Tag Archives: Road trip

Bioluminescent Experiences in Karnataka

Karnataka is “One State Many Worlds, without a doubt! To explore a different aspect of travelling through this beautiful state, I take you on a path that is en-Lightening, in literal sense- ‘Bioluminescence’. Bioluminescence is a naturally occurring phenomenon of production and emission of light in living organisms. Apart from the visual treat to senses that they offer, the presence of these organisms can tell a lot about our environment as well.

With the Arabian Sea forming the entire coastal belt and the Western Ghats forming most of the green-cover of Karnataka, it is easy to witness bioluminescence anywhere in the state. Traversing a path from the southern rainforests of the state to the northern plainlands through the coastal beaches across all the seasons, here is a list of the different kinds of bioluminescence that one can experience in Karnataka.

  1. Fireflies: An aerial illumination for spectators, these insects produce light to attract a potential mate. Abundant during the months of pre-monsoon showers and summers, the untouched sacred groves and the organic farms of Kodagu and Malenadu offer a post sunset visual delight. A good number of fireflies indicates the good soil and air quality.
  2. Bioluminescent planktons: These light emitting micro-organisms are present in the sea water. They produce a greenish-blue light when disturbed. This means, they produce light irrespective of day or night but can be seen with normal eyes after dark. These glowing waters can be viewed at their brightest best on a no-moon night between two consecutive monsoon months. But what is not the brighter about it is the fact that the brighter the sea glows due to these planktons, the poorer is the health of the sea water.
  3. Bioluminescent fungi: This can be the hardest find of them all. Enter the core of the rainforest during the peak of the monsoon season, with a slow and careful walk and without use of any torch or flashlights. Only if you are lucky, you can spot these glowing sticks or the fallen barks covered by the glowing fungi. Documented sightings have been found in Karnataka, but I’m sure the Western Ghats are home to more species of luminant mushrooms.
  4. Glow worms: These are larvae of some insects that can be largely found along the banks of streams, rivers and under the foliage on moist ground. An indication of healthy soil, these worms emit light to ward off predators and visually offering a delight to the human eyes.

Have you witnessed any other bioluminescent experiences? Are there any specific place that you wish to share your stories about? Do let me know in comments below!

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

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.

The Story of my Solo trip is an e-book now

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:

Click on image to buy the copy of ‘My Spiti Sojourn’

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…

A weekend Backpacking trip to Satara

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.

Our Itinerary:

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)

The details:

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.

Wai ghat on the banks of river Krishna at Menavali village
Wai ghat on the banks of river Krishna at Menavali village

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.

Day 2: One day at Mahabaleshwar

The hill station is a favorite haunt of tourists from the nearby metropolis and afar. Mahabaleshwar can be broadly classified into two parts, the New and the Old. Both have been explained in detail in a separate post as the list of things to see and do in Mahabaleshwar is going to be long.

Kate's point and the elephant head view point at Mahabaleshwar
Kate’s point and the elephant head view point at Mahabaleshwar

Day 3: Satara and Khas Plateau

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

The Pink balsam carpet at Khas valley
The Pink balsam carpet at Khas valley

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.

A roadtrip into the Naxal heartland- Bastar

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.
Entering Sukma, forest area begins

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.

A cattle shed in a village around Konta

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.

Somewhere near Konta

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

Bastar district, Chattisgarh

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.

Travel, stay safe and enjoy your journey!

A personal chronology of Deepawali celebration

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.

A flooded village near the Indian east coast after a cyclone
The flooded villages enroute to Chidambaram

Circa 2016- Assam:
This was my first solo trip ever and the first time in the north-eastern part of India. After exploring Meghalaya, I had tagged along with a couple of other fellow travellers. We happened to experience one of the most beautiful Deepawali sights. First, the drive through the lamp lit national highway, then watching the best sunset over river Brahmaputra onboard a ferry to Majuli and the crazy ass lamp lit welcome on the Majuli island.

An image of the daily life in Majuli shot during sunset
Sunset at Majuli

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.

the view of the Kinnaur Kailash mountains at Sangla
Sunset view from Sangla bus stand

Circa 2019- Kerala:
A solo weekend exploring Varkala, it was a short one but yet overwhelming. It was a happy-hippy trip, in a true sense.

Sunset from Varkala Cliff
The sunset from Varkala cliff on Deepavali 2019

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.

Paddy and coffee plantation in Kodagu
The view of the farm, from our ancestral home in Kodagu

What are your stories about celebrating Deepawali / Diwali? What do you do normally?

From three directions to one destination- Ragihalli Betta

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.

The road leading to Yogavana Betta, from Kanakapura road

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).

View from Yogavana Betta

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.

Yogavana Betta

Silicon city to Magnetic fields- Part 2

…. Continued from Part 1

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.

The stretch at Sangamner

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..!

Above: Tollgate at Kalghat; Below: Tollgate at Dhule

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.

Photo stop near Gujri

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..!

Hailstones at Sikar

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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Regards, Lahar.