February 27, 2015

Thai Memoirs : Exploring The Ancient Ruins Of Ayuthaya

In short this can be termed as an unexpected overseas trip. Just a couple of weeks before got to know that I had to travel to Bangkok for a conference and later on came to know that my wife would be in between jobs during the exact time period. So what more, without much ado we decided to go for an official trip cum personal vacation. During my quick research found an interesting fact about Thailand, that it is the only country in South East Asia not to be occupied by any of the colonial forces, woah that needed some serious strategy and negotiation skills on the part of the Thai people :). One downside of this is that majority of the local residents do not speak much of English or any other popular foreign language. Only those working in the tourism industry would be able to manage some broken English at the most.

Interior Of a traditional Thai Home

Phra Mongkhon Bophit

 Since this trip was not planned ahead in time, the ticket prices were not exactly cheap and to top it up it was a peak season in Thailand especially for the Western tourists. We had 6 days in hand including a weekend, in which we decided to head towards Krabi, which won over other contenders such as Phuket and Pattaya based on our personal interests of nature's beauty over night life, activities etc, which the latter 2 places are associated with. The first 4 days we spent exploring the areas in and around Bangkok and this included the ancient city of Ayuthaya.

Landed on the wee hours of 10th Feb in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport. Thailand seems like the best overseas vacation spot for Indians considering the number of Indians lining up for the Visa on arrival counter at the airport. It took as nearly 1.5 hours to get our VISA and from there we took a taxi to our Novotel Impact hotel which was in the other end of the city. Meanwhile we got the first glimpse of the city. The entire stretch from the airport to our hotel was elevated and I was really impressed with their infrastructure, even though we encountered slow moving traffic more or less for the entire stretch. It looked like Thailand was ahead of India by atleast a decade or two in terms of infrastructure development. And one more observation is even during a traffic jam/slow moving traffic no one really honks like they do here in India and they strictly follow lane discipline.

Phra Mongkhon Bophit

Wat Phrasi Sanpet
Landed at our hotel after some time. Since it was still early for our checkin time of 2 pm we decided to freshen up at the hotel spa. And after depositing our luggage at the counter we decided to go sight seeing to the ancient city of Ayuthaya 60 kms from here. Not before we had our first encounter with authentic Thai food of some "glass noodles" and even though the server assured us that it was pure veg , we highly doubted it :P. Ayuthaya was the predecessor of Bangkok, being the Royal capital of Thailand (or Siam as it was called before) until the neighboring Burmese invaded it and looted it and hence resulting in its complete destruction. Therefore the remaining ruins reminded me a lot of Hampi. During its peak between 14th to 18th century it was the largest city in the world !!!!!!. Hence after this attack in the 18th century the King decided to build a new capital and hence Bangkok was born.

Ruins of The Grand Palace

We booked a taxi for the entire duration of sight seeing from our hotel which costed us 1500 Thai Baht. Left the Novotel Impact hotel at around 10, and reached the place at around 11. This area is actually an island surrounded by rivers on all the directions. Once in the centre of the ruins we decided to explore on foot. Other options to explore are cycles, elephant rides (not my cup of tea though :( ) , local tuk tuk rides. We explored lot of Wats (thai word for temples) including  Phra Mongkhon Bhophit, Wat Phrasi Sanpet, Ruins of the Grand palace, Wat Phra Ram etc. (I had to look up again in the internet to recall the names :P )

Wat Phra Ram
Phra Mongkhon Bophit had a huge Buddha Statue , the biggest I have ever seen. Little did I know that the size of Buddha statues will keep on increasing as our trip progresses. Wat Phrasi Sanpet has the 3 sphires which has now become the symbol of Ayuthaya. In front of this monument is the ruins of the Grand Palace. There is nothing much remaining apart from the load pillars , but the dimensions of the site gives an idea of the dimension of the medieval palace. Nearby there is a miniature scale model which gives an idea of what the city of Ayuthaya used to look like before its downfall. Further we went to see the Wat Phra Ram, which looked a lot like the world famous Ankhor Wat of Cambodia.

Wat Yai Chai Mongkol

After exploring the structures within the island we got out of it and explored other ones including the Wat Yai Chai Mongkol and Wat Phanan Choeng, both of which were quite impressive. Wat Yai Chai Mongkol had a huge set of steep stairs climbing upto the central shrine and one gets a birds eye view of the entire Ayuthaya region. Near this temple complex is a leaning Buddha Statue and surrounded by a lot of smaller Buddha statues clad with saffron cloth which looks very pleasing to the eyes. Wat Phanan Choeng now had the biggest ever Buddha statue we have seen till now , overtaking the one at Phra Mongkhon Bophit. After this we decided to return back.

Wat Yai Chai Mongkol

One more place which we missed was the floating market which we couldnt go due to insufficient time, but later on came to know of the bad reviews given to this place, hence no regrets . One more thing to keep in mind is that majority of the temples/palaces in Thailand have a last entry of 3.30 pm. We returned back to our hotel by 5 pm, ending the first day of sightseeing in Thailand. Overall it was an interesting place to explore, but surprisingly we didnt find any Indian tourists at all !!!!!. Guess this is not part of the popular Indian tourist circuit which comprises mainly of Pattaya-Phuket-Bangkok.

Wat Phanan Choeng
And if you are still wondering, the name Ayuthaya is actually derived from the word Ayodhya. Talk of ancient Indian influences :) . 

February 18, 2015

Ramanagara Marathon

It had been quite some time since I took part in a running event. One of the major reason being the winter season when I am usually too lazy to get up in the morning to train and hence results in periodic yearly weight gain around this time :P. Therefore with the signs of spring coming, I had to kick-start my training by participating in an event to gauge my present condition  and Ramanagara Marathon conducted on 1st Feb perfectly fit the bill. Decided to participate in the 11km run and not in the half marathon since for the past 2-3 months I had been running 6-7 kms and not more than that , and that too not regularly.

Before Race Selfie

This time I had Shashi for company and both of us registered for the 11km event. He was participating in the Auroville Marathon the coming week which I had missed to register by a couple of days in December, therefore this was like a preparatory run for him. Both of us left Bangalore in the wee hours of a very chilly Sunday morning on a bike. It was literally freezing while we were riding through Mysore road to reach the venue near Ramanagara. It was not overly crowded as some hi-profile events in Bangalore tend to become and had just the perfect number of around 500-600 runners. There was even a drone covering the event which caught everyones attention and imagination.
Post Race Selfie :P
The run started at 6.30 with the half marathon participants let off and then after a gap of 10 mins we were let off into the track. The route was quite picture some with it snaking through the boulders of Ramanagara which has made the town so famous since the days of Sholay. It was a majorly a trail run and there were a lot of obstacles such as sand, pebbles, stones, boulders enroute which had to be negotiated. Further the  weather was just perfect for the entire duration of the run. This trail reminded me a lot of Kaveri Trail Marathon. I maintained a good momentum,  running majority of the distance behind an IISc runner , making him my unofficial pacer :P. And when the end point came near I had the audacity of overtaking him and finishing ahead of him :D.  I completed the 11 km (actually it was 11.5km) in 1 hr 6 mins. Not a bad timing and I am happy that I would be bettering this time through this summer :). Since there was no chip for this race there was no ranking provided.

Were provided with finishers medal, certificate and followed by an okayish breakfast. Also met a long lost friend after a gap of nearly 12 years. It was so "long lost" that we instantly recognised each others faces but failed to recollect where had we actually met :P. After breakfast, left the venue and later-on came to know that a runner participating in the half marathon had collapsed and had died on the way to hospital. This further reinforces the fact that long distance running shouldnt be taken lightly and one should train and be in perfect condition while attempting such a distance. Hope that persons soul rest in peace.

February 8, 2015

Go Goa With The Missus !!!!!!

With this trip, I have been to Goa in all possible seasons and with all possible company. First in the scorching summer season with family, second in the pleasant spring with college friends, next in the lively monsoons with my trek friends and finally in the winters with my wife. Of all the seasons that I have been there I must confess that I loved the monsoons the most. Totally deserted beaches, lively greenery everywhere is what that appealed to me the most. December to January is considered to be the peak season in Goa wherein most of the westerners descend upon the sunny beaches of Goa in order to get away from the chilly weather of their homeland. Therefore as expected it can get quite crowded during this time. So much so that there were huge traffic jams in the streets of Goa, something which I had not encountered earlier and much to my disappointment since with this I felt, I was right back in Bangalore :P.

Candolim Beach Shack
So on a long weekend thanks to the Republic day we planned for a visit to Goa after visiting relatives in Belgaum. So after visiting relatives in Belgaum we set for Goa in the afternoon. The route between Belgaum to Goa is quite scenic with dense forests to be traversed. By nightfall we had reached the place, and had close to 2 days to explore this mini state. Because of the obvious shortage of time we decided to stick to the main touristy areas of North Goa, namely Calangute/Baga/Anjuna/Candolim circuit. Our accommodation was booked at Candolim beach (Summerville Beach Resort) which was a steal considering that I had got nearly 55% off thanks to a credit card promo offer. After the checkin in the evening we went for the stroll to the nearby Candolim beach and it was a good experience walking along the beach which was illuminated with the various shacks dotting the beach and teaming with activity.

Agoda Fort
The next day we decided that we would rent a scooter for the next 2 days which is one of the most easiest and cheapest way of going around in Goa. Got a Honda Deo scooter for Rs 300/day , which was much  more expensive than the usual 200-250 charged, because of the peak season as well as the long weekend wherein domestic tourists especially from Mumbai and Bangalore had come down for their vacation. The first thing we did was to visit the Agoda fort. There is nothing much to be viewed in this place when compared to the dramatic views Chapora fort provides, but still this is one of the most sought after destination in Goa.

Selfie of Barbie doll and Superman :P
After exploring the fort we went for a dolphin ride which is quite near to the fort. During this ride we were taken in a boat to a spot which are frequented by wild dolphins busy hunting down their afternoon snacks :P. We spotted dolphins quite frequently, but the most we could view was their shiny backs when they surface for a breath. Along with the dolphin safari the boatsman showed us the various buildings dotting the shoreline such as the old central jail and so called Vijay Mallya"s guesthouse and so forth. This trip lasted for around an hour.

Dolphin Hunting
With the temperature rising with the midday sun we decided to move our exploration to indoors and hence decided to head towards Old Goa, home to Churches and museums. Took some time to travel from Calangute area to Old Goa, which is around 25 kms from here, but the route is quite picture-some with the roads to Old Goa flanking the banks of River Mandovi. In old Goa we explored St Xaviers Cathedral which is really majestic from both inside and outside and considering that this was built way back in the 17th century by the Portuguese makes one wonder in awe. From inside one just feels very small in comparison to the grandness offered by the structure and I guess this was actually intended by the builders, so that people loose their ego when they come to worship God.

St Xaviers Cathedral
Apart from that there is a glass coffin with St Xaviers body who had come to India as a missionary and died here during the 16th century. There is also an art museum which was just ok. Opposite to this church is a museum run by the Archaeological Survey of India, which gives an insight to the history of Goa. We spent majority of our afternoon in here, and what more "it was air conditioned !!!!! " :P.  While returning back we had short stopover at the ruins of St. Augustines church and by looking at the size I wondered whether this was more majestic than St Xaviers church considering the size of single wall tower standing.

We returned back to our room and decided to go to Baga beach for the evening. And when we reached the beach,  boy-O-boy the beach was so crowded that it resembled Kumbh mela. With such a crowd everything was a headache. We decided to do parasailing and it took all the time in this world for our turn to come. By the time it came it was dusk with the sun already down and this activity lasting for just a minute or so. Overall I felt these watersports were such a big scam in Goa especially in the peak season. After this we went back to our room and retired for the day.

St Xaviers Dead Body
St Augustines Cathedral
The only things that were remaining in our must do items were Chapora fort and Anjuna beach. Therefore we decided to relax a bit in the morning. We decided to head towards Candolim beach and considering that this early in the morning the beach was quite deserted we played in the waves to our hearts content. After getting refreshed back in our room we checked out, stored our luggage in the resort office and headed towards Chapora fort also known as Dil Chahta Hai fort. After climbing for around 15 mins we came to the best viewpoint available all over Goa in my opinion. Miles and miles of sea, beaches and a huge confluence of a river to the sea. Even though it was midday it was not that hot in here because of the strong breeze blowing from the sea. Spent a lot of time in here absorbing the views.

Baga Beach at Night From the Sea
Near the entrance of the fort there was a guy from Country Club who said they are doing a promo and gave us a scratch card and from it we got to know that we had won an assured gift of either tv, fridge, holiday, phone etc. It was written scam all over, but still I was curious since this seemed to be an authentic scam from Country Club :P . Therefore we were taken to the country club resort near Anjuna Beach and then we got to know the catch. One has to attend an hour or so presentation of Country Club and wherein they would persuade gullible couples to register themselves as members after paying 30-40k. After an hour I lost patience and flatly said that I am not going to register now and please give us our gift. After scratching our gift card, we had won a vacation in any of the Country Club resorts, but again with a catch, one has to attend this presentation all over again :D :D. In summary I would call this white collar soft scam :D.

Anjuna Beach
From here we went to Anjuna beach, hanged around there for some time and then decided to return back. Surrendered the bike and took a taxi to drop us to the private bus stand from where we had to take a 13hr bus journey back to Bangalore. Overall it was a good trip, but I guess with me been to Goa so many times, this might be the last time in here and definitely I am not coming again in the peak season of December and Jan :D.

View From Chapora Fort
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