December 18, 2014

Travel Options From Bangalore

Acting on a suggestion that I should aggregate all my travels into a single page and classify them based on their duration,  I have introduced a new page "Travel Options From Bangalore" with the relevant links to the detailed blogs. This would help those who are exploring their vacation plans and can select based on their requirements. The link is present in the right-hand-top corner of the blog page and I would be trying my best to keep on updating on a regular basis.

December 15, 2014

Offbeat Hangout Spots In Bangalore ..... (P.S For a Couple)

What are some of the offbeat hangout spots for a couple in Bangalore. Apart from the obvious ones like the Malls, theaters, parks etc I have come up with some offbeat ones which are generally less frequented by the general junta who are in search of some alone time :P. Including some tit-bits which would be helpful when planning for the special date with your loved one :).

Nandi Hills : The Chill Zone
The most obvious answer in the list. But my suggestion is go early in the morning and definitely in a bike. The chillier the better !!!!! :P .  There is very less chances of seeing a sunrise since majority of the time these hills will be engulfed in mist during early mornings and it makes sense to head out with the first rays of the sun keeping the security aspect of a couple in mind. Once there one can spend close to 2 hrs exploring the mist filled park, the temple, Tipu drop.

Some useful titbits:

  • There are decent eateries at the base of the hills as well as some enroute. Not much options near the top.
  • Paid restrooms available near the parking area.
  • Some care should be taken driving up and down the hairpin bends.

Savandurga: The Trek

Some time back I came across an article that one should go on a trek with their life partners once,  before they get married. According to the article one gets to know more about their future life partner over a single trek than any amount of meetings over coffee or movies can possibly provide. If you have a trek in mind then I suggest you head out to Savandurga. Its definitely not a walk in the park and therefore it will push you as a couple over the edge. The outcome of such an exercise, you would come out as a team, facing the odds together hand in hand. :)

Some useful tit-bits:
  • The entire trek takes around 5-6 hrs depending on the pace. 
  • There is very less tree cover so avoid this trek in summers.
  • No eateries nearby. Its better to have it in Mysore road (eg Kamat Lokaruchi) and then take the Ramanagara-Savandurga route. Eventhough this route is longer it is quite enjoyable with winding roads. 
  • No public toilets near the base of the hill. In case of emergency one has to request usage of the toilet inside the Kalyanamantap. 

Hessarghatta And Nrityagrama: The walk , talk and dance

If going for long walks, birdwatching etc is in the wish list, then head out to Hessarghatta for an appointment with nature just in the outskirts of Bangalore. One can go on endless long walks in the dried up lakes surrounded by a carpet of grass and migratory birds flocking around.  But when we were there, a police patrol was cracking down on couples even holding their hands. If one continues on this route they come across Nrityagrama and Taj Kuteera which is at the dead end of this route. After paying an entry fee of 30 bucks one can explore this quaint place. Lot of rustic buildings surrounded by greenery. One can see live classes of various traditional Indian dances like Kuchipudi, Bharathyanatyam and so on.
Further there is a kucha road diversion between the Hessarghatta lake and the Nrityagrama (diversion towards "Our Native Village" resort) which leads to one of my most favourite places around Bangalore. A grassland up till the horizon, see it to believe it :).

Some useful tit-bits;

  • The only decent eatery is the Taj Kuteera (5 star, so get ready to empty your wallets :P )
  • Nrityagrama is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10 am to 2pm.
  • One has to take a diversion along the eight mile off Tumkur road to reach this place.

November 23, 2014

Exploring K2K (Kodagu to Kasargod)

On a drive to my grannies place took detours to explore some of the places nearby and this is how a trip to native place got converted into a part time vacation. On the long Deepawali weekend we had 3 days exactly to explore the districts of Kodagu and Kasaragod. Post monsoons is one of the best seasons to visit in South India where everything is lush green and some of the views which we got were simply awesome.

We started early morning towards Mysore and after a brief stopover there we were on oue way to Coorg. The places to be checked out in Coorg were Bailakuppe, Talacauvery and Bhagamandala. First came Bailakuppe on the Mysore-Coorg Highway. This settlement of the Tibetan refugees is a must visit place for an insight of the culture beyond our Himalayas. Huge golden statues of Buddha and Maitraye adorn the temples of this settlement. Its a good place to spend close to an hour or two exploring the various temples and the neatly manicured gardens.

The next destination was Talacauvery and Bhagamandala region. After having a lunch stopover at Madikeri (finding pure veg restaurants in  Madikeri is a bit of an effort !!!! ) we took a detour from the Madikeri to Mangalore highway towards Bhagamandala, which is around 35kms. The route is narrow passing through a lot of plantations but it is decent enough. Reached Bhagamandala and decided to visit it on the way back from Talakaveri. Bhagamandala to Talacauvery route is one of the most picturesque routes one can find in Coorg district. This 7.5km climb via the ghat roads, provides some breath taking sceneries and to add to top of it, it started raining, drizzling in the beginning which turned to full blown rains when we reached the top. Had darshan in the heavy rains almost getting drenched in process. While coming back the rains had subsided a bit, therefore giving us a lot of photo ops with greenery, post rains weather and mountains.

Came back to Bhagamandala and visited the main temple by the banks of the river cauvery and I found this place to be so peaceful, unlike the crowded atmosphere in other major temples. Spent some time in here and it was time for us to go to Sullia. There were 2 options in front of us, first one was to retrace our route back to Madikeri and then take Mangalore highway or to take the unknown route to Sullia via Panathur. Since the latter would save close to 60km of driving distance we decided to risk taking the shortcut and there was no looking back after that .

Bhagamandala Temple

The initial part of the route from Bhagamandala to Panathur is via dense forests of Talacauvery National Park and this route can get as dense as a forest route can get. Even though I had gone via this route on my bike trip to Kasargod in 2010, this time around it was during daytime unlike the last time and we came across numerous water falls enroute. Further this route seems to be hardly used as we came across some 7-8 vehicles during the entire 2 hr ride to Panathur. The condition of the road through the national park is good. By the time we reached Panathur it had become dark and from here we had to take a detour towards Sullia. Now this stretch of the road was bad. Huge potholes filled with water from the recent rain and the complete absence of civilization makes this route a bit of a liability especially after dark. Anyhow the progress was slow, but event less. We  reached Sullia and thereafter to grannies home.

Waterfalls enroute
The next days plan was to explore Kasargod district. The places on our hitlist were Bekal fort, Ananthapura Lake temple and Madhur Temple. We first visited Madhur temple and by this time it started to rain quite heavily. Therefore we had to visit the temple in heavy downpour. The most interesting thing about this temple is a spot which is identified as the one where Tipu Sultan has stuck his sword in order to destroy the temple. But I am more interested as to why he left the temple alone after just one deep gash on the wall with his sword ????!!!!!!

Madhur Temple
After this we visited the pristine Ananthapura Lake temple, which is famous because of the vegetarian crocodile which resides in the lake around the temple. I turned on google navigation to take me from Madhur to Ananthapura temple and eventhough it took on the shortest possible route it was not the best. The entire route was through some backroad with bad condition. Somehow we reached this temple which seems to be in the middle of nowhere, but nevertheless in middle of calm and inviting green waters is a treat to the eyes. Unfortunately we couldnt get to see the famous crocodile which according to the priest was sleeping in a cave adjacent to the lake. And more interestingly it just eats the rice balls the temple priests offer it and doesn't even touch the abundant fishes in the lake. This is one of the more unique temples I have ever come across.

Crocodiles Cave

Ananthapuram Lake Temple
Next and final destination for the day was Bekal fort. For this we had to take NH17 and unfortunately for the majority of the route NH17 was under full blown repairs hence we had a very slow progress. Finally by around 1pm we reached the place. Fortunately because of the rain clouds it was a pleasant affair by the beachm eventhough it was afternoon. We explored this huge fort which has changed hands from the likes of Shivappa Nayaka, Tipu Sultan , The British and finally to the Govt Of India. This fort overlooks miles and miles of pristine beach land and in this particular season it was such a pleasant affair. We explored this fort for an hour or so, including a point where huge waves strike the boulders and results in huge water splashing everywhere. From here visited my wife's grannies place and the final day it was just an eventless return journey back to Bangalore.

October 16, 2014

Lepakshi, A Place where Mythology "Overlaps" Reality

Lepakshi, a sleepy little town along the Karnataka-Andhra border might appear insignificant in today's modern age, but mythologically speaking it plays a very important role. This is the place where it is believed that Ravana who had abducted Sita had fought Jatayu and incapacitated it. Once Rama arrived he gave the command "Le Pakshi" (or "Rise Bird" in  telugu) and this is how the town got its name. Therefore for the religious it is a very sacred place and for others its a very interesting place to explore the Vijayanagara architecture and listen to the various legends and stories associated with this place.

Nandi Statue

dried blood ???
Sitas Foot ???

Travelling to this place from Bangalore is no brainer at all , with the roads being close to being great. At a distance of 120km from Bangalore, one has to take NH7 towards Hyderabad and after crossing Kodikonda has to take a 16km diversion to Lepakshi. Even this part of the road is good. But the major problem one would face is the number of decent eateries which are very few and far between. One wouldnt even find the Cafe Coffee Days which would have normally lined up in other major highways. The only decent eateries are Kamat Upachar after Chikkaballapur and APTDC Hotel in Kodikonda just before taking a diversion towards Lepakshi.

Paintings On the Roof
Floating Pillar

So on a long weekend with nothing better to do decided to go for a bike trip to this place with my wife. Left early so as to avoid the harsh sun, but within no time it was quite sunny. Frankly speaking I didnt find this route pleasing for a bike ride, since majority of the route was dead straight without any curvy roads and to add to that these regions are quite dry and hot without any greenery around. Took nearly 2.5 hrs to reach this place and the first thing that greats you is the worlds largest monolith Nandi statue.This intricately carved white granite statue is simply beautiful. After spending some time in the lawns surrounding this statue we left for the main attraction of Lepakshi which is the Veerabhadreshwara Temple dating back to 15th century.

This temple was fully functional unlike the majority of the temples of Hampi, which belongs to the same era. As soon as we entered we synced up with a Kannada speaking guide and its highly recommended to hire one to get to know the details of this place. He took us to the various important places around the temple, explaining the various architectural nuggets and also giving some stories/legends which frankly speaking were too good to be true.

Some of the interesting places shown were the shiva linga with the multiheaded cobra surrounding it. According to legend this was built by the temple artisans who completed it in a single afternoon after they got bored waiting for their food to get prepared !!!!! Just one afternoon ??? Well in that case they could have build the entire temple in just under a week considering the scale and intricacy of their work. The legend of the incomplete marriage hall, which was so because the loyal architect of this temple was questioned by the king for embezzlement of funds. Therefore to prove his loyalty he removed his own eyeballs and threw them on a wall. The guides even show a spot in the wall which is supposed to be dried blood.
The Incomplete Kalayan Mandira
The most interesting thing I found here is the famed floating pillars. Heavy stone pillars which have been attached from the roof and having no connection whatsoever with the ground. The guide said that initially many pillars of the temple were of this type , but after a study done by some British team most of the pillars now rest on the ground and only a few are now technically floating pillars.There was even a 3 foot long footprint in the ground which the guide said was of Sita and according to him Sita was 25 feet tall!!!!!! Hmmm... Now they are just questioning our intelligence.

Beauties !!!!! ;)
Anyway after spending close to 3 hrs at this place and having darshan at the main temple we returned back after having lunch at the APTDC hotel. Overall I found this place to be interesting since I am a big time sucker of legends and ancient architecture. :)

October 10, 2014

Andaman Islands : First Trip With My Better Half

With a monsoon wedding , the options for the honeymoon destinations were limited to places to where they would be a bit subdued . Ofcourse monsoons have their own romantic charm, but not to the extent wherein you would be drenched to the core for the entire duration of the trip. Keeping these in mind decided to go for the isolated Andaman islands, but still there were reports that there was a 50-50 probability of the rains lashing these islands in the first half of the September . But if you are expecting some decent weather, completely deserted beautiful beaches all for yourself and your better half then September is the month to go.

Our tour operator was Andaman Excursion(, whom we had shortlisted after a bit of  research over the net. Ofcourse there were tried and tested tour operators like , but the package offered from the former was much value for money with the same goodies offered. We had accommodations booked at the J Hotel in Port Blair and The Wild Orchid at Havelock Island. With no direct flights from Bangalore to Port Blair one has to go via either Chennai or Kolkata.

Day 1 of the package tour we landed in Port Blair at around noon. Before we landed at Veer Savarkar Airport we got some great views of the lagoon filled beaches of these islands. We were promptly received by the organizers and were taken to our rooms. The remainder of the day was spent in exploring the cellular jail during daytime, exploring a beach at Port Blair which was not any different from the beaches of the mainland and after night fall back to the cellular jail for the sound and light show. The tour of cellular jail was quite good. At many points when the guide is giving an illustration of the how the life was at the jail , one cannot stop cringing with disgust at the treatment meted out to the Indian freedom fighters. The name of the cellular jail is given due to the initial shape of the building , which has been subsequently changed and only 3 of the original 7 wings are standing. The view from the terrace was quite good, including that of North Bay island, the view of which is incorporated in the backside of the 20 Rupee Indian currency note. The light and sound show after dark was quite good, but we were constantly bugged by mosquitoes, therefore one has to be prepared for these.

Neil Island: Natural Bridge

There are 2 types of transportation between the islands, the private ferries which are a bit more luxurious and the government ones which are a bit more spartan. Unfortunately for us the private ferries had not yet started operations, which generally start after the monsoon season and therefore we were to catch the Government ferries which was a pain point during this trip. First we took an early morning ferry to Neil Island which was around 2.5 hrs in journey length. This is where we were to witness for the first time the beautiful  white sanded , aqua blue beaches of Andaman. We were taken to a number of places such as the natural rock arch (which was after a tough walk among rocks especially if one is wearing slippers :P), sunset point and finally the Ramnagar beach where certain activities are available such as glass bottom boat rides and snorkeling. By afternoon we caught the ferry to Havelock island after a lot of confusion over the boat timings and such. We were directly taken to our resort in Havelock and spent the remainder of the day exploring the awesome beach just 2 mins from the resort.

Day 3 of the package included a trip to Elephant beach, but while we were waiting in the bright sun the weather suddenly changed within no time and we were facing a gale storm. By this time the boat ride to this beach was cancelled and while we were contemplating what to do next our tour guide offered a choice to do scuba diving at Barefoot Scuba and that too at a discounted price of 2.5k/head. Therefore we were taken to the Barefoot Scuba resort and within no time we were gearing up for the dive. Since this was my second scuba experience I was not scared like I was during my first dive, but I wanted my wife to experience this whole new world. But my wife being a non-swimmer and a bit claustrophobic naturally had some initial apprehensions. But the instructors were good and within no time she was also into water and enjoying the colorful underwater views of the Nemo Reef, so much that in the end she didnt want to come out of the water :P. In the evening we were taken to the gorgeous Radhanagar Beach, billed as the most beautiful beach of Asia and believe me it lived upto that expectation.  An endless beach of white sand flanked on both sides by clear aqua blue water and dense jungle on the other side. And to add cherry on top there was hardly anyone here, considering the huge expanse of this beach. This is almost an half an hour drive from the main market area of the Havelock island and one gets to know the true size of this island. The remainder of the day we just lazed around and had a candlit dinner which was initially planned to be on the sea side , but unfortunately had to be taken indoors due to heavy rains that night.

Scuba Diving at Nemos Reef

Radhanagar Beach

The next day we were back to our boat ride to Elephanta beach, but with weather being unpredictable they took us to place somewhere in the middle of nowhere where some water sports were organized. After that a ride through the mangrove forests was arranged. Came back to our resort and freshened up after having our lunch at the Fat Martins Cafe (just near the entrance of the Wild Orchid Resort) which was our favorite food destination at Havelock. The food here was lip-smacking to say the least and even better than Red Sapper Restaurant which was the main restaurant of the resort. Caught the afternoon ferry back to Port Blair and by nightfall were back to the capital of the beautiful islands.

Entrance Of Wild Orchid

On the 5th day of the trip we were taken to North Bay Island and the boatsmen were literally forcing us to take a glass bottom boat ride. Since the water near Port Blair didnt seem that inviting we flatly refused and were a handful of people who did so. After that we the met the people who went for this ride, and they said that they hardly saw anything. Therefore its best recommended to avoid such activities near Port Blair since the underwater wildlife is minimal over here. When the other people were taken for this "one grand ride" we explored the island and the lighthouse. We were even offered a tour inside the lighthouse, but the guy who offered us was looking all creepy and we were just 2 of us, therefore we refused that offer. After North Bay island we were taken to Ross Island which had housed all the British Officers and hence was considered the luxurious part of Andaman. Presently under the control of the Indian Navy this island has a lot of ruins of the bygone era such as bakery, church, bungalows, market place etc. It also houses the Japanese bunkers which were built during their occupation of the Andaman Islandsin WWII. One has to take a long walk to explore the island and it was a good experience walking along with deer and peacocks which have been introduced into these islands.

Finally the tour was coming to an end. We had some time before we took an afternoon flight to Chennai, therefore we were taken into 2 museums. The first one was the Samudrika Museum run by the Navy which houses all the different species of the underwater universe such as corals, shells, fishes etc. And the other museum we were taken was the Anthropological museum which mainly concentrates on the various tribal groups residing in these isolated group of islands. Both of these museums were good and we enjoyed spending our time over here. Hence concluded our memorable trip to one of the most isolated part of India from the mainland.

Ross Island

During this trip my wife popped a question, as to why people go on a honeymoon. Apart from the obvious ones everyone knows about :P, I think it is to bring 2 people together closer and according to me nothing brings 2 souls closer than travelling to some beautiful location, wherein the good memories and experiences are shared and get etched in the mind for ever !!!!!