Category Archives: Overnighters

Journey away from Bangalore that includes night journey and an overnight stay… Especially ones planned on long weekends with Saturday and Sunday off :)

Camping in the Indian forests of the African tribes- Dandeli Jungle Camp

Being abundantly blessed with natural beauty, Anshi National park and Dandeli Tiger reserve is one of the first hotspots of the elusive black panthers in India. Apart from its paper mills, Dandeli is also known as the ‘Rishikesh of the South’ for its river rafting in the waters of River Kali. As if these weren’t reasons enough for me to backpack, I got invited to stay at the ‘Dandeli Jungle Camp’. What better way to reconnect the lost bond with nature than camping in the woods? I jumped to grab-in when opportunity struck! This was a Solo-trip that was long due and I had alighted for sunrise at the Dandeli bus stand on a Saturday morning.

After a 30mins drive through the forests to Pradhani, a further off-roading of 2kms from the main road lead me to this simple homestay and camp run in the lap of nature amid the woods. The eerie silence of the elusive woods and the stridulations of the crickets instantly calmed my soul by responding to the deep calls of nature. A basic cottage with all the essential and neat amenities was awaiting me in the midst of the jungle overlooking a farm of areca and mangoes. I couldn’t ask for a better place to be, to feed the wanderlust and nomad in me for the weekend. I was excited to be greeted by Malabar giant squirrels and sambar deer at my doorstep to say the least. One can also avail their tenting facilities with bon-fire if it’s a bunch of friends traveling together. Mr.Dharmesh, the ever smiling owner of the property says that the camp was started by a French lady 3 decades ago from whom he has taken over so that he could settle down in the woods after he quit his well paying job at one of the top-star hotels in Bangalore. He had planned a detailed itinerary for me and I can’t thank him enough for his warm hospitality. After dumping my luggage and a nice lunch, I set out for some exploration.

View from the Supa dam backwaters
View from the Supa dam backwaters

A stroll along the dwindling lonely road on the backwaters of Supa dam offered a panoramic view of the distant hills, only if there was good rainfall- it would have been a gorgeous sight. After a quick stop-over at the tribal shop to relish a glass of kokum juice and buy some jackfruit chips and papads to take back home, I was taken to Syntheri rocks. This is a very beautiful little place located deep in the woods and formed by rich mineral ores that have formed beautiful rock patterns by standing the test of time. A drive to the Kavla caves, A coracle ride in the ferocious rapids of the Kali river, a dip in the natural Jacuzzi, crocodile walk are some of the other activities included in the package that kept me busy through the day. An evening walk in the woods around the property with a personal guide was a memorable time spent identifying the calls of various birds and inhabitants of the forest. The large number of hornbills that fly into their nests in this forest at sunset or catching the sunrise from my window are only some of the fancy things that my stay offered to me.

Syntheri rocks
Syntheri rocks, Photo by: Gowtham Shastry

The next day, Mr.Dharmesh personally dropped me off for the early morning bird watching walk that was arranged at the Dandeli timber depot. This first time experience of birding is something that I will cherish for a long time and is written about as a separate post. A bird watching tour around the depot where over 150 bird species could be spotted on any given day- was the highlight of my trip to Dandeli!

So, the next big agenda was meeting the Siddhis- The tribal community endemic to the Kali reserve region who are believed to be of the African origin. Be it chilling with them over some rustic music or trying their favourite delicacy- the red ant/ termite chutney, the experience is sure to leave one amused and feel time travelled.

dsc05439-1720115372.jpg
A coracle ride in the Kali River, Photo by: Gowtham Shastry

With so many activities included in the package that kept me on toes through the 2 days I stayed at this property, it is a high recommendation from me. If you wish to extend your stay by another day, you have no dearth of things to do- from river rafting, to a canopy walk and visit to Dudhsagar falls, all can be arranged by the camp guys themselves. After freshening up at the camp, I started my journey back to Bangalore. I took a KSRTC bus from Dandeli to Hubli from where I had booked my train. Whoa! Such a wonderful trip!

Dandeli Jungle Camp’ is an offbeat stay which does not have its own webpage or have direction boards to keep commercialization at check. From the time I alighted at the bus stand till the time I boarded for return, my entire trip was managed by www.dandeli.com through whom my package was booked. The connectivity of public transport within the reserve area is scarce and being a solo traveler, all my travel hassles were taken care by these wonderful organizers.

Luxury in Wilderness of Dandeli- Old magazine house

With an invitation from a friend to explore Dandeli, I packed my bag and hit the road in an overnight bus to reach Dandeli. I was excited with the much anticipated trip that materialized after really long. I was received at the Dandeli bus stand the next morning and transferred to the resort located 20kms away at Ganeshgudi where I had the booking. The name of the property where I was supposed to stay at was equally enticing as the woods itself. The first thought that struck me when I heard ‘The Old Magazine house’ was an old rugged cottage painted on canvas straight out of a magazine cover. But, that’s not what the fancy name beholds. Originally built by the British, it once served as a warehouse of gelatin and gunpowder (hence the name) during the construction of the Supa dam built across River Kali, the lifeline of the National Park. I was hosted at this renovated property, now run as a resort by the Karnataka Forest Department.

The road leading to the Old magazine house
The road leading to the Old magazine house

Their 3 categories of accommodation to suit all budget includes- the individual luxurious wooden cottages, the standard large rooms housed in the actual magazine house and the dormitories for large groups who want to stay together. I chose the second one and had a very comfortable stay. The Old magazine house is a simple place nestled in the midst of high rise thick canopy of trees with abundance of peace and calm in nature’s lap. Water bowls have been placed with entwined twigs collected from the forest where the winged beauties come down to beat the heat. The set-up offers abundant opportunities to click the perfect postcard/wallpaper shots of these winged beauties. While most of the resort operators in the region keep food to attract more birds, “that makes the birds lazy and inactivity makes them vulnerable to prey. Hence, we only keep water bowls to help them quench their thirst and provide a more natural habitat for the birds” says one of the staff. Given their dedication to avian conservation and hospitability, no doubt the place is quite a hit among the bird photographers’ fraternity. I was surprised to meet so many enthusiasts who had made this place their home for over a week straight. All they did was eat the meals served at their place and wait patiently to get their perfect shot or spot that one bird they had come down for, all the way!

IMG_20180519_111615
Some of the visitors at the property from over 50 species, photos by: Gowtham Shastry

The early morning nature walk too offered some good birding opportunities with their very knowledgeable in-house naturalist. No doubt, the resort is a birder’s haven, but the place has lot more to offer like the flying lizards, the great Indian hornbill, sloth bears, the giant Malabar squirrel etc. which are easily spotted here than any other resort in Dandeli. Don’t be surprised if you drive past a leopard or a black panther post sunset, hence venturing out of the property after 6.00.p.m. is not advised and the guests are required to stay indoors post dinner at 10.00.p.m.

The Dining area at breakfast and Supper
The Dining area at breakfast and Supper

If you are more of an outdoor person always in action, their package does not disappoint you either- It includes a hike to the sunset point, coracle ride and bon-fire if the weather is friendly. While you are in a place known for its white water rafting, you can indulge in the water sports offered by the resort run Kali adventure camp. With a river seeming deadly with uncountable whirlpools, the coracle ride was sure an experience in itself. With the Kali river flowing as ferocious as her name sounds, I chose them over any other private property because all the permits for treks and adventure activities are legally obtained and conducted under the supervision of authorized and trained personnel from the forest department and hence, a safe bet. The neat spread of dishes for all 3 meals completed my stay into one memorable trip!

The Ganeshgudi bridge as seen from the coracle in the Kali River
The Ganeshgudi bridge as seen from the coracle in the Kali River

Summary:
Must dos:
Watch the hornbills mud-bathing on the river bank near Ganeshgudi bridge
• Spot flying lizards that can be seen in abundance just outside your room window.
• Get lucky to come face-off with the black panthers.

Since the resort is secluded inside the Dandeli wildlife reserve, the accessibility to places is difficult through public transport. My entire trip was very well taken care by www.dandeli.com. From my bus-stand/railway station transfers, accommodation, local sightseeing was all perfectly handled with their efficient personnel Mr.Sanjay, Mr.Ramnath and Mr.Rajesh. Even if you are a solo-traveler or a bunch of family or friends, I would definitely recommend their services not just in Dandeli but other places as well.

Meeting the farmers of the forests at Dandeli

Being one of the first hotspots of the elusive black panthers and a place known as the ‘Rishikesh of the South’ for its river rafting in the waters of River Kali weren’t reasons enough for me to grab-in when opportunity struck! A Solo-trip that was long due, finally happened one weekend. I packed my backpack and hit the road in an overnight bus to reach Dandeli.

Since I was travelling solo, I had booked my trip through the packages offered by the resorts in the buffer zone of Anshi National park and Dandeli Tiger reserve. For a change and a reason, I had opted to stay at 2 different properties during my trip. The first day was at a resort to pamper myself with luxury in the wilderness and the second night was at a homestay to feed the wanderlust and nomad in me with the various activities included in their package. Firstly, I stayed at the ‘Old Magazine House’, a resort run by the Karnataka Forest Department’s Jungle lodges and Resorts wing. It’s a renovated old house where the gelatin stocks were stored (hence the name- Magazine) during the construction of the Supa dam. It is a simple place nestled in the midst of high rise thick canopy of trees. The nature lover in me enjoyed the eerie silence of these elusive woods and calmed my soul by responding to the deep calls of nature.

The highlight of the stay was that of having large number of flying lizards around and an ideal set-up for bird photography in their natural habitat. A hike to the sunset point and coracle ride in the ferocious river Kali was included in the package. With a river seeming deadly with uncountable whirlpools, the coracle ride was sure an experience in itself. I chose to do these activities with them over any other private property because all the permits for treks and adventure activities are legally obtained and conducted under the supervision of authorized personnel from the forest department and hence, a safe bet. I took an evening walk before sunset to the Ganeshgudi Bridge from where flocks of hornbills can be seen flying or mud-bathing in the winters.

DSC05442
The coracle ride

The next day, after a short bird spotting walk in the woods and finishing it with a neat breakfast, I headed towards my next destination- Dandeli jungle camp located at Pradhani. An offbeat drive of about 2kms from the main road leads to this simple homestay and camp run in the lap of nature amid the woods, that’s filled with rare flora and fauna. Be sure to be greeted by Malabar giant squirrels and sambar deer at your doorstep to say the least. Since it’s a camp, basic but neat amenities can be availed with either rooms or tenting facilities. We were taken to Syntheri rocks, a very beautiful little place located deep in the woods and formed by rich mineral ores that have formed beautiful rock patterns by standing the test of time. An evening walk in the woods just around the property or catching the sunrise from my window were just a few beautiful moments among others.

DSC05538
Syntheri rocks

Photo courtesy: Gowtham Shastry

The experience I had the next morning is something that I will cherish for long time. As a part of the package, I was asked to be ready by 6.00.a.m. and was taken to the Dandeli timber depot. I was introduced to Ms.Rajani, a high school teacher by profession and an avid nature keeper by passion. She was assigned to take me on a bird watching tour around the depot where over 150 bird species could be spotted on any given day- A true haven for the bird watchers! My enthusiastic guide visits this place every morning and evening which she describes as her day being incomplete without talking to the woods and strengthening her nature connect.

Among several species that she went on showing me around and shedding light on facts about them, the one that opened my eyes to an all new perspective of seeing avian life were the Hornbills. The hornbill is one species that is referred to Lord Ram and Sita for the couple bonding that they share. These birds have a very unique way of finding their mates and if ever happened that one bird dies anytime, the other remains single all life without finding another mate which is unique to hornbills. The reproduction cycle of these birds is once in 5 years and hence, the male bird is extremely protective about the female and the chick. The male bestows his beloved with berries of her choice from faraway places during this period. While it carries around 40-50 berries in its beak to feed its family, a few fruits may fall down during its flight, thus contributing to afforestation- The hornbills are the farmers of the forests in true sense and live a life of awe and inspiration to mankind. Another interesting fact is among the 54 species of hornbill across the world, 9 are found in India. Out of these, the world’s largest species- The great Indian hornbill and world’s smallest- the Malabar Grey hornbill with Malabar pied and Indian Grey, 4 species can be found in Dandeli alone. And I was fortunate to see all 4 of these during my 3 days stay here, an experience that cannot be explained but only be witnessed. Another unique sighting was of the jungle babbler or the ‘seven sister birds’. With enormous untold stories, the tour ended rather quickly as we both lost track of time. I gave her a tight hug for the wonderful ways of teaching her students in school about conservation of natural resources and I bid farewell.

IMG_20180416_081844
Dandeli timber depot

After freshening up back at the camp after breakfast, I started my journey back to Bangalore. I took a KSRTC bus from Dandeli to Hubli from where I had booked my train. Whoa! Such a wonderful trip!

Summary:

Must dos:
• Watch the hornbills mud-bathing on the river bank near Ganeshgudi
• Spot flying lizards and the black panthers.

Dandeli Jungle Camp is an offbeat stay which does not have its own webpage or have direction boards to keep commercialization at check. You can get in touch with them if you wish to, through www.dandeli.com
The connectivity of local transport is not reliable. Although, it would be a great idea to have an own vehicle to go around the place, the property that you stay at can arrange it for you and hence, traveling alone shouldn’t be much of a hassle.

A roadtrip in the coffee land- Karnataka

There’s a proverb in Kannada, “Hitlu gida maddalla” meaning ‘We don’t recognize the medicinal value of plant that’s lying in our backyard’. True to this, I have been traveling and writing about beautiful places from across the country.. And suddenly I felt that I had left out to explore places in my home state itself..!! We just wanted to have a rough theme before we hit the road. What was fitting well in the time available was the coffee tour!

Karnataka produces about 51% of India’s coffee and it is all on the southern stretch of the Malnad region. The coffee grown here is highly priced in the international market owing to its better flavor as it is grown under the shade. That’s it, my brother and I pulled out dad’s bike from our cellar and decided to hit the road for a long weekend covering the entire stretch of coffee belt in Karnataka. Unlike cars, we won’t have the luxury of having a spare wheel in a 2-wheeler. Inorder to get our 125CC, 4-stoke, single cylinder, 10 year old boy running smoothly, it was necessary to give him a fine pair of CEAT tyres that could sustain our long ride on different terrain. So finally, here we go.. Our road trip along the coffee belt on the western ghats.

On a January weekend, we rode through the finely maintained NH- through Nelmangala and Kunigal. Our first coffee stop was to sip on some caffeine from the Hassan plantations. A simple hot cuppa at a petty shop before a deviation to Shettyhalli was all that we wanted. At a distance of about 20kms from Hassan, the Rosary church at Shettyhalli stood testimony to time and silently narrated a story of a painful past. This church emerges out when the water levels in river Hemavathi recede as if playing a game of hide and seek. We spent some time admiring this architectural beauty and trying to reconstruct it’s glorious past through our imagination. We left Hassan after a sumptuous lunch at a friend’s house located in the middle of a coffee estate.

IMG_0087-2
The Rosary church at Shettyhalli. Clicking credits: Samson Joseph

As we passed through the winding roads of Chickmagalur, we were reminded that the hillstation is the birthplace of Indian coffee. Bababudangiri range is the place where coffee was first brought to India and the plantations flourished. Mullayangiri, the highest peak in Karnataka is a hotspot among trekkers. Also, being the native of the famous chain- Café Coffee day, we couldn’t help but stop over for a cup of cappuccino.. After having our dose of caffeine, we continued on the road for our night’s stay at Sringeri.

IMG-20170424-WA0010
Enroute to Chickmagalur

Next day, we set out to explore the pilgrim town of Sringeri. The Sharadamba temple is one among the 4 main Mutts established by Sri.Adi Shankaracharya. The Vidhyashankara temple on the same premises is a beautiful structure built in a combination of Hoysala and Vijayanagara style of architecture. After a small ride, we stopped by at Sri Rushyashrungeshwara swamy temple in Kigga, locally called as the God of rains. The route to our next destination- Sirimane waterfalls was a pleasant one passing through thick jungle on either sides, once notoriously famous as a haven of dacoits. Narasimha Parvata and Meghebaile waterfalls are other places of interest for the forest bums. However, we decided to spend the remaining time whiling away on the banks of river Thunga feeding the school of fishes with puffed rice.

210
The Vidhyashankara temple at Sringeri

We started early the following day as we had a long route to cover and the BEST stretch of our roadtrip. We arrived early at the Kalaseshwara temple and enjoyed the serenity and oneness with nature that Kalasa town had to offer. The Breakfast served at the Annapurna temple happens to be one of the best prasadams and there was no way we were going to miss it. So we had to speed our way towards Horanadu, before the food counter closed. We then had to do a small off-roading which took us to a place of Ultra Calm- Javali in Mudigere Taluk, the birthplace of river Hemavathi.

After a refreshing break, we headed towards the next coffee hotspot. It had been an awesome ride so far and time to get our caffeine fix. We parked our bike at one of the stalls put up with a bare table and a stove serving banana fritters and our dose of Sakleshpur coffee. We then climbed up the stairs to reach the beautifully located and strategically built armoury of Tippu Sultan- Manjarabad fort. It is a multi-walled star shaped fortress and worth photographing for an aerial view. Having Shiradi ghat and Bisle ghat in the viscinity, the view from the fort is amazing!

IMG-20170424-WA0005
The Manjarabad fort

The ride has been brilliant so far and we stopped by for a picture of this solo tree standing in a serene place.

671

As we continued to enjoy our ride further, god decided to add in a tinge of adventure. We lost our way and we missed a deviation.. So that’s when our CEAT tyres were put into real test. We were scared of having lost our way and running on low battery on our mobile phones. So, the video pretty much sums up our offroading tryst. However, we were fortunate to reach the main road that ran parallel to our wrong road. Astonishingly, we later got to know that the official name of that road was ‘Kundu-Rasthe’ which literally means ‘Pot-hole road’ in Kannada.

The sun was already setting and we were the last and the only people in the middle of no-where, walking down the stairs towards Mallalli waterfalls. The place was drop-dead deserted by the time we reached there. We hurriedly clicked some photographs and rode for a short coffee break at the last part of our coffee trip, entrance to Coorg or Kodagu district. Interestingly, we passed through several small towns named after the days of the week when the weekly shandy is held. Shukravarapete, ShanivaraSanthe and Somwarpet were among them.

706
The Mallalli falls

So it was past 07.00.p.m. when we finally reached our ancestral home at Madikeri town. And there was no better way to be greeted at home and end the long trip than having a sinful brew of Bella kaapi of Coorg. That said, our ride on the coffee belt had come to an end.. We rode on excellent national highways, state highways and stretches with no roads.. I must mention that coffee kept us awake and the tyres kept us on track and it was a wonderful experience.

Summary: It is not an expensive car / bike you need for a wonderful trip. An efficient engine and a pair of reliable tyres is all that is required if you have a zeal to conquer the roads.. Bring it on and enjoy the ride!

‘I’m chronicling my road trip adventure for CEAT Tyres in association with BlogAdda.’

Request to all riding & driving enthusiasts:
I myself work for an automobile manufacturer and my roles include attending to quality issues of seats & airbags. I have seen tests performed on dummys for evaluation. Trust me, it is insane to imagine the impact of not wearing seat belts.
1 .Seat belts alone can reduces the risk by 60% in case of a collision. In most cars, the airbags don’t deploy unless the seatbelts are worn as they are inter-connected for the electrical system to identify the seat occupancy. So buckle up and ensure all your co-passengers too have!
2. Helmets on the other hand reduce fatal accidents by upto 60% avoiding severe head injuries. So, please invest on a quality assured helmet and strap it properly for your own safety and DO NOT look out for any cash savings by picking the one’s sold on roadside.
You may be a safe rider/driver. But you don’t know that stranger on the road.. Remember, someone is waiting back at home for your return. Please follow safety rules for their happiness. This is the least you can do!

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.

PICT_20160709_094820
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..!!

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.

DSC02269
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 😉

DSC02312
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…!!!

Exploring the land of palatial mansions and piquant cuisine- Chettinad

Educated, affluent, entrepreneurial are some characteristics that describe the native community of Chettinad- the Chettiars. The region comprises of 73 villages and spans over 2 districts of Shivagangai and Pudukottai.. Given only a weekend’s time in hand- we had to make an itinerary and list down the villages to cover. But one thing was clear, this time the stay would not be pre-booked and we would look out for some generous localite to offer us a patch of floor space to lay our sleeping bags- In one of the mansions if we get lucky 😉 Our backpacking trip started at the end of an overnight bus journey to Karaikudi. The hotel staff obliged by charging only half the price when we informed them that we will be checking out after freshening up. The day started on a high with a delicious south-Indian breakfast with aromatic ghee roast masala dosa and idiappams served with coconut milk sweetened to perfection. A piping hot cuppa filter coffee topped it up.

We worked out the mode of our commutation with a very friendly waiter at the hotel and figured out that hiring an auto was the best way if we had to get to the remote villages and unexplored lanes of Chettinad. The local bus or even a self-driven car wouldn’t be of much help as it needed someone familiar with the streets to wade through and the summer would just add up to our woes. We struck a good deal with an auto guy who would show us around and help us do a bit of mansion hopping. As per plan of visiting all temples ASAP(as they would all close by 11.00.a.m.) we were firstly ferried to Ariyakudi Perumal temple whose history mentions it as an alternative Tirupathi. Unfortunately, when we arrived- the temple remained shut due to the demise of the priest that morning. After spending sometime photographing random things around the temple, we headed to- ‘Ayiram jannal or the mansion with a 1000 windows’. We were disappointed for not being allowed inside as the people still live in this house. Our stint with Karaikudi somehow did not seem to have started well… Then was our road to Devakottai. It was a bumpy auto ride with the stiff tarmac withered off at several places with lot of dust entering our ears, eyes and nose. Enroute, we visited the Meenakshi-Sundareshwara temple where the assembly of 108 idols of lord Ganesha was the highlight. He is seen in rare avatars and seated on vahanas that are usually considered as the others’.

Up next, we stopped at the Koviloor Shiva temple. A beautiful little temple set in a very pleasant location and surrounded with mansions got us busy clicking photos. Excitement was at its peak when our entry into the first stately house happened. It was a strong structure built of granite blocks facing the temple. One part of it has been converted into a museum of antiques that were used by the Chettiars, one part has been converted to a government office while another part is used by some self-help groups for basket weaving, coconut de-husking etc. A few localites had gathered for the afternoon prayers in the two temples housed inside the mansion -one dedicated to Shiva & Parvathi each which had served as personal prayer rooms for the family in the yester years., We envied the people who lived there a century ago thinking of how peacefully they could decorate their own temple with flowers and lamps and celebrate the festivals without the interference of random people in their way of offering prayers. We weren’t keen on visiting the Kamban Manimandapam & Kaviarasu Kannadasan Mani Mandapam (memorials built for the famous Tamil poets) and hence gave it a miss.

IMG-20160607-WA0002
The Mansion filled streets of Devakottai

After a short ride, we stopped at Nagara Shivan temple where a sumptuous lunch was served that kept us full for the rest of the day. Our driver was very accommodative and knew what exactly we were interested in and stopped at several mansions letting us admire and awe at the vast and artistic dwelling places. He even spoke to a dozen of house owners to permit us inside their houses as this would help our studies (We never mentioned we were architecture students though!!) A couple of mansion owners were kind enough to entertain strangers like us to have a look at their magnificent mansions. There was one such incident where the proud caretakers gave us a guided tour of the entire house and we were even greeted by a colony of bats flying past our heads when one of the most unused parts of that mansion was opened. We climbed up the guano filled wooden stairs leading to an attic where hundreds of bats roosted. We ducked down as we further walked across a wooden bridge opening out into the terrace to be treated with an amazing view of the overstretching lanes of Devakottai filled with mansions. While we were permitted inside a couple more mansions, we got shooed away at the gate by several others. A short ride away on our way back to Karaikudi, we stopped at the 2 acres wide pond of the Kandadevi temple- the largest in Chettinad. Our driver showed us the Alagappa University & the Annavar memorial before he dropped us at the bus stand to board our bus to our next destination.

IMG-20160607-WA0005
The Inner courtyard of one of the mansions in Devakottai

The bus snaked through the narrow lanes and we craned our necks out of the window to stare at a few bungalows along the road at Pallathur before we finally alighted at ‘THE’ destination of our tour- Kaanadukathan. Although we had listed down the must-see things, we felt clueless on how to start. The place looked like any other village in India and we wondered where had all the stately houses that we had come all the way for gone. We followed our instinct and decided to walk till that road’s end to find some hotel for our night’s stay. We heaved a sigh of relief when we came across ‘Visalam heritage hotel’ cuz we at least got to know where to head in the worst case for the night. After walking further down the street, we were psyched out for a minute when our eyes caught the ‘Sight of the day’!! An ever ending stretch of road flanked by the Palatial- country homes on both side… We surely were in for a treated-Shock!! AMAZING!! The facades of these villas had fine sculptures of their family deities and the heavy wooden doors at the main entrances were decorated with artistic friezes. This village in particular is not very tourist friendly and most of the original owners have locked the huge bungalows are living elsewhere for various reasons. A few residents have however been kind to the keen travelers by permitting entry to their princely manors. One such place is the CVRM house… Well maintained antique cupboards, piano, swings etc. are kept to retain the grandeur of this house where once lived a large and an affluent family. While we were still admiring the grand interiors, what happened next was something beyond imagination for us. A lady had noticed the uncertainty in our faces while Madhu and I were discussing about our stay and asked us where we were put up. When we told her that we were looking for a place, she instantaneously offered us to stay at her place if we did not mind. Of course, it is quite ghastly to think about staying at a stranger’s house in the years where we hear of unhappy events, but there was some innocence in her personality that really did not bother us to doubt. We both nodded a yes in unison. A short stroll by the road’s end and a large gate opened into a typical Chettiar house. Very small compared to the mansions that have mesmerized us all day, but it was a home to people with really BIG hearts. We were served multi-grain-homemade-delicious-malt on our arrival and a nice dinner after we had freshened up… This greeting itself will take up an entire post if I had to write about it… The narrow colonnade verandah opened into a central courtyard that opened into the sky. We were engulfed by a sleep filled with solace right there on the ground with just a humble mat beneath and a glitzy starry night’s sky that stayed clear all through… A stay that was only a dream come true..!!

IMG-20160607-WA0000
The CVRM house

We started early in the morning cuz we had to do the temples and the walking before the sun showed up with his ruthlessness. We took a rickshaw and we visited Soorakudi, Kundrakudi Murugan temple, Pillayarpatti Vinayaka temple and Vairavanpatti temples. These are beautiful temples from the Pandyan era that are a win for history buffs in quest of places least touched by the maddening tourists. A pious traveler may also consider visiting Iraniyur, Tirupattur, Velankudi, Kottaiyur, Kandanur, Mathur temples covering all the 9 clan temples around the region. After having lunch served by donors at Vairavanpatti, we headed towards Athangudi. We visited the ‘Periyaveedu’, a house named aptly -the Athangudi palace. The roofs, the floors, the walls- they make your jaws drop in awe at their splendor and grandeur. Although, we were charged an entry fee, we weren’t allowed to stay there beyond 15minutes by the caretakers. COME-ON… you really need time to observe the details and intricacies of such a place. We somehow managed to pull off about half-an-hour but their attitude pissed us off… Our driver drove us off from there to our next destination. Sorry, I forgot to mention- The cranking lever of the auto-rickshaw had come off and was kept under our feet and the brake pads had worn out till their last dust. That meant, we had to push start the auto each time we stopped and the driver had to jump out of the slow moving rickshaw each time to stop it. Especially under the blazing sun and some annoying caretakers like the one mentioned above, you get a few additional horsepower to move your vehicle 😛

IMG-20160607-WA0004
The finally decorated central courtyard of the Aathangudi palace

That said, we visited Aathangudi palace tiles factory & wood art restoration centre where we met the men who create beauty out of lifeless soil and wood. It was a hard hunt for us to find a good hotel that served us authentic Chettinad food that our gustatory cells were craving for which was finally satiated with a lip-smacking array of culinary delight. A quick trip to the Chettinad railway station proved to be more of a pain than of fun when at the end of an exhausting ride, we got to know that the special waiting room will be opened only on special occasions for the members of the Raja’s family.

We got dropped back as we decided to spend the rest of the day exploring the somnolent streets of Kaanadukathan by foot. We shopped for the Kandangi handloom saris from one of the local weaving centres. We then walked across to be awestruck by the largest mansion I have ever seen- the Chettinad Raja’s palace, a sprawling edifice extending over an entire lane on all four sides. After trying our luck, we got saddened by the fact that we couldn’t gain entry into this palace that is still being resided at. Our adventure continued until dusk and when the light was perfect for some nice photos of this ‘heritage’ village. Along with the setting sun, we set ourselves for the return journey. We had to reach Trichy on time to catch our bus back to Bangalore..

To sum-up, the trip has taught us a BIG lesson. All who live in a mansion ain’t rich, All the rich are not humble, to be humble, you need no qualification.

Must-do:

  • Take a walk in the Muneeshwaran Koil street or the antique market in Karaikudi
  • Shop for a colourful palm basket- The local handicraft that has gained a GI tag
  • Treat your palette with Chettinad cuisine (I definitely mean Non-Veg)
  • Take a bicycle / walk tour around the streets of Kaanadukathan

This post has been featured on BlogAdda’s ‘Spicy Saturday’s Picks’ column.

Journey to the edge of land- Kanyakumari

How can the thought of standing on the edge of land be expressed? As a kid, I always wondered how we stood steadily on a round globe… My curiosity grew further when I was handed a world map for the first time. Now, the round globe looked flat. And on the world that looked flat on a map, India took the center position. And when carefully observed, I noticed that there is nothing below India but only water. On a closer look of the Indian sub-continent, Kanyakumari pops out in the edge as the southern-most tip of the Indian mainland. Then I made a wish- to make a journey to that end of land…

A very pleasant journey in the ‘Nagercoil express’ ended at the Nagercoil junction the next morning. The train route itself is so beautiful with lush greenery even in the peak of summer. As the train entered Tirunelveli district, the landscape takes a different look. Thousands and thousands of windmills seemed to have been strewn until the horizon. Our train slowly chugged past the hills only to later reach its destination- ‘Nagercoil junction’. We freshened up at the station and hired a taxi for the rest of the day. I managed to explain our itinerary to the driver with my broken Tamil and he understood the jist- Cover all the places listed down and ensure we make it to the Sunset point at Kanyakumari in time..!! That said, our sightseeing started in the order given below:

  1. The Nagaraja temple- The temple that gives its name to the city.
  2. We spent a good couple of hours photographing the BEAUTIFUL Padmanabhapuram palace in Thuckalay. By far, one of the beautiful palaces in South India, you don’t regret paying the entry fees as there is a lot of effort that has gone into maintenance of this wooden palace. A surprising fact is that, although this palace is in the state of Tamil-Nadu, the palace is maintained and controlled completely by the Kerala Government.
Padmanabhapuram palace (97)
The wooden facade of the Padmanabhapuram palace

3. Next was the Udayagiri fort. It wasn’t a great place as a traveler, but maybe a paradise for the bird watchers. It is converted into a mini zoo and houses the memorial of Commander De Lannoy- of the Dutch east India company.

4. The hanging trough / aqueduct at Mathur- The longest in Asia, is set amid a very beautiful surrounding of lush green cashew, coconut and rubber plantations.

5. Adi Perumal temple at Thiruvatturu- adorned with intricate sculptures (of the Cheras period probably). It was strange to know that the people of the Muslim community do not and cannot live in a radius of 6kms around this temple due to a curse by one of the rulers in history. Tippu Sultan had tried to steal the main idol with the help of the Nawab of Arcot. This is probably the only temple where a grave of a ruler is seen next to the main idol of the temple.

Mathoor aqueduct (4)
Mathoor aqueduct

6. Jadeshwara temple and Mariamman temple are at a walkable distance from Perumal temple. It is here, Lord Vishnu had come to seek support of his sister- Parvathi to convince Goddess Lakshmi when the latter suspected Vishnu of being involved in an extra-marital affair while he had gone hunting in realty..!!

7. Chittaral jain temple at Vellomcode- is a part of the rocky hills. It is small but a nice place for the history buffs and the pilgrims alike.

8. Thiraparappu Mahadeva temple- This place was a turn off with very less to NO water in the waterfalls and being overly crowded with tourists(NOT pilgrims!!). I suppose it will be worth the while only if its monsoon, when the river flows with all its might down the gorge forming the beautiful waterfalls and the temple at the backdrop.

9. Pechiparai dam- We gave this one a miss as we had anticipated only disappointment with no water in the dam if we had visited there.

The entire drive was the highlight of our day as our driver took us through the remotest roads to avoid the traffic on the main road just so that we could cover all the places within the given time. These narrow and winding roads flanked by coconut trees on either sides were probably least exploited by a normal tourist and hence we could have a feel of the rustic part of an otherwise pilgrim city. The weather was another surprise which was extremely cool and supported the spices plantations in the otherwise hot and humid climate that Tamil Nadu is recognized with.

Suddenly, the weather changed and the dark clouds hovered over us. It was the southern-most part of the western coast of India, that we were planning to drive through to reach the end of land. As we were approaching the seashore, the clouds broke hell and we waited inside the car until the pounding rain paced down. Now we had lost an hour doing nothing and that meant we could only drive through without stopping anywhere. We drove past the Thengapattinam beach, Colachel port(it has a victory pillar to commemorate the victory of the Travancore king over the Dutch army), Mandaikadu temple, Muttom beach, Tekkurichi beach, Sanguthurai beach, Sothavilai beach, Manarkudi and we finally arrived at the Sunset point- Just in time. What awaited us was sheer disappointment in the form of clouds clouds and more clouds..!!! We spent some time with the waves and headed to the hotel in the city where we had booked our stay.

On day 2- we saw ourselves seated amid thousands of people who had gathered there for the same reason as us. The infamous ‘SUNRISE of Kanyakumari’. We watched the sea change its colour from pitch black to different hues of the spectrum until dawn’s break. But we had to be EXTREMELY unfortunate again- a nebule of cloud sat adamantly blocking the rising sun.. We visited the temple and other mundane places in the city(There is enough written about the places to see in the internet- I don’t want to repeat the same stuff again!) The wait in d queue under the hot sun that was at least 3 furlongs was a big turn off. My expectations of finding the calm I was told about across the waters(Read it- the Vivekananda Rock) was let down by the galling tourists who had thronged there in thousands on that weekend. Having been disheartened by the way things turned out on a much anticipated trip, we left Kanyakumari in the afternoon.

Kanyakumari (16)
The post Sunrise photo at Kanyakumari

We did a quick visit to Vatakottai fort- a small but a calm place away from the vexing crow. We then stopped at Suchindran temple that stood grand with its majestic tower, but remained closed when we arrived there. We spent some time sitting by the temple pond and feeding the fishes with puffed rice.. And we finally left back to Nagercoil to board our evening train back to Namma Bengaluru.

Must dos-

  1. So when you go to this particular spot at Kanyakumari- You can feel the waves touching your feet from 3 directions- left, right and center.. quite literally..!! That’s when you sense that you are standing in the end of land where the three seas meet- The Bay of Bengal, The Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. The feeling can only be experienced and not expressed.
  2. Lot of shopping… Shell crafts..!!

Must sees- The nose stud of ruby adorning the chief deity- Goddess Parvathi is believed to be shining so bright that many ships have been misguided due to its light. And that’s also the reason why the Eastern door of the temple that faces the sea is always kept closed except for a few special occasions.