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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You have probably read my earlier post on exploring the offbeat landmarks of Old Bengaluru. Here is another one. This time, it was a culinary trip of Old Bengaluru to a friend who had flown down to this southern metropolis, from the so-called Northern part of India. I had been asked to take him on a gastronomic tour of my city. For someone who has a penchant for everything old school, I thought Old Bengaluru would be perfect to call it a day. ‘From vintage automobiles, architecture, iconic restaurants serving traditional recipes to by lanes and alleys that narrate their own individual story of the city, this section of Bengaluru has everything that would tickle a bone or two of this mad man’, I thought.
Having largely spent my teenage in North Bengaluru and given my familiarity with the area, Malleswaram was my first choice. However, given the convenience of commutation from my current place of stay, I chose to show him around South Bengaluru. But when one says South Bengaluru, it is a world in itself and the geographical area is large to fit all in one day. Hence, I took time to mark a quick map of restaurants to cover, along with giving a peak into the cultural heart of the city. This part of the metro lays in stark contrast to the Bengaluru, that the millennials from Whitefield and Marathahalli know of.
The obvious choice was a walk tour of Basavanagudi and the Pete area. These are the two most important clusters of true Bengaluru that have held onto the roots, despite the rapid and traumatic transition this city has seen in the last decade in the name of urbanization and modernization. Under the canopy of massive native trees, the aroma of the by-two filter kaapis shared at the numerous Shanti Sagar and darshini food joints, the air here feels different from anywhere else. With almost every street dotted with Classical dance and music schools and happy nonagenarian couples whizzing in their Padminis and Ambassadors, it has a different vibe here. One can find some of the traditional old houses and landmark restaurants only in these localities to really experience old Bengaluru. Each of these iconic eateries have a near century old history and their old school ambience is still intact inside the heritage structures that house them. With a small appetite for food and a big quest for exploration, the portions of food were limited only to the signature dishes of each restaurant, to accommodate more places. So, here is my itinerary of a gastronomic tour of Bangalore of yore.
Meet-up point: Basavanagudi is the name of a temple (It translates to ‘Bull- Temple’). Basavanagudi is the name of a locality in South Bangalore, named after the temple. It is an extension of the Pete area, which was specifically created to accommodate the upper class, and more-specifically the Brahmin community. No trip to South Bengaluru is complete without a visit to this landmark temple built by Kempegowda, the founder of Bengaluru. Apart from the Big Bull temple, the Dodda Ganapathi and the Bugle rock (a small watch tower from the Kempegowda era) are a must visit on the same premises. If you time it up well, you can part-take in the annual groundnut fair in the locality. (Read here to know more about the history of the Kadlekai Parishe). After meeting my friend here, we started our gastronomic tour to our first food stop.
Food stop 1 (Breakfast): As synonymous as Dosa is with South India, Vidyarthi Bhavan is with South Bengaluru. Ask anyone for the best Dosa in the city and this place scores on top unanimously. It is a restaurant started initially to cater to the student community of the area which started a new culture of a hangout place for friends in those days. On most days, the queue can extend well up to a kilometer. My friend and I wiped off our plates of their signature Masala dosa for breakfast. (Click here to read further about the history of Vidyarthi Bhavan)
Food stop 2 (Light eats): No foodie who visits Bangalore is satisfied without taking an evening walk on the Eat street at VV-Puram. However, I decided to go here in the morning, in order to avoid the maddening rush. Honey cake and Congress bun at the iconic VB Bakery was what we needed. This is the first Iyengar bakery to be established in Karnataka which has paved a new culture in baking (Read here for more about V.B.Bakery). Avarebele (Val bean) is a favorite ingredient of the Bengalureans, who have a dedicated annual fair to celebrate this pulse (Click here to read further about Avarekai mela). Hence, picking up a packet of avarebele mixture for home from one of the stores there was an obvious choice.
Food stop 3 (11 o clock, coffee): It is an important break time for the employed section of the society. Brahmin’s Coffee bar is a household name for their filter coffee and the delectable chutney served with idly on their very limited menu. This tiny eatery is in a corner of Shankarapuram, which is also famed for the Shankaramatha, a learning center of the advaitha philosophy. We had a quick stopover for a hot cuppa this little place is known for, before heading to Pete. (Read further about Brahmin’s coffee bar here)
Food stop 4 (Lunch): To satiate the hunger pangs, I planned to treat my friend with an authentic Bangalorean affair. With multiple theories surrounding the origin of the military hotel culture, the history of these restaurants dotting across the southern part of Karnataka is unclear. Bangalore is home to some of the best in the state. I don’t think there would be any better meal than ‘Ragi Mudde oota’ savored at a military hotel to get a peek into the local flavor, including the ambience. Hence, we were lunching that afternoon at S.G. Rao’s military hotel, located in the cotton Pete area. A typical military hotel meal includes Kaal soup, Ragi Mudde and Mutton biriyani. (Click here to read further about S.G. Rao’s military hotel)
Food stop 5 (dessert): A meal is complete only with a nice dessert. If there is one sweet meat that is synonymous with Karnataka (Mysore state), it is Mysore pak. Since I couldn’t take my guest to Mysore for that, the closest I could get is at Sri Venkateshwara sweet meat stall located at Bale Pete, a short walk away from cotton Pete. Their Mysore pak and dumroot are the sweets my friend packed for his roommates back in his hometown. (Click here to read about Sri Venkateshwara sweet meat stall).
The Pete walk: An old Bengaluru exploration is nothing without a walk along the narrow snaking lanes of the Pete area, the true business epicenter of both New and Old Bengaluru. This area is segmented into various sections and named according to the commodity sold and the communities that resided there in the yester years. From green groceries, handloom, steel, plastic to precious metal, everything is available in this locality. An early morning walk in the famed flower market is an experience in itself. We limited ourselves to just the mainstream sections while exploring some of the ancient temples, mosques and heritage houses of the Kempegowda era. In the meanwhile, we kept munching on numerous snacks from several popular stalls on our way. Although these eateries are old, the flavors are largely north Indian, owing to the Marwari and Baniya community that reside here in majority.
The heritage structures of the Victoria hospital, Bangalore fort and Tippu Sultan’s summer palace all lay on the side of the road for the history and architecture buffs who have a little more time in hand. But this is all we could fit in our day. Thus, ended a gastronomic tour of South Bengaluru.
I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour with me too… did you? Or did you not? Share your thoughts with me…
There are many other iconic restaurants in Basavanagudi if you have a larger appetite. These are a few other places that you must check out when you are here: The new modern hotel, Mahalakshmi Tiffin room, Janata Tiffin rooms are a few among many others.
Souvenirs to buy:
Coffee filter and freshly roasted coffee powder: The best filter coffee is available only in South Bengaluru, and hence my friend thought this was a more significant thing to buy from here.
Channapatna wooden toys: These are GI tagged handicrafts made with organic colors and largely popular in the western market, it comprises a large collection of traditional toys.
Snow-capped mountains, lush green meadows, pine trees, tulip gardens, skis and snow boards… Do these things paint a perfect picture of a state known for its valleys? If you guessed it to be J&K, Yeah, you’re right! To be more precise, did you guess it to be Kashmir valley? If you did, then you can’t be more wrong. I’m talking about the least talked region of the state: Jammu.
For those who have heard little about Jammu, the mention of scenic or adventure hotspots comes as a surprise for all they know is only its religious places, the most popular being the Vaishno Devi shrine. For tourists visiting this region, there are several lesser-known destinations around Jammu city that are as beautiful as its popular counterpart in the Kashmir region. But, continue to remain unexplored and Bhaderwah being one among them. Bhaderwah is a town located in the Doda district and is called as ‘Mini Kashmir’ by the locals. This nickname itself gives a fair picture of the beauty of this place.
Places to visit in Bhaderwah:
• Day trip to Bhaderwah town covering Vasuki Nag temple, Gupt Ganga temple, Bhaderwah fort, Tilligarh rose garden and Gatha lake resort • Jai Valley trek • Sonbain glacier trek • Kailash Kund terk • Peer ki pindi (camps of Akbar) trek • Seoj Dhar Meadow trek • Day trip to Chattargala Pass • Day trip to Sarthal valley • Day trip to Basohli
There are several attractions in Bhaderwah to mesmerise all genre of travellers who visit here during any time of the year. Bhaderwah is also called as ‘Nagon ki bhoomi’ (land of snakes) giving one a sense of its connection with mythology. Vasuki Nag is believed to be the keeper of Bhaderwah and hence the temple dedicated to this snake lord holds significance in the local culture. Thousands of pilgrims participate in the annual ‘Kailash Kund’ yatra that starts from the Vasuki Nag temple. The highlight of the temple is the idol of the presiding deity that is carved out of a black stone and is standing at an inclination. The temple is nestled within the narrow lanes of the town that snakes through ancient and traditional wooden houses from the time when the valley was ruled by the kings of Bhaderwah and Chamba. The town’s association with Mahabharata too can be felt at the ‘Gupt Ganga’ temple, on the banks of river Neru. The Pandavas are believed to have lived here during their exile. The Bhaderwah fort situated atop the town gives a good view of the entire region.
The annual Tulip festival, Tilligarh rose garden and Gatha lake resort are some nice places for a day’s outing. Trekkers seeking to explore some breath-taking vistas can hike up the Jai Valley, Sonbain glacier, Kailash Kund, Peer ki pindi (camps of Akbar) or Seoj Dhar Meadow and connect with nature. If you are an adventure buff, the Jammu tourism has put in great efforts to cater to this segment with various outdoor activities like rafting in the Chenab river, rappelling, rock climbing, parasailing etc. Since Bhaderwah witnesses high snowfall, its high valleys are a great place for winter sports like skiing and snow-boarding too. It is slowly catching up as an alternate to Gulmarg in the state.
Dirt roads and numerous water crossings in the region don’t fail to keep the adrenaline rushing for bikers who choose to ride here. The biking enthusiasts can opt the road through Padri, the highest motorable road in this region. Chattargala Pass is the highest motorable road and the most untouched point in Bhaderwah and offers a 360-degree spellbinding view of the entire region. It connects Bhaderwah with Basohli, another town of historical importance. One might be lucky to spot the endangered white vultures at this point or even some musk deer or Asian bears after a short hike up the hills.
The road to Basohli is picturesque with meadows, streams and typical pine trees all along the way. Sarthal valley is one of my favourite pit-stops along the way. With nothing much to do, it is beautiful with its laid-back scenery with Bakarwals (Shepherds) settlements amid green meadows and gushing streams from the glaciers. The seven-tiered waterfall located here is worth a short trek before riding up the treacherous road towards Basohli town. Basohli town itself is beautifully located on the backwaters of the Ranjit Sagar dam flanking it.
With political unrest being rampant in Kashmir, the main source of income through tourism has taken a huge toll in the state in the last couple of years. Jammu is very safe for all kinds of travellers and the tourism department is putting their best efforts to familiarize tourists with the other unexplored areas of the state. If visiting this state has long been on your bucket list and the unrest at the borders has kept you away, I think it is time you relook into your plan to visit the Mini Kashmir instead!
Getting there: Jammu is well connected by airport, rail and road. You can hire a self-drive car or a taxi from the city to visit the other sightseeing places. Bhaderwah is 280kms(about 5hrs) by road from Jammu city.
Stay: TRC (Tourist Reception Centre) guesthouses run by the J&K tourism dept., several homestays and budget hotels are available. Tilligarh tourist complex is a great place for one seeking luxury in nature.
Must try: Sip a cup of ‘Desi Chai’, a pink coloured tea that can be consumed either with salt or sugar.
Must buy: Basohli miniature paintings.
This visit to Bhaderwah was a part of our ‘Peace ride’, sponsored by Jammu tourism as a part of the Himalayan expedition to promote tourism in the lesser explored places of Jammu. The route we covered over the week was Jammu-Mansar-Basholi–Sarthal–Baderwah-Kishtwar-Gulabgarh-Sansari-Gulabgarh-Patnitop-Udhampur-Jammu. It has been over a year since this trip has been past and yet remains one of the best so far.
Dense canopy of trees, swaying coconut palms, houseboats cruising through the pristine backwaters, wooden canoes of the locals fishing in narrow canals- Well, does this paint a picture of Gods own country? When opportunity struck, I decided to give the usual things a miss and explore a region that is least spoken about in a typical tourist circuit in Kerala. I wanted to explore the land where art is considered divine and celebrated in all its form. I was heading towards Pathanamthitta.
Day 1: Leave from Bangalore to Kochi (by Flight); Drive from Kochi to Pathanamthitta. Visit Aranmula Parthasarthy temple (take a local foundry tour); Visit Thiruvalla Srivallabha temple (Watch a Kathakali performance in the temple); Day 2: Gavi or Konni elephant camp, Charalkunnu, Kakki reservoir, Perunthenaruvi waterfalls, Kalloppara church, Paliakkara church and Niranam church. Return to Bengaluru.
First thing I did while approaching Pathanamthitta was lowering all the windows of my car, to breathe in some clean air. With almost two third of the district comprising of forest cover, it is no wonder that Pathanamthitta is the least polluted city in India. The remaining one third is a combination of the city and plantations. We were heading to the homestay we had booked, not very far from the city centre. It was nestled in what the locals call as a residential area that was far from imagination of a city soul. The narrow roads were flanked by rubber, tapioca and banana plantations for most stretch and marsh lands for the rest. Bunches of jackfruits hung down from tall trees among several other tropical trees like litchi, rambutan etc. that had the fruit lover in me all drooling. My stay was at a traditional Kerala house nestled amidst a huge garden. Its wooden portico with clay tiled roof had me fancy struck.
Surprisingly for me, Pathanamthitta hosts some of the largest annual religious congregations in the world. The Sabarimala yatra and Maramon convention are next only to the Haj. Giving a pass to the famous backwaters of Kerala, I had driven this far to explore its vibrant and divine culture and art. My plan for the first day was to visit two of the 108 Divyadesams, both located in Pathanamthitta. I had arrived at the Aranmula Parthasarthy temple, particularly for a tour of a foundry that makes the historical ‘Aranmula Kannadi’ (Click to watch the video).
This GI tagged handicraft is culturally important in the state of Kerala. The know-how of making it is endemic to Aranmula and limited to the descendants of only one family who now live around this temple. Unlike the familiar glass mirrors, these are finely polished metal sheets. Watching these men toiling in their workshop to bring an alloy to life, which is integral in all Malayali celebrations was like living a dream for me.
A short drive away from there was my next destination: Thiruvalla Srivallabha temple. With its ancient wooden architecture, this beautiful temple sprawls on a huge area. Here, the prayers are offered five times a day and the last prayer was specifically that interested me the most to visit here. Kathakali is performed inside the temple premises everyday as a form of prayer to put the deity to sleep. I was like a little child in wonderland who lost track of time watching this performance that went late into the night.
I had planned my return route to Kochi such that I could cover some of the interesting landmarks along the way. The first stop was at Kalloppara, where an ancient Hindu inscription exists inside a church. I had read about how two faiths co-exist under the same roof that houses a Bhagavati temple and a Mary’s church. But my drive through the streets of a residential area ended at a bridge that connected Kalloppara. It had collapsed during the floods that ravaged Kerala last year. Having three rivers flowing through it, Pathanamthitta was one of the worst affected.
I hit the main road again and headed to Thiruvalla. Since it was dark the previous night, I was there again to have a look at the famed mural paintings on the altar of the Paliakkara Church. The church at Paliakkara and Niranam (my next destination) both have their history dating back to the arrival of St.Thomas in India in 54.A.D. This trip was all about an amalgamation of art and tradition. Be it wildlife, religion, architecture, history, art or culture, I believe Pathanamthitta has something for everyone.
(P.S.: I’m against the idea of taking photos inside any place of worship, as a form of respect to its sanctity. Hence, I do not have any pictures from the interiors of any place of worship)
How to reach: The nearest airports are at Kochi and Trivandrum. Kottayam and Alleppey are the nearest Railway stations. KSRTC buses and taxis are available from these places to reach Pathanamthitta by road.
Get around: local buses are quite frequent; Taxis can be easily availed.
Best time to visit: September to May (Anytime apart from monsoon)
Stay: Luxury hotels are sparse. Cheap and Budget hotels are available in plenty considering the pilgrims who come here for Sabarimala yatra. Homestays are available to experience the true essence of Kerala.
Must do: Attend a Kathakali performance, visit a mirror foundry, Bathe elephants at Konni.
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 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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 was the first time I was stepping into the state of Rajasthan. Time has been kind on me yet again bringing me to the right place when the time was right! And this time it was to Ajmer during the holy month of Ramadan. Ajmer-Marwar region was a separate state until it was merged with Rajasthan. At a distance of 130kms by road from Jaipur, it is believed to be the second holiest place in Islam after Mecca. Apart from exploring Ajmer town, if you are a traveler, you can also include Pushkar in your itinerary, which is located less than 25kms from Ajmer. Apart from being a holy place for the Hindus, Pushkar is a popular haunt for the hippies from world-over. You can use the below itinerary if you have a weekend in hand. However, I could only explore Ajmer on this trip.
A weekend Itinerary:
Day 1: Bangalore to Jaipur (Flight); Jaipur to Ajmer (Hired car); Visit Ajmer dargah, explore Taragarh hill, Adhai-Din-Ka-Jhonpra, Akbar Palace & museum, Soniji-ki-Nasiyan Jain temple, Mayo college campus. (Night’s stay at Taj- Ajmer gateway) Day 2: Visit Pushkar lake for sunrise, explore Pushkar town (and the annual camel fair, if you time your visit right); return to Jaipur (by road), Jaipur to Bangalore (flight)
I was visiting Ajmer on a business trip with three of my colleagues (Click here to read about my job as a car doctor). Hence, I somehow managed to squeeze in sufficient time into my trip so that I could venture out in this city and explore most of whatever it has to offer for the traveller in me. Needless to say, no visit to this holy city is complete without heading to the Ajmer Sharif Dargah dedicated to the Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti.
Apart from it being the holiest and the busiest of the times on the Dargah’s calendar, our visit also coincided with the 27th day of the holy month: revered as the ‘Night of Destiny’ in the Islam faith. This is a place where most people struggle to get past the crowds even on normal days. We were fortunate to have contacted one of the trustees of the Dargah who managed our entire visit and made it effortless. It was evening time and we had just finished offering our prayers by donating a Chadar to the diety. What we hadn’t realized was that we were there on the premises of this holy place at the time of breaking the day’s fast. We were offered some fruits, nuts and food by the trustees and other devotees who were distributing food there. I was overwhelmed with the thought of having had such an opportunity, at such a time!
The Dargah is located at the base of the Taragarh hill, atop of which a fort is situated. The view of the entire hill overlooking the Dargarh is so beautiful with a township constructed on the steep slopes of the hill. Since, photography is prohibited inside the Dargarh premises, I wasn’t able to capture most of the things. It’s a welcome move in some places like these and respect the sanctity of the place. Enough is said and written about this place on the internet. So, I wish to cover about the other things this historic town has to offer.
After our visit, we walked the by lanes around the Dargah to explore the best of Ajmer. Not in terms of places but in terms of its lip-smacking street food. With a lot of Mughalai and Nawabi influence and it being the Ramadan season, the best of the spread was available. Needless to say, Ajmer is a haven for food lovers. By the time the last ray of the day’s sun had vanished, we were stuffed until our glottis.
If you are a history buff and want to find something to feed your wanderlust, you can take a walk to Adhai-Din-Ka-Jhonpra and the Akbar Palace and museum that are located closer to the Dargah. Soniji-ki-Nasiyan is a nice two-storeyed wooden Jain temple that can be visited enroute to Dargah Sharif. If you are at the luxury of time, a quick ride to quick ride to the Mayo college campus can be ended with some peaceful sunset time spent by the banks of the Ana Sagar Lake. But, for me- something else was awaiting!
I had my stay booked at the Taj- Ajmer gateway for the night, a world in itself to visit and hang around. The drive from Ajmer city towards it outskirts on Pushkar road, through winding roads with the backdrop of the setting golden sun was a picturesque treat after a tiring day of work and toil. All this seemed like only a grand welcome to the beautiful Taj property that’s nestled in the midst of nowhere in the lap of the Aravalis. The sky was dark, when we arrived at this palatial hotel. The entire driveway was lit with dim sodium lamps from the gate through the lounge. A faint outline of the Aravalli hills standing calmly on the backdrop only enhanced its grandeur. It was a warm welcome as the live Rajasthani folk music with the timbre of the Morchang and Khartal resonated from the courtyard. The host personally lead me to the room while explaining the delicately chosen wall murals and paintings as we walked through the elegant corridor. Though my stomach was stuffed with Ajmer’s street food, I did manage to make some space for the delectable dinner that I was hosted at the restaurant. With all items seasoned and cooked to perfection, each dish seemed better than the other. With a refreshing dip in the pool, a day was called!
I looked forward for the morning as much as I did for the previous evening! I had set the alarm for sunrise but was woken up rather early by the calls of dozens of feral peacocks that had come from the forest/hills just behind the pool. I opened my balcony doors and voila! It was a magical morning with peacocks dancing in the courtyard and a modestly calm sun peeping out of shadowy grey clouds with the glorious green Aravalis forming a backdrop… I soaked in this special moment as much as I could from my balcony before I realised that it was time for me to pack-up. Finishing up the morning chores and ending my stay with the Taj with a wonderful breakfast spread, it was time for me to say good bye to this beautiful city of Ajmer and this beautiful Taj property- the Ajmer gateway!
Must-do:Make a wish by offering the Chadar or the decorated shawl to the deity/tomb at the Dargah Sharif. Must eats: while the street food and the never-ending list of non-veg dishes are to die for in the month of Ramadan, Kadi Kachori and Soan-Halwa are an all-season recommendations. Must buys:variety of prayer caps and incense.
The monsoon has caused the mighty Brahmaputra to take a toll on the North-eastern part of India causing innumerable and irreplaceable losses. I saw this one particular photo of a floating carcass of the striped beast, the National animal of India in the newspaper this morning and I was taken back in time when I visited Kaziranga last year, post monsoon.
This post is part of my fortnight long road trip across North-east India, specifically covering parts of Meghalaya – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh I had tagged along with two other travelers and drove around the places in a self-drive car hired at Guwahati. Our visit to Kaziranga had just one agenda, a safari in the Kaziranga National park and get a glimpse of at least one rhinocerous! Kazhiranga National Park is counted in the list of UNESCO’s world Heritage sites.
Day 1: Evening drive from Guwahati to Kaziranga (Kohora forest range) Day 2: Early morning elephant safari & jeep safari in Kaziranga national park, Orchid research centre. Continue the journey onward to Jorhat.
After a wonderful drive through the National highway from Guwahati, we reached Kaziranga on a night lit with Diwali lamps all around. Kaziranga national park is divided into four main areas: The Central range at Kohora, Western range at Bagori, Eastern range at Agaratoli and the Burapahar range at Ghorakhati. Here, the tourists can enjoy the elephant and jeep rides into the forest that are organized by either government or private parties. The park is closed during monsoon and we were lucky that the central zone at Kohora had opened just around our visit time. We had a nice meal and settled down at one of the numerous resorts that exist on the boundary of the National park in the Kohora range. Meanwhile, our resort guys helped us to get tickets for a safari ride scheduled for early next morning.
We woke up the next morning and headed towards the forest gates where the elephant ride was supposed to commence. The drive from the resort until the forest gate was so refreshing in itself. With the addictive smell of wet ground, kaccha roads passing through green paddy fields dotted with bamboo huts here and there, thick mist slowly clearing up with dew drops reflecting the rising sun: It was just wonderful all the way.
Kaziranga is synonymous with the one-horned rhinoceros. With about 2/3rd of the world’s population of these beauties found in just this area, it was no surprise that we began to spot them one after the other. Even before we started our ride, we spotted rhino families all around the watch tower we were standing at. We even found a few of them grazing in the fields on the sides of the highway. With that we realized, that Kaziranga was beyond rhinos. There are some other wild animals that are exclusive to the park and are collectively called as the ‘Big Five’, a must on the list of every wildlife enthusiast visiting the state of Assam.
Our elephant had arrived in a bit. We sat atop and started our ride into the haze of the misty green grasslands of Kazhiranga to track the ‘Big Five’ of the this land. The elephants that we were seated on, were walking through dense thickets of elephant grass: the grass that was taller even for elephants to walk through. Slowly, the mahout started to point out and show us the animal at far distance.
First, it was a wild elephant with its calf. We were told that rhino and elephant conflicts were common and that mother elephant was wounded just that morning in a bid to protect its new born calf. So, that meant we were not safe sitting on one either! We slowly moved out of tall grass to another area where a couple of rhinos were finishing their morning chores. It was very surprising for us to know that large rhino groups identify space where each rhino marks its own spot (making a private toilet space for itself) and does not let any other rhino enter the area.
Wow! We slowly passed that place and spotted herds of swamp deer. World’s largest population of these herbivores too is concentrated in these forests. Swamp deer are handsome animals.
Just as we were photographing them, we saw a herd of Asiatic wild water buffaloes marching out of a slush pool. Until our guide told us, we had no idea that over 57% of the world’s water buffaloes too were accommodated in the woods here!
Another surprise information awaited us: Kazhiranga national park has the highest density of the Royal Bengal tigers in the world!!! Whoa!!!! That’s like……..something that was unknown to me, a person who hails from the land of Nagarhole, Bandipur & Bannerghatta. But as always, no luck with spotting the elusive beast. Seeing a tiger in the wild is a LONG dream, awaiting to be realised. (So much adventure to see a wild tiger, Click here to read more!)
So, we had checked off 4 out of the big 5 of the Kazhiranga before heading towards the exit gates- The One horned rhinos, Asiatic elephants, swamp deer and wild water buffaloes. Meanwhile, we realized that we still had time to make it for the morning batch of jeep ride. So, after enquiry and booking at the counter, we had a gypsy to take us into the forest again. Needless to mention, we were greeted by herds and herds of rhinos all along our path. Wild boars, barking deer etc. too were spotted in abundance. The highlight was however, the innumerable species of migratory birds that were spotted. Our driver cum guide mentioned several bird names, out of which only pelicans and spoon-billed storks were the ones that I have managed to remember.
On the other end of our drive into the forest, we were taken to a watch tower from where we could catch a very good view of hundreds of animals that had come to drink water from the flowing river. It was a very calm and a serene place to spend a while with nature. What caught our curiosity was some random years mentioned on the wall of the watch tower. So, here is a picture that may give an idea of the monsoon fury and severity of floods that affect this area year after year.
The tower itself is located at an elevation from the river. My friend in the below picture is a 6-footer. The water level of 2016 is marked above him… Can you imagine how impossible it is for the animals to escape out of the area??? It’s insane to think of and the image of the floating tiger’s carcass hovers around in my thoughts.
The drive back to the resort, on the highway was an extremely nice one which had gone unnoticed during the hurried drive through misty roads in the morning. Tea plantations flanked the roads on both sides. The famous Assam tea grows in flat lands and under shade, totally contrary to what I had seen and grown up seeing in the hills in down South. We stopped by to sip on some hot brew and bought some processed tea leaves for our caffeine addicts back home. A quick visit to the Orchid research centre was an interesting place to drop by too.
Overall, our day was eventful at Kazhiranga with warm memories from the woods before heading to our next destination- Jorhat. Although a little disappointed for not being able to spot a tiger by the end of our safari ride, we were feeling content for having our long pending wish of visiting this heritage site come true!
Concluding remarks:For those of you planning to visit Kaziranga, I strongly recommend to try both ways of exploring the woods, on elephant back and by a four-wheel drive. Both are different experiences and the type of terrain and sightings are different. While an elephant will be able to take you through the tall grass, a 4-wheel automobile will be able to enter deeper areas of the forest. If you wish to spend more time with nature, I recommend you all to explore all the 4 ranges of the national park. Don’t go by recommendations of people of which range to go in… Each area is distinct with different types of vegetation, landscape, flora and fauna concentrations.
This visit to Tanjavur was a part of our family’s backpacking trip covering the route: Bangalore – Mayiladuthurai – Poompuhar – Tarangambadi – Karaikal – Nagapattinam – Velankanni – Tanjavur – Trichy – Bangalore.
Following a long day of a secular pilgrimage in the Coromandel coast, we boarded a morning bus to Tanjavur. Tanjavur, the cradle of Dravidian culture and a hub of the Chola art and architecture needs no introduction. There’s no dearth for information on the internet. A visit to this land was on my parent’s ‘bucket list’ and this was a trip planned for its materialization. With a day’s time at our disposal (VERY short for a slow traveler like me), we decided to cover the major landmarks that a typical tourist would want to see in the capital of the Cholas.
It was the second day of our backpacking. The places covered in Tanjavur were: • BIG temple (Brihadeesvaran temple) • Saraswathi Mahal complex • Grand Anicut / Kallanai dam
As in case of every other civilization, a river holds all the life. In this case, Tanjavur was born on the fertile delta created by river Kaveri. This is the land that has nurtured and held on to the Dravidian culture till date. Apart from this, its local economy has largely been agrarian based ana is rightly called as the rice bowl of South India.
Landmark 1: The Big temple
The iconic monolith of this land was spotted even as our bus was still pulling off at the bus station. The monolith seated gracefully atop the ancient temple with a weight of 800 tonnes was still far away. As we reached, we stood there in awe, gazing at the vast premises of the mighty temple. The temple tower is the tallest in the world and stands testimony to the Cholas’ love for art and fine engineering skills even in the iron age. It is believed that a ramp was laid from about six kilometers to facilitate the placement of the monolith Kalasha atop the tower. The walls of the corridor are adorned by fine paintings that were done with a mixture of limestone and organic extracts. The temple walls have sculptures of numerous mythic animals which is the highlight of the Cholas’ temple architecture.
‘The Great living Chola temples’ is a group of three Chola temples located across Tanjavur district. Together, these three temples represent an architectural conception of the pure form of the Dravidian style. The Tanjavur Brihadeshwara temple is the most easily accessible of them all and is located in the heart of the city. (The other two temples are the Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram and Gangaikondacholisvaram). Although the Brihadeshwara temple is fondly called as the Big temple, it has multiple names. With a simple translation of the name into local language, it is called Thanjavur Periya kovil. The great Chola king Raja raja named this temple as Rajarajesvaram and the deity Shiva in Linga form as Peruvudaiyar. A few people also refer the temple with the name of its deity as Peruvudaiyar kovil.
Landmark 2: Saraswathi Mahal complex
We took an autorickshaw ride from the Big temple to Saraswathi Mahal. This is reckoned among the oldest functional libraries in the world and was patronized by the Tanjavur rulers. One can find some very old, rare and original copies of important manuscripts, scientific research publications etc. here. Adjoining it, is the palace of the Marathas of Tanjavur. The palace is partially used as the residence of the descendants and remaining portion is converted into a museum.
Behind this building, is the art museum which houses some rare and famous bronze idols created during the Chola era. The Cholas were the earliest people to have used the lost wax technique to create the bronze idols with a very scientific approach (as per the documented procedures in the Vedas).
Just outside the museum, we picked up a pair of Tanjavur bommai from the souvenir shop. These famous Tanjavur dolls are colorful handcrafted figurines where the head is suspended on a pivot which gives a dancing/swinging movement to the doll. Hence, they are often referred as the Tanjavur thalayatti bommai or the dancing headed dolls. Another artform you cannot ignore or miss while in this city are the Tanjavur paintings. Considered as a divine artform, with gold embellishments, Tanjavur paintings are considered as a symbol of royalty.
Landmark 3: Grand Anicut / Kallanai dam
From there, we boarded a local bus to reach Grand Anicut (as called by the Britishers) or Kallanai (the local name). This is a standing example of the engineering marvels constructed over 2000 years ago by the Cholas (later modified by the British). This oldest functional water regulation structure in the world is a dam constructed with uneven stones / random boulders across river Kaveri with a desperate intention to divert the water before joining the sea so that it can be used for irrigation around the delta region. This dam divides the river into four streams known as Kollidam Aru, Kaveri, Vennar and Puthu. Later, the Lower Anicut/ Kollidam was constructed by the British before the water actually joins the sea.
With this, our time in Tanjavur had almost come to an end. On the other end of the dame, we sat inside a local bus and waited for it to start to our next destination on our trip: Trichy.
Fisheries, Coastal police, wildlife conservation NGOs.. We have dialed any random and all possible numbers to get clarity and the permission to go to the Kurusudai island.. Thanks to Madhu, with a struggle for over a month to get permission from the authorities- the right phone number struck, and we finally pulled it off… 🙂 Kurusudai is one among the 21 islands in the gulf of Mannar and a site of importance in research due to its rich marine bio reserves.
So, our last day at Rameshwaram- Our destination ahead was fixed 🙂 An early morning bus from Pamban dropped us half way till Manimandapam. From there, a rickshaw ride took us to Vivekananda memorial hall where the 2 forest guides, the oarsman and the motorboat were all waiting for us 🙂 without wasting much time, our boat set sail.. We could see Kurusudai island at a kilometer’s distance across the clear blue waters of the Gulf of Mannar. We had to contain our excitement lest be quoted as psychos by the people who accompanied us.
We stepped on land in no time- we were briefed about the island in the information center and were also instructed not to use our cameras for any sort of photography. There are nearly 3600 marine species spread around 10,500sq.kms of the marine reserve. 117 coral species, 13 mangrove species, 460 molluscan species and 12 species of sea grasses are found here.. A haven for a bird watcher too with over 217 species of birds found here.. And then our guided tour around the island took wings.. or rather.. set sail 🙂
We first sighted a vibrant red star fish seated comfortably on a barrel coral.. But we soon realised.. that echinoderms were the highlight of the walk.. about 100 species of echinoderms are found in this marine reserve. Sea urchins, Sea potatoes, Sea cookies(sand dollar, snapper biscuit, pansy shell, sea biscuit, sand disc, sand cake, cake urchin and sea pancake are other common names given for these relatively shy invertebrates), sea cucumbers (of varying colours and sizes) dotted the entire shoreline of the island.. Sea lotus of different colours was another highlight of the walk.. We saw the marine plant- Pemphis acidula- an endemic plant to this area. The sea grass(Enhalus acuroidus) is another plant endemic to these reserves found abundantly all around. However, we were more keen on spotting the Balanoglossus(Ptychodera flura)- which happens to be the only living fossil in the world which links vertebrates and invertebrates; endemic to this area as well.. However, our guide could not understand what we were trying to ask due to the language barrier of Tamil:(
Since it was low tide, we could walk into the sea- all along the shore where an infinite range of sea weeds, multi-hued reefs and sea grasses spread over the shallow bed of the sparkling water brightened up the entire ambience of the place. From shades of violet to red, the raised coral reefs of the Islands are not only a special attraction of the place but also chart high on the list of marine biologists. We also spotted a notable array of algae, sponges, sea anemones, cowries, volutes, whelks, crabs, strombids, tonnids, sting rays, oysters among others too..
However, in high tides– this island is a good sighting place for the endangered Sea cows(Dugongs) and dolphins(bottle-nosed dolphin, the common dolphin and the finless porpoise). The land is also home to 3 species of turtles which includes the Hawksbill, Green and Olive Ridley turtles. No.. we didn’t sight them… We had to be EXTREMELY LUCKY for that and needed more time(which we were deprived of:( )
However, the main purpose of this blog post…. Tourism is prohibited here and getting permission for a genuine research itself is such a tough deal.. And we really hope that the general public behave themselves when they encounter such rarity of sightings, do not pollute and RESPECT mother nature for the immense amount of patience she beholds and admire the beauty of what she has to offer.. it really hurts when we find even a small candy wrapper sailing or flying up in the otherwise clean atmosphere where so many other genuinely interested people put in their hearts and souls in the conservation activities. What we give only comes back.. Give respect and take respect.. If not, nature has her own ways to take a toll on all the disrespect..!!
The initial plan was to leave before sunrise so that we could see the birds at the Ranganathittu Bird sanctuary before they left their homes for the day’s chores. However, a flat tyre and multiple pit stops added up to late arrival at the Srirangapatna-Yelwala bypass. This led to a few additions and deletions in the original plan so that we could see the birds when they returned to their nests late in the evening.
List of places covered: Gaganachukki and Bharachukki waterfalls Talakadu Kaaranji kere in Mysore Ranganathittu Bird sanctuary
Details of the trip:
As per the new plan, we headed to Gaganachukki and Bharachukki waterfalls. After a nice long drive through the green paddy fields and rusty countryside, we reached Shivanasamudra. This is one of the island towns formed by river Kaveri through its course. This is where Asia’s first hydel-power project was set up, commissioned by the then Diwan of Mysore- K. Seshadri Iyer; in order to supply electricity for mining at Kolar Gold Fields. River Kaveri plummets down at two places, a couple of kilometers away from each other and then merging together again. The beauty of the twin waterfalls is truly mesmerizing. If you’re seeking for some thrill, coracle rides are available that takes you closer to the spot where the water drops. But we did not want to take the risk of venturing into the water without a life jacket. At least, not after we heard someone say that the water was 1000 feet deep at some point. We weren’t not sure of the exact depth of the river, but certainly did not want to take a chance!
The sun was approaching his highest point by this time, and hence we decided that we should be heading towards our next destination- Talakadu. Kannadigas have all grown up listening to the story of the curse of Alamelamma. It is believed that her spell turned this once prosperous town to a sand desert. As a student reading history in school, I had always been intrigued to visit this place and see the romance between the sand and the temples during different seasons. However, the excitement that we had when we started to this place soon died when we arrived there (in fact, it got buried deep under its sands). Given the poor rainfall, less waters and hordes of tourists over the weekend, the place was had gathered so much filth and poop everywhere. There was an unbearable stench that had spread around. The river was shallow and looked stagnant and unappealing. Yet, we did manage to go for a coracle ride which was definitely not worth the buck. The place was a total turn off…!! We lost our interest to explore the famed temples of Talakadu and left the place (I did visit the historically important temples on a later date though).
We wanted to reach the highway back again but lost our way at some point. Without being able to connect to the highway, we just kept driving on some narrow road through the countryside. After the frayed trip to Talakadu, this drive through the rustic countryside was somewhat a deal breaker and a feast to our city bred souls. After a bit of driving around and just when we thought we had reached the highway, we realized that we had in fact reached Mysore…!! Mysore city was never on our itinerary when we left home that morning. We were extremely hungry and hence decided to feast at a nice restaurant in the city itself.
Some friend suggested us to visit Kaaranji kere in Mysore where we could do some birding. Around 3.00.p.m, we headed there- This was in fact the highlight of the trip- though unplanned, it came as a treat to us. We took a boat ride around the lake where we spotted several migratory birds. Not in large numbers, but many in varieties. It surely is a haven for the bird lovers. I pitied myself for not being able to identify what birds most of them were. I’m not an enthusiast of zoos as these places are where animals and birds are kept in enclosures. But, if you are around with kids, this place is good as there is an enclosure here as well that hosts many native birds, a few animals and reptiles.
So, finally by 5.00.p.m, we headed out for what we had come all the way– Ranganathittu Bird sanctuary. It was the time when all the birds returned to their nests… We were there for sunset. We then took a boat ride around the small islets where thousands of birds have made their homes. The trees looked amazing with the birds and the water looked equally dangerous- with crocodiles swimming right past us… Again, we spotted a lot of different birds since it was the peak of the migratory season.
With a pleasant sunset ride in the river, a long day tripping in the Mysore circuit came to an end. Although most part of the day was unplanned, it was a weekend well deserved.