Thursday, December 31, 2009

Images of 2009

Jew's Street, Fort Kochi.

Fort Saint Angelo, Kannur.

Sunset at Payyambalam Beach, Kannur.

Pazhassi Dam, Kannur.

Muzhapilangad Beach, Kannur.

Bekal Fort, Kasargod.

Katteri Falls, Ooty.

Pykara Falls, Ooty.

Catherine's Falls, Coonoor.

Gokarna Beach, Gokarna.

Kudle Beach, Gokarna.

Half Moon Beach, Gokarna.

Om Beach, Gokarna.

Hogennakkal Falls, Tamil Nadu - Karnataka Border.

Shivanasamudram, Mysore.

Anthargange, Kolar.

Manchinbele Dam, Bangalore.

Mekedaatu, Bangalore.

Chunchi Falls, Bangalore.

Savanadurga, Bangalore.

Kanva Reservoir, Bangalore.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Om-Half Moon-Paradise Beach Trek, Gokarna.

We started Day 2 watching an invisible sun rise at Gokarna Town Beach, followed by breakfast (Hotel Nisarga) at the very same beach watching the fishing boats and the odd dolphin. From there we walked to our-now-favourite Kudle beach, spent a couple of hours and from there we kept walking to Om beach. The phoren-ers had given us the exact path to take to Om beach and also told us about markings on the ground which lead to Om beach. They also warned us that the rickshawallahs would try to mislead us by saying that we must take the rickshaw to Om beach. As it turned out, we dint even need the markers on the ground as there were enough people walking towards Om beach.

It took us about 20 minutes to reach Om beach. A somewhat demanding climb in the sun, I must say. As expected the beach is in the shape of an Om or more aptly the shape of 3. Unfortunately, Om beach does not have the same appeal as Kudle Beach, but at least looks a tad better than Gokarna Town Beach. It was way too hot for us to even think of venturing into the waters. From Om you could take a ferry to Half Moon and Paradise Beaches. It’s an expensive affair though. Initially the boatsmen demanded Rs. 500 for a roundtrip for a person. After bargaining, we decided to take a one way ferry for Rs. 100 each. The plan was to walk back from Paradise to Om and then back to Kudle and finally to Gokarna. A tough ask, but an exciting one.

The ride to Paradise was pretty much uneventful and short except for some Dolphin-spotting on the way. Ten minutes later we were at Paradise Beach – if you can call it a beach in the first place! Paradise Beach could be compared to a small Oasis in the middle of great Desert. The shore at Paradise beach cannot accommodate more than 25 people at any time. But of course there are at least four shacks that provide food here!!.

After buying some soft drinks and Water Bottles to keep us hydrated we started walking back – towards Half Moon Beach. The trek up till Half Moon is very exciting with lots of rocks of all shapes and sizes and all that at mostly sea-level. The key to keep going on the right path is to stick to the well-trodden path. 15 minutes later we were at Half Moon Beach. If Kudle beach was breath-taking, then Half Moon is a killer. Very quiet and serene and hardly crowded. We found not more than five tourists in the more than three hours we spent there.

Half Moon is truly a paradise of a beach. After a relaxed lunch we hesitantly decided to continue our journey back, since we wanted to be in time for the sunset at Kudle which was breathtaking the previous evening. The path to Om climbs higher from Half Moon, which results in some breath-taking view of the sea. The whole path is right along the edge of the cliff, with absolutely no safety barrier. One wrong step and it’s an open invitation to the Abyss.

Thirty more minutes of breathtaking (literally and visually) walk and we were at Om beach. By now we so eager to reach Kudle that we did not even stop to catch a breath at Om and proceeded straight to Kudle and crashed there.

Getting-there: You could walk all the way from Gokarna Town Beach to Om to Half Moon to Paradise and back. It is physically very demanding but worth every drop of sweat. There’s always the ferry if you think you cannot make it.

Must-Do: Keep a full day aside for this trek. Try to start as early in the morning as possible and walk back as late as possible before getting dark.

Must-Don’t: Saying Yes to the outrageous prices quoted by the boatsmen for the ferrying. Littering.

My Rating: 8.5/10. (I’d give a 9/10 for Half Moon Beach too)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kudle Beach, Gokarna.

Kudle is a must-visit beach if you are in Gokarna. Surprisingly, this beach has been left virtually untouched by the locals and the Indian tourists as a result of which your Kudle-experience will be one that will remain etched in your minds till the day you leave this earth.

In the innumerable hours we spent at Kudle over two days, we never once noticed another fellow Indian tourist. The place was full of foreign tourists from various parts of the world. There was also the hippy angle to these tourists. Some of whom have been here for months together. You could see these tourists engrossed in their own world enjoying the sun, sand and the sea. If someone is occupied with a book, someone else is pouring over some assignment sheets, while someone else is practicing Yoga or Tai Chi or juggling clubs. There were also those playing a game resembling Table Tennis without the table, and few others building a sand castle. And if they happened to get bored of their respective activities they go for a swim or run along the beach or go beach trekking or walk about the temple town of Gokarna. But then Kudle beach is just the kind of place where you can spend long hours without a care in the world. I wonder why Kudle beach was not named as Paradise Beach!

So, for once I’ll shut the hell up and let the pictures to the talking.

Getting-there: From the Gokarna Town Beach walk to the left, climb the hill past the temple, across the plateau, past a couple of yoga centers and finally descend into Kudle Beach. When in doubt ask any foreigner.

Must-Do: Spend long hours at the beach doing nothing. Watch the beautiful sunset and stay at any of the beachside cafĂ©’s.

Must-Don’t: You already know that by now, don’t ya?

My Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gokarna Town Beach, Gokarna

The Gokarn(a) Town Beach is like any other popular beach in India – crowded, trashy and noisy. It is also a very big one, something in excess of 5km. It had been seven months since I had last been in a beach and was desperate to embrace it and take a splash. Within a few moments we were in the salty waters splashing at each other like nine-year-olds. Once the initial childish excitement subsided, we took a walk along the beach like grown-ups with the waves hitting our feet. We also caught a fishing boat which returned with a decent catch. Apart from the single point entry of the beach, the rest of it is pretty much deserted, with the odd European taking his midday or evening stroll, depending on the time of the day. For some unfathomable reason all Indian tourists who came to the beach, walked in and around the half km stretch near the entrance and then walked/drove back to wherever they came from. None thought it wise to take a walk or see the remaining parts of the beach. But thanks to that, it was much quieter in the other parts of the beach.

But we were not so lucky either. Over the course of the next two days we saw activities in the beach that disgusted us. Its really a shame that some people do not have the minimum decency to refrain from doing such uncivilized acts. I was never more filled with rage than now at seeing people trashing a truly beautiful place. And in true Indian administration style, there is nobody to stop and prevent such activities.

One more thing that one would notice about Gokarn is that its infested with foreign tourists. Their accent suggested that most of them are from Europe and other eastern European nations. From the looks of it, the Uttara Kannada Coastal Belt is the new Goa. Considering that Goa is a mere 2 hr drive from Gokarn, this comes as no surprise. One would also many Bohemian stores selling all things hippy. All in all, not a great place to linger around for long!

Getting-there: Its a less than 2 km walk from the Gokarna Bus Stand.
Must-Do: Shop for some beachwear and some bohemian stuff. Have food at the beachside cafes.
Must-Dont: Contribute to the trash.

My Rating: 5/10. (The low-rating for a beach speaks volumes of its trashiness)

Gokarna, Uttara Kannada.

This was one trip that JUST did not go according to the plan. But then who’s complaining? The initial intent of the trip was to go to Karwar, check out all the beaches from Tilmatti to Kodar and then if time permits move on to Gokarna the next day and check out the beaches there. But as it turns out, when we boarded our NWKRTC bus from Hubli to Ankola, the conductor told us that the bus goes to Gokarna after reaching Ankola. In a split second we decided to go to Gokarna first and then Karwar. And hence begins our saga of changing plans at the last minute – thankfully for the better. The end-result being we liked Gokarna so much, that we did not go to Karwar at all.

After a 4-hr dusty ride in a rickety NWKRTC we were at Gokarna. After alighting at Gokarna I realized that I did not have much clue what to do next. Most of my plans were around Karwar, and Gokarna was secondary – a back-up to fall upon if there was enough time. All I knew about Gokarna was that there were six main beaches one could visit - the Gokarn Town Beach, the Kudle Beach, the Om Beach, the Half Moon Beach, the Paradise Beach and Kumta Beach. Once we got down from the bus, we walked around the city, never once bothering with the rickshaw guys – one of my principles while traveling. With the Sun taking a toll of our energies already, we decided to have an ice-cream. After ordering for the ice-creams we started a conversation with the shop-wallah about the place – another of my traveling principles. The shop keepers are usually very receptive to anything you ask if you give them business. We slowly started accumulating all the info we need about Gokarn(a). Our entire idea of this trip was essentially one of a beach trek, where you could walk from one beach to another and so forth. And we got just the right kind of information from this shop keeper.

We were told that one could start a beach trek from Gokarn Town Beach, to Kudle over a hill, and from there over another hill to Om. From Om you could take a ferry to Half Moon and Paradise. This was all we needed to get started. We first started walking towards the Gokarn Town Beach, since we wanted a hotel that was close to the beach. We found a comfortable little hotel called Savitri, near the Ganesh Temple and less than a kilometer to the beach. At Rs. 350 for a 24 hour occupancy with no A/C and no TV, this was just the kind of budget hotel we were looking for. After dumping our bags in our hotel room and a quick shower we were all set to go beach-trekking in Gokarn.
Wikipedia Corner:
Gokarna means Cow's Ear. It is believed that Lord Shiva emerged from the ear of a cow(Prithvi, the Mother Earth) here.
Mahabaleshwar Temple (Maha: great, bal: strength) is a famous Shiva Temple and it houses the atmalinga. Named so after Ravana referred to the linga's great strength. Till the government handed over the temple to a public trust, all the public of Gokarna - supposed to be the office bearers of the temple - were managing the temple.
It is situated at the western end of the main street. The main deity here is two-armed, standing and at least 1500 years old. The idol of Lord Ganesha also is ancient. In the sanctuary is a stone linga, encased in brass, placed on a coiled stone serpent. The floor of the hall in front has an intricate engraving of a giant tortoise.
Getting-there: Direct buses are available from Hubli to Gokarna or Hubli to Ankola and then Ankola to Gokarna. Also accessible from Karwar, Shimoga, Sirsi, Madgoa and other major cities.
Must-Do: Get ready to spend at least 3 days here. Also check-out Kumta beach (which we missed). Beach Trekking.
Must-Don't: Trashing these heavenly beaches and spoil others' vacation experience.

My Rating: 7.5/10 (The overall experience)

Next in the series:
Gokarna Town Beach
Kudle Beach
Om-Half Moon-Paradise Trek

Monday, November 30, 2009

Anthargange, Bangalore.

The name Kolar evokes in the minds of many, nothing but the images of the famed Gold Mines, which by the way is now shut. Even though the Kolar Gold Fields (a.k.a KGF) are now abandoned, this district of Karnataka is by all means still a gold mine. A gold mine for the ever-wandering tourist. A gold mine for the avid devotee. A gold mine for scholarly archeologist. My R&D into Kolar yielded a long list of places-to-visit. Ironically, most of these places are temples and temples are, as a principle something that I avoid while on trips. But, given the nature and significance of the temples, I was ready to make an exception. Foremost on the list was Anthargange, which also happens to be the closest to Bangalore. Then there are places/temples with mythological significance. There are also these ancient temples from our country’s glorious past. Temples built by the Cholas and the Chalukyas. Add to that there’s the Kotilingeshwara – the one crore shivlinga temple and the Chikka Tirupathi.

The plan was to first get to Anthargange, and IF the body permits, to move on to the other temples. I said IF, because Anthargange has a good vertical trekking trail on offer. We left for Kolar at 7 in the morning and hit the Old Madras Road. The route is very straight forward. Once you take the Old Madras Road, you get off it only at Kolar, which is roughly about 65 kms. There’s a road sign which tells where you take the left turn to Anthargange. From the highway it’s a mere 5 kms to Anthargange.

The temple at Anthargange is famous for its natural spring water source from the rocks believed to be coming from the Ganga of the north. No one really knows the actual source of the water. The source as one can see it is a small crevice from which a steady stream of water flows down into the temple pond. What happens after it flows into pond is something that’s not very delectable to the eye. There are scores of people taking bath (with soap and shampoo), kids jumping into the pool and splashing water all over creation and the like. And right before the water falls into the pond from an elevated platform that looks something like a jump board of a swimming pool, there are hordes of people (not devotees) collecting The Water in water cans and water bottles. From the looks of it, this source of water serves as the drinking water supply (not to mention the bathroom) for the whole of Kolar. I say that because, it looked like the whole of Kolar were there either collecting water in their cans or taking a bath.

Visiting the temple was not our primary motive. It was the hiking that began from the temple. The hike up the hill was challenging especially if you have Asthma. So here were two Asthma sufferers pitted against the mighty rocky terrain of Anthargange. After about an hour or more (we really lost track of time) we were, as we presumed at the top of the hill ranges. And to our surprise we found a village on top of this hill. But no, the villagers here do not have to hike this path every day to reach their home. There is a motorable road one could take to reach here. The hamlet up this hill looked a sleepy one. As we began to wonder what to do next, we found a few (6-7 year old) kids playing in the Raagi fields. So when we asked them what else this place had to offer, the kids replied there were caves further up the hill. Yeah apparently the hill still goes higher.

The kids were now our official guides to explore these mysterious caves. I say mysterious, since I’ve not encountered anything in relation to Caves in my research on Antargange. Now the only problem with this guide-business was that we had five of them. Nobody was ready to let off of an opportunity to earn some money. Though we designated only two of them as our “official guides” the other three tagged along. After a little bit of scheming among the guides, they sent back the youngest and most gullible guide back with a toy as a bribe.

Our guides for the day were an enthusiastic and energetic lot, compared to us lethargic city folks. One of them, from time to time even plucked Guava fruits for us. Pretty sweet – the guava and the guide who offered it. Just like any good guide, they showed everything that could be captured with your lenses. Finally after another hour or more of hiking we reached the so-called-caves. So-called, because these caves were never inhabited. So-called because these caves can never be inhabited, except of course by tiny midgets or seven year old kids. The kids took us deeper and deeper into the rocky formations. The gaps between the stones were so small and our bodies so huge, that many times it seemed impossible to go through. But somehow we went further and further. Most times on all-fours, sometimes contorting our bodies in unimaginable shapes and sometimes sliding down rocks like on a slide in a playground. And then finally we found a crevice between two rocks where we just could not go. It was so narrow that we got stuck after just a couple of kids. But the silly kids were so confident that we could cross, that my co-traveler tried and almost dislocated his nose when her tried to keep his face straight.

The kids then showed us a different path for the exit. And by the time we got out, I had a couple of bruises on my elbows and knees and even managed to twist my shoulder again (as a result of an accident couple of years back). But we were never more glad to be finally out. That place there, could kill a claustrophobic.

The way back was pretty uneventful except for the continuous chatter of the kids, and their stories. They told us quite a number of stories, but after knowing eagerness to talk bull, I wouldn’t put any of those guide-stories here. After tipping out little guides (all of them) at their village (Paparajanahalli), we started to make our way down to Antargange. But soon we realized that folly of our intitial misconceptions of this sleepy hamlet. The place was suddenly hip and happening - and how. There we found an agricultural well where about forty young men and kids were assembled around the well and splashing themselves into it. On the main road though there was a large gathering of young men who had some kind of drag-racing-cum-wheeling competition going on. Next to the local tea-stall hangout place was a large swing suspended from a tree where again young men were swinging away to unbelievable heights.

Unable to believe this sudden transformation of the place we walked back to Antargange. Now with most of the devotees gone, the temple was quieter on the devotional front but noisier on the recreational front. It was all fun and frolic for the kids and men who came to the temple for their afternoon swim in the swimming pool (ex-temple-pond). However there was no variation in the number of people carrying the spring water back to their homes or businesses where they sold the water. We took this opportunity to have a closer look at the Fountainhead of the water. Surprisingly the stream just kept coming from an elevated platform, between two tiny Nandi statues. We filled out bottle with this stream and to our surprise, it tasted as pure as a natural spring water can be. It was a real life saver for our parched throats. Somewhat rejuvenated by the generous amount of stream water we made our way back to so-called mineral water haven of Bangalore.

Getting-there: Old Madras Road -> Left at Kolar 65 kms later -> Left before Bus Stand.

Must-Do: Keep yourself hydrated. Taste the natural spring. Explore the Caves - if possible.

Must-Dont: Carrying excessive baggage. Even backpacks and waterbottles and coats are a liability while exploring the caves. Littering, bathing and the like. Claustrophobics should stay away from the caves.

Road Report: Good Roads after T.G.E (or a similar combination of alphabets) Extension. But too many diversions, because of the laying of the 4-lane roads.

Food: Kamat Upachar, 10 kms before Kolar - A must!!!

My Rating: 6.5/10