Tag Archives: Road trip

Day tripping in Nature- the Mysore Circuit

The initial plan was to leave before sunrise so that we could see the birds at the Ranganathittu Bird sanctuary before they left their homes for the day’s chores. However, a flat tyre and multiple pit stops added up to late arrival at the Srirangapatna-Yelwala bypass. This led to a few additions and deletions in the original plan so that we could see the birds when they returned to their nests late in the evening.

List of places covered:
Gaganachukki and Bharachukki waterfalls
Talakadu
Kaaranji kere in Mysore
Ranganathittu Bird sanctuary

Details of the trip:

As per the new plan, we headed to Gaganachukki and Bharachukki waterfalls. After a nice long drive through the green paddy fields and rusty countryside, we reached Shivanasamudra. This is one of the island towns formed by river Kaveri through its course. This is where Asia’s first hydel-power project was set up, commissioned by the then Diwan of Mysore- K. Seshadri Iyer; in order to supply electricity for mining at Kolar Gold Fields. River Kaveri plummets down at two places, a couple of kilometers away from each other and then merging together again. The beauty of the twin waterfalls is truly mesmerizing. If you’re seeking for some thrill, coracle rides are available that takes you closer to the spot where the water drops. But we did not want to take the risk of venturing into the water without a life jacket. At least, not after we heard someone say that the water was 1000 feet deep at some point. We weren’t not sure of the exact depth of the river, but certainly did not want to take a chance!

Gaganachukki- The western branch of river Kaveri
Gaganachukki- The western branch of river Kaveri

The sun was approaching his highest point by this time, and hence we decided that we should be heading towards our next destination- Talakadu. Kannadigas have all grown up listening to the story of the curse of Alamelamma. It is believed that her spell turned this once prosperous town to a sand desert. As a student reading history in school, I had always been intrigued to visit this place and see the romance between the sand and the temples during different seasons. However, the excitement that we had when we started to this place soon died when we arrived there (in fact, it got buried deep under its sands). Given the poor rainfall, less waters and hordes of tourists over the weekend, the place was had gathered so much filth and poop everywhere. There was an unbearable stench that had spread around. The river was shallow and looked stagnant and unappealing. Yet, we did manage to go for a coracle ride which was definitely not worth the buck. The place was a total turn off…!! We lost our interest to explore the famed temples of Talakadu and left the place (I did visit the historically important temples on a later date though).

Bharachukki- The eastern branch of river Kaveri
Bharachukki- The eastern branch of river Kaveri

We wanted to reach the highway back again but lost our way at some point. Without being able to connect to the highway, we just kept driving on some narrow road through the countryside. After the frayed trip to Talakadu, this drive through the rustic countryside was somewhat a deal breaker and a feast to our city bred souls. After a bit of driving around and just when we thought we had reached the highway, we realized that we had in fact reached Mysore…!! Mysore city was never on our itinerary when we left home that morning. We were extremely hungry and hence decided to feast at a nice restaurant in the city itself.

Some friend suggested us to visit Kaaranji kere in Mysore where we could do some birding. Around 3.00.p.m, we headed there- This was in fact the highlight of the trip- though unplanned, it came as a treat to us. We took a boat ride around the lake where we spotted several migratory birds. Not in large numbers, but many in varieties. It surely is a haven for the bird lovers. I pitied myself for not being able to identify what birds most of them were. I’m not an enthusiast of zoos as these places are where animals and birds are kept in enclosures. But, if you are around with kids, this place is good as there is an enclosure here as well that hosts many native birds, a few animals and reptiles.

The birds at Karanji kere

So, finally by 5.00.p.m, we headed out for what we had come all the way– Ranganathittu Bird sanctuary. It was the time when all the birds returned to their nests… We were there for sunset. We then took a boat ride around the small islets where thousands of birds have made their homes. The trees looked amazing with the birds and the water looked equally dangerous- with crocodiles swimming right past us… Again, we spotted a lot of different birds since it was the peak of the migratory season.

The winged hosts on the islet
The winged hosts on the islet

With a pleasant sunset ride in the river, a long day tripping in the Mysore circuit came to an end. Although most part of the day was unplanned, it was a weekend well deserved.

The Turtle Walk in the beaches of Chennai

One of the things on my bucket list – ‘The Turtle walk’ : An all night trek along the beaches of the East-Coast road.. It’s more of a walk with a bunch of similar minded volunteers with a sole intention to find Olive Ridley turtle nests- and relocate the eggs to a safer location.. Among the seven sea turtle species, five have been tracked in India during their breeding seasons between December to March. Among them, the Olive Ridley turtles: famous for arribadas or mass nesting are found along the Coromandel coast in large numbers.

We had booked a slot for ourselves on a fine weekend and traveled to Chennai to be a part of this volunteering and to learn more about these turtles. All the volunteers had gathered at the Neelangarai beach by 11.00.p.m where we all had an interactive session with the organisers which enabled us to clear all our doubts about these reptiles. The walk started at around 1.00.a.m as we were told that most nesting happens late at night and leaving later would allow us to find more nests which we would miss out if we start early.

As we kept walking, suddenly someone found a baby turtle in the dark. We were all excited and began to look out for the nest where there was a possibility of finding the other hatchlings. However, we couldn’t find any, owing to the dogs that could have eaten them up or the babies would have already swam into the sea.

The Baby turtle- Our prized catch for the day
The Baby turtle- Our prized catch for the day

The sea turtle hatchlings always walk towards the brighter side(usually sea water in normal conditions). Hence, we had to switch off all the lights we had and just one person stood in the water holding a torch, which the baby followed inorder to reach the water. It was amazing how these babies find their way into the sea and it is disturbing to know that due to modernisation, the cities/land is getting brighter and these turtles are walking towards light(township) and becoming prey to several factors.

The baby being guided towards water with a torch
The baby being guided towards water with a torch

We then continued to walk.. We found so many dead turtles(which reminded us of the brutal fishermen, ship propellers which pose a great threat to the turtles), pufferfish(Fugus), cats, cuttle fishes etc. along our way..

A dead pufferfish along the beach
A dead pufferfish along the beach

We walked and walked and could not find a single nest. It was already 02.00.a.m and time for the fishermen to venture into the sea for their daily vatch. We crossed numerous hamlets along the coast- most of them were extremely filthy where the fishermen were pooping in the water, staying insensitive to the number of people walking there.

And then.. We reached Besantnagar Beach- the end point of our trek. We were all extremely sad that we hadn’t found any nests- the sole purpose of us going all the way from Bangalore was not met 😦 Just as we were all about to depart, the organiser got a call from a volunteer who had reached there much earlier. They had found a nest: Right there, under a pull cart, in the dirty sands of Besantnagar beach: ‘Thank God.!!’ was the first exclamation from all of us. It was followed by a ‘WOWWWww’ 🙂

The volunteers unearthing the eggs
The volunteers unearthing the eggs

We removed 147 eggs out of the nest. We could understand that the turtle had come to land for the first time in this season. While they were measuring the nest size, we got a message of spotting another nest nearby. It was all worth the travel from Bangalore 🙂 We found 42 eggs in the second one- Probably the turtle had come for the 3rd time in this season.

A volunteer measuring the nest's specifications
A volunteer measuring the nest’s specifications

The organisers will keep an account of the depth, width, temperature and the distance of the nest from the high/low tide; create a similar incubation atmosphere in a safer location/artificial hatchery. Then, let all the babies into the water when they hatch out after about 40-45 days. It is amazing to know how these turtles come back to the same place where they were born, after about 12 years for breeding. These 12years are called ‘lost years’.. It is still unknown what happens to these turtles for those twelve years in the sea.. Yes, Radio tagging has lately been in use to study these hatchlings once they enter the sea on their maiden swim which is still an ongoing subject of research. So, Yes! These hatchlings are going to return back to this same place where they were born only after 12 years, and that time, to start yet another generation of turtles..!

Of late, there are a few more places across India promoting conservation of sea turtles. You can be a part of it too at places like Chennai, Orissa, Ratnagiri, Andaman Islands etc. When are you planning your beach trek? Keep me posted 🙂

Re-visiting the Happy Valley – Makalidurga

I had already been there before.. I knew what to expect (Click here to read more) and so had declined repeated requests for my participation in the trip.

Even then, the second visit to Makalidurga happened. I was forcibly dragged out of bed on a cozy Sunday morning. I was supposed to be the guide to the first timers so that they could hike up the hill.

I knew the way to reach Makalidurga- but could not guide them any further to the exact spot from where they could get the photo of the train crossing which they wanted.. Considering it was around 11.00.a.m, the sun had already reached a good position to suck the fluid in us..

Alighting @ the Happy valley : Makalidurga railway station
Alighting @ the Happy valley : Makalidurga railway station

We had left home without breakfast hoping that we could have something on our way and pick up some water bottles.. Hard luck..!! We could find neither!!

The Makalidurga railway crossing
The Makalidurga railway crossing

All of us reached a railway track finally.. And randomly climbed a hillock, climbed further up.. We continued to climb hoping to find some shade to sit and wait till our catch of the day appeared… But again, no luck- no water, no food, no shade. We randomly stopped on a considerably flat area without being able to proceed further under the ruthlessly shining sun and waited for the train..

After about half an hour, the smoke from the engine chimney appeared near the horizon.. We all got excited.. As it neared, the engine emerged from behind a bush, then a bogie.. Before our cameras reached their position, we saw the end of the train 😥 It was a small train with just 1 engine and 4 bogies…

So, we continued our wait.. After a while again we found some smoke at the horizon. So, this time we hoped that our tiring wait would end soon and we could get that perfect internet photo of a blue passenger train passing across the frame… Hard luck once again- It was indeed a super long train with over 55 bogies: But, it was a goods loco and not the one that we had waited for and moreover its colour did not match the background 😥

This meant that we still had to wait. We were restless… We decided to walk further up hoping to find some shade atleast..!! And we did find a small tree (or rather a bush). Something that was better than nothing, we thought. All the five of us squeezed into that small patch of shade and continued to wait….

After a while, we heard the hooting of a train at a distance… This time, we couldn’t see any smoke rising up… The sound became louder and louder but still- there were no signs of the train. But, we knew for sure that the source was somewhere closeby. And suddenly, a Nizamuddin-Yeswantpur bound passenger train came buzzing into our visibility. We all took our cameras out and started clicking… The train was really long and it stretched beyond the 2 ends of the frame. Yet, this was not the photo we wanted. The train was actually in the opposite direction. So, even if the engine is very much in the frame, it appears like it is gone beyond 😥 But, anyway it seemed like we could not hope for anything further because we were all dehydrated.. So, we had to be contended with what we got and return back to pavilion 😦

The Nizammuddin-Yeswantpur passenger
Our prized catch- The Nizammuddin-Yeswantpur passenger

Madurai (Part 2) – Centre of arts and culture

There is no existence of a place without the people, and with civilization exists its culture. Madurai has its own share. My previous post (Madurai Part 1) was exclusively about the architectural landmarks spread across the city. But it would be injustice if the other things associated with this amazing city goes without a mention. Of course, the write-up could run into books if I had to write about each of them. And it isn’t necessary that everyone travelling is a pilgrim or a history buff or an architecture enthusiast. Hence, here’s an attempt to throw light on other aspects that any visitor to Madurai can expect. This is not a detailed one, but I touch upon various dimensions that you can theme your trip around Madurai. Do let me know if this post helps or if there is any other dimension I missed. Here goes my list.

Art:

  • Sculptures: adorning every temple wall, pillar and their towers are a marvel in itself.
  • Carpentry: Several wooden vahanas used to carry the idols of the various deities in the temple are something that need the attention of art afficionados.
  • Handicrafts: Various accessories used for decorating Devi idols, made of delicate sequins, etc. are sold in several stall inside the large corridors of the Meenakshi temple.
  • Mural paintings: This needs no introduction, the famous Madurai paintings are a gift of the Pandyan era, adorning the temple walls.
Clockwise from top left: 1.The sculptures on the western tower of the Meenakshi temple; 2.One of the mural paintings from the temple walls; 3.The wooden carriages for the temple idols; 4: Handicrafts from the temple stalls

Food:

Listing just a fixed menu while in Madurai would just be an understatement. If you are a foodie, Madurai would need two full days to explore its culinary delights alone. It is famous for both vegetarian and non-vegetarian specialties. I’d probably write a separate post about it sometime later. But this list is the list that we had when my family visited. But believe me- it is BEYOND!

  • Breakfast – Idly & Sambar, Pongal + a cup of filter coffee
    11.00.a.m – Jigarthanda (it’s more like a combination of falooda & kulfi)
  • Lunch- Puliyogare @ the temple store, curd rice, Sambar rice
    4.00.p.m.- Karupatti (palm sugar) coffee
  • Dinner- Anything after 7.00.p.m is called meals. Must try is the ghee roast & rava Masala dosa

Costume:

  • Sarees for women & Dhotis for men.
  • Madurai cotton sarees with simple prints and zari borders with temple designs are popular.

Jewellery:

Among the locals- particularly those belonging to the Thevar cast, it is believed that women are prettier with bigger earlobes. Hence, the girl child born in this community is made to wear a traditional earring called the ‘Thandatti’ when she is young. The thandatti is said to evoke the 3 levels of our world: terrestrial, astral and divine and these levels are associated with Mandala. Each piece of this weighs 27gms and is made of gold and this piece of jewelry is specific to Madurai.

A Thevar woman wearing the traditional Thandatti earring

Shopping:

Shopping at Madurai is all about wholesale vendors and there are specified streets for each of them.

  • Cotton sarees/ dress materials: Shops are all around the temple complex
  • Steel utensils: Plastic beads & girls’ accessories, gold plated imitation jewelry to name a few.
  • Pooja related accessories & crafts: Particularly inside Pudumandapam (1000 years old market)
  • Farm produce: Varieties of plantains / bananas and green groceries among the others.

A brief intro to a city full of life and activities. Justice yet to be done. Signing off with a hope that it has helped someone somewhere in some form who is seeking for some info on this Pandyan city….

Exploring the Architectural Marvels of Madurai

This was a family backpacking trip planned exclusively to explore Madurai. This city has served as the capital of the Pandyas and is a key destination that has nurtured the Dravidian culture. For anyone who hears the name of this famed city, they know of the Meenakshi Amman Kovil. A typical traveler / tourist / pilgrim would visit just that temple and takes pride in marking it in their travel map of places visited. But what one doesn’t realize is, that Madurai is beyond just this. The contribution of the Pandya kingdom is not limited to just the Madurai Meenakshi temple and can be seen and felt in several structures just around the same city. Also, a portion of the Madurai city has a history beyond the Pandyas too. Hence, our family wanted to reserve this long weekend, exclusively for Madurai. We boarded an overnight bus from Bangalore and reached Madurai at 6.00.a.m. on the following morning.

Like most of our family trips, we wanted this also to be an impromptu vacation. Apart from to and fro travel, nothing else was fixed. As per me, you would need a good 2-3 days to have a quick run around doing this same itinerary as ours, exploring ONLY Madurai. If you are an art and history buff or a foodie, I warn you to carry additional days!

Itinerary:

Day 0: Leave from Bangalore by night (KSRTC Bus)
Day 1: Reach Madurai. Visit Meenakshi temple, Thirumalai Nayaka Mahal, Vandiyur temple tank, Koodal Alagar temple, Gandhi museum, Pudumandapam.
Day 2: Alagar Kovil, Alagar Murugan temple, Pazhamudhir Solai temple, Tiruppanakundram Murugan temple, Dargah of Hazrat Sultan, return to Bengaluru.

The details:

After alighting the bus, we walked around the Meenakshi Amman Kovil to find a good hotel. Since this is the heart of the city, it wasn’t hard to find a decent lodge around there. We checked into a hotel that was located just in front of the temple’s west gate. We freshened up quickly and left for the main part of the trip for anyone visiting Madurai.

  1. Meenakshi temple: A visit to the abode of the Pandya architecture. The entire temple complex is fortified and has 4 entrance towers, one on each of the 4 directions. The sculptures on each of these towers are out of the world. Once inside the complex, I started to wonder which world of wonder I had stepped into. It took us more than 4 hours to finish only a quick walk around inside the temple and also get the darshan of Meenakshi Amman and Lord Sundareswaran.
The finely decorated interiors of the Meenakshi Temple
The finely decorated interiors of the Meenakshi Temple

There are a lot of stalls inside the complex selling various handcrafted articles. The temple art museum within the same premises is a must visit. The central sculpture of Natarajan, or the dancing form of Shiva is believed to be one of the Pancha Sabha of the lord. This place represents the silver hall and Shiva is believed to have performed the ‘Sandhya Thandava’ dance form here (More on the Pancha Sabha Kshetras in another post). Also, there are 1000 pillars, all decorated with intricate pieces of sculpture. The dim light used for each pillar added up to the beauty of the place. The Madurai paintings adorning the walls of the temple requires another post to talk about. I go speechless when I get to explain about the South Indian temples. They are beyond words. Internet has plenty to feed and I don’t want to get into the details. After a tour of this massive temple complex, we decided to head out to explore the city beyond the Meenakshi Kovil.

Inside the Temple art museum
Inside the Temple art museum

2. A small walk through the narrow lanes took us to the Thirumalai Nayaka Mahal built in the 16th century. Fine architecture with elegant paintings on the roofs and vaults is neatly presented in a simple combination of half-white and velvet red colors. There is sound and lights show conducted here every evening. However, we could not make it.

The interiors of Thirumalai Naickar Mahal
The interiors of Thirumalai Naickar Mahal

3. From there, we took a local bus to Vandiyur. This is where the annual event of the famed Teppotsavam / Float festival takes place to celebrate the birthday of King Thirumalai Nayak in January. This tank is supposedly the biggest of its kind in the state of Tamil Nadu. With the float festival just 2 months away and monsoon season just passing by, this tank still remained dry during our visit. When we enquired with a few locals passing by about how the event was going to be conducted in a dry tank, we were told that the water will be fed in January from the Vaigai river through artificially laid underground channels. This is truly amazing how such a concept was laid way back in the 16th century. But for a newcomer like me, the dried lake was an eye sore as it was used was a watering hole by many vandals at the time of our visit.

Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam - the island temple
Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam – the island temple

4. Taking another bus from there to Periyar and a small walk from there through the stinking / dirty by-lanes, we reached the Koodal Alagar temple. A quick pooja and a walk around the temple was a nice boost up. The architecture here too, is similar to that of Meenakshi temple.

5. We had to rush to The Gandhi museum as it would close by 6.00.p.m. However, we could not make it on time. This was once called the Tamakkum palace of Rani Mangammal. Today, the museum supposedly houses 14 articles that were used by Gandhiji, along with his sacred ashes and blood-stained dhotis. Gandhiji is said to have visited the city five times during his lifetime.

6. On our walk back to our hotel, we came across an old marketplace called as Pudumandapam. This is a 1000 years old shopping mall, supported by huge sculpture rich stone pillars. The stalls are occupied with tailors, handicrafts vendors, wholesale dealers of pooja related and general accessories. A good place for shopping traditional artefacts at Madurai, and that too in a market that is so old!

Entrance of the Pudumandapam
Entrance of the Pudumandapam

7. On the following morning, we boarded a local bus from Periyar bus stand to travel 21kms towards Alagar Kovil. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, Meenakshi Amman’s brother. The village is surrounded by an old fort wall, it gives a good view of the green hills around the temple. The architecture is similar to Koodal Alagar temple in the city.

8. A trek of 3kms uphill, through green forests and monkey infested walkways lead us to the Murugan temple. It is one among the six abodes of Lord Murugan and hence important among the pilgrims.

9. A walk of half a kilometer further uphill took us to Pazhamudhir Solai temple. A temple dedicated to Goddess Rakkaya exists close to a natural spring called Nuburagangai here, where devotees take a holy bath. But what seemed strange to me was that the place was probably the only temple I had ever been to, which charges an entry fee into the temple itself. This is where the famed Chittrai festival is observed during the month of April.

10. From there, we took the next bus back to Periyar, from where we had to take another connecting bus to Tiruppanakundram. This was a cave temple at the foothills of a hillock. It is believed that Lord Murugan was wedded to Devyani, daughter of Indra at this place. Hence, this is also counted one among the 6 abodes of Lord Murugan.

Entrance to the Tiruppanakundram Murugan temple
Entrance to the Tiruppanakundram Murugan temple

11. Up the hills, is the Dargah of Hazrat Sultan Sikandar Badshah shaheed Radiyallah Ta’al anhu. Owing to time constraint and exhaustion, we thought of skipping the climb.

Other lesser known places we skipped due to time constraints were the Kazimar mosque and Goripalyam Dargah. At the center of the city is the Kattabomman junction. This is where a part of the old Madurai fort exists. Today this is not more than a public library. Further, every street in the city has a history behind it: This link to an article from “The Hindu” don’t do this usually, but would make a special mention about the streets of Madurai. Every street in the city has a history behind it: This link to an article from “The Hindu” explains it all- Where moats made way for motorways

This was all about us getting around the place for seeing some of the historically important landmarks around Madurai. But the list is endless and time, very limited ☹ I have covered a few other must-do things while at Madurai in a separate post. I wish to be of some use if you are planning a trip there. (Click here to read further)