The River Kunthi was unmindful of the nervous travelers swaying on the hanging bridge on top of it. The crowd of 60 was too much for the narrow bridge but we managed to cross it unharmed.
Across the river, we were greeted by the fertile grounds of Palakkad with a lush cover of banana, tapioca, taro, yam and palm trees. This would be our first pit stop.
Everything went as planned by the Palakkad unit of travel group ‘Sanchari’. Our local hosts made sure that we were not intimidated by the heat wave of the border district. They hydrated us with liberal doses of lime juice. We proceeded towards the Vellinezhi Nanu Nair Memorial Cultural Center. The village has been declared a ‘Cultural Village’ by the Government of Kerala, thanks to a collective of art lovers in the area. Their mission to protect and promote Kathakali and associated arts is bearing fruit.
Dr Vellinezhi Achuthan Kutty, the chief coordinator of the project, explained to us the legends and lore of the Valluvanadu region, patiently clearing each of our doubts. We were fortunate to learn about Kathakali from a master. Kalanilayam Balakrishnan Asan demonstrated a few mudras of the ancient drama. The nine emotions played on his experienced face. Maybe the secret language will help me understand Kathakali better the next time I watched one.
Kalamandalam Narayanan Kutty and Kalluvazhi Gopi performed briefly for us as Sadanam Ramadas set the stage with his rhythmic chenda. We felicitated the artistes before bidding them farewell.
The overnight journey to Palakkad had left me exhausted. I was sleepy and hungry. Our convoy of cars and bikes proceeded to the famed Olappamanna Mana, the traditional house that has been featured in countless Malayalam movies.
The mana is the center of attraction in Vellinezhi, the village that has made tremendous contributions to literature and arts. We roamed around the large house like excited little children, taking in the verandah, center court, dining hall and the pool.
By the time we finished our photo session in the courtyard, lunch was served in the hall. I had to wait my turn along with my friend Aravind. But the wait was worth it. The plantain leaf in front of me was filled with upperi, aviyal, thoran, kalan and manga uppilittathu, every item appealing to every sense.
We topped the feast with the sweet palada pradhaman, which left us asking for more.
We had a chance to interact with Dr N.P. Vijayakrishnan. He elaborated the Olappamanna Mana’s pride of place in the realms of literature, arts and culture. The Kalluvazhi school of Kathakali had its origin at this very place, he said.
Our next destination was an artisans’ den. The making of the Kathakali props is no less an art. The Krishnan Achari Memorial Crafts Center houses craftsmen who make all kinds of props integral for the performance. They are in the final stage of making a crown to be worn by the main actor. A crown takes months to complete. A lighter wood is used to make it.
These craftsmen belong to a long line of artisans who kept the art alive through generations. This center is one of its kind in Kerala, they said. They were kind enough to let us wear some of the crowns for a selfie moment.
It was myth-busting time at Adakkaputhoor. If you thought Aranmula was the only place famed for its metallurgic mirrors, you are wrong. The hamlet near Vellinezhi also produces beautiful hand mirrors out of a trademark alloy. A five-inch mirror costs Rs 10,000! Our incredulity withered away when Krishna Kumar explained the painstaking process behind a mirror.
We were not done yet. The last leg of our daylong trip was supposed to end atop the Anangan hill. Some of us quit midway. I went on for a little while and stretched myself on the ground under the open sky. I was rewarded with a picture postcard sunset.
Back in the valley, we shared our experience and vowed to keep alive the camaraderie for more trips to come.