December 22, 2015

Thumping Nice Road Half Marathon !!!!!



Having missed the Bengaluru Half Marathon in the month of October, thanks to a 104'er viral fever, I was raring to participate in a half marathon. And the next possible opportunity I got was in the form of the Ajmera Thump Bangalore Celebration marathon, conducted in a section of the NICE ring road after blocking vehicular traffic.I didn't register for this event until just 3 days leading to it, because I didn't want history to repeat and myself  getting disappointed again, sitting in the sidelines and unable to participate.

In comparison to the previous 2 half marathons which I have completed, this looked comparatively easier in terms of the elevation profile and the running surface and obviously the finishing time does conform with this. The half marathon was started early in the morning at 6 am and I was just in time to start the race. The initial section of the run was through the 2 lane concreted road and the early morning weather was favoring the runners to maintain a good pace. One thing I learned from this race is proper hydration and nutrition early in the race, goes a long way in helping to maintain the stamina in the later sections of the run. Hence at every aid station I would stop and have a mini refill of salts and glucose infused into my blood stream.



Thanks to the smooth road, I had finished half of this race within 1 hr clock time and  was raring to finish the other half. Never have I experienced such energy reserves in my previous long distance runs. Therefore I think it might be because of the physical shape and also the nutrient intake leading to the race. BTW I had a cheese filled pizza dinner the previous day :P.



Only when there was 5 km left to finish the race did the sun come out of the cloud cover, but thankfully by that time majority of our run was completed. As usual did a sprint to the finish line and finished off the race with a personal best time of 2 hrs, 7 mins, 39 secs. This is close to 11 mins better than my previous half marathon finish time. So end of the day was very happy for inching closer to my short term goal of a sub-2hr finish time.

RankBIBName10.55KChip Time

1451525Nithin Uliyar0:59:482:07:39

December 18, 2015

Pitstop At Srirangapatna !!!!


On a single day trip to Mysore had a pitstop at Srirangapatna, the land of Tipu Sultan and off late a figure of controversy here in India. Spent close to 3 hours exploring the sites of religious and historical significance. This town is situated on the Bangalore - Mysore highway, and reaching this place is a no-brainer at all. As soon as we entered the town we had to pass through narrow gate opening, which is part of the huge fort wall encircling the town of Srirangapatna. The first stop was to the Ranganathaswamy temple. According to the ASI board near the entrance, this temple has its origin dating way back to 980 AD, making it more than a millennia old temple. The main gopura of the temple is quite impressive, but the interiors was like a mixed bag. Apart from the certain lathe made pillars the interiors were not so impressive. Had darshan within a 10 min wait were now off to other destinations of the town.


The next destination was the Colonel Bailey Dungeon. It might sound surprising that the rulers of Srirangapatna named this particular place after an officer of their nemesis, but when we get to know the details of this place it pretty much becomes clear. During the second Anglo-Mysore war this particular officer who was leading the British army was captured as a prisoner of war and it was in here that he was held for close to 2 years till he breathed his last. The security guard at this place also acted as an unofficial tour guide explaining the significance of the place, the architecture as to how these dungeons which are just next to river Cauvery has various water ducts in order to bring water from the river and flood this place as a means of torturing the prisoners, who would be tied up in neck deep freezing water. Other points of interest was the cannon which sits in the middle of the dungeon and supposedly weighs more than a ton. One also encounters the place where Tipu Sultan was found dead just next to the road when going to all the major attractions.
The next stop was the Daria Daulat or the Summer palace. This place has a huge garden and fountains adorning the wooden summer palace of Tipu Sultan. The interior walls of the palace has some beautiful and delicate paintings, but unfortunately photography is completely restricted once inside the building. There are lot of exhibits within this palace including clothing, weaponary, canvas paintings , sketches, memorabilia and so on. After the tour of this place our next and final destination for the day was the Gumbaz structure which is the final resting place of the sultan. This building, just like the summer palace has a huge garden surrounding the place and the structure looks like a mini Taj Mahal, and once inside there are coffins of Tipu, his father Hyder Ali and his mother. Apart from the impressive structure there is nothing much of interest. Overall a good educational trip and explored some more places, having visited Srirangapatna already in the past.

Summer Palace
Gumbaz- Final resting place of Tipu and His parents

December 6, 2015

Kodaikanal, With A Stopover At Madurai

Silent Valley Viewpoint

This trip was more of an impromptu trip without much of a planning involved, thanks to the long weekend for Dasahara. But I had one of the greatest enlightenment of recent times, "Never to visit a traditional travel destination on a long weekend especially during the school vacations". Kodaikanal does fall under this category of a "traditional holiday destination" and hence we had to endure the wrath of an overcrowded place , going totally against the concept of vacation wherein one is expected to relax and unwind. Further it was my second innings to these hills, after a gap of nearly 6 years and I could see drastic changes everywhere. Since I was the only one on driver duty it was decided to split the journey into smaller manageable legs and hence we left for Salem once I was back from office.  We rested for the night at the Raj Residency at Salem which was a well maintained service apartment. It was big. It was neat. It was totally worth the money spent.




We left Salem in the morning after having breakfast at one among the innumerable "Saravana Bhavans" dotting the landscape within the city and its outskirts. It seemed that naming their eatery anything apart from "Saravana Bhavan" was a great blasphemy :P.  Also found that the servers at this particular restaurant were ladies, which was the first time I have experienced in a not-so-high-end restaurant giving a vibe that women are much more empowered in these parts of the country. Once you are out of Salem travelling towards Madurai which is at distance of close of 240km there is an immediate dearth of any decent eateries along the highway. The highway between these 2 Tamil cities was smooth and we reached there just in time, before the Meenakshi temple closes at 12.30 pm. Infact we were among the last few people allowed in and my wife was literally the last person allowed in. But one complain is that the streets of Madurai leading to the temple are narrow , congested and pothole ridden. It didn't make sense that they couldn't maintain or improve the infrastructure to one of India's most famous temple !!!!




The temple on the other hand was spectacular. Mammoth in size and even though the gates of the temple were closed, we were allowed to spend our own sweet time exploring the temple and no one forces you out of it. One of the unique feature of this temple is the usage of bright colors to decorate majority of the sculptures and not even sparring the roof from it. The inner sanctum can be accessed only by Indians and foreigners and strictly prohibited from entering this place. And a funny thing happened in here. There are entrance doors with different entry fee starting from 20, 50 and 100. So the general perception was that the higher you paid , faster the darshan would be since all these queue's would ultimately join the same general Q at some point. We took the 20 Re ticket since it didnt look like it was crowded in there and to our surprise there were more people in the 50 and 100 Rs queue than the 20 Rs Q :P. Had a good laugh seeing their surprised faces on seeing the much short er 20 Rs queue :D.

Silver Cascade Falls

After exploring the main sanctum, we explored the other parts of the temple which included the 1000 pillar Hall museum, the super tall gopurams and so on. Spent close to 2 hours exploring this place and then we left for Kodaikanal our main destination for this trip. The route from Madurai to Kodaikanal is a well maintained 2 lane highway. But at the checkpoint of the hills we were stopped by police officials, who basically wanted us to prove that we were husband and wife. Had some comical turn of events because of that, which I wont be describing though :). Had a small break at Silver Cascade falls which one encounters couple of KM before the town and is very gorgeous. We had booked rooms at Kodai Sunshine Hotel and had also got a good deal. Hence once we entered the town of Kodaikanal we first explored the area around the Kodaikanal lake. But thanks to the long weekend and school holidays it was a chock-a-block in the heart of Kodaikanal. Our hotel was in outskirts of the main town and it was very peaceful over there.

Upper Shola View



The next day we were to explore all the major sightseeing spots of Kodaikanal. But due to the tourist rush it was really a painful experience trying to navigate through jams on these hilly roads. We first went to Upper Lake view wherein one gets a good view of the entire town especially the lake. Following this we went to the observatory. Even though it was govt run organization it was pretty informative and I saw solar spot for the first time in my life . All the major sightseeing places of Kodaikanal are situated in a loop sort of road which begins and ends back into the town. After the educational tour we encounter the beautiful pine forest , but looks like due to heavy footfall there was a lot of garbage strewn across the place.

The Jam !!!!


Berjam Lake from a distance

video


The best part of being in Kodaikanal was the weather , which was close to freezing even though the plains were simmering with heat. Once we were fed up of navigating through the heavy traffic and we reached the Suicide view point we saw the board as the entrance to Berijam lake. This lake is highly restricted and "supposedly" only 25 vehicles are allowed in per day (But we saw a lot more during our 1 hr wait at this place :)). For those who cannot take their vehicle there are minibuses run by the forest department for every hour or so and we caught the last bus for the day at 2.30 pm. The tour lasts for a couple of hours and this was the most peaceful part of our sightseeing trip in Kodaikanal. Found some breathtaking view points inside this reserve forest, the most exciting among them being the Silent Valley view point. Other major stopovers are Caps fly and the lake itself. It is more like a guided tour and the driver provides some interesting background information regarding each individual places.




Once we were back to the entrance of the this park the traffic had reduced and we proceeded with our traditional tour covering Pillar rocks and then back to the town. Since we had skipped our lunch thanks to Berijam lake excursion,  we were starving like hell and surprisingly none of the eateries were serving any food and it was just 6 in the evening. Finally we went to a Bangalore based restaurant "Woodys" and once they came to know that we were Bangaloreans they prepared food from scratch including chutney to serve us. In process they got all our gratitude and a fat tip :). Later we had shopping for home made chocolates to be taken back home.

Pillar Rocks

The following day after having our breakfast and checking out of our room we decided to visit the Bear Shola falls which is pretty much within the town limits. There was not much water flow in this particular falls and it was just ok. From there started our return journey back to Bangalore. The initial part of the return journey was good and we had a stopover at Salem for lunch. After that we got caught within the huge rush of vehicles trying to make their way back to Bangalore. We literally encountered a 2 km jam before the Dharmapuri toll gate. After this ordeal we checked google maps for the traffic updates and saw that there was a huge 4-5 km jam at Krishnagiri tollgate. Hence decided to take a detour and took the lesser used state highway. We took the route Dharmapuri-Rayakottai-Hosur hence avoiding the Krishnagiri stretch and probably saved fuel, toll fee and a lot a frustration. Reached back home after an exhausting drive back :).

October 27, 2015

Malaysian Chronicle : Kuala Lumpur With Batu Caves



After bringing to conclusion our Singapore leg of the journey, we proceeded towards our next destination, Kuala Lumpur. One piece of advise for those planning to club Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in a single trip is to visit KL in the beginning and then proceed towards Singapore, unlike what we did. Once you are used to the efficiency with which things are run in Singapore, KL appears to be a bit of a let-down. The way the city is run appears a lot similar to an Indian city rather than its southern neighbour. Therefore one would be finding shortcoming in each and every thing right from public transport to local mannerism to general hygiene.

Fountain opposite Petronas Towers

We took a late morning flight to KL from the top of the class Changi Airport. Once we reached our destination we took the 40 min non-stop express train into the heart of KL, named aptly as KL Sentral. KL Sentral is like the Majestic area of Bangalore, THE HUB. You get transport from here to all the places in KL. We took a mono-rail to our hotel in Bukit Bintang, the shopping destination of KL. The plan for the day included visiting the icon of Malaysia, the Petronas Twin towers. Again we took the metro to reach this place via the KL Sentral station and we specifically wanted to view these towers all lit up, hence we reached this place post sundown.

KL Bird Park

The tallest twin tower in the world looked majestic all lit up against the night sky and a hint of mist floating around the topmost section of the tower. It kinda reminded me of the clouds engulfing a Himalayan peak. We decided against going to the observatory floor since the entry fee is quite steep and there would nothing interesting to view from the observation deck since we would be already inside the most interesting building in the vicinity !!!!. Further we had already visited the Skydeck of Marina Bay Sands and were not much interested in repeating the same. After spending close to an hour in the vicinity of the towers including witnessing the musical fountain we went inside the KLCC mall in search of food. Found a Saravana Bhavan outlet and that settled our search for a vegetarian meal.


The following day was dedicated for exploring the KL Bird park, Sentral Market and Petaling street. Again we took a train to KL Sentral and from there to Kuala Lumpur station. From there its a 5 minute taxi drive to the bird park. The bird park was just OK and nothing in comparison with the zoos etc in Singapore. There was whiff of stink in the air with all the bird poop in the vicinity. Spent close to 2 hrs exploring this park which included a Bird Show which was mildly interesting, but kids would enjoy it.

Sentral Market

From there we took a taxi again to Sentral Market which is one of the prime souvenir market in KL. Its an indoor and air conditioned market and a perfect place to spend the hot afternoons hunting for souvenirs to take back home. One can find all sorts of local jewellery, handicrafts, cloths, accessories and even chocolates. After spending close to 3 hours at this place we moved to Petaling street or Chinatown which is just a 5 min walk from this market. Petaling street is more of a street market with cloths, shoes etc at dirt cheap prices. Post-shopping we waited till the lanterns were turned on post sundown, which was pretty nice. After that we left for our hotel.

Batu Caves



The final day of our trip in Malaysia and we had plans to visit the Batu caves. After checking out of our room we caught a train from KL Sentral which takes close to 45 mins to reach the destination. After that one has to climb nearly 270 steps to reach the top which can be quite taxing.  Batu caves can be logically divided into 2 sections. First is the religious section wherein one can find Lord Murugan's temple within the cave and the other part is the conservation area wherein they are trying to preserve the unique ecosystem of the caves. The temples within the caves were decent and there is no restriction based on ones religious beliefs unlike in Indian temples. But the most interesting part of Batu caves was the "Dark Caves Tour" which involves a guided tour into the restricted conservation area. We were guided by a very enthusiastic and passionate person named as Don and he explained in great detail the fragile and unique ecosystem of these pitch black caves. We found various types of bats, spiders, and other insects along with formation of the stalactite and stalagmite into works of art. This tour lasted almost an hour and it was worth the RM 35 entry fee.

Dark Cave Tour

Post the cave tour we returned back to KL. Since we still had some time left before our evening flght we decided to explore the area of Bukit Bintang for some last minute shopping. We came across a restaurant serving authentic Malaysian Veg and organic food and hence we decided to taste the local malay cuisine for the very first time. I ordered a rice dish based on the attractive display photo and after tasting it felt that I still had a long way to go before I start to like South East Asian cuisine :P.  Finally in the evening caught the express train back to airport and hence it was a curtain drop on the Malaysian leg as well. 

October 21, 2015

Singapore Journal : Flora and Fauna Tour

The final day of our trip in Singapore was dedicated for exploring the the flora and fauna parks. The first stop for the day was the National Orchid Garden which is a part of the much larger Botanical Gardens. By now we had become pros in traversing the streets of Singapore using the MRT system. We first took a train to the Botanic Garden station and from there it was a fairly long walk to the National Orchid garden.


The Botanical garden was huge, but with it being devoid of any flowers, it can be a bit dull looking place. The National Orchid Garden is in complete contrast with its parent and according to Trip Advisor reviews this is the best place to visit in the whole of Singapore. Even the entry fee of $5 is tourist friendly. One can easily spend an hour or two exploring the various types of orchids that this garden has managed to produce. On this particular day it was drizzling and making the walk through the gardens all the more romantic.

Apart from the various orchids which come in all the shapes, texture and color there was a section wherein certain subspecies of the orchids have been cultured and named after famous celebrities around the world. The only Indian connection we could find was the one named after Usha Narayanan, wife of the former Indian president K R Narayanan. Further there were certain sections of the park which were simulating unique ecosytems found in various parts of the world, such as the mountainous regions of the South American continent wherein we can find the carnivorous plants which feed on unsuspecting insects which get caught in their tubular structured flowers.


After exploring this unique garden we decided to head towards Singapore zoo, considered one of the best zoos in the world and it actually lived upto that reputation. In the vicinity of the traditional zoo there are other animal exhibitions with different themes such as the Night Safari, River Safari and the Jurong Bird Park. We initially took a train from the Botanic Gardens to Ang Mo Kio from there we caught a bus to the Singapore zoo (details). These attractions are infact the farthest from the downtown areas and one has to consider the significant travel durations to reach these places. We reached this place around noon time. We had decided to visit the main zoo and Night safari post sundown.


The zoo was unique in comparison to those I had visited so far. It didnt feel like the animals where put up in cages and on the contrary it felt like they were free to roam around. And in fact they did, herbivorous animals were allowed to roam around the park. So one wouldn't be surprised if we came across orang-utans, lemurs, kangaroos etc roaming around freely without any restriction. The other showcase animals were the giant polar bear lazing through its climate controlled pool, a white tiger couple, leopard, cheetahs and so on. We attended shows performed by elephants and a seal wherein the animals  are "trained" to perform in front of a cheering audience. But I cant complain because no matter what , we were still in a zoo. The zoo closes at sun down and from there we moved to the Night Safari area which opens at 7.30pm.


There was a huge crowd waiting for the Night safari area to open up and it was not even a weekend !!!!. We were welcomed into the safari by a couple of tribal fire dancers which was breathtaking. The Night safari can be divided into 2 themes. First one is where they take you around in an electric vehicle around the park. The second one is the foot trails which takes a completely different route than the one taken by the vehicle. We enjoyed both of these sections. The basic premise of this Night safari is to view nocturnal animal behaviour, wherein they are the most active , unlike during the daytime when they just laze around to avoid the heat. Each animal area is illuminated by minimal light , mimicking the light emitted by a full moon, hence one can expect close to near darkness when moving from one area to another. The initial tram ride lasted for an hour, followed by the creatures of the night show where they give educational information on the creatures of the park such as raccoons, hyenas, pythons etc.


Followed by which we took the foot trail exploring the section of the lions, tigers, hyenas, leopards, wolves, flying squirrels, owls and so on. But the only complaint is that sometimes the lighting will be too dull to view the animals in case they decide to hide away in the bushes. Anyway by the time we were done with the foot trails we were dead tired and it was close to 10 pm and we were able to get a direct bus from here to our hotel in Little India operated by a private entity and costing us 5$ and saving close to an hour over using public transport back to the hotel.

September 23, 2015

Singapore Journal : Sentosa Island With Universal Studios



Sentosa Island was the most exciting and fun part of our Singapore trip. This island has so many attractions packed into one tiny area that it takes a minimum of 2 days to cover all of them. Some even go to extent of recommending 3 days for these islands. But based on the 2 day pass we had obtained we decided to go for a 2 day tour. A small piece of advise for those planning to visit these attractions is to avoid the weekends like hell. After seeing so many reviews in Tripadvisor we decided to visit in the middle of the week when the crowd and the waiting time would be minimum.  We had booked a 2 day fun pass which includes a full day pass to the Universal studios. This costs 139 $ /head (link), and value for money if planning to spend 2 complete days in here. Else it is better to select individual attractions and pay for those.




After having breakfast at Little India, we caught a train to Harbourfront station. From here one can either walk the distance to Sentosa island or take a monorail to the centre of the island. I would recommend taking the monorail since it saves time and energy. Day 1, we decided to explore universal studios for the entire day and reserved the attractions of Sentosa island for the next day. Universal studios is divided into various sections based on unique themes and each theme is inspired by some movie/s. For adults the most attractive regions are Ancient Egypt, Sci-fi City, Lost world and for the kids its Far-Far Away and Madagascar.

Transformers

As it is obvious that we loved the first 3 theme areas with the best rides being the Transformers, Battlestar Galactica and Revenge of the mummy. In these rides they have gone miles ahead of the usual 4D experience that we usually get in the Indian theme parks and they give an almost life like experience. The transformers ride has us trying to escape megatron and effects were stunning. Battlestar galactica has 2 duelling roller coasters the first being the human and the other being alien simulating the dog fights between 2 fighter jets. The g-force endured during these rides makes one actually believe that they are in a dogfight. The human coaster even though much faster than the alien counterpart doesnt go upside down unlike the alien, hence we decided to go for the "human" coaster and it was without a doubt , downright awesome. Revenge of the Mummy has an indoor roller coaster running completely in the dark !!!!!.  Each of these rides had waiting times of lesser than 30 mins and we went through the Transformers and Mummy ride twice. Had wanted to go through the Alien version of the Battlestar Galactica ride , but by then the park had closed.

In front of Revenge of The Mummy Ride

Had our lunch in a eatery in Ancient Egypt, wherein one can find the only pure vegetarian items in the menu. Checked out lots of other rides of the park notably the live stage show of the Waterworld enacted by live actors, Rapids Adventure, Lights Camera and Action show and other rides in the kiddies section. Overall a must visit place in Singapore.

Shark Tank



Day two of exploring Sentosa island we went beyond the Universal studios. The fist stop of the day was the S.E.A Aquarium which houses mind numbing number of species that delve in the deep oceans right from the ferocious Sharks to the glowing jelly fishes. The first thing that greets you when you enter this place is the underground glass tunnel right through the shark tank which houses all types of sharks including the bizarre hammer-head shark and easily one is impressed. There are lots of colorful fishes held in smaller tanks and finally in the end is a super huge water tank almost twice the size of the cinema screen holding innumerable number of sea creatures including  giant stingrays and super huge fishes. Following this area is the area of creatures which have made the bottom of the ocean floor as their home such as jelly fishes, octopus, star fishes etc. We spent close to 3 hours exploring this place.

Jelly Fishes
Dolphins

After this we went to trick eye museum where one can take funny pics in front of some painting or installation which almost looks life like. After this we went to Madam Tussauds museum and Images of Singapore LIVE and the later show was one of the few shows/rides wherein we actually felt bored. The other things we tried was trying to ride the Segway, which was fun but difficult to do at the same time, the bit hair-raising para-jump wherein one leaps off a 5 floor building in order to simulate landing from a parachute, tiger sky tower which gives birds eye view of the entire island, luge ride wherein one rides a engine-less kart down a hilly slope, 4D Adventureland which had 3 4D rides including a log ride, ride based on Journey 2 movie and a interactive shooting ride and finally the Combat Skirmish which was super fun and very similiar to paintball fight but instead lazer tags are used and hence completely painless. Two teams were formed with 4 and 3 in each team and surprisingly all of us were Indians :D.

Trick Eye Museum


The day ended with the Wings Of Time show , which includes lights, lazers, projections on mist, fireworks etc and was stunning to say the least. This lasted for close to 15 mins and by then we were tired and done for the day. If one has just a day to explore this island then the recommended place is the without doubt the Universal Studios.



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