February 28, 2010

Korean Diaries : Destination Suwon

It has been more than a week since I landed here in Suwon, South Korea. When I was informed about the opportunity to travel to South Korea, a first foreign trip of my life and I sighed "at last " :). It was pretty much due with Korea being a second home (even though it might be rented and double taxed :P) for the employees of the company. Was informed about the same about a week before the trip and I was pretty much excited, with butterflies flying inside my stomach. There was a mad rush of people going to South Korea from our company and the seats on this route was pretty much filled up. So I ended with a strange itinerary of Bangalore-Chennai-Hong Kong-Incheon.

The whole week in India was filled with some or other shopping , since I had never been away from home for such a duration , leave alone overseas.... Then came the D-Day of 21 st Feb 2010, the day of my first international travel (well technically speaking its on 22nd Feb). I took a taxi from my home and landed at the Bangalore International Airport at around 6 pm to catch the 7.25 pm Jet Airways flight to Chennai. At the check-in counter the person in charge did a through check-in for the Chennai-Hong Kong-Incheon route even though they didnt have any tie-up with Cathay Pacific. This was a bit confusing to me , never even having heard the term of "Through Check-in" :P. Even though it was my first overseas trip I was kinda alone with no idea who and all were travelling and I was mentally prepared to do it all alone.

[Hong-Kong International Airport]

Anyway spotted a fellow employee since he had the travel bag given to us at some point as gifts :).Introducing myself, tagged along with this guy for the first leg of the journey. The jet airway flight was a very crammed place to travel if you are travelling in economy class. Boy and their service in terms of food was really bad, with a couple of slices of bread and cucumber stuffed in between. Anyway not sure whether this is done in other routes too since the total duration of the flight was very less lasting for only 40 mins.

After landing at Chennai airport saw my luggage being hauled in the conveyor belt?????!!!!!... and all the talk of through check-in by the lady at the BIAL went down the drain :P. From then on decided never to blindly rely on whatever the people say to you on such journey and always double check. By this time met a lot of known faces. Took the luggage and started the mammoth task of waiting for 7 hours for the next leg of journey, i.e. Chennai-Hong Kong , scheduled to take off at 3.15 am. Sight seeing in Chennai at this time of the day was not an option, so we decided to spend the time in the airport itself. Thankfully the climate was cool and not humid as one would expect in these parts. Also came into memory the time when I had spent nearly 6 hrs stranded at the same airport due to heavy rains. Why do I get always stranded in the same airport :(.

Anyway when we started the check-in process again at 12 midnight the International Departure Terminal looked nothing short of a Kumbh Mela... Every inch of space was taken .. huge lines for check-in at various airliners... and add to that the "hippies" completing the feel of the Khumbh mela, the only thing missing was the Ganges. After check-in at Cathay Pacific and passing the immigration was finally let into a much spacious room from where we had to just board the plane. At exactly 2.45 am they started boarding. The plane was an Airbus A330 a huge and spacious plane, the service good and leg space upto expectation. They served us Indians some Indian vegetarian food, and me being an Indian was not sure what it was, it seemed like a vada, but taste was totally different :P.

Was able to catch a few winks of sleep and by around 11 am HK local time, landed into this awesome Hong Kong International airport, an island right in the middle of the sea, felt like we were going to meet a watery grave just few seconds before touch done, when suddenly the runway strip of the airport comes into view. De boarded the plane and entered the airport. This airport was huge and there was a humongous distance going from one side of the airport to the other. First time in my life did I feel like I didnt belong to this place, an alien feeling, a feeling of isolation . Even though i had been in most parts of India I had never ever felt the same, which somehow could be contributed due to some similarity we would share w.r.t. , the face, the language , the color, the food, the religion or even the world famous "Indian Habits" :P.

When we landed at the Hong Kong airport, the atmosphere was slightly chilly but as the day progressed the temperature started to drop very rapidly. Out came the woolens reserved for the climate of South Korea. At around 2 pm local time started boarding to the Cathay Pacific flight to Incheon. Now this flight was a Boeing 747, Jumbo jet and believe me the nick name is totally apt. The service provided on this route was a wee bit better than the earlier flight from the same carrier.

We arrived at the Incheon International airport at around 6.30 evening local time. This airport has been bagging the "best airport in the world" title conferred by IATA for the past 5 years, and believe me it met that expectation. A metro train running right in the middle of the airport terminal, flat escalators :P. For people from India all these things are very new :). After immigration, collecting the baggage and exchanging a few dollars, we came outside to platform 7A to catch a Limousine bus to Suwon. As soon as we came out of the the doors of the airport and was exposed to the true temperature of this place, my bones shuddered uncontrollably. Never was I exposed to such low temperature, with high density steam rising from my mouth and nose :P. As if a raging bull ready to charge :P. Caught the bus to Suwon, the journey which was for an hour. The city of Suwon is a provincial capital , home to nearly a million people.

Our stay was confirmed at an Indian Guesthouse, owned by Koreans and run by Nepalese . But due to the heavy rush had to stay temporarily at a motel. Now the definition of a motel as in Western culture is very different from those in these parts of the world. Motels or Love Hotels are places where young couples make out far from the eyes of their parents and this is socially accepted in a big way and a huge industry is catering to this demand. These are available on hourly basis or for whole night and very cheap hence suitable for a budget traveller too :P. The room itself is decorated in a very appropriate way with mirrors everywhere :P. Also the TV provided to us was huge at around 55 inches :). Had one of the worst possible sleeps during the night , with constant nightmares and uneasiness. Guess that is called Jet lag..... not sure though. !!!!

Coming from India this Korean city seemed to be very dull and unexciting. Everything is done perfectly here, the driving with honking unheard off (except the delivery boys on 2 wheelers jumping lights, footpaths etc..... they are worse than Indian 2 wheelers :P ), the walking,the cleaning etc..... hence a less exciting place :D. Now we know what we miss when we come abroad, the same things that we criticize and despise back home :D.

Also Koreans are one of the most hardworking people in the world. They work like almost 24x7 , making their work spaces a miniature replica of their homes. Now this part gives us Indians a complex and we start to follow their worktimes. One day passes, another couple of days passes and then in the end we revert back to our Indian timing :). There is no way we could cope up with their work hours. Also they are heavy drinkers and have a very high suicide rate, dont know whether this is related to the previous point or not. But one thing has to be admired is that the Koreans have completed built from scratch the nation which was shattered during the Korean and World War II into one of the most technologically advanced, developed nation of the world.

Koreans also have a very hi attraction towards gadgets and everything you see , have buttons and LED's on them. They have even not sparred the humble commode equipping it some add on functionalities from below :P. Also once on a walk across the city saw that they were building an underpass at a busy junction. But it was not blocked at all. They had setup a temporary metal structure and below that they were digging..... the traffic flow was seamless..... The steel for the temporary structure would have with more probability come from India, still India is a long way in implementing such methods. Our VIP's roam roam the foriegn countries in order to learn and adopt the good practises, but these sort of things never comes within their radar.

Anyway my on-site stay has just started , but havnt so far got an oppurtunity to visit any tourist places. Got to check it out during my stay here :).

February 20, 2010

Centurion ride To Chikkatirupathi

For a long time I was itching to have a 100+ cycle ride, never having attempted such a feat. So over the long weekend of 12-14 th Feb 2010 decided to attempt the same. After a game of see-saw I was left without any company , but being determined I decided to do the same solo.


So got up very early than usual on a holiday of 12th Feb. It was still dark outside and the sun had yet to come up. Set home at around 6.10 am. It was chilly but within a few cycles of pedal the body was warm enough to sustain the atmospheric temperature it was exposed to.

Riding solo has in itself a different set of attractions than when riding in a group. Becoz due to the lack of company mind starts to divide itself into two groups, the less visible inner self and more visible outer self and the conversation begins between them. While some people might have the opinion that every person has God within himself , which I tend to believe they are referring to the inner self/mind which as whole comes out as a more mature mind and not accessible at all times, and on the other hand people might consider talking to oneself is the first sign of one going mental :P.

Anyway the ride was smooth, with evenly spaced up's and down, a haven for a cyclist, since if its complete down then we surely know that we have to climb the same monster while returning back. Reached BSK bus stand and from there took the inner ring road to reach the Silk Board Junction. From here the drive through the outer ring road was smooth and quick with some delay at HSR layout due to flyover construction. Reached the Sarjapur Road junction and left the outer ring road to continue on this route. This route was 4 laned and the traffic was bare minimum. Saw a couple of cyclists group on the way but didnt stop to say hello.

Reached Sarjapur, and surprisingly the roads were bad here. Asked a person for directions and he directed me a circuitous and highly potholed road, which I came to know much later. Dont know what sick pleasure this person achieved. After Sarjapur the roads are again good and soon after there is a left turn to be taken on to the NH -207 moving towards Hoskote.

Ride along this NH-207 was very good, the entire route was tree lined and there was no traffic at all in sight. The numbers of vehicles I came across can be counted on my fingers. Anyway when I was taking a snap one of the cycling group caught up with me. They were 2 guys Sudhanshu and Barani who had met up at BBC(Bangalore Bikers Club) and expecting me to be a third person they were waiting for they greeted me and so did I. Soon we came to know I was not the person they were looking for. Anyway they invited to join the group and I gladly accepted.

But as we started pedalling with our normal tempo these 2 guys started to fall behind. The reason for this they were actually pedalling at a lower gear and I was pedaling at the top most gear. And later came know from Barani that the reason they were riding at those gears was to increase their heart capacity. But me ingorant of their intent, was getting sometimes irritated at this.


Anyway reached Chikkatirupathi by around 8.20 am and went inside the temple to have some darshan. "Darshan in tights", I was half expecting the poojaris to throw us outside. Anyway this place has nothing to write about and we continued onwards towards Whitefield.

[Varthur lake]

As we started to approach nearer and nearer to Whitefield the traffic started to get denser. Took a pit-stop on the banks of the lake Varthur. While waiting for the others to show up saw a couple of foreigners riding on their MTB's. And as soon as they saw me called out "Hi, How You Doing?", to a complete stranger that was me, and I called and replied to them. "The Invisible Bond Binding the Brotherhood(also Sisterhood :) )of Cyclists".

Anyway by this time(10 am) the Sun was up and it started to get a bit tiring, and I was still a long distance away from home.

After the Varthur lake me and Sudhanshu took a wrong turn leading us right back to Chikkatirupati. By the time we realized it we had gone too far. Asked a local and he pointed towards a dirt trail. The ride through this dirt trail was good running to around 1 km and finally we reached the correct road.

Reached Sarjapur road and started moving towards my home. As in India's most popular game , that is cricket, there is a phrase , "Nervous Nineties". This phrase was totally apt to me since the last 10 km of riding in the concrete jungle under the blazing sun was miserable.

Anyway reached home at exactly 12:05 pm taking around 5 hrs 55 mins to cover the distance of 104 km. I signed a heave of relief on completing my first centurion ride.

[Mera Humsufar]

Came home and had some 3-4 litres of water and had a cold water bath in the tub, soothing the aching muscles and mind,..... AAHHHHHHHH.....Life :)

For those interested, here is my career stats so far:

100's ---------------------------> 1
50's ---------------------------> 2

[Route Map-Click To Enlarge]

P.S> The snaps were taken using mobile cam, hence the quality. Since weight issue come's into picture when taking the Canon s3 IS on cycling rides. Got to get a compact cam. Next on my wishlist :).

February 6, 2010

Travel 2009: A Year Gone By

Year 2009 has come and gone, but it was "THE BEST" travel year I ever had.So it requires a mention here (just short of bragging eh :P). Never have I traveled so much in a single year.The travel bug has bitten me real hard in the bottom, so I cannot sit silently at home for more than 2-3 weekends :P. The mode of transport has varied from the gigantic trains to the measly bicycle, with bike,car and bus fitting themselves somewhere in between. Covered 3 states and 1 union territory and our country has 28 states (no guarantee when tat will increase ;) ), so what I have traveled is just the tip of the iceberg. The possibilities awaiting me are infinite !!!!!

Many wonder, Why do people travel????
Is it for fun? Discovering new places ? Taking a break from the monotonous life we endure ? Our primate instinct of escaping to the wild outdoors ? or just for heck of it? bcoz you have nothing more interesting to do .......Well in my case all the above reasons are true and the last point in particular. Being a bachelor and having no girlfriend has resulted in weekends where I just laze around doing nothing, sometimes meet up with friends over a movie,lunch etc, other than that weekends in Bangalore is a boring option for me. So in order to avoid such a scenario try to get out of the city limits , the maddening traffic, the pollution spewed out my lakhs of vehicles, the ear splitting noise to some calm place where I can just relax and come back recharged to take on another week of monotonous life.

In today's world of information technology we have all the requirements at our fingertips, be it the details of the place , booking of tickets, contact numbers and what not. Imagine the same in pre-internet days, when the research what we do in a couple of minutes were obtained by word of mouth from friends, relatives and would usually take couple of months to plan a decent trip. Compared this with the present age where we can plan a trip for every weekend, the only thing required is the enthusiasm to go at such a pace, which believe me I have plenty of :).

Below is the gist of all the places visited in 2009, does not include trips to native or on a pilgrimage if at all any :P. Hope to increase the frequency and scale in 2010 with focus to Northern India. Probably 2010 might be the last year of aggressive traveling before I settle down concentrating on my future :), leading to tame travel plans. So got to make this year count in a big way :).

1. Skandagiri Night Trek(11 Jan 2009)

A full moon trek undertaken in the chilly month of January. Skandagiri is just off Chikballapur, where there is a diversion to be taken to the left while going from Bangalore. Roads are awesome(airport road), except the last stretch which is manageable. We went in bikes and reached the base at around 12 midnight. Trekked to the peak in moon light in around 3 hrs. Waited for the sun rise and returned back to Bangalore. Its best to avoid this place on weekends and full moon days. If adamant to go on such a day, expect to see a huge crowd. :(

2. Hogenakkal Bike Trip(14, 15 Mar 2009)

A 2 day bike trip we had undertaken to the border town of Hogenakkal in the month of Feb.Had taken the route of Hosur route and a right deviation just before Dharmapuri.While returning we took an interior route which joins at Attibele via TVS Nagar. The main attractions in this place are the coracle riding between the deep rocky gorges formed my the mighty Cauvery. Went to a sand beach by the river side and had a pain relieving body massage.Also there are number of small falls which can be accessed. Body massage is a must do thing at this place. Food is a problem if a pakka vegetarian.

3. Mekedatu and Chunchi Falls (4th April 2009)

A single day trip to the nearby Mekedatu situated at around 100 kms from Bangalore. Biking in the month of April along this route had a spine-heating experience. Had taken the Mysore road and just before the Kamath Lokaruchi we took a left deviation to reach Kanakpura. Reached the spot of Sangama where the river arkavathy converges to the river cauvery. Crossed the 2 ft deep river in our bikes :P . Moved towards Mekedatu which offers a breath-taking ravine. Had a nice bath at sangama. Moved towards Chunchi falls with around 2 km of trek from the parking place. The water at this time was minimum. Avoid this place in the peak of summer.

4. Kodaikanal(10-12 April 2009)

A nearly 450 km one way ride we had undertaken to spend long weekend we had, thanks to Good friday. Had taken the NH-7 route and after reaching the Kodai Road via Salem took a right turn to the enter the ghats of Kodaikanal. Even in the peak of summer this place was chilly. The warm clothes were out of the closet in the middle of summer. Lots of places to be covered around and can be done along a single route which covers most of the spots. A gem in middle of arid tamil Nadu summer. Imagine how this place will be in winter season????!!!!!!


5. Bandipur-Ooty Bike Trip (05-07 June 2009)

One of the craziest and most unpredictable bike journey. Had planned to just go to Bandipur and Gopalswamy betta. But ended up in Ooty for a cup of tea. Had travelled overnight to Mysore and left for Bandipur by the crack of dawn. Gopalswamy Betta is just before the Bandipur forests, with a diversion to right. Route was pretty awesome except for a section of around 20kms just before the forests. Ride through the forest was totally different experience. Encountered heavy rains the entire day adding to the out of world experience.


6. Shimoga Trip(30 July - 2 Aug 2009)

The district of Shimoga famous for receiving one of the highest rainfall in Southern India drew our attention. We planned the trip so as to coincide with the monsoon season and we were not at all disappointed. Had taken the midnight train to Shimoga and from then onwards moved to Thirtahalli, our base for the trip.Also did a river rafting on river Sita. The first blog I ever wrote was for the same trip. Monsoon time is a good time to visit this place.


7. Shivanasamudra-Talakad Bike Trip (28th Aug 2009)

A single day trip to the Shivanasamudra falls. There are 2 falls in here, one is Gaganchukki and the other Barachukki. Both are spectacular. the later more people friendly :). Also went to Talakad, but the last 20kms to the place is horrible. Talakad has lots of temple excavated from the sand dunes which has mysteriously raided the ancient city.


8. Wayanad Bike Trip (18-21 Sept 2009)

A popular tourist district in the state of Kerala. We got less than expected number for this trip i.e. 4 but even though it was a memorable trip. There are lot of places hyped by the Kerala tourism, but proper research will lead to an awesome time at this place. Had also gone to Calicut for an hour in the beach and returned back. Got an oppurtunity of discovering the less popular road via the Bandipur forests. Hotel rooms during a long weekend will be jampacked.


9. Kodachadri Trek (2-4 Oct 2009)

A trek which tests one's endurance not just physically but mentally as well. And doing the same in monsoon season notches it up a few levels. The psychological fact that millions of leeches vying for your drop of blood, is kinda creepy. Eventhough having encountered leech bites earlier, but seeing such a number pretty much overwhelmed me. While ascending it started to rain like the entire sea was draining itself over a small hole called Kodachadri, resulting in huge flash-floods in the dense forests, but thankfully not strong enough to wash us away. The views obtained during the ascent where really mindblowing.


10. Manchanbele Cycle Ride (22 Nov 2009)

One of the shortest but easily one of the toughest trip of the year. The cycling trip where I had a destination is mind , the Manchanbele Water Reservoir. Initial plan was to just reach the Big Banyan tree just off the Mysore road, but having still having oodles of energy left we decided to go to this place. Since the approach from mysore road is full of descents it resulted in steep climbing while returning back which pretty much sapped all our energy.


11. Pondicherry-Mahabalipuram Trip (5,6 Dec 2009)

A laidback vacation to eastern coast facing the Bay of Bengal. We first moved towards Pondicherry. A clean and sleepy city. Did some sight seeing and the next day moved towards Mahabalipuram along the scenic East Coast Road. Mahabalipuram is a small town famous because of various excavations found at this place. Joined the Chennai-Blore highway at kanchi and reached Blore by nightfall.


12. Kemmangundi Bike Trip (25-27 Dec 2009)

Travel 2009 was signed off in style by the biking trip to the offroading paradise of Kemmangundi. For 3 days we were in complete wilderness , with our group making up for the lack of wild animal sightings at this place :P. Had taken 2 different routes for onward and backward journey. Had taken the Blore-Tumkur-Lingadahalli-Kemmangundi route and while returning back took the Kemmangundi-Chikmagalur-Belur-Hassan-Blore route. The only place of shelter are the Govt guesthouses which have to be booked very much in advance if you expecting to go there on a long weekend.

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