Friday, December 16, 2011

The Journey to The Land of Dreams - Part2 JFK-ROC

Ok, so I landed at JFK well on time and that too from an Air India flight. Surprise eh! :) I was groggy as I'd not slept during the flight at all, but on seeing JFK mouth agape was not the word at all. And humongous would not do justice to the size of the airport! It spread over miles and miles with no end in sight. As I made my way through the queue to get my I-94 at the counter, I could not help but to gaze around the seemingly endless expanse of taxiways and runways.

People warned me that the queue would be so big that it would take me at least an hour, but I don't know if I got lucky and was out in 15-20 minutes. My connecting flight to Rochester was a Delta, so went and checked in at the counter nearby. I was informed that my flight would depart from Terminal-6. "Terminal-6? How many are there! Pat comes the answer:8" 8 Terminals! Whoa! I thought to myself. No wonder its this huge. Hailing from Chennai and having seen only a part of IGI, it was a city in itself to me.

To the most unexpected part of my 'planned' short layover in JFK. I was told that I would have to take the train to terminal 6. I felt being such a big airport, trains were ok. Asked around and made my way to the station. It looked like a normal metro type station. The train arrived in about 5 minutes. Looked like a normal metro from the outside. As it neared, something felt odd. Then it struck me. There was no driver operating it! There was a marshal nearby and I unabashedly asked him what it was. It was JFK's "AirTrain" which is automatically operated. I could not hide my surprise and the marshal went away laughing. I probably made his day by being naive about this thing. Anyways, I was in complete awe and boarded the train.

I reached Terminal 6 by 0830. My flight to Rochester was to leave at 1230. Freshened up, next step for a chennaiite, is coffee which really kick starts an average chennaiite's day. Looked around and saw the big green sign "Starbucks". I knew my stay in America would have many firsts to it but this was much sooner than expected. Got a coffee and as shocked I was by the size of the "Small" cup, sat down tiredly and savoured it. Quick call home to update I've reached safely and two rounds later, I was completely tired and took a quick nap in the lounge. Woke up and it was around 1130.

The waiting was draining and I had no clue as to how to pass time. Spent sometime gazing the take offs and landings. It was 12 and I just had a look at the display as there was an announcement, only to my utter disgust that my flight was cancelled due to inclement weather. Completely drained, went to the counter that announced re-bookings and got myself re-booked on the next flight which was to be at 1845. What a start to my time here. By then 'Katrina', a hurricane had come to the states and I tried listening to the minute by minute updates and tried to find whichever way to pass time.

6 harrowing hours later, the flight was announced and I got in. Never knew when the flight took off and till the time the pilot announced landing in Rochester an hour later, I had no clue as I fell into a deep dreamless sleep. Landing at Rochester was smooth, collected my baggage, hailed a taxi and asked him to take me to Best Western at Marketplace in Rochester, where I was booked.

Checked into the hotel, called home to inform I reached my to be home city for the near future. Took a very comforting hot shower and fell into a contented, deep sleep after the small ordeal at JFK. I finally had arrived in the land of dreams. RIT here I come! was what I cried out in the room.

P. S: If you tell me you think this particular entry is boring, I'd be inclined to agree with you. But hey, its my blog and I chose to say this :) But I promise more interesting entries from now as I find my feet in the so called "Land of Dreams". Until then, Later!

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Journey to The Land of Dreams - Part1 MAA-JFK

Final Destination: Rochester Institute of Technology
Date:  24-08-2011
Intermediate Destination: T3 @ Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi.

Where do I start? The fond, tearful goodbyes to family and friends? The backslapping and all the bests and bon-voyages from close relatives? Anxious wait at the embassy for the F-1 visa? Or the mixed feelings when the postman delivered the stamped passport to you?
I have no idea how time flew in the countdown days. It all started with an awesome trip to Wayanad, of which you might have seen an entry. A few days of hogging and chatting spent at home, teaching folks how to skype. It has sort of become a norm hasn't it? Flying out of the country, teach parents skype. They need to communicate with you somehow. ISD does not come that cheap does it?

So, there came the D-Day. I strangely was devoid of emotion. Wonder if it is because I've spent all of my UG life and work life away from home. I don't know the answer to that yet. I'll probably blog about it when I get to know. No fancy farewells here. That would have broken the dam for sure. It was only me, Appa and Amma at the airport. We were just generally chatting around discussing random stuff. "All passengers travelling on the AI 539 flight to New Delhi are requested to proceed to security check". That announcement was a gong for me. I was actually leaving the country., ironically via the capital. Don't ask me what exactly is ironic about it. But I just felt it was.

All of you might wonder when I say I chose Air-India to fly. Why! Why that flight of all?? But I tell you, while there are some really Sh***y flights, there are some good planes it has. MAA-DEL has one of those sparkling new A321's with in-flight entertainment in Economy as well. And whats more? Its a full service flight. Pretty good food, a couple of the youngest air-hostesses I've seen. Ok, stop ogling and making a fool of yourself. Watch Wake Up Sid for the 2.5 hour long flight. Not a bad movie eh? Its one of my favourites. Wonder whats with Air-India? They surely have bettered their entertainment systems. Good sound, great picture quality. Wonder more on what people crib about even in this flight. Flight lands at T3.

I have been to T3 departures before and know how huge it is. But the arrivals side was a new experience to me. Why? Have a look! 

Bharathanatyam Mudras in IGI - T3

Bharathanatyam Mudras in IGI - T3

An assortment of Bharatanatyam Mudras! Mind boggling. Whoa! Now am seriously impressed. I heard about T3, seen a bit of it once, but this was awesome. Spic and span, devil's advocate in me tell, wait for a couple of years mate, and then lets see. Anyways, made my way through immigration, got my boarding pass (bugger's dint give me a window seat :( ) and made my way towards the boarding lounge. There was a Mercedes-Benz SL 65 on display! And then there was this.

A huge face of the Buddha, in pure bronze. OK! GMR Infra, you've got pretty much everything right here. There was a couple of hours of waiting time till I got to board my flight. So spent it loitering around, truly impressed by T3. There were walk-alators for getting to your aerodromes. Its a huge airport and you'll understand it when you visit it. I'd not seen any of the airports outside the country, but this is really the best I've seen in India. Walk-alators? Have a look.

T3 has a duty free shopping area too. That's huge as well. Lots of stores, most of them franchises of UB selling IMFL. A couple of perfume stores. Saw a model shooting an ad for one of them. God knows who she was, but as usual a huge crowd had gathered around. Wonder if they knew who she was.

My flight, AI 101's departure was announced. It was a new Boeing 777-ER. The executive class was a dream to look at. Wide bucket seats, separate LCD screens and all those nifty gadgets you might expect. Economy, well it was the usual 3-3-3 arrangement. It would get cramped if the person next to you was a bit portly. Unfortunately, that was to be the case.

There was an elderly guy, and a lady in the middle and window seats. Both of them took up pretty much 75% of the seat area, leaving me only with the rest. But as much weight I'd put on, it was enough for me to snugly fit. OK, this is comfortable. Switch on the in-flight entertainment, whats the movie list? Wake Up Sid, I Hate Luv Stories, Love Aaj Kal. This should do for most of the flight.

When the flight started taxiing, that's when you really come to terms with the fact that you are flying out. Loads of memories fill you up, you think of all the people who make up your world, those friends already in the US whom you've missed all these years, the exciting prospect of meeting them, you already start missing your loved once you're leaving behind, and the list goes on. Its a feeling like never before. You try to stay grounded, but your mind does not let you. All you can do is let the emotions take their toll and hope you fall asleep. That did not happen to me. I could not sleep. I remember being awake all the way, to the point one of the air-hostesses came and asked me if I was comfortable. All I could do was nod and continue watching the movie.

Memories in mind, food being served time to time, the maps showing you passing over Afghanistan, bit of Russia, UK, Iceland and finally over the Atlantic Ocean, here I was making my way into the land of Dreams. Port of Entry: JFK International Airport, New York. AI 101 promptly made its way into the aerodrome at terminal 6 at 7:20, ETA met. That was nice. As I step out, a signboard reads, Welcome to the United States of America. Well, I've truly arrived with dreams in mind.

JFK->ROC, that was a different story altogether. That will be my next post.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Wayanad - Mingling with the Indian Rain

August 5-7, 2011 marked my first set of treks in the peak Indian monsoon. This time I was not a LoneWolf, I had the company of my counterstrike mates cum infosys mates and close friends. Pretty August company aint it? :P (pun intended)

Back to the trip, we had 3 places in mind:
1. Edakkal Caves
2. Chembara Peak
3. Soochipara Waterfalls

The climate was, rain, rain and more rain. It literally poured all day.Our First stop was the Edakkal Caves. Getting to the caves involves a trek of about a km. 90% of the path is paved, so its pretty tame. This paved path/steps leads us to the first cave. Though named Edakkal Caves, they are not literal caves. they are rather clefts, caused by a chunk or rock splitting away from the main rock. The oldest cleft is said to be about 8000 years old.

Due to the monsoon, the first cave had many a criss crossing stream, adding to the aura of the cave. When we reached the top, it was raining heavily, adding to the volume of water. That made quite a sight. Owing to the high darkness, I could not manage clicks of this (read do justice to the beauty and the aura inside). The second cleft has to be the mother of all petroglyphs. It had so many inscriptions and  they were so closely packed together that making out the shapes and what they conveyed was pretty difficult. Two inscriptions however, stood out. One was what looked to be the chieftain of the tribe that did it. The second was a depiction of the sun as the epicenter of everything. I could only gape and wonder how the bronze age people deduced it.

Since the caves are at the top of a mountain, the view down was breathtaking from the peak. Add the cloud cover and the mist and it made a very spectacular sight. One can only stand in awe at nature's creations. Rain, which was already pouring had turned to a torrent by the time we decided to descend. That delayed our return, and here are some clicks..

 Here's Raj and Adi

 Sathish and Raj..(others, I dun have the group pics sorry if you're not included)

We had made Ponnada Gardens our base for staying in Wayanad. Vythri Resort is a very good alternative, though ponnada gardens is equidistant from all the places mentioned above. My rating of Ponnada Gardens is very good, you have to ask for what you want though. Right from the food, to extra beds et al. Vythri is more of a honeymoon getaway if you ask me. Spent the night at base, only to be in line for an even more exciting day that lay ahead.

Next day, we were informed that Chembara Peak was open for trekking. It was closed for the past couple of days due to torrential rain. Lucky us. An awesome breakfast at Ponnada Gardens gave us the energy for the ardous trek that lay ahead. The peak is about 22 km away from Kalpeta. A couple of things to be noted here.
1. We need to get a permission from the forest authorities at the base.
2. Trekker groups are charged.
3. All cameras are to be declared and paid for.

All procedures done, we were informed that the more exciting foest route was closed as a herd of elephants had laid base there. It was too dangerous. The second route is a more exciting climb. Or it sounded so. I say this because there are three phases to the top. Two phases of 60 degree inclines through thickets and rocks, combined with ferrous rich mud. The second phase is a bit tougher owing to the presence of algae rich, slippery rocks on the trail. The third phase is the easiest, having an incline of 30 degrees.

Phase 1 greeted us with mild rain and we were able to take lots of pictures of the estate, the view of the peak from below and us of course. We started Phase 2 and were greeted with a torrent of rain. We thought it would subside on, and how wrong we were. It poured incessantly, creating a mini waterfall along the trail! We were wading our way through water, if the rocks, thorns and slippery mud were not enough. But as any good group would do, we pushed each other, cracked jokes and made the climb lighter. If rains made the ascent difficult, read on about the descent. Cams packed, mobiles secured and all wet, we crawled through phase 2. The sight of the heart shaped lake warned us to no end as we'd made it through 95% of the trail. 10 more minutes and we were atop the tallest peak in Wayanad! Clouds and literally everything below us, we felt on to of the world. We washed ourselves up using the water in the lake, took pics and prepared for the descent.

If the stream of water made the ascent difficult, rain had stopped, water had receded and all we were left with loads of ferrous slush on the trail. A couple of steps in it and we knew we were in for a tough descent, how right we were. It was so so slippery. But we fought it all out, found good paths to descend on and when we reached the base again, all of us were elated. Words might not describe well on how difficult the descent was, but I would like add a couple of inputs here:
1. A monsoon trek is one of the most difficult thing to do, but also one of the most satisfying.
2. If you're on a monsoon trek, make sure you wear shoes, and ones that grip well.
3. Western Ghats trek trails are notorious for leeches, especially in the rainy seasons, take necessary precautions.
4. A wet trail, with water flowing on it, is better than a slushy one. Time your trip well. Try avoiding slushy ascents/descents.
5. Egg on your group/yourself no matter what, be surprised to see what you're in store for after that.

It was back to base again. After all the achievements, yeah it was an achievement to conquer the peak, it was time for some boys fun and what a nite of frivolity it was! There were many memorable moments that are etched in the memory and wont be erased anytime soon! Some clicks en route....

Next in line was the Soochipara Waterfalls. Located at 22km northeast of Kalpeta, you have to take a 1.5km walk from the parking bays to reach the falls. They are cordoned off during peak monsoon seasons and offer a great avenue for rock climbing and white water rafting. The walk is through dense, pristine rainforests and tree lovers can find many a rare tree variety here. The waterfalls were at their full glory when we reached there, and we were in for an amazing sight. This was nature at its undisturbed, serene best. The full force of the waterfalls were a sight to behold. The path to the waterfall is pretty steep for most of the time, so be prepared for some dog breaths, especially the walk back to the parking bay. A couple of clicks of the falls in full force..

That concluded the short trip to Wayanad. All of us had our return booked from Mysore. We reached Mysore, only to know the Mysore Palace was to be lit up. The palace is lit up with thousands of serial bulbs illuminating the entire complex. They are switched off after the mysore royal band beats the retreat. The complex is lit up on all holidays and weekends and makes for a very pretty viewing. Would we miss it? Not for all eternity! Made a dash to the palace, saw the lit up complex and the band's beat the retreat. Not before we shopped at KSIC for authentic sandalwood stuff. Trip done, we bade fond goodbyes to each other and went back to our routines.

It would be a gross injustice not to mention the names of the trekkers who conquered the peak, and also who came halfway through to the trail: I will also use our personal counterstrike call signs which we usually address each other by more frequently than our real ones:
Aditya "Dilton" S, Bharath "Damal" Kumar, Aravind "Scorpion" N, Kannan "Karimedu" A, Jayanth "JBoss" T, Satish "Robo" C, Raj "Kaatupoochi" R, CP "Sharpshooter" Arun, Rajaram "Raam" G, Deva "Terror" Rajan, SRG, and finally yours truly "Scarecrow".

 The Mysore Palace - A Visitor's Guide

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Short Trip to Delhi

Yeah, I know I promised myself I would post regularly, but somehow things out of my control did keep me away from blogging. It was at the back of my mind though. So, things have settled down and here I am!

In the midst of all the cacophony, I did manage to sneak in a biz come pleasure trip to our very own Delhi. New or Old, what have you. Constrained for time, I had to travel by the mode i prefer the least, by air! From grumpy check-in counter ladies(the ones at kingfisher are real sweet, and pretty too!!), to the organic goo they serve as airline food, I have an aversion to it and try to stick to trains(None better than Indian Railways I tell you, TGV can rot in speedy whatever).

Ok so I landed in Delhi, checked into Hotel Garden View, Karol Bagh. Its a decent budget hotel, good comfortable beds, spacious rooms, food that's pretty alright(no! i am not franchising for them!!) et. al, at 800 a night. In Delhi, that's quite a deal.

Oh yeah! I have to groove on how wonderful the Airport Express Metro is that takes you from IGI T3 to New Delhi station in just about 15 mins (here's their website: The whole thing is really well designed, super cool seats, luggage racks and all. Who wants to ride in those dusty cabs that charge a bomb when you can spend just 80 bucks, 15 mins in business class type travel?!

Next day, work done by noon and I have about 2 and a half days to just roam, eat, roam eat thats that. Make very discreet enquiries about which place is located where and all that. I am shown pretty glossy package tours brochures but I dont have none of it. I wanna travel on my own and cheap. I ask for a delhi metro map(yeah, the old fashioned paper map reading, boy scout you see :)) and mark out places I can visit and figure out the nearest metro stations next to them.

Delhi is very well connected by the Metro at present and is only expanding to comprehensively cover all possible places. So as a backpacker, I find it a real boon. Anyways, the places I had in mind to visit was:

1. The Red Fort
2. Qutb Minar
3. Metro Museum
4. Akshardham Temple
5. Birla Mandir
6. Rail Museum
7. Jantar Mantar

Point to note: Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal are closed on Fridays and I learnt it the hard way.

Other than Rail Museum and Birla Mandir, others are just a 5-10 min walk from metro stations and it turned out to be pretty cheap for me. I did not have to hanker with autorikshaw wallahs and cab drivers on how much I'd pay. Not much queues in metro stations for tickets, or tokens as they are called so its pretty easy. If you intend to stay long, there are smart cards available, that reduce the cost to a place by about 10% compared to the token.

The other places are about 20-25 mins of walk from metro stations, but one good result of Delhi hosting the commonwealth games is that the roads and pathways have turned out pretty awesome. So walking is not as notorious at it was. With the dreaded blue-lines off the roads of Delhi, it actually feels pretty tame.

I don't think I am going to tell you what each place is all about, hey! whats wikipedia and google for? What I am going to tell you is some lesser known aspects of the places I saw:

To start with, the Red Fort:
- Initially was called ShahJahanabad for obvious reasons, named after its creator, Shah Jahan
- It was apparently the 7th City of Delhi, assuming it is the 7th avatar of this historic city.
- Tourists enter, and for that matter the Prime Minister addresses the nation from a place interestingly called, the Lahore Gate. There is a Delhi Gate too, but it is its poorer and lesser known cousin. No less well crafted and grand, it is at the left side of the fort when you enter through the Lahore Gate. Most people miss it, but its worth a look. Interesting observation, the tricolor flutters atop the Lahore Gate :)
- Aurangazeb's private place of Worship, is the moti masjid, make sure you read the information stones, they're quite interesting!
- The buildings East India Company built inside the fort was where, armed forces officers who defected to the Indian National Army were tried, courtmarshalled and sentenced.
- Red Fort was the place where the famed peacock throne and the kohinoor diamond were located, only to be looted by the many invaders, significantly the British.

The Qutb Minar:
- It might be the world's largest brick minaret, but its about 5 feet shorter than the Taj Mahal (Qutb Minar:238 ft, Taj Mahal:243 ft)
- Though entry inside the minar to the top is banned now, owing to a stampede that took place years ago (sigh!), it actually has 379 steps to the top, quite a bit aint it?
- The Qutb Complex houses the maqbara(tomb) of Allah-ud-din Khilji, who also built the Alai Darwaza, Iltutmish and Imam Zamin
- The Alai Minar was supposed to be taller than the Qutb Minar, but due to the death of its creator(Allah-ud-din Khilji at it again) and the indifference of his successors, it never reached more than a storey.

The Metro Museum:
- Located inside Patel Chowk Metro Station
- World's first metro museum to be located inside a working metro station
- A showcase of the hardships, the challenges, the solutions they came up with, the awards can be seen here. A huge source of info if you're interested in the railway system, rail engineering et al.
- Photography is strictly, I mean STRICTLY prohibited, cams and men are watching you constantly. So no pics of what I saw.
- You get good memorabilia here if you're a big fan of the Metro.

Swaminarayan Akshardham complex:

- World's Largest comprehensive Hindu Temple.
- It preaches a way of life called Swaminarayan Hinduism
- The musical fountain show, also called the Yagnapurush Kund, is a perfect embodiment of the Hindu trinity(Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma) [a personal opinion this]
- No gadgets are permitted inside, with a capital NO (you are frisked worse than what u can be in the airports)
- The place is built as per a section in the Vedas called Sthapathya Shastra, dealing with the creation and consecration of buildings/temples
- Swaminarayan's life history is brought to life using talking robots in the Sahajanand Pradarshan hall.
- The water complex that surrounds the swaminarayan temple has water mixed from all the 108 holy rivers of India. Water pours through gaumukhs, with each gaumukh signifying a river.

I'll skip Birla Mandir and the Rail Museum for they don't seem to have any Did you know? or lesser known interesting facts.

Coming to the Jantar Mantar :

- It consists of 13 architectural astronomy instruments, built by Maharaja Jai Singh the 2nd of Jaipur. Interestingly, a similar complex is present in Jaipur as well.
- It seamlessly combines astronomy and astrology.
- The instruments have predicted distance from us to the sun to an accuracy of 10kms
- It can very accurately calculate what sun-sign the day is under.
- Unfortunately people seem to find it funny to inscribe their love on such precious monuments. Yeah, pure sarcasm I know. But its a sad fact.
- One good thing is, this very precious monument has come under a private partnership with ASI and a 5-star hotel nearby.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Biking in India - An Insider's outlook

Having been on quite a few bike trips in India, and with no signs of stopping any soon, I just felt it was a good time to share a few things on my mind regarding bike trips especially in this country. So, here I go:

1.You don't need a hi-fi cruiser bike to do trips, though its a good thing to have

Alright, all of us in India revere the Enfield Bullets and most recently, the Bajaj Eliminators as they are the most sturdy ones that are there for long trips and very durable too. But off late, many of the sporty types, the Pulsars, the Apaches and the Karizma's have been hogging the limelight too. But as a guy riding a modest 125 cc bike on long trips, I feel such bikes don't get the due recognition they deserve when it comes to long trips. I ride a Bajaj XCD 125 and am very very comfortable taking it out on long trips. They might not be as zippy as the Pulsars or as comfortable or durable as the Bullets. But they have very reliable engines, demand very less of your attention and cruise along comfortably at 60-70 km/h. More than adequate for your trips aren't they? So, if you're a biker like me having a modest bike, no worries, your baby will be real happy to lug you for long. Here's my baby

2. National Highways are getting better by the day

The national highways authority is doing a very ambitious project of 4-laning all the National Highways in India and is doing a pretty good job of it. These roads when in full form are a dream to ride on. They're very smooth and flowing and make riding a joy. Wherever you're riding to, if you have a choice of taking a route through the NHs, as they are affectionately called, go for it even if its a few km more. You'll thank yourselves you did. So will your bike.

3. State Highways are not that bad either

If the NHs are a dream to ride on, state highways are no less good. They too are improving. They are not as bad as they used to be and you wont have a sore butt after riding on them for long. They do link the interior places worth visiting in India and are not a bad thing to ride on.

4. You WILL NEED good biking gear

When I say biking gear, its not just the helmets, gloves and boots. A good elbow guard, a good knee guard along with ankle protects are seriously good things to invest in. We do get AlpineStars in India and thats a very good brand to get. A word of caution. India has a notoriously huge grey market for fake helmets. If you're buying one, please go to a reputed showroom in whichever city/town you are. Else, you have the world in the internet. Thats not a bad option to shop in, though getting the right size poses a challenge.

5. Summer trips are best taken with a good sunscreen and a full hand tee for company

You could be milky white in complexion before you take a bike trip in the summer. But at the end of it you might be tanned and tanned beyond recognition. Indian Summers are notoriously hot and having a good sunscreen and a light colored t-shirt is your best bet to counter it. Yours truly ignored this fact once and now arms that are in stark contrast to the body color. :( If you're thinking about pullovers and windcheaters, they will only add to the heat.

6. Watch out!!

Wherever you are riding in India, do it with full concentration. Stray cattle, kids playing on roads, jaywalkers when you pass through towns are a rider's biggest trap. Keep a watch for people when you're passing through populated areas and for stray animals in highways.

7. Indian Rain - Best friend and a Worst Enemy

Indian Rains do increase the romance involved in a bike trip. They cool everything down, makes the landscape get prettier exponentially and patter your bike incessantly to make the ride more challenging and thereby, making you a better rider. Trust me, your confidence increases manifold when you conquer a trip under torrential rain. They just make the trip much more worthwhile. But there's another side to the story. Rains and oils on road don't mix. The tar oil, oil leaks from other vehicles can cause many a bone break. Watch out for them. With a bit of concentration, they can be easily spotted. Avoid them,and you'll have the best trip wherever you're going. Difficult to imagine how much a rain can do, but in India, trust me, it just adds to the whole experience.

8. Riding alone can be as much fun as in a group in India

Biker Gangs are becoming increasingly common in India and have carved a niche of their own. But individual bikers are a rare lot. At least, in my perspective. The awe people feel when they get to know why you're here, the way you stand out in the crowd and the adoration you get from kids is just so overwhelming. People will turn good Samaritans for you once they get to know you're a lonewolf biker. They really do. I still remember when I was in Mysore along with one more friend and we were lost trying to find the highway to Bangalore. A curious motorist enquired about us(easy to spot we were, decked up and all) and on getting to know we were lost, offered to escort us till the place where the highway starts! An escort vehicle?! Gracious! I tell you.

Well, that was most of what I had in mind when it came up with the idea of this topic. Hope it helped. Until the next post, Ride safely and Keep Riding! :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Road Travel in India, Buses especially!

Ok, I have heard lots of travelers, especially travelers from other nations complain a lot about long distance travel in India (Thanks to FB, Twitter and what not). While I agree a lot of cribs and rants are justified, I feel a bit of insider information would go a long way in helping them on a better experience. As someone who travels a lot inside India, buses in particular, I would like to add my two cents to the whole experience.

1. Buses in India don't have toilets!

Totally agree to this point. Nothing much to justify on this. But properly planned, it can save you a lot of embarrassments. Facilities in bus stations, especially in the recent times have improved a lot. Gathering info on where buses are scheduled to stop en route will go a long way in saving you from this embarrassment. Most government run transports are online now and do provide a very detailed information on when a bus runs, its stop overs, journey time et al. Spare 5 mins of your time and you'll be wise enough. Adding to this, most of the crew members these days are sensitive to the needs of their passengers and will be willing to oblige to your request to attend to a nature call.

2. Opt for sleeper buses

Buses in India have come a long way in the past 4-5 years. Right from comfortable seats to full fledged sleeper class air conditionned buses, you have a wide range of options. Best part is they dont burn a big hole in your pocket as bus tickets are still relatively cheaper compared to first class ticket prices in trains. While I dont deny the fact that rickety buses still ply, you have better options is what i wanted to convey.

3. Tickets are not a difficult thing to get

Most of the bookings are done online. A comprehensive site for bus ticket bookings in India is Where buses ply, redbus gives you an option to book. This is limited to private players though. Government webistes are state based and it would be sensible for you to login to the website of the government road transport services of the state you are in. Its a big list I tell you.

4. Roads are bad

Not all roads are bad. Not even the state highways these days. Roads starting with NH(National Highways) are a dream to drive in and are as good as they get. Not sure of the International Standards but good enough for a car to cruise at 120-140 km/h. State highways are as good but they might not be that very wide all the time. Only when you get into the core rural areas of India, you might find un-tarred roads. But those are a rarity too these days, considering the assumption that you would not be going to that many RLT(Road Less Traveled) journeys.

5. Long distance buses have plenty of stopovers

Many travelers say that buses in India keep running all the time. Its not a fact by any means. Buses do have plenty of stopovers. You can refill on your stock of biscuits and other snacks( I would avoid oily items if I were you). While they are not a star rated facility, you will get through the basic stuff of mineral water, and other condiments just fine. Read (1) on more information on this.

P.S: All these tips are based on personal experiences and that of friends. All these I hope will stand future travelers in good stead.

P.P.S: Boquets and Brickbats are welcome as always :)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kodachadri Trek - The last few hours

The last evening of our trip was spent at Malpe Beach. Malpe Beach is about 5 km from Udupi. One can witness some of the most beautiful sunsets here and especially days where the clouds are present near the shore and are a bit scattered, the light patterns make for some of the most stunning landscapes. Malpe is also a quaint little fishing town.

A new dockyard is coming up where they have started to make mechanized trawlers for the local fishing industry. Close to the mainland of Malpe are four rocky islands

* Daria-Bahadurgad is the northernmost island
* Kari-Illada-Kallu is the southernmost island
* Daria-Gadara-Kalluthe is situated in between the two islands mentioned above
* The fourth one is St. Mary's Islands, also called thonse paar.

Regular ferries are available though your return is entirely dependent on the boatmen. They usually give it a couple of hours to drain the engine off the water and also let the engine cool down. God knows why they do that but you've been warned.

The usual fun in the beach started off and all the troubles faced the previous night were all forgotten. When you're in the midst of doing what something you enjoy doing, you never know how time canters off. Spend sometime in the company of some brilliant friends, u could practically declare that time is faster that light.

Here are some pics

Sunset at Malpe:

The bunch of amazing people:

Next day, Valentine's Day of 2011, it was time to get back to our routines. The place of farewell ironically was Mangalore Central Station, the place where all this started, our rendezvous point. Bidding goodbyes is always the hardest thing as far as I am concerned. This was particularly overwhelming. After 4 days of togetherness, fun and laughs it was particularly hard. But life as usual goes on. We bid our goodbyes, promises of doing such things again were the order of the moment. I hope this group, plus the people who we missed this time come together for another fun filled trip.

I might call myself a LoneWolf, as I do travel alone most of the times, but trips with my gang are any day an icing on the cake and I do pray we do get to do such trips again.

The Sri - Krsna Temple at Udupi

Kodachadri Trek - The D-Day.. contd..

Until now it was a perfect little day was it not? So, here we were back from the sunset point and in search of the accommodation we had booked. That's when things started getting murkier.

Shocker #1
The accommodation which was supposed to be on the peak was not. It was at the base of the hill.
Ok, so I made a mistake. All we had to do was take a jeep to the place and we'd be there. Not much of a problem is it?

Shocker #2
We dint know the jeep drivers owned more than one jeep. So while we negotiated with a jeep which was to start late, all of us grew anxious and wanted to be there ASAP. So we flagged another jeep n drove down to the place where we'd 'booked' the rooms(Significance of 'booked'? Curious? Read on). On reaching there we found that the driver who'd promised to come back for us was still there. And he'd sent another jeep of his to the peak which we dint know. Pandemonium reigned as usual and the mud slinging started.
I for a change was pretty calm and tried negotiating this first and managed to settle it with them.

Shocker #3
In parallel, the people at the homestay said we were not booked and there was no record of us registering with them. Pretty appalling initially as we'd paid an advance over the net already. On calling the contact numbers given, we found that even this site had been a victim of phishing, they'd been impersonated. But even worse, I was the fool as I'd been the one to pay the advance.

Big problem aint it? We were practically marooned in the middle of nowhere, no mobile network, no practical means of communications other than a nondescript BSNL WLL which did not work half the time.

It had been a tiring day, a perfect day but tiring. All we wanted to do was rest but we had a li'l problem here. All I could do was try talking to these people and convince them to give us at least a room to spend the night.

I don't remember speaking so much Kannada before and to be honest surprised myself. I was able to tell them what happened and they too felt guilty about their site being misused. They went out of their way to get us all in by giving us a room in their house itself. They were truly god sent that day and if I ever felt a divine force acting on us, it was this. Silently uttered a prayer and settled in.

They made dinner for us. It was the best, literally as well as figuratively. Best South Canara delicacies were served. Ravenous as we were, we gulped it all. The way they went out of their comfort zone to accommodate us was gratifying as well as a bit embarrassing.

To all you people planning a trip to Kodachadri, this place is one I'd recommend you to book your accommodation at. Consider it marketing or pitching a sale for that homestay but the treatment we got there makes me owe them this much.

Contact Person: Dr. P. V. Bhat
Number(s): 09945321561/09480822308/08185-253653

Accommodation can also be booked at:'d personally recommend contacting them directly)

Bhat Uncle and family, A heartfelt thanks from all of us for everything you did that night.

I don't think any of us slept that much in the night. At least I did not. No fun to have been right royally phished. Also, a recount of the day's events kept me awake. We woke up early the next morning. Got ready, thanked them as much as we could and took a bus to Kollur and from there back to base in Udupi.

The evening of 13-Feb-2011 was a memorable one again. We spent it on the shores of Malpe Beach. A separate Post on that later. Hope you enjoyed the Kodachadri journey. Later!

Western Ghats ecosystem

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Trek to Kodachadri - The D-Day

The D-Day finally arrived, the day all of us had been looking forward to. All of us rose..well..relatively early and got ready by 0830. Had a quick breakfast, packed a few Mangalore buns for the en route munches at took the bus to Kollur at 0915. Till Kundapura the route's pretty normal. The real fun starts 5 km after Kundapura when the bus starts its arduous climb. It gets very very scenic with the idyllic and imposing Western Ghats providing a real treat for the eyes. Come monsoon and the beauty of this place just blossoms manifold. One of the best routes to drive/ride on if you ask me.

The journey took about 2.5 hours and we reached Kollur by 1145. A quick refresh, stock up of water and of course coca cola and we were on our way to Karaikatte Gate in India's traditional 3 wheeled tuk tuk, otherwise known as an auto. Karaikatte Gate is the starting point of the trek to the Kodachadri Peak.

1. Jeeps are available, but they wont drop you here and will insist on taking you all the way up to the peak.
2. An auto costs you 200 Rupees till Karaikatte Gate. Pretty normal rates as it is about 10Km from Kollur bus stand and pretty uphill.
3. There are two paths diverging from the gate, make sure you take the one with a marker that says "Kodachadri - 10 km"

We started at around 1230, after taking a lot of pics of course. The initial part of the trek was relatively easy, a very small gradient which was undulating. Half an hour into the trail, we found ourselves in the midst of a thick forest. Tall dense trees, which made almost the entire sunlight disappear save for a few streaks from the small gaps. Bird calls, insect sounds, sounds of our footsteps crackling the dry leaves on ground, we found ourselves truly on the lap of mother nature. Gaea was in her pristine beautiful form and we just soaked in the sights and sounds which were truly overwhelming.

The Trekkers:

Click En Route:

Half way into the trail, we came across a small ramshackle shop where we took a snack break n merrily munched on the Mangalore Buns. Coca Cola and water kept running out on the way. Some distance after this came a very small village. I have never seen more contented people before. All satisfied with basic needs, kids playing worry free cricket was indeed a sight to behold. We took a pic on their ground with the peak in the background.

From here, the trail started to increase in gradient. Slowly but steadily, the toughness kept increasing. We were starting to tire, but we had each other for company, not to mention the Dairy Milk Fruit and Nut. The cocoa and humour kept us going. A click in one of the steepest places

We kept going, step by step, egging each other on which was a brilliant thing to happen. When spirits sag, encouragement does keep you going. People had actually hyped it all up saying its just a 3 hour trek, which we knew by now is not the case. To all my fellow trekkers, if you cant give accurate details, please admit it. Your ego can cost others big time.

By 1600-1630 we knew we were 3/4th up as the forest had cleared and from our research on this trail we knew the forests clear out 3/4ths into the trek. Buoyed by this, it was time for pics again :)

Other people on the trail scared us saying its a tiger area. We DID get bloody scared at that time. Afterthought is always a good thing as later we'd deduce this could not be a tiger trail. Tigers usually don't prefer high grounds devoid of water or meat and this was one such area. Another group spread rumors that they'd seen a mad bison. Guys, a plea here, again yes, I know. Please do not circulate unfounded rumors. Think for yourself and the impact your statement could have on your fellow trekkers. Spreading panic and fear does not help anyone's cause.

After an hour's worth of a tough trail, we finally reached the peak. Just in time for the sunset. The best sunset point is reachable by jeep, best mode of transport here. Will set you back by 200 rupees on a round trip. We reached there and clicked away as much as we could. A couple posted below.

We were super tired, yet all jumpy, exhilarated at such a wonderful sight and a sense of accomplishment prevailed amongst us all. All the fears we had, irritations, frustrations on the way just melted away. Reaching a goal does that to you I guess.

Coming back to the peak, the Lingamakki Dam and the Jog falls are visible from the sunset point. Just at the end of the trail lies the Adi Mookambika Temple, supposedly the one installed by Sri Adi Shankara himself. A further 2 km trail uphill leads you to the Sarvajna Peetha, a place were he's supposed to have meditated for 10 years. We unfortunately could not make it there this time, but its on my to-do list for sure. I'll do that n blog about it.

Post the exhilarating trek, we felt it was a brilliant and perfect day. Little did we know we'd not seen the other side of the coin yet. About that, is my next entry.

A bit of stats for people intending to do this trek
Distance: 11.5 km as per GPS reading
Gradient: Moderate to a 'wee bit' tough
Time: approx 6 hours (with a total break time of an hour)
Starting Point: Karaikatte Gate, about 8KM from Kollur on the Kollur - Shimoga State Highway
Ends at: Adi Mookambika Peak, or Sarvajna Peetha

Jeeps avaiable at the Peak to take you back to Kollur. Else trek down to Karaikatte Gate and take a bus to Kollur.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Trek to Kodachadri - Part 2

Alright, so we started off on our first leg of the trip. Destination, Maravanthe Beach. Its a beach just 50km from Udupi and is one of the most serene and tranquil beaches of the West Coast. The NH-17 is flanked by the beach at one side and the Souparnika River on the other side. We reached Maravanthe at around 1530 hours on 11-Feb-2011.

Maravanthe: 11-Feb-2011: 1530 - 1645

Time for loads of fun and pics in the beach. All 5 of us darted off into the sea and enjoyed as much as we could, took loads of pics, got super soaked playing in the water and were had an extremely brilliant time. My first moments of fun in quite a while as office has become pretty deserted of the term friends. A word of caution to visitors here, the people who beg here are extremely dogged and will never let you be until you part with your food or a bit of money. I'll leave it to your creative minds to devise a plan to dodge them.
Coming back to the fun part, it was loads of fun pushing each other into the water. Taking pics was even more fun as none of us were in the mood to just pose normally. What I mean, look no further.

I would not recommend going very deep into the water as currents are pretty strong 15-20m into the sea and can catch you unawares. So do exercise caution and have loads of fun here. Its never too crowded and you can have a gala time.

We started with no mood to leave, but we had another super beautiful place to cover, which is Murudeshwar. After a fun filled tea break in Bhatkal, we were en route. The roads were pretty bad and it was 1800 by the time we reached Murudeshwar.

Murudeshwar now has the second largest statue of Lord Shiva, which is situated right on the coast and provides a brilliantly pretty sight with the sunset forming a halo on the Lord's head. For the not spiritually inclined ones, its a haven for water sports, especially speed boating and paragliding.

Murudeshwar: 11-Feb-2011: 1800-2130:

It was speed boating time and we jumped into a pretty looking boat called 'Shambhavi'. We were to take a 1km ride into the sea and back. The feeling on the boat getting launched into the air due to the strong waves is one to be experienced. The boatmen here skid the boats by playing with the throttle and rudder and the seemingly out of control ride was brilliant and stomach churning at the same time. But all of us had some cool fun in the ride.

It was time for a visit to the lord overlooking us from the high pedestal after the high adrenalin ride. The temple has one of the tallest gopurams you can ever come across.

Done with our prayers, we grabbed a quick bite in the seaside restaurant, the sound of the gentle waves soothing our ears. Its an excellent stress reliever, I tell you. I was as relaxed as I have ever been, cradled in the arms of nature, in the company of people I love, I could really not have asked for more at that point.

We started back home at 2130. The return journey was pretty uneventful, each of us thinking back on the best moments of the day, dead tired but happy. All the others fell into a sleep of tiredness. I was tired too, but with a content smile on my face all along, letting myself fall into the bliss of the best I've ever felt in quite some time.

The actual trek log's coming up next... Stay tuned! ;)