Actress Manju Pillai is a very familiar face in Malayalam films and on television. Also an avid traveller, Manju considers journeys as an opportunity to learn new facts and acquire knowledge. "Trips help us visit new places and enjoy unique experiences," she says.
However, Manju never sets out on a journey on the spur of the moment. "As a mother, a wife and an artist, I need to carry out much planning and preparations before travelling. However, my spouse Sujith prefers to go on a trip impulsively," she says.
According to the celebrity, she enjoys travelling with friends rather than with family. "There is more freedom with friends. A family tour has its own enjoyments, but I have more responsibility. I would have to pack not only for myself but also for my husband and our daughter. Moreover, there is some stress looking after their food and health too," says Manju.
During a journey with friends, the actress would be spared of most of these tasks. "My husband and daughter realize this fact and are supportive. I also have an active friends’ circle with whom I frequently travel," she says.
Manju and her friends have no particular preferences. "We travel to all kinds of destinations. Most of my tours have been with these close friends," she adds.
"I don't have too many friends in the film field, but Kukku Parameswaran, Subi, Sreelakshmi and Rasmi are constant companions. We have travelled to so many places together. Whenever we feel like being together, we meet at the house of anyone in our circle. We may also head to some reclusive resort," she explains.
Manju's most recent trip was to Goa. "It was at the film festival there. The eight-day travel offered a great experience watching films," says the star.
The celebrity has visited several destinations abroad as part of stage programmes as well as otherwise. "One aspect of Europe, America, UAE and Singapore that attracted me was that people were strictly following traffic rules. Every motorist obeyed rules for U-turn and lanes. Even Keralites did not attempt to violate the road rules. I wondered why our people break the traffic laws blatantly in Kerala," she says.
Among the foreign locales, it was Venice that Manju loved most. “The place is much similar to our Kuttanad. However, while the waterways in Kuttanad are flanked by paddy fields, in Venice, there are buildings everywhere. Even then, the place has a special charm,” she says. The actress also relished the ride on the gondola, Venice’s own boat.
Char Dham pilgrimage
Manju also found the 'Char Dham' pilgrimage much fulfilling. "That was an unforgettable experience. I travelled with friends and we had done detailed planning for six months before the journey. The pilgrimage was suggested by Karthyayani 'Chechi,' a friend," says the celebrity.
"Chechi has travelled to the Himalayas several times and with her help, we decided on a route covering Haridwar, Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath, Badrinath and Rishikesh. Many people believe that a pilgrimage to Kedarnath and Badrinath is for elderly people. But it is not so. A person should travel to these places when he or she is physically in good shape," feels Manju.
According to her, much physical exertion is needed to reach spots such as Kedarnath. "There are several steep climbs and you may have to ride a mule, which is neither a horse nor a donkey. I too tried to travel on this animal, but fell off its back soon and suffered injuries," says the celebrity.
On most days, Manju's tour party had to start their trek early in the morning and rested only late at night.
The weather too was harsh. "It was biting cold. However, the golden sunrise was amazing in these areas," reveals Manju, who adds that she wept uncontrollably while stepping out of the temple to watch the sunrise after reaching the shrine at 5 am.
Yet another peculiarity of Kedarnath temple that interested Manju was that every visitor could touch the idol, a Shiva Linga. "In other temples, pilgrims are not allowed near the Linga, but at Kedarnath everyone could not only touch the idol but also embrace it and pray for as long as he or she wished. I too clasped the idol and unable to control my emotions, wept. That was the first time I was embracing a Shiv Linga. I also don’t know why I cried. It was an emotional experience," explains the celebrity.
Moreover, while leaving the temple after spending some time there, Manju felt that some mysterious power was attracting her back to the shrine. "It was as if visiting heaven and returning to earth. I am willing to travel to Kedar anytime," she affirms.
Now, Manju dreams of visiting Kailas. "That journey should take place before I become physically weak and I am praying," she adds.
The actress also saw various faces of the River Ganges during this journey. "The river looks so different at each spot," she says.
Manju's advice, future plans
Even though a trip to Kedarnath or Badrinath offers a refreshing experience, there is much physical and mental exhaustion involved, says Manju. "You should be prepared even to sleep on the roadside. Sometimes, you may have to use open spaces for your primary needs. We were a group 12 women and so did not face too many difficulties. That is the advantage of travelling with friends," says the celebrity.
Manju was making preparations for another trip to the Himalayas next year when the pandemic struck. A journey to Sri Lanka or Moscow too was being considered this year. "All these plans are stuck due to the disease. But, there is still time and so many places to visit," says the celebrity.