Our first long journey after our marriage, if you could call it the honeymoon, was to Mookambika with a stopover in Bekal. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip as the mood was like that and the places quite exotic and mystical. When we boarded the train to Mangalore that evening, little did we realize that this journey came about through some divine intervention. In the first place, this may not have happened at all. It was the day when all of Kerala came to a standstill thanks to a problem that required a bandh. My wife, who was then working in Pathanamthitta, almost reached Thiruvananthapuram railway station, our embarkation point, thanks to timely assistance from the police and a friend.
Anyway, our honeymoon was over. The next morning, we disembarked at Bekal Railway Station with the Arabian sea and the timeless Bekal Fort providing a beautiful backdrop for a romantic touch. With the help of a friend who works at Bekal Resorts Development Corporation (BRDC), we managed to secure a room in their office in the fort. Remember, this was in 1996 and tourism wasn’t taking off there yet. Built by Sivappa Nayik, the Bekal Fort is an extremely important monument in the annals of Indian history, but it has not yet received due attention in the tourism scenario. The beaches around were a haven for smugglers and anti-social elements. Yet my obsession with Bekal was too strong to give in to these fears. My wife was also enthusiastic about this visit. The place looked lush green and the weather was healthy, which we owe to December, the month we got married. The sea was blue and inviting. This famous fortress has earned a place in the hearts of movie goers with sequences of songs from many hit movies being shot here. The place had an abandoned appearance that was in stark contrast to the scenes we see there now. This, as mentioned, was due to the infamous stories associated with the place. Our mood was exuberant and there was no room for despondency.
The fort is a protected monument and under the auspices of the Archaeological Survey of India. You wouldn’t be able to tell if there was a major attraction in this place that stood out. The atmosphere was unique. The beautiful beaches and waters of the Arabian Sea in combination with the breathtaking fortress that stands in front of it make this place a special place. We had a great time walking and frolicking around the fort. The watchtowers offer a beautiful view of the sea from both sides. The fort walls had openings through which cannons could be aimed at invaders. Unsurprisingly, Bekal Fort was the first choice for shooting some memorable songs from the Bombay movie. The part of the fortress that extends into the sea offers a beautiful view.
A dream couldn’t last forever, which we realized to our dismay when it was time to move on. It was midday and no shelter was available inside or outside the fort. Not even hotels were seen, which gave us enough reasons to get on the bus to Mangalore. After a short stopover for lunch, we boarded a bus to Kollur-Mookambika, which was in fact our main destination. It was 8:30 PM and the night was getting colder and darker as we reached Mookambika. The evening meal, which was purely vegetarian, was ordinary, but the taste of mango pickle lingered.
The experiences we had the next morning are unforgettable. An age-old belief that newly married couples can have a blissful married life if they take a dip in the Souparnika River inspired us. Souparnika originates in Kudajadri and flows along it, barely a kilometer away from the temple. The place had an ethereal beauty with a stream rising from the water even in cold weather. We took a dip together and came back delighted. It was time to visit the temple. A local priest led us through some of the rituals. Shankaracharya started with the Poojas and rituals that are still done here. This is the only temple dedicated to Goddess Parvati and is over a thousand years old.
As mentioned earlier, the divine intervention happened again. This time it was in the form of two young guys sharing a room opposite ours. We were looking for partners for the journey to Kudajadri and gladly accepted their invitation to join them on the journey to the sacred hills surrounding this divine place. Because the jeep trip was expensive, we were also looking for someone who could share the travel costs. After some negotiation, the driver agreed to five hundred rupees, which is nothing compared to the rate now. So the jeep that usually carried 6 to 7 people had only four passengers. As the vehicle moved, the trail changed from paved to muddy and then to rocky. It was an experience that I sometimes thought could turn me inside out. After a bumpy ride of about 40 kilometers uphill, we reached Kudajadri.
The relatives of the priests who reside here permanently welcomed us. They gave us tea and snacks. A novel written, MT Vasudevan Nair, the legendary writer in Malayalam with the plot woven around this backdrop, was retold by my wife who is an ardent fan of his. To my surprise, the scenes that played out here and the characters here behaved exactly as she told them. In fact, she had told this many times during the journey and the joy on her face was plain to see.
There is a pond fed by water flowing down from the forest area on top of the adjacent hills. We ventured up the trail and enjoyed the clear air and healthy climate amidst the forest. After a climb of about half an hour, we reached the Sarvanjapeedom, where Shankaracharya interceded and Mookambika Devi appeared before him. There is an interesting story behind this episode. Shankaracharya wanted Devi to follow him to Kerala where there were no Devi temples. Devi agreed to Shankaracharya’s request and followed him on the condition that he would never look back. At one point, Shankaracharya looked back as the sound of Devi’s anklets could not be heard. True to her words, Mookambika Devi told Shankaracharya that she would stay here and people could come here to seek her blessings. Finally, moved by Shankaracharya’s devotion, Devi told him that she would give darshan to devotees of Kerala at Chottanikkaara in the morning and then return to Kollur. It is not surprising that Chottanikkaraa Temple opens at 4am compared to other temples as Mookambika Devi comes to Chottanikkara during the hour when the temple is open!
Our friends tried to climb up the peedam and were soon seen frantically stepping down. This was because a man of holy appearance taunted them for climbing the peedam, which was clearly a holy monument. Some pilgrims returning from a slope reported that there was a cave below that was worth seeing. It turned out to be the Chitramoola cave that Shankaracharya mediated and got enlightenment from the goddess of knowledge.
A person with an appearance similar to that of a saint meditated in the cave straight out of Amar chitra kadha pages. We weren’t sure if this was real. Anyway, there was a lot of money on display at his feet, offered by passers-by. There is a waterfall here which added to the overall effect.
It was time to go and we climbed back and then started the walk down to the jeep. After refreshment we climbed into the jeep and started the descent to Mookambika. Quite tired after the hectic day we went to bed with a lot of joyful experiences drifting into our dreams.