A bridge too far
Thottipalam: No architectural feat, but try the view from the middle, says SHALINI UMACHANDRAN
Pic by Shalini Umachandran
IT'S A long ride through green groves of rubber and banana that seem to stretch forever. Just when the scenery starts getting monotonous, there's a break and the gully that's been accompanying the road for the past few kilometres widens into a channel of sorts. The rain that's been pouring down on us for the last half-an-hour slows to a drizzle and we hop out of the car, borrow brightly speckled umbrellas from an obliging pineapple vendor and walk down to the beginning of the "hanging trough" that has the distinction (at least in all the literature we found on it) of being Asia's tallest as well as longest trough bridge.
Mathur Thottipalam is a blessed 70 km away from the muggy heat, grimy dust and crush of overwhelmingly jasmine-bedecked, coconut-oiled tourists of Kanyakumari. Tiny toads hop out of the way as we splash through puddles to take the long walk down the 115-foot high bridge. Completed in 1966, the bridge crosses the river Parazhiyar (I'm still trying to twist my tongue around the river's name) and the trough canal that runs alongside carries water for irrigation from one side of the hill to the other. The water feeds the taluks of Vilavancode and Kalkulam but the trough, which has a height and width of more than seven feet, is rather dry at the moment. The bridge is held up by 28 huge pillars, and though it's not a feat of architectural brilliance and beauty, the view from the middle is absolutely stunning. It's green for as far as the eye can see, a green that seems to melt into the shadowy mountains in the distance, with a light mist covering the rather blunt-looking peaks. There's a meandering river below, with children splashing each other gleefully and women spreading their washing out to dry.
The bridge spans about three feet at its widest and cyclists race to and fro carrying loads from one village to the other or at least pretending to. I think the real idea is to try and knock over as many hapless pedestrians as possible. Locals tell the story of a young man who set a record for carrying the heaviest load across that distance at the fastest speed newslae flash pannanga, theriyatha? (Haven't you heard about it? It was on the news.) The details of this feat of skill and will are rather sketchy though. The newest development in the area is a staircase that leads from the top of the bridge to the township below and a couple of bathing platforms for the locals. There's a Perumal temple in nearby Thiruvattar, which is known for its murals and architecture.
It may not sound like the most exciting place to spend a day a bridge over the river Parazhiyar would not really inspire intrepid travellers, but a sense of tranquillity fills the mind as you gaze out across the endless expanse of green and the cool breeze blows across your face. The green valleys and fragrance of freshly drenched grass stay with you long after you're back in the city.
How to get there:
Connected by regular buses from Kanyakumari or a two-hour cab ride covering the 70 km.
Where to stay:
Hotel Seaview, Kanyakumari Hotel Samudra
Best time to visit:
June to October (when the monsoon hits Kerala, making the place greener and more scenic)
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