Chotanikkara, Mararikulam and Cherayi

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Ever since I heard about the Marari Shivan temple, I have been wanting to visit there. The painful legend behind the place and fantasies of the tranquil location kept drawing me to it. I decided to use this weekend to finally visit this rare temple. The itinerary I had planned was to reach Thripunithura, then Chotanikkara, Ernakulam, Mararikulam, back to Ernakulam and then to Chennai. I didn’t plan to do anything at Ernakulam but it’s a connecting hub. I had from Friday evening until Monday morning.

Chotanikkara

I took a tatkal ticket from Chennai to Thirupunithura. Reached at about 7 O clock on Saturday morning. Thirupunithura is about 8 kms away from the Chotanikkara Devi Temple. Took an auto rickshaw from the station till the temple (cost 50 rupees). Unfortunately, temples in Kerala usually don’t give room to a single person. You have to have company to get a room in the temple’s dormitory. Found a room where I could take a shower and change for about 300 rupees and then went off to the temple. There was average crowd in the temple.

It was over 12 in the afternoon by the time I finished praying at the temple. I stepped out and had an average lunch just outside the temple. The bus stop was only a few steps from the temple. None of the buses have boards in English or even Hindi. It’s all Malayalam. But I could manage to read Ernakulam just fine. Took a bus from there and reached Ernakulam. It was a ten minute walk from the bus stop to Ernakulam junction. The next train to Mararikulam was at 3:40 PM. I had 2 whole hours to pass. I wanted to go out somewhere but if I miss this train I’ll have to wait several more hours for the next train. So I just took a 25 rupees ticket for the railway station waiting room and spent an hour there. The train was very slow. It halted to let other trains pass. And took about double the time to reach Mararikulam (it reached at around 5:00 PM).

Mararikulam

Once you get down the train and the train leaves the station, you realize the quietness of the village and I could already smell the rainy mud. The moment you step out everything is green. Lush, rich, bold, beautiful green. It’s a blessed village hidden inside a forest. The kind of village that’ll entice you to drop your stupid city life and stay there forever.

I had booked a room on Oyo for about 1800 rupees. The place was called ‘Canaan Maraari Homestay’. Because obviously the temple here wouldn’t allow a single person to stay and I wasn’t sure whether there would be much places to stay. I took an auto from the railway station and reached the room. Quickly freshened up and the homestay owner got me an auto on call and I went off to the Marari Sree Mahadeva temple. It was such a peaceful beautiful temple. The temple ground is fine sand – probably because of the closeness to beach. It’s below ground level – I couldn’t help but wonder whether it would be a water-logged if it rains heavily. The weather was cold but it wasn’t raining. The divine calm made me want to stay longer and pray but the auto rickshaw was waiting to drop me back so I went back after about half an hour. I didn’t need dinner so I just sat outside the homestay and took in the cold, dark forest for sometime. I asked the homestay owner for an auto in the early morning and went into my room to sleep.

I woke up at 5:30 AM the next morning and quickly took a shower and stepped out to go back to the temple. I couldn’t wait to go back there. But the auto didn’t come. I remembered seeing an auto stand the previous day so I thought I’ll go there and take an auto. But there was no auto in that stand – perhaps since it was too early. I came back to the homestay and waited for some more time and finally decided to walk. It took a bit over 45 minutes to walk to the temple. The weather was beautiful and it was a breeze to walk. Only that it was really scary because of some ferocious stray dogs here and there on the way. Thankfully, none of them took any interest in me. And there was a beef stall on the way. The sight of bloody, butchered bodies of cows made me queasy enough to ponder giving up eating meat altogether. But after that I again entered the cold, rich, green path to the temple.

And then I was back at the temple. They did a ritual where one priest carried around a small statue of the God and a party of musicians followed him playing the nadaswaram, melam and a loud conch shell. They went thrice around the temple during which the main nada was closed and we had to wait outside. I got an archana ticket so that I could get one of those little banana leaf packages with some flowers, sandal and kunkum to bring back to my home. I handed it to the priest handing out those prasadams but he said no prasadam for this ticket just leave the ticket there. He couldn’t understand me at all so I just guessed I needed a more expensive ticket. So I went back to the counter and got a pushpanjali ticket. And just to be sure I also bought a little vilva mala. So now I had two tickets a bit more expensive that too. I went back to him but again he said to just leave these tickets also in front of the moolavar and said no prasadam for these tickets too. I was determined and told him I need those packages he was handing out. Turns out it’s for some pooja I had to book days in advance. Thankfully he said if I wait for sometime they’ll distribute those little banana leaf packages after the pooja. So I waited along with some 30 other people there. Finally I had to do some pushing around to get my take-home prasadam pack. All was well I prayed to the Shivan once more and then to the Parvati Devi (who’s outside the main shrine but they are facing each other – one of the specialities of this temple).

There was an auto stand near the temple so I didn’t have to walk back. I took an auto from there, reached the homestay and packed up. They gave free breakfast at the homestay. Little palm-sized dosas with coconut chutney. It was good. The homestay owner called his auto. I remembered there was a train at 11:06 AM from Mararikulam to Ernakulam. The auto driver – Jubi – stopped at a couple of spots at the Marari beach since I wished to take a couple of photos. I had a tasty coconut water at the beach and then I was on my way to Ernakulam.

Cherayi

I hadn’t actually planned to go to the Cherayi beach. When I arrived at Ernakulam I was 6 hours early for my bus back to Chennai. That’s when I remembered Jude (from office) telling me that I should go to the Cherayi beach if I was at Ernakulam. So I decided to go there. Cherayi is about 30 km from Ernakulam. I took a bus to Kochi and another one from Kochi to Cherayi. It was a pleasant ride through the town, the highway, all interweaving through patches of backwater bodies with enough scenery to keep you occupied for the one hour ride. From the bus stop at Cherayi, an auto took me to the beach for 40 rupees.

I was pretty disappointed to see that it was a walled beach and it’s advised not to cross the wall and get down into the beach. From the wall there was a layer of thick black rocks for about 5 or 6 feet and there’s just a small strip between those rocks and the sea. It’s not one of those beaches where you can walk in the sand. I hate those beaches. It was about 3 O clock and I was very hungry from so much walking. I ate a very bad lunch from one of the home-restaurants along the beach road. I came back to the beach and stood on the wall with my umbrella. It was sunny and warm by now. The humidity and lots of walking had made me break a slight sweat.

Someone once told me that if you go to the beach you must step in the water. Otherwise the sea will get upset. I couldn’t help but remember that when I saw the Cherayi beach trying to reach me wave after wave, only to hit and break at the rocks with large white splashes and go back sadly. I was starting to get bored so I simply started walking along the wall like some other people were doing. I walked for about fifteen minutes along the wall just listening to the sea when the clouds suddenly darkened the skies and it started raining. It got really windy too – it flipped up my umbrella. I got down the wall, corrected the umbrella and kept walking for another few minutes when the skies cleared up as fast as it got clouded. Within a few seconds the rain stopped and the sun started shining back in full glory again.

That’s when I noticed a small part of the beach where there were no rocks and there was about a 50 feet wide strip of sand. There were some people already in the water. Finally. Cherayi beach wasn’t a complete flop after all. I kept my bag and shoes on the wall and walked into the water. It was so cold. Completely in contrast to the hot and humid weather. I went further in till I was knee-deep in the sea water. I stood there for a satisfying fifteen minutes and remembered I should be going back now. I bid goodbye to that charming little beach and walked back to the auto stand. I couldn’t resist having one of the colorful sherbets (mango + lemon flavor) in a roadside stall. Went back to Ernakulam the same way I came. I was cutting it close so I didn’t stop for anything else and went straight to Vyttila Junction where my bus was scheduled to stop. I only had to wait a few minutes to bid a sad goodbye to Kerala and start my return back to Chennai.

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