back with them and one of the men picked a tile for them to take back.

All along the journey, the young team from Europe was deeply fascinated with India. Almost all of them were visiting India for the first time and literally everything they saw enthralled them. They wanted to make the most of this journey - wanting to see, hear, touch, taste and do anything that could give them a sense of this myriad experience called India. Daring and eager, the young travellers were game for anything that the streets of India sprang on us.  

Chettinad

Our next destination combined grand architecture with a rich traditional cuisine. Home to huge, beautiful mansions, Chettinad epitomises the abundant wealth of that area. Once filled with families that lived together, these mansions stood empty with the migration brought about by changing times. One of the guests fell ill due to dehydration and had to be taken to the hospital. This did not in anyway affect the high spirit of excitement that the team had for discovering.

The colonial structures that incorporated various architectural styles and added a touch of vibrant flamboyance. invoked a sense of wonder and curiosity in the guests and proved to be a delight for the photographers. The traditional cuisine, which we thoroughly relished, is known for its masalas and pastes, made using a mortar and pestle and dish recipes passed down through generations.

Madurai

The streets canopied by mansions gave way to roads filled with highway dhabas, empty fields as we near the city of Madurai. We entered a city laid out in concentric squares; a city that cradled an infant civilisation, the city of Madurai. We visited the heart of the city, Meenakshi Amman Temple. The temple was filled with devotees and travellers, the goddess was indulged in frequent poojas and processions. The team was greatly surprised at the procession that happens every night where the god retires on a chariot to the goddess’ shrine. The thousand pillared palace was an architectural delight. We tapped on the pillars to hear the different notes. As the evening set in, the daily ritual of carrying the god to the shrine of the goddess began.  To our astonishment, the golden chariot was followed by an elephant and a camel, which was a common sight to the natives. Our guests watched the procession in amazement while the locals were more amused by them.

The next morning, we had arranged for a rickshaw ride through flower markets where the photographers went all out. We had a hard time catching up with a photographer, an extremely talented 23-year-old woman, who ducked and dived to capture the minute nuances of the market life. Every car ride was subject to frequent stops. Women with jasmine flowers on hair, children playing traditional games by the streets - everything triggered excitement in our guests. To our delight, we got to witness a marriage procession on our way out of Madurai, where the bride’s family was walking together carrying gifts for the groom’s family.

Periyar

As we moved on from Madurai, we discussed with the guests the journey that so far had been dominated by cities - marvels and magnificence that sang odes to the greatness of humanity. Our next stop was to stand in contrast to what we had seen so far. As we neared Periyar, the rich smell of spices - cinnamon, cumin, saffron tickled our noses as the roads gave way to the plantations. Wild monkeys, birds and a dense green canopy welcomed us into this abode of rich natural diversity. The next morning, we started out on a small trek through the wilderness. The accompanying guide had a taste for storytelling for all we know, he scared the guests with stories of wild animal encounters which kept us on the edge throughout the trek. The stay at Periyar offered a much-needed rejuvenation. The guests were taken to a performance of Kalaripayattu, one of the oldest forms of martial arts in the world and other traditional art performances.

Kumarakom

Our next stop was at Kumarakom, in the middle of the backwaters, on a boat house that lulled us to the tunes of the waters. To our disappointment the skies were grey and cloudy and the promise of watching the sunset from the boat was slipping away. But right before the time for sunset, the skies cleared, making way for a wonderful view.

We were welcomed back to the everyday city life in Cochin. The guests enjoyed a performance of Kerala’s classical art form, Kathakali. They sat there listening to the history of the art form and fascinated by the unique makeup process that precedes the performance. As we neared the end of this journey, we were instilled with a fresh desire to rediscover our home. The guests with their cameras and a sense of awe opened our eyes to the little things that we were used to ignoring, little things that come together to make up our distinct traditions and way of life.

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