Written by @nitkal
“The only journey is the one within” – Rainer Maria Rilke
It is but fair to self-declare one’s travel history these days, particularly if one were to attempt a travelogue piece. So here it goes: I grew up in the small but historic town of Madurai in the Southern state of Tamilnadu. My childhood was filled with temples, jasmine flowers, colourful dresses and lip-smacking idli-vada-sambar-chutneys. As a child, I used to look-forward for the “LTC trips” that my banker-father dutifully took us on, every year. Most of the these trips were on road, covering a wide range of small South-Indian villages and lesser known (to me then) temples. Some of these “lesser known” sites included the notable Sethusamudram where Rama and the monkey army built the floating bridge to Lanka and Dhanushkodi, the incredible meeting place of the ferocious and the calm seas, places I would love my history-loving daughter to witness.
During these pilgrimage excursions, I loved reading a favourite book in the “Ambassador” taxi or idly gazing at the trees outside during the road trips. Yet, I longed to explore the other regions of the country or go on pure-pleasure expeditions. I remember a particular pining to travel to West Bengal during Durga Puja specifically by the “Coromandel Express” and check-out my cousins’ grand quarters in Durgapur, thanks to their kaleidoscopic description. In other words, I always yearned for the seemingly greener grass yonder.
As I grew up, I had the latitude to travel to and live in some metropolitan cities in different regions of the country, including the political, financial or the software capitals. During my bachelorette life, I also had the opportunities to travel to a few cities across Europe, North America and Asia. There are several treasured memories and beautiful locations in these countries that have been etched in my mind’s eye. For a starter, the first sight of the iconic “London Bridge” or the statue of Sherlock Holmes outside the Baker Street station of London had me near tears more than the idyllic Peak District (or Derbyshire where Darcy from “Pride and Prejudice” apparently lived). I suspect the childhood rhymes and pre-teen imagination from the long hours of books were working their way out as emotions. The trip to the highlands and Loch Ness seems more significant for the planning and confidence it inculcated in me, notwithstanding the picturesque journey to it. Going down the “Crooked street” or the Chinatown-shopping-with-a-friend and the unplanned steal-a-few-hours-from-conference trip to the Golden Gate would contribute to the San Francisco youth chronicles.
I have also realised that I, as a spiritual being, get inspired by natural wonders more significantly than the man-made counterparts. The might of the vast Grand Canyon or the ferocious Niagara surpassed the long expected and fulfilled desire of hanging around New York city. The Great Wall of China was majestic enough, but the mountains, that the Wall was carved across, were non-pareil. Truth be told, as a commoner, I liked the trip to China more than to any other country, inspite of the yellow tea or the unavailability of vegetarian food options. Maybe the Chinese reminded me of the rich civilisation and meditative practices that we share from ancient times. As a history and food fanatic, I cherished the Colosseum and the roadside eatery’s pastas of Rome. Paris was too “Frenchy” for me but appealed to my art-inclined husband more. I have also revelled in the beauty of some of the most-celebrated European locations including Prague, Black Forest of Germany or the Greek islands. Now that the reader has acquired a “fair-account” of my travel history, I trust that I would be judged, if I must be, in an impartisan manner, when I state that my most-fulfilling trips were and are the road-trips I take to some of the Indian villages. It could be that the intent of relaxation, amidst a hectic life, is met
in a quiet Maharastrian rural resort or a scenic stay in the Himachal mountains. Or it could be that having flown to some of the most-enthralling tourist spots of the world, I have grown inward to love my roots more. In other words, I have come to realise that the grass is greener or at least equally green, hither than thither.
There are a couple of trips to South-Indian temples in remote villages that I would like to highlight – fondly referred to as the “K villages”, they include Kadathur, Kadayam and a few others in the lush Tanjavur, Coimbatore and Tirunelveli districts of South Tamilnadu. Typically these villages are characterised by rustic settings – short-outside but long-and-wide-inside, largely eco-friendly houses adorned with fresh kolams in mornings or evenings, women decked in flowers gossiping away about the “tourists” , but ever-welcoming them to their homes with hot meals, unherded cattle finishing their daily routines and retiring to the nearby forests by dusk, a post-office, a primary school and an all-important cinema theatre. A small but powerful deity in a temple is often located at the outskirts of these villages and is surrounded by blissful mountains, cultivated lands, uncultivated foliage and a clear natural stream of water descending from the heavens.
Kadayam is where my ancestors hail from and therefore I have been fortunate to make several visits to this place. Some of my fond recollections of these trips include trekking across the rocky mountains sharing stories and jokes, to have a spa-treatment-bath in the clear stream waters of “Rama nadhi” ( a tributary of the Tamarabharani river ) and sitting through the religious puja festivities in the forest temple. This would be followed by a sumptuous meal prepared in the forest temple premises with ingredients carried from the mainland. There used to be percussionists and nadhaswaram musicians accompanying us to the mountain temples, not just to add fervour to the pujas but also to scare the wild animals roaming in the forests. Equitably, a recent trip to a temple in Kadathur (where my husband’s ancestors hail from) in Tamilnadu was enriching spiritually. I do not know if it is the sight of a quiet pond and the rich verdure surrounding the temple or the magic of the mantras chanted rhythmically or if it is the contentment of appreciating one’s own ancestry or the freedom to sit meditatively with family, without worrying about the day’s plan, that is more consequential
than the other. The overall effect was trance.
It is not that I undermine any of the trips to the foreign lands or oft-traveled wonders of the world, I’m grateful to them for expanding my horizons of existence. Intact, I owe the first step of my spiritual journey inward to the exotic expeditions abroad. However I cannot deny that I’m most content spiritually when I travel to my roots than with fly with my wings.
“Life’s journey – it unfolds for you as you are ready for it.” – RuPaul
About the author
Nithya Ramakrishnan is an experimental cook, theoretical science researcher and a thinking philosopher (PhD) who loves to dabble with art, doodle with words, exercise with vocal chords and violin strings and play with her daughters. Most of all, she loves drinking coffee.