A visit to Dakshinachitra

A welcoming Kolam and flowers greets visitors
The glass of chilled mosambi juice was a life-saver. The blinding white heat and the humid haze that had assaulted my senses from the time I had landed in Chennai dissipated a wee bit.

I became aware of the quiet and calm of Dakshinachitra, “a living museum of art, architecture, crafts, and performing arts of South India”.

Located on the East Coast Road in Muthukadu, Dakshinachitra is about 21 km south of Chennai. The sprawling, 10-acre complex houses carefully recreated heritage structures, traditions and culture from the four southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is also a hub for performing arts, a retreat for artists, a learning centre for students, an exhibition space, a place to visit for the culturally inclined tourist… And a place that I had been wanting to visit for a long time, particularly to see the heritage structures.

So when the opportunity to visit Chennai came up about 10 days back, I planned my itinerary in such a way that I would go straight to Dakshinachitra from the airport itself. So far so good. What I had not accounted for, or rather ignored what everyone told me, was the severity of the infamous Chennai heat. I mean, how much more different could Chennai humidity be from Mumbai’s? By the time I reached Dakshinachitra, I was almost dehydrated and was having fond thoughts about Mumbai weather !

A shady courtyard at Dakshinachitra

Though the mosambi juice and lots of water revived me enough to brave the heat and take a walk through the heritage houses, the relentless heat made it difficult for me to really enjoy my visit there. I did manage to walk through the entire section of heritage structures, but my mind and camera did not register or record everything I saw.

But do allow me to share with you what they camera recorded. 🙂

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Travel Shot: Sunrise at Kovalam Beach

In the winter of 1998, a friend and I embarked on a trip along the West Coast of India beginning at Honnavar (Karnataka) and ending at Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala) 10 days later. It was a hop on, hop off trip, one of the best trips I have ever undertaken, and a trip that I remember for various reasons.

While in Thiruvananthapuram, we took a spur of the moment decision to spend the night at one of the hotels on Kovalam Beach. That turned into quite an experience—being the only Indians staying back, being the subject of countless stares and comments, and dealing with plate-sized spiders in our room. After a sleepless night (you didn’t really expect us to sleep with the spiders around, did you?), we stumbled out of our room at daybreak—all red-eyed and cranky—to see a glorious sunrise.

Sunrise at Kovalam Beach, Thiruvananthapuram

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Travel Shot: St. Mary’s Island

Once upon a time, ok in November 1998, a friend and I decided to travel down the West coast of India. We started in Honnavar in Karnataka and travelled all the way down to Thiruvananthapuram, hopping in and out of trains and buses. It is a trip that makes me nostalgic even thinking about it. One the places we “discovered” was St. Mary’s Island, off Malpe Beach near Udipi.

St. Mary’s Island, also called Coconut Island by the locals, is an uninhabited island with a shelly beach and clear, cool waters. This is how the local operator who ran motor boat services to the island sold the beach to us. What he did not mention was that the island was made up of columnar basalts, and that it was a geological monument.

7 November 1998: St. Mary’s Island

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The Emerald Route: One book, many narratives

What would you call a book that

(a) is primarily a travelogue,
(b) is also a concise literary, spiritual, religious, mythological, and political history of the region,
(c) is part autobiographical, and
(d) includes a description of taming wild elephants, a folk tale and a one-act play.

The cover illustration is by R.K. Laxman

The book that I am talking about here is R.K. Narayan’s (RKN) The Emerald Route, which is the outcome of the author’s travels along with R.K. Laxman, his brother and the famous cartoonist, through the length and breadth of Karnataka.

First published in 1977 by the Director of Information and Publicity, Government of Karnataka, and then by Penguin India in 1999, I recently bought the latter edition on the recommendation of Smeedha, a friend.

RKN chose to title his book “The Emerald Route” for one important reason—he did not encounter even a single dry patch during the first phase of his tour from Mysore through Hunsur and Hassan and back. He says:

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