Tag Archives: Offbeat India

Favorite memories from the year 2022

Favorite Sunsets:

  • Sitting atop the Hemkuta hill and watching the sun casting a golden touch on the Vithala temple at Hampi, India.
  • Feeling all my stress getting washed down by the waves of the blue flag beach by walking deep into the sea at Padubidri beach, India.
  • Feeling the vastness and emptiness of the world while staring at the setting sun from the ‘End Of The World’ viewpoint, Saudi Arabia.

Favorite Sunrises:

  • Clapping my hands with joy at seeing the sun rising over the ruins of Hampi at Matanga hill, India.
  • Waking up in a tent pitched by the backwaters and kayaking out to watch the rising sun on river Shambhavi, India.
  • Hiking across an extinct volcano to watch the sun rise over the Arabian desert at Wahaba crater, Saudi Arabia.

Favorite Outdoor Activities:

Accomplishing the below outdoor activities in Karnataka that I had been contemplating for many years:

  • Cliff jumping at Sanapur lake, Koppala district
  • Rock climbing at Badami, Bagalkot district
  • Kayaking to watch the Bioluminescent waters at Mulki, Dakshina Kannada district.

Favorite Hikes:

Hiked new trails, explored new waterfalls, and feasted delicious cuisines in the Western Ghats.

  • Relished a variety of wild berries, took a dip at the Catherine waterfalls, and tasted Badaga cuisine while meandering through trails in the tea gardens at Kotagiri.
  • Walked through the misty grasslands to see a dilapidated fortress, stood atop the snout of a waterfall at Bandaje, took a dip in Kodige waterfalls, and tasted Malnad cuisine at Chickmagalur.
  • Discovered untapped hiking trails, visited lesser known view points and tried natural foods from the local tribal community and saw hills full of Arabica coffee blossoms at Yercaud.

Favorite Movies:

Albeit not a movie person, 2022 was a year in which I watched the maximum number of movies at a cinema, and that too solo. Apart from catching up on some highly recommended movies on OTT platforms, I watched four movies on the big screen. These four were the regional movies whose release I had eagerly waited for and was particular about a theatrical watch only. Apart from ‘777 Charlie’ which I watched with my family; I watched three other movies in the company of just myself: Rocketry, Kantara, and Gandhadha Gudi.

Apart from these, some remarkable events made 2022 special for me.

  • A trek to Kodachadri hill on New Year’s Day was truly memorable that found me socializing with more people and making newer friends.
  • Glen’, my pet dog who was one month old at the time of entering our home and warmed up our hearts in the first week of the new year.
  • I said goodbye to my first job after serving the company for over a decade, a change that I had been long contemplating.
  • Experienced a moment of realization that I was all by myself. A realization that the contacts, the people, the respect, and the inspiration I thought I had accumulated and given to people around me could all mean just ‘Zero’. A moment of realization that trusting even the people you have known for a long could be wrong. A moment of realization that the closest people could have no emotions of empathy at all.

Are Indians less patriotic?

On a recent trip to Saudi Arabia, I had come across people of several nationalities, all living in harmony and brotherhood in the country. I noticed that the people from the larger Indian sub-continent are greatly respected by the locals irrespective of their nationality. By the Indian subcontinent I mean, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and to somewhat an extent, Sri Lanka. Everybody shares a common language, ethnicity, and identity of being an “Indian”. During my stay there, I witnessed National festival celebrations of three countries including Pakistan’s Independence Day, Indian Independence Day, and Saudi National day (Independence Day).

Celebrating Pakistan’s National festival:

I arrived in Saudi on 13th August’22. It was the first day of my presence in a new country, I was all excited to get acquainted with my neighborhood. But, I was suffering from a headache due to lack of sleep. Hence, I just identified a mall, some Indian restaurants, and a few grocery stores nearby for availing emergency items and called it a day.

On the 14th morning, I noticed that a big Pakistani flag was hung in a shop located right in front of the hotel where I was staying. It indicated that the store was owned/run by a Pakistani citizen, and they were celebrating Pakistan’s 75th Independence Day. For me, it came as a surprise that another country’s flag was allowed to be displayed publicly. But what piqued my interest more was meeting a Pakistani national for the first time. It needs no explanation that any form of free communication between the people of India and Pakistan isn’t accepted in both nations when we are residing in our respective countries. I decided to buy a small flag as a souvenir to mark my first meeting with any Pakistani person in my lifetime. Hence, I crossed the road and entered the large textile store.

Ranging from bangles, frocks, cufflinks, brooches, keychains, and flags, there were several Pakistani National day themed knickknacks available for purchase. The shopkeeper asked me what I was looking for. I asked him to give me the smallest available replica of the Pakistani national flag in the thought that I could paste it in my personal journal/ scrapbook. But, there was none in the size that could fit into my book. He showed me some of the other accessories available, and I informed him that none could be used in my country. A little surprised, he asked me where I was from. I told him that I was from India. Learning of my interest in buying a Pakistani flag as a souvenir excited him. He happily handed over a small stack of miniature flag stickers into my hands and asked me to keep them all, for which he refused to accept any money. He wished me in advance for India’s Independence Day and I returned the greetings for his country’s special day before leaving his shop.

Celebrating India’s National festival:

It was 15th August on the following morning, a day that India was celebrating as ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ back home on her 75th Independence Day. That day, there was no sight of any Indian flag hanging anywhere outside on the streets. I decided to seize the opportunity to explore the neighborhood a little more in the name of adding an Indian national flag to my journal in memory of my first Indian national festival celebration, outside of India. I walked into a few Indian textiles stores asking them if they had any Indian flags to which they responded with a negative. I walked into a few Indian restaurants to check if they had anything on display or if they could give me any leads to where I could find one. A few of them asked me the purpose of why I was searching for an Indian flag. When I told them that I wanted to use it as a souvenir, they either smiled or had a smirk on their faces. They must have wondered that I was some crazy woman walking freely on the streets of Saudi in search of my country’s independence.

None of them had any clue where I could find one. In the pursuit of an Indian National flag in Saudi Arabia, I wandered across a few streets walking over 9800 steps as indicated in the activity tracker on my smartphone. After concluding it to be a futile attempt to find an Indian tricolor, I decided to head back to my hotel. During my return, my eyes fell on a stationary shop and I decided to give it a last try. There was an Indian storekeeper who smiled upon hearing my inquiry. He took me to the section where a bundle of small plastic flags was kept. I asked for one flag for which he charged me 2 SAR without a bill. I came out of the shop all happy after a successful hunt at exactly the 10,000th step in the activity tracker, only to realize that I was standing just a few yards away from my hotel and that I had searched all over to find a little flag.

Indian National flag
Indian National flags at the stationary store

Celebrating Saudi Arabia’s National festival:

It was a long weekend due to the Saudi National day celebration on the 23rd of September. I was in Riyadh, the country’s administrative capital where several ceremonies were scheduled for the observance of the National day. The entire city was lit up and decorated with the theme of the Saudi national flag, which I was told was the case throughout the country. The level of public involvement and the fervor with which a national day is celebrated in Saudi was something that I felt missing back in my country on a national festival.

At the end of the National day celebrations, I and a few others who had accompanied me for the weekend were at the airport terminal in Riyadh, waiting for our return flight. We noticed that all staff working at the airport and the shops were wearing representative brooches or sashes. By then, I had realized that I had the national flags of two countries as souvenirs with a backstory of how I got them. I didn’t want to miss out on adding one from Saudi to the collection because that’s where I was to celebrate the national days of all three countries in 2022. I asked one of the staff about where I could get one for myself and that’s it. She got a sash not just for me, but one for each person who had accompanied me. Her colleagues and she were extremely excited to give us the sashes and click selfies with us wearing them. And any money offered in exchange was refused to be taken, as they called it a gift for us from them.

Conclusion remarks:

Sitting back on my flight, I was trying to recollect my experience of how a national festival was perceived by three different countries. As a foreigner, I was given a gift (free of cost) by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan with excessive excitement. Whereas, being an Indian, I expected myself to be warmly greeted by a fellow Indian on foreign soil and share the same enthusiasm to wish each other on India’s national festival. Instead, I bought an Indian flag from an Indian (it was a small cost by any reference, that could be waived off). It was not the free item I was seeking, but at least an Indian to be able to guide me to a place where I could get Indian products. The expectation was to meet another Indian who shared the same excitement to celebrate India’s festival as that of a Saudi or a Pakistani.

Are we Indians less patriotic? What are your thoughts?

A Rare Connection of Hockey Between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Belong to Everywhere: Theralu

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

This is a small village in South Kodagu that is closer to Kerala borders than it is to Madikeri. This is where my maternal cousins originally hail from, and they went to school with me at some point while staying together at our maternal grandparents’ house. So, it was natural that I too would accompany them to their native village on several occasions when they went to their parent’s house at Theralu.

Apart from the expansive Tata tea estates and the Kerala borders some of the other popular landmarks that I enjoyed day tripping here were Irupu waterfalls, Mrithyunjaya temple and the Nagarhole National Park.

For all that I can remember from those visits were that there were people speaking and following different culture than I was familiar with. All the workers that worked in both my maternal and paternal hometowns were from the local tribal communities who spoke and ate quite same as what I did at home. But those working at my Uncle’s estate in Theralu spoke so many different languages. The larger group had almost created a mini-Assam in the site of their labourers quarters. They had built so many structures, equipment, tools out of bamboo (the most common site in all over Assam) and ate food that was made with ingredients that we in Kodagu didn’t know were edible until we saw them.

The Glenlorna tea estate Coorg
The Glenlorna tea estate Coorg

This is also where I was introduced to Tamil language and their movies. A large group of workers came to work in the farm at Theralu during the peak coffee harvest season and returned back to Tamil Nadu after the season ended. During evenings or on weekends, these workers often came to my cousins house to watch TV. Although I didn’t know their language and didn’t comprehend with most things they communicated, I picked up names of the stars whom they clapped hands in enjoyment or sounded a “Shhhhhh” to express disappointment while watching their favorite stars on the screen. In spite of not understanding a word of what the movie or tele-serial was about, it was an inevitable situation for me to sit and watch through whatever was being played 😀 Looking back at the days, those stars from the early 2000s are the only few whom I can associate with while talking about movies with a Tamilian!

Assamese kids enjoying their shower in a small stream in the estate
Assamese kids enjoying their shower in a small stream in the estate

With limited means of communication, the major exposure we had in this small hill-district was just limited to living in estates or serving the army. Here, I saw migrant workers coming from faraway places in search of ANY doable jobs, saved a portion of their limited income and sent it to their families back in their hometowns and still lived a life of modesty. I learnt that life was not all easy for people living in other parts of the earth. It always made me think and reflect how unequal and different life was for everyone. Theralu taught me lessons of gratitude for the life I am living!

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

I Belong to Everywhere: Kumbaldal

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

Kumbaldal is a village in Madikeri taluk, north of Kodagu district. The descendance of my maternal lineage belongs to this village. Currently, my uncle stays here with his family.

This award-winning wildlife photograph not often but always brings back memories of simply being at Kumbaldal.

'Lights of Passion’, An award winning photograph of the bioluminiscent fireflies in the Western ghats
‘Lights of Passion’ fetched Aishwarya the ‘Highly Commended’ award at the 56th Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards (2020) under the ‘Behaviour-Invertebrates’ category. | Photo Credit: Aishwarya Sridhar

If you are there at the right time, then your senses can feast on bioluminescence. Millions of fireflies rest on the ground under the coffee plants all night and it literally feels as if you are standing on the porch of a mud house that is surrounded with a zillion flashlights. No words of mine can justify what I want to express! But, what I now realize is that the experience is not the same anymore. The usage of chemical fertilisers and pesticides have done damage that’s beyond repair to the environment. Going organic would need several decades to fix these glow worms and fireflies back into their normal habitat.

Every village in Kodagu has its own deity and it is quite an experience to participate in these local festivals. At Kumbaldal, the temple’s Kuli kund (the holy bathing pond) happens to be in our land. Hence, the idol of the presiding deity of the village is brought to our farm for the first ceremonial formalities during the village’s annual festival.

The annual village festival at Kumbaldal
The annual village festival at Kumbaldal

Not until late 2010-ish, that this village house had an electricity connection. The lifestyle was rustic and charming, to say the least. Mud smeared walls, cow dung smeared frontal yard and prayer room, firewood cooked food, kerosene lit lanterns and a perfectly mountain facing portico: Why wouldn’t anyone want a vacation like this! For me, my visits to this village were wholesome experiences.

The kitchen at the Kumbaldal house
The kitchen at the Kumbaldal house

Accessibility being scarce for reaching the commercial areas as and when required, the food and the entertainment at uncle’s house used to be the most traditionally rooted. Even to date, a visit to Kumbaldal is welcomed with a festive spread that largely comprises of the traditional Kodava recipes and prepared with the locally available ingredients as much as possible.

When I think of Kumbaldal, it reminds me of staying rooted to my culture and grounded with a minimalistic lifestyle. if you liked this story, you might also want to give a read to: “The monsoon delicacies of Coorg” for some more nostalgia.

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

A Day on the Old Silk Route

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

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

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

The Details:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A souvenir from Rajahmundry- Ratnam pen

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

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

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

Ratnam Pens- Manufacturing and Sales Outlet

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

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

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

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

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

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?

The Heritage bridges of Rajahmundry

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

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

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

Visiting a Gotul- A Bastar experience

For someone visiting Chhattisgarh, experiencing the tribal culture and enjoying the rawness of the natural landscape in Bastar would undeniably be the priority. If you are lucky, then you might get the opportunity to visit a tribal Ghotul. A Ghotul is a structure that accommodates people. It is either an open arena with earthen floors, without walls and with roofs laid with wood and hay or it is a completely closed structure built with earthen walls decorated with various murals. ‘But what is so ho about it?’, one may ask.

The Muriya girls with a Ghotul in the backdrop

The primary purpose of a Ghotul is what makes it important in the regional culture of Bastar in Chhattisgarh. It is a socializing club for the unmarried youth of the Muriya and the Gond tribes which also in some parts, serve as a dormitory for the registered members. Young boys and girls register themselves with a Ghotul of a particular village or area when they hit adolescence and the functioning of this traditional club is presided over by a head boy and a head girl from the respective tribe. Here, every evening, the members gather and learn the essentials of taking up a new life ahead of them. Reaching adolescence means that they have become eligible to get married and take upon the responsibilities of running a family. So, they are taught all the required life skills like managing a house and a family, folk traditions, music, cooking, religion, cleanliness, discipline, sympathy and everything else. The whole idea is to pass on and contain the traditions within the tribe.

The celebration dance by the Muriya tribes for hunting a game

This also promotes inter-tribe or inter-Ghotul weddings so that a member of a particular tribe doesn’t leave the community and the strength of the community is sustained. While pre-marital sex is considered as a taboo elsewhere in India, this culture encourages the youth to indulge in sexual activities to find the most compatible life partner. It is said that if a member of a Ghotul gets pregnant and doesn’t know who the father of the baby is, the village will adopt the baby and nurtures it as everyone’s own child.

Due to the rich ideology of conservation of the culture, people from across the globe come to study and understand the functioning of these Ghotuls. The Muriyas indulge in celebration of the little things from their daily lives. For example, after a successful hunt in the wild, a birth in the community, a betrothal, etc. They have about 12-15 different types of dances that they perform to celebrate these everyday joys. There are rituals and a sequential procedure on how the members need to conduct themselves in the course of visiting a Ghotul like getting ready, dressing up, assembly and starting the evening at the Ghotul.

I got an opportunity to visit one such Ghotul and here is a video of a dance they performed for us.

the Muriyas celebrating a game hunt at a Ghotul

As a small introduction to the video above: In this dance, you can see two hunters dancing around and in between the other members, while musicians are standing in the middle and playing the traditional instruments. There are also a couple of men wearing head gears that look like chital / spotted-deer which indicates that this celebration is after a game was shot-down by the hunters and brought to the Ghotul for a feast.

What are your thoughts and views about the Ghotul system? Share them with me through the comments below.