Category Archives: Statewise Travel

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

Bioluminescent Experiences in Karnataka

Karnataka is “One State Many Worlds, without a doubt! To explore a different aspect of travelling through this beautiful state, I take you on a path that is en-Lightening, in literal sense- ‘Bioluminescence’. Bioluminescence is a naturally occurring phenomenon of production and emission of light in living organisms. Apart from the visual treat to senses that they offer, the presence of these organisms can tell a lot about our environment as well.

With the Arabian Sea forming the entire coastal belt and the Western Ghats forming most of the green-cover of Karnataka, it is easy to witness bioluminescence anywhere in the state. Traversing a path from the southern rainforests of the state to the northern plainlands through the coastal beaches across all the seasons, here is a list of the different kinds of bioluminescence that one can experience in Karnataka.

  1. Fireflies: An aerial illumination for spectators, these insects produce light to attract a potential mate. Abundant during the months of pre-monsoon showers and summers, the untouched sacred groves and the organic farms of Kodagu and Malenadu offer a post sunset visual delight. A good number of fireflies indicates the good soil and air quality.
  2. Bioluminescent planktons: These light emitting micro-organisms are present in the sea water. They produce a greenish-blue light when disturbed. This means, they produce light irrespective of day or night but can be seen with normal eyes after dark. These glowing waters can be viewed at their brightest best on a no-moon night between two consecutive monsoon months. But what is not the brighter about it is the fact that the brighter the sea glows due to these planktons, the poorer is the health of the sea water.
  3. Bioluminescent fungi: This can be the hardest find of them all. Enter the core of the rainforest during the peak of the monsoon season, with a slow and careful walk and without use of any torch or flashlights. Only if you are lucky, you can spot these glowing sticks or the fallen barks covered by the glowing fungi. Documented sightings have been found in Karnataka, but I’m sure the Western Ghats are home to more species of luminant mushrooms.
  4. Glow worms: These are larvae of some insects that can be largely found along the banks of streams, rivers and under the foliage on moist ground. An indication of healthy soil, these worms emit light to ward off predators and visually offering a delight to the human eyes.

Have you witnessed any other bioluminescent experiences? Are there any specific place that you wish to share your stories about? Do let me know in comments below!

A Rare Connection of Hockey Between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu

I have been fortunate to meet many like-minded people online, through travel blogging. Recently, I happened to meet one of such friends offline, during his visit to Bangalore. He greeted me with a souvenir, a nice palm leaf box containing chikkis. He explained that it was the ‘panai olai petti’ containing the famous candies from his hometown. After I returned home, a little bit of online browsing about this souvenir unfolded some interesting facts for me.

The palm leaf box containing the Kovilpatti chikki
The palm leaf box containing the Kovilpatti chikki

Talking about the southern states of India, two neighbours have a lot in common. What triggered this thought were the names of places starting with the letter ‘K’, one from each state. Kodagu and Kovilpatti from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu respectively. Meanwhile, the ‘C’ is what makes these two ‘K’ places famous. ‘Cauvery’, the holy river originates in Kodagu and ‘Chikkis’, the peanut candies of Kovilpatti has earned a GI tag for itself. Enough is written and done on the internet about either of the places.

Palm leaf boxes of Kovilpatti mithai being Repurposed as planters
Palm leaf boxes of Kovilpatti mithai being Repurposed as planters

But what turned out to be more surprising and a rather rare connection between the two ‘K’ places of these states is their common love for the National sport of India- Hockey. In my earlier post, I have mentioned how the largest festival in the world dedicated for any sport (hockey) is celebrated in Kodagu. But what I learn now is that Kovilpatti too, shares its history with Indian military and the influences of the British to have a strong hockey culture. With at least a dozen hockey clubs and several players making it to the Indian national team over time, the people of Kovilpatti have an unabated enthusiasm for the national sport.

What I do know is, that there are several other lesser-known places in India where people celebrate sports other than cricket. Only initiatives by governments, support from sponsors and adequate media publicity can encourage and motivate more people to nurture a sporting culture in our country, anything other than cricket.

I Belong to Everywhere: Abbi falls

This is an attempt to bring back nostalgia. Continued from- “I Belong to Everywhere: Sadashivanagar

Abbi falls is one of the most popular landmarks in Kodagu, located in ‘Kalakeri Nidugane village’ on the outskirts of Madikeri. This is where the Lostlander was stung by the travel bug, much before she was born! History speaks about Columbus and Vasco-da-Gama, but the lostlander grew up listening to the stories of her grandfather’s adventures of discovering Abbi falls. Those are the very stories that sowed the seeds of seeking adventure and finding her own life path for the Lostlander.

The memories associated with Abbi falls is an endless list, so this post is going to be a photo tour with some old photos of the Lostlander with her grandfather at Abbi falls estate.

Abbi falls, Madikeri
Abbi falls, Madikeri

This is a brook built by my grandfather to provide accessibility to the surrounding villagers to get across the river, on the upstream of Abbi waterfalls during the monsoons. It has been replaced by a concrete bridge only in yr.2021, several decades after it was originally requested for. (Click here to read further)

The wooden bridge, upstream at Abbi falls
The wooden bridge, upstream at Abbi falls

Only memories remain of a house that once served as the heart of the family’s life. (Click here to read further)

The Abbi Villa- Now

In this photo, the lost lander is lost in the vegetable garden, set in the middle of the coffee plantations, overlooked by the beautiful hills of the Pushpagiri ranges. Gravity fed sprinkler jets sprayed water from the stream that was fed by the larger waterfall. (Click here to read further about the LostLander’s love for honeybees).

The author with her grandfather (center) and cousin in the vegetable garden at Abbi falls

I wish to compile a book someday, comprising of all these stories from the life of “My grandfather”. Do share in all your thoughts and any personal stories associated with this place that I will be glad to add them in my book with due credits.

To be continued as- “I Belong to Everywhere: Malleswaram

I Belong to Everywhere: Vasanthanagar

This is an attempt to bring back nostalgia. Continued from- I Belong to Everywhere: Karavalebadaga“.

Vasanthanagar is an old locality in North Bengaluru, adjoining some of the prominent English areas like the Cantonment, Miller’s road, Cunningham road, Palace road etc. I had been visiting and staying in this locality for all the years that my aunt’s family lived here. Right from the time I was an infant to the time I started to go to college, I have been a regular around this locality. Or to say, this has been my second home whenever I have been in Bangalore. (First home in Bangalore is of course where my parents lived, I will talk about it in another post 😀 )

When you live in an area, your boundary extends beyond. Hence, high grounds, racecourse, golf course, Windsor Manor, Indian Express building, Basava Bhavan, Vidhana Soudha were all just a walk away. If you let my aunt or mom take over this page, then probably they would tell you that even Shivajinagar or Commercial street were also walkable from Vasanthanagar (at least considered so, back in the 80’s and 90’s). So, let me take you through some of the landmarks in Vasanthanagar that bring back nostalgia.

The Sampangi Ramaswamy temple: My aunt’s house was located right opposite to this temple and it was every day, that I woke up to the melody of M.S. Subbalakshmi’s suprabhatam played at this temple. But what best remains with me are the days that my cousin and I were made to believe that a small depression on the boulder in the temple premises were footprints of Lord Rama. So as kids, we would go there every day (whenever I was there) and offer our prayers with vermillion to this rock (and NOT to the temple!)

The premises of Sri Sampangi Ramaswamy temple in Vasanthanagar
The premises of Sri Sampangi Ramaswamy temple in Vasanthanagar

Loafers’ lane: Palace road is where a majority of my female cousins have attended school. This is also where I got my pre-university education before graduation. Being an all-women’s college, needless to say that the road running perpendicular to the college gate has always been a haunt of all the men of Bengaluru. Apart from the ‘Dove nuts’ from Chechi’s canteen on campus, the chaats from Raj’s on loafer’s lane has always been synonymous with the crowd.

Kodava Samaja: Then, there is this convention hall where almost all community gatherings like festival celebrations, weddings etc., happen. Even if my aunt’s family and I moved out of the area, Vasanthanagar wouldn’t leave us 😀

The Mount Carmel College junction of Palace road and Loafers' lane at Vasanthanagar
The Mount Carmel College junction of Palace road and Loafers’ lane

Adding to the list, the delicious sizzlers of ‘Miller’s 46’, Mughlai Biriyani from ‘hotel Chandrika’, honey cake from lyengar’s bakery and home-needs supermarket were our family’s go-to places for quick bites. Catching a local gig at ‘Alliance Francaise’, a movie or a Mc.D burger at ‘Sigma mall’, Infinitea and several other cafes and restaurants that sprung up and shut down along the way were other newer additions (during the early 2000s).

Talking about the role of this area on my personality: This place has influenced me in more than one way.

  • If you have ever conversed with me and have spotted a certain peculiar vocabulary sneaking out during a formal discussion, I owe that part of me to Vasanthanagar. That “English” has brushed onto me from my almamater here! For all you should know is that I studied in a gender-neutral women’s college, where we addressed peers as ‘hey, Man!’, ‘hey, Bro!’, ‘hey, dude!’.
  • This is also where I was introduced to ‘fusion rock’ music. The college fest hosted by my almamater is one of the most popular stages in the country for aspiring college bands who seek a launchpad and get recognition. This small-town girl had grown up listening to the voices of Lata Mangeshkar, Mukesh, Rafi, Kishore da, Yesudas, P.B.Srinivas and the likes, until she moved into the city. ‘Fusion’ was a new form of music she was listening to for the first time, here. She had an instant connection.
  • Although tending to animals is in the genes and the blood of this girl who belongs to forests of the western Ghats, I owe my understanding and awareness for conservations of wildlife and nature to Vasanthanagar. My bond with a classmate whose dad worked in the forest department was so deeply rooted about the holistic topic of environmental conservation, that we would spend several sleepless nights discussing about births, deaths and general health of individual animals from the zoos that we both had seen together, met and knew by names (Click here for a detailed read)

Continued as- “I Belong to Everywhere: Ontiangadi

I Belong to Everywhere: Karavalebadaga

This is an attempt to bring back nostalgia. Continued from- “I Belong to Everywhere: The Introduction

This HAS to be the beginning 😀 Madikeri (earlier called as Mercara) is the district headquarters of Kodagu (earlier called as Coorg). In this post, I talk about Karavalebadaga village in Madikeri Taluk, where my house and my school were both located in proximity. Although the village retains its name in the government documents, the newer names of these fragmented localities have now taken over people’s memories.

This is where I was born and have spent most of my life, so far! I was raised by my maternal grandparents who lived in Madikeri. A large compound with a shed full of cows, a kennel full of dogs, a sty full of pigs, a lair full of cats and an attic full of sparrows in their nests; a house surrounded by a colourful garden, fruiting trees and coffee estate; A short walk down, took us to a paddy field in which flowed a pretty little stream. This is where I grew up, in the heart of Madikeri town.

The attic at my maternal grandparents' house
The attic at my maternal grandparents’ house

Throwback to 90’s: As young kids, my cousin and I often sneaked out of the house on weekends for our usual stints. We would steal empty jars of Horlicks and cotton towels from granny’s stash and head towards the stream. We would catch fishes from the stream, get them to fill the tank that had purple lilies in our house’s front yard. We then hid the jar and the towel back near the stream for the next weekend. Come next weekend, the jar would have gone missing and the drill repeated!

Forward to present day: The sheds are empty, the dog is lonely, the sty is erased, the trees are gone and the stream has become part of a concreted sewage.

Watching the rains batter and the lily tank in the frontyard
Watching the rains batter and the lily tank in the frontyard

Throwback to 90’s: My friends and I walked to school, braving the heavy monsoon downpour. Our heavy armours comprising of thick raincoats, high ankle gumboots and wide black umbrellas weren’t enough to keep us dry. Along with this, we made sure we did not return home empty handed in the evening. We filled our lunch boxes with wild mushrooms or mud-crabs that we would pick up from the paddy field for a sumptuous monsoon dinner.

Forward to present day: There exists no trace of a paddy field that has now been transformed to a full fledged housing layout, the present day ‘Cauvery layout’.

The road connecting Ranipet and Cauvery layout in Madikeri is now laid over a sewage stream
The road connecting Ranipet and Cauvery layout in Madikeri is now laid over a sewage stream

Throwback to 90’s: My SCHOOL, the oldest educational institution in the hills is a landmark in itself. Named after it, an entire locality is simply referred to as ‘Convent junction’ that is accessible via a narrow lane (locally called as Oni). This was our alternate route on monsoon days when the paddy fields were flooded. The joy of relishing the masala vadas from ‘Kunyali’s canteen’ or a bite into a pastry from ‘hotel Coorg International’ (probably the only star hotel from our times) gave us a high of a different level.

Forward to present day: The oni is partially gone, but the of joy of taking a ride around the Convent junction and visiting school can never be replaced!

A tour of Convent Junction

They say home is where schooling starts, and then the formal schooling: My personality is probably a reflection of Karavalebadaga because this is where it all started!

So, that’s all folks! Next week, I will share a post about another place where I belong to. I hope you all will enjoy and share your thoughts with me.

But before that, I hope you all have read my earlier throwback post about Madikeri as well. If you haven’t, here’s the link: ‘My growing up days at Madikeri’.

Continued as “I Belong to Everywhere: Vasanthanagar

St. Joseph's convent as seen from Ranipet
St. Joseph’s convent as seen from Ranipet

I Belong to Everywhere: The Introduction

With the Pandemic, it needs no explanation to admit that my weekend travels have significantly come down. Meanwhile, ‘Armchair Travelling’ is a concept that seems to have caught up with most millennials to have themselves virtually travelling. This ideology doesn’t work for me because all my posts have been based only on my personal and real experiences. It seems hard for me to sit on a chair and imagine being at a destination just so that I can generate content.

In my contemplation of creating authentic content, I have passed several months without any posts of any value on my website. Meanwhile, this time also gave me space to explore my own backyard, drive over to familiar places and revisit old memories. But old memories for me are scattered. These memories are primarily divided between Bengaluru (my current place of residence) and Kodagu (my hometown, where I have spent most of my childhood and teenage). But they are also scattered across places because I have a large family, both on my paternal and maternal sides who live across these places and outside.

For me, the person I have evolved into and perceptions I derive have largely been based on the influences I have picked up while growing up across all these places. So, a little bit of me comes from all these places and a little bit of me stays everywhere. So, neither do I belong to rural or urban Bengaluru nor do I belong to North or South Kodagu, I belong to everywhere!

A young member from the Yerava tribe in Coorg
A young member from the Yerava tribe in Coorg

So, I thought I can take you all on a virtual tour of some of these places that are close to my heart and share some stories from the good days that have gone by… Through this series, I will give you small peeks into my hangout places, hideouts, local history, trivia, restaurants and everything else as I take you through these places and tell you how these places have influenced my personality….

But before that, I hope you all have read my earlier throwback post as well. If you haven’t, here’s the link to: ‘My growing up days at Madikeri

Each week, I will try to share a new post about a place / locality that I share a bond with and has influenced my personality, in no specific order of chronology with an attempt to bring back nostalgia. I hope you all will enjoy and share your thoughts with me 🙂

Continued as- “I Belong to Everywhere: Karavalebadaga

Five must have experiences in Jagdalpur

Bastar region in Chhattisgarh is very popular for its Dussehra celebrations and people flock from far away to witness its tribal congregation during this time. Noting that Jagdalpur is the biggest city in Bastar, it is likely that it will be the central place for planning one’s stay and travel around this region. But, if one happens to be there for a very short stay and interested in exploring Bastar beyond its festivities, then here are some of my recommendations.

1. Caving at Madarkonta: There are so many massive limestone caves and cave systems in and around Jagdalpur and just a countable few of them have been promoted by the Chhattisgarh tourism board. Although these are also great places to visit, my caving experience at Madarkonta is one that stands apart. This cave is still inaccessible without a local guide and no tools or digging has been made to accommodate tourists. So, the entire caving experience here is still in its raw form, just the way it was found by the local men, many years ago. You need to duck down and walk barefoot, navigating your way through the hollow limestone chambers with torch light. (Barefoot because the locals believe that some deities reside inside the cave). Watch the entire video below:

Exploring Madarkonta caves

2. A boat ride into the Chitrakoot waterfalls: Chhattisgarh is home to over a hundred amazing waterfalls. But the poster boy on all their tourism ads is the Chitrakoot. Also known as the Chitrakote waterfalls, it is referred to as India’s Niagara for a reason… During monsoon, river Indravati plummets down with all her might in a horseshoe shape, making it the widest waterfall in India. A ride in a country boat right into the waterfalls is an exhilarating experience! Watch the entire video below:

Boat ride at Chitrakote waterfalls

3. A sunrise visit to the Island temple at Dalpat Sagar lake: Although tourists can take a boat ride in the largest artificial lake of Chhattisgarh state all through the day, an experience that stands out is a ride during sunrise, to the temple located in the middle of this lake. I was told that an underground chamber connects the temple to the royal palace located in the city. This chamber is used by the members of the royal family and VIPs to participate in special ceremonies during Dussehra. On other days, if one is lucky to get access to a country boat for an early morning ride (even better if it is along with the temple priest), they can see the entrance of this chamber illuminated with oil torches while the priest makes his visit to offer the first prayers of the day.

An early morning view of the Dalpat Sagar lake in Kondagaon

4. A Gotul visit: I’ve already spoken about the significance about a Gotul in the tribal culture of Bastar in a separate post. This is a great way to get acquainted with the rich tribal culture through its traditions, music, dance and food, all at one common place.

A tribal ceremony at a Gotul in Bastar

5. A tour of the artisans villages: Wrought iron crafts, Dokra art, wooden crafts, stone sculpting, pottery, handloom, paintings, jewelry making- the list of indigenous art in this region is long and the region boasts of several artisans of National and International fame. Even a quick day tour of these hamlets is worth every little time of yours, while you are here!

Making of wrought iron craft at Kondagaon, Bastar

Do you plan to make Chattisgarh your next destination? Or have you already been there before? What are your recommendations or queries? Let me know!

A Day on the Old Silk Route

It was long travelling distances leading to high altitude destinations, where cold winds were abundant and oxygen levels lower. For those of us travelling across North and East Sikkim, it had been a long and a tiring trip thus far. Each day of our weeklong travel through this little but important Indian state had been a different experience.

This post is part of our weeklong stay in Sikkim covering Gangtok – Mangan – Lachen – Gurudongmar- Lachung- Zero point – Rumtek – Gangtok – Nathula – Zuluk – Siliguri

Long ago, I had seen a jaw dropping photograph of the old silk-route winding and passing through Sikkim. It had since been my wish to see that view in real. The old silk-route had once served as a major trade route connecting China with the rest of Asia and Middle east. During this trip in Sikkim, we decided to drive along that scenic route during our exit from this tiny state. Hence, the route chosen by us was: Gangtok > Tsongmo/Changu lake > Nathula Pass > Nathang valley > Lungthung village > Thambi viewpoint > Zuluk >Rangpo > Siliguri

The Details:

Only Indian nationals are permitted on this stretch of East Sikkim and an inner line permit was obtained from Gangtok on the morning of our departure.

It had been a cloudy day since dawn break and the drive for the initial stretch felt pleasant as we passed through the wavering peace flags all along the highway. We learnt about the significance of these peace posts in Buddhist culture while conversing with our taxi driver. The white flags are installed in memory of a deceased person by their kith. Similarly, the multicolored flags are believed to bring good luck. Ideally, these flags are supposed to be installed high up in the mountains where the winds are stronger. The wind is believed to free-up the soul of the deceased or bring good energy, depending on the flag’s colour. With reducing space for hoisting more flags and the ease of finding a hoisting place by the roadside, it is now common to find them all along the highways of this Buddhist majority state.

Sooner, the clouds cleared up making way for a gleaming sun in the blue sky. We arrived at the Tsomgo lake in a while. It is a serene lake that is popular among the tourists. We clicked a few photos with the yaks grazing around its periphery before proceeding towards the Indo-China border at Nathula pass.

Nathula was crowded. People were amok and erratic. They had no idea what to expect at an international border. Some were standing in attention with a salute to the Indian tricolor, some were touching and praying the fence that marked the border. Some were putting their feet across the barbed wire to get a feel of going to China and a few more were busy chasing the men in uniform of the Indian army for selfies. And for us, it was a urge to run back to the warmth of the heater of our vehicle 😛 It was biting cold even during the peak of the day. We walked up to the point, saw the border gates of both India and China, the respective embassy buildings, the Chinese and the Indian army camps posted high up and also got a distant view of the mountains that marked Bhutan. We did a quick walk through, taking in all the good views and returned to our vehicle as quickly as we could.

The view enroute Nathula pass
The view enroute Nathula pass Photo credit: Varsha J.

After squeezing out of the maddening crowd at Nathula, we continued our journey towards Nathang valley, only to be stuck in one of the worst traffic jams we had experienced in Sikkim. The last and the major destination on a typical touristy circuit is the temple of Baba Harbhajan Singh. Baba Harbhajan Singh is a folklore hero and an ex-army soldier whose spirit is believed to be roaming around the place, protecting the soldiers posted at this extreme terrain. There are old and the new temples dedicated to him, both maintained by the Indian army. We managed to find our way out of the choco block and continued towards Nathang valley.

Beyond the army temple, I can conveniently say that it was just us all the way. The roads were deserted, except for some BRO trucks and excavators clearing up the landslide prone path and laying new roads. We passed through what the army claims to be world’s highest altitude golf course, several army camps and tiny discrete civilian settlements along our way. Our drive through Nathang valley, thereafter, was something beyond comprehension for our senses, it was so beautiful!

All that we had envisaged of this journey at the time of commencing this drive was passing through a viewpoint and reaching Siliguri for the night’s stay. But as the journey unfolded, we were in for surprises. That day, the clouds had embraced the valley like never before. The road that we were driving on, seemed as if it was curving around the edge of the land. It was clear blue sky with the sun beaming bright and the thick clouds engulfing the horizon. The rhododendron plants had blanketed the entire valley, which I’m sure must be a visual delight during their blooming season. We stopped, like at every half a mile to capture the landscape in our cameras, alas justice be done to what the human eyes saw.

The drive through Nathang valley
Driving through the edge, above the clouds at Nathang valley

But by late afternoon, the sun had started to descend to the horizon and the fog had taken over again. Our visibility of the road ahead and the possibility to see the view that we wanted, had both now become zero. Our driver soon pulled off our vehicle at a tiny settlement enroute to enquire for availability of a place for us to stay for the night. Lungthung is a tiny village on the valley, with barely 3-4 houses, that too made with metal sheets. By staying in a homestay there, we were going to be the only outsiders for that night at Lungthung!

The mercury level was already below zero. But as the night rolled in, the winds too got stronger. The clouds cleared up and the stars and the planets shone brighter than ever. It was our last night at Sikkim and the coldest too! Even as we sat inside the host’s dining room, relishing the handmade thenthuk, we felt like our roof was going to be taken away by the winds. No amount of firewood could keep us warm. Even if we simply stood up for a moment to adjust our seats, they would freeze again. But as I said earlier, it was our last evening at Sikkim before we got back to the grind. There was no way we would hit the bed early. We sat outside, counting stars quite literally… The sky was clear, the moon lit up the road below and a lone filament bulb illuminated a roof at a little distance. Apart from an occasional goods carrying army truck that toughed it out on the slope, there was no civilization around us for miles together… It was an experience so wonderful that we hadn’t imagined about remotely, even a few hours ago… Not in my wildest dreams, had I imagined that I would live a day of my life ON the silk-route!!

The moonlit view of the silk route as seen from Lungthung homestay
The moonlit view of the silk route and the clouds as seen from Lungthung homestay

Anyway, not really being able to sleep due to cold temperature and the noisy sheets fluttering outside our room, we still rolled into our blankets and set an alarm to wake up early. Our host at the homestay had recommended to walk down the road for sunrise…

The following morning, it was almost impossible for me to even think of coming out of the blanket. I snoozed the alarm a couple of times. But then something happened. My eyes had one glance at the window glass, and it was enough motivation for me to get my butt off the bed. It was a breaking dawn…. The sky had a streak of deep red, visible right at my window, seen from my bed…. It was for sure, unusual from any normal day. The view made me forget the cold and barge outside to not miss the complete visuals of an unfolding day… I woke my brother up and my friends and we all raced towards the viewpoint that we were told about. We didn’t mind slipping down a couple of times on the frozen roads.

The sun rising over Kanchenjunga at Thambi view point
The sun rising over Kanchenjunga at Thambi view point

At such high altitude and low temperature, the running didn’t help to warm us up. As we reached the viewpoint, we were panting for breath and had our jaws dropping. We were gasping, awestruck in amazement at the sight around us, chattering due to the freezing temperature and everything else happened to us at the same time. The moment is inexplainable!

The old silk route at Zuluk valley
The old silk route at Zuluk valley, as seen from Thambi view point during sunrise

We were standing at Thambi viewpoint and had lost the sense of place for that moment. The Kanchenjunga had lit up in crimson in just a few minutes and the winding roads through Zuluk valley appeared deep down in a while. It was a day and an experience like never before! It was our last day at Sikkim and I could only say that the best was indeed saved for the end!

This article has been featured in Deccan Herald National daily’s Travel supplement on 29-May-2022 Edition. Click here to read.

Chettinad Part 2: Exploring Kaanadukathan- A Dreamland in Tamil Nadu

Continued from Part 1: Exploring Karaikudi

After an exhausting day exploring the streets crammed with Chettinad houses in Karaikudi, we were dropped at the bus stand to board the local bus to our next destination. 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.

Part 2: Exploring Kaanadukathan

Although we had listed down the must-see things, we felt lost upon our arrival at this village. The place looked like any other village in India and we wondered where had all the stately houses gone, the only reason that had brought us there. It was evening already, and we still didn’t have a definite place to stay. Without having a clue on how to go about further on our trip, we decided to follow our instincts.

Firstly, we decided to walk till that road’s end hoping to find some hotel for our night’s stay. After a short distance, we heaved a sigh of relief when we came across ‘Visalam heritage hotel’. It was a heritage property and expensive on our budget, but it was assurance that there was some place we could fall back to in the worst case of not finding a stay for the night. Having some relief, we decided to walk further down the street in our quest for both a hotel that would fit our budget or for the palatial mansions that had brought us all the way from Bangalore.

After walking further down the street, my friend and I stopped at the sight in front of us. We were psyched out for a minute when our eyes caught a never-ending stretch of road flanked by the Palatial- country homes on both sides… We were in for an unexpected shock!! We knew there were many large mansions but had never imagined a real street to look just out of a movie setting. The facades of these large villas had fine sculptures of their family deities and the heavy wooden doors at the main entrances were decorated with artistic friezes.

The streets of Kaanaadukathan village

This village in particular did not seem to be very tourist friendly with most of these bungalows being locked up and their owners living elsewhere for various reasons. A few residents, however, have been kind to the keen travelers by permitting entry to their princely manors. Here is a summary of our pursuits of landmarks at Kaanadukathan.

CVRM house: This is one of the very few Chettinad mansions that are open for public viewing that can be visited with a small entry fee. Although, nobody lives in this house now where once lived a large and an affluent family, it is well maintained with some of its antique cupboards, piano, swings etc. kept intact to retain the grandeur of this house. While we were admiring the grand interiors, the caretaker at the mansion recognized that we were lost and offered to accommodate us at her house for the night. Well, meeting such Samaritans needs a separate post.

The CVRM house at Kaanadukathan
The CVRM house at Kaanadukathan

We started early on the following morning to make best use of the time before the sun became fully active. There were (ancient) temple visits in the day’s itinerary and a lot of walking to be done. With our host’s support, we managed to book an auto-rickshaw for the entire day and to take us around places as listed below.

The nine clan temples of Chettinad: Temples of Soorakudi, Kundrakudi Murugan temple, Pillayarpatti Vinayaka temple and Vairavanpatti temples are beautiful structures dating back to the Pandya era. These architectural treasures are a win for history buffs in quest of places least touched by the maddening tourists. If one is a pious traveler, one may also consider visiting the temples at Iraniyur, Tirupattur, Velankudi, Kottaiyur, Kandanur and Mathur. Collectively, these temples represent the family deity of each of the nine major clans inhabiting around the region. After having our lunch served by donors at the Vairavanpatti temple, we headed towards our next destination

Aathangudi Palace: Fondly called as the ‘Periyaveedu’ for being the biggest house in the village, this mansion is aptly named as the Aathangudi palace. The roofs, the floors, the walls- they made our jaws drop in awe at their splendor and grandeur as we stood in the portico at its entrance. Although, we were charged an entry fee, we weren’t allowed to stay inside the mansion beyond 15 minutes by the caretakers. Their behavior towards visitors was somewhat a turn-off as they chased us out with verbal abuses. Forget observing the intricacies of the architecture of such a place, 15 minutes weren’t sufficient to even take a casual walk around the entire house.

Inside the Periyaveedu- The Athangudi Palace
Inside the Periyaveedu- The Athangudi Palace

There was no heed given to requests by our driver even as he tried to convince them in the local language. Pissed off with their attitude, our driver drove us off from there, towards our next destination. Before I continue ranting about our exploration of the region, I pause a bit to talk about my autorickshaw ride: The cranking lever of the vehicle had come off and was kept under our feet (in the rear seat) and the brake pads had worn out till their last dust. That meant, that the vehicle needed to be push started every time we stopped, and the driver had to jump out of the slow-moving rickshaw to stop it every time we wanted to halt. Especially under the blazing sun and some annoying caretakers like the one mentioned above, it is natural to gain a few additional horsepower in our muscles. So, the raging ride from Aathangudi palace until our next stop was quite a thing!

Aathangudi tiles factory & wood art restoration center: This is a place where we met the men who create beauty out of lifeless soil and wood. We observed demonstration of how these GI tagged colorful tiles are created. An art in themselves, apart from adorning all Chettinad mansions, I remember the grandeur of the Mysore and Bangalore palaces whose flooring is made with tiles sourced from Aathangudi.

Making of the Athangudi tiles

Chettinad railway station: This small and least haunted railway station on a typical traveler’s itinerary was included in our list after we had heard that the local Raja had a special waiting room for himself in the railway station. This quick and an exhausting ride ended in disappointment when we reached there. We learnt that the special room is not open to public viewing and will be opened only on special occasions for the members of the Raja’s family.

The entrance to one of the houses at Kaanadukathan

By this time, our tummies were grumbling of hunger. In spite of having been in the land of spices for two days, our taste buds hadn’t savored authentic Chettinad cuisine yet. It was a hard hunt for us to find a good hotel that served us authentic Chettinad food. Our craving gustatory cells were finally satiated with a lip-smacking array of culinary delight at a small hotel that we found on a random lookout. Post lunch, we decided to spend the rest of the day exploring the somnolent streets of Kaanadukathan by foot.

Local weaving centers: We shopped for the Kandangi handloom saris from one of the many local weaving centers.

Chettinad Raja’s palace: The largest mansion in the whole of Chettinad is a sprawling edifice extending over an entire lane on all four sides. And that’s why it is called as the Chettinad palace. We made futile attempts to get a small peek into the interiors of this massive dwelling space that I had seen in some of the movies.

Our walk tour of Kaanadukathan continued until dusk. We clicked some nice photos of this ‘heritage’ village with the perfect lighting by the setting sun. 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. Thus, concluded a weekend in Chettinad- the land of palatial mansions and piquant cuisine.

Must-dos in Chettinad:

  • Take a walk in the Muneeshwaran Koil street or the antique market in Karaikudi
  • Shop for a colorful 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

The Story of my Solo trip is an e-book now

My visit to the arid land of Spiti was my first solo trip in all sense. I have previously spoken about its beautiful landscape and the wonderful people through my blog posts. But, on a personal note this travel has been one of the most impactful trips of my lifetime. So, here is the entire story in the form of an e-book.

Through this book, I seek your company while I backpack alone on a trip to the mountains. I want you to join me when I gate crash a mountain wedding and dance to the first snow. I want company when I confront a mummy and when I visit a vault full of millennium old paintings. Stay with me as I return home with an unsettling chaos running in my tummy. As you read through the pages of this book, you can bite into the juicy apples of Kinnaur all along, walk with me meeting people and go on a virtual trip to the Spiti valley and back.

You can get your copy of the e-book on Amazon by clicking on the image or the link below:

Click on image to buy the copy of ‘My Spiti Sojourn’

Yes, I know the language could have been tuned a little more and the English, could sound a little more polished. But, due to reading the same story over and over again, a few mistakes have outflown, my humble apologies! This book had been compiled in the first covid lockdown (Apr 20) and I have been procrastinating to publish it for over a year now, even post 2nd lockdown I (Apr 21). So, finally it had to be done….. But, I promise that my intention of sharing my story and experiences from the road has been compiled to the best of my abilities. I wish you all read, enjoy your virtual trip to Spiti and share your honest thoughts about it…