Tag Archives: Thumba

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 😊

Story of making my wish come true- Watching a Rocket launch

You know, I know, we all know… That what we know is NO rocket science 😛

I don’t know about the millennials.. But as a 90’s kid, I sure know how everyone who grew up in the Doordarshan era have lived through the excitement of watching a rocket launch on TV. It would be far from anything but a dream come true to watch one in real! That’s why I decided to explore the journey of the evolution of rocket science in India… and thus score off one item on my bucket list- to witness a rocket launch! (Click here to see my wish list)

India’s space history had a humble beginning in a coastal village called Thumba in the 1960s. India’s first rocket, the Nike Apache was assembled exactly where once stood an active church of Lady Magdalene. Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) is now called as the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) where a sounding rocket is launched on the third Wednesday of every month to date. As India’s space research requirements expanded, the need for a larger area laid foundation to the present day Satish Dhawan Space Centre, SHAR at Sriharikota. This is where the present day larger SLVs are launched.

This year 2019 is particularly of my interest for 2 reasons. One- we commemorate the Golden jubilee year of the formation of ISRO; Two- It’s the centenary year of the father of Indian space science, Dr.Vikram Sarabhai. (Click here to read the complete story). How does the country celebrate it? By launching a rocket… India’s largest rocket, taking the payload to the moon!

<20-Mar-19>
On a random thought, I was reminded of someone distantly telling me about visitors being allowed to watch rocket launches at VSSC. I browsed through their website and immediately registered myself to witness the next launch.17-Apr-19 it was. My visit was confirmed by an e-mail on the following day. I was as excited as an electron. The next task was reaching there. Trivandrum seemed to be quite far as per google maps. It required a minimum of 4days for a return trip and working out any mode of transport to reach there was both expensive and time consuming. Trains tickets were sold out and flight charges were already sky high. I decided to wait for a tatkal train ticket or book a last minute ticket to travel by bus. I had planned to fall sick to office.

<28-Mar-19>
After many failed attempts at registering themselves for watching the rocket launch along with me, my friends got a rejection mail. Reason: ‘17-Apr-19 was a government holiday, VSSC will remain closed’, I was informed of what the mail read. Now, we were all in a fix. I had an acceptance and they were rejected with a reason. I called up the VSSC office immediately to get a clarification. I was told that the festival date was frozen after my registration and hence the April’s launch would be re-scheduled to a later date. So now, considering that 15-May-19 was the 3rd wednesday of the next month, the officer talking on the other end of the phone obliged to reschedule my visit to that day. My mother, brother and friends decided to join me on that day by registering themselves separately. All registrations were accepted and we were sorted. The next step was getting approval for my week long’s absence from office. It was fairly easy since it was still a month away and I wasn’t throwing a sudden surprise to my boss. Train tickets were available in abundance and we were all happy with confirmed AC berths for a return trip.

<11-May-19>
My cellphone had been blinking after an SMS was received. I reached out to read it, a SMS from VSSC it was. “The rocket launch scheduled on 15-May-19 has been cancelled due to technical reasons”, it read. We were supposed to travel to Thumba the next day. All our hearts sunk in for a bit. But then, yeah.. We were quick to accept the fact that “Launching a real rocket isn’t something like burning Diwali fireworks. There are a lot of scientific calculations that goes into it based on the fitness of the machine itself and geo-spatial positioning. These launches are scheduled monthly events and we can definitely plan to make it some other time. I’d rather surprise my boss by turning up for work even on a planned holiday”, I thought.

<15-May-19>
It was the day when I was supposed to be witnessing a rocket launch, in real. This day, I was pleasantly informed by a friend that ISRO had opened its gates for public viewing of satellite launches at Sriharikota. “Oh WOW!” was my first exclamation. As the World celebrates 50 years of man’s first steps on the moon this year, India was gearing up for one of its ambitious mission to the moon. The Chandrayaan2 was scheduled for a 2019 launch. “I shall wait for this one!” I had decided. I kept close watch on the launch date. As days passed by, the launch was declared to be on 15-July-19. The next task was to keep close watch on the registration link on the ISRO website. Eventually, newspaper headlines read that the registration lines for would go live on 04-July-19. Only 5000 people were going to be let in, on a first-come-first-serve basis. It being a milestone project, we had to be real quick to apply and lucky to get the entry passes.

<04-July-19>
I was up and waiting for the stroke of the clock at 12.00.a.m. But for my disappointment, the website had hung. Waiting until the server got better didn’t seem to be a good idea but I had my apprehensions about losing a chance. But the sleep gods had started to take over me. I set the alarm at 05.00.a.m. hoping to try my luck anyway. Surprisingly, when I woke up at 5.00.a.m., the website still gave the same regret message. I decided to try again after reaching my workplace. It was around 09.30.a.m. when the lines got better and I had navigated into the 2nd page of registration. With a surprisingly slow server of the ISRO, it was 10.00.a.m. by the time I had a confirmed entry pass for 3 people including my mother, brother and myself. My friends on the other end had failed to get the passes. As expected, the tickets were SOLD OUT in less than half an hour of opening the registration lines. I was LUCKY!

<14-July-19>
The trio comprising mom, bro and myself set out on this epic road-trip to see our wish come true.. We were driving to Sriharikota, to witness the launch of India’s largest rocket till date- GSLV MkIII, carrying onboard, the Chandrayaan2. The satellite was scheduled to launch at 2.51.a.m. that midnight / early morning of the following day. The last town before Sriharikota was Sullurpeta, 25kms away. All hotel rooms were sold out and we had decided to stay inside our car and make do with the available fuel station or restaurants when we had to answer a nature’s call. Although the entry to the launch view gallery was scheduled to be open at 10.00.p.m., we ensured that we reached there by 08.00.p.m. to avoid the traffic and the rush. When we reached there, the rocket garden at the entrance already seemed to be flooded with media-persons and the visitors alike. When this Bahubali rocket blasts off, the entire island lights up like day, the window glasses rattle in Sullurpeta, a visitor told us adding to our excitement. When the gates opened, we were among the earliest visitors who occupied the seats of our choice. We watched the crowd slowly pour in to the gallery and the excitement was only getting higher with passing time. We were still over 4 hours away from having our wish come true.

The Rocket Garden with the scale models of the SLVs

While the entire country was glued to their TV screens to watch a nail biting finale of cricket world cup in which India was out of the tournament long ago, I was part of a relatively smaller crowd that had gathered to cheer for India on one of its greatest mission to date.

At a distant sight of view, the red lights were blinking on the cranes and the umbilical tower at the launch pad. The emcee was building up the momentum for the final showdown. The cheer for India and ISRO reverberated in the gallery as the countdown and live videos of the satellite were displayed on the large LED screens.

At around 57 minutes ahead of the launch, the emcee’s voice dropped. With a pause she said, “The launch has been temporarily withheld due to some reasons. Anyway, we shall continue to do whatever we are doing right now, to cheer for this project.” Even before she could complete, another voice echoed in at the 56th minute. “This is the director talking from the control room. Due to a technical snag identified, this project remains called off for today”, he said. There was a sudden silence as the crowd sat in disbelief. The emcee too hadn’t seen that announcement coming and wasn’t really prepared to take that. She repeated the exact words of the director to the crowd. The audience continued to sit in silence. Clearly, disbelief loomed large. Every soul in the gallery hoped that it was a prank and Chandrayaan 2.0 was still going to take off in a few minutes. The emcee told them to disperse.I felt like my head was going blank and it felt like the emcee’s voice was fading out. I waited for the launch hoping it would take off after the crowd cleared out. “This project remains called off for TODAY”, I tried to understand what had just been said. “The mission was not CANCELLED, it was only POSTPONED to a later day..” I reassured myself. “I shall be back… to cheer for my country’s greatest scientists.. for propelling India’s ambitious mission..” I decided.

<18-July-19>

Amidst lot of speculations, the new launch date was set to be 22-July-19. ‘You can reconfirm your visit to the launch view gallery by clicking on the link provided.’ an email from ISRO read. I wasted no time in updating my entry pass as a constant smile of re-assurance prevailed over my face on getting to go again. Unlike my previous visit to Sriharikota, I decided to contain my enthusiasm this time. I didn’t care the delay, all I wanted was a successful mission.

<22-July-19>

Today, we are here at the gallery already at 10.00.a.m., we are the early birds who have come here to occupy the prime view seats, the drizzle of rain since morning hasn’t dampened our spirits. People are slowly trickling in, but they all seem to keep it a low key affair this time. The momentum was given a boost by Mr.K.Sivan, the Chairman, ISRO by coming down to the launch view gallery to meet and greet the enthusiastic crowd. We were all briefed about the unknown facts about #chandrayaan2 by Mr.Ranganathan, the project director for the stage 1 of GSLV mk III.

Top: Launch pad on 15-July-19; Below: launch pad on 22-July-19

The first visuals of the Bahubali rocket all set for its trip to the moon from the launch pad finally appeared on the LED screens and crowd had started to get eclectic as the countdown started. And well, Finally the emphatic countdown has begun and we see everyone more confident than ever… 10..9..8..7..6..5..4..3..2..1……

The flight off moment
The flight off moment

It was SHEER sight of a lifetime… an impendingly roaring bright yellow mass of flame blasted off from amid the forest cover, separating itself from the umbilical tower.. A sonic boom travelled afar and within a few seconds, it disappeared into thick clouds. Although the launch vehicle lifted off at 2.43.p.m., the cheers from the control room came in 16 minutes later when the 3,850-kg spacecraft was successfully placed into the earth’s orbit and the first signal of separation was received from the satellite. CHANDRAYAAN2 on its trip to the moon, with a successful launch!

I’ve got Goosebumps all over me!

Happy Chandrayaan to ya’ll!

Here’s a quick summary of India’s mission of landing on other celestial bodies outside earth:

  • Circa 2008: Chandrayaan1, India’s first ever mission to the moon, put India on the world map for being the 4th country to land on the moon. Although it was functional for 312 days against the intended life of 2yrs, it was still able to achieve 95% of its expected tasks. That was HUGE for a first Indian- home made launch vehicle.
  • Circa 2013: Mangalyaan1 was a first for any country to have a successful landing on the Mars on a maiden attempt. What’s bonus? The orbitor that was designed with an intended life of 6 months is still orbiting around the Mars, well into its 5th year as on date.
  • Circa 2019: Chandrayaan2, India’s 2nd mission to the moon made it the first country to land on the southern pole of the moon. Why is this mission so important? This satellite will be launched in a GSLV MkIII, the largest launch vehicle ever built by India. The success of this mission will pave way with more thrust to India’s first manned mission to space- The Gaganyaan, which will also happen with the same launch vehicle.

Through these successful launches, India has created a niche for itself for producing successful space projects at lowest prices. These entirely indigenous projects which cost way lesser than several hollywood movies speak volumes of the capabilities of the scientists of my country.

As someone rightly said, so many countries have the moon on their flags, India is one of the only 4 countries to have their flag on the moon. There can’t be more reasons to applaud ISRO and be proud of India, my INCREDIBLE country!

From top right clockwise: 1: ISRO Chairman Mr.K.Sivan addressing the crowd, 2.Mr.Ranganathan, project director for Chandrayaan stage 1; 3: My brother and mom in the crowd; 4: Mom and myself after the launch
From top right clockwise: 1: ISRO Chairman Mr.K.Sivan addressing the crowd, 2.Mr.Ranganathan, project director for Chandrayaan stage 1; 3: My brother and mom in the crowd; 4: Mom and myself after the launch