Tag Archives: Chennai outings

Traveling to Tirupati? Make it an interesting roadtrip

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

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

Bangalore-KGF-Chittoor-Tirupati highway.

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

Bangalore-Madanapally-Horsley hills- Talakona- Tirupati.

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

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The border crossing from Karnataka to Andhra Pradesh through papaya farms

So our itinerary was something like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The birds at Lake Pulicat

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

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

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

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

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

The Turtle Walk in the beaches of Chennai

One of the things on my bucket list – ‘The Turtle walk’ : An all night trek along the beaches of the East-Coast road.. It’s more of a walk with a bunch of similar minded volunteers with a sole intention to find Olive Ridley turtle nests- and relocate the eggs to a safer location.. Among the seven sea turtle species, five have been tracked in India during their breeding seasons between December to March. Among them, the Olive Ridley turtles: famous for arribadas or mass nesting are found along the Coromandel coast in large numbers.

We had booked a slot for ourselves on a fine weekend and traveled to Chennai to be a part of this volunteering and to learn more about these turtles. All the volunteers had gathered at the Neelangarai beach by 11.00.p.m where we all had an interactive session with the organisers which enabled us to clear all our doubts about these reptiles. The walk started at around 1.00.a.m as we were told that most nesting happens late at night and leaving later would allow us to find more nests which we would miss out if we start early.

As we kept walking, suddenly someone found a baby turtle in the dark. We were all excited and began to look out for the nest where there was a possibility of finding the other hatchlings. However, we couldn’t find any, owing to the dogs that could have eaten them up or the babies would have already swam into the sea.

The Baby turtle- Our prized catch for the day
The Baby turtle- Our prized catch for the day

The sea turtle hatchlings always walk towards the brighter side(usually sea water in normal conditions). Hence, we had to switch off all the lights we had and just one person stood in the water holding a torch, which the baby followed inorder to reach the water. It was amazing how these babies find their way into the sea and it is disturbing to know that due to modernisation, the cities/land is getting brighter and these turtles are walking towards light(township) and becoming prey to several factors.

The baby being guided towards water with a torch
The baby being guided towards water with a torch

We then continued to walk.. We found so many dead turtles(which reminded us of the brutal fishermen, ship propellers which pose a great threat to the turtles), pufferfish(Fugus), cats, cuttle fishes etc. along our way..

A dead pufferfish along the beach
A dead pufferfish along the beach

We walked and walked and could not find a single nest. It was already 02.00.a.m and time for the fishermen to venture into the sea for their daily vatch. We crossed numerous hamlets along the coast- most of them were extremely filthy where the fishermen were pooping in the water, staying insensitive to the number of people walking there.

And then.. We reached Besantnagar Beach- the end point of our trek. We were all extremely sad that we hadn’t found any nests- the sole purpose of us going all the way from Bangalore was not met 😦 Just as we were all about to depart, the organiser got a call from a volunteer who had reached there much earlier. They had found a nest: Right there, under a pull cart, in the dirty sands of Besantnagar beach: ‘Thank God.!!’ was the first exclamation from all of us. It was followed by a ‘WOWWWww’ 🙂

The volunteers unearthing the eggs
The volunteers unearthing the eggs

We removed 147 eggs out of the nest. We could understand that the turtle had come to land for the first time in this season. While they were measuring the nest size, we got a message of spotting another nest nearby. It was all worth the travel from Bangalore 🙂 We found 42 eggs in the second one- Probably the turtle had come for the 3rd time in this season.

A volunteer measuring the nest's specifications
A volunteer measuring the nest’s specifications

The organisers will keep an account of the depth, width, temperature and the distance of the nest from the high/low tide; create a similar incubation atmosphere in a safer location/artificial hatchery. Then, let all the babies into the water when they hatch out after about 40-45 days. It is amazing to know how these turtles come back to the same place where they were born, after about 12 years for breeding. These 12years are called ‘lost years’.. It is still unknown what happens to these turtles for those twelve years in the sea.. Yes, Radio tagging has lately been in use to study these hatchlings once they enter the sea on their maiden swim which is still an ongoing subject of research. So, Yes! These hatchlings are going to return back to this same place where they were born only after 12 years, and that time, to start yet another generation of turtles..!

Of late, there are a few more places across India promoting conservation of sea turtles. You can be a part of it too at places like Chennai, Orissa, Ratnagiri, Andaman Islands etc. When are you planning your beach trek? Keep me posted 🙂

Madurai (Part 2) – Centre of arts and culture

There is no existence of a place without the people, and with civilization exists its culture. Madurai has its own share. My previous post (Madurai Part 1) was exclusively about the architectural landmarks spread across the city. But it would be injustice if the other things associated with this amazing city goes without a mention. Of course, the write-up could run into books if I had to write about each of them. And it isn’t necessary that everyone travelling is a pilgrim or a history buff or an architecture enthusiast. Hence, here’s an attempt to throw light on other aspects that any visitor to Madurai can expect. This is not a detailed one, but I touch upon various dimensions that you can theme your trip around Madurai. Do let me know if this post helps or if there is any other dimension I missed. Here goes my list.

Art:

  • Sculptures: adorning every temple wall, pillar and their towers are a marvel in itself.
  • Carpentry: Several wooden vahanas used to carry the idols of the various deities in the temple are something that need the attention of art afficionados.
  • Handicrafts: Various accessories used for decorating Devi idols, made of delicate sequins, etc. are sold in several stall inside the large corridors of the Meenakshi temple.
  • Mural paintings: This needs no introduction, the famous Madurai paintings are a gift of the Pandyan era, adorning the temple walls.
Clockwise from top left: 1.The sculptures on the western tower of the Meenakshi temple; 2.One of the mural paintings from the temple walls; 3.The wooden carriages for the temple idols; 4: Handicrafts from the temple stalls

Food:

Listing just a fixed menu while in Madurai would just be an understatement. If you are a foodie, Madurai would need two full days to explore its culinary delights alone. It is famous for both vegetarian and non-vegetarian specialties. I’d probably write a separate post about it sometime later. But this list is the list that we had when my family visited. But believe me- it is BEYOND!

  • Breakfast – Idly & Sambar, Pongal + a cup of filter coffee
    11.00.a.m – Jigarthanda (it’s more like a combination of falooda & kulfi)
  • Lunch- Puliyogare @ the temple store, curd rice, Sambar rice
    4.00.p.m.- Karupatti (palm sugar) coffee
  • Dinner- Anything after 7.00.p.m is called meals. Must try is the ghee roast & rava Masala dosa

Costume:

  • Sarees for women & Dhotis for men.
  • Madurai cotton sarees with simple prints and zari borders with temple designs are popular.

Jewellery:

Among the locals- particularly those belonging to the Thevar cast, it is believed that women are prettier with bigger earlobes. Hence, the girl child born in this community is made to wear a traditional earring called the ‘Thandatti’ when she is young. The thandatti is said to evoke the 3 levels of our world: terrestrial, astral and divine and these levels are associated with Mandala. Each piece of this weighs 27gms and is made of gold and this piece of jewelry is specific to Madurai.

A Thevar woman wearing the traditional Thandatti earring

Shopping:

Shopping at Madurai is all about wholesale vendors and there are specified streets for each of them.

  • Cotton sarees/ dress materials: Shops are all around the temple complex
  • Steel utensils: Plastic beads & girls’ accessories, gold plated imitation jewelry to name a few.
  • Pooja related accessories & crafts: Particularly inside Pudumandapam (1000 years old market)
  • Farm produce: Varieties of plantains / bananas and green groceries among the others.

A brief intro to a city full of life and activities. Justice yet to be done. Signing off with a hope that it has helped someone somewhere in some form who is seeking for some info on this Pandyan city….

Studying ‘Bachelor of Cycle-logy’ at IIT-Madras

This trip to Chennai is going to be a memorable one. Because, this was my first solo business trip. Apart from traveling alone in a land that spoke a language I barely understood, I managed to pretty decently pull-off the audit at a vendor company, all by myself. Some small little personal milestones! So, here’s a peek into my first solo business day, without business :p

I landed at the Meenambakkam international airport at around 8.00.a.m. and hired a taxi to the vendor’s place. This is when my tryst with Tamil started. The driver did not know my language and I did not know his. But, one thing I learnt quite fast was, being a Kodava really helps while roaming around in South India. I could mix up bits of Malayalam and a little more of Kodava thakk and make it sound pretty much like Tamil. The driver managed to understand the basic instructions. And the rest, sign language it was. But yeah, it was a lucky start for a solo stint.

But imagine finishing work ahead of schedule and having a late night flight to return! Especially when you don’t have a backup plan in hand and do not know the local language. Even if I googled for some place to hang around, I was not able to communicate it to my driver.. The sign language wouldn’t be of much help if I had to spend a longer unplanned day. Hell! I felt stranded in my own country.

That’s when a friend studying at IIT-Madras came to my rescue. I rang him up and he guided the driver in Tamil to reach his campus. The plan was that he would show me around the campus and then drop me back to the airport. Fair! So that’s what I did..

What if I did not crash the GATE (The toughest entrance exam in India) ?? That did not stop me from learning at the prestigious IIT-M..!! Thanks to my friend pursuing research at IIT-M, this was where I completed my “Bachelor of Cycle-logy” which I had left unfinished way back in primary school. He suggested that cycling around the vast campus was the easiest way of getting around and I agreed to his suggestion. He got his bicycle out and borrowed one for me from one of his classmates. Then, we had gotten pedalling on the roads of the vast 600+ acres of lush greenery on the campus of IIT-Madras.

Top: Gajanan circle at IIT-M premises; Below: Bonn avenue at IIT-M

IIT-Madras is located adjacent to Guindy national park(the 8th smallest in India)- the last bit of the tropical dry evergreen forest in India. There is so much greenery in the entire canyons, that our cycling stint was indeed refreshing. This allowed me to witness the harmonious co-existence of man and the wild, in an urban setting. While the Black bucks, spotted deers etc. walked around fearlessly on the campus, the humans went about their businesses without coming on the ways of these wild animals.

Wild animals walking around freely inside the IIT-Madras campus

After we had pedalled around almost all corners of the campus, we checked in to the ‘cafe coffee day’ on their campus. Since restaurants are heavily subsidized in such institutions, this was the “Cheapest” CCD I had been till date. It was 5.00.p.m. something and we still had so much time left. So, we decided to hit the “Elliot Beach” in Besant nagar about 6.kms from IIT-M.

We had some corn, I bought a Rajnikanth mask, flew a kite etc. on the sea shore. We did all that which helped us to kill time. The beach was a wee bit dirtier than the ones I had seen all my life (in Mangalore and Kerala). Meanwhile, I waited patiently to see the sunset. I waited and waited… and it was dark already. Only then did I realize that the sun only rises in the East coast 😛

Top:The Karl Schmidt memorial; Below: A corn vendor at Elliot’s/ Besantnagar beach

It was going to be 6.30.p.m and we thought it would be wiser to leave, because we had to brave through the Chennai traffic so that we made it on time to the airport.

All in all, a day well spent. Looking forward for many more business trips 😛