December 28, 2016

The Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean road is considered to be among the best natural attractions of Australia , along with the heavy weights such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Uluru. So we got an opportunity to visit this place on a day with pretty good weather. I have mentioned pretty good weather because even though it was summer with clear sky, it was still windy and cold. This is one of the road trips in Australia where the journey to the destination is much more interesting than the destination itself.

We started early in the day. The initial journey is quite monotonous till Geelong, the second largest city in the state of Victoria. After Geelong does the fun start with the great ocean road starting from Torquay and hugging along the coastline for the remainder of the distance to the Twelve apostles/Port Campbell. If one directly gives as the destination as Port Campbell/Twelve Apostles in navigation maps, then they would be directed to a route totally different and faster than the Great Ocean road. We infact returned on this route, which is majorly 4 lane, unlike the Great Ocean Road , which is primarily 2 lane. This route was built by the returning soldiers of Victoria after the First World War or the Great War as it was known back then.

The total distance between Geelong and Port Campbell is 213 kms, but one should also consider the innumerable stops along the route. The route is very picture-some and one cannot resist pulling over and enjoying the view every now and then.

The first stop was the "Twelve" Apostles. There are infact only 8 of these limestone rocks standing after relentless pounding by the sea. We had views of these beautiful nature's pieces of art from various different angles. It was just plain breathtaking setting with vertical steep coastline and these limestone pillars rising dramatically from the sea. This kinda reminded us of the similar limestone formations in Krabi, Thailand. There is also a main visitor centre and a walking circuit which takes the tourists right into the middle of the sea on top of a steep cliff to provide some great views of the rocks formation.

After twelve apostles we visited some more sites further down the road towards Port Campbell stopping at spots having views of equally innovative names like Razorback, Loch and Gorge, Island Arch, London Bridge etc. After spending considerable time at these spots it was time to return back to Melbourne. We took the shorter and faster route via Colac. We decided to take a long circuitous route back home with a ferry ride from Queenscliff to Sorrento giving some great views of the Port Phillip bay. Overall this circuit is without dispute the best place to visit in the state of Victoria.

November 8, 2016

Mt Dandenong : Melbourne's Private Hiking Backyard

Mt. Dandenong is definitely Melbourne's favourite hiking and picnic spot. We got to know about this during our trip on a weekend. There are close to 4 hiking trails in here and on a normal weekend you can expect them to be jampacked with couples, families with small kids, friends climbing up the mountain. This is quite in contrast to the hiking trails in India, which are generally deserted. Hence gives a idea of how much of importance a general Australian gives towards fitness.

Lyrebird Trail
1000 step trail

Mt Dandenong is around 50 Kms from the CBD and considering the never ending expansion of the city of Melbourne, this area has been gobbled up by the city and now forms a suburb of greater Melbourne. The ride to start of the hiking trails is great with winding roads and dense forest. We parked the vehicle at the visitor centre and started the climb. We decided to climb via the Lyrebird trail and return back via the 1000 steps trail, also known as Kakoda Memorial trail. The most famous of all the trails is the 1000 steps trail, which was developed in honour to the Australian soldiers who fought in the Pacific islands during the 2nd world war. 

The climb up via the Lyrebird trail is steep. Even though one way distance is 1.5kms, it is mentioned that it takes close to 45 min to climb up the hill. The good thing about Lyrebird trail is that it is wide and hence can accomodate a lot of simultaneous hikers unlike the 1000 step trail which is narrow. The trail is through dense forest chirping with birds, a must visit for any nature lovers. Near the top the 1000 step trail joins the Lyrebird trail. Unfortunately there is no spectacular view from the top.  We returned back via the 1000 step trail, which has a lot of spots dedicated to the fallen men. 

Trails In Mt Dandenong Range
From there we went towards the Skyhigh, a spot from where one gets great views of the CBD. There is an entry fee of $5 and they are quite a few spots to visit apart from the viewing platform. There are parks, mazes, a restaurant and other attractions. One can spend close to 2 hrs in this place. After this we returned back to our home. 

View from the Skyhigh With Melbourne CBD looking like a distant fairyland !!!!!

November 4, 2016

Melbourne : The Most Liveable City in the World

Australia which literally means the southern land would be our home for some time. It was time to explore a new country and Australia was the choice based on a lot of personal parameters. It has the lowest population density among all nations , considering the massive and sparsely populated bushlands and is quite well known across the world for its natural beauty.  This country is truly multicultural with a quarter of the population being foreign born and half of the population having atleast one parent born overseas. A good example of such a society would be the celebration of Deepavali and Oktober Fest being held side by side in the heart of Melbourne city. Most of the cities of Australia are the best to live in the world, with Melbourne taking the crown for 6 years in a row. So what makes Melbourne the undisputed winner comes down to just one parameter "Quality of Life", which I was truly impressed with.  An average Australian's priority is to have a good life and not just to earn and make a living out of it, with the government and the infrastructure supporting it.  Interests such as traveling, sports, food are a norm and not restricted as a hobby. Where else do you find public holidays for sporting events like finals of Australian football or for a horse racing cup !!!. When we landed in Melbourne from Hong Kong, the first thing we noticed were the endless green grasslands engulfing the city, with a lot of friendly people. The only factor which can be considered negative about the city is its weather. I have experienced instances wherein it would be blazing hot during the day and freezing cold during the night. "4 seasons in a day" is a terminology usually associated with Melbourne's weather.   In this blog and the subsequent blogs I would be exploring the city of Melbourne which would be our temporary stopover for 2 months.

1. Shrine Of Remembrance

One of the best structures in Melbourne and also a place from where one gets an awesome view of the Melbourne skyline.  This building is initially built to commemorate Australians who have laid down their life during the First World War, but subsequently it is used as a memorial to all the Australians who have served in a war. There are 3 different levels in this greco roman structure. The main sanctuary with impressively high ceilings is at the ground level. The centre of a shrine acts like one big pin hole camera allowing a ray of light to fall on a plaque to honor the servicemen and women. In the basement is a very expansive museum detailing the history of the wars fought by the Australians and finally the balcony above the sanctuary is a spot from where one gets really good views of the city.  Entry is free.

2. Flinders Street Station

The gateway to the Melbourne CBD. With all the metro trains making a stop in here. The heritage train station is the one not to be missed. It was the first railway station in an Australian city,  and was completed in the year 1909.  The yellow colored building is a true symbol of Melbourne and it is quite heartening to see that the station has gone through various modernization process without affecting the heritage value of the structure.

3. NGV Australia and International

National Gallery of Victoria or NGV in short are present in 2 different locations. The first one is NGV Australia right opposite to the Federation square and concentrates on displays from Australian history and artists from this country. There are innumerable number of galleries and most of them are free to enter. The other building NGV International is huge and the biggest of its kind art gallery in Australia and situated in St Kilda road , opposite to the Shrine of Remembrance. It has exhibits from innumerable cultures and nationalities. It takes atleast 3-4 hours to cover this gem of a place. One would find European renaissance paintings, Japanese porcelain art, Indian bronze statutes, aboriginal arts and so many other collections. Is a must visit place in Melbourne. Further NGV international also doesn't have an entry fee.

4. Old Treasury Building

Old Treasury to the Right and to the left is the newer one
Underground Cellars

This building is built right next to the parliament building and dates back to the same era of 1860's. Initially built as the treasury building, but now converted to a museum, surprisingly concentrated on the criminals of Australia and the gold rush era. This museum is mildly interesting and in my opinion not a must visit. There are cellars in the basement which used to store bullion and also there is a room which seems to hold a a lot of real gold , protected by a shatter proof glass. Not sure if it is real gold or not though. Entry is free. 

5. Hosier Lane

Even the garbage bins are not spared !!!!!
Throughout Melbourne one would find captivating and colorful street art spread across the length and the breadth of the city , majority of them are illegal in nature. But right in the heart of the city , there is a lane wherein graffiti is legal and is a major attractions for visitors to this city. In Hosier Lane one would expect to find some new art every other day.

6. City Tram Circle

In Melbourne the CBD is a free tram zone and whenever you want to go anywhere within the CBD one has to just hop into a tram without any charge. Apart from the regular trams there is heritage tram specifically designated for tourist usage, known as the city tram circle, taking a complete loop around the CBD stopping at major tourist spots and also provides pre-recorded guidance about the various attractions. 

7. Royal Botanical Gardens

The biggest lung space in the heart of Melbourne. One would find various types of trees and flowering plants within this space. Includes different ecosystem such as marsh, lakes, desert etc. Interesting place to explore. Entry is free.

8. Parliament House

This 150 year old building is currently used as the parliament for the state of Victoria. However in the past it was also used as The Parliament of Australia, before the one at Canberra was developed and built. Free guided tours are provided on weekdays, which last for around 45 mins and the guides are quire informative explaining the details of the upper, lower houses and the history of the parliament. The building is quite majestic reminiscent of the Victorian architecture.

October 29, 2016

Hong Kong : The Land Of Skyscrapers

On our flight to Melbourne we decided to take a long stopover at Hong-Kong, 14 hrs to be precise. Since Indian passport holders dont require any special visa to enter this city state. Therefore Hong Kong is among the handful of countries which truly welcome Indian passport holders without any fuss :). Getting entry to this city was a breeze. We went directly to the immigration area and upon producing our onward journey boarding pass, we were issued a 7 day visa to the city at no cost at all.

The first thing we decided was the store the extra hand luggage we had at the airport and then we took a one day Airport express pass between the airport and the city costing 100 HK dollars. After getting down at the station we caught a bus to the Victoria peak, from where one gets an awesome view of the city. As a matter of fact this city-state has the highest density of skyscrapers anywhere in the world. It seems to be a great achievement of building such a bustling city with very little land resource available. Therefore the only option available is to go up !!!!. But unfortunately the weather was playing hide and seek with bad weather and clouds constantly engulfing the views. We infact had a great view of the downtown area from our flight on its approach towards the city.

There are actually 2 viewing galleries on the Victoria peak. One is free and the other is charged. If you take a tram from the base of the peak then the tram stops inside the Peak Tower, the viewing gallery of which is charged. On the other hand there is another building right next to it, known as the Peak Galleria, wherein the terrace which is not charged. Spent some quite and relaxing time at the viewing gallery and took the tram on the return journey. The tram is a heritage ride dating back to the 19th century and the gradient of the track is also quite steep. The surprising fact is that we took close to an hour to reach the top using a bus and took just about 10 mins to come back to the base in the tram :D.

From the base we took a bus to the Victoria harbour. We roamed around this area admiring the neck craning super structures. We crossed the harbour via a ferry entered an area known as TST, which provides some great views of the harbour with steel and glass masterpieces in the background. Also the best spot to view the Symphony of Lights, a show which is free of cost and projected to be the biggest show of its kind in the world. But the light show left a lot to be desired. It starts at 8pm and lasts for around 15 mins, but we got bored with the scheme of repeated things that we decided to leave within 10 mins. In short it was a series of flashing lights on the buildings with no concept whatsoever. In my opinion its highly overrated. But anyway its free of cost, so you dont loose anything. After the show we took a train back to the airport and onwards to our journey to the Down Under :).

September 29, 2016

The Great South Indian Roadtrip : Tanjavur

The final stopover of our south India roadtrip was the ancient city of Tanjavur. And this city is predominantly famous for the temple which has entered into the UNESCO world heritage site. This temple along with 2 other temples in the vicinity are collectively known as Great Chola Living temples, "living" because these temple are still functioning unlike majority of other Indian temples which have the  UNESCO tag. We decided to visit only the temple within the city, known as Brihadeshwara Temple or known simply as The Big temple. And yes, it does live up to its tag of the "Big Temple" , because this temple was HUGE !!!!!.

Outer Walls and Nandi 
We visited the temple in the evening. Hence we got the day and the night views which were both spectacular. There are many huge temple complexes in India, but I had never seen the main temple to be of such size and proportion. The main temple houses a huge Shiva Linga under the gigantic gopuram. Everything is of enormous size here, glorifying the legacy of the Chola empire. This 1000 year temple has 3 layers of outer walls, each having a spectacular gopuram to enter. There is also a huge Nandi statue right in front of the main temple. By nightfall the temple is lit by huge halogen lamps giving it a completely different feel. One of the must visit places in Tamil Nadu for sure.

Darbar Hall

The following day our next stop was the Maratha Palace. Prior to visiting Tanjore I was unaware of the fact that the Maratha Kings had conquered so far south. There are a lot of places to visit around the palace, and it is worthwhile to visit these places only once. First we entered the Saraswathi Library which housed a lot of old manuscripts and had a pretty good collections of books, paintings, coins etc. Second was the Darbar hall, which was not maintained as it should have been. There is a museum. Some sections of the museum were pretty decent, but the other sections had completed gone to the dogs, especially the hall housing the huge skeleton of whale. There is a huge bell tower and unfortunately one is not allowed to go up. Sadly there was graffiti everywhere and it was heartening to see the off limit areas free from these pests.

We left Tanjavur and started our final leg towards Bangalore. But not before we made a detour to Srirangam near Trichy. Srirangam is one of the largest temple complexes in the world, second only to the Angkor Wat and that makes it the worlds largest functioning temple complex. Moving from one of the largest temple in the world to one of the largest temple complex in the world :). The temple has 7 concentric walls which needs to be crossed to enter the temple. But even though the sprawling Vishnu temple was huge , there was no wow factor like the Brihadeshwara temple in Tanjore. There are temple after temple inside this complex and the whole architecture seemed a bit haphazard and not grandiose. And having been already saturated with an overdose of temples during this trip, we didnt spend more than an hour at this place. And finally it was a long drive all the way back to Bangalore , with the some good roads enroute !!!!

September 14, 2016

The Great South Indian Roadtrip : Rameshwaram

Rameshwaram was the showstopper of our South Indian road trip. If given an option to cover just one place during this trip, then it definitely would be this place and this did meet our expectations. The good thing about this place is that the journey to this destination and the destination itself are top notch. We took the Kashmir- Kanyakumari Highway till Tirunellveli and from there took a diversion towards Rameshwaram. The roads are totally deserted in terms of vehicular traffic, a complete contrast to the highways through Kerala. Yet it was quite scenic with endless salt fields on both sides of the highway. Eventhough from google maps it looks like the route goes along the sea, one hardly gets a chance of driving with a sea view. Unless , ofcourse you reach the great Pamban bridge !!!!

Pamban Bridge
Pamban bridge is one of the most circulated images within India for the purpose of tourism and it does have those elements which makes it picture perfect. Legally speaking no one is supposed to stop on top of this bridge, with multiple boards advising the same, but we saw a huge line of vehicles parked and this temped us to do the same. We stopped only for 5 mins before a police patrol car came in and ordered the vehicles to be cleared. Fortunately by this time we had already experienced the view from the bridge. Shouldnt the Govt make provision for the tourists to view one of the best scenes in Rameshwaram, I hope they do some arrangement in the future.

Offroading through the Marshlands
The first thing we did was to go to the main Ramanathaswamy temple, which was huge, supposedly has the longest corridor in the world. It seemed like we walked atleast a km from the temple entrance to the main deity :P. The temple interiors were very good and interesting. There are a lot of holy theerthams in and around Rameshwaram wherein one is supposed to take a dip to get blessed. We saw a lot of pilgrims doing the same. After exploring the temple we proceeded to our hotel (Jiwan Residency), a recommended hotel to stay in Rameshwaram.

The following day it was time to explore Danushkodi. It is famous as the Rama Setu which according to mythology was build by Rama in order to reach Sri Lanka. The roads from Rameshwaram are very good till a check post wherein we had to abandon our private vehicles and had to get into rickety 4x4 vehicles. This vehicle takes a semi solid terrain route via marshlands which cannot be crossed by normal vehicles to reach the "Ghost" town of Dhanuskodi. But there were 2 surprises in store for us. First, was that there was a perfect all terrain road all the way to the town, but apart from the locals no one was allowed to use it. Looked like a collusion to force tourists to buy tickets to the 4x4 rides. And second being that Dhanuskodi is no longer a ghost town and is being inhabited. Dhanuskodi is infamous as the town which got washed away in the cyclone of 1964, which also included an entire train.

Danuskhodi Beach
The beaches of Dhanuskodi are gorgeous and we had a great time exploring the ruins of the village, including church, post office, railway station and so on. It was a fun ride through the marshlands. This excursion to Dhanushkodi took close to 4 hours of our time, but it was totally worth it. From Dhanushkodi we started to search for the infamous floating rocks of Rameshwaram. First we went to the Gandamadana Parvatham in search of it. But alas we couldnt find it here, but we got some good views of the entire Rameshwaram island. Next stop was the 5 faced Hanuman temple. It was here we stuck gold, with the floating stones. But the fact is the floating stones are nothing but porous pumice stones covered with corals, which gives it the ability to float. But the touts at this temple were making a quick buck selling poojas to the gullible .

Overall Rameshwaram is certainly a must visit for not just the religious, but also to the wanderlust junta trying to discover interesting parts of India.

Rameshwaram Temple Competing with the Rameshwaram Tower :)
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