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Southern States - Kerala

The magic of Bhoothathankettu

KOCHI, DEC. 28. Kerala might be known as God's Own Country. But this land, mired as it is in mythology and folklore, is also known for its connection with demons or `bhoothams'. Bhoothathankettu is one such.

Long before the man-made dam was build to tame the flow of Periyar, Kerala's longest perennial river, and irrigate the paddy fields of Ernakulam district, Bhoothathankettu had already earned its name from an interesting legend. The story goes that ages ago, demons set out to submerge the Trikkariyoor temple, whose presiding diety is Lord Shiva, by damming the Periyar and flooding the area. But, Lord Shiva, suspecting trickery, came up with a plan to deter them. He made it appear that dawn was approaching by making a sound like the crowing of the rooster. The demons fearing the arrival of light fled from their task. But there remains to this day the visible proof of their effort - the huge stones the demons were supposed to have rolled onto the riverbed, the Old Bhothathankettu. The Periyar flows on through the narrow space which the demons did not quite manage to dam up.

That's imagination for you. The actual cause for the formation of the old Bhoothathankettu remains a conjecture. Its been attributed to two great floods - one in the 4th century and the other in 1341, which threw open the port of Kochi. The massive landslides during the flood is believed to have caused gigantic rocks to roll down from the mountain and become entrenched in the Old Bhoothathankettu.

If its curiosity about this place which that brings tourists here, it will be her beauty that keeps them enthralled forever. Bhoothathankettu has the potential of becoming one of the must-visit places in Kerala yet it remains virtually unknown by tourists. This is mainly because of the lack of infrastructure, even though plans for its development seems to have acquired some direction and drive of late.

If one is willing to put up with minor difficulties, one can come away with a veritable feast for the senses. Once you've arrived at Bhoothathankettu, which is located just eight kms north-east of Kothamangalam, there are various activities that one can indulge in. A trip upriver on a house boat that can conveniently accommodate 25 (for a fee of Rs. 500 or Rs. 20 per person), a ride on a speedboat, a trek into the jungle, rock climbing, fishing ...the possibilities for relaxation and fun remain endless.

A trip on the houseboat is a must. Cruising up the river that is purported to be a freshwater body, whose water has medicinal values of the `Neelakoduveli' that grows in the upreaches of the ghats (where the Periyar has its origin), is a memorable experience. The river brings a new meaning to the word `quiet' - at least once the motors of the boat are cut.

To one side of the river lies a dense forest, that grows to the very edge of the water, so much so it seems as if a part of the forest is growing on the Periyar itself. On the other side, you can catch an occasional glimpse of habitation between the coconut and rubber trees, but not enough of them to dampen the serenity of the place. The scenario remains unchanged for some time before that side too is overtaken by forest.

The river dips inland at times, creating tempting green coves that beckons you to swim in. As you go further upstream, to the right the river seems to break away from its almost straight path to flow between the Thattekad bird sanctuary and Chelamalai, which might have been the `Vanchi' of the old - the seat of the Chera empire. According to locals, the forest on either side of the Periyar was once home to a thriving civilisation. Remains of wells, walls, pieces of pottery recovered from there and the ruins of temples, of ancient architecture, are proof of a highly developed culture that once existed on this river's bank.

Even if one may not be interested in anthropology, the river itself, embraced as it is by ever-green forests on both sides, the white storks lazily rising into the air, the kingfishers nearly torpedoing into the water, sightings of rare migratory birds from Siberia and above all the absolute peace and quiet that one can experience will make a trip to Bhoothathankettu worthwhile.

A journey up the Periyar to satisfy your parched senses with her beauty and tranquility are mere bonuses. The dam is a vantage point from where you can spot the turbulent water rushing from the dam towards the Old Bhoothathankettu. The river gives one the impression of sprouting here and there into pools of blood, due to the presence of a red waterplant - possibly an algae, that grows on the rocks just beneath the rushing water. A view of the surrounding area from up there, will make you forget the scorching rays of the sun that beats down on you, your companions, everything... to become lost in the legendary beauty of the Periyar.

All serene and placid, a ride through the waters is a unique experience, especially for the uninitiated.

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