Two Premier Institutes of India- A shared history

HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited), Asia’s largest and India’s first aerospace establishment was founded and is headquartered in Bangalore. If you want to walk down this journey of how aviation industry has evolved in India, a visit to the HAL Aerospace Museum, India’s first aviation museum located at the HAL premises is highly recommended. From the first aircraft, Harlow PC to be assembled at its stables to manufacturing the most modern helicopters, planes and equipment for present day requirements of the Indian airfare, navy, railways and space research, HAL’s journey has been a long one. One is bound to get amused in another world by taking a walk between vintage planes, flight simulators, mock ATC and all things associated in this subject of fantasy at the museum hall. Now, this place leads me to my next destination: The IISc (Indian Institute of Science).

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An exhibit of the Pushpak aircraft at HAL

That morning, I had ordered a plate of idlis at this little restaurant on the IISc campus. Just like any other day at that restaurant, the environment was abuzz with the chitter chatter of the people I was surrounded by. A typical scene on any given day includes the best scientists of India and abroad discussing new experiments over a plate of food in what is one of the premier research institutes in the country! Irony has it that similar discussions happened under the same roof, sometime in history. But back then, the discussions were about something more strategic and destructive. It was right here that a bunch of people discussed a war plot. What is now the top-of-the-notch science and technology institution in India, served as a hub for maintenance and repairs of the aircrafts during World-War II.

In the late 1930s, a factory meant for automobile maintenance was setup by an industrialist named Walchand Hirachand in the present day IISc campus. History has it that on his way to China, Hirachand chanced upon a meeting with William D. Pawley who was attached to the Intercontinental Aircraft Corporation of New York, an American aircraft exporter. This connection lead to the procurement of the necessary tools and equipment from the US to setup an aircraft production line in India. It was in December 1940, with funds from the Mysore state, the Hindustan Aircraft Private Limited came into being. The plan was to manufacture the Harlow trainer, Hawk fighter and the Vultee attack bombers at this factory. However, this required huge manpower that was trained in Aeronautics which lead to the establishment of the department of Aeronautical engineering.

A 1942 file photo of the HAL main gate
A 1942 file photo of the HAL main gate. Photo courtesy: HAL museum gallery

The structure that housed the aeronautical engineering department was designed by German architect Otto Koenigsberger. Otto Koenigsberger was a young Jew who had fled his country during the Nazi regime and was later in time, employed as the government architect of the erstwhile Mysore state. His architectural design is an amalgamation of European and traditional Indian styles and can also be seen in the present-day metallurgical department and the hostel office on the IISc campus along with many structures across India. Talking about the aeronautical engineering building- it is an oblong structure with high ceilings and narrow corridors that integrated natural climate control. He has also designed the closed-circuit wind Tunnel, the first of its kind in India and hydrogen plant among other things that are associated with aircrafts. With all the technical back up from IISc, it was in 1941 that Hindustan Aircraft Limited (HAL) assembled the first aircraft in India: A Harlow PC-5.

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Meanwhile, the threat posed by Imperial Japan loomed large in the on-going World War II because of which there was a need by the British Royal Air Force to boost its military hardware supplies in Asia. With all likelihood, HAL was most suitable as a base for the South East Asia Command of the allied forces for servicing their aircrafts. Hence, all the aircraft manufacturing plans in India were abandoned to support the repair and overhaul services of the American aircrafts and the factory was eventually taken over by the US Army Air Forces in 1943. This led to rapid expansion in the facilities and became the 84th Air depot for overhaul and repair of American aircrafts during WWII. The very same hydrogen plant on the IISc premises was used as a loading dock to supply hydrogen for the American aircrafts. Later in 1964, the factory was taken over by the Government of India and has morphed into the modern-day Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in its present-day location. However, the original Aeronautical engineering department continues to contribute enormously towards research and has its own little airstrip on the present day IISc campus.

As I finished my plate of idlis, I wondered how unassuming I was. This deceptively functional place had just served my meal that had just been cooked inside a hydrogen plant that powered the military aircrafts during WWII.

This article featured in the ‘Spectrum’ supplement of Deccan Herald National daily, on February 01, 2020 edition.

The Mountains beckon in the Apple valley of India- Kinnaur

I wasn’t sure if solo-traveling would be safe in Chhattisgarh, the campsite wasn’t ready yet for a Gujarat trip, Rajasthan had the election around the corner albeit having the perfect weather, the public transportation system wasn’t convenient in Arunachal, Uttarakhand had unpredictable weather of late, Jammu was done just last year, Dharamshala stretch would be too mainstream, Lakshadweep was too short a trip for the time I had. Maybe I should just settle down with the Sahyadris in Maharashtra or sign up for a fortnight long yoga session at Rishikesh or a Yakshagana course at Mangalore perhaps! I had tele-travelled almost the whole of India to decide where I wanted to go. And then, this happened! Just 4 days before departure, the mountains beckoned and I had finally decided to visit the Kinnaur valley in Himachal Pradesh.

Nothing was clear to me apart from the to & fro flights to Delhi. People around me were busy and my vacations couldn’t wait, lest they be lapsed without pay or without use. Although not very keen on solo travelling, I think that’s how life threw itself upon me when I longed to go to the mountains! The mountains have always been kind to me and have had me meeting them regularly over the last 4 years. I don’t know the reason for this special bond I share with the mountains. May be because I come from a nature worshipping community, that my connection with them is so instant and strong. The mountains had me amidst them yet again. From being a shy kid at ice breaking in public gatherings to having done a complete solo backpacking in an off-season, to meeting and hanging out with strangers and making new friends from travels, my journeys have brought me a long way! The mountains have been kind and have protected me all the way…

Given that I would be alone and I get muscle cramps when the temperature drops, the one thing I had to make sure while planning my trip was to not push myself too hard to see too many places or do anything that could drain me out. Hence, I decided to do it one place at a time, plan my next destination only after reaching a place and move only when I felt like I had sunk in well in the current place. So that said and Kinnaur had me there! After I had reached Himachal, there was absolutely no fear of being a solo-women traveller and no worries over safety concerns at any point of time. The people were amazing who derive their strength from their deep values… From being stopped by random locals on the road and being offered the juiciest apples from the valley to eating local food and getting invited to houses for coffees, from befriending the locals and then to being invited to attend a traditional Kinnauri wedding, from waiting for the day’s only public bus or hitch a ride to having stuck in a place for 3 days without any electricity or transportation due to snowfall, from meditating in the millennium old monastery to confronting a mummified Llama in the mountains, from driving past a valley of green-rock-and-sand onward to having returned through the same valley painted white in snow, from being seen-off by a close friend at the trip start to I seeing-off a stranger at the end of the trip: Whoa! What a journey it was!

So, the route taken by me was: Delhi- Kalka- Shimla- Sangla- Rakcham- Chitkul- Sangla-  Reckong Peo- Kalpa- Nako- Geu- Tabo- Rampur- Sarahan- Shimla- Delhi. Some of the key destinations enroute and things I did were:

• The trip started with the ‘Himalayan queen’ train from Delhi and then I connected to the mountain railways from Kalka to Shimla, a part of the UNESCO World heritage. Stopping at several stations enroute, a ride in the loco thugging along the narrow-gauge through in-numerous tunnels and winding pathways in between the green pine laden cliffs and verdant hills was worth an experience.

• The hustle of the desi music blasting at full volume had filled the atmosphere as the HPSRTC bus I boarded at Shimla cruised through thickets of sweet smelling Juniper and deodar. A solo snow laden peak emerged from amidst the green mountains. Call it layers of dew laden and mist covered hills, they sparkled as the sun’s early rays found their way forming several vibrant spectrums as the morning ride gave me the first glimpse of a horizon that had a never-ending line of snow-capped mountains.

• When the bus alighted at Sangla after making its way through steep gradient, blind corners and breath-takingly scary heights of the snaking roads, the sun was calling it a day. It had cast a golden red glow to the entire range of Kinnaur Kailash mountains. I couldn’t have asked for more as I stood there to be welcomed by this magnificent view right in front of the bus stand. The hike up the Kamru fort to catch the golden peaks up close was a cherry on the icing.

• The next day was an exhilarating bus ride through the Sangla valley, overlooked by the Kailash mountains on one side and the beloved untamed Baspa river flowing below. The ride was adventurous with waterfall and river crossing, cliff-hangers, landslides and occasional sightings of mountain goats or yaks. Quick stop-over at Batseri village painted in shades of crimson, chrome to ochre with the trees of apples, apricots and walnuts was a feast to the eyes. A walk down to the river at Rackcham helped me to connect with the Kinnauris with very warm conversations. They offered me a ride through apple orchards and buck wheat farms before meeting the sole Indian tricolour waving at Chitkul, a village bordering China & Tibet.

• The following morning, I started early to Kalpa- a quaint tiny village with old traditional houses amid the Kinnaur apple farms. A solo hike through the suicidal roads to Roughi village turned out to be special when a random dog decided to accompany me all the way. Again, the setting crimson sun cast its magical spell over the manifestations of Shiva and Parvathi seated conveniently in the Kinnaur Kailash mountains overlooking the village. With the chants from the Buddhist monastery next door and swaying prayer flags as I looked out of my window the next morning, I couldn’t have asked for a better start for my day.

• That day, I did a bit of shopping and grooving to traditional Kinnauri music with the locals at Reckong Peo, the ‘Gateway to Kinnaur valley’. It was the annual fair where people from all over the state had congregated to buy and sell local Agri-products and handicrafts apart from sipping the local apple brew. Packets of pine-nuts, dried apples and apricots along with the traditional Kinnauri hats were perfect souvenirs to take back before boarding the bus to my next destination.

• This road is when the landscape starts to surprise you. The green canopies make way to steep rocky cliff-hangers. The on-going construction of the Karcham Wangtoo dam only warns you to be aware of shooting stones where landslides are as common as confronting vehicles from the opposite direction on the single-track road. And then, the Rocky mountains disappears suddenly making way for barren landscapes with sand and loose rock laden cliffs. The blue Sutlej river snaked between the valley and the view of the treacherous roads winding around the steep gradient hills was indeed a sight to behold! It was pitch dark and biting cold when I alighted at Nako, to check into a homestay under the clearest star-studded night’s sky.

• Although the weather had gotten more colder, it was one of the finest mornings so far. A walk around the village of Nako, with mud-smeared walls of houses built of wood and clay is one of the highlights of my entire trip. While strolling through those narrow walkways of the village, I felt as if I was exploring a maze. With the early morning vibes of a typical village with cattle roaming around, children walking down to schools, chants and incense from the ancient monastery rising in the dew laden air, it was an altogether different world there. The view of the distant snow-capped mountains and the barren winding landscape around had me spellbound for the rest of the day.

Next destination was Geu, a village that can be reached only if luck be by one’s side. Having no direct connectivity through public transportation, I waited on the highway hoping to hitch a ride to a place that is often cut-off due to landslides. It was wedding bells chiming in this tiny hamlet that day… I was fortunate, to say the least! A large family heading towards Geu not only obliged to offer me a ride in the trailer of their crowded goods carrier, they also invited me to be part of the celebrations. From being treated with the finest Kinnauri delicacies to dancing with the baraathies in a traditional mountain wedding, I could not ask for more. It was an all day and all night affair!

• I woke up in the biting cold next morning to hike up the hill and pay a visit to the mummy of a Buddhist monk, believed to be over a 500yrs old. Strangely, it has been there in open atmosphere without any chemicals and among the only few mummies available in India. Quick breakfast at the wedding house and I was good to head out by hitching another ride until Hurling.

• The weather had gotten worse that day with a forecast of precipitation by day end. As I waited at Hurling for my next ride, the guy making rotis at a hotel offered me a cup of free chai and got me a free drive with his customer to my next destination. With a loaded car and a person with a broken leg hanging out of the rear seat, the people who agreed to drop me were more than sweet to accommodate me in the front seat and they carry my backpack on their lap all the way in the rear seat.

• So then… Tabo happened! This was the place I had been looking forward to all the way. Considered to be one of the holiest places for the Tibetan Buddhists, I sunk into meditation mode for good few hours with the soothing fragrance of the Juniper interiors of this millennium old monastery constructed out of clay. It was BLISS and I can’t explain it further. The millennium old paintings all over its inner walls and roofs, the golden manuscripts were something incredible. Since artificial light sources are believed to damage the organic colours, I eagerly waited for specific time of the day for the sun to light up specific rooms to see this wonder. It is called the ‘Ajanta of the Himalayas’ for a reason, you see!

• The morning when I woke up, the mountains had moved closer to me with a heavy overnight snowfall. This was a sight to which the heart of a snow-deprived-south-Indian-city girl in me had skipped a beat. I had to extend my stay at this monastery due to heavy snowfall for next 2 days and with no electricity, phone connectivity and no plumbing that worked whatsoever, it was ‘THE” time! Amid all this, I had the rare opportunity to relish the Tabo apples (one of the best in the world) every day of what was being offered to the deity at the monastery.

• Finally, after getting my drive back to Shimla- I had plans to stop by at Rampur Bussahr to see the erstwhile palace and stay at Sarahan, one of the Shakthi peethas in the foothills of the Himalayas. But, the mountains had an altogether different itinerary for me for the last 3 days! So, thus was my sojourn in the Himalayas, the mighty incredible Himalayas!

Since Rohtang pass had closed by end of monsoon, I did only Kinnaur and half Spiti and returned the same way back (Although a little hectic with 3 days required only for travel, on the same route). If you are traveling in the summers, then you can start from Shimla and complete Spiti & Lahaul via Kaza and exit from Manali, thereby not repeating your route.

Summary: With the changing landscape throwing surprises at the wink of an eye, each mile was magic. The valleys were overwhelmingly beautiful! When the mountains beckon, just pack your junk and head out! The destination doesn’t count, the journey is worthwhile!

This article is featured in Deccan Herald’s Travel supplement: ‘DH Travel’ on 25-May-2019

Treading the living root bridges- Nongriat

As kids, we always imagined fairies with wings flying amidst colourful gardens, rope like creepers hanging across the forest thickets, rainbows emerging on the tranquil sky… And that’s how most of the animated movies depict fairy tales like… Right? Nestled deep in the rich forests of Meghalaya; with NO exaggeration, that’s how I would describe this village called Nongriat!

A pleasant drive through the breathtakingly beautiful valleys and naturally formed creepy high limestone walls brought us to a village called Tyrna. That’s where the tarmac ends and our car had to be parked. Further, we trekked down to the Nongriat village- where the ‘Umshiang bridge’ or popularly called ‘the double decker root bridge’ lies. One needs to climb over 2500 steps each way, so that this piece of marvel can be seen at close quarters. Root bridges are created by inter-weaving the roots of the rubber tree by the tribal folks who live in the deep forests of Meghalaya for their local commute across the bloated rivers during monsoon. A bridge fit for usage can take a minimum of a couple of decades and it only gets stronger with age. There are several such living root bridges across Meghalaya and most of them continue to be untouched by the tourists due to their remoteness.

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The route to Tyrna village

At Tyrna, we met a Khasi villager from Nongriat whom we befriended and agreed upon to guide us through our trek. Although, there is a well laid out path of stairs all the way, we thought it was wiser to have a localite who would enrich us with the facts and figures that we wouldn’t get to learn otherwise. We passed through several sacred groves and areca farms belonging to the villagers. After decending about 1000 steps, a small deviation to the right indicated the way to Nongthymmai village. We took this deviation to reach the ‘Ritymmen root bridge’ a single bridge and another old one next to it which has taken its toll due to the negligence by the localites. Our hearts were jumping with joy at the first hand experience of treading on a living root bridge… I decided to throw my shoes away for a while and enjoy the feeling of walking barefoot on the bridge…

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The Rythimmen bridge at Nongthymmai village

After spending some time, we decided to continue the trek, while our new friend cum guide continued to enlighten us about the rich traditions and culture of the Khasis. We stopped by for a quick breakfast at a straw hut selling 2-minute noodles and lemon tea. Further, a short climb of stairs continued only to be awestruck by the marvel of indigenous engineering- The Double decker root bridge. It was like fantasy out of a fairytale- Creepers hanging across a little waterfall that was fed by pristine river in the middle of nowhere! While a few tourists who had stayed in the Khasi homes over the previous night were enjoying their swim in the cold waters, we decided to move away from them after spending some time admiring this beauty. Next mission- Rainbow falls!

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Entry bridge to Nongriat village

The small number of tourists who make it to the double decker bridge seemed to have disappeared thereon owing to the tiring path that lies ahead. But, nothing comes easy- Nature’s best kept secrets are those which are untouched due to their remoteness. I was doing this trip post monsoon (October to be precise) and that’s when the caterpillar larvae take wings! Like winged fairies, Butterflies of all colours, shapes and sizes greeted and accompanied me all along the stretch from Umshiang bridge till the rainbow falls. We had to be extremely cautious while walking by clearing the way for ourselves with a stick, lest accidentally step on these little creatures. The path was so full of butterflies… The walk that cannot be expressed with words and the joy can only be experienced. Truly, in every sense- I was Alice, walking in wonderland!

It was a walk of nearly 2hours through the thickets of the sacred forests and crossing atleast 5 other root bridges and a couple of metal rope bridges that were laid across the deep river that flows down with its seductive clear blue waters.

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Another root bridge enroute to Rainbow falls

After the brisk climb, we had finally arrived at the place where a hidden jewel of nature was unfolded amid the greens.. We stood there in AWE….. the Green trees and bushes opened up to display a canvas with milky white waters gracefully tumbling down into a pool of turquoise blue waters and a hundred fairies flying around us. A dozen spectrums adding to this heavenly scenery! On a clear sunny day, there could be 50-100 spectrums around the waterfall- giving the place its name.. Rainbow falls! We enjoyed a couple of hours in calm just by sitting beside the naturally formed swimming pool as we were the only people in this fairyland and restoring our lost bond with nature that was shared long ago…

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The Rainbow falls

Had we known a little more about the enchanting beauty of this trek, we would have extended it by a day.. As narrated by our guide, camping at the Mawsmai caves(2hours trek further) and climbing up the hill to be greeted by the Nohkalikai waterfalls- the highest waterfall in India would have been a complete story! Unfortunately, we didn’t know about this path before starting. So now, it was well past afternoon and we had a long way to walk back. And very less time left until sunset.. We stopped by at another hut near the Umshiang bridge for lunch where we relished a simple Khasi meal of rice and bitter lime curry.

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A metal rope bridge near Rainbow falls

The walk back from there onwards was taxing and it is a very steep climb up the 2500 odd stairs.. I stopped several times at the little homes and stalls put up by the villagers on the way to keep myself hydrated with the local energy drinks and fruit juices. I cannot forget the way my guide cum friend Denzil kept motivating me to complete the stretch. He kept reducing the count of steps by hundreds and leaps so that I would climb faster with the intention of reaching the top ASAP. Finally, I was back at Tyrna while the sunlight was still available for us to drive back to Cherrapunjee. A small deviation from Tyrna will lead one to ‘Ummunoi root bridge’ in the Laitkynsew village, one of the oldest bridges in the viscinity. It has been truly a very refreshing way to explore ‘the abode of the clouds- Meghalaya’.

Summary:
• Although, we missed to trek up the Nohkalikai falls, we made sure that we camped overnight facing the waterfalls and caught the sunrise over the waterfalls!
• Plan a 2 day trip covering Laitkynsew, Nongriat, Mawsmai and Nohkalikai- My friend Denzil can be an amazing guide to accompany you!

Best Luxury Resorts in Karnataka

Karnataka is one of the most beautiful Indian states that weave both heritage and contemporary culture together in a beautiful blend. Karnataka is a hub for travellers looking for some adventurous things to do or for globetrotters planning to travel amidst nature. From the strikingly beautiful hill station of Coorg to the ancient ruins of Hampi and from historic Mysore to the tech city Bangalore, Karnataka has never failed to amaze people with its hospitality.

And since this state attracts thousands of travellers each year, one can easily find some amazing resorts right from the budget category to the most luxurious ones. Luxury resorts in Karnataka help you tailor your vacation or work trip just the way you want! The cities have quaint boutique resorts that will make you forget the bustle of the town, and then there are resorts where you can go and have the perfect business meeting. These resorts are some of the best in the State, offering world-class amenities with all the warmth of traditional Indian hospitality.

1. Purple palms resort & spa, Kushalnagar

Purple Palms Resort and Spa is one of the best luxurious resorts in Karnataka. Relax in a magical paradise that makes your greatest wishes come true. Experience the lush green surrounding and serene beauty bounding the resort and witness the beautifully crafted rooms with the bliss of luxury and soothing comfort. Dive down in the swimming pool and fill your day with fun and give yourself a treat by relishing a delicious breakfast with a local touch at Purple palms resort & spa.

Indulge in the luxurious ambience of his amazing resort that makes you feel royal. If you can’t resist the allure of the hills, step out for a regal sojourn. This resort has all that you and your family are looking for a perfect holiday with all the tourist attractions in the vicinity. You may relax and rejuvenate at the Resort’s Spa with Ayurvedic and Western massage that will cleanse your mind and body to make your stay at our resort more meaningful.

2. Evolve Back, Hampi

One of Karnataka’s most treasured gems, Hampi is full of history and serenity. With various rulers reigning over the Vijayanagar Empire, the map of Hampi was designed in such a way that today, it stands as one of God’s blessings to humankind. Offering a spa centre and hot tub, Evolve Back Hampi is located just 4 km from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hampi.

Here at Evolve back resort, you will experience the Vijayanagara Royal Style at Evolve Back Kamalapura Palace, Hampi – an opulent palace whose stone-paved boulevards, arched hallways and regal chambers reflect the royal lifestyle of a past but glorious era.

3.The Tamara, Coorg

The Tamara Coorg, a luxury experience nestled in the heart of the hills, is a perfect place where you can rediscover the joy of being in nature, where your quest for serenity will end. Lush greenery, aromatic coffee plantations, spices, beautiful streams, and flowing waterfalls, all experienced in a stunning eco-resort. Your stay at The Tamara Coorg will be filled with uniquely curated experiences and nature-based activities as the resort spans 180 acres and is located over 3,500 feet above sea level where you will experience nature and luxury at its best as you wake up to the breathtaking view and the calming silence of the hills, disturbed only by the chirping birds and the crackle of leaves.

Wake up to the smell of tranquilizer coffee, and enjoy the scenic beauty and try so many activities in the house, and the expert yoga instructor will tailor a perfect session for you. You can even enjoy a private gourmet meal under an open sky at a variety of stunning spots.

Take a cozy walk through the rain soaked plantations in Coorg
Coorg- Coffee trails

4. Coorg Wilderness Resort

Coorg Wilderness Resort is nestled amid the deep valleys, majestic hills of Coorg and away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Move into the wild and find a distinctive ethos of extravagance implanted in the thoughtful lap of nature. The luxury from this resort with rich European-style masterful rooms and palatial suites that are spread across a large area and allows you to stay in Karnataka luxuriously.

The ambience is so warm, and the air is so cool and cozy, air-conditioning is not required throughout the resort. During romantic rainy days of the famed monsoons and lazy, gentle winters, you will find each room is cozily warmed with traditionally designed electric fireplaces; the facilities and unparalleled quality of services provided by the staff are worth spending your vacation. For adventure and thrill lovers, the Coorg wilderness resort will fill your heart with contentment and excitement through various outdoor activities like trekking, coffee plantation tours, and other adventurous activities.

5. Machaan Plantation Resort, Sakleshpur

The resort is tucked within a coffee plantation in Sakleshpur. Machaan Plantation Resort is ideal for a quick getaway to relax, rejuvenate, and refresh your inner self. Workspace at the resort will help you break free from routine, and your family would also rejoice in a change in environment. Your pre and post-work routine could be a host of activities ranging from estate walks, yoga in the outdoors, visit a waterfall, trekking, evening barbeque, to name a few. The resort has an outdoor pool where you can just lounge all day and enjoy splashing pool water. The sit-outs are ideal for lazing in & enjoying marvellous views of the hills and valley. On a rainy day, one can curl up with a book and a blanket here if you want to be in the room. Then each room caters for the views of hills and mountains, which will refresh you in seconds. A day here would not be complete without a campfire, a bonfire area that gives access to a 360° view of the night sky.

The papersweet of Athreyapuram

This was a part of our family’s five state road trip covering Chhattisgarh – Odisha – Andhra – Telangana – Karnataka in Dec’20.

The visit to the place described in this post was impromptu. While I had just woken up at Rajahmundry and was scrolling through the watsapp status updates of some of my contacts, I happened to see a post with green paddy fields that was captioned as ‘Andhra’s best kept secret- Konaseema’. The videos of my friend driving around those green paddy fields and through the roads lined with coconut trees had me hooked instantly. For a moment, I was reminded of the Kuttanad or Karavali regions of the neighboring states. I looked up on Google and realized that I was just around. As per the original plan, we were supposed to leave for Bengaluru by Afternoon. The drive to Konaseema was in the opposite direction. But, noting a few special things to do in this region, I managed to convince my family to allow me to drive for about 30 additional kilometers before returning to Bengaluru.

Firstly, we drove through the Dowleshwaran barrage. It is one of the chief sources for water based agriculture to the several villages in the surrounding. This heritage barrage passes over the group of islands created by river Godavari. The lush greenery and sandy beaches of these islands seemed to me like they were gleaming in joy from the nourishment of mother Godavari. We were told that boat rides to these islands can be availed during early mornings by talking to the local villagers. For now, we couldn’t afford it on our schedule and hence, proceeded by adding it to our to-visit list. The destination that I wished to visit in Konaseema on this trip was a tiny village called Athreyapuram.

The serene roads of Konaseema

After crossing the Dowleshwaran barrage, the roads suddenly transformed from noisy and dusty to a serene and scenic stretch with lagoons, banana plantations, paddy fields and palm fringed canals. With number of tiny shops suddenly lining the road, we did notice that we had entered Athreyapuram. But the drive and the scenery was so serene that we lost track and drove past the village and gone ahead. We came into our senses only when we realized that there was no sight of any more shops on the road. What shops? These are shops that sell a traditional sweet of Andhra Pradesh called Putharekulu. What’s so special about this Andhra sweet one may ask. This is a snack that looks like paper and tastes like sweet.

It was several years ago that I had tasted this peculiar looking paper at one of the events hosted by the department of Khadi & cottage industries. But it was long forgotten and the memories were rekindled by the early morning watsapp post. It had gotten me all drooling until I reached Athreyapuram. This tiny village is where this sweet paper was invented! For an unassuming person, it looks like lot of ghee, nuts and jiggery is rolled into a super thin white tissue paper before eating. But it is not just the ghee and the jaggery that gives it its flavors, making of this paper is in itself a labour intensive job.

We returned back looking out for a shop and we stopped at a small family run establishment. The excited family demonstrated the steps of making a perfect roll of this traditional Andhra sweet. Boxes of authentic Putharekulu were the souvenirs we bought for our friends and family. Here, is a small video on our drive around Athreyapuram and the demonstration of making Putharekulu.

A tour of Athreyapuram

This is my humble attempt to promote local tourism and help small businesses in these trying times. Please try to reach out to them and order your favorite local products from around India.

What is that one favourite souvenir you have bought from your travels? Please do share your thoughts on this post with me. I would love to hear them.

A souvenir from Rajahmundry- Ratnam pen

This was a part of our family’s five state road trip covering Chhattisgarh – Odisha – Andhra – Telangana – Karnataka in Dec’20.

They say a pen is mightier than a sword. A good writer can win a great battle. I guess it has been all the more true in the Gen-Z era. Although the pen has been replaced with keypads, the social media warriors have continuously upped the war of words 😛 But for a few old-school goers like me, nothing can replace the joy of holding a pen between the fingers and scribbling on paper. The thought instantly takes me back to the earliest days of life when I graduated from a chalk and slate to a pencil and paper. When we reached middle-school, I was a proud owner of my first pen. Writing with a pen was a symbol of growing up; we flaunted it around with those younger than us in school. “Don’t use a ball-point pen, it will spoil your handwriting”, was an instruction given by a teacher to all of us. Filling ink into the fountain pens was a mandatory part of our daily chores. On days that we either wrote more or forgot to fill inks, we would barter drops of ink with our classmates. Although ball-point pens made their way and stayed in the comp-boxes of my pals by the time we reached high-school, I somehow carried the instructions of my teacher with myself for a little longer. I switched over to a ball-point pen only after I graduated from college. But my love for fountain pens and writing on paper still lives on. This is the long story in short, about my connection with fountain pens.

Rajahmundry is a big city in Andhra Pradesh. It is one of the largest exporters of textiles, rice and horticultural products in India. But ignoring all that, my need for exploring the congested bustling streets of the city was to find a fountain pen. With the help of Google maps, I walked through the narrow lanes of the busy shopping area to locate an old graceful house dating back to pre-independence era and surrounded by tall modern buildings. The house was an elegant traditional structure built and maintained in its original form with clay tiled roof and a large open central courtyard. That morning, I had come there to buy an art piece – ‘The Ratnam Pen’.

Ratnam Pens- Manufacturing and Sales Outlet

‘Ratnam pen works’ is a heritage fountain pen maker who has been one of the earliest in this business when Mahatma Gandhi largely promoted ‘Make in India’ concept through his ‘Swadeshi’ movement. These pens have been used by some of the famous personalities from across the country and the world. Ratnam pens are a delight for every pen collector. A framed paper on the wall is a prized possession of this craftsman. It is the original copy of a handwritten letter by Gandhiji to the owner of this place in appreciation of his contribution towards the swadeshi movement.

A copy of Gandhiji’s letter, a fountain pen case and the lathe machine at Ratnam pens workshop

Apart from being the shelter to the owner’s family, this house of ‘Ratnam pens’ is a workshop where the mightier pens take form. These famous fountain pens are made and sold only here to which people come down from across the globe. Although these pens are unavailable for online purchases, “Anyone interested to buy them or want spares and service for existing products can do so by calling me directly on my phone”, the owner says. I was more than excited to lay my hands on this new addition to my collection of pens. A happy me was then set on continuing my travel towards another noteworthy village nearby- Details on my next post 

This is my humble attempt at promoting domestic tourism and local artisans. I urge my readers to support small businesses by buying locally produced substitutes for imported goods.

What is that one favourite souvenir you have bought from your travels? What are your memories from school? Please do share your thoughts on this post with me. I would love to hear them.

A Tour Across Indian Foundries- Investment Casting

In this post today, I like to discuss a technical subject by standing in the shoes of a traveler. During my student life, I have never been in a race to become a top-scorer. However, it was Professor Mukunda’s enthusiastic teaching method, that ‘Material science and Metallurgy’ has been one subject that I topped the department (I like to show-off a bit, with those dark glasses emoticon). With an in-hand admission letter to one of the top universities to pursue a post-graduation in the subject, the lostlander deviated along the way, only to become a professional ‘Metallurgical Failure Mode Analyst’ much later in her career. If not for Prof.Mukunda, a seed of interest in the subject would have never been sown and I wouldn’t be writing about such an unconventional travel post, it seems.

Metallurgy is a science in which India has mastered from even before the world could imagine. The Vedas have a devoted section to teach these techniques. Prof.Mukunda’s favorite topic was ‘Metal casting with the lost wax technique’. His face beamed in joy every time he mentioned the intricacies that were achieved in the metal art thus created. “No two pieces that are exact replicas of each other can ever be created”, he stressed. We had foundry visits as part of our curriculum but that’s where we could only see sand, centrifugal and other forms of metal casting. Without having easy access, investment casting, also called as the ‘lost wax technique’ of metal casting was only left to our imagination. Many years after my graduation, I have been fortunate that I have been able to visit some of the amazing and traditional foundries in my country that practice the lost wax technique. These places have got them their individual ‘GI’ tags. Here is a walk through my foundry visits which I believe I should share with my fellow readers.

  1. Idols of Swamimalai:
    Swamimalai translates to the ‘Hill of the Lord’ that is named after an important temple in Tamil culture dedicated to Lord Murugan. This little town is famous beyond just this holy abode. One doesn’t need explanation at the mention of the bronze idols of the Cholas era. Apart from several of these antiques being prized possessions at museums across the globe, these treasures are among the highly traded commodities in the black market. These are ALL brought to form in Swamimalai. It is believed that the artisans of Swamimalai are a group of skilled men called as the Stapathis who have passed on their heritage of metal idol making, since the 12th century. The precision of composition and the measurements of these metal idols, mostly bronze are followed as per the ‘Agama Shastras’. This holy land of the alchemists was a part of my weeklong backpacking with my brother, back in Year-2015.
Work-in-progress at a foundry that makes Aranmula Kannadi
Clockwise from top left: 1. Raw material for mould making with the furnace and blower 2. The mould 3. Furnace 4. Metal sheet after moulding ready to be polished

2. Aranmula Kannadi:
An extremely important part of malayalee culture, this handcrafted mirror is a quintessential part of Kerala. I was told that on the day of ‘Vishu’ festival, after waking up in the morning- he/she should first see themselves in an Aranmula Kannadi placed alongside the ‘Canacona flowers and a lit oil lamp’ before anything else. ‘What is it about a mirror?’ a person unknown to the traditions of this land might ask. ‘These mirrors are not glass!’ These mirrors are super-polished metal surfaces that are capable of reflecting real images. A glass always reflects a secondary image (you can notice that there is a distance from the reflecting surface to the image formed) whereas, the metal surface reflects primary images (There is no additional distance between the object and the image).

Two images that give the comparison of reflection in a glass and a metal mirror (Aranmula kannadi)
Top: The secondary reflection in a glass mirror; Below: The primary reflection in a metal ‘Aranmula Kannadi’ mirror

These manually polished mirrors are created through investment casting whose composition remains to be a secret that is passed down through generations of just 1 family. The small group of these master craftsmen who are protecting their secret recipe of the Malayalee culture all reside around the Aranmula Parthasarthy temple in the state of Pathanamthitta. I had the esteemed opportunity of visiting one of these foundries when I sneaked out after working hours on one of my business trips in Year-2019.

Video of my visit to the mirror making foundry at Aranmula

3. Dokra art of Bastar:
This non-ferrous metal art is created by the forest dwelling tribes of Chhattisgarh. Historians believe that this art has evolved from what was used by the primitive tribes to create figurines of their local deities for worship and for jewellery purposes. The metals used were earlier collected directly from earth in the mineral rich area of Bastar, then smelted to separate the desired elements and mixed in intended proportions to form the final material for casting. This is an undocumented tribal technique that has been passed down through several centuries. Today, it is widely used for commercial purposes of decoration and gifting. It is now revered as a part of the tribal culture that represents the state of Chhattisgarh. I had an opportunity to visit one of these foundries and observed keenly the lifeless metal take form into art during my family’s five states’ road trip in Year-2020.

Work-in-progress at a foundry that makes Dokra art in Bastar
Dokra art at various stages of metal casting

4. Kola masks of Karkala:
Talking about all these foundries, I cannot be leaving my homestate behind. Although the folk art of metal mask making is slowly dying, these masks are an extremely important part of the culture of the Tulunad region. These bell metal masks are used in the spiritual performance of the ‘Bhoota Kola‘. Today, the art is used beyond mask making and can be seen in idols, lamps, bowls, utensils among other things used and sold extensively in Udupi district of Karnataka.

5. The lamps and idols of Nagamangala:
The contribution of the Hoysalas to the art and heritage of Karnataka cannot be justified with any number of words. Their intricacies and detailing in their work can be seen not only in the stone sculptures of their temples but also in their metal crafts. A few of the practitioners of the Hoysala style of metal casting have saved and passed on their knowledge to a few artisans who have made the town of Nagamangala their home. This thriving art can be seen in the traditional bronze lamps widely used across Karnataka and in the idols of various deities in this region. Although bronze is believed to be a godly material, other metals like tin, copper etc. too are cast into various articles using this technique.

This post is my small attempt towards promoting local art. I look forward to influence at least a few of my readers to learn more about the rich heritage of India and encourage local artisans in various ways possible. Do share your thoughts with me through the comments below.

My First City Beat

Everyone has their own experiences of travelling to a new place for the first time, especially if he/she is an unseasoned traveler and is alone. This is a guest post by Mr.S.M.Nanjappa. Through this post, he reminiscises his first experience from back in the time. He narrates his story of travelling to SOMEWHERE outside his little village for the first time. Over 5 decades ago, his first time outside his little village was to a metropolitan city of Bangalore.

A brief background:
Kodagu (or Coorg as the British called it) is one of the smallest districts in Karnataka state in India. ‘Kodavas’ form the majority of the native communities that is endemic to this region with a total community population of around 1.5 lakhs. In spite of their small community size, the Kodavas take pride in maximum number of its people having served in the British & the Indian army. They say that the forces and hockey runs in their blood. Mr.S.M.Nanjappa is from a generation that has seen at least one son from every Kodava household serving in the forces and the times when recruitment officers periodically visited every Kodava household looking out to induct the boys into service.

The Story:
I had just graduated from Secondary School, in a small town in Kodagu district. Since I couldn’t join college in the same year due to some reasons, I decided to join the Indian army like most other people from my district did. Accordingly, I planned to attend one of the army recruitments that were scheduled in Bangalore. That was my first journey to a city from the remote village and also the first time that I was seeing trains, auto rickshaws, and double-decker buses among many other things. I found myself having stepped into a New World and everything around me appeared to be strange. On the following day of my arrival at Bangalore, I visited the army recruitment office near Mayo hall. However, I was rejected after my medical examination due to poor eyesight, which I didn’t know until then. I came out of the recruitment office with much disappointment.

Just while I was crossing the gate of the center, a stranger asked me, “What happened young man, are you selected?”. He was tall, well built and smartly dressed and spoke English.
No, I am rejected due to my eye sight”, I replied to him in my broken English.
What are you planning to do now?” he asked.
I will return to my native place”, I told him.
Which is your hometown?” he asked.
Coorg”, I replied.
To my utter surprise, this stranger started to speak Kodava language.
I am from Kokeri village. I am currently working in the Indian Air force as a sergeant. I have come here, to the recruitment office to enroll one of my friend’s sons”, he introduced himself in the only language that I was most comfortable to speak in.

He then thought for a moment and after a pause, offered to help me if I didn’t mind.
I know a Kodava who works as a Major in the army. He will definitely be able to help you with my army job!” he suggested.

I was so glad that I had met a person from my own community and thereon, believed him with my stay in the city. After I nodded an agreement to his suggestion, the two of us started our walk down the boulevard of M.G.Road. I was taken into a small hotel and offered a cup of coffee. From there, we proceeded towards sub-area office, where the Kodava Major worked.

I live in a big bungalow provided by the air force. I have two servants, a jeep and a driver at my service. You can stay in my house for as many days as you like.” he informed me as we continued our walk.

People of Kodagu, especially me, have always been awed by the fancy lifestyle of the army men. The soldiers who came on home leave were always well dressed and smoked expensive cigarettes. It was hard to say the soldiers with their behavior as compared to from the officers of higher ranks in the army. I always wondered if even a soldier in the army lived a classy life. So, when this person told me about the benefits he was provided by the forces, it wasn’t hard for me to believe his story.

Politely rejecting the offer to stay at his house, I informed him of my plan to return to my native by that night’s bus. He asked me to stay back and told me that he would certainly be able to get me enrolled in the army. Even as we continued to walk, I was taken to a big shop that sold fabrics. There, he enquired about certain materials that he needed to refurbish his bungalow. “The air force wants every house to look modern.” he said. Sadly, he couldn’t find anything that matched his taste.

Since this is your first visit to the city, I will show you around. It will be convenient to travel if the jeep is available.” He said, before walking across to a telephone booth to call his driver. He returned to where I was standing and expressed his irritation. “These bloody phones don’t work when necessary!

We arrived at the sub-area office in a bit. He told me to wait outside the gate and that he alone would meet the Major and talk about me. As this man walked inside the office, he was greeted with a smart salute from a sentry standing guard there.

The sergeant returned in ten minutes. If my memory is right, it must have been around 11:00.a.m. that day.
The major is enjoying drinks right now and I too was offered a glass of rum. But, I refused the drink and informed him about your job matter. The major has asked us to get a medical certificate from a competent doctor in Bangalore.” I was informed about his meeting with the army officer.
Do you know any doctor in Bangalore?” I was asked.

After getting a negative reply from me, he thought for a few minutes and told me about his acquaintance of a doctor who worked in Bowring hospital. As per the suggestion of this god-sent man, I agreed and continued to walk with him towards the hospital. On our way, I was taken to a market from where this man wanted to purchase a few things for the interiors of his house. After enquiring the rates of a few things in the market, he came out from there informing the vendors that he would return on his way back. However, as we walked out, he told me about the things being expensive in that market as it was frequented mostly by the officers.

As we were passing the market, this man’s eyes fell on a vendor who was selling puppies. “Seven rupees per puppy”, the vendor informed upon the sergeant’s enquiry of the price. Although he intended to buy two for the company of his Alsatian dog in his bungalow, he expressed his unhappiness over the quality of the canines and left the place.

He again went into a telephone booth and tried to call his driver to get the jeep, but returned blaming the phones that were out of order.

We finally arrived at Bowring hospital. I was again made to stand outside, where the sergeant went in alone to the cabin of one of the doctors and returned in about 10 minutes. “There is good news. The doctor has agreed to give you the required medical certificate. But, he has demanded an amount of Rs.100/- for the same.” he informed me.
Give me Rs.100/- so that I can get your medical certificate.” he asked me politely after a pause of a few seconds, with his palms stretched in front of me.

It was that moment, in which I was struck by my sixth sense. “I have only Rs.5/- with me.” I informed him.
“It is a matter of getting a job. Don’t lose the opportunity. Check again if you have at least Rs.50/- I will adjust the remaining amount.” he told me.
I have kept all the money I had in the hotel room itself. I now have only Rs.5/- “, I expressed my helplessness by showing him my wallet.

After hearing this, the sergeant grew furious. He forcibly searched the pockets in my trousers and my shirt. After finding no other amount, he took that Rs.5/- and walked away. I was trembling with fear while I was helplessly watching this man walk away with my money.

In my head, I was thanking all the gods that I knew of, in my prayers. God had saved me that day from a conman. In villages, we had grown up listening to stories conmen and thieves in big cities. Because of that, I had hidden all the money that I had inside my socks. I had lost only Rs.5 out of the 300 rupees that I had carried with me from my native.

The skyline of Bengaluru, that I now spend my retired life at.

Later in time, I learnt that this gentleman was a professional cheater. He often robbed people on the Mysore and Bangalore train route. Army soldiers who were coming to Kodagu on home leave and Kodava ladies were his prime targets at bus stands and railway stations.

This article was featured in ‘Coffeeland News’ Sunday, January 26th 2003 edition.

What is your memory of travelling alone? or out of your home for the first time? have you ever been conned or mugged? Share your thoughts in the comment below.

Finding a hidden gem of Wayanad- Aranamala waterfalls

I have discussed with you all why I volunteered to become a ‘Trek leader on weekends’ and how much I enjoy doing it with ‘Plan the Unplanned’ (PTU). With Covid19 lockdowns and safety precautions that followed, break from my weekends with PTU has been longer than I had thought. Although I have been travelling with a closed group of friends and family since few months now, the fear of socializing with a bunch of unknown people had kept me away from PTU. Finally, this January, I decided to get out and lead a group of trekkers. The destination assigned for this weekend was Sultan Bathery in Wayanad district of Kerala. And the task was to find a hidden gem in the Aranamala hills. We were going to hike along a stream to see a waterfall.

Itinerary:
Friday: Leave Bangalore by night
Saturday: Day hike to Aranamala waterfall, Visit sunset-point and night camping at Ambukutti hills
Sunday: Watch sunrise, visit Edakkal caves and explore Wayanad. Return to Bangalore by night.

The Aranmala waterfall trek

The Details:
It is a very hazy memory from the cold dark January morning of sitting inside our bus at the Wayanad wildlife sanctuary’s Sultan Bathery check post. We had arrived much before 06.00.a.m., when the forest gates would open for public entry. Since we were not allowed to make any noise or get out of the bus in the forest area, we all decided to get some sleep until the gates opened. At first, I was woken up by the cries of peacocks that seemed to be somewhere very near to the bus and some distant elephant trumpet. But then, the darkness around and the exhaustion from the previous workday got me back to fall asleep. I was woken up again in a while, by a sound that was very contrasting and disturbing as compared to what I had heard before falling asleep the last time. This time, the loud deafening sounds were of honking buses and trucks that had congregated at the check post. I opened my eyes to see the dawn of the day with a red sun rising over a mist laden green paddy field from my window. The fresh dung just outside the bus gave me a momentary fright at the thought of having had an elephant walk right past us, in the dark. All said and done, the entry formalities at the inter-state border was sorted and we were at a hotel in a bit. We freshened up, had a nice Kerala breakfast and got ready for the long day ahead.

The start of the hike, Thollayiram kandi in the backdrop

After arriving at Meppadi town, we met our local guide and shifted from our minibus to 4WD Jeeps. The initial stretch deceived me in thinking why a 4WD was needed to drive on a properly laid concrete road. Just then, the roads disappeared, and the real ride started… Although I was sitting in the rear end of the vehicle, I preferred not to sit on the seat and chose to hang on to the roof lest have all my joints and bones displaced. The long drive through the thick canopied forest trail culminated at the start point of our hike. We descended through the path that deviated from the main road towards a river. That’s the ‘Thollayiram Kandi’, our guide pointed out at a peak topped by the rolling clouds. “Kandi is a local unit of measurement”, he elaborated as we continued to walk. We walked through cardamom plantations and jumped over a few fallen tree trunks and creeping roots until we reached a stream.

The stream and the hiking trail at Aranamala

From there onwards, the hike was mainly upstream. While enjoying the absolute music of the gurgling waters of the stream, the croaking frogs and the shrilling cicadas, we slipped down a few large rocks and fell into the shallow waters a couple of times. In spite of trying hard not to get our shoes wet, we ended up soaking them up and picking out occasional leeches from our feet. We realized that given our pace of hiking up, we would not be able to return on time with sufficient daylight. Hence from there onwards, our guide made his own path, through the thick forest. He walked ahead by cutting the thick bushes that came across, all by keeping the stream in sight. We did slip and tumble down the steep a couple of times though. But the hanging vines and lianas came to our rescue. And suddenly, our first view of the waterfall emerged. It was beautiful and the water pool looked crystal clear, tempting to step inside. Apart from our group, there was no one else.

The first waterfall enroute

As we got ready to step into the pool, “This is not the main waterfall. We need to walk further ahead”, said our guide. If this waterfall was so calm and beautiful, we wondered how the main waterfall would be like. We were excited! But our excitement sought energy 😛 We had to climb up the same rock, on one end of which the water plunged down. Quite a tricky climb but worth every inch of it! A short walk further from there waaaaasssss the hidden gem that we had come in search of. Now, don’t ask me the name of the waterfall, it is completely off the map and mobile network. So, there is NO way you will find it on google. To make it simple, you can call it the Aranamala waterfall, the waterfall in the Aranamala hills.

The Aranamala waterfalls

That’s all folks, we’re off into the pool to enjoy our dip! But hey, it was not so easy…. The water was bloody cold, and I had cramps in my feet for the first few minutes. I meanwhile enjoyed my free fish-pedicure too, it sort of eased the cramps for me. And then with a dip, I was all set! A waterfall so secluded, a pool so clear and a feeling so divine, I couldn’t have asked for any better to make up for all the travels missed in nearly a year now. After spending some good time under the waterfall and with our soaking wet clothes on, we decided to return. It was already 03.30.p.m and hence decided to take an easy path instead of walking back through the same terrain of forest and the rocks. So, we were taken through a shorter but a beautiful path through cardamom plantation for our descent.

After a nice filling lunch at a campsite enroute, we boarded the jeeps back towards Meppadi. The original itinerary did include a short sunset ride, but the clouds didn’t seem to part for the entire day. From Meppadi, we reached the base of Ambukutti hills for the night. It took us yet another jeep ride to a homestay where we had our chai and conversations. And a fun time around the bonfire until dinner was served.

Post dinner, we carried our tents and sleeping bags up the hill and managed to pitch them atop. The winds were strong, and the rocky ground was tough. With the thick mist blinding all around and the instructions from our guide to not venture away from the tents, all that we could envisage was a deep valley below. The bonus of holding up in the cold until morning, u ask? ‘The view from the tent, of the sun rising above the clouds at 06.00a.m.’ But come morning, we had a surprise awaiting. There was so many clouds until 09.00.a.m that we got a glimpse of the sun for barely a few seconds. We walked up the hill a little further from our campsite, took in some clean air and good views of the range around. We then returned to pack our tents and freshen up for the day. Our breakfast and our ride back to Meppadi was awaiting us at the homestay.

Ambukutti hills as seen from our campsite

That was my story about offbeat Wayanad with ‘Plan the Unplanned’, of leading a group of weekenders and enjoying my weekend, both at the same time.

Other Travel recommendations:
Edakkal caves are located at a walkable distance from the campsite at Ambukutti hills
You can visit Tirunelli temple and Irupu waterfalls by driving through Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (Tholpetta) and Nagarhole National park.
Alternately, you can explore Sultan Bathery, visit the ancient Jain temple and Banasura sagar dam that offers a good view of the surrounding hills.

Offbeat Things to do in Vishakhapatnam

My interest in pursuing a career related to the oceans goes a long way back into history. I intended to study oceanography while in school. Then, in spite of studying at an elite college in Bengaluru that offered the army wing of NCC (National Cadet Corps), I wanted to move out to get a ‘B & C’ certification in the Naval wing. After completing my graduation in mechanical engineering, I thought I could do well with a career in a refinery or a shipping harbor or something. A career in ‘Merchant navy’ never had an approval from my family! I did try to get into the ‘Indian Navy’ through the SSB as well. Anyways, all have been futile attempts as life always had other plans for me. But all the above interests have a deep connection with the port city of Visakhapatnam.

Apart from its strategically important port, Vizag had intrigued me as this city is geographically located between a sprawling beachfront and the eastern Ghats. I have been wanting to tick off Vizag, also called as Vishakhapatnam from my ‘to visit list’ from a really long time. Finally, my stint with Vizag materialized in January’2021. This visit is a part of my family’s road trip through Bengaluru– Telangana – Chhattisgarh – Odisha – Andhra Pradesh – Bengaluru.

I had heard a lot of my acquaintances tell me how beautiful this city is. Also, blame it on me for being spoilt by what my home state has offered me in my upbringing. The beaches of karavali, the hills of western Ghats, the coffee plantations of my native district and the sumptuous spread of regional cuisines, similar things were spoken about at Vizag as well. But all the people who had suggested Vizag on my bucket list were the urban tourists who visited this place to either chill by the beachside or relax and rejuvenate at a resort. For those who know me well, I have always enjoyed the exploratory kind of travel. So, I did manage to find such places and things at Vizag to satiate the explorer in me. Here are my favorites:

The INS Kursura submarine museum: This is like “THE” thing that brought me to Vizag at the first place. The experience of the guided tour inside of this de-commissioned submarine is something that is priceless and cannot be quantified with a price of an entry ticket.

INS Kursura- Submarine museum

The TupoLev142M aircraft museum: This is one of its kind of what I have been before. The experience of walking through a real aircraft that once served in the ‘Indian Navy’ is a million-dollar worth if you are someone who has deep interest in the uniforms, technology, and scientific history.

Tupolev 142m at the aircraft museum at Vizag

The cable car ride: Kailasagiri hill is a favorite hangout among the locals. They choose to drive up there, walk around the park and hangout at the eateries there. But for me, this was an interesting place because I reached the top of this hill through a cable-car. For all the people drooling over the Singapore tourism’s photos, Vizag is your nearest bet. Once you reach the peak, another recommendation from me is to take a ride on the toy train that goes around the hill. The 360deg view of the city and its enchanting coastline is indeed worth a visit, while you are in Vizag.

View of the coastline from the Cable car in Kailasagiri

Borra caves: Situated amidst lush greenery, these caves are known to be the widest cave complex in the Indian sub-continent. If possible, time your visit into the caves when a train passes over the land above, you can experience the tremors inside. It is located on the outskirts of Vizag and can be combined as a day trip to Araku valley.

Glimpses of Borra caves

Araku valley: For someone hailing from a place that is called as the ‘Coffee land’ of India (Kodagu district in Karnataka), I found the small patches of the famed ‘Araku valley’ coffee estates overhyped. But still, a meal of ‘bamboo-chicken’ with the valley in the backdrop, a hundred small dotting waterfalls and the beautiful scenery all along the way that made me want to stop for a photo at every turn of the road, all score a definite recommendation from me for a day trip to this valley.

At Araku entrance (From Koraput side)

Sip some kallu by the beach: With its buzzing coastline and palm trees growing in abundance, it is highly likely that you will spot some toddy or Kallu tappers (palm sap collectors) walking past you near the beaches. You can buy the fresh Kallu and enjoy while you are chilling by the beach.

A toddy/ Kallu tapper selling Kallu at one of the shacks

Beach hopping & Ship spotting: Being a major port city on the east coast, it is very likely that you can see some mad-ass big ships that dock at the Tennessee park Beach from across the world. However, there’s ‘MV Maa’, a Bangladeshi cargo ship that’s abandoned after it got beached during the covid-19 lockdown. If you’ve never been so close to a ship before, this is your opportunity to literally walk over, touch and feel a ship. Bonus: News is that if everything goes well, the ship will be converted to a floating restaurant soon 😍

MV Maa- the beached cargo ship of Bangladesh

Have you been to Vishakhapatnam before? What did you like the most?

An offbeat drive from Bengaluru to Gulakamale lake

If you are someone who has been following my blogs for some time now, you would know that most of our family trips are on weekends and to random destinations located around the Bangalore outskirts. We leave home with random reasons to drive out and then pick up equally random roads and follow-it till the road reaches a dead-end. We have thus far explored several villages like this. This weekend too was a similar one. And the reason to drive out, you may be curious to know, right?

My dad had long heard of a pig farm located somewhere around Kanakapura road. We had first stopped for lunch at a hotel on Kanakapura road. There, my dad enquired with the hotelier if they knew of any pig-farm around. They informed us that the kitchen waste from their hotel too was collected by someone who runs a pig farm but was unsure of its location. He gave us the possible location of the place with rough directions. After lunch, we headed out in that direction, a deviation before Kaggalipura.

Our drive to Gulakamale lake

With just the deviation, there was a sudden and a contrasting change in the scenery to drive through as compared to the super congested Kanakapura highway. For a moment I felt as if I were driving through some remote lanes of Coastal Karnataka or the Malnad region. There were stretches of areca and banana plantations on either side creating abundant greenery and change in the ambience. Since there were barely any people on the road, we continued to drive till we found some village ahead. By this time, we had covered a good distance and passed through several types of fruit and vegetable farms.

After reaching the village, we stopped by to enquire a villager on the roadside about the farm, he guided us to a pig-farm located next to his farm. But after reaching there, we realized that it was a different one that my dad had heard of and we had no entry into the place where we had now reached. So, we continued our drive further and reached a junction where we had to pick a direction to turn, the left or the right. Instead, we chose to stop the car in a side and walk up a large wall in front of us that looked like a high-rise wall of a reservoir or something. Indeed, it was a lake up there and surrounded by farms and distant hills of Bannerghatta on the other side. A flock of migratory birds too seemed to be resting in a small islet in the middle of the lake. I checked the location on google maps and I learnt that the place was called as ‘Gulakamale lake’.

Gulakamale lake

The water looked so good and we sat there for some time, enjoying the cool breeze even on a hot and humid afternoon. It was just my family in the entire place until we noticed some local kids who arrived there. They removed their clothes and jumped into the lake one after the other, enjoying their fair share of fun time. They took all of us back to our childhood days and it was a pleasure to watch them enjoy it that way.

After a while, we decided to move further on the road. This time, we chose to take the road to our left and continued at it. We passed through millet farms, taking a round about of the same lake, papaya farms and other vegetable farms before arriving at a village called ‘Nallakkanadoddi’. It was a small settlement with nothing noteworthy to see or do. Hence, we went ahead as we saw that the road was newly laid and in good condition.

The road reached a dead-end and that was the parking lot of ‘Tottikallu falls’ commonly known as TK falls among the urban crowd of Bangalore. This was the second time for me that I had reached the entrance of TK falls, both times an unplanned drive had taken me there. Again, I decided not to go there on both occassions given the large crowd that had come down over the weekend. More so, given the Covid-19 situation and the crazy crowd this time, we didn’t even dare to step out of our car. So, TK falls has to wait until next time. From here, we decided to head back home and not stop anywhere on the way. Thanks to the weekend rush on Kanakapura road, we would need good number of hours to make our way back through the traffic.

Art and Crafts of Bastar

Bastar is an area soaked in rich culture. And art is an integral and unique part of this indigenous culture. It is safe to say that Kondagaon district is the art hub where there are entire villages dedicated to each of these handicrafts, with households registered with the ministry of culture & art. Several of these artisans are National award winners and visiting faculty at universities across the world. During my week long stay at Bastar, I managed to find time to visit some of these villages and interact with the artisans.

Blame it on me being an experienced professional in materials, manufacturing and heat-treatment processes, I have this weird fancy for everything that involves these aspects. One would not want to seize a travel opportunity from me when there is an element of art and engineering in it…. On similar lines, is the first part of this post.

The major and famous handicrafts of Bastar can be listed as below:

Wrought iron artefacts: Chhattisgarh is a state blessed with a mineral rich geography. Until a few decades ago, the tribes inhabiting the region used to collect raw iron ore from the naturally available soil or portions of earth, heat it in a furnace and separate the molten iron to make wrought iron. Today, wrought iron is directly purchased from the market. This is then melted and beaten into sheets. The sheets are then formed into various patterns and welded into beautiful artefacts. Although the traditional designs are based on the local tribal culture and represent aspects of daily life in Bastar like animals, hunting, the tribal folk, tribal deities, etc., modern adaptations have been inspired by the Indian epics among many other things. But still, each piece is handmade and unique with no two pieces being exactly the same.

Demonstration of making wrought iron craft by an artisan

Dokra art: Bell-metal is an alloy prepared locally and cast into various patterns through a technique called as ‘lost-wax technique’ of metal casting. Although this technique was primarily used by the indigenous tribes to mold their traditional jewelry back in the time, it has slowly evolved into making idols and other home décor items. These indigenous metal cast items are collectively called as Dokra art.

Dhokra art at various stages of metal casting

Terracotta pottery: A special type of clay is dug from the vast paddy farms and is then crafted into various artefacts. The specialty of the art here in Bastar is that very large and real-life sized objects are crafted completely with clay. After the potter assembles the product piece by piece, he then burns it as a whole unit to give it the required strength and rigidity. Well, there’s an entire village of potters / Terracotta artisans in Kondagaon.

Terracotta art at Bastar’s pottery village

Wooden carvings & Carpentry: With the abundance of forest cover and timber availability, wood craft is a major part of the handicraft culture here. Large tree trunks and roots are given the form of beautiful figurines, animals, etc. by very skilled artisans. This can also be seen in the rich carvings on doors and friezes of various old and traditional structures across the region.

Stone sculpture: With the mineral rich earth of the region, various types of soil and stone are available. Several of these earthy materials are used to make beautiful sculptures.

Mural Paintings: With a somewhat influence of the Patachitra art from the neighboring state of Odisha, the local Gondi artform and several other influences, the indigenous wall and fabric painting has evolved. Beautiful pictures of tribal deities, everyday life etc. can be seen being depicted through these paintings.

Handloom: A small portion of the local tribes are involved in collection of the naturally available cotton and Kosa silk from the forests and weaving them into traditional textiles.

Jewelry: Each of the tribes who inhabit the remote jungles of Chhattisgarh have their own unique pieces of jewelry. Anything that ranges from silver, fabric, plant fiber, shells or animal bones, the locally available materials from the wild are adapted into their culture in the form of traditional jewelry.

The Heritage bridges of Rajahmundry

River Godavari is the longest river in South India that travels over 1000 kilometers. My first glimpse of this beauty was at Rajahmundry, where the ritualistic ‘Godavari Arati’ is offered to this mighty river every evening. The sunset and a boat ride from the Godavari ghat are experiences in themselves. Among the umpteen dams, reservoirs, bridges that are a built across her, the most noteworthy bridges are located in Rajahmundry. Here is a quick look at these heritage structures.

The heritage bridges in Rajahmundry
  1. Old Godavari bridge – This is the oldest of the three major bridges built across Godavari here. It was originally called as ‘Havelock bridge’ since it was named after Sir Arthur Elibank Havelock, the then governor of Madras. This is a Stone masonry & Steel girder bridge whose construction started in 1897 and commissioned in 1900. After completing 100 years, this railway bridge was decommissioned in 1997.
  2. Godavari bridge – Also called as the ‘Kovvur-Rajahmundry bridge’, was commissioned in 1974. This truss bridge has a two-way road deck over a single-track rail deck making it Asia’s second longest railroad bridge with a length of 4.1kms.
  3. Godavari Arch bridge – Commissioned in 1997, this single line railway bridge is the latest of the three major bridges in Rajahmundry and was constructed as a replacement for the Havelock bridge. This concrete- Bowstring-girder bridge is built parallel to the Havelock bridge with a distance of 200mts.
The arch Bridge at Rajamundry

Apart from the above bridges, there is another road bridge that connects Rajahmundry city with the islands of Konaseema. But what makes this bridge special is that it runs parallel to another heritage structure built across the mighty river. Dowleshwaran Barrage is an irrigation structure built in 1850 by a British engineer, Sir Arthur Thomas Cotton. Earlier to the construction of the barrage, the place used to be constantly flooded and unworthy of anything. This 3.5kms long barrage then allowed the floods to pass through and enriched the place making the unused land worthy of cultivation. It was rebuilt in 1970 and renamed as Sir Arthur Cotton Barrage or Godavari Barrage.

getting lost in traveling through places and time…

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