Elephant Training Center; Aana Kota

During our Kerala trip, while we were at the Guruvayur temple, to visit the Punnathur Kota or the Aana Kota was on the cards. ‘Aana’ means elephant and ‘Kota’ means fort. Punnathur is the name of the place. This was once the palace of a local ruler, but the palace grounds are now used to house the elephants belonging to the Guruvayur temple, and has been renamed Anakkota.

Elephants are an integral part of the daily life in Kerala. During all my childhood summer vacations, to run into temple elephants was a very common thing. These elephants are loved, revered, groomed and given a prestigious place in the state’s culture. The elephant is also the state animal of Kerala.

Aana Kota - Chitra Aiyer Photography

Right at the entrance, were many elephants. This was the first one, we ran into …

When we visited, we were told that there were 65 elephants there. At the AanaKotta, elephants are trained to participate in temple festivals that happen through the year. The legendary elephant “Guruvayur Keshavan” used to be here too.

Aana Kota - Chitra Aiyer Photography

We strolled through the campus, and the kids saw how the elephants were bathed and groomed. In fact, the elephants are given pedicures and manicures of sorts.

Aana Kota - Chitra Aiyer Photography

Aana Kota - Chitra Aiyer Photography

Aana Kota - Chitra Aiyer Photography

Aana Kota - Chitra Aiyer Photography

There is the traditional naalu kettu, a building with a central courtyard inside. This used to belong to the king of Punnathur. It is beautiful; however is poorly maintained. It right now serves as a training school for Mahouts.

The pics below were shot inside the naalu kettu.

Aana Kota - Chitra Aiyer Photography

Aana Kota - Chitra Aiyer Photography

The kids loved meeting the elephants at such close quarters and the walk in the campus.

Aana Kota - Chitra Aiyer Photography

Aana Kota - Chitra Aiyer Photography

My photography work featured in the Sunday Bangalore Mirror

Christmas Fun

My wedding photography work was featured in this Sunday’s Bangalore Mirror paper. The online article is in the ‘Times of India’ e-version - http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Repository/ml.asp?Ref=QkdNSVIvMjAxMC8xMS8xNCNBcjAwODAw

A big thank you to ‘Aparna Chandra’ and the ‘Bangalore Mirror’ team.

Other mentions of my work and a few minutes of fame are all here - http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=384112&id=339653500270

The making of the famous Kerala banana chips

Kerala cuisine is different and is known for some of its dishes. One of the famous eatables is the fried banana chips, known locally as ‘upperi’. In Kerala, it is the ‘nendhra vazha’, a variety of banana, that is used to make the chips. The chips are always fried in coconut oil. Both ripe and unripe bananas are used for this variant. Sometimes they are coated with masala or jaggery to form both spicy and sweet variants. It is an integral part of the traditional Kerala meal called ‘sadya’, served during weddings and traditional festivals such as Onam.

My native being Kerala, I have had access to these chips right from childhood, However, I must admit to not being too fond of them. Typically, I dont like the feel of oil in my mouth. And these do leave a distinct taste of the coconut oil in my mouth. That said, you never come back from a Kerala trip without buying the chips. I do, for friends and family; hardly ever for myself.

Anyway, during this last trip to Kerala (see daughter at the beach and Athirapally falls), our last stop was at Palghat, where I have my maternal uncle. As we were winding up with our trip and getting ready to head back to Bangalore, he took us on a little trip through the lanes of the Palghat town – we walked through the ‘agraharam’ of Kalpathy (post coming up), he then bought us some famous ‘dosa’s for breakfast and then took us to this little shop, which is his usual stop to pick up chips from. He has bought chips from this shop for many years now and for everybody he knows.

Kerala Chitra - Chitra Aiyer Photography

As we walked thro the lane where this tiny shop was, the smell of the various chips greeted us. There were many little shops that were stacked to the brim with different chips. What came as a surprise was when I realised that all of these guys made the chips right there.

The action offered a good photo-op, and the light was nice. So, out came the camera. And here are the pics documenting the making of the chips.

Kerala chips - Chitra Aiyer Photography

A large vessel of freshly made chips greeted us outside the little shop.

Walking past his cash counter and through the narrow passageway, led me to the little kitchen area at the back. I found this man slicing off the bananas into the hot oil ….

Kerala Chips - Chitra Aiyer Photography

Kerala Chips - Chitra Aiyer Photography

enjoying what he does best …

Kerala Chips - Chitra Aiyer Photography

Kerala Chips - Chitra Aiyer Photography

Just outside the kitchen, in the semi-open area, sat this man peeling the bananas….

Kerala Chips - Chitra Aiyer Photography

The freshness of it all was amazing – they were making it right there, and as it was cooling off, the chips were packed, sealed, and stacked.

Kerala Chips - Chitra Aiyer Photography

The owner of this little shop … packing me some ‘halwa’ for my friends back in Bangalore.

The best part was, after all our purchase, he figured we were heading back to Bangalore and so packed us a packet of chips for the road. Great shooting opportunity. I enjoyed the light. Hope you all enjoyed the pics.

However, I must say again how I neither enjoy eating the chips nor the halwa. So, there …

All pics used here are mine. Please do not use them without my permission.

A drive in the clouds, Horsley Hills

While at Rishi Valley, on one morning after breakfast, we drove up Horsley Hills, which is not too far away from the campus. That morning, it was cloudy, with mild drizzles, and the entire landscape was beautiful. We knew it could only get prettier as climbed up the hills.

Horsley Hills - Chitra Aiyer Photography

The view from one of the vista points – the valley and the hills at a distance. Beautiful expanse of clouds and greenery lay ahead of us.

Horsley Hills - Chitra Aiyer Photography

Ae we started climbing up the narrow, pretty roads, we noticed how low the clouds were. The clouds were also heavy and filled with moisture.

Horsley Hills - Chitra Aiyer Photography

The entire drive is very scenic. It is surrounded throughout its entire length with dense growths of eucalyptus, jacaranda, allamanda and gulmohar trees. The drive, at times, reminded me of the drive up the Mysore chamundi hills, and most of the times of the drive up the Thirumala hills, Tirupathi.

Horsley Hills - Chitra Aiyer Photography

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As we reached the top, the clouds enveloped us. We were literally driving through the clouds. The kids thought it was way cool, that we could actually do something like that.

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At the top is the AP tourism dept run resort, supposedly good. We wouldnt know. There is also an “environmental park”. The board said that they housed a crocodile park inside. So, we went in. How not worth it that visit was. The animals on “display” should simply be let go. And I dont know why this silly excuse of a small zoo is called an environmental park! Anyway, we walked around a little till we spotted the almost invisible crocodile. It was just one, and it was well under the muddy rain water. Please, if you ever go to Horsley hills, do skip the visit to this “park”.

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The hill itself was however, very beautiful and so was the drive. We liked the dreamy settings of that cloudy morning.

Our love for the frangipani

At the Rishi Valley campus (about the visit in the previous post), as we started our little trek up to the sunset point of ‘asthachal’, the daughter and I spotted 2 big frangipani trees. We could also see that many of the beautiful flowers had fallen on the ground.

Frangipani, ASthachal, Rishi valley - Chitra Aiyer Photography

Our joy knew no bounds. Really, there are very few things for which my heart could skip a beat. And frangipani is one of the few exclusive things. The story goes way back….

My first joys of experiencing these beautiful flowers was in my paternal grandparents’ home, set deep within the western ghats in Kerala. I remember sitting on the long front porch, near the tree as dusk set in and these beautiful flowers would spread their fantastic fragrance in the dark air. Oh, how much I loved it then. The next morning I would spot the new flowers high up in the tree … and to see the beautifully formed white and yellow flowers was such a joy. I am talking of a time when I was less than 10 years old. To me, the frangipani flowers still remind me of those long gone summer evenings that were filled with their beautiful, and now nostalgia-inducing, fragrance.

As we neared the trees, we saw the pretty flowers everywhere around the trees. Frangipani, ASthachal, Rishi valley - Chitra Aiyer Photography

It was clear that the 2 trees were planted there thoughtfully – they made the entraceway to the ‘asthachal’. The 2 trees were different, one was the white and pink flowers and the other was the more common white and yellow flowers. They differ in their appearance and fragrance – both beautiful.

Frangipani, ASthachal, Rishi valley - Chitra Aiyer Photography

Frangipani, ASthachal, Rishi valley - Chitra Aiyer Photography

We found a couple of them in a little rain water in the rock.

Frangipani, ASthachal, Rishi valley - Chitra Aiyer Photography Frangipani, ASthachal, Rishi valley - Chitra Aiyer Photography

My daughter wanted to pick the ones on the ground – we went to asthachal promising her that we would let her do that on our way back. When we returned, she went about gently picking a handful of them. I noticed her at this little gateway, doing something with the flowers.

Frangipani, ASthachal, Rishi valley - Chitra Aiyer Photography

I came back to find them lined up in a neat row.

Frangipani, ASthachal, Rishi valley - Chitra Aiyer Photography

To me, it is always heart-warming to see her love for these flowers. Just a little commonality that she and I perhaps may hold dear.