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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?

Visiting the last Indian village in Baspa valley- Chitkul

As I arrived at Sangla, the setting sun had already laid a golden welcome… I started to walk around the town looking for a homestay. After walking here and there, up and down, I decided to settle down at a homestay, which seemed like a pretty big bungalow. The owner of the house was away, and it was let to the caretaker’s responsibility. I was the only guest. However, this seemed to be better than all the properties I had seen thus far. I freshened up, unpacked and unwound myself while watching the daily evening procession of the deity of the ‘Chandi Mata’ temple from the homestay itself.

Post sunset, I wore all the thermals I needed and ventured out to explore the town. The commercial area seemed just like any other small town I had been before and didn’t want to get too adventurous on my first day in the valley. In the entire town, I was drawn towards a very small restaurant called ’The Buddhist Café’. I was being just one of those typical Indian tourists in the Himalayas; I was tempted to eat momos 😛 The place rather looked dinghy with dim lights and no customers in their main dining area. On enquiry if the restaurant was closed, I was greeted by an old Buddhist lady who guided me to follow her to the kitchen inside. Despite being a little suspicious of her gesture and given the shady looking walkway, I continued to follow her. She made me sit at a table where she served me steaming hot momos and black coffee after taking my orders.

There were a couple of people who came in and out whom the lady attended to but did not take any money from. It seemed to me that they were mostly labour who helped her in fetching supplies to her kitchen and she retuned their favour by providing them free meals. She was speaking very gently to them as if one would talk to their family members. I felt so much positivity emanating from this lady. Eventually, she pulled a chair next to me and settled down to have a long conversation with me. She enquired about my journey and said a few things about herself and her family. We both were so engrossed in our conversation that it was 09.00.p.m. by the time I realized that I had quite a distance to walk back in the darkness to reach my place of stay. The lady took my hand in hers and asked me to promise that I would visit her daily for as long as I was in Sangla. “Tumse baat karke bahut accha laga mujhe. Kal Aajao, gappe maarenge. Zaroor aana, mein intezaar karoongi”, she said. Amused, I left by promising her that I would return.

I was an early riser on the following morning in order to make it to the bus stand on time. There was only one bus that ferried passengers to and from the last village in this part of the Indian borders. It ran twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Chitkul is a tiny settlement beyond which, the mountains belong to Tibet & China. After having read enough articles on the internet, I wanted to check this off from my list of places to visit in Himachal. I however de-boarded the bus at a village called Rakcham, a few kilometers ahead of Chitkul. I was standing on the rear side of the famous Kinnaur Kailash mountains. With curious villagers staring at me as if I was a lost alien wandering alone and children walking to school posing for photos looking at my DSLR, with a beautiful sunrise over the mist laden valley and the gushing Baspa river on the other side, the morning walk on the empty road felt magical. Although I had seen apple trees earlier, it was the first time I was seeing apple orchards. The houses in the settlements on the slopes were unique to the area. I spent good amount of time exploring the village perched on hilltop and down in the cold waters of the Baspa before settling down with a cup of sea-buck thorn juice at a campsite that was being disassembled.

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The view of Rakcham

I had read that Rakcham valley looked vibrant with pink flowers of a native millet during its season. But I seemed to have arrived late to see the famous pink fields of Rakcham. Anyway, the orchards had turned the valley equally vibrant, in myriad shades of golden. But, honestly, there was nothing specific to see or do there, apart from the solitude that I had found thus far in my trip. I walked back to the main road and enquired with the shopkeepers about getting to Chitkul. A few localites who overheard my enquiries tried to pitch in their suggestions. Going by their suggestions, I waited by the roadside engaging myself in answering the enquiries about my solo travel. It was well over half an-hour as a shared jeep arrived, which they asked me to board to reach Chitkul. Just as the jeep cranked to start, one of the men talking to me asked the driver to wait. The man ran to a shop and returned with a bag. “It was nice talking to you; this is for your way.” he said while dumping a bag full of apples into my hand… I picked two from the bag (not wanting to disappoint him), thanked him warmly for his gesture and convinced him that I couldn’t carry so much luggage with me and bid him goodbye.

The road ahead was bumpy, yet interesting. It passes through forest area that was in bloom, opened to large meadows and then, the snowcapped peaks appeared rather suddenly. Foreigners need to register at the check post that falls enroute as Chitkul is a sensitive area guarded by the ITBP. On reaching Chitkul, I started to walk towards the viewpoint. Yes, no doubt it looked beautiful and I could walk right into the river below that demarks the border. But my heart skipped a beat when I saw the solitary Indian national tricolor waving in the middle of nowhere. Apart from taking a walk along the valley and exploring the tiny hamlet, there seemed nothing much to do. There are quite a few options to stay at both Chitkul and Rakcham, but for a moment, I feared the temperature that I was warned about. The temperatures in Chitkul are colder than anywhere else in Kinnaur. That’s why I changed my mind to return to Sangla for the night. As there was still lot of time left before the bus started, I decided to walk towards Rakcham so that I could click some good landscape photographs along my way. Anyway, the bus arrived in a while and I returned to Sangla.

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The Chinese / Tibet border at Chitkul

There was still enough daylight time left, and I decided to explore Sangla that evening. I climbed up the Kamru fort from where I could see the magnificent view of the town and the golden sunset that had welcomed me last evening. An ancient wooden temple stands strong on top of the fort and looks brilliant with its detailed sculptures and friezes. There is a dress-code to follow (a head gear and a waist band needs to be worn) to enter inside. Since most of us there didn’t have it, we had to wait for the priest to provide the same to us, and go inside, in turns. The priest also gave me a peak into the history of the fort and how the temple came into existence. It felt very peaceful and I sat back there until the sun had gone down completely.

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Temple atop Kamru fort

I had decided to leave Sangla on the following morning to continue my journey ahead. I had also not forgotten that I had promised someone that I would visit her. I wanted to inform her before leaving. That’s why I then headed towards her café for that evening. It is hard to explain how excited she was at seeing me. “I wasn’t sure that you would return. But I was looking for your way”, she exclaimed! She served me noodles and black tea, introduced me to her son whom she had called to talk to me and found good company in talking to me. After a couple of hours had passed, I informed her that I was going to take her leave. Guess what? She gave me a rucksack full of apples which she had specially bought and kept for me. She didn’t own any orchard and hence, she ensured she bought the best apples as souvenirs for me. When I say BEST, I mean THE BEST…. Kinnauri Golden apples! Can you imagine me carrying a rucksack full of apples (souvenirs!!) along with 10kgs of additional backpack that I already had. for the rest of my journey??? 😀 I convinced her that I was sorry, and I couldn’t accommodate so many apples in my luggage. And she still managed to squeeze in a good few kilos telling 2 apples for each member in my family, back in Bangalore…!! She had tears as she saw me off and I cried as I was missing my mom! Sometimes, you never understand how connections work with strangers…

Next day, there I was… Inside the bus, chattering in the cold morning… on my way to my next destination in this sojourn: Kalpa

Visiting the northern-most district of Karnataka- Bidar

Karnataka Bundh: The whole city of Bangalore was protesting against the Kaveri water verdict- 32 buses vandalized in the city and all that jazz. Well, I was away from the entire hustle bustle, where fighting for the water of Kaveri made no sense for the people. That day, I was spending time with my mom who was away from home since the last couple of months, on business travel.

My itinerary:
Friday: Leave Bangalore for Bidar
Saturday: Jharani Narasimha Swami Cave temple, Karanja reservoir, Basavakalyan (Basaveshwara temple, Basavanna statue, Basavanna Guhe, Akkamahadevi Guhe Anubhav Mantapa, Basavakalyan fort)
Sunday: Nanak Jira Gurudwara, Bareed Shahi park, Bidar Fort, Return to Bangalore by night.

The details:
People in the Mysore-Karnataka region know Bidar and the rest of the districts of Kalyana Karnataka or Uttara-Karnataka mostly through media that only talks about them when there is a drought in the state. This somewhat had influenced me to paint a dry and a dusty picture of the region inside my head. There was not much that I had heard about this part of Karnataka on a typical tourist circuit of state and that’s why I chanced upon travelling to Bidar for a weekend. Since my mom was posted there for some time, I thought it was an opportunity for me to go and see what is in the northern-most district of my home state. Mom usually has a vehicle at her disposal whenever she travels and stays during the entire business trip. This solves most of the commutation problems.

Day 1:
When I reached there after a long overnight bus journey of 12hrs, I had a roaring welcome in the city, quite literally…!! An IAF “Hawk” flew past right above my head during their daily flying sorties. Right then, I had my first GK (general knowledge) moment of the tour. Bidar has been an important training base since the early 1960’s for the Indian Airforce. Bidar serves as the main base for Hawk AJTs and the Suryakiran HJTs. The first thing that I learnt about Bidar and is never shown or spoken about on mainstream media.

My mom received me at the bus stand and took me to the Inspection bungalow where she was staying at. After freshening up and post a quick breakfast, we headed to “the Jharani Narasimha Swami Cave temple”. The myth mentions that Lord Narasimha killed Hiranyakashipu and then proceeded to slay the demon Jalasura, a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva. After being killed by Lord Narasimha, the demon Jalasura turned into water and started flowing down the feet of Lord Narasimha. Today, devotees have to walk across a cave with water (1.7mts depth) to worship the idol. With bats flying around, roaches swimming with us and dimly lit path to lead us, it was a new experience for me, and I was seeing such a religious site for the first time.

Inside the cave- enroute to the Narasimha idol
Inside the cave- enroute to the Narasimha idol

We then proceeded towards our next destination. Enroute, we stopped by the Karanja dam, a small reservoir built across the Karanja river.

In a while from there, we had arrived at Basavakalyan- our main destination for the day. There, we visited the Basaveshwara temple, 108ft high Basavanna statue, Basavanna Guhe and Akkamahadevi Guhe. Then it was a turn to the right that took us to “Anubhav Mantapa”. This is a replica of the ShivanubhavaMantapa- an academy of mystics, saints and philosophers of the ‘Lingayat’ faith in the 12th century. Anubhav Mantapa is often referred as the first parliament in the world.

A view of Hyder Mahal from the Kadak Bijli Toph view point
A view of Hyder Mahal at the Basavakalyan fort

From there we visited the Basavakalyan fort, sparsely visited apart from a few localites who come there to play cricket. But it is indeed a monument forgotten on the maps. The lights falling on the inner chambers of the fort called for some good photography. Some of points of interest inside the Basavakalyan fort for an explorer may be the open-air theatre at the entrance of the fort and the view of Hyder Mahal from the Kadak Bijli Toph viewpoint. With that, it was dark, and we returned to our place of stay.

Day 2:
We started the day by spending some tranquil moments at the ‘Nanak Jira’. This Gurudwara is known for being the second occurrence out of the supernatural powers of Guru Nanak. The first one was ‘Sri Punja Sahib’. This is now in Pakistan and strictly prohibited for free visits. Hence Gurudwara Sri Nanak Jira Sahib is referred to as the ‘Second Punja Sahib’ of India and hence a very holy site for the Sikhs. The sweet water flowing from a spring is believed to clear one off, all sins.

The Nanak Jhira Gurudwara
The Nanak Jhira Gurudwara

Next, on the list was the Bareed Shahi park. The tombs of the Bahamani rulers lay here. This is small but a nice park maintained just to provide some lung space for morning joggers and evening walkers. We were told that this was a neglected piece of history just a year ago and good efforts have been made by the authorities for its restoration.

We had an invitation from one of the colleagues at my mom’s office to visit his home for lunch. To think of it, it is by far and large one of the MOST sumptuous and wholesome meal I have had all my life. Hahaha call it the downside or the funny part of relishing such a wonderful meal- My mom and I were handed over a large towel to wipe off our teary eyes and watery noses. The regional cuisine here is notoriously famous for being high on chilly. But even with the hot flames flying out of our senses, we couldn’t resist the taste of the flavorful spread. It was a typical North-Karnataka cuisine with a spread of over 50 dishes. We were overwhelmed by their hospitality and the flavorful cooking. Apart from the Millet roti and gunpowder, most of the dishes were new discoveries for me. I even had a box packed with roti and keema-curry for my return journey by train in the night.

The Bahamani tombs
The Bahamani tombs

The last and final destination was the Bidar Fort: It is a multi-layered fort to say in simple words. It does not have a quantifiable boundary, though a few localites specify some digits to measure its expanse. The entire city of Bidar is actually within a fort wall which was the area where the citizens lived back during the rulers’ time. The second round of the wall is where the ministers lived. The third and the innermost zone is where today’s tourism is concentrated, the area where the King & the queen lived. This fort needs a minimum of half a day to explore for a person interested in history, architecture or archeology. In a tourist circuit in Bidar that I barely heard of, this fort came in as a surprise when I had least expected. It is HUGE!

The Royal Residence within the main fort
The Royal Residence within the main fort

Bidar has so much to offer for a backpacker on a tight budget. Apart from the travel distance between places, everything else is very affordable. Even the entry to all the major landmarks on the potential tourist trail was free. In spite of it, very few people plan a trip to this district. Maybe because the name pulls down an image of a dry, barren, hot, poor, drought prone landscape. What my eyes met here was contradicting to the imagination that I had, largely based on what I heard in the media. In reality, the city was lush green, well fed with good rains and clean (at least compared to the cleanest places of Bangalore).

Souvenirs to take back: Bidariware is a local form of metal art that has a GI (Geographical Identification) tag and extremely laborious and artistic. It takes an 8 stepped process to create one piece of art and a symbol of royalty, that’s been carried on from 14th century, largely promoted by the Bahamani Sultans.

So, a lesson to take back: Stop imagining how a place would be; go there and see it yourself.

A Date with the Metal bird

Studying at Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology, Bangalore (NMIT) comes with it’s own perks and privileges, outside academics. This post is a dedication to one such, to the days spent at my almamater

<Date: 13-Feb-2009>

It is lunch break. My gang headed towards “The Lake”- the usual hang out of the NMIT-ians. But, today was an unusual day because we were going to the lake not just to hang out, but to check out the metal birds- that have all landed on the other side of the lake. Occasion: AERO INDIA-2009.

F-16- Super viper, F-18, EuroFighter Typhoon, Su-30, Tejas, MIGs, Suryakirans, Sarangs are just a few to name. They have all been flying over our classrooms all the while. We had hardly listened to any lecture in class over the past week except for the sonic boom of these metal monsters…No arguments, This definitely is the best part of studying in NMIT. Along with the engineering lessons taught in the classroom, we all tend to develop an inquisitive approach to aeroplanes. We learn to identify the planes by their sounds and their shape while they fly past our heads all day for over a month during their rehearsals.

As we walked from college to the lake- my memories flashed back to what my eyes had witnessed that morning. My college route bus: R-13 is the only bus that flies across(literally..!!) Harohalli, “The Flying Village” route. And this route has the best country-side view enroute to college. So.. read further to know what I saw this morning..

After passing Haro-halli (literally translates to “The Flying Village” in Kannada), a little ahead- the road is lined by eucalyptus grove on one side and a high rise wall on the other. It is the Yelahanka- Airforce property beyond the wall. It took 2 minutes for my bus to reach the end of the grove. And where the grove ended, was a sight to behold. “The Lake”. It had an unusual level of water as compared to the previous years and it has small islets (or so we called them). Some migratory birds perched on the branches of the trees in those islets which enhanced the scene. Thick mist covered the water for a height of about 2 feet and then a pale layer of mist rose above in the rest of the atmosphere. On the other side of the lake, where I thought was the hedge, a Su-30: Sukhoi stood on its runway facing away from us at an angle of about 45deg. The early morning rays of the sun fell obliquely on the jet and the metal reflected it back. It looked as if the spotlight was on the protagonist on a stage.

Truly an unbelievable sight and it definitely cannot be explained by words.. But, before I could take enough of it, my bus had passed the spot and had reached the college bus-bay 😥

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The Su30 at the Yelahanka airforce station: A view from Harohalli village

A view of the Su-30 on the otherside of the Lake. But this is sometime during the lunch break
A view of the Su-30 on the otherside of the Lake. But this is sometime during the lunch break

It’s really not required for a NMIT-ian to buy passes to see the aerobatics on the other side of the wall. We watch them always and dearly.. Seldom, these birds fly so closely over our heads that we even wave a ‘Bye’ to these pilots .. and every girl there will be drooling… 😛 There is usually a mela kind of an atmosphere around the lake with public flocking to see these peculiar birds year on year…

Tomorrow is Valentine’s day and I can’t wait for my date with the metal birds..

It’s a pleasure to be able to feel all the action at such close quarters. These are truly wonderful days of college for every NMIT-ian. Period!