Category Archives: Andhra Pradesh

Traveling to Tirupati? Make it an interesting roadtrip

Well… Heading to seek blessings from Lord Venkateshwara at Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam? I’m not a religious person and I’m someone who seeks variety in my travels… The same route and same destination- I have sometimes felt myself being forced into a pilgrimage sort… No doubt, I have loved my general hike up the stairs to the venkateshwara hill, more for the beautiful views, stopover points like deer park, waterfalls and so many eateries all the way up. I have even tried the not-so-pious option of the quick VIP entry for the darshan. But, over time when the route becomes so predictable, even the journey kinda starts to hit you when everyone is sleeping on family vacations that are occasional and are spent on familiar roads!!! So that’s when I started to explore alternate routes and make family road trips more interesting!

While travelling to Tirupati, the usual route one tends to drive through, is the

Bangalore-KGF-Chittoor-Tirupati highway.

But the nice, straight, adventure less route has sometimes made my brother to doze off at the steering. So, the last time we planned to go, we tried taking a slightly longer but interesting route via

Bangalore-Madanapally-Horsley hills- Talakona- Tirupati.

Although this national highway was a single lane, it was absolutely scenic and had so many elements in the travelling. From barren flatlands to lush green hill stations, rustic countryside huts to erstwhile forts, scattered rocky hills to tempting mango orchards and horticultural farms, the route took us through several hues of the deccan plateau. To make it more interesting, we saw milestones with Karnataka’s Kannada and Andhra’s Telugu on either side of the same road marking the boundary of the two states. For the thought of knowing absolutely no words of the language on the other side of this state border, it felt like I was crossing an international border without a passport 😀

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The border crossing from Karnataka to Andhra Pradesh through papaya farms

So our itinerary was something like this:

  • Start from Bangalore by early morning (To avoid the traffic choc-o-bloc at KR Puram)
  • Reach Horsley hills for a late breakfast or a brunch (before the day trippers, riders and families pour in for lunch)- It is a short ride up but the view up there is worth it.
  • As we descended the hill, the drive further from there was gorgeous forcing us to take several photo stops.
  • Drive up to Talakona, the highest waterfall in Andhra. You can book your meal at the forest run jungle resort there before heading out to indulge yourself in some fun activities or getting drenched in the waterfall depending on the water level there. It is also wiser to leave from there before it is dark as it is a national park area and the wild animals get on the road post sunset (Click here for a detailed post on Talakona).
  • Reach Tirupati and take rest for the night.
  • Plan your darshan of the deity based on your convenience- a quick visit or a hike up to the temple and return to the room to rest.
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The view from Horsley hills

It is quite usual that a lot of people extend their pilgrimage until Srikalahasti. They combine the Vaishnavism faith (Lord Venkateshwara at Tirupati) and Shaivism faith (Lord Shiva at Srikalahasti) in the same trip since both are located not far from each other (More details on Srikalahasti in a separate post).

  • On the way to Kalahasti with a small deviation, is what I figured out was, that there is a 11th century fort at Chandragiri, the erstwhile capital of the Vijayanagar dynasty. It is beautiful and you will not regret the deviation.
  • Reach Kalahasti for the evening prayers and find an accommodation there.

So, are you done with the pilgrimage? Is your family feeling all blessed and happy now?

Good morning! Save your sleep for some other day and Buckle up. For I’m going to take you through a different route as you return home. You can thank me later 😉

  • Drive through eucalyptus and teak groves on a scenic off-road to reach Sullurpeta, Your only place to find decent food before you embark on a long day ahead.
  • Your next destination is 20kms away- thank me later. Drive through a straight dead road, cutting through what is the second largest Salt Lake in India- the Pulicat lake. You will love the drive and the destination.
  • Welcome, you have arrived at SHAR, Sriharikota island. India’s Large Rockets’ launching station (Click here to read my struggle to finally get there!). The space museum located on its premises is open to public with online registration. You can witness a rocket launch too if you time your trip well.
  • Coming back to the drive, on either side of this straight road you see is this never-ending stretch of salt. Depending on what season you are traveling, you will be warmly greeted by bright white dried salt flats or brackish molten salt. Spend some time at the watch tower there and you will not be disappointed by the variety of migratory birds you encounter. The entire area is declared as the Pulicat birds’ sanctuary.
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Top: Lake Pulicat enroute to SHAR in winter; Lake in Summer

Got fuel? Drive another 60 kms. to a tiny fishing hamlet called Pulicat located towards Chennai. The Pulicat lake is situated between two states, Andhra and Tamil Nadu. Flamingoes and Pelicans are a highlight here along with several other migratory birds that flock the swampy lake every season. Get yourself a boat ride with the local fisherman there and he will take you around the swamy waters. Watching the sunset at the beach will be a perfect way to wind up your day!

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The birds at Lake Pulicat

From Pulicat, you can take one of the below three highways to head back home:

  1. Drive through Tada and follow google maps to reach the Chittoor highway. Tada has a waterfall to visit and some decent places to stay overnight. It is a village/ township created for the tribes who were relocated from the Sriharikota island when the space station was established and human settlements had to be cordoned off in that island.
  2. Drive further bit to Chennai and take the highway with a pilgrimage / shopping stop at Kanchipuram (Click here to read about places to visit in Kanchipuram)
  3. Take the Vellore route with a stop at the Vellore fort and the Golden temple of Lakshmi. Yelagiri is a popular hill station among the urbanites and is just a short drive away from Vellore. I will personally not recommend it as I did not find worth in taking the effort to deviate from the highway.

If you wish to choose option 2 or 3 to reach Bangalore, do not forget to stuff yourself with some good Biriyani at Ambur, Bon appetite!

Ok, I know this is quite an elaborate itinerary which I usually don’t write about. But I did so, thinking it might help a lot of you out there who text me asking trip ideas from Bangalore. You can skip the temples if you are looking only for an offbeat drive route and I’m sure you will enjoy it.

Or do you want me to customize the itinerary based on fewer or more days you have at your disposal? Drop in your requests, doubts and comments below. I will be glad to help you 😊

Story of making my wish come true- Watching a Rocket launch

You know, I know, we all know… That what we know is NO rocket science 😛

I don’t know about the millennials.. But as a 90’s kid, I sure know how everyone who grew up in the Doordarshan era have lived through the excitement of watching a rocket launch on TV. It would be far from anything but a dream come true to watch one in real! That’s why I decided to explore the journey of the evolution of rocket science in India… and thus score off one item on my bucket list- to witness a rocket launch! (Click here to see my wish list)

India’s space history had a humble beginning in a coastal village called Thumba in the 1960s. India’s first rocket, the Nike Apache was assembled exactly where once stood an active church of Lady Magdalene. Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) is now called as the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) where a sounding rocket is launched on the third Wednesday of every month to date. As India’s space research requirements expanded, the need for a larger area laid foundation to the present day Satish Dhawan Space Centre, SHAR at Sriharikota. This is where the present day larger SLVs are launched.

This year 2019 is particularly of my interest for 2 reasons. One- we commemorate the Golden jubilee year of the formation of ISRO; Two- It’s the centenary year of the father of Indian space science, Dr.Vikram Sarabhai. (Click here to read the complete story). How does the country celebrate it? By launching a rocket… India’s largest rocket, taking the payload to the moon!

<20-Mar-19>
On a random thought, I was reminded of someone distantly telling me about visitors being allowed to watch rocket launches at VSSC. I browsed through their website and immediately registered myself to witness the next launch.17-Apr-19 it was. My visit was confirmed by an e-mail on the following day. I was as excited as an electron. The next task was reaching there. Trivandrum seemed to be quite far as per google maps. It required a minimum of 4days for a return trip and working out any mode of transport to reach there was both expensive and time consuming. Trains tickets were sold out and flight charges were already sky high. I decided to wait for a tatkal train ticket or book a last minute ticket to travel by bus. I had planned to fall sick to office.

<28-Mar-19>
After many failed attempts at registering themselves for watching the rocket launch along with me, my friends got a rejection mail. Reason: ‘17-Apr-19 was a government holiday, VSSC will remain closed’, I was informed of what the mail read. Now, we were all in a fix. I had an acceptance and they were rejected with a reason. I called up the VSSC office immediately to get a clarification. I was told that the festival date was frozen after my registration and hence the April’s launch would be re-scheduled to a later date. So now, considering that 15-May-19 was the 3rd wednesday of the next month, the officer talking on the other end of the phone obliged to reschedule my visit to that day. My mother, brother and friends decided to join me on that day by registering themselves separately. All registrations were accepted and we were sorted. The next step was getting approval for my week long’s absence from office. It was fairly easy since it was still a month away and I wasn’t throwing a sudden surprise to my boss. Train tickets were available in abundance and we were all happy with confirmed AC berths for a return trip.

<11-May-19>
My cellphone had been blinking after an SMS was received. I reached out to read it, a SMS from VSSC it was. “The rocket launch scheduled on 15-May-19 has been cancelled due to technical reasons”, it read. We were supposed to travel to Thumba the next day. All our hearts sunk in for a bit. But then, yeah.. We were quick to accept the fact that “Launching a real rocket isn’t something like burning Diwali fireworks. There are a lot of scientific calculations that goes into it based on the fitness of the machine itself and geo-spatial positioning. These launches are scheduled monthly events and we can definitely plan to make it some other time. I’d rather surprise my boss by turning up for work even on a planned holiday”, I thought.

<15-May-19>
It was the day when I was supposed to be witnessing a rocket launch, in real. This day, I was pleasantly informed by a friend that ISRO had opened its gates for public viewing of satellite launches at Sriharikota. “Oh WOW!” was my first exclamation. As the World celebrates 50 years of man’s first steps on the moon this year, India was gearing up for one of its ambitious mission to the moon. The Chandrayaan2 was scheduled for a 2019 launch. “I shall wait for this one!” I had decided. I kept close watch on the launch date. As days passed by, the launch was declared to be on 15-July-19. The next task was to keep close watch on the registration link on the ISRO website. Eventually, newspaper headlines read that the registration lines for would go live on 04-July-19. Only 5000 people were going to be let in, on a first-come-first-serve basis. It being a milestone project, we had to be real quick to apply and lucky to get the entry passes.

<04-July-19>
I was up and waiting for the stroke of the clock at 12.00.a.m. But for my disappointment, the website had hung. Waiting until the server got better didn’t seem to be a good idea but I had my apprehensions about losing a chance. But the sleep gods had started to take over me. I set the alarm at 05.00.a.m. hoping to try my luck anyway. Surprisingly, when I woke up at 5.00.a.m., the website still gave the same regret message. I decided to try again after reaching my workplace. It was around 09.30.a.m. when the lines got better and I had navigated into the 2nd page of registration. With a surprisingly slow server of the ISRO, it was 10.00.a.m. by the time I had a confirmed entry pass for 3 people including my mother, brother and myself. My friends on the other end had failed to get the passes. As expected, the tickets were SOLD OUT in less than half an hour of opening the registration lines. I was LUCKY!

<14-July-19>
The trio comprising mom, bro and myself set out on this epic road-trip to see our wish come true.. We were driving to Sriharikota, to witness the launch of India’s largest rocket till date- GSLV MkIII, carrying onboard, the Chandrayaan2. The satellite was scheduled to launch at 2.51.a.m. that midnight / early morning of the following day. The last town before Sriharikota was Sullurpeta, 25kms away. All hotel rooms were sold out and we had decided to stay inside our car and make do with the available fuel station or restaurants when we had to answer a nature’s call. Although the entry to the launch view gallery was scheduled to be open at 10.00.p.m., we ensured that we reached there by 08.00.p.m. to avoid the traffic and the rush. When we reached there, the rocket garden at the entrance already seemed to be flooded with media-persons and the visitors alike. When this Bahubali rocket blasts off, the entire island lights up like day, the window glasses rattle in Sullurpeta, a visitor told us adding to our excitement. When the gates opened, we were among the earliest visitors who occupied the seats of our choice. We watched the crowd slowly pour in to the gallery and the excitement was only getting higher with passing time. We were still over 4 hours away from having our wish come true.

The Rocket Garden with the scale models of the SLVs

While the entire country was glued to their TV screens to watch a nail biting finale of cricket world cup in which India was out of the tournament long ago, I was part of a relatively smaller crowd that had gathered to cheer for India on one of its greatest mission to date.

At a distant sight of view, the red lights were blinking on the cranes and the umbilical tower at the launch pad. The emcee was building up the momentum for the final showdown. The cheer for India and ISRO reverberated in the gallery as the countdown and live videos of the satellite were displayed on the large LED screens.

At around 57 minutes ahead of the launch, the emcee’s voice dropped. With a pause she said, “The launch has been temporarily withheld due to some reasons. Anyway, we shall continue to do whatever we are doing right now, to cheer for this project.” Even before she could complete, another voice echoed in at the 56th minute. “This is the director talking from the control room. Due to a technical snag identified, this project remains called off for today”, he said. There was a sudden silence as the crowd sat in disbelief. The emcee too hadn’t seen that announcement coming and wasn’t really prepared to take that. She repeated the exact words of the director to the crowd. The audience continued to sit in silence. Clearly, disbelief loomed large. Every soul in the gallery hoped that it was a prank and Chandrayaan 2.0 was still going to take off in a few minutes. The emcee told them to disperse.I felt like my head was going blank and it felt like the emcee’s voice was fading out. I waited for the launch hoping it would take off after the crowd cleared out. “This project remains called off for TODAY”, I tried to understand what had just been said. “The mission was not CANCELLED, it was only POSTPONED to a later day..” I reassured myself. “I shall be back… to cheer for my country’s greatest scientists.. for propelling India’s ambitious mission..” I decided.

<18-July-19>

Amidst lot of speculations, the new launch date was set to be 22-July-19. ‘You can reconfirm your visit to the launch view gallery by clicking on the link provided.’ an email from ISRO read. I wasted no time in updating my entry pass as a constant smile of re-assurance prevailed over my face on getting to go again. Unlike my previous visit to Sriharikota, I decided to contain my enthusiasm this time. I didn’t care the delay, all I wanted was a successful mission.

<22-July-19>

Today, we are here at the gallery already at 10.00.a.m., we are the early birds who have come here to occupy the prime view seats, the drizzle of rain since morning hasn’t dampened our spirits. People are slowly trickling in, but they all seem to keep it a low key affair this time. The momentum was given a boost by Mr.K.Sivan, the Chairman, ISRO by coming down to the launch view gallery to meet and greet the enthusiastic crowd. We were all briefed about the unknown facts about #chandrayaan2 by Mr.Ranganathan, the project director for the stage 1 of GSLV mk III.

Top: Launch pad on 15-July-19; Below: launch pad on 22-July-19

The first visuals of the Bahubali rocket all set for its trip to the moon from the launch pad finally appeared on the LED screens and crowd had started to get eclectic as the countdown started. And well, Finally the emphatic countdown has begun and we see everyone more confident than ever… 10..9..8..7..6..5..4..3..2..1……

The flight off moment
The flight off moment

It was SHEER sight of a lifetime… an impendingly roaring bright yellow mass of flame blasted off from amid the forest cover, separating itself from the umbilical tower.. A sonic boom travelled afar and within a few seconds, it disappeared into thick clouds. Although the launch vehicle lifted off at 2.43.p.m., the cheers from the control room came in 16 minutes later when the 3,850-kg spacecraft was successfully placed into the earth’s orbit and the first signal of separation was received from the satellite. CHANDRAYAAN2 on its trip to the moon, with a successful launch!

I’ve got Goosebumps all over me!

Happy Chandrayaan to ya’ll!

Here’s a quick summary of India’s mission of landing on other celestial bodies outside earth:

  • Circa 2008: Chandrayaan1, India’s first ever mission to the moon, put India on the world map for being the 4th country to land on the moon. Although it was functional for 312 days against the intended life of 2yrs, it was still able to achieve 95% of its expected tasks. That was HUGE for a first Indian- home made launch vehicle.
  • Circa 2013: Mangalyaan1 was a first for any country to have a successful landing on the Mars on a maiden attempt. What’s bonus? The orbitor that was designed with an intended life of 6 months is still orbiting around the Mars, well into its 5th year as on date.
  • Circa 2019: Chandrayaan2, India’s 2nd mission to the moon made it the first country to land on the southern pole of the moon. Why is this mission so important? This satellite will be launched in a GSLV MkIII, the largest launch vehicle ever built by India. The success of this mission will pave way with more thrust to India’s first manned mission to space- The Gaganyaan, which will also happen with the same launch vehicle.

Through these successful launches, India has created a niche for itself for producing successful space projects at lowest prices. These entirely indigenous projects which cost way lesser than several hollywood movies speak volumes of the capabilities of the scientists of my country.

As someone rightly said, so many countries have the moon on their flags, India is one of the only 4 countries to have their flag on the moon. There can’t be more reasons to applaud ISRO and be proud of India, my INCREDIBLE country!

From top right clockwise: 1: ISRO Chairman Mr.K.Sivan addressing the crowd, 2.Mr.Ranganathan, project director for Chandrayaan stage 1; 3: My brother and mom in the crowd; 4: Mom and myself after the launch
From top right clockwise: 1: ISRO Chairman Mr.K.Sivan addressing the crowd, 2.Mr.Ranganathan, project director for Chandrayaan stage 1; 3: My brother and mom in the crowd; 4: Mom and myself after the launch

Love Biriyani? Here’s one from every Indian State

Biriyani is one dish that needs no introduction. Although the earliest roots of Biriyani can be traced back to middle-east, Biriyani was brought to the Northern India by the Muslim rulers who largely settled there and the Arab merchants who came to the southern India for trade. Today, Biriyani is more of an emotion for every foodie. Hence, an essential part of Indian food culture. Anybody visiting India has one thing to strike off in their list of ‘To do in India- Eat Biriyani’. But, India is a country of diversity and in no way can the humble Biriyani be left behind without being different.

While Biriyani is a very generic moniker for this spicy, aromatic and delicious preparation of rice, it comes in various forms. These forms are born out of the local influences of available ingredients, regional cuisine, rice variety and flavor preferred. There are mainly 2 types of making it: Kucchi (Raw marinated meat is cooked together between layers of raw rice) and Pakki (Meat and rice are separately cooked with all the spices and served together). While Biriyani is predominantly a non-vegetarian dish, it has been over time tuned for the vegetarian masses. Some versions are named after the place it originated from and some are synonymous with certain families or shops that created the variants.

So, while you enjoy exploring India, here is something for you to try out at each of the 29 states of this huge country- Biriyani.

PLEASE NOTE: There are a few states in India where I have not yet visited and hence do not have sufficient information about the local Biriyani flavours. It will be greatly appreciated if you can help me fill up these empty spaces by dropping your suggestions in the comments below.

  1. Andhra Pradesh– Doodh ki Biriyani is something that stands out from the rest of the list in flavor and colour. Here, the meat and the rice are cooked together in milk instead of water. Vegetarians can drool over Avakaya Biriyani. This is made by mixing a raw mango and mustard oil pickle with steamed basmati rice.
  2. Arunachal Pradesh(**Need help)
  3. Assam– Kampuri biriyani is a delightful recipe that has originated in a place called Kampur in this north-eastern state.
  4. Bihar– Champaran is a culturally important region in the country that also gives its name to the popular non-vegetarian dish of the state. The flavours of Champaran mutton or Ahuna mutton goes well great in our list. What makes its preparation stand out is the usage of black pepper corns, desicated coconut and whole bulbs of garlic cooked along with the meat. The garlic pulp is then squeezed into the preparation.
  5. Chattisgarh(**Need help)
  6. Goa– With a large number of influences from the erstwhile Muslims, Portuguese and the Saraswata Bramins of Konkan, Goan traditional food is an amalgamation of many cuisines. The Goan fish biriyani is a must try (the fish used may differ) which derives its flavour from coconut and red kokum. It is light on spices.
  7. Gujarat– In a state where vegetarianism is largely preferred, Memoni biriyani comes as a surprise for mutton lovers. It has its origin from Sindh, the region in Pakistan with whom the state shares its border.
  8. Haryana– Although, this state doesn’t have a biriyani it reckons itself with, its long association with the capital city, Delhi can be spoken about. Delhi Biriyani itself has so many versions depending on the part of the city it originated in and the purpose it was created for. Nizammuddin biriyani, Shahajanabad biriyani are a few to name. There is yet another twist to it in the form of the Achaari biriyani. Here, rice is mixed with pickles (Achaar in Hindi). Karim’s biriyani is served from a kitchen that dates back to the mughals (contributed by trippin_on_life).
  9. Himachal(**Need help)
  10. Jammu & Kashmir– Its large association with the Muslim rulers has lead into the creation of the Kashmiri Biriyani (non-veg) or the Kashmiri Pulav (vegetarian dish). Mutanjan biriyani is a dish that stands out in the entire list as it is a sweet form of the otherwise spicy biryani.
  11. Jharkand(**Need help)
  12. Karnataka– Susprisingly, my homestate has all the influences. The Northern part of the state is known for the Kalyani biriyani that was created by the Nawabs of Kalyani who ruled the areas around Bidar district. This is a delicacy cooked with buffalo meat. The coastal part of the state has its influence from the middle-eastern traders who eventually invented the local forms. Beary biriyani is named after the coastal trading community and Bhatkali biriyani with its taste influenced by the Navayath cuisine.
  13. Kerala– The Northern Kerala (Malabar region) is known for its Thalassery biriyani and Kozhikodan biriyani, the middle part of the state has its lesser known dish called Rawther biriyani, created by the Rawther family who lived around the Palakkad area. The Kuzhimanthi biriyani, a form of Yemeni rice is slowly catching up with the locals in and around Cochin. All variants have been largely influenced by the immigrants and traders from the middle-east. Vegetarians, don’t worry. You can dig into delicious plates of Kappa biriyani (tapioca) and puttu biriyani.
  14. Madhya Pradesh– Although this state does not have its own biriyani form, Tehari biriyani is prepared all over northern India. It is the vegetarian version of the Mughlai biriyani which goes by different stories of its origin.
  15. Maharastra– While the Mughals have influenced the spicy Aurangabad biriyani, the Bombay Biriyani is a world apart with its tangy and sweet taste derived from the kewra, potatoes and plums used in its preparation. The Bohri patra biriyani, a name derived in combination of two words- Bohra (the sect who created this recipe) and patra (leaves of colocassia) is a hidden secret of Mumbai.
  16. Manipur(**Need help)
  17. Meghalaya– Although this state doesn’t have a dish called ‘biriyani’ on its menu of khasi cuisine, Jadoh is a dish that’s very close. It is a spicy preparation of rice cooked either with pork or chicken. What sets it apart is that all its ingredients are cooked with the respective animal blood (pork or chicken) instead of water.
  18. Mizoram(**Need help)
  19. Nagaland(**Need help)
  20. Odisha– while there is nothing specifically called the Odiya biriyani, what comes close is the Cuttacki Biriyani, created by a restaurant in cuttack. With the flavours largely derived out of Bengali influence, the ingredients are cooked in Rose water.
  21. Punjab– Punjab doesn’t have its own biriyani recipe. Its proximity to the Pakistan borders gets it the Sindhi biriyani and the Bohri biriyani.
  22. Rajasthan-Jodhpuri Kabuli is a vegetarian recipe deriving its name from the city of Jodhpur in Rajastan and Kabul in Afghanistan. Mewa biriyani is another local taste that’s slightly sweet and garnished with nuts and dehydrated fruits.
  23. Sikkim(**Need help)
  24. Tamil Nadu– While the Nawabs of Arkot influenced the famous Ambur / Vaniyambadi biriyani; the thalapakkatti family created the Dindigul biriyani and the business community of Chettiars brought in their knowledge of spices giving form to the Chettinad biriyani.
  25. Telangana– Hyderabadi Biriyani needs no description. Available in both the kacchi and pakki forms, it was patronized largely during the nawabs of Hyderabad.
  26. Tripura– Although not a native dish, it can still be recognized with chevon biryani due to its proximity to Bangladesh. The chevon biriyani or Dhaka biriyani is the Bangladeshi twist to this incredible rice preparation.
  27. Uttar Pradesh– Influenced by the Awadhi cuisine, the Lucknowi biriyani is flavourful and a burst of cinnamon to your tastebuds. Its lesser known relative is the Moradabadi biriyani.
  28. Uttarakhand(**Need help)
  29. West Bengal– Last on the list, but one of the most popular forms in the country is the Kolkata biriyani. With potato as it’s key ingredient, this preparation of subtle flavours is influenced by the Awadhi cuisine.

Natural wonders of South India – My favourites

India has intrigued the world with its history, geography and culture- each individually dating back to several ages ago. I have been no different from the rest of the world. The LostLander has begun to embrace her landings after getting lost at random places in her incredible country. The more she is exploring her country, the more she has been discovering about its descendance and getting mind blown with new discoveries each time. Author Sanjeev Sanyal writes, “The history of India’s physical geography is older than that of its civilization or even that of the human race. The subcontinent has been a distinct geological entity for millions of years. Therefore, to understand India, we must go back to the very beginning.”

The fact that it is called as a subcontinent is associated to a larger theory of it being separated out of a supercontinent called ‘Rodinia’ and drifting apart from Africa, Antarctica and then Madagascar before it struck with the Asian continent. No, I’m not time traveling that far for now! It was just to put an exclamation to how amazing this country’s geography has evolved to be and what the natural bounty as we called it, has to offer in this beautiful country to an explorer… To take my article forward and with no biases, I divide the geography of this subcontinent into North and the South, just by drawing an imaginary line passing through its center, Seoni in Madhya Pradesh. Here is a humble attempt to take my readers through some of the beautiful destinations I have been to enjoy the natural marvels of Southern India. They are in random order and listed as and when I recollected them. For more details, you need to read my individual posts on them just by clinking on their respective tags!

1. Kurusudai islands: Nestled off the coast of Rameswaram in the Gulf of Mannar, it is the only place in the world where the oldest and the last surviving living fossil is found in the world.

2. The table tops of Maharashtra: Be it the beautifully painted pink valleys of the Khas plateau, valleys of Matheran, Mahabaleshwar or any place thought of for a scenic drive for the Mumbaikars- have all formed out of large volcanic eruptions as the subcontinent merged with Asia. Not just that, these geographical features were strategically used by Shivaji to stop the invasion by the Mughals and hence called the Deccan traps.

3. Limestone caves of Andhra Pradesh:(Click to read article) Belum caves, a part of a larger cave complex in the Erramalai region is the largest and longest cave system that is open to public. Similarly, the Borra caves is the deepest in the country. The speleothem formations are worth a visit which have formed due to continuous flowing of water over a thousand years, easily dating back to the Archaean age.

4. Gandikota: People call it as the ‘Grand Canyon of India. It is a beautiful gorge formed by the Pennar river as it squeezes from between the rock formation that has played witness to several kingdoms in history.

5. Eastern Ghats: Although I use a very generic term that specifies an entire region, they are older and mineral rich than their popular counterparts on the western side. All, again a resultant of several tectonic activities in the event of formation of the Indian mass.

6. Dhanushkodi: This abandoned town has more than just history of a cyclone. The revered ‘RamaSethu’ or the Adam’s bridge was formerly considered to be the largest Tombolo in the world and is believed to have formed due to the drifting of India and the Lankan land masses several thousand years ago..

Well… If all these have been the outcomes of several tectonic activities of the earth over a million years, there are yet several other amazing things that nature has to offer in the Southern peninsula.

7. Have you been to Wayanad in Northern Kerala? There is a heart shaped lake after a good climb up in the western Ghats. It’s the nature’s way of telling ‘I Love You’!

8. Heard of the Barren island? It is the only active volcano in India, with the most recent eruption being in 2017. The sea area around it is considered to be one of the best dive sites in the world!

9. And then there is Baratang islands– It is the only mud volcano in India, situated in the Andaman group of islands.

10. Have you seen the Purple hills? Where do you think the Nilgiri hills in the western Ghats derive their name from? They’re so called because these green verdant hills are painted blue/purple (Neela in Hindi) by the Neelakurinji flowers, something that blooms only once in twelve years. The latest mass-blossoming being in 2018.

11. Cruised through the canals of Kuttanad? Mostly popular among the honeymooners and families alike for its backwaters and houseboats, what many don’t know about this region is that it is the only region in the world where paddy farming is done below sea level.

12. How about a boat ride in the Mangrove forests of the Bay of Bengal? The Sundarbans and Pichavaram forests are the first and the second largest mangrove marshlands in the world. A world heritage site that they are, an extremely important part of the ecology.

13. What happens when a meteor hits the earth? A massive crater is formed giving form to Lonar lake in Maharashtra. This Geo-heritage monument saline soda lake is the only high velocity impact crater lake on earth.

14. Seen the waterfalls of the Deccan plateau? Be it the Chitrakoot falls in Chhattisgarh, Gokak falls in Karnataka, Athirapally in Kerala or Hogeynakal in Tamil Nadu… They’re all so good they can give a good competition to the Niagara!

15. Heard of the Sentinelese tribesmen in the Andaman sea? They’ve long avoided contact with the outside world and their gene pool is believed to be one of the crucial links to early man and the evolution of mankind on the planet.

What India has to offer is abundant! And these are only a few places that I have been to in the southern India. Do you have any recommendations? Have I missed out on anything? I would LOVE to know… Please drop n your suggestions, recommendations, feedback in the comments section below 😊

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Climbing the highest waterfall in Andhra Pradesh- Talakona

It is needless to elaborate on the names Tirumala and Tirupathi! Famous as the richest temple in the world, the seat of Swamy Venkateshwara- the lord of seven hills. What goes beyond just this RICH temple is its geographical location. For someone who has been there and used the 11km long stairs to get to the top, I’m sure he must have enjoyed the multiple pit stops and deviations off the course to see the ‘Papavinasanam’ and ‘Akasha Ganga’ waterfalls enroute. And then there is the magnificent Silathoranam, the natural arch bridge formed due to volcanic erosions several million years ago… As if these pit stops weren’t enough, one is bound to get enchanted by the stunning view of the entire range of hills surrounding the temple with the Nagari quartzite formations… Ever since I had been there, exploring these hills has always been on my bucket-list… And when I chanced upon an opportunity to do it over a weekend, I jumped in with excitement. Taking cue from a random couch-surfing meet-up, we had decided to hit the roads to explore the hill ranges of Eastern Ghats. So on a Saturday morning, we started from Bangalore before sunrise to see the highest waterfall in the state of Andhra Pradesh, nestled in the Venkateshwara National Park. While I slept for most of the way, I was awakened to a blurred view of a fiery-red sunrise seen through the dew-laden window glass of our car, cruising through misty roads with hazy paddy fields around. We stopped by at one of the several restaurants on the way for a nice south-Indian breakfast and coffee.

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With good asphalted road all the way, we arrived at the forest check-post at Talakona. While our friend was getting the required permits / entry tickets into the national park, we got chatting with a fruit vendor who let us try the variety of fruits in his cane basket which all tasted as sweet as nectar. He then told us that he could be our guide (at a small cost) and show us some offbeat corners of the forest. We agreed upon the idea and promised to buy more fruits from him on our return to make up for his business. We then reached the eco-lodge, managed by the forest department and ordered for food which would be kept ready by the time we returned from our trek from the woods. We then drove up, till the Siddeshwara Swamy temple and parked our vehicle near the foothills of the waterfalls. Our guide took us off the course from there on through stone-laid stairs that seemed like we were walking into oblivion in the jungle that is notoriously famous for red-sandalwood smugglers and the elusive beasts- the Royal Bengal tigers. Our first stop was at this view point from where most of the green and brown stretch of alternating forest and quartzite was seen. After a short climb thereon, our guide made us cross a stream of water and took us to the edge of the rocky path. The stream now seemed like it was jumping down in a mad rush from the cliff we were standing upon, and we could hear the screaming of several tourists down beneath. That’s when our guide burst the bubble for us- We were standing right on top of the highest waterfall of the state. It was a nerve wracking experience to stand atop there and watch the water gush down under our feet and have a post-monsoon gorgeous view of the green ranges.

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The view of the ranges atop the waterfall

We were then guided through a canopy of lush green trees and hanging branches along the flowing water, at the end of where our feet stopped! Stopped in amusement… Amusement at what our eyes were seeing… A thick moss laden semi-circular rocky wall due to the flowing water over ages across whom several creepers hung and the water dropped down with all grace. This entire set-up of nature reflected in the mirror-like crystal clear water of the pond formed beneath where the golden fishes were enjoying their undisturbed swim. The rocks inside the pool made it appear rather shallow and was enticing us for a quick swim! With absolutely nobody else in the place- No exaggeration, it felt like we had found our long lost connection with nature right there! All unprepared for a swim, we put our legs into the freezing cold water to get a nice fish pedicure that de-stressed the city souls in us!

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The pool atop the Talakona waterfall

After getting our natural fish pedicure done, we headed back towards the base of the Talakona waterfall. But, it was a different route this time… It was a beautiful path with a canopy of trees, a deep gorge to our left and the massive rocky caves to our right accompanied by an eerie silence of the jungle… At the end was another waterfall. It was one of the levels of this multi-tiered waterfall which we had to cross through. For a look from the distance, we could not gauge the level of difficulty until we actually got on the rocky path to cross it. While each one of us mocked and took fun in laughing at why the other person couldn’t cross it with ease, we dreaded our own feat of the waterfall-crossing when we slipped, slid and even glided across the super slippery rock over which the algae had settled making it an armed to the teeth adventure. We had a friend who slid and landed right at the edge of the cliff, just an inch further would have taken him rolling down the multiple tiers of the highest waterfall of the state 😛 All said and done, with we being drenched to our bones, our jaws chattering with cold and an unexplainable feeling of accomplishment, we had reached the last part of our hike.

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The path across the caves

We then walked down to get a good look of the mighty Talakona waterfall from its base right-up, to understand where we had just arrived from… We then drove to the eco-lodge to dry ourselves, get some food and to call it a wrap for an eventful day that we concluded at twilight!

Marvel at Caves and Crannies- Kurnool

A trip that was pending since over two years finally took wings last weekend. The places covered were an unusual combination of natural and contrived elements that created beauty. Had the both not been there, the existence of these places would have a lesser value than what it is today. An overnight drive was aimed at starting our trip from Bethamcherla- a town in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh. A couple of articles on the internet had caught our interest to visit this place which is a treasure trove for archaeological studies. Invaluable Pleistocene remains have been excavated from several caves that are scattered around this region. We wanted to explore the Yerrajala & Billa Surgam caves in particular after being impressed by the photos online. However, even after talking to several localites, we failed miserably to get anywhere close to the places we were looking for. Language was a BIG concern there and for any small enquiries too, the curious people would throng in large numbers and stare at us while we were trying to communicate with our hand signs. Luckily, we had a Telugu-ite in our group who would do most of the talking throughout the trip. So, the day started somewhat on a low note.

As per the plan, the first day was a long one with target being to reach Gandikota for sunset. We had already spent 3 hours doing nothing and we decided to skip Yerrajala and proceed with the rest of the itinerary. The winding roads of Tadipatri are carved out of the rocky hills that are rich sources of the infamous Kadapa stones used in constructions. The sedimentary rocks that have formed over years can be seen in layers which make driving along this stretch a delight! We stopped at several spots to photograph the beautiful landscape as we drove through to reach our next destination- Yaganti. This is an ancient cave temple patronized by the rulers of the Sangam dynasty. Keep left is the rule one needs to bear in mind in order to cover all the caves located around, where each one has a special story to tell. Just keep taking the stairs whenever & wherever you spot them so that you don’t miss out on any caves. A flight of steep stairs takes you to Agastya Cave where Lord Shiva is worshipped. And yet another chamber leads you to Lord Venkateshwara. Although, the lord is otherwise known for all the wealth, the minimal deco and the dimly lit chamber has some positive energy that emanates out of the place. We needed a little more time than what we had thought of to observe this place where the art, history & mythology co-existed.

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The temple pond at Yaganti- amidst a backdrop of several caves

On our return, we halted at Banaganapally village, in front of a mansion that stands magnificently atop a small hillock by the road side. An old rusted name board read- ‘Nawab’s bungalow’. Though the exteriors have stood the ravages of time, the interiors of this imposing structure built of wood and rock is crumbling. Inspite of being featured in several movies, nobody really knows who the Nawab who owns this bungalow is. Further into the drive, we stopped by for a quick group photo at the Owk reservoir. We were stopped quite literally while we were trying to capture a photo with the serene backdrop of the dam. The wind blew so hard that we were struggling to move against the strong currents and felt stationary most of the times. It was my first time experience of fighting the wind. I really wonder how strong a storm could be..!!

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Having found NO hotels for breakfast, it was a hungry drive down to the Belum village. After wandering around, we settled down to have lunch at the only A/C- restaurant in the region (with no electricity for A/C service) on a recommendation by a localite. Not like we had an option either..!! After a quick lunch, we drove over to Belum caves. As expected, the weekend crowd was insane but the weather was in our favour on that breezy afternoon! On a flat/potent fertile land that seemed fit for cultivation, there appears a deep well like opening in the land. A steep flight of stairs takes one by surprise as he enters the infamous caves. The magnificent stalactites & stalagmites formations of limestone make Belum caves the longest and the 2nd largest complex in the country. Several ancient remnants of pre-historic human dwellings and relics of the Buddhist era have been discovered marking the caves on the map of archaeological and culturally important places. Due to the crowd, high humidity levels and low level of oxygen inside, most of us had a severe headache by the time we walked out of the place to sunlight. But, whatever the hardship, it was totally worth every drop of sweat.

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Inside the Belum caves

We were running behind schedule and we had to zip, zap, zoom… to reach to the sunset point… After a 2-3 hrs drive, we were excited as we spotted the windmills dotting the distant horizon and the long wall of the Jammalamadagu fortress spread across bordering the land’s end. It was an indication that we were approaching our destination- Gandikota. But the sunset..??? Hell yeah! We did make it in time, but the clouds played spoilt sport! Never mind, we still had chores to accomplish before it was dark. We wanted to go where the road took us and that’s the reason we hadn’t booked our stay. We were carrying tents and sleeping bags as backup with us. The trip had been good so far and we hoped that all went fine till the end.. As expected, the rooms were all occupied at Haritha- The only stay option around for miles (A resort run by the AP tourism). We negotiated with the caretakers to let us use the washrooms and dining facility. After striking a deal with a couple of villagers, we hiked down the steep gorge to pitch our tents for the night. It was really dark and well past 9.00.p.m. when we started our descent down to the river ridge. The descent seemed longer than expected with the luggage and the total darkness adding to our woes even while a few loose stones rolled down our feet as we paved our way down carefully. Once we reached the bottom, it was immense silence that had engulfed the calm environment and our cubicle bred minds. The fresh cool air filled our souls. It had been a windy day throughout and the river side could’nt be left apart. We managed to pitch one tent with great difficulty and the rest decided to just cuddle inside their sleeping bags. The weather wasn’t harsh and the cool temperature remained pleasant right till dawn. Only thing we were hoping for was that no water was let from the nearby dam and we all don’t get washed away in the dark 😉

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That’s the view from our tent- from the Pennar river bed

We all were awakened by the first rays of dawn and opened our eyes to a dream… We all knew we were camping on the ridge of river Pennar but only with sunlight, we realized that we were actually sleeping on the river bed!! No wonder that the soil felt moist and loose while we were struggling to pitch our tents last night!! With the mighty gorge standing all around us, our hearts skipped more than a few beats at the splendid view of the painterly beauty. We strolled across the river bed till both ends of the fort wall taking in sufficient clean air into our lungs through the billowing winds and the burnt yellow-green grass. We cooked maggi and ate bread-jam for breakfast and soon, we had to call it ‘Pack-up’ un-desiring lest face the brunt of the burning sun while we climbed back with the entire load. Once on top, we explored the view point, the old mosque, the fort remnants, the granary and the temples in the village. The entire village exists within the fort walls. It was a beautiful place to bid good bye!

The Pennar gorge at Gandikota Photo credits: Arun Kumar B.R.
The Pennar gorge at Gandikota Photo credits: Arun Kumar B.R.

For a pious traveler, a visit to the Lakshminarayanaswamy temple in Kadiri town and the Madhvarayaswamy temple at Gorantla, both from the Vijayanagara era would complete their trip. Half a day could be well spent at the Lepakshi complex too if opted for which lies on the way. The drive back to Bangalore through the bypass road was another highlight where we travelled mostly through protected forest reserve area. The Rollapadu bird sanctuary- the only habitat for the largest flying bird in the world, the endangered – ‘Great Indian Bustard’ in Andhra lies just a small deviation away. The mighty rocks balancing on each other and the greenery all along just made every bit of the trip so joyful. We had to reach Bangalore to drop a friend at the airport for her late evening flight! Thus ended a quick weekend… like zip, zap zoom…!!!

A corridor of the hanging pillar- Lepakshi

It is said that Jataayu- The vulture (mentioned in the Ramayana) fell here when hit by Ravana. Later, Rama is said to have commanded the bird to rise- Le Pakshi, and hence the name of that town.

Initially the plan took off with the idea of covering a lot of places along the way.. A super awesome NH7 led us straight till Bagepalli- From there a small deviation took us to Lepakshi.. But this place is a storehouse of history.. Every stone here has a tale to tell.. Be it from mythology or the recent past history of the Vijayanagar empire.. We walked carefully reading every story that unfolded at every step.. and that ended for more than half a day..

Left: The perfect man; Right: The perfect woman

The sculptures in the main hall of the Veerabhadra temple gives us the specifications to measure the beauty of a perfect man and a perfect woman.

Side entrance to the Natya Mantapa
Side entrance to the Natya Mantapa

Nagalingesvara- Carved out of a natural boulder to the west of the shrine, is a seven-hooded Naga sheltering a black-polished lingam cradled in its ribbed coils. A saptamatrika panel is placed below to the right. History tells us that the sculptor had come home for lunch one day. His mother said she would be back soon with food. She was surprised when she had returned. She exclaimed “Oh my son..!! You have carved such a big and a beautiful statue in such a short interval.” Even before she completed, a big crack developed across the linga. This makes it un-worthy of any Pooja/ offerings at the temple.

The Nagalingesvara idol with two different views

Among the several ornate pillars that decorate the temple corridor, one takes a special mention in several architectural marvels lists- The hanging pillar. It doesn’t rest completely on the ground and hence a sheet of paper can be easily passed through the gap under it.

This Kalyana mantapa has been depicted as the site of the celestial wedding between Shiva and Parvati, and each of the pillars is a celebration of this – drummers and musicians adding to the atmosphere and lesser gods and goddesses blessing the couple. A similar place is believed to exist in Kailasa and it was therefore pronounced that a place more beautiful shouldn’t exist on the earth. And hence, this remains unfinished.

Sita Paada
Sita Paada

As the history says, the place could have got its name referring to the two brothers- Veeranna and Virupanna, under King Achutaraya of the Vijayanagara dynasty. The latter who was the treasurer of Penukonda province (today’s Anantpur) spared no expense to have the temple built the way he wished as a tribute to the Lord, as his mute son regained his speech after playing near the Udbhava moorthy of Shiva which was on this hillock, leading to suspicions from the king about embezzlement of money. In grief and in anticipation of royal punishment, Virupanna plucked out his own eyes and threw them against the wall. And thus, lepa-akshi (blinded eyes). Till date one can find those blood stains on that wall. It has even been tested and proven that the blood stains are indeed real..!!

Ancient paintings on the temple ceiling
Ancient paintings on the temple ceiling
The traditional Lepakshi prints found on Sarees were sourced from these pillars
The traditional Lepakshi prints found on Sarees were sourced from these pillars

The Basava / Nandi is the largest monolithic Nandi in India. It is built facing the Naga Linga within the temple complex. However, this is half a kilometer away from the main temple.

Basavanna- Guarding the entrance
The largest monolithic Nandi in the world- Facing the Veerabhadra temple
We were told that Jataayu died in another place i.e. about 2 kms from the temple. But there isn’t any walkable road to the exact spot. This is quite sad that a place of such importance is not maintained or highlighted anywhere in the map..
But, overall- it was a wonderful trip with a lot of gyan on history and the epics.. that too at a distance of just about 120kms from Bangalore..!!