Tag Archives: Things to do in Chennai

Traveling to Tirupati? Make it an interesting roadtrip

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

Bangalore-KGF-Chittoor-Tirupati highway.

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

Bangalore-Madanapally-Horsley hills- Talakona- Tirupati.

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 😀

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The border crossing from Karnataka to Andhra Pradesh through papaya farms

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.
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The view from Horsley hills

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.
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Top: Lake Pulicat enroute to SHAR in winter; Lake in Summer

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!

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The birds at Lake Pulicat

From Pulicat, you can take one of the below three highways to head back home:

  1. 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.
  2. Drive further bit to Chennai and take the highway with a pilgrimage / shopping stop at Kanchipuram (Click here to read about places to visit in Kanchipuram)
  3. 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 😊

The hub of Cholan culture- Tanjavur

When from a distance, we spotted the monolith- that seats gracefully atop, with a weight of 800 tons, we knew we had arrived at the rice bowl of South India – located on the fertile delta land created by the river Kaveri- Tanjavur.

There are three Chola temples of Southern India representing an  architectural conception of the pure form of the dravidian style- These temples are the Brihadeesvara Temple at Thanjavur, the Temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram. Our bus came to a screeching halt infront of the ‘BIG temple’ and a passerby guided us further. We stood right there in awe- gazing at the vast premises of the mighty- Brihadeesvaran temple.

The entrance at the Brihadeesvaran temple
The entrance at the Brihadeesvaran temple

Rajaraja named this temple as Rajarajesvaram and the deity Shiva in Linga form as Peruvudaiyar, the temple is also known in the deity’s name as Peruvudaiyarkovil.

The Brihadeeshwaran temple at the backdrop
The Brihadeeshwaran temple at the backdrop

The tallest temple tower in the world stands testimony to the Cholas’ love for art and fine engineering skills even in the iron age. It is believed that a ramp was laid from about six kms to facilitate the erection of the monolith Kalasa atop the tower. The walls of the corridor are adorned by fine paintings that were done with mixture of limestone and organic extracts. The temple walls have sculptures of numerous mythic animals which is the highlight of the Cholas’ temple architecture.

The Tanjavur paintings adorning one of the roofs
The Tanjavur paintings adorning one of the roofs

From there, we took an auto ride to Saraswathi Mahal. This is a very old library patronised by the Tanjavur rulers(functional even today). One can find some very old, rare & original copies of important manuscripts, scientific research publications etc. here.

The Saraswathi Mahal Library
The Saraswathi Mahal Library

Adjoining it, is the palace of the Marathas of Tanjavur. The palace is partially used as the residence of the descendants and remaining is converted into a museum.

Behind this building, is the art museum which houses the rare and the infamous bronze idols created during the Cholas. Cholas were the earliest people to use the lost wax technique to create the bronze idols.

The Maratha Palace & the Tanjavur doll
The Maratha Palace & the Tanjavur doll

Just outside the museum, we picked up a pair of Tanjavur dolls from the souvenir shop. These are colourful handcrafted models where the head is suspended on a pivot which gives a dancing/swinging movement to the doll.

An epitaph at the  Grand Anicut
An epitaph at the Grand Anicut

From there, we took a local bus to Grand Anicut / Kallanai- the standing example of the engineering marvels constructed 2000 yrs ago by the Cholas(later modified by the British) which is the oldest functional water regulation structure in the world. It is a dam constructed with uneven stones / random boulders across the Kaveri with a desperate intention to divert the water before joining the sea so that it can be used for irrigation of the delta region. This dam divides the river into four streams known as Kollidam Aru, Kaviri, Vennar and Puthu. Later, the Lower Anicut/ Kollidam was constructed by the British before the water actually joins the sea.

From there.. Our journey continued… to another town of history………

The Monsoon Night safari at Masinagudi

Too many details to type in about a super awesome weekend.. So let me zip through it ASAP 🙂

We started from Bangalore at 2.a.m. hoping to reach Bandipur by 6.a.m- That’s when the forest checkpost opens and we could spot few animals on the road.. But, due to frequent pit-stops, we made it only by 7.a.m.- Nevertheless, We spotted a good number of elephants, peafowls, fox, deers, sambars, wild boars etc.

A view of the valley from one of the hairpin bends of Ooty
A view of the valley from one of the hairpin bends of Ooty

First in the visit list was the Avalanche – A steep & breathtaking climb of 35 hairpin bends with deep valley covered by thick white snowy clouds on one side led us to the Queen of hills- Udagamandalam a.k.a. Ootacamund a.k.a. Ooty. Without wasting much time amidst the maddening crowd of tourists there, we drove down another set of 34 hairpin curves- 25 kms further from Ooty to reach the forest checkpost of Avalanche.. Thick rainforests on either sides, bumpy waterlogged pot-holes, scenic view of backwaters of the Emerald dam at every turn accompanied us all the way till the start point of the eco-tour.. Once there, we hired the forest jeep for a 24 kms drive through the Shola forests- It was indeed a BEAUTIFUL place 🙂

One of the many waterfalls tucked away in the Avalanche forest
One of the many waterfalls tucked away in the Avalanche forest

On a clear day, one can see the dam from this place.. A century old Bhavani temple, innumerous waterfalls along the way finally ended at Lakdi spot. This is a BEAUTIFUL place and a must visit for the backpacker.. Thick fog makes the visibility poor which adds onto the adventure of the jeep ride. If one is lucky, he could spot a leopard or an elephant on the way..

Enroute to Lakdi spot @ Avalanche
Enroute to the Bhavani temple @ Avalanche

After a short break at Ooty- the last place to fill fuel, draw cash from the ATM, buy the essentials- we headed towards THE DESTINATION- “Masinagudi”- a part of the Mudumalai forest range. We had booked our stay at the Whistling woods estate which is adjacent or rather located within the reserve forest itself..

Our cars were parked at the Singara checkpost, beyond which only jeeps/SUVs can be used to reach the cottages. This 3 km ride was a GRAND welcome in itself: Our road was blocked by herds of elephants, bisons and deers. These encounters took our excitement to a soaring high..!!

After a quick round of dinner, we all got ready for the highlight of the trip- The night safari: at 00.00 hrs in the night, who can believe if we say we drove in an open jeep into the heart of the national park in search of a tiger that was feasting on its latest kill..?? And once there, the screeching monster engines haulted, lights were switched off- Not even the moon; only the open sky with the twinkling stars guided us through. The only 2 sounds we could hear: The chirping of the crickets & the pounding of our anxious hearts.. What we all discovered right there, in the middle of nowhere was “ETERNAL BLISS”. Even after a thorough search through the remotest corners of the grassland, we could not find the tiger until 2.00.a.m. We were definitely sad about the fact, but the bumpy ride in itself was worth it all…….!!! We did spot a few other animals though..!!

Next morning, we were greeted by the excellent view of the Blue mountains through the window glasses.. We all jumped up for the guided walk along the stream lining the boundary of the reserve area.. We captured some rare fauna line the Nilgiri langurs, Malabar grey hornbill, Malabar giant squirrel, pea-fowl etc. in our machine-gun-sized cameras.. The climb to the tree top house is also worth a mention that gave us a good view of the forest around.. It was afternoon already by then and we had to pack up for the return journey… 😥

Unlike what happens usually on a return journey, all the 9 of us were jumping off our seats every 100 yards until we crossed Bandipur: We encountered atleast 24 elephants including a herd with a new born, atleast 20 peacocks all set to open up their feathers as it had started to drizzle, sounder of wild boars etc. Truly awesome 🙂

At Bandipur National forest
At Bandipur National forest

This is ONE trip I would love to do all over again and that time, it would be for a longer stay here… in the cradle of mother nature.. Just one FANTASTIC trip 🙂

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 🙂

Madurai (Part 2) – Centre of arts and culture

There is no existence of a place without the people, And with civilisation exists the culture. Madurai has its own share.. Here goes the list:

Art:
* The temple art- the sculptures on the temple towers and the wooden vahanas that are used to carry the temple idols.
* Handicrafts- accessories used for decorating Devi idols, that are made of delicate sequins, etc.
* Mural paintings from the Pandyan era adorning the temple walls (The famous Madurai paintings)

Food:

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(similar to Bisibele bath)

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 famous
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 particular traditional earring called the ‘Thandatti’ when she is young. Each piece of this weighs 27 gms and is made of gold. This is particular to Madurai. The thandatti is said to evoke the 3 levels of our world: terrestrial, astral and divine and these levels are associated with Mandala.
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 jewelery to name a few.
* Pooja related accessories & crafts- particularly inside Pudumandapam
* 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….

Studying ‘Bachelor of Cycle-logy’ at IIT-Madras

I’m just back from my business trip to Chennai : Infact a supplier audit…. My 1st one- all alone…

I landed at the Meenambakkam international airport at around 8.00.a.m. and hired a taxi to the supplier’s place.. this is when my tryst with Tamil started.. The driver did not know my language and I did not know his. But yeah.. Since, he was already booked by my company, he knew where I had to go..

I finished my job at the supplier quite early than what I thought. So, I had to spend time from 2.00.p.m to 7.00.p.m in this Tamil land. I had my flight at 9.00.p.m.

I had no idea where to go- To hang out alone means to communicate through sign language with the locals. But one thing I learnt quite fast was- Being a South Indian really helps… U can mix up bits of Malayalam and a little more of coorgi- and make it sound pretty much like Tamil. And it worked in my case. The driver managed to understand most of it- and the rest- Sign language it was !!

My Friend studying at IIT-M was my rescuer for the day..

What if I did not crash the GATE?? That did not stop me from learning at the prestigious IIT-M..!! Thanks to my friend pursuing research at IIT-M, This is where I completed my “Bachelor of Cycle-logy” which I had left unfinished way back in primary school. My friend and I were cycling all afternoon around the 600+ acres of lush greenery.

One of my cycling tracks- The Bonn Ave
The Gajendra circle

IIT-Madras is located adjacent to Guindy national park(the 8th smallest in India)- the last bit of the tropical dry evergreen forest in India.. I witnessed the co-existence of man and the wild(sort of a thing) with black bucks, spotted deers etc. walking around fearlessly.

A White Buck on the IIT campus
The cycling stretch from the boy’s hostel
Near the admin office

Also, this campus is where the “Cheapest” Café Coffee Day exists.. Since, this CCD is exempted of most taxes- things are pretty cheaper than anywhere else.

It was 5.00.p.m something and I had checked into almost every corner of IIT-M already. So, there was scope for some more exploration. Next we decided to hit the “Elliot Beach” in Besant nagar about 6.kms from IIT-M.

A corn vendor @ Besantnagar / Elliot’s beach

We had some corn, I bought a Rajnikanth mask, flew a kite etc. on the sea shore. I waited patiently to see the sun set. I waited and waited… n it was dark already… Only then did I realize that the sun only rises in Elliot beach :P. The beach attracted crowd with more of a traditional mindset contrary to those on the west-coast.

The beach at sunset time

It was going to be 6.30.p.m and we thought it would be wiser to leave- because we had to brave through the Chennai traffic inorder to make to the airport on time.

All in all- a day well spent. Looking forward for many more business trips 😛