My visit to the arid land of Spiti was my first solo trip in all sense. I have previously spoken about its beautiful landscape and the wonderful people through my blog posts. But, on a personal note this travel has been one of the most impactful trips of my lifetime. So, here is the entire story in the form of an e-book.
Through this book, I seek your company while I backpack alone on a trip to the mountains. I want you to join me when I gate crash a mountain wedding and dance to the first snow. I want company when I confront a mummy and when I visit a vault full of millennium old paintings. Stay with me as I return home with an unsettling chaos running in my tummy. As you read through the pages of this book, you can bite into the juicy apples of Kinnaur all along, walk with me meeting people and go on a virtual trip to the Spiti valley and back.
You can get your copy of the e-book on Amazon by clicking on the image or the link below:
Yes, I know the language could have been tuned a little more and the English, could sound a little more polished. But, due to reading the same story over and over again, a few mistakes have outflown, my humble apologies! This book had been compiled in the first covid lockdown (Apr 20) and I have been procrastinating to publish it for over a year now, even post 2nd lockdown I (Apr 21). So, finally it had to be done….. But, I promise that my intention of sharing my story and experiences from the road has been compiled to the best of my abilities. I wish you all read, enjoy your virtual trip to Spiti and share your honest thoughts about it…
This was a post monsoon, weekend trip I had planned with two other friends who had joined me from Bangalore to Mahabaleshwar. The main agenda of this trip was to visit the ‘Khas plateau’ in its bloom season, but it was just for a day (Click here to read more about my visit). Since we were travelling all the way, we decided to extend the weekend for a little longer by adding a few other places and make it a backpacking trip around Satara district.
Day 0: Leave from Bengaluru to Satara (overnight private bus) Day 1: Satara to Wai (MSRTC bus), Visit to Menavali village & Dhom Dam; Wai to Panchgani (Local bus), Local sightseeing and night’s stay at Panchgani (Walk and shared taxi for local transportation) Day 2: Panchgani to Mahabaleshwar & local sightseeing at Mahabaleshwar (hired taxi for full day); Mahabaleshwar to Satara (MSRTC bus) and night’s stay at Satara. Day 3: Visit to Khas plateau & local sightseeing at Satara town (hired taxi); Return from Satara to Bengaluru (overnight KSRTC bus)
Day 1: Wai and Panchgani.
Since we required to start our Khas plateau visit from Satara, we decided to visit the places around the town later (on day 3). So, we moved ahead on the day of our arrival at Satara.
After alighting at Satara bypass on NH4 that morning, we hired an autorickshaw to reach the bus stand located in the town. From there, we boarded a MSRTC bus to our first major destination of the day: Wai.
Part 1: Places to see in Wai
I had come across the name of this place in a newspaper supplement. I had read that a large part of Shahrukh Khan’s “Swades’ movie was shot in and around Wai. Since we had to anyway pass through this place to reach our intended destination of the trip, I thought it was a good idea to add Wai it our itinerary. However, we had no idea of what to see and things to expect in Wai. We decided to just go there and explore the place by ourselves. Upon our arrival at Wai, we enquired with a few locals who guided us to the banks of the Krishna river.
A. Menavali village: A walk of good couple of miles from the Wai bus stand, we arrived at this village located on the banks of river Krishna. The locals call this as the Wai ghat as well. Apart from being a prominent setting for several Bollywood movies, the Wai ghat is also an important destination for history and archeological buffs. It holds great treasures from the times of the Marathas and the Peshwas. It is especially known for the contributions by the 18th century Maratha stateman- Nana Phadnavis.
Phadnavis Wada: Wada is a local name for a residential mansion with an inner courtyard. Residential complexes leading to river banks on one end and housing temples is a signature architectural style of the Peshwa era. The Phadnavis Wada located on the Wai ghat is one of the handful of such structures that still remains intact.
We did a quick visit to the Dholya Ganapathi mandir & Sri Kashi Vishweshwar Mandir (This temple is called as the Kashi of Maharashtra), both situated on the river bank.
As we took a stroll along the ghat, I realized that reality was far from the destination on reel. The real Wai looked very laid back and rustic. However, we decided to sit by the riverside and spend some time by photographing the local kids enjoying their time by diving and swimming in the polluted waters of the ghat.
B. Dhom dam: This waterbody is a good place for water sports with a nice view of the surrounding mountains. Located at about 10kms from Wai and connected by frequenting local shared jeeps, it is a nice place for catching a sunset. But, we gave this is a miss since we hadn’t booked our accommodation and has to reach our next destination ASAP. The bus left Wai and travelled around the curvy road of the mountain. The entire journey was beautiful with great views of the Dhom dam whose waters reflected the clear blue sky.
Part 2: Places to see in Panchgani
We had alighted at our next major destination: Panchgani. Although Panchgani is a small hill town that doesn’t extend beyond a stretch of 2 kilometers, surprisingly, it is an educational hub of Maharashtra. Around 42 international schools are located here. Given its small area, all the popular tourist places in Panchgani are located close by. So, we decided to get off with our backpacks at the entrance of the hill station, explore the landmarks and then find a place for our stay. The details of our time in Panchgani is as given below:
a. Harrison’s Foley view point: This is the first major landmark you come across, even before you actually enter the town. However, we thought of giving it a miss because our next stop was going to give us a view of this Foley as well.
b. Sydney point: We got breathtaking view of the Dhom dam from here. After a long day travelling and walking with our backpacks, we thought this was just a perfect place for us sit down and soak in some relaxing views. We sat down right there on the footpath, facing the dam and spent some peaceful time amid nature. After spending some good time and having all our limbs relaxed, we walked back towards the main road.
c. Table land: Our actual plan was to check-in to a hotel and sleep early that evening. However, we changed our minds and decided to visit the table land to use up our time in the remaining daylight. Sometimes, even with no plans, god really wants you to be at the right place at the right time. That’s how this evening turned out to be. As we went up the road leading to this place, it looked like quite a mela up there. There were so many makeshift shops set up and the place had been littered all around with plastic bottles and wrappers. But, as we walked past the maddening crowds, we saw that the table land was a vast stretch than expected. We decided to walk the entire land before dark. The grassland was naturally gifted with vast stretches of native flowers: all white, purple and yellow. It was a magical place that got us busy photographing the silhouettes of the grazing cattle, the horse riders etc. against a beautiful backdrop of the setting sun. An artificial lake amid the grassland added romance to this place. The sky was painted in all hues with a beaming full moon reflecting in the lake’s water, adding to the spectacle. It felt like as if the sun had gone down sooner that day. With that, we had to scoot out of the place as area suddenly started to feel deserted and had no guiding lamps to the main road.
d. Rajapuri caves: This place falls on the way up to the table land. We were told that the cave has a temple dedicated to lord Ayyappan and hence, women of menstruating age are not allowed inside. With that, we headed back to the town and checked-in to a hotel.
We wanted to have some food that are a must try in Panchgani. So, we dumped all our luggage in the hotel room and set-out to walk around the town, yet again.
Panchgani is famous for channa, chikki and fudge: the shops say this all over the place. So. we picked up some of these to carry back home.
What caught our attention was a bottle of strawberry wine at a wine store.
The day’s events concluded with a sumptuous spicy hot ‘veg Kolhapuri with roti‘ for dinner.
On the following morning, the idea was to be at the table-top for sunrise. However, we snoozed the alarm for a little longer and we woke up only when the hotel staff rang the doorbell. We then started our day with a yummy plate of Poha for breakfast and hired a taxi to our next destination: Mahabaleshwar.
This day was the sole reason that had got us to plan this entire trip. We woke up early to reach Khas plateau for sunrise and get some wonderful photographs. Being early gave us the benefit of avoiding the scorching sun and also to escape the crowds that would normally pour in at a later time.
Apart from my visit to Khas plateau that requires a separate post, I am listing the places of interest around Satara town for those wishing to explore this region:
a. Around Khas plateau: If you have sometime in hand, you can drive further from the Khas lake to reach the boating village of Bamnoli and take a boat tour to Vasota fort or Tapola. b. Vajrai and Thoseghar waterfalls: These picturesque places were a disappointment when we arrived there as these are mainly rainfed cascades. c. Chalkewadi windmill station: Considering that we had visited a windmill station earlier, back in our home state and to save time, we gave this place a miss. d. Forts for the history buffs: Sajjangad, Ajinkyatara, Pratapgad, Kalyangad are places that can all be covered, but only with the convenience of having own transport. We skipped our visits since we were largely dependent on public transportation and taxi service that was expensive. e. Natraj temple: This ancient structure located in the center of Satara town, is worth visiting
Food to try in Satara:
Kandi peda: This is a specialty sweet of this region
Zunka baakri: This is roti made of a locally available variety of maize, we had it for a late lunch that kept us filled throughout our return journey.
Fresh strawberry with cream in Mahabaleshwar.
We boarded a bus back to Bengaluru and thus, ending a long weekend in Satara.
There were many iterations in the initial plan and the destination was changed multiple times, but my family and I finally decided to visit and explore Bastar. Holistically, Bastar is a region spread across multiple states and was primarily ruled by the Kakatiya dynasty. But with changing administrations and new state formations, the Bastar region is now split into seven districts in the state of Chhattisgarh with Bastar itself being the name of a district. The region is one of the richest in India in terms of tribal culture and reserves of natural resources. Taking Covid safety precautions into consideration, we decided to drive our own vehicle instead of taking a flight or public transportation to avoid coming in touch with random people.
When people in our immediate acquaintance got to know about our choice of destination, a few thought that we were crazy. And then, a few concluded that we had lost it when we told them that we were doing a road trip right through the red-corridor area. But it was a combination of inquisitiveness, curiosity, adventure and assurance of safety from a local friend that finally got my family and myself on a road trip to what is infamously called the Naxal heartland- Bastar. To add a little bit of spark to this wild road trip, was our new ‘Flame-red’ colored car that was delivered to us just a couple of days ago. We did not have a number plate on it and were going to cross five state borders with a ‘Temporary Registration’ sticker.
With all that background, let us discuss the crux of every traveler’s doubt- Is Bastar safe for travelers?
First things first, about Bastar-
The public transportation or connectivity in the Bastar region is almost non-existent. So, if you are a budget traveler or a backpacker, then this trip will not work out for you. Hire a self-drive vehicle either from Raipur or Vishakhapatnam (The nearest major cities with airports) or get one from home.
For stay at this point in time, there are ‘zero’ places listed on Airbnb. Limited hotels are available only at Jagadalpur which you can make your center point of travel. Alternatively, there are some resorts run by the Chhattisgarh Tourism Board (CTB) scattered in good locations across the region that you can manage to find online or through local contacts.
The Details of our visit to Bastar.
We started this trip from Hyderabad on the morning of Christmas-2020. As our journey proceeded from the plains towards the forests, the changing terrain was an indication that the red-color (of the red-corridor map) was getting more significant. We strictly adhered to two conditions laid by our friend/ local guide who was based out of Bastar. One, to stay connected from the time we started from Hyderabad and update him frequently (based on the mobile network). Two, do not drive after sunset. We had planned the entire route and our halts in consultation with him. With Kothagudem, we had officially entered the ancient ‘Dandakaranya forest’ region, the modern ‘Naxal heartland’. Only difference is Ravana had kidnapped Sita from the region back then, one could possibly be kidnapped or shot at by a Maoist in modern day. The day’s drive was mostly un-exciting with a good wide National highway passing through Sal tree forests alternating with cotton fields till Badrachalam, where we stayed for that night.
The following day, when we took a deviation towards Konta at Chatti junction is when we started to notice the actual change in terrain and demography. Civilizations suddenly disappeared and the roads became emptier. For most stretch it was just us, driving either through thick forested areas or large open grasslands. No man-made concrete structures, whatsoever. Even if it felt like we reached a tribal settlement after driving for a few kilometers, the settlement was limited to just one or two huts with their set of cattle and poultry. It was a little eerie to think of, but that did not stop us from halting our car and taking a few photographs.
After reaching Konta (The Andhra-Chhattisgarh state border) is when we started to sense the heavy air around us. Every village that came thereafter was spread across 1 to 2 kilometers along the highway. And every village had a CRPF camp with an armored MPV (Mine Protected Vehicle) at their gates, ready to be driven out at any given point. All camps had hero stones erected near the gates with names of the martyrs from the respective camps who had died during service. We were heading towards Sukma, possibly the brightest red spot one would find on the map. With extremely unreliable mobile connectivity to reach out to our guide, we had started to reconsider if we had made the right decision to take the road less travelled! Anyway, there was no way we could undo our plans since we were already there now. Instead, we decided to go ahead by thinking about the adventure and excitement that may come ahead to us.
Meanwhile, I got a message delivered on my phone from our guide. It had the contact name and number of a volunteer (Person X) based out of Sukma. We were told to meet Person X and have a cup of tea with him at Sukma before continuing our journey towards Jagadalpur. After reaching the Sukma bus stand, we called Person X and waited for him to arrive. In a bit, a young boy came to us on a bike and asked us to follow him. Even before we could complete our words of enquiring his name, he said: “Haan, haan, follow my bike” and we trailed him through narrow residential lanes to a big mansion. Another man (Person Y) welcomed us warmly and we were kind of overwhelmed and at the same time, wondering whom and why we had to meet someone in Sukma.
Person Y asked us, “Weren’t you supposed to be a big group of people?”
“No, it was just our family travelling”, we clarified.
“But Person Z told me that five of you will be arriving here for the meeting”, he said.
“Person Z? But we were supposed to meet Person X!”, we told him with a perplexed look on our faces.
We realized that there was some confusion. We were at a wrong place… in Sukma! I immediately called up Person X and told him about the situation. I then handed over my phone to Person Y and we were fortunate that both X & Y knew each other. Both of them were local leaders and represented the same political party. X came to Y’s house and it followed with some chai served to us. Our basic introduction and conversation were limited to local politics, our journey so far and our trip to Chhattisgarh. About half an hour later and as discussed with our guide from Bastar, we decided to continue our journey further.
A short while later, when we were ascending the Ghats, a bunch of CRPF men who were on their random patrol stopped us and enquired the details of our trip. Without much drama, they let us go after knowing that we were random tourists, heading to Jagadalpur from Bangalore.
Our guide arrived at Dorba with his family and escorted our car for the rest of the day. We reached Jagadalpur for the night’s stay. Over the next few days of our stay in Chhattisgarh, we explored several settlements and hamlets located in areas where no roads exist. Through our extensive drive through vast expanses of paddy fields and coal, iron and other mineral rich mountainous and forest terrain, we got a better sense of geography and geo-politics of the area.
So, come to the point! Was it safe?
I would like to explain this with multiple incidents and my viewpoints. PLEASE NOTE that these opinions are purely based on my personal experience. This may differ for each person visiting there.
As per our guide, our visit to the local’s house in Sukma was to acquaint us with a localite in that region so that, if we were being tracked by someone, they would know that we were harmless tourists and not associated with any other intention. But my viewpoint is that, apart from Sukma, we explored the districts of Dantewada, Bastar, Kondagaon, Kanker, Narayanpur, Gariaband and Dhamtari during the course of our stay in this region. All considered to be core areas of Naxalism/ LWE in the state. We drove our number less car with a ‘KA-TR’ sticker all around –> Not a single day did anyone stop us, ask us or threaten us. It felt like we were travelling in any other Hindi speaking place in India.
When we entered the villages, we had a local person accompanying us almost always. We were told that a lot of villagers worked as informants to the Naxals. (starting from children as young as 8-10 years to grown adults, across gender). So, if a localite familiar in a particular village that we were visiting accompanied us, we would be safe –> My viewpoint on this is, when we moved to the interior parts, the villagers could speak only the local dialects of either Halbi or Gondi. Why that, when we visited the Gotul on one of the days, I even understood a portion of a conversation between two villagers standing next to me. They were discussing that I was a foreigner, who had come there to see their dance. Like really? I look so INDIAN in color, features, dress and in every other sense. Even then, the exposure of these tribals to the world outside their villages is so limited that any visitor would look alien. In such a scenario, communication would’ve been a task for us if we wanted to understand their culture better. A translator helped us to bridge the gap in communication.
We were told that the Naxalites come out after sunset and bother the villagers for rice and other needs. We had heard of stories of how people/visitors/ guests were kidnapped from houses at night. We met so many villagers from various tribes, visited their houses and ate their food. They were excited to host us and shy to talk to urbanites. Never at any point did I feel like we were going to be harmed. We even stayed for a night at Dantewada and most other nights at Kondagaon. The villagers didn’t seem to talk about anything to me like kidnap or murder.
There are several tribal communities that are still primitive in their culture and do not come out in contact of normal civilization. Barter still exists in this part of the world. Permits are required for entry of many villages, especially for those visiting the Abujmadh area. To think of, it is unfortunate that inspite of conscious efforts by governments to empower the tribes, it is still falling short.
Somewhere near Kanker, we were by ourselves on a night journey towards Raipur. While we were told that the highways were safe, there is one point where we were asked to stop and wait for about 2 hours. With us, there were hundreds of other vehicles also who had stopped and spent the hours getting a nap during the waiting time. Daily, the ITBP policemen do combing in this area. Inspite of several positive experiences like those above, things like these present the intensity of the underlying danger and threat.
By having all these presumptions, it cannot be ruled out that naxalism is REAL. And it is in abundance in these areas. The underlying thought cannot be ignored that I must have gotten lucky!
My verdict on safety for travelers:
I went to Chhattisgarh and returned safe. Every place across the WORLD has its own threat, but in different ways. When you are in Rome, be a Roman. So, whichever place you choose to travel, keep the local customs and sentiments in mind. If possible, get in touch with a localite and take them into confidence. Travel to build connections and build connections to travel.
The list starts from 2015, a religious celebration of the festival of love and lights- Deepawali. Well, I’m not a religious person who would indulge in ritualistic prayers and pooja on any festival. But what started as travelling during this season to utilise my unused leaves combined with maintenance shutdown period at my workplace, has somehow religiously stuck on as a ritual of travelling to a new place, every year.
Circa 2015- Tamil Nadu: My brother and I ventured out on our backpacking roadtrip to Tamil Nadu, Kumbakonam to Pondicherry. Well, this was an adventurous start I guess, we had to cut short our trip due to a cyclone that had battered the east coast. Result: Crazy floods and crazy drive through the flooded areas. On the main festival day, we had reached Chidambaram- a must read post about our experience. A bad one then, a memorable one now.
Circa 2017- Karnataka: After a crazy long year of travelling across India, my friends and I decided to have a simple deepawali roadtrip, closer home in the western ghats. We drove to the famous Agumbe ghats and the places around.
Circa 2018- Himachal Pradesh: One of THE best solo trips of my life, where I couldn’t find a single traveller to tag along through the entire trip. This thus, became a thorough personal and local experience in the Spiti valley. On the day of Deepawali, I was on my way back with a brief stopover at Shimla. A trip that made an impact on me, perhaps forever.
Circa 2020- Karnataka: Fears of travelling afar due to Covid-19, personal commitments and taking advantage of working from home, this was the longest duration I spent in my hometown in the last 15 years. Quite unlikely to mention the highlights, but the Deepawali of 2020 indeed tops all the above from the list.
What are your stories about celebrating Deepawali / Diwali? What do you do normally?
This post is of my family’s random “target destination-less” drive during the Covid unlock period. We set out in three different directions on three separate weekends but reached a place from where we got the view of the same hill, every time. By the shape of the solo hill, we would know that it was the ‘Ragihalli Betta’, located on the fringes of Bannerghatta National park. So, here are the details.
Direction 1: Kanakapura road; Destination explored: Gullahatti Kaval; View: Ragihalli Betta The aimless drive culminated at a beautiful spot at the backwaters of the Muninagara reservoir in a village called as Gullahatti Kaval (Click here to read the detailed post). The route was mainly through millet and Banana farms dotted by small hamlets.
Direction 2: Bannerghatta road; Destination explored: Koratagere Doddi; View: Ragihalli Betta An offroading drive through Ragihalli state forest, stream crossing, forest trail and then culminating at a viewpoint- was a very welcome drive (Click here to read the detailed post).
Direction 3: Mysore road; Destination explored: Yogavana Betta; View: Ragihalli Betta After passing through small hamlets, an art school and a road with a foresty canopy leading to an ashram called as ‘Yogavana Betta’. We skipped the ashram visit and walked up the hill and climbed up a meditation hall, apparently called ‘Anubhav Mantapa’ to get a 360deg view of the surrounding. One of the views from atop was the Ragihalli Betta. Apart from a casual walk in the green neighborhood, there was nothing specific to do here. But it is a DEFINITE recommendation for those seeking a good ‘Sunset View’ point. Watch the below video of this place and the view surrounding this place.
So yeah, the bike is fixed. I am fresh. I remove and keep my sweatshirt in my bag in a way that I can pull it out without having to open the bag. It’s already about 12:30 by now. I set out to cover as much distance as possible by dusk. Well I took Nashik-Shirdi road because that was the shortest distance. Oh boy, shortest distance turned out to be a nightmare. The road is okay for maybe about an hour from Pune; there on, it is more of a fucking off-roading course. The road is literally non-existent for a hundred kilometres atleast, riddled with huge potholes and roadhumps where it is not necessary. One fucking hell of a road! Pretty fortunate not to have crashed on this section because of the unmarked roadhumps. Even in broad daylight, I couldn’t go past 40kmph without risking a fall or ruining my bike. The road pretty much stays the same till Malegaon.
I leave Dhule just before darkness prevails. It becomes a very monotonous situation from here. Almost zero traffic after dark and no street lights or illumination for the highway. It is just me, riding alone in the dark, among occasional trucks. I have to ride through Khargath Sendhwa. The Road seemed twisty turvy with occasional potholes and what looked like debris on the sides. I passed a R15 couple here in this section. Without much thought, I continue my journey in the darkness. I did stop once, near what I can explain as a petrol pump- pretty much away from me. Just when I’m stretching my ass off, the R15 guys show up right next to me. They stopped to enquire about my destination and why I’m riding alone. I initially thought I’m about to get mugged, but these guys actually advised me to stop for the night as the journey on this road, at this hour was not safe. And they ride off.. Of that was so not expected, from a stranger..!
Well now, I also ride out almost as soon as they left. I next stopped at Khargate tollgate. Here, I had to listen to three people advising me to stop and take the night off because it is not safe to ride alone on this road. Oh okay, now I’m kinda curious and cautious about riding anymore. So, I ride a little further from the tollgate till I find a brightly lit place which had boarding and lodging. I decide to finally take off for the night and catch a shut eye for the ride next day. It’s about 9.00p.m. now. And I take a room that is pretty huge for a single guy like me. All I had to do was to uncloth myself. That was it, I set an alarm for 5.00 in the morning because I can’t wake up any sooner. That’s all I remember. One super deep sleep I was in, as soon as I hit the bed. So peaceful sleep I got, like proper deep sleep…
The alarm went off on time, only to be snoozed till 7.00a.m. because I’m lazy to ride out in the cold. So I finally get off the bed, take bath etc. and ready by 8.00.a.m. I have 2 cups of tea and vacate the place. Remember, I’m still a 1000kms away from my destination.
By 8:15 I’m already on road riding out, not till I spot a board indicating a town called Gujri. Oh well Gujri, what better name to have a picture taken with. Just a brief picture stop. Okay.. that’s the last stop major picture stop of the day. The whole day went riding pretty much non-stop, except for the fuel stops. So yeah, I rode and rode the whole day because this was my last day to reach in time. I pass through Dhar, Ratlam, Mandsaur, Neemuch City and Chittorgarh. This Chittorgarh happens to have a massive fort. But for me today, no time. So onward… The whole road has been good wide road, so no tension. But now new tension, I can rain see clouds in the far distance. So I take a brief pitstop to cover my bag and continue.
Nothing much worth mentioning along the route there onwards. However, it’s become pretty late by now. Almost past lunchtime. I ride till I reach Kishangarh. Oh, this place is like Jigani neighbourhood of Bangalore. Only Marbles in this city. This city is filled with marble sellers. Italian, Indian, whatever marble you want you will get it here. A Marble market city. So by the time I leave this city, it is already 5.00.p.m. I drape my blanket and get prepared for the “Thand”. The next city is Kunchaman city. This city seemed a little dirty with slush almost everywhere. Then I realise that it had rained here. It’s kinda wet and cold. So take the road to Jhunjunu via Sikar. This road is good but single lane, no street lights. Almost reached Sikar, when I’m having a tough time riding the bike. Because it suddenly became unbearably cold and was completely covered in fog. Even the other vehicles seem to be driving super slow. I almost fell off once because of a mound in the middle of the road. I almost immediately stopped, to take stock of the situation. The road was wet because it had rained. Not only had it rained, but it was a hailstorm and the temperature had dipped to near zero. The mounds on the road were mounds of hail stones and I had almost fallen off because of them. Shit crazy it was. Who expects rain in the middle of a desert region? Yeah, so I pass through that area and reach Sikar. Then reach Jhunjunu and finally take the deviation towards Alsisar. This fucking maps can take through some crazy routes if you are not careful enough..!
However, it took through some road and put me back on the right road in a while. Yeah peace. . It is 11:30pm and I’ve reached my destination. “Alsisar Mahal“. And I’m all set for the festival. It is cold and I am tired. I had been waiting to just get a place to sleep.
And so yeah, I reached a music festival in just around 50+ hours from Bangalore. To the ‘Magnetic fields ‘ music festival from the ‘Silicon City’ Bengaluru in 50hours..!
To be continued….. Part 3
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So, as the title suggests.. this is about my journey between Bangalore and Alsisar, in the winter of 2019. It is not another bike riding blog that you’d find spamming the internet. This one is a story.. About “HOW” I got there, when reaching the destination was the target. But as things unfolded, I’m writing this today to share my story with you all..
One day, while scrolling down on my Instagram feed, I come across a post seeking volunteers for the magnetic fields music festival. A festival I have been following for a few years. Given this chance, I filled in the questionnaire on the given link. A few weeks went past and I had eventually forgotten about it… To be noted: I was unemployed or rather occupied with agriculture, until this point..
So in the month of November, 17th to be precise- I applied for a job as a sales consultant at a luxury bike dealership in Bangalore and got employed also. Trust me, this was the easiest aptitude I have ever answered! The test was held in the dealership itself, which had a good playlist playing in the background as I was taking my test. It was more like: I enjoyed my time giving the test.. So, I sailed through that and got employed also. Well, everything was alright but not right.. I was employed at the place for exactly 8 days. Exactly a day before my birthday. The Best birthday gift ever, that was it: I got an employment termination. I was let go because I was not enthusiastic enough. Yeah, right! 100% agreed, I don’t give a damn either.
Post this scene, I’m cycling back home.. Well, that’s when I get a call. It’s a person calling to seek more information about me and my application for volunteering. She called to ask me if was interested and if they could hold a video interview. Oh, well! Why not? All done and now I’m in, as a volunteer…
They call again exactly 7 days before the event, to reconfirm my participation. Done, set I am; Atleast for the event. Not set with how to reach the event… Well I spoke to my parents and tried to get money for my journey tickets. They probably thought I was joking and did not bother to respond. I did this till the last buffer day for me to leave home to reach the festival venue on time. Even on the last day, I’ve asked but no avail. Well, I’m not good at convincing I guess. I did my mental calculations and came to a decision that given the pace and ticket availability- train was ruled out and plane was fast but extra expensive, considering last minute booking. So, I decided to ride to Rajasthan.. In 2 days flat! Well yeah, I did ride 2200 kms.. in a little more than 48 hours, though.
I leave home after realizing that it was futile, trying to convince my parents to agree for plane tickets. I packed essentials like one thermals, one pullover, shoes, 3 pairs of clothes and not much cash. I’m full rich you know, only cards.!No one at home is happy about my last minute plans to ride 2000 odd kms with absolute no planning. Most important thing I did was stick my name and emergency contacts written on a paper on my fuel tank, just in case something went off route. Okay, tata, bye bye to home.. For the next 10 days.I leave home at around 4.00.p.m. straight to the service centre. Oil changed, chain lubed and tensioned, all while listening to the workshop supervisor telling me to replace the chain kit and tyres, as both had exceeded their life. Yes, I know they needed a replacement but I didn’t have enough time. Okay, I agreed to his advice telling him that I’ll do it in Pune. My bike was ready, atleast for the night until I reached Pune, just a few hundred kilometres away..05:15.p.m., I start my lonely ride to reach Alsisar as early as possible so as to not miss the reporting, day after tomorrow. So now, I’ve left home just before night fall and I have 2000kms to ride. I stop for dinner at a roadside hotel at about 10.00.p.m., the only hotel that seemed to be brightly lit. There was not a single tea shop the whole time. This first night is nothing much interesting except for continuous riding all night, till I eventually got tired at about 02.a.m. I was finally tired, enough for a major pit stop in the middle of nowhere. Also, I had underestimated how cold it might be.. Standing cold and riding cold are very different levels of cold.! Had to wear my thermal and my pullover to feel, just warm enough that night. I eventually stopped at a truck lay-by, which are more common than hotels after passing Hubli. This place seemed good enough to stop because there was a bright mast light installed nearby and there was nothing else other than this small bus-stop like truck lay-by. I was tired, so I just decided to lay down on the broken benches.
My bad, this place sucked! Because, every now and then these sugarcane farmers went by in tractors, blasting music at that dead hours. And also because it is a national highway, every truck and bus whizzed past the shelter making my rest-stop unbearable. I vacated the place in 20mins to find a place that was more silent. I ride for the next hour, till I finally reach Kolhapur tollgate. Being dead tired and partially sleep deprived, I give up riding.. It is probably 3:30-04.00.a.m. Being at a considerably more safer place with constant security, I just pass out on my bike, at the tollgate! I did wake up eventually, feeling just a bit fresh at about 5.00.a.m.Time is running out and I’ve not covered half the distance. Oh shit, I’ll get late. I almost immediately leave. Sometime into the morning ride, I am greeted by a fellow rider on an older red Ducati while he gracefully overtook.By day break, I’m almost in Pune. At 6:30-07.00.a.m., I’m at Khatraj Ghat, full of fog. Well, I ride into Pune and miss the exit I should have taken to enter the city from Swargate. Instead, I happened to take the ring road which bypassed the city and took me through Hinjewadi and Pimpri. Here is when the first balls in my mouth scene happened… I just happened to go past Tata motors at Pimpri and stopped for my morning tea as it is almost 8.00.a.m. now.. I don’t know if it was the tea stop or some inauspicious time of the day; My bike chain seemed to have gotten jammed and was making a very uncomfortable metallic rubbing noise. At this point, I was barely able to ride it.. I got off the bike and started to push it, because the nearest service centre at Chakan was just a few kms away.. Even pushing became difficult as the chain had jammed or become tight. I gave it a thought, then hopped on and rode. It was nerve wracking to listen to the chain rubbing against some other unfigured part… I prayed the whole trip from Pimpri to Chakan, just that the chain doesn’t snap.
For my good fortune, the chain repaired itself I guess and everything became normal again, just as I neared the service centre. Guess what? I’ve arrived too early to the store. It’s 9.00.a.m and the service opens at 10.00. Good that the showroom guy had just opened. He was cleaning and setting up the store. I tell him to inform me when the service supervisor arrives and pass out on the showroom table, till almost 11.00. Eventually, he did come. This service centre guy gave me the best attention I’ve got. I told him the problem. He however, was not able to verify it because the chain had magically fixed itself. I got it lubed and tensioned again. Trust me, the chain and tyres had become overused by now. I tell him my destination and he was surprised. He also repeated the same, what I had heard in Bangalore. “Change your chain set and tyres, or you’re not going to make it back to Bangalore..!” I give him my assent to do it in Jaipur.
It has been nearly 3 months of staying at home due to the nationwide lockdown and the fear of the pandemic. With India’s unlock 1.0 in place, our family of four decided to take a short drive outside to breathe some new air. We planned to head to ‘Mango Mandi’ at a village called Somanahalli, off Kanakapura road for this weekend. As we reached there, we learnt from the locals that the government run fruit trading market has been shifted elsewhere for social distancing purposes. However, buying mangoes was just a reason for us to go out and the idea was to go “somewhere” outside home.
This reminds me of some old travel tales of my family. On weekends, my parents used to take us to Majestic bus stand from where we would board a random bus to a destination, that we had unheard of. Back then, BMTC buses plied with boards called red-board and black-board. Red-board for villages outside the city limits and Black-board for those very much within the city. We would sit in just any Red-board bus and buy a ticket to “the last stop”. Most people (Villagers travelling to and from the city) on these routes used to be familiar with the drivers and conductors. Hence, on issuing the ticket to the last stop to us, the conductor would enquire “Whose house we were visiting or where we wanted to go in the last stop”. We used to then get into a conversation with them and get details about the village we would reach at the end of our journey. We would then walk around these villages, appreciating the lung space, learning about new crops, new traditions in the countryside etc. We had thus explored “Remote” villages like Kumbalagodu (coffee plantations), Begur (the oldest Kannada inscription), Hesaraghatta (horticulture & animal husbandry farms), Gollahalli (so many varieties of Gollahallis in different directions of Bengaluru), Harohalli (so many varieties of Harohallis in different directions of Bengaluru), Haniyur (Madure Shani mahatma temple), Devanahalli (Tippu’s fort) etc. Come today, Bengaluru has grown to ‘Bruhat Bengaluru’. People would laugh at you if you called some of these places remote. Why that… even the house where we live now had once been our destination on one such Red-board bus journeys!
Back to this weekend of Unlock 1.0, we decided to continue on the road that we were driving until we reached the dead end. And that’s how we reached a village called ‘Mukkodlu’. The name of the village came as a surprise as there exists another village of the same name, back in my native district. The red soil of the farmland was being ploughed all along our route and readied for sowing Ragi millet during the monsoon. The clouds looked amazing with newly laid asphalt road. The green hills complimented the scene well, with ‘Munikallu betta’ to the right and ‘Ragi halli betta’ on the distant left. A little further from there exists the Muninagara reservoir. We thought we would stop by this place on our return.
The reservoir and beyond comes under the supervision of the forest department, a sub-division of the Bannerghatta National park. We proceeded further to know where the milestone indicated ‘1km’ – Gullahatti Kavalu. That also happened to be a ‘Dead end’ on Google maps, from where we would return. Also, the idea of our drive was to not meet any villagers or eat at any petty shops which we normally did on such trips. When we reached our destination, the end of the village was marked by a peepal tree and a government school. The ‘Arali katte’ are arenas buzzing with life and a hub of activities on a usual day in the Indian villages. This one here, was staring at us with all villagers confining themselves to their homes for social distancing. We sat there for some time, soaking in the fresh air on the fringes of Bannerghatta National park before returning.
On our way back, we decided to stop at the sight of the reservoir. My itchy feet wanted to hike a bit and I dragged my folks along with me for a few meters away from the road. It was indeed a good decision. Considering we were in the fag end of summer, the reservoir still held a good amount of water. A localite who had come there to graze his cattle told us that wild animals like elephants, leopards, deer, peacocks, wild boars, porcupines etc. are spotted here in the mornings and on most other occasions. At the first sight, it seemed to me like the Kabini backwaters. Kabini is like a summer resort for all wild animals. When all water bodies within the forest run dry, this spot holds enough water and all animals come here to chill in the summers. The fact and the view of Muninagara reservoir too gave me a similar feeling. We sat there for some time until the rain gods showered blessings on us.
Thus, a day in India unlock 1.0 was well spent.
Note: For the adventurous ones, there exists a trekking trail called ‘Muni nagara trails’ on google maps starting from the reservoir to the Ragihalli betta. But ensure that you have all permits in place before venturing on a trek here. As afore mentioned, this area belongs to the Karnataka forest department.
This post is part of my fortnight long backpacking in the north eastern state of Nagaland in India, specifically covering Dimapur- Kohima– Phek districts of the state during the Hornbill festival.
More often than always, the stories we carry back from our travel are about the people we meet and less about the places we see. Our definition of whether our trip is good or bad is defined by the way we are made to feel by the people we come across. My experience in Pfutsero too has been one of those, where the warmth of the people made me fall in love with Nagaland. All I knew about Pfutsero was that it is the largest town in Phek district, and it is the highest inhabited place in the state of Nagaland. High altitude also means that it is the coldest place in the entire state. Having very little information available on the internet only meant that the place is still off the radar of mainstream tourism. This is what got me inquisitive and itched me to visit Pfutsero which would give ample scope to explore and experience something so raw and unknown to the outside world.
From the day I arrived at Nagaland, I had started to talk to a lot of people to get information about getting from Kohima to Pfutseru. With lack of clear information and high cost of travel, I had almost dropped the plan until the end of my 10-day trip in the state. One last try at finding a cheaper travel to Pfutsero, landed me in a small grocery store at Kezekie taxi stand in Kohima. My friend and I realised that we were at the right place. The courteous owner of the store guided us with all the required information and got our seats booked in the shared taxi that plied from Kohima to Pfutsero the next morning.
My itinerary to explore Phek district:
Day 1: Leave from Kohima to Pfutsero (shared taxi), visit Glory peak (Frozen lake trek if time permits), explore Pfutsero town (Night’s stay at the tourist lodge) Day 2: Chida lake/ Lowho, Lazami village (spirited stone), Kami village view point, return to Kohima.
As instructed, we had reached Kezekie by 07.00.am. the following morning to be assured of a seat. But thanks to the traffic, it was 10.30.a.m. by the time we left Kohima. However, there was one ambiguity before leaving for Pfutsero- We hadn’t booked a hotel at Pfutsero for our stay yet. Despite several failed attempts of calling the mini-tourist lodge at Pfutsero, their phone continued to remain switched off. But my friend and I were up for some adventure and decided to travel without a confirmed stay, go there and find one.
Phek district is inhabited by the members of the Chakesang tribes in majority. With the friendliness of the grocery store owner, we had already started to feel the positive vibes of the place we were going to. She had given the contact information of her family who lives in Kezakeno, another village in Phek. She had not just shared the contact info, in fact forced us to stay with her family. We were feeling grateful and partially sorted in the eventuality of not finding a hotel at Pfutsero.
There were both good roads and no roads, all adding up to a patchy drive to Pfutsero. Apart from the mountainous roads that seemed charming outside, the people with whom we shared our drive made our trip indeed a memorable one. One of them helped us to contact the tourist lodge and confirmed our stay at Pfutsero even before we reached. I had clearly started to feel overwhelmed with the hospitality of the people in this part of the country where the locals wanted to make all visitors feel at home. Almost everyone whom we got talking to, was excited to invite us over for a meal with them. Finally, it was 02.00.p.m. when we reached Pfutsero and a cup of hot tea was what we relished at our co-passenger’s house before checking-in at the tourist lodge. A colourful garden welcomed us into her wooden house that was perched on the slope of the hill. Its windows opened out into a majestic view of the entire town and overlooked a lake surrounded by green lawn. The dreamy house seemed to be no less than out of a Bollywood flick. We soon bid her a warm goodbye and headed to the tourist lodge, freshened up and proceeded to the target destination, before the sun called it a day!
Glory peak is the highest point in Pfutsero. A short taxi ride of 3kms through an under-construction road, jaw-dropping view of the surrounding valleys and a climb on a watch tower got us to the top of the town. Mt. Saramati is the highest peak in Nagaland and Mt. Everest needs no introduction. On a clear, bright afternoon, both the mountains can be seen from Glory peak. Since, we had reached there before sunset, the distant mountains were partially hidden by the haze and hence we could get a clear view of only Mt. Saramati. Nevertheless, the 360deg view of verdant hills from the glory peak was something to die for.
For those who have an additional day at hand, a day hike to the frozen lake from the glory peak is highly recommended by the locals. We decided to explore the town a little bit, before it was dark. A hike down the peak was fun as the staircase leading to the town passed through thick forests, strange creepers and colourful butterflies. We spent time exploring the town until sunset. It seemed dusty with poor roads. Apart from a few local snacks, we couldn’t find anything interesting. However, there is one souvenir shop run by an NGO that supports local artisans. One can buy some traditional Chakesang tribal jewellery, textile and food products as souvenirs from here.
The dropping Pfutsero temperature had started to numb our fingers and we decided to head back to the lodge. The lodge is situated on top of a hill and the setting sun looked glorious from the corridor. After wearing my thermals and gloves, I decided to take a stroll around the lodge. It is located adjacent to defence property and that gave me a sense of confidence to venture alone after dark. All the people from the neighbourhood were busy in decorating a nearby church for Christmas. They got me talking to them and eventually I joined them in their chore of setting up the wreaths and light bulbs. It was a fun evening until I decided to head back for the warmth of my room. The lodge was a HUGE property, but we were only two girls staying there that night. Although it was a little scary at the first thought to be the only guests, we were soon occupied in long conversation with the caretaker family of the property living in the same building, later to be joined by the owners. The conversation covered a range of topics and ran into the night. Given the lesser crowd of the cliched tourists, company of comforting hosts and warm conversations, we couldn’t have asked for a safer and a better place to be!
The comfort of the heater, cosy blankets and carpeted floors let us sleep like logs, unaware of the freezing sub-zero Pfutsero temperature outside. We were woken up by the alarm next morning, only to be mind-blown by the view of the rising sun over the clouds from our balcony. We packed up and prepared to leave as that was our last day in Nagaland and we had to make it to Dimapur for the night’s train. Meanwhile, we had booked a personal taxi for our return, since we wanted to explore Kezakeno on our way back.
The first stop was at- Chida lake. Locally called as Lowho, this off-road destination is a favourite hangout among the locals who come here for games like fishing and boating. Some enjoy a trekking trail from glory peak to Chida along the Kapamedzu range as well. There is a Border Security Force camp at Chida and hence, it is also referred as Chida Post at times. Since we had reached very early, we were the only tourists there and the place looked absolutely calm and serene.
From there, we headed to Lazami village. This tiny village is of very high historical importance as it is the site from where the various Naga tribes are believed to have migrated to different parts of the state. A veteran from the village was excited to narrate the legend of Tsotawo, the spirited stone in the village. We were warmly invited by almost every person in this village into their house. We finally settled down at a little traditional house for breakfast and a large cup of tea. We carried back love in the form of guavas and local walnuts given by our hosts from this village. Seeing so much affection in these hills was a wonderful feeling that cannot be expressed, for which a city soul in me would want to come back again.
While continuing our journey from there, we did have a stop at Kami village view point to admire the terraced paddy fields of Lekhromi village, the view looked magnificent under the oblique rays of the early sun.
Making our way through the maddening traffic jam of Kohima is for another story to be written about, some other day! Thus, ended our 2 days of amazement and overwhelming hospitality in the Land of the Chakesang Nagas- Phek district.
Pfutsero is famous for its organic farming and terrace cultivation. We bought fruits (some known and some new) from the local shops that we could eat once we were back in our room.
One would find a lot of bakeries in the town selling local cookies and muffins. Sticky rice cake, banana cake and banana chips are few of the things I recommend.
Daily shared taxis ply between Kohima and Pfutsero. There are limited seats and the taxis leave immediately when filled. The taxi leaves Pfutsero around 6.00.a.m to Kohima and the same returns to Pfutsero on the same day on a first-cum-first serve basis. So, if one is not early enough to get a seat, he will have to hire a full taxi for him/herself or stay back until the next morning to share it. A one-way shared taxi seat costs 300Rs. Per head and a personal taxi would cost 5-6000rs. irrespective of whether it is a 1 or a 2-way journey.
Within Pfutsero, most places are at walkable distances. But internal taxis are available for local commute. Talk to one of the shopkeepers in the town and they must be able to help in finding one.
A very well-maintained tourist lodge and a government run mini lodge are available at a very affordable price.
There are a few homestays available for a more local experience.
Well… Heading to seek blessings from Lord Venkateshwara at Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam? I’m not a religious person and I’m someone who seeks variety in my travels… The same route and same destination- I have sometimes felt myself being forced into a pilgrimage sort… No doubt, I have loved my general hike up the stairs to the venkateshwara hill, more for the beautiful views, stopover points like deer park, waterfalls and so many eateries all the way up. I have even tried the not-so-pious option of the quick VIP entry for the darshan. But, over time when the route becomes so predictable, even the journey kinda starts to hit you when everyone is sleeping on family vacations that are occasional and are spent on familiar roads!!! So that’s when I started to explore alternate routes and make family road trips more interesting!
While travelling to Tirupati, the usual route one tends to drive through, is the
But the nice, straight, adventure less route has sometimes made my brother to doze off at the steering. So, the last time we planned to go, we tried taking a slightly longer but interesting route via
Although this national highway was a single lane, it was absolutely scenic and had so many elements in the travelling. From barren flatlands to lush green hill stations, rustic countryside huts to erstwhile forts, scattered rocky hills to tempting mango orchards and horticultural farms, the route took us through several hues of the deccan plateau. To make it more interesting, we saw milestones with Karnataka’s Kannada and Andhra’s Telugu on either side of the same road marking the boundary of the two states. For the thought of knowing absolutely no words of the language on the other side of this state border, it felt like I was crossing an international border without a passport 😀
So our itinerary was something like this:
Start from Bangalore by early morning (To avoid the traffic choc-o-bloc at KR Puram)
Reach Horsley hills for a late breakfast or a brunch (before the day trippers, riders and families pour in for lunch)- It is a short ride up but the view up there is worth it.
As we descended the hill, the drive further from there was gorgeous forcing us to take several photo stops.
Drive up to Talakona, the highest waterfall in Andhra. You can book your meal at the forest run jungle resort there before heading out to indulge yourself in some fun activities or getting drenched in the waterfall depending on the water level there. It is also wiser to leave from there before it is dark as it is a national park area and the wild animals get on the road post sunset (Click here for a detailed post on Talakona).
Reach Tirupati and take rest for the night.
Plan your darshan of the deity based on your convenience- a quick visit or a hike up to the temple and return to the room to rest.
It is quite usual that a lot of people extend their pilgrimage until Srikalahasti. They combine the Vaishnavism faith (Lord Venkateshwara at Tirupati) and Shaivism faith (Lord Shiva at Srikalahasti) in the same trip since both are located not far from each other (More details on Srikalahasti in a separate post).
On the way to Kalahasti with a small deviation, is what I figured out was, that there is a 11th century fort at Chandragiri, the erstwhile capital of the Vijayanagar dynasty. It is beautiful and you will not regret the deviation.
Reach Kalahasti for the evening prayers and find an accommodation there.
So, are you done with the pilgrimage? Is your family feeling all blessed and happy now?
Good morning! Save your sleep for some other day and Buckle up. For I’m going to take you through a different route as you return home. You can thank me later 😉
Drive through eucalyptus and teak groves on a scenic off-road to reach Sullurpeta, Your only place to find decent food before you embark on a long day ahead.
Your next destination is 20kms away- thank me later. Drive through a straight dead road, cutting through what is the second largest Salt Lake in India- the Pulicat lake. You will love the drive and the destination.
Welcome, you have arrived at SHAR, Sriharikota island. India’s Large Rockets’ launching station (Click here to read my struggle to finally get there!). The space museum located on its premises is open to public with online registration. You can witness a rocket launch too if you time your trip well.
Coming back to the drive, on either side of this straight road you see is this never-ending stretch of salt. Depending on what season you are traveling, you will be warmly greeted by bright white dried salt flats or brackish molten salt. Spend some time at the watch tower there and you will not be disappointed by the variety of migratory birds you encounter. The entire area is declared as the Pulicat birds’ sanctuary.
Got fuel? Drive another 60 kms. to a tiny fishing hamlet called Pulicat located towards Chennai. The Pulicat lake is situated between two states, Andhra and Tamil Nadu. Flamingoes and Pelicans are a highlight here along with several other migratory birds that flock the swampy lake every season. Get yourself a boat ride with the local fisherman there and he will take you around the swamy waters. Watching the sunset at the beach will be a perfect way to wind up your day!
From Pulicat, you can take one of the below three highways to head back home:
Drive through Tada and follow google maps to reach the Chittoor highway. Tada has a waterfall to visit and some decent places to stay overnight. It is a village/ township created for the tribes who were relocated from the Sriharikota island when the space station was established and human settlements had to be cordoned off in that island.
Take the Vellore route with a stop at the Vellore fort and the Golden temple of Lakshmi. Yelagiri is a popular hill station among the urbanites and is just a short drive away from Vellore. I will personally not recommend it as I did not find worth in taking the effort to deviate from the highway.
If you wish to choose option 2 or 3 to reach Bangalore, do not forget to stuff yourself with some good Biriyani at Ambur, Bon appetite!
Ok, I know this is quite an elaborate itinerary which I usually don’t write about. But I did so, thinking it might help a lot of you out there who text me asking trip ideas from Bangalore. You can skip the temples if you are looking only for an offbeat drive route and I’m sure you will enjoy it.
Or do you want me to customize the itinerary based on fewer or more days you have at your disposal? Drop in your requests, doubts and comments below. I will be glad to help you 😊