Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Suvali Beach, Hazira, Surat

If you are in Surat and looking for a beach to unwind and relax but hate everything about Dumas Beach, then Suvali is the place to be. An isolated beach and away from the hustle and bustle of Surat and the industrial town of Hazira, Suvali is a good retreat for people who want some solitude, sun, sand and sea. Thanks to the lack of development, this beach is not yet that popular with the masses.

Suvali, like most beaches in Gujarat has black soil, absolutely low-to-no tide and shallow waters. And this in my opinion takes the shine away from the beaches. To me a beach is all about about the roaring tides, crystal clear water and pearly white sand. Quite ironically the roaring tides have a calming effect on me. All of which is lacking in the beaches here. To make matters worse, when you look far into the sea, you don't exactly find seemingly endless stretch of water, rather Steel plants and Oil rigs. And that's not really a pretty sight.

We spent our Saturday evening playing catch and ogling at the Sun getting devoured by the sea.

Getting-there: Take the lane between L&T and GSEG on Hazira road and keep going straight for about 3 or 4 kms.

Must-Do: Watch the sunset
Must-Don't: Littering

My Rating: 4/10
Pic Courtesy: Travelersguideindia

Monday, July 22, 2013

Laxmi Vilas Palace, Baroda

After the disappointment of not being able to see the Palace the previous weekend, this time howev
er I was lucky enough to gain entrance into the majestic and stately palace. Laxmi Vilas by no means is just another palace. It is simply the largest private dwelling built till date and believed to be four times the size of Buckingham Palace. Built by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, everything about this palace is extravagant. The Palace cost a whopping GBP 180,000 way back in 1890 and boasts of having one of the most exquisite Darbar Halls complete with Venetian mosaic floor and Belgian stained glass windows. The palace also had modern amenities like an elevator, plumbing and even a miniature railway line within the palace compound which was constructed to ferry the children of the King between the Palace and School.

This palace is also a paradise for art lovers. Many paintings of the great Artist/King Raja Ravi Verma adorn the walls of this palace. The 700 acre palace compound houses the Moti Baug palace, a museum, a cricket ground, two clay tennis courts, a golf course and a rare teak floor tennis and badminton court. There's also a zoo and a well called the Navlakhi baoli.

Looking at the grandeur and magnanimity of the palace you cannot but swell with pride about the fact this extravagant (yet somewhat lesser known palace) is one of India's crowning glory. This is one of the very few (probably only) palaces in India where the Royals still reside and yet have thrown its doors open to visitors. The visitors are given a voice-recorded guided tour of the palace. Do not forget to spend a little extra time gazing at the armoury room and the paintings of Raja Ravi Verma and the Stained glass work and...

Also check out the Navlakhi well. Though its not well maintained and with limited visibility, it is still worth a visit. Overall it's a thrilling experience to walk around the palace and get a glimpse of how the Royals live their life.

Getting-there: It's a short drive from Baroda Railway station. There are frequent buses and autos running in this route.

Must-Do: Gaze at the paintings of the Raja Ravi Verma, stained glass work at the Darbar Hall, Armoury Room and the Navlakhi well are some of the highlights.
Must-Don't: Vandalism and littering. Photography inside the Palace.

My Rating: 8/10

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Swami Narayan Temple, Baruch.

Some days are just not meant to be a travel day. On such a wretched day there is some sort of evil cosmic force at play that spoils all your travel plans. It is one of those days when even your Plan B fails – almost. My original plan was to take a tour of the majestic Lakshmi Vilas Palace of Baroda and call it a day. Sure enough, I reached this royal Palace as planned, but to my dismay found that it was closed on this particular day owing to the auspicious eve of Navrathri. The Palace was to remain closed for public on these two days as special Poojas were planned by the Royal family. At this juncture that I would like to let my readers know that the Lakshmi Vilas Palace is one of the few Palaces in the country where the Royal family still resides - sometimes.

When the security guard told that the palace was closed it was as if I was hit by a thunderstorm. I experienced a brief moment of brain-freeze. I tried to reason with the security guard that I had come all the way from Surat just to watch the Palace. But somehow the fact that Surat was two and a half hours away from Baroda did not impress him. And then he gave me the stern don’t-mess-with-the-security-guard-look, which was my cue to retract my steps.

With Plan A failing, I had to come up with something to save my Sunday travel plans. Lucky for me, I had done enough tourism R&D over the past few weeks. I knew exactly what to do next. I took the return train to Surat, but alighting at Bharuch (halfway between the two stations). From here I took a rickshaw to the famous Swami Narayan Temple of Bharuch. Swami Narayan temples are famous for their grandeur and pomp, across the globe. And this wouldn’t be the first time I witness such a spectacle. A few years ago, I had the privilege of seeing the magnificent Swami Narayan Temple of Chicago. I was left totally awe-struck by the mastery of the craftsmen who worked their magic in stone.

Although I finally made it to the temple, to my disappointment I found that the temple was closed during the day. The temple was to open only around 4PM which meant I still had 3 hours to kill in the hot sun. Deciding against being dead meat in the hot Sun, I decided to take a quick look of the temple from the outside and head back. I spent a few minutes taking pictures of this magnificent structure and headed back to the Railway Station to catch my return train to Surat. And there awaited the third disappointment of the day. The next train will not arrive for at least another two hours. So I decided to take a bus to Surat. And to my dismay the Buses arrive literally at the doorstep of the Swaminarayan Temple. Had I known this before, I would have saved at least a couple of hours of simply running around from pillar to post in Baruch. And finally I found a bus back to Surat. Thanks to the awesome roads of Gujarat, we covered the 60 odd kms in less than an hour.

Getting-there: There are many trains plying between Surat and Ahmedabad via Baruch. After getting down at Baruch Railway Station, take an Auto to Zadeshwar Cross. The temple is a little further away on the Ahmedabad Highway.

Must-Do: Visit the temple during normal temple hours.
Must-Don't: Vandalism and spitting pan/gutka (Oh yes! that's Gujarat's biggest curse)

My Rating: 5/10

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chankapur Dam, Maharashtra.

The only information we had about Chankapur Dam in Nashik District of Maharashtra is that it does exist. And yet we reached there pretty much without getting lost. All thanks to smartphones and GPS apps. Chankapur Dam is about 40-odd kms from Saputara.

The idea was to reach Chankapur Dam a little after noon and then probably take a bath in the water and head back Surat. And we pretty much stuck to the plan except the bathing part. Upon arriving at the landing point closest to the water (as far as the GPS shows), we found the water to be too muddy for a bath. So shed our plans of taking a bath and instead relax a bit before heading back. Thankfully, there was a tiny shack built to take refuge from the beaming Sun. Even though there was no name scribbled on this gift-wrapped gift, I’m ready to believe it was sent from God. After all, here we were in the harshest of summers sitting on the banks of river Girna, nestled between a hill on one side and an idyllic village on the other and staring at a 41m high dam in the distance.

The Sun was so harsh that none of dared to put even a finger out of the shade while resting in the shack. We spent about an hour resting and having conversations on topics ranging from food, travel, cricket et al. As the conversation steered towards their college days, my own mind wandered into the horizon. And how I managed a cat nap I don’t know, but it was one of the best I’ve ever had. And then it was time to head back to Saputara, where we had a unusually heavy lunch before starting on the return leg of our bike ride to Surat. On the whole it was one of the best rides I’ve ever had. And definitely the longest in a day. We had covered close to 450 kms in a day.

Getting-there: From Saputara cross the border and enter Maharashtra. After some 5 kms on the highway there’s a left deviation to Chankapur road.

Must-Do: It’s best to carry a GPS app with you, or simply rely of directions from people.
Must-Don’t: Avoid coming in the summer.

My Rating: 5/10

Saputara, Dang, Gujarat

The ride from Gira Falls to Saputara is in my book the best and most exhilarating bike ride I’ve ever undertaken till date. Saputara means, Home of the Serpents. Although I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the statement in current times, the only thing serpentile enough here were the roads. The ride through Vansda National Park with their winding ghat roads is an experience that has to be experienced at least once in a lifetime. The road in this section is absolutely spot-on, which makes it a ride to remember. Saputara is Gujarat’s only hill station. However, standing at 900 odd-meters, Saputara hardly qualifies to be called a “Hill Station”. It is also aggressively promoted as a monsoon destination of Gujarat. The lush green forests of the Sahayadri ranges of Gujarat attract thousands of tourists not only from Gujarat but also from Maharashtra. Although it’s the monsoons that see people come here in the thousands, the dry and de-leafed autumn of Saputara is equally magical.

By the time we reached Saputara, the Sun was completely out and just about getting warmed up for a rough day in the office. As for us, we tucked into some lip smacking Aloo/Gobi Parathas and Poha. With a filled stomach and a content heart, we were ready to take on the menacing March Sun of Gujarat. We rode to the table-top of Saputara to admire the views. And the views that greeted us there were absolutely mind numbing. The entire panorama was so dry and yet so beautiful. We parked our bikes at one of the view points and decided to hike a hill, which probably was the highest peak in Saputara. Though it was a short hike, it dawned on us that we almost used-up all our drinking water reserve in the process. Yet we spent a little time at the peak soaking the sights.

There are a few adventure sports available here for the benefit of the adventure-minded tourists including parasailing and zorping. Although zorping is on my bucket-list of things to do, I gave it a pass. The zorping here was laid upon what looked like a cricket pitch - only slightly longer than 22 yards. And in no way exciting. We would have spent a little more time here, but there was one more place to cover before we headed back to Surat. And for that we had to cross-over to Maharashtra.

Getting-there: Surat->Navsari->Chikli->Vansda National Park->Saputara.

Must-Do: Get a bird’s eye view of the Saputara landscape. Carry adequate water if you are going there in the summer.
Must-Don’t: Littering and misadventure.

My Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Gira Falls, Saputara, Gujarat

Weekend was only two days away and I had still not made up my mind as to where to go exploring. Thankfully my predicament was solved when I overheard my colleagues sketching a plan to go biking to Saputara. Now, I had a bike and I had a future plan of going to Saputara too. So I jumped in. Saputara is about 160 kms from Surat, meaning, the earlier we started the better. Getting up at 4:15 in the AM is always a challenge. But when it comes to travelling they are only minor inconveniences. The other two bikes and their respective riders and pillion-riders assembled at our rendezvous point by 5AM. Without further ado we hit the road a.k.a SH168. The first break we took was after crossing Navsari and taking a left deviation towards Chikli. Riding a bike in Gujrat at 5AM on a March morning is no walk in the park. The biting cold of a chilly morning makes your fingers (and any exposed part of your body) go numb. My fingers were so stone-numb that I lost the sense of touch in them. Not wanting fall behind on the planned schedule, we were back on our saddles. Next stop was Gira Falls.

It would be fair to say there was no water in the “falls”. Nevertheless there was standing water in the levee built near the falls. This standing water provides a great mirror image of the rich green cover and the vast sky. On a good monsoon, the 30 m high Gira Falls is a sight to behold, they say. But there’s also a different kind of charm associated with a dried-up waterfalls. The rock formations taken shape from years of battering by the gushing waters is truly fascinating. The surprise package however was a sparkling Sunrise. It was quite magical to see the Sun rise from behind the woods. It was one of those very rare occasions during my travels when I could actually witness the Sun rise.

We would have spent a little more time there had it not been for the wish of getting a steaming cup of tea to get rid of the numbness. Pretty soon we were back on the highway and sipping a hot cup of tea and trying to regain the sensitivity of our hands.

Getting-there: Surat->Navsari->Chikli->Waghai->Giramal Village.

Must-Do: Visit during the monsoon to witness the glory of the falls.
Must-Don’t: Littering and misadventure.

My Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Dandi Beach, Navsari, Gujrat

It all began on March 12th, 1930 from Ahmedabad and culminated in a small town of Navsari district in Gujrat. Since then Dandi Beach has occupied a prominent place in history for her struggle for Independence. The famous Dandi March a.k.a Salt Satyagragha was the brainchild of none other than Mahatma Gandhi. Though the idea of a protest on Salt Tax was deemed laughable by many in that era, Gandhi went ahead with his marathon walk to Dandi and history books.

Conveniently located 50 kms from Surat, it’s a must-visit getaway for all Surtis. Dandi falls under Navsari District and is about 13 kms from the Navsari Railway Station. The ride from Surat to Dandi is pretty much comfortable except for certain bad patches in Sachin (Yes, there’s a place called Sachin in Gujrat) where flyovers are being constructed. Once you reach Navsari National Highway 228 takes you all the way to Dandi Beach, where the Highway meets the Sea. Having reached the beach early in the morning, it was pretty much deserted. This bode well with me as I generally love the peace and quiet of Mother Nature in general and beaches in particular. Just as Dumas Beach, the sand here is black and the water muddy. The sand here is so firm and so set that it could pass off to be a drive-in beach - had the Gujrat Tourism thought of promoting that. For the time being the beach is being optimally used by children to play cricket which is probably better than the cars taking over the place.

With the pleasant February Sun shining through and a cool breeze tickling my hair I decided to walk the beach. As I walked farther from the main crowding area in the beach, my eyes were arrested by the sight of pearly-white Sea shells washed ashore. What started as a solitary shell grew in numbers to at least two dozen. My collection also included some stones which were as thin as a one Rupee coin and of different sizes and shapes. As morning turned to noon, my mind started complaining about the Sun and the stomach started complaining about hunger. That was my cue to head back to Surat after what was a thoroughly relaxing morning with the Sea.

Whether you are with your family on a picnic or alone for some peace, solitude and relaxation, Dandi is the place for it. And don’t forget to get your cricket gear or football or Frisbee or whatever else is your poison.

Getting-there: Surat->Sachin->Navsari->Dandi. Approximately 50 kms from Surat.

Must-Do: Get your favourite sports gear and play by the beach. Early morning and late evening are the best times to visit, obviously.
Must-Don’t: Littering.

My Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dumas Beach, Surat

Think of beaches and images of white sun-kissed sand, azure sky, refreshing blue water and lush green cover with palm trees come flooding to mind. They also offer an opportunity to play in the waves, take a swim (or at least wet your legs for the not so daring folks) or spend endless hours just sitting on the beach sand and staring at the horizon. But come to the Dumas Beach and you will find none of that. The beach sand is surprisingly pitch black in color the water rather muddy and black - matching the color of the sand. Thorny wild shrubs accounts for the green cover. And if you look into the horizon you set your eyes upon steel plants, oil rigs, heavy machinery plants and shipping ports. This is probably one of the few beaches where you don’t even get an opportunity to let the waves wet your legs. That’s right. In Dumas beach (at least the time when I visited it), the water is a good one kilometer away from the actual beach. What lies between the beach and the sea is patch of marshy slushy gooey land. If you try walking on this patch, you will find yourself knee-deep in wet slush.

Though Surat is supposedly one of the Top 3 cleanest cities in the country the same cannot be attributed to the Dumas Beach. This tiny beach in the heart of Surat city is more littered than probably the Marina Beach on a weekend –even with her 50,000 odd visitors. From the looks of it, the Gujrat Tourism promotion with Big B is a big sham, if you are to look at the sorry state of affairs of one of the major beaches in the state. The Prohibition in the state is not helping matters either. Notwithstanding all these factors, Dumas is still a favourite weekend destination for most Surtis. What makes the idea of hitting Dumas Beach interesting is the many shacks near it which serve piping hot bhajjis. There’s an assortment of bhajjis here, from potato to kela to mirchi and some that I’ve never even heard before. To go with the bhajjis you also get served a chutney which, in true Gujrati fashion, is sweet.

The Dumas beach is also infamous for being a haunted beach – probably the only beach of its kind. Apparently, you hear strange noises here in the late evenings after the sun sets…obviously. To corroborate the story apparently even the dogs behave strange in here, with all their ability to catch infrared sounds and stuff. The way I see it, it’s the ghosts that should be scared of the humans seeing all the litter and utter disregard for mother nature.

Despite all her inherent (man-made) flaws, Dumas Beach is a must-visit for those who appreciate a good sunset. And come to think of it, this was something I almost missed. Disappointed at looking at the filthy beach, I had decided to not wait for the sunset and head back to my hotel. But just as I had devoured about 200 gms of bhajjis (yes, they are sold by weight) and headed to wash my hands I chanced upon this big ball of crimson red setting in the horizon. Without wasting another second, I grabbed my camera and headed to a vantage point where I could get a good glimpse of the glorious sun about to be devoured by the sea. Though the formality was complete in a matter of minutes, it is an image that will take an eternity to be erased from my mind.

Getting-there: Athwa Gate->Magdalla->Surat Airport->Dumas Beach.

Must-Do: Catch a glimpse of the setting Sun.
Must-Don’t: Littering. Wasting time on the unkempt beach.

My Rating: 3/10

Friday, February 01, 2013

Elliot's Beach, Chennai

The Elliot's Beach (a.k.a Besant Nagar Beach) is comparatively smaller, less crowded and cleaner beach than Marina. This beach situated to the south of Marina and easily accessible by road. There are enough buses to this area and is a short walk from the Besant Nagar bus stand. To avoid the maddening crowd I went to this beach in the late after noon around 3. And sure enough it wasn't much crowded. Even the Sun beat down in full glory, the gushing breeze negated much of the blazing heat of the Sun. Much like the Marina Beach, the sea is very unpredictable.

It is better to observe caution and restrict yourself to just wetting your feet. Thankfully at that time of the day (weekday) it was totally devoid of any hawkers, beggars and stall owners. I spent a much-needed relaxing couple of hours with the calming (of the mind) sea before heading back to my hotel.

Getting-there: Plenty of buses to Besant Nagar. From there it's 1km walk/auto-ride.

Must-Do: Visit during the non peak hours/day

Must-Don't: Littering

My Rating: 4/10

Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram), TN

Mamallapuram (or Mahabalipuram as it was previously called) offers the perfect day-trip option from the maddening crowds of Chennai. A visit to this erstwhile Pallava bastion can rejuvenate your spirits from an otherwise dampening stay in the crowded alleys of Chennai. The fact that the ruins stand right on the beach makes it all the more sweeter. M'puram is a short drive out of Chennai. It roughly takes about an hour and a half to reach this place from Thiruvanmiyur in a state bus. You could have reached sooner had the so-called "Toll Road" not been barricaded every 1 km till Kovalam. Once you cross Kovalam its a smooth ride till M'puram with the sea constantly keeping company. The traffic also clears up after Kovalam.

M'puram is a small tourism-centric town. The only other occupations practiced here are fishing, stone carving and of course begging (which is an off-shoot of tourism). Much like the ruins of Hampi, the monuments are spread out. But unlike the former, you don't really need a bicycle or a vehicle to wander about - if you don't mind exercising your body a bit. But of course the same might not apply on a hot-Tamil-Nadu-summer-afternoon. In such cases you can always opt for autorickshaws and even bicycles/scooters for hire.

There are plenty of sight-seeing options here - all that can be covered in a day and still have plenty of time to relax by the sea. The three major attractions here are Arjuna's penance, Five Rathas and the Shore Temple. Apart from this there are couple of cave temples near Arjuna's penance, Krishna's butterball, Tiger cave, a lighthouse and a few other rock carvings on the way. The rock carving on Arjuna's penance are nothing short of spectacular. The view from the Lighthouse is not to be missed. The Five Rathas are to be seen to be believed. And finally the Shore Temple is another masterpiece in stone.
There are plenty of shacks in the beach near the Shore Temple where you get food and accommodation. To enter the Shore Temple and the Five Rathas, you need take an entry ticket of Rs 10. This one ticket is valid for both these places. The lighthouse entry is Rs 10 for adult and Rs 20 for Camera. The remaining locations are on the roadside and hence free.

Getting there: Plenty of buses and taxis from CMBT (Koyembedu) and Thiruvanmiyur.

Must-Do: Make a list of all places you want to cover and go about it. Relax by the sea.
Must-Don't: Vandalism and Littering.

My Rating: 8/10

Marina Beach, Chennai

So where would a tourist head to, if he has an evening to spare in the bustling city of Chennai? The iconic Marina beach of course. In the afore said Sunday I was in the Triplicane area of Chennai looking to kill time. The signboard near my hotel indicated that the Marina Beach was 3 kms away. Since time was not a constraint and the fact that I don't mind walking (especially in a new place), I decided to walk my way to Marina. Half an hour later I was standing in front of a huge sculpture of a horse, which happens to be the entrance of the MGR memorial.

This premises, also known as Anna Sqare, contains the memorials of former CMs MGR and Annadurai. After a fly-by visit to the memorials I turned towards the sea. It will not be unfair to state that the main attraction of Marina Beach is NOT the beach itself, but rather the thousands of stalls on the beach sands. It is like a fair - a mela. And considering the numbers, a mini Kumbh Mela. On a weekend, the beach receives at least 50,000 visitors. And Marina beach embraces all these visitors with arms wide open. Measuring 13 kms, Marina Beach is the longest urban beach in the country and the second largest in the world - thats enough room for a quarter of Chennai's population to squeeze in.  

The beach is bustling with activity. The number of  fish stalls, chaat counters, tea stalls, corn-sellers, bhajji makers, peanut sellers and other eatables can feed half of Chennai's population any given Sunday. Apart from the food stalls, there's also a host of other items for your entertainment. For kids, there are small joy rides, for adults there are photo studios where you can get your picture clicked with your favourite (cut-out of) actors/actress, you can play games like shooting the balloon or throwing the ring on items or.....

As I said, it's a mela out there. All this while there's a turbulent sea doing it's dance. And it comes as no surprise that the beach is dirty and unkempt - littered with plastic and human waste. And thanks to the hundreds of fish stalls, there's a constant stench of dead fish! It's the kind of beach that as a tourist I would go only once.

Getting-there: On a weekend, all roads lead to Marina Beach, so just follow the crowd.

Must-Do: Take a walk round the stalls.
Must-Don't: Littering (Yes, even in garbage pile like this)

My Rating: 2/10

Monday, January 28, 2013

Kukke Subramanya Temple, Subramanya

The Kukke Subramanya Temple in Subramanya village of Dakshina Kannada is a temple of ironies. Devotees from across the country come here to get rid of their Sarpa Dosa (Serpeant Curse). And yet this temple can into existence because Vasuki, the King of Snakes, wanted to protect his ilk from the wrath of Garuda. Vasuki earnestly prayed to Lord Shiva who sent Subramanya to Vasuki as a reward for his penance. Subramanya has ever since been worshipped as the protector of snakes. And that’s not the only irony. The temple houses a silver Garuda tower which is believed to be erected to protect devotees from the poisonous fumes of Vasuki’s breath. Another interesting tidbit about this temple is that devotees enter the courtyard from the back and go round to east-facing entrance.

Interesting tidbits and anecdotes and mythology aside, the Kukke Subramanya temple is a must-visit in the pilgrimage circuit of Karnataka and South India. The majestic Kumara Parvatha in the background, the pristine Kumara Dhara river flowing by the temple and quaint little temple town nestled in the Western Ghats is worth a visit. Subramanya is easily accessible from Bangalore, Mangalore and Hassan. Trekking enthusiasts and devotees arrive here in large numbers. Whether it’s trekking in nature’s lap in the most grueling way or getting rid of Sarpa Dosas from this life or the previous or just getting away from the monotonous city life to a relaxing weekend filled with devotion and nature’s abundant beauty, Kukke Subramanya is one of the ideal locations to fulfill your need.
Getting-there: Overnight buses are available from Bangalore to Subramanya town. There is also a railway station at Subramanya.
Must-Do: Take a dip in Kumara Dhara before entering the temple.
Must-Don't: Littering.
My Rating: 6/10

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Kumara Parvatha Trek - Take 2

The last time I attempted to summit Kumara Parvatha and failed by a small margin, I swore to myself that I will never come back to this wretched place. In my previous attempt I got drenched in equal measures from the sweat and the rain. Every bone, muscle and tissue in my body hurt from the 14-km inclined trek. On the one hand where every item in my backpack felt like an extra burden apart from my own modest body weight, in the other, I was losing weight thanks to the depleting water levels in my body owing to dehydration and loss of blood to the leaches. But more than a year later, here I was standing in front of Kukke Subramanya temple with my backpack and staring at Sesha Parvatha in the background. Such is the lure of KP.

As daunting as it was, I was supremely confident of completing an unfinished task with KP. The ease and technique with which I conquered Chembra Peak a month ago had made me to believe that KP will fall. And fall it did, but not before all the travails of a hard trek. Thankfully the blood-sucking leaches were no longer in play, which also meant the Sun was out in full glory. And that really took a toll on us once we crossed the forest cover. This time on the way up we gave Bhattare Mane a miss since we had made it to forest office in good time. Having reached Bhattare Mane before lunch, we gave it a miss and instead camped at the forest office devour the lunch we had packed from home. A good lunch and short relaxing break later we headed to the near 90 degree climb. The Sun being merciless, we had to take multiple breaks to avoid dehydration and a possible sunstroke. But with hardly any trees in sight to provide shade, the brief stops were meaningless.
After we somehow dragged ourselves to the watering hole near the Mantapa, we rested there for half an hour. Some of us even managed a few winks. The final stretch to Sesha Parvatha is where you start questioning yourself if you have gone completely crazy to be doing something like this. As tired as we were, we still managed to pull ourselves atop SP by around 6PM. The progress we made from Bhattare Mane to SP has been slow. But considering the terrain and the Sun, it was a task well done. With light fading away soon, we did not stop to admire the view at SP, instead headed to the forest cover immediately after that to the place we could set up our tents and start a fire. All of us worked in tandem – while some of them put up the tent, some went to fetch water from the stream and the others went looking for firewood. In about an hour we were all set to settle down for the night. Out came all the MTR ready-to-eats and we devoured them all in no time. With an aching body and a full stomach we sat around the fire for a while chatting until we finally retired into the comfort of our tents to call it a day.
Next morning we woke up early but got up somewhat late – if you know what I mean. And right away we headed for KP. The view offered by KP is a tad disappointment. Add to that, the peak is very crowded with a lot of overnight campers. The place chosen by us was just right. We spent about an hour at the peak before we decided to head back to the tents in the forest area. Wrapping up our tents, we started on our way back. This time however, we spent time at SP doing what we do best – monkeying around and capturing them in pixels. The descent proved to be slower than expected with our tired bodies not cooperating with our heads. Finally at noon we were at Bhattare Mane - just in time for lunch. By now I was so hungry, I could eat an elephant. Well I did not eat an elephant but I ate rice portions that probably an elephant would eat. Never in my life have I eaten so much rice at one go. The steaming hot rice, sambar, pickle and majige is like manna from heaven. A good rest and some coffee later we started towards Kukke Subramanya, thanking Bhatta for his hospitality and his quirky small talk. A couple more hours later we were on ground zero, tired and exhausted. A cold water dip under fading lights in the Kumaradhara river brought back much of the life in us.

As always KP has been a bone-crunching and energy-sapping trek and puts your mind power rather than muscle power to test and this time we emerged victorious.

Getting-there: The trek starts from Kukke Subramanyam Temple.

Must-Do: Do this trek between October to December. Watch the sunset and sunrise if you are lucky.
Must-Don't: Littering

My Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cheluvanarayana Temple, Melukote

Melukote has been on my travel bucket for long. But as luck would have it, while I finally made it to Melukote, it wasn’t a totally fruitful trip. This was the longest road trip for our 11-month old and as it turns out – the most difficult. It was extremely difficult to keep leash on our hyper-active and restless little angel. She can be quite a handful in such occasions and that takes a toll on her mother too who was all but drained-out by the time we reached Melukote. My mother-in-law is another person who can’t undertake long road trips even if the end result is visiting a famous temple. As a result when we reached Melukote, we visited the Cheluvanarayana Swamy Temple and returned back to Bangalore. The idea of climbing some 200-odd flight of stairs uphill to visit the Yoga Narasimha Temple did not find appealing enough for my wife and mother-in-law after such a long journey.

The Cheluvanarayana Swamy Temple is built on the foothills of Yadugiri and is situated about 145 kms from Bangalore and about 50 kms from Mysore. The temple is dedicated to Thirunarayana or Cheluva Narayana. On the top of the hill there is a temple for Yoga Narasimha. There is also a beautiful stepped tank at the base of the hill. It believed that the famous Srivaishnava Saint Ramanujacharya resided here for about 12 years in the 12th Century, thus making it a prominent place for Srivaishnava Sect and also home to the Academy of Sanskrit Research.

The exact year of construction of the temple is not known. But it is believed to have existed even before Ramanujacharya retrieved the lost metallic image of the presiding deity. It is also believed that Ramanujacharya using his influence and stature was instrumental in rebuilding and renovating the temple. Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana who was a follower of Ramanujacharya had taken refuge here for a brief period during the Muslim invasion of Dwarasamudra. Glimpses of Hoysala art are also very evident here. But it is not nearly as magnificent as any of the full-fledged Hoysala temples in the area.

For those who enjoy long drives, this is a good place to drive down to. The final stretch of 32 kms after exiting the Bangalore-Mysore road is also pretty good for most part. There are some winding stretches of well-carpeted roads when you can glide at 100 kmph. The village atmosphere, green paddy fields and the fresh air make the drive even more pleasurable.

Getting-there: Take right after Mandya town and follow the road for some 30-odd kilometers.

Must-Do: Visit both temples (Cheluvanarayana and Yoga Narasimha) and the Stepped Tanks
Must-Don't: Littering and Vandalism.

My Rating: 5/10