On the road again in Kerala, but now in a Clubhouse bio-bubble

Traveli experiments with pandemic-appropriate travel, powered by social media, as Lakshmi Menon explores neighbourhoods to discover little-known arts, crafts and cuisine

August 20, 2021 04:52 pm | Updated August 31, 2021 04:37 pm IST - Kochi

Lakshmi Menon with Bose Krishnamachari (centre) and artists of Lokame Tharavadu, a mega art show by the Kochi Biennale Foundation, in Alappuzha

Lakshmi Menon with Bose Krishnamachari (centre) and artists of Lokame Tharavadu, a mega art show by the Kochi Biennale Foundation, in Alappuzha

Have you heard of the broom from Payyunur? Made with a special weed, it is used only to clean the sanctum sanatorium of temples. Are ariyundas , the palm-size, banana leaf-encased rice balls made at the crafts village, Sargaalaya in Vadakkara familiar? Ever work a turmeric-washed mundu from Kannur?

These are some of the things Lakshmi Menon discovered on a recent five day trip, Traveli. The unusual journey, shaped by conversations on the social audio app Clubhouse , was titled ‘Traveli’(Travel+ Maveli), and designed keeping pandemic-linked restrictions in mind.

Now, these curiosities are part of her ‘Onakaarzcha’, an Onam gift hamper.

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“The uniqueness of Traveli is its integration with Clubhouse, where people from across the globe could travel vicariously through me, as I experienced the nitty grities of the road,” says Lakshmi, explaining how while she travelled by car, people from the Traveli clubhouse joined in. Lakshmi has 7,800 followers and they are notified as soon as she opens the Traveli Club Room.

The Traveli team of Lakshmi Menon and Meenakshy Jyothish at Tellicherry Beach Park

The Traveli team of Lakshmi Menon and Meenakshy Jyothish at Tellicherry Beach Park

Her ‘hop-on, hop -off model’ also allowed people to co-travel in their vehicles along a planned route, A total of 700 kilometres in five days, from Kochi to Kozhikode, in North Kerala and returning, via Kochi to conclude at the ongoing art exhibition by Kochi Biennale Foundation, Lokame Tharavadu, in Alappuzha.

Read More | Kerala’s ayurvedic innovate to stay open during pandemic

Although there was a set route, Lakhsmi, who was accompanied by her niece Meenakshy Jyothish, stayed flexible through the journey so she could visit places and meet people suggested by her Clubhouse room. “For many of us, newly made friends on Clubhouse have become a parallel family. We have only heard their voices and not seen each other, so I thought we can explore local communities, and unearth hidden treasures in heritage, food, crafts and vocations — from disruptive startups to traditional agriculture,” explains Lakshmi.

Lakshmi amma making the brooms

Lakshmi amma making the brooms

Lakshmi and Muralee Thummarakkudy, a disaster management expert, launched Traveli Club on August 8, to launch Traveli and simular curated travels.

On the move

Her first stop was the Kochi Start Up Mission (KSUM), a start up eco-system to promote technology-based entrepreneurship. “The KSUM is a wonderful facility. With over 3,000 startups working in more than 40 incubators and 300 innovation centres, it is yet to be discovered by our own people,” says Lakshmi.

She also stopped to introduce artisans, such as Kailasan, a sculptor near her home at Neerpara, who makes stone images for temples in Tamil Nadu. “Temple sculpture is rare in Kerala and nobody knows of him here, his craft is worth exploring.”

Clay Fingers, a ceramic studio run by potter Haseena Suresh and photographer Suresh Subramanian, was her first stop en route to Thrissur, followed by a potter’s unit near Kolappuram Panampuzha.

The brooms of Payannur

The brooms of Payannur

Read More | The rise of ‘unlabelled COVID-19 virtual wards’ for comfort on Clubhouse

At Kozhikode she met more Clubhouse friends and visited Design Ashram, a versatile space of architects Brijesh Shaijal and Nimisha, on Gujarati Street. Her clubhouse friend Moosa Ka, well known for his homestay, Ayisha Manzil, at Tellicherry hosted the women. She visited The Thalassery Heritage Project here, currently in the works, and the Sargaalaya Crafts Village, where she is a design consultant.

At Neeleshwaram, she discovered a uniquely shaped basket “used by elderly men to store their clothes.” The basket is deep, flat and has vertical sides,” says Lakshmi. Another interesting discovery was the broom at Annur in Payannur. Made of a particular weed ( choothu ) that grows in the fields after a rice harvest, the broom, choothu machi , is now made by 80-year-old Lakshmi amma, one of the few artisans carrying on the craft.

She was accompanied by Kathakali and Kilikali, two Karuna dolls that she made as symbols of resilience to fight COVID-19 on her Traveli journey.

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